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

Nyhavn

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Manila and Seoul - August 2012




In Manila for a conference and honestly, Manila is really pretty weak. It's not very walkable, and if you do walk somewhere other than one of the very westernized malls in Makati, people look at you as if you are crazy. Really not much to write home about this trip. It's a little hard to trust people as a lot of them seem to be interested in what kind of tip they can get from you or how they might milk more money out of you. At any rate, the Shangri-La Makati hotel was very nice and had the best, most diverse buffet-style breakfast I've ever seen. Sushi, sashimi, dim sum, indian, philipino, western, cheese, and basically anything you might want to eat for breakfast or lunch. Oh, and some fruit and a variety of 6-8 juices. Great spa with a nice hot tub, steam, and sauna. 42 pesos for $1 at this time. Taxi from the airport to the Shagri-La Makati took a long route, but still 450p so only around $10. Return trip was quicker and 140p. So yeah, that's a 25 min cab ride for about $4 including a tip.

Very good drinks at the Blind Pig in Makati. Very cool wood interior and a drink menu consulted on by Milk and Honey in London. Base drinks (Wild Turkey bourbon, etc.) were 330p which wasn't too bad. A drink from the next shelf up, e.g. Sazerac rye, Bullit or Buffalo Trace bourbon was 1000p, or about $25. I know they had to get that to Manila, but BT is $20 a bottle retail in San Francisco.



Spent one day in Seoul as a stopover on Asiana Airlines (SFO-ICN-MNL RT). Interesting place for the short amount of time I was there and that doesn't include scenery as it rained basically the whole time. Would definitely go back and have some more street food and ramen. People seemed very nice and I noticed that there was a good amount of MLB wear.  Took a nice bus (KLM airport limousine) from ICN to the Grand Hyatt Seoul which worked pretty well for $14 each way. 1123 won per 1$ at this time.

A few pics

Monday, June 18, 2012

London - Lille - Paris - Lyon, May 2012



More Pics

Nice densely-packed trip to the EU including a day at the French Open and the best 12 day stretch of sunny and warm weather I have had in Europe. Nice London room at the Grazing Goat gastropub near Marble Arch and a very good lunch at St John Bread and Wine. Quick visits to the Tate Modern as well. Took the Eurostar to Lille, which was jammed with parents and kids as the next stop was Eurodisney. A short trip so not too bad.

Lille is a good stop for a day or two to wander around and have some good and very reasonably priced beer and wine. Particularly at La Part des Anges for wine and La Capsule for beer. Would also recommend the mussels with beurre d'escargot from Aux Moules and La Bottega Pizza.
 
The French Open was nice, but it was very difficult to get in to any of the side courts so would highly recommend stadium tickets. Good breakfast and sandwiches near our hotel (The Keppler) at Josephine. Not many memorable restaurants, although Le Comptoir was good, but the best food was from the Marche Woodrow Wilson on Saturday and Wednesday. Walking up the steps at the Eiffel Tower was a good use of 5€ for a quad workout :)

Lyon was a very welcome change from Paris. Much better food with a real diversity of menus, helpful people, and a great setting with two rivers. Heavy regional food in a happy, communal setting at Chez Paul was a nice start. Large rooms at the Grand Hotel Terreaux.

Decent but not fantastic Fx rates of $1.56 for 1£ and $1.25 for 1€. United Airlines SFO-LHR RT with a paid upgrade on a new 777 on the way over. Pretty good flights.

Monday, December 12, 2011

London, Budapest, Vienna


Three days in London, at the Zetter Townhouses which was nice but a bit on the pricey side at $415 a night. Great small downstairs bar area though. Note for next trip: eat at St Johns. Malev Hungarian Airlines to Budapest for a weekend with cwr. Unfortunately a holiday weekend (All Saint's Day on Nov 1) so many bars and restaurants were closed but we managed what we could. Fantastic dinner at Onyx with 6 courses of updated Hungarian and wine parings. The bread is served with butter, cream cheese, and pork terrine, all of which were great with about 10 kinds of breads and cheese puffs. Just awesome. Perfect beef, foie gras three ways that were all like candy, more pork, and so on. Champagne breakfast with Hungarian sparkling at Villa Bagatele, which doubles as an interior design store, so a little over the top decoration-wise, but otherwise great. Excellent veal soup at Dunacorso and a nice lunch at Belvarosi Lugas Etterem including goose cracklings with hot hungarian peppers.

A 2:50 train ride to Vienna for about $30. Great deal. Nice train. Would probably pop for 1st class next time. Hit Plachutta for boiled beef and even more goose liver, this time bruleed with a few red currants on top. A very good night at a few local wine bar/tasting room/buffets on a street a little northeast of central Vienna: Heuriger Christ, very nice whites with excellent wild boar "salami", more at Karl Lentner including some fantastic pork with crispy skin, and finishing at Richard Lentner. A fairly rare day in that all three were open on the same day, since we were out on a holiday. Funky opening hours for all the Heuriger in Vienna, due to the tax breaks they get on serving their local wine. Cool to know that there are around 1000 acres of vineyards within the (large) city limits of Vienna. It was, however, difficult to find a decent red. Another great experience at the Vienna Town Hall (Rathaus) with dinner, a waltz exposition, and a welcome from the mayor of Vienna.

One good thing from the flight back (VIE-LHR on BMI, LHR-SFO on UA) was the Posh Wrap veggie and feta wrap served warm on BMI. Best airline snack I've had in a while. Pretty standard United Airlines SFO-LHR flight on the way over.

Photos at aklink.tcb.net/pics/2011-eu.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hong Kong

Quick couple days in Hong Kong on the way back from Saigon. HK is very warm (around 30-33C), even when compared to Saigon. Good dumplings for lunch near our office in Peking Shui Jiao Wang at No. 118, Jeffe Road. Thanks to Google for the recommendation. HKD 39 ($4.88 at the 7.99 HKG to $1 at the time) for very good hot and sour soup with dumplings. Stayed at the W Hotel Hong Kong which has a gym and spa on the 73rd floor and pool/hot tub on the 76th having good views of the city and a little bit of the harbor. The rooms are nice, with all the W touches including computer-controlled blinds and lights. The sauna off the dressing room on the 73rd floor was a highlight. Would definitely stay here again, although the food options in the immediate area were very western and the hotel is on top of the Kowloon station and its very high end mall. Had a salad nicoise (healthy!) with a side of mac and cheese (not healthy but awesome after a week of noodles and dumplings) at the steakhouse and wine bar in Central Park. Good happy hour ($5 decent martinis) until 8:30 which was nice. Their bread was essentially little cheese puffs, which were also not healthy but very very good.

Attempted a hike on Lantau suggested by Time Out (overview link). It may not come across in the article but on a sunny (really beautiful around 32C/90F) day this hike is very very warm and humid. I was on the 11:00 ferry to Mui Wo, started hiking up at Noon, and had drank 2.5L of water by 13:15. I turned around about 25 min after the country park when the trail leaves South Lantau Road. I would love to do this in the future, but would start much earlier in the day (7:00?) to avoid some of the sun and probably take a bus (1/2/3 or a couple others from the ferry terminal) for the first 2.5 km. Starting at the park and doing the 2:00 (listed at 2:45, but I suspect most people will do it more quickly) from the country park to Pak Kung Au then the Lantau Peak hike. Had lunch at the Turkish restaurant by the Mui Wo ferry terminal. The minced lamb with a side of babaganoush hit the post-hike salt need.

Looking forward to checking bags with Singapore Airlines in the train station below the hotel and getting back to SF.

HK and Saigon Pics at aklink.tcb.net/pics/2011-ap