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68 Hour Visit to Singapore – Introduction

I’ve always wanted to visit Singapore. Really for two main reasons 1) the mix of cultures blend together for some amazing food and 2) the infinity pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The stars and the moon aligned and made a trip this year possible. I had already taken a good portion of my vacation time, so I needed to plan judiciously. If I’m taking a quick trip to Asia, I want to fly in a premium cabin which will likely necessitate the use of miles.

First of all, I spent a couple of days of searching for award fares with no luck.  Eventually I found Star Alliance Saver Awards that worked out quite well. Unfortunately I’d be trying out only one new airline: Singapore Airlines for a relatively short hop from Singapore to Bangkok. The other four flights would all be on airlines and products I’ve flown before. That being said, I really loved these repeat products and was looking forward to experiencing their service again.

Over the next few weeks, you can look forward to the following detailed posts about my trip.

Visit Singapore Gardens by the Bay

Singapore by night

You’ve read my thoughts on the preferred length of trips and I know so many people would think I’m nuts for flying so long for such a short period in Singapore. but remember, life is about the journey, not necessarily the destination (hell at the end of the day, we all end up in the same place, might as well enjoy the ride).

Would you go to Singapore for 2.5 days on the ground? Am I crazy? What has been your craziest trip you’ve planned?

AC Hotel Portland Downtown – A Return Visit

The AC Hotel Portland Downtown was our home base at the end of our West Coast Road Trip.  We chose this hotel for two reasons 1) The price was right and 2) My recent stay ended up being pretty nice.  Our favorite hotel in Portland, the Nines, was going for over $650 per night, which is a price I’d never pay for a hotel room.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found a long line at check-in.  Evidently 16h00 is rush hour at this property.  Surprisingly, we were moved quickly to the front of the check-in line. Several of the people attempting to check-in didn’t have their identification nor did they have their credit cards – their personal documents were in their bags still on their tour bus. Lucky for us!

I don’t get why the folks working reception have to ask if this is our first visit at the hotel. It is clear in their system that it isn’t.  When I say I’ve stayed here before, the guy helping me checks his computer screen and sees that I had been their just two two weeks prior.  After thanking me for my loyalty he begins the standard soliloquy of the hotel amenities and details.  I was just here two weeks ago, give me my keys and let me go to my room.

The room was much like the one from a few weeks ago, so I won’t get into those details here again.

We had a more relaxing visit this time – not feeling rushed or obligated to do a lot in Portland, which allowed us to spend more time relaxing in the hotel. The room is quite comfortable for both work and relaxation.

There was one thing off about these rooms, which I touched on briefly last time.  There is only one single piece of art in the entire room. Now usually hotel art is pretty abysmal and I’d rather just see a blank wall than some poor quality, high production prints, but the AC Marriott Portland Downtown was different.  I was digging the art – but the large blank walls seemed like the hotel wasn’t quite finished.

Hotel Art - Not often good, but this was stellar

Hotel Artwork isn’t always good or fun – but this was great.

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t hesitate returning to the AC Hotel Downtown Portland again.  It is centrally located, new, clean and nicely designed.  The staff is quite nice – a little too thorough sometimes though.

Where do you stay when visiting Portland?  Are you as surprised as I am about hotel prices in Portland?

Singapore: By the Numbers

Regular readers know that I had a quick trip to Singapore – returning home last Monday.  This was indeed a whirlwind trip.  My better half was in Singapore for work and since I had never been and always wanted to go, I found a way to make it work.  I’ll have much more details notes coming soon, but here are the high level numbers and stats.

  • Airlines Flown: 3
  • Flights Taken: 5
  • United Miles Redeemed: 180,000
  • Miles Flown: 20,288
  • Hours in the Air: 44
  • Time in Singapore: 68 hours
  • Time in Vienna: 15 hours
  • Airport Lounges: 6
  • Hotels Nights: 4
  • Hotels Stayed: 3
  • Cities Explored: 2
  • Meals Eaten: 6
  • Restaurants Dined: 1 (everything else was Street Food / Hawker Stalls)
  • Cocktails / Wine / Champagne Consumed: Countless
My Route to the Singapore for the weekend

My route to Singapore

It was a quick trip, but with more hours on the ground than in the air, which is always a key metric for a trip like this.  That being said, spending 44 hours flying (excluding layovers) in some great business class products isn’t too bad of a way to spend a the dog days of summer.

Give me your honest opinion – would you go to Singapore for just 68 hours?  Does the fact that it cost nothing (other than points and time) change your opinion?  What’s the longest you’ve traveled for the shortest stay?

Brussels Airlines – Business Class (BRU-JFK)

After the surprisingly long trip into the airport, the slow moving lines at the border and the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass, I got to the gate after boarding had already started. I pushed my way through the disorganized crowds around the main boarding door and was greeted by a Brussels Airlines employee who scanned my boarding pass, took my roller suitcase (I thought he was going to check it), but he just took it down the gate for me and put it in an overhead bin. Now that is service.

The SSSS markings are dreaded among savvy travelers, especially those running late!

I opted to sit in seat 5K, which is one of the throne seats – ample table space and no neighbors. A perfect way to spend about eight hours to New York.

Business Class and a Kir Royale

The throne seat on SN501 BRU-JFK. Seat 5K provides ample privacy to sip a pre-departure Kir Royale.

As I was getting situated in my seat, you know, getting tablet and headphones out, finding reading materials and charging cables, one of the flight attendants came by with pre-departure beverage options. This was the most comprehensive beverage tray service I have ever seen. In addition to water (both sparkling and still), he was offering orange juice, champagne and a Kir Royale.  My choice was easy, I’ll take a Kir any day of the week.

Kir Royale and Brussels Airlines (Mediocre) Amenity Kit

The amenity kits were distributed immediately after the drinks were delivered.  The amenity kit was quite an embarrassment though.  A poor quality spongy bag with an eye shade, socks, a pack with toothbrush and paste, ear plugs and a pen.  I love to reuse an amenity kit – I’m currently using a simple canvas bag from Lufthansa to store my travel cables.  This kit went right into the garbage once I got home.  I did like the unique color and aesthetic design – it just wasn’t functional and it sure didn’t have any feeling of luxury about it.

I told you, the Amenity kit on Brussels Airlines was pretty mediocre.

Nearly 30 minutes after I boarded, the main cabin door closed.  The flight attendants were making several announcements throughout the boarding process in English, Dutch and French.  It always amazes me that foreign airlines can make the same announcement in three different languages and still be done quicker than US airlines.  The Belgian captain welcomed us on board and announced our flight time of about 7 hours 15 minutes – 45 minutes shorter than booked.  This time on the ground allowed me ample opportunity to explore the relatively light in-flight entertainment and the seat functions.

There were only 47 TV episodes available and a few dozen movies.  That’s why whenever I travel, I always bring at least two-hours of pod casts and one-hour of video (TV or Movies) for every hour of flight.  Never get caught without entertainment on a trip!

Limited Television Options

In general, I thought the seat on Brussels Airlines was pretty comfortable for the relatively short hop across the Atlantic, especially for a daytime flight.  The biggest downside is the cubby where your feet go when the seat is in the bed position.  To efficiently fill the Business Class Cabin, the seats are staggered.  My throne seat had two seats in front of it and my feet had to fit into the small alcove between the two seats ahead of me.  Check out the design on Seat Guru – this picture doesn’t quite to the tightness justice, but you get the idea.  It really wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I’m on the taller side and often find that I need to sleep with bended knee on a flight.

Business Class on Brussels Airlines – Courtesy of Seatguru.com

We taxied for another 25 minutes and were airborne at 10h52.  Unlike many other flights, my Kir had been refilled after the door closed and while we were taxiing.  It wasn’t the best Kir Royale I’d had (it was a little warm), but it was the best on a plane and a great kick off to this flight.

After a choppy climb out of Brussels, the menus were delivered – we were a good 30 minutes into the flight and just a little north and west of London.  I was quite excited to see what the menus had to offer as I knew Brussels took pride serving Belgian specialties and had a nice Belgian beer list.

Another round of drinks were served with a couple amuse bouche, which I thought were surprisingly good.  The Smoke Eel Rillette was a great way to kick off the lunch.  I selected the King Crab and Lamb Saddle.  The King Crab was stellar.  Not only did it look great, but it tasted wonderful – I’m not usually a big King Crab guy, but this was prepared perfectly and the addition of artichoke made my day.  I wished it was a bit bigger though.

Apero snack
Smoked Eel Rillette with Granny Smith Apple Jelly

Starter
King Crab, Ponzu and Artichoke Carpaccio

Starter
King Crab, Ponzu and Artichoke Carpaccio

Main Course
Saddle of Lamb stuffed with glazed tomato, olive gnocchi.
Mediterranean vegetable gateau, rosemary jus

Main Course
Saddle of Lamb stuffed with glazed tomato, olive gnocchi.
Mediterranean vegetable gateau, rosemary jus

As I moved from the seafood to the meat course, I switched to red wine, from bubbles.  Unfortunately they didn’t stock the Pinot Noir that was advertised in the menu, but they swapped it out for a bold Zinfandel that was just too much for the lamb, so I decided to drink a Bordeaux   This wine wasn’t stellar, but it did pair much better with the lamb than I think the Zin would have.

Le Comte de Malartic Red 2014, Pressac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France

After the entree, I switched to the Oregon Chardonnay, which I thought would go nicely with the cheese course.  I’m not a traditional Chardonnay guy either, but I do love Oregon wines and I find the style of Oregon Chardonnay is much easier on the palate than a Californian wine – it’s all personal preference though, so taste, try and drink!

Cheese
Selection of various cow’s milk cheeses

The meal service took just about two hours (11h25 – 13h45) from the time the first in-flight drinks were served until the final dessert plate was removed.  I enjoy a leisurely lunch in flight – especially on a daytime flight.  In the evening, especially to Europe, I’d like to speed things up and hopefully allow me to get a bit of sleep.

Speaking of sleep, I did manage to nap off and on for a few hours on this flight.  I didn’t want to sleep too much as I wanted to get a full and proper sleep at home and start the day off right for work the next day.

The champagne continued to flow throughout the flight and despite the menu indicating there was a mid-flight snack of ice cream, it also wasn’t on board.  I did prefer the other snack that was left out from the time before we menus were distributed until after we were deplaning.  Two 64 piece Neuhaus Chocolate boxes were left for Business Class passengers to enjoy.  Each time I made a trip to the lavatory I snagged a couple chocolates going and coming.  When the boxes were about half empty, the flight attendants replaced them with brand new boxes, then walked through the cabin asking if anyone would like the chocolates from the first box.  This happened twice while we traveled.  Yes, I ate a TON of chocolates on this flight.  They were superb.

Back to the Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Champagne

I visited the lav more than I normally would, just so I’d have an excuse to eat more chocolate.  The lavatory was a standard airplane lavatory, but it had some pretty strange mood lighting.  Very blue. Very strange club like.  But the bath products were a minor upgrade from traditional lavatory options.

The club like blue lights in the lav. Strange.

We landed in New York at 12h02 and arrived at our gate at 12h32 a full 20 minutes early.  As we were deplaning each Business Class Passenger was given a large box of Neuhaus Chocolates – containing 16 pieces of dark chocolate.  It was a surprise that I loved.  The lady deplaning in front of me didn’t want hers, so I asked for Stew if I could have hers and he was only too happy to oblige.  SCORE.  Since I didn’t have any time at the airport to pick up gifts for the office, I used one for the office and one for me.

Is the Business Class service offered by Brussels an innovative experience? No.  Is it fun and unique? Absolutely.  The food and beverage (and the chocolate) service was definitely better than I’ve had on most other trans-Atlantic Star Alliance Flights (Austrian is better though).  The seats are much better than Business Class on Lufthansa or United (especially because United is still flying that awful eight-across business class product on their B777s).  Other than the tight foot cubby, my only other issue with Brussels is that they don’t fly to Chicago and I hate having to make another domestic connection when traveling.

I wanted to fly Brussels before Lufthansa (who just recently purchased the airline) makes changes to the product.  I don’t know if they have any plans to do so (Swiss and Austrian remained pretty much intact), but I didn’t want to risk it.

Have you flown Brussels Airlines before?  What did you love the most about it?  Anything that you utterly hated?  Did they lose your luggage – I’ve heard that they have some tough times keeping passengers and luggage together.

San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels

Hotels in San Francisco were not inexpensive for the weekend we were looking to stay. Even using points seemed a bit cost prohibitive. After a few weeks of checking and rechecking hotel prices, we found we could snag a room at the San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels, for only $210/night. The room we’d select into was a Bunk Room – yes, a room with bunk beds. We hadn’t slept in bunk beds since college and thought it would be a fun change of pace. Plus the price was right for us.  We knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room, so even a tight space would suffice.

We checked into the hotel close to midnight after taking BART in from SFO. The public transit connection was easy, as BART goes directly to the Civic Center Station which is just meters from the hotel. The hotel is located in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. If you haven’t been before, know that it isn’t the bright, shiny, area that you see in magazines. This area is gritty, dirty and full of homeless and drug users. As we walked up the stairs from the BART Station we had to step over many people laying on the stairs. We saw people buying and selling various narcotics.  Plus something I hadn’t seen this up close and personal since I studied in London many years ago. We had to step over a man who was actively shooting up, needle dangling out of his arm.

I don’t live in an ivory tower thinking this stuff doesn’t happen, but it was more blatant and obvious than I had seen in years. I’m not going to pontificate on the state of the opioid crisis in America or the horrible state of our mental healthcare system. I will say that this problem is multifaceted and more specifically for this post, be aware of your surroundings when you stay at this property. Other than the difficulty in carrying suitcases upstairs and over people we had no other issues with the people in and around the hotel.

Check-in

The night manager was working check-in when we arrived. She greeted us by name, I’m assuming because we were the last people to check in that day. She was very welcoming and gave us a quick, but thorough rundown of the hotel and reminded us of their award winning restaurant (Villon) and rooftop bar (Charmaine’s).

If we wanted to visit the bar, she suggested we seek a staff member to escort us. At first I thought this was because of the homeless on the streets, but it was actually because the line to get to the rooftop bar was quite long and with an escort we can bypass the line. We opted not to visit the rooftop bar our first night, but did swing by the next day. The bar was lovely, but just too packed and understaffed when we were there. It was an utterly beautiful day in San Francisco, so everyone wanted to be outside enjoying the sun and the warm breeze.

Charmaine’s, the rooftop at San Francisco Proper

A simple beer on a beautiful day. Plus who doesn’t love a cat coaster?

The Room

Our room was exactly as presented, a bunk room. I never really pay attention to square footage stats on hotel websites, I just figure a standard room is a standard room. This bunk room was small, 16m² (175ft²). There was a small table and chair that one could use to work or dine.

The eponymous bunk beds in our Bunk Room

The closet had the minibar, which was properly stocked and had luggage racks, an iron and ironing board. It was tough for us to use the ironing board because we had two suitcases that were taking up much of the room, but we managed.

A surprisingly well stocked mini-bar.

The liquid refreshments in the mini bar.

The room had two TVs though, placed at the foot of each of the bunk beds, and they were controlled by the same remote, efficient, but strange, nonetheless.

A remarkably elaborate system to control the room the size of a shoe box.

The bathroom housed the toilet and the shower, while the sink was in the main living space. It had a rolling barn style door, which doesn’t give you much privacy, but in a room as small as this, there isn’t much privacy period.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Single Vanity in Main Room

The water temperature and pressure were on point throughout our entire stay.

The hotel uses Aēsop bath products, which were in bulk containers. I do appreciate these as I find it so wasteful to have those mini shampoo, conditioner and body wash containers. My biggest concern with the bulk containers is a previous guest messing with the contents (pouring something into the shampoo, for example). These quality products smelled like mint and other herbs. When time comes we may swap out our current guestroom toiletries for this brand. Have you used them before?

We chose not to dine at the Proper, despite the rave reviews of the restaurant. San Francisco is such a great food town, the idea of dining in our hotel was a bit unpalatable. Have you dined at Villon? I’d love to hear your take on it.

Final Thoughts

While the Bunk Room at the San Francisco Proper doesn’t come close to rivaling the Mosaic Suite at the Prince de Galle Hotel in Paris, or quite frankly the AC Hotel Portland Downtown by Marriott, it was a fun experience to try a Bunk Bed and a beautifully designed hotel. I would consider staying here again, but I think I’ll steer clear of the small Bunk Room.

Have you stayed at the Proper before? What did you think of the neighborhood? What about your room? Did you get a bunk bed? Speaking of, when was the last time you slept in a bunk bed?