Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Santiago - October 2014

A pretty quick trip to Santiago for meetings with ISPs at LACNIC 22. Flew Delta SFO-ATL-SCL as the lowest total flight time. Not particularly impressed with J in the 767 for 9-10 hours ATL-SCL and back, but was fine. The food was reasonable and FA's were nice. Just felt cramped as there was not a lot of space around the seat to store anything. All flights on time and the DL lounges in ATL were decent. Not sure of the appeal of the lounge in Terminal F with the outside area as I could not get past the constant smell of jet exhaust...

I was very bad at taking photos this trip, basically being inside for meetings for four days and not building any extra time in for sightseeing. The air was not particularly clear for any of the days I was there, rather a mix of haze and smog that was not good for either landscapes or my allergies. Good stay at the W Santiago. Nice residential and business neighborhood by the W but funky in that there was an Appleby's and a Denny's within two blocks, along with a number of pizza places. Took the metro to the conference hotel which took 10 minutes and worked very well. Area was pretty dead at night from what I could tell in my brief ventures out.

Apparently the tallest building in South America was right down the street from my hotel. Office and residential space on top of what appeared to be a huge mall. Chile remains on my list for further exploration but will definitely get out of Santiago. Good reports on Valapariso, skiing in Portillo, fly fishing south of Santiago, and hiking in Patagonia. $1 = CLP 584 at the time of the trip.

Do have to make mention of the California Sports Cantina where we watched the Giants win Game 7 of the World Series. Probably the best American-style sports bar I have been to anywhere outside of North America. Highly recommended.

Croatia and München - September 2014

One busy week in Croatia. Mostly a work trip with a bit of sightseeing thrown in. Started another one of my convoluted travel days with SFO-MUC in LH First on a donated upgrade, which was really really nice. Food was good but the best part was the space including a foot locker and full lie-flat without anyone near. Very attentive service. Felt a little bit funny after the flight but may have been due to overindulging in the caviar. Basically progressed downhill from there in the luxury department as MUC-SPU on Croatia Airlines was ok, followed with a completely reasonable $5 bus ride from SPU to the port of Split, then a 60 min ferry ride to Hvar town. All told about 18 hours in transit.

Nice stay at the Adriana Hotel with a room overlooking the harbor. Roughly $1 to 6 HRK and 1.34 EUR on this trip. Had a day and a half in Hvar and was great to wander around. Very lively at night with a chill crowd for a small town.  Food was decent but not spectacular on average, without a real highlight excluding the consistently good octopus. Hiking trails in multiple directions from the center of town. Had a longer hike along the coast planned that was cancelled due to a day of pretty good thunderstorms. Very pretty when it was not raining and I can see why people bounce from island to island in the Dalmatians. Clean water with many visible sea urchins and abundant fish. Could definitely spend some time here.

Ferry back to Split and a totally crazy cab ride to the Le Meridien Split, which is about 15 min from the port. A decent hotel but a bit eastern European feeling as opposed to a relaxing destination. Was fine for our four days of meetings and presentations. Not in a real hurry to return to Split as the city is pretty built up for tourists and the number of mid-rise residential buildings do not make it particularly attractive or interesting from a visual perspective. A bit surprising but the food at the restaurants right outside the hotel, on the marina by the yachts was very good. In particular the grilled octopus and fish were outstanding with a good wood grill taste coming through. The clams, mussels, and avocado salads were also fresh.

A tiny bit tricky to find, but one of the better meals I have eaten was at F de Mar in the Split harbor area. There are two or three other F restaurants in the area, and friends gave one of them less than stellar reviews, but this is the one furthest from the cruise port on the water. Did essentially a 7 course chef's choice served 3 "starters" then 3 "mains" that is not on the menu but our waiter put together based on things we wanted to try and/or avoid. Great seafood bisque to start, a couple shrimp dishes, a cuttlefish risotto, a small crunchy fried fish, one sort of forgettable octopus dish, and with the final plate, the best piece of beef tenderloin I can remember having. Just perfect temperature, color, taste, and prep. No idea where it came from, but absolutely perfect. So stuffed from the soup and six courses that nobody could manage desert. All told, including two bottles of Croatian white wine, $180 for three people.

Limited flights out of Split and needed to be in LA Thursday night for meetings on Friday, so took a late afternoon flight SPU-MUC on LH and spent the night in Munich. Good service and seasonal food on the short flight. LH really delivers on these. Did not go to Octoberfest, rather opting for a more quiet experience in the Hirschgarten, made even more quiet by everyone else apparently being at the Weisen :) Had a good dinner and no issues with MUC-LAX the next day. A good trip with some highs (Hvar, München, the food in Split) and meh's (Split overall, the flight situation to/from SPU) but no travel issues.

More Croatia + Munich Photos on Flickr

Monday, September 15, 2014

Taipei 2014

Four day work trip to Taipei but got a decent amount of sightseeing in at night. Very warm, 96F and humid. Not bad in the morning but high heat very early in the day. Decent flights on UA SFO-TPE. Taxi to the hotel and Uber back ($52). Great stay at the W Taipei including excellent buffet style breakfasts and a highly respectable Tuesday night American-style BBQ with a number of other Taiwanese/Chinese/Japanese dishes to go along.

Very nice people wherever we went, but one recurring question: Why on earth does a city with such hot weather specialize in hot beef noodle soup?

The soup was indeed good but not much food variety in local dishes other than soup, dumplings, pork buns, and the occasional vegetable. Many Japanese restaurants around the area of our hotel but we never sought one out for some reason. The Rahoe Night Market had some nice food including great steamed pork buns and a whole crispy pig (weekends only). Ling Tong Fung had great noodle soup and sides for around $8 per person for 5 of us. Good dumplings at Din Tai Fung, but a bit cliched and touristy. Still worth the trip at least once. The fried pork was good there if you have tired of soup and dumplings.

World-class cocktails at Alchemy, which is a great speakeasy vibe upstairs and opposite a more normal bar. Couple decent western beers at Beer and Cheese Social House with your average US/Aussie/Canadian traveler crowd.

More photos and the exchange rate was around 30.0 Taiwan New Dollars per 1 USD.

EU - May 2014

Fondue in Zürich
A bit belated in this one, but a quick hitting trip to BRU, FRA, Bonn, Zürich, and Paris. Generally busy with work efforts but a few notes follow. Great weather for this trip. Very sunny and warm other than 30 min of rain one day in Paris. Almost too warm in Zürich at 85F. Warm hotel, particularly for Dave on the top floor of an older but nice building down the street. Very good trip overall.

Liked flying Virgin Atlantic SFO-LHR, then into BRU and out of ORY on BA. Only minus was the transfer to BA at LHR T5 which was an absolute mess, even with a fast track security pass. Many people, not signed well, lots of lines, a lot of walking. Able to get an Uber at BRU and CDG on the way in which was nice. Train'd in to FRA and ZRH. Took Uber from central Zürich to ZRH ($90) and Opera to ORY ($70). Good to see their service expanding.

Stayed at the Hotel Amigo in BRU (meh), Le Meridien Statpark in FRA (nice, small gym), the Sheraton Zürich (just ok), and W Opera Paris (excellent).

L'Avant Comptoir

Notable food at Atschel (ordering the pig shoulder "Schäufelchen, mariniert mit Bratkartoffelnund gemischtem Salat" next time) and beer and sausage at Dauth Schneider in Frankfurt. Enjoyed the Summergarden at Bauschaenzli and the excellent if touristy cheese fondue at Le Dezaley (with a couple bottles of acidic white Epesses „Terre à boire“, Louis Bovard) in Zurich. Very disappointed with our concierge's recommendation of Le Petit Marius for seafood in Paris. Very expensive. Not very good. Oysters and belon were served almost warm even though they were on ice. Not great texture on those or the crab. Small portion of lump crab meat. Would not return. Much better food at excellent prices standing at the bar of L'Avant Comptoir around 5:30. Excellent oysters, charcutiere, tortilla, wine, and service. Meh again at Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit in Paris and the moules frites I had in Brussels. Neither that impressive.

The Tower!

More Photos  Around $1.38 for €1, and $1 for 0.97 CHF.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Athens - October 2013

Flew United to Paris then Aegean to Athens. Not a bad combination but the Star Alliance lounge in CDG Terminal 1 is not much to write home about, particularly on the food front. Not a ton of options in the terminal either. The SAS lounge next to the Aegean gate was no better.

Athens was fantastic and greatly exceeded expectations. Very lively central area. Many options for outside eating, drinking, and hanging out. The north and south sides of the Acropolis seemed to be mostly tourists while the northeast seemed to be more locals. Kind of a mix elsewhere. People were very helpful even when they were not great at English, although spoke a bit.

The food was very good with fresh vegetables, fresh seafood, and lots of good cheese. Would recommend Koallis for seafood although having a map and knowing it is near the Hotel Metropolitan was very helpful to the taxi. The greek salad from Kuzina was almost a panzanella with excellent tomatoes, arugula, croutons, capers, and excellent olive oil. Would recommend the 12-hour pork here as well even though I opted for the salad. Great starters. For lunch and cafe time, there are a few on or near Vasilis in the Thiseio area but you can really look anywhere around the city. They love their iced coffee. Could also recommend the roof bars around A for Athens and 360.

For a break from the Acropolis and nearby crowd, highly recommend wandering around
Filopappou Hill which is right next door. Very few people and great views. About a 30 min walk away you get to the base of Mount Lycabettus. About 25 min up to see the Church of St George and look down on the entire city. Fantastic views. Make sure to take water.

Stayed at the New Hotel Athens which was great. Nice rooms. Excellent full breakfast in their restaurant. Great little tea cookies by the check in desk and chocolate at turn down :)

Flew Aegean to MUC then Lufthansa to SFO on the way back, only 0.2% over the direct route. Good although unintentional carbon footprint minimization. Had planned a longer layover to head in to MUC but it was 3C and very foggy, and I was underdressed, so settled for an airBrau at MUC. Pretty good helles and only €2.60 for a 0.5L. Highly recommended. You can go outside security to the location outside the check-in area (do not have to clear passport control connecting from within the EU) or visit the smaller one in Terminal 2 after you go though passport control for international flights.

$1.375 = €1 which was not a great rate compared to recent trips. Ended up with a 3G SIM from Vodafone from a store in Athens. €17 for a micro SIM for my 4s including 500M of data for 30 days and 400 minutes of local calling. Very helpful to call a local conference bridge number for work. No stores for SIM cards on arrival at ATH. BKK still wins at that game. Tried to buy a Wind SIM first but it did not work with my US 4s. The guy at their store said this happens frequently with unlocked iPhones from various other countries. Google Maps and Apple's friend stalking apps were so very helpful in Athens.

Additional Photos

Monday, July 22, 2013

EU 2013 - London

After a completely uneventful flight to London on Ryanair, we actually had a bus work out, this time from Stansted to London Liverpool. There are a couple bus options and the Stansted Express train but we thought it would be nice to see outside instead of being in a train for an hour. Plus that the bus had wifi, even if it was a bit mediocre.

First stop was to meet up with some work people for drinks. Great views from the Madison roof bar. Next day was the Wimbledon Mens semifinals. Great 5-hour match between Djokovic and del Potro to start then Andy Murray beating Janowicz in the 2nd. We had left before the end of the Murray match after he was clearly going to win and we had been in our seats for almost 8 hours with only a couple breaks. Very entertaining and a great Wimbledon experience!

St John Bakery near Maltby St

Started the next morning at the Maltby Street Market which has a great variety of food being chased by what appeared to be a significant number of American foodies. It does not suffer due to this at all. Very good and interesting snacks, sandwiches, and other options at stalls on a very narrow street named Ropewalk off of Maltby. Very fresh, very nice people, and a great time in the sun. As a twofer on Saturday markets, you can walk 25 min to Borough Market for their retail (also Thursday and Friday) but I was pretty full at this point and Borough is more of a zoo. Spent the afternoon wandering around while Adrienne went shopping, hitting the Tate Modern and the Paul Smith Sale Shop then heading to Victoria Park for a walk and to visit a couple pubs. Found the beer garden on the park closed for a wedding but enjoyed a few pints at The Hemmingway and The Lauriston in South Hackney. There was some excellent looking pizza at the latter of those two so might have to head back at some point.

For dinner, met one of Adrienne's friends for dinner at St John. Very disappointing, partly because the food was only sort of interesting outside of the desserts this night but also because the server was generally unfamiliar with the dishes and was very rushed despite the restaurant being only half full. Maybe they're losing their touch here. At any rate, not in a hurry to return. St John Bread and Water was great on a previous trip and the bakery near Maltby St was awesome, so it's not all their properties, but maybe the main one could use some attention.

Woke up the next day to find our United Airlines flight canceled and rebooked for two days later. Ostensibly due to the Asiana crash at SFO except that all five other UA, BA, and VS LHR-SFO flights went out that day. Only ours was canceled. Just great. Called UA's UK number and found a very helpful person who tried a number of options but could only slightly help us get back to SFO two days later.

The Eagle - Clerkenwell

With two days to fill, extended our stay with points at the Hyatt Anadaz Liverpool St, which was an excellent, newly-renovated hotel. Great location, very helpful staff, and really an enjoyable stay. So happy to use points here as they seem to run £320+ per night. Used our extra Sunday to have a fantastic lunch at The Eagle in Clerkenwell followed by watching the Wimbledon Mens final at the Slaughtered Lamb and dinner at The Well.  Normal day working from our London offices on Monday with a good dinner at Dishoom in Shoreditch

Headed to LHR in our second attempt to leave on Tuesday morning to find ourselves 59 minutes before our flight. United has a hard cut 60 min before but they did some radio work and got our bags on. Made it to our Boeing 787 Dreamliner to IAH without an issue and everything seemed fine until about the time the doors would close and we would be on our way. Three hours and multiple pilot comments about computer issues with the plane later we were all offloaded and told to wait for future updates in the lounge. This did not sound encouraging and I had called UA earlier to be backed up on a flight the next day as we would be missing our connection in IAH. They said the luggage would be offloaded so we asked to have ours sent to the baggage claim. Got a hotel from UA due to the delay and missed connection and went to the LHR Hilton for the night. UA eventually canceled this flight 6 hours after the scheduled departure time, leading about 150 people in line at Terminal 4 to deal with rooms and rebookings. So two flights cancelled, three days delayed, and have not yet seen compensation from UA. Probably flying BA or VS next time.

London travel basics: $1.50 = £1 at the time of this trip. Vodafone SIM from one of their shops in Kensington. With a Freedom Freebee, £10 gives 100 min of UK calling, 300 UK txts, and 50 Mb of internet. When you top up with a normal £10 (or higher) voucher in the future, it reloads this. Very helpful and extremely useful when calling the United Airlines UK number in multiple attempts to rebook.

Additional photos at flickr

EU 2013 - Brittany

Sometimes when you want to get from point A to point B, you have constraints. These normally might be cost or availability but Brittany is a little more like Lake Bohinj in Slovenia where there is no nearby airport and you need a combination of planes, buses, and perhaps other options and it sucks up a full day of travel. Our itinerary:

- CPH-TXL (Berlin) SAS. Using UA miles to get to Paris. 30 min flight. 14:15-15:10

- 2h 40m layover at TXL. Bizarre airport in that there is no real "airside". At least for intra-Schengen flights there's an exit door right next to baggage claim. Terminal A is open to anyone off the street to enter, including shops, restaurants, and the LH Senator lounge if you have the correct ticket and status. Walked outside to get from terminal to terminal then back through security. Not sure anyone checked my passport prior to the TXL-CDG flight.

- TXL-CDG LH. 17:20-19:05 Nice flight. Normal LH selection of cheese or ham sandwich. Had a Warsteiner. Still generally like LH. So far so good.

- Air France bus to Gare Montparnasse via Gare du Lyon. 2 hour bus ride due to Sunday evening Paris traffic. 40 min spent winding around the CDG terminals from 1 to 3. 30 min into the ride, while sitting in traffic, someone asks the drive to turn off the AC. Queue an hour of roasting and near nausea.

- Roughly 12 hours after leaving our CPH hotel, we arrive at our Paris hotel. Could have taken a taxi or RER or really anything other than the bus to get there.

- Around 7 hours of sleep, which is pretty good. Get up to take a 3h train to St Malo.

- All told, 11am left CPH hotel on Sunday, arrive 14:00 Monday at La Villefromoy St Malo.

A fairly quick but very nice trip to visit St Malo, St Briac, Cancale, and meet up with Adrienne's family in St Brieuc.  Mixed weather with some sun and some rain. Not particularly warm. Fantastic meal at Restaurant l'Atelier in St Malo. Other meals were kind of mixed with shellfish and wine in Cancale being pretty good but fairly touristy and somewhat expensive and a couple restaurants in St Malo being expensive and not particularly good, but we were somewhat limited by our desire to eat later in the night, say after 9pm.

Hiking along the coast in Cancale was a highlight with great views of the water on one side and interesting houses on the other. The variance of the waterline due to tides is something else to look at, where boats are on the seabed at one point then the water returns a few hours later.

Much easier to leave the area with a €20 taxi ride to the Dinard airport for our Ryanair flight to London Stansted. Easy jet is a bit prickly about baggage weight but we planned perfectly and were right at the limits so no issues. They really jam a lot of seats into the plane and this one was surprisingly completely full. I suppose when you only have two or three flights a day from an airport that will happen.

Brittany travel basics: $1.30 for €1 at the time of our trip. Would have been much easier to fly to Dinard through London instead of our CPH-TXL-PAR-St. Malo trek. 3G cell and data again, this time from an Orange SIM ordered on eBay and activated by sending a passport scan to Orange at
blois.contrats@orange.com with the phone number. Created an account online at orange.fr as well to track progress as activation takes a couple days. 50Mb of internet for €2 per day for data activated through a menu system by dialing #123# and searching through the menus for Options then Internet. A bit tedious using their system of replies but worked out and 50Mb was fine for maps and email.

Additional photos at flickr.

EU 2013 - Copenhagen/Malmö


Arrived in Copenhagen on a fairly cold (12 C) and wet day in late June. The cold and occasional rain would continue for the four days of our trip which was not too bad but left us thinking that maybe we should have gone to Italy or Croatia or somewhere with at least better weather than San Francisco. Still a good time to wander around though.

Stayed at the Axel Hotel Guldsmeden near the central station. Nice hotel, great staff, great spa in the basement, very funky bathroom setup. For restaurants, like Fiskebaren for seafood, Mother for Italian (both a little west of the station and near the hotel), a nice fixed menu at Manfred's, and a good bagel with lox one morning at the Bagel Shoppen. The only meal I thought was a little overrated was lunch at Aamanns where the smørebrod was ok but not so great given the prices. Late night food is pretty much limited to shawarma and really good hot dogs (pølse) which tend to be easier to find around Tivoli and the central station area.

Mikkeller Bar

Great beer at both Mikkeller Bar in Vesterbro and Mikkeller and Friends in Nørrebro. 20 taps at the former and 40 at the latter. Likely the best beer on tap anywhere in Europe at this point in time. Finished the trip with good cocktails at the Barking Dog in Nørrebro. Liked the touch of coco puff-like cereal to top their white russians.

Lila Torg

Took a day trip to Malmö, Sweden via train from the central station. Was about $25 per person round trip and 30 min each way. Was a very rainy and cold day but we still had a nice lunch on Lila Torg (the cute small square in town) at La Grappa and did some window shopping in town. Malmö is a bit odd in that most of the town seemed to close down at 16:00 on Saturday and not open at all on Sunday. Outside of a few bars and restaurants we saw, unsure what people do. Maybe they all have nice cottages they go to and hang out on the beach. I hope it's something along those lines.

CPH travel basics: $1 = 5.69 DKK during our trip. Flew United Airlines SFO-LHR and SAS LHR-CPH. United was fine. SAS left a lot to be desired as they block the first 15 rows or so for their Gold flyers. So on this flight there were about 5 people in the first 15 and 50 of us jammed in to the last 10. Kind of uncomfortable but only 1h 20m in the air so not too bad. Did like SAS showing takeoff from the nose camera and the flight from the belly camera on the dropdown monitors.

It was very easy to get a 3G SIM at the Telia store at Copenhagen Central Station for my unlocked iPhone 4. DKK 29 for a Telia Talk SIM and DKK 49 for unlimited internet for a week. $13 well spent to have Google Maps, Yelp, and other apps available wherever and whenever, and nice to be able to make a couple calls as needed.

Additional photos at flickr

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Toyko 2012

Quick trip to Toyko for a presentation. Not much time for tourist things but had Tsukemen at Yasube near Shinjuku. Yasube is a version of an apparently prevalent style of Japanese noodle bar where you order from a vending machine, someone takes the ticket from the machine and hands it to the chefs, and a couple min later you get some noodles on the side of some great broth. Went here twice for quick food and was happy for 720 or 820 yen.

Used jet lag to my advantage and visited Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji FIsh Market around 5:45am. 8 pieces of sushi, 3 tuna maki, and 3 salmon roe maki for 3,500 yen. Very good and very fresh fish. Will definitely plan for more time and have a beef bowl and two or three other meals next time in that area.

~78 yen to $1. The Hyatt Regency Shinjuku was fine near the station for the NRT express train. United Airlines was pretty weak SFO-NRT on a 744 but pretty decent, outside of the food, on a new 772 on the return.

Additional Photos