Tim Foolery

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A Night In Vienna

The return home from my 68 Hours in Singapore afforded me the luxury of a night in Vienna.  While I could have found an alternate route home, it would have cost more miles and eaten into my time in Singapore (or added a day to this trip). I love Vienna.  This Vienna layover was short.  I had 15 hours from the time the door on my inbound flight opened until my outbound door closed.

What would I do with this time?  I had a a beautiful suite at the Hotel Bristol, so just relaxing in luxury was an option.  There were no shows at the stunning Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), so that was out.  I wasn’t in the mood for fine dining experience (shocker, I know!), so what is a guy to do?

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

The hotel recommended that I hop on a street car and head out to a huge park on the edge of the City. That’s where the Viennese go when it is hot (and it was 33C when I landed at 19h00).  Splendid idea.  The street car took about 25 minutes to reach the end of the line.  The park was beautiful, very natural, with trails in various levels of manicure which led to a large lake. When I arrived it was getting dark, so not many people were left hanging out.  I spent about 45 minutes walking around, enjoying nature in a fabulous city.  It was starting to get dark and I was afraid I’d get trapped out here in the pitch black – there were NO LIGHTS in this park.

Vienna Erholungsgebiet Wienerberg

Sunset from the Erholungsgebiet Wienerberg

Vienna Nature Preserve

The verdant nature preserve offered a cooling refresh from the heat of Vienna

Heading back on the street car, I rode past my stop up to the Rathausplatz – City Hall Plaza. I figured I’d just walk around and make my way back to my hotel.  What do I hear, once I’m off the Street Car? Music. Laughter. A crowd.  Was this, what Chicagoans call, a Street Fest?

Rathausplatz Vienna

The entrance to the festival – Big Crowd for a Sunday night.

It was! But it wasn’t like a normal Street Fest.  This Platz was not only lined with food and booze vendors, but there was a large screen strung up in front of the Rathaus.  Surrounding the screen was bleachers.  On the screen: A 2002 production of Swan Lake. Yes, a 16 year old recording of the ballet had drawn several thousand Viennese out at 22h00 on a Sunday night. The Platz was electric.

Rathausplatz Vienna

Such a crowd for a Sunday night!

I’m not a huge ballet fan, but I do love warm weather, beer and dining al fresco.  I grabbed a lager, walked around the crowd, yes, even watched part I’d the production.

The most fascinating food booth called to me.  Wienerschnitzel. Made fresh while you watched.  This culinary assembly line kept the crowd as enthralled as the ballet.  It had been about 4 hours since I had the prelanding meal on Austrian, plus the beer, I was famished.

The Wienerschnitzel and Potatoes were amazingly perfect.  Usually I think if this as a cold weather dish, it paired perfectly with the heat, the beer and the fresh air.

Wienerschnitzel or Wiener schnitzel

Wienerschnitzel and Beer!

I had no plans for my time in Vienna, but stumbled upon this absolutely perfect evening.  Music, dancing, food and drink.  Who could ask for anything more?  Have you ever come across a surprisingly great event like this before?  What would you have done with your handful of hours in Vienna?  Would you have relaxed in the beautiful suite or would you have gone out to explore?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Vienna

I mentioned about some excitement on the way to Vienna from Bangkok recently.  I was flying home from spending 68 Hours in Singapore.  My return flight started in Singapore and I connected in Bangkok and Vienna before landing in Chicago.  The longest leg was from Bangkok to Vienna, which I flew Austrian Airlines Business Class.

fun·ny -/ˈfənē/
1. causing laughter or amusement; humorous
2. difficult to explain or understand; strange
So this story uses the second definition of funny of course.

Doctor on Board?

About half way through the flight, the cabin was dark, I was napping.  A flight attendant nudges me and says: “Entschuldigung, sind Sie Arzt?”  My college German classes didn’t fail me.  I knew she asked if I was a doctor.  I answered and she thanked me and moved on to the next passenger.  Everyone asked for more details, but she wouldn’t say any.
I was awake now, I decided to go to the washroom.  As I came out, I heard the pilot speaking with a flight attendant.  He mentioned their plan to land in Delhi, India, but the ill woman wouldn’t be allowed in India.  We need to find another airport.
Austrian Airlines Business Class Seat
I don’t know why we couldn’t land in India.  Would the woman be restricted from landing because of her nationality?  Who is restricted from visiting India?  Was her illness restricting her from landing?

If not India, where?

I sat back in my seat and saw that our flight path had changed. We were staying on a southern trajectory, straight toward Delhi.  I wanted another glass of wine at this point, so I headed back to the galley.  This time, the pilot and flight attendant were looking at a print out of the manifest.  They then said, as she was filling my wine glass, that the second airport wouldn’t work either.  The plan was to land in Tehran, but one passenger wouldn’t be allowed.  That one passenger was likely me, as I travel on a US passport.  The pilots mentioned that the crew would time out while on the ground and there weren’t any replacement pilots available until the next day.
This was a bit concerning to me.  Firstly, because if this woman needed medical attention, we need to get on the ground.  Secondly because I sure didn’t want to run into issues in Iran.
I return to my seat, with my very full glass of wine.  The passenger across the aisle from me, rings the flight attendant call button and tells them he’s a veterinarian.  He heads back to lend a hand.  After 10 minute he returns to his seat and tells us (we were all staring at him, looking for an update) that she’ll be fine and we can land in Vienna.  He then said that “people are just big animals” and let out a booming laugh.

Vienna it is

So we continued on to Vienna without another word about the ill passenger, until we landed.  An ambulance met us and took the passenger off.   Nothing else was mentioned about this.  Have you ever had a medical emergency while en route?  What about restricting landings in a medical emergency for diplomatic / passport issues?
I’m happy that this woman was healthy enough to make it to Vienna.  People were very curious as to what was happening, but they also respected her privacy and didn’t hover over her.
Have you ever had an emergency landing in a country where you weren’t welcomed?  Did you get off the plane? How was this situation handled?

Austrian Airlines Business Class BKK-VIE

My flight home from my 68 Hours in Singapore was a bit of a round about experience.  Leaving Singapore to Bangkok, I continued on to Vienna.  I’ve flown Austrian Airlines in Business Class a few times before and was looking forward to trying it again.  I left the Thai Airways Business Class Lounge about 50 minutes before scheduled departure.  The boarding area was utterly packed with passengers.

People were getting a bit restless, as announcements were made about early boarding. People would line up, then another announcement saying we weren’t boarding. This happened two times before we actually boarded.  There were many people traveling with children too.  These false starts really got the children confused and frustrated.

Bangkok Airport Boarding Area

Very Crowded Boarding Area in Bangkok

On Board

I boarded early, as I usually like to do.  A single seat wasn’t available, I had to sit in the middle area in the two-seat section.  I could have moved to a single seat, but it would have cost me an additional €500.  It wasn’t worth it to me.

Austrian Airlines Business Class Seating Boeing 777

Business Class Seating on Austrian Airlines

Our seats already had pillows, blankets and the amenity kits waiting for us.  After I got settled, the flight attendant came up with menus.  She introduced herself to me and I attempted to speak German, as I usually do when flying Austrian.  My college level German gets me far enough on a flight, but it’s just utilitarian, not conversational.  I started off my journey with some sparkling wine and some still water.

Austrian Airlines Legroom

Business Class Legroom on Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines Pre Departure Beverage

Pre-departure beverage with seat controls

The flight was pretty full, but I was fortunate enough to NOT have a seat mate.  I’m so happy I didn’t pay extra for a single seat.  Even if I did have a seat mate, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.  The seats are large and while not very private, Austrian Airlines Business Class is still pretty great.

The flight time to Vienna from Bangkok is 11 hours and 30 minutes.  One of my main disappointments when I fly Austrian Airlines is that the flight from Chicago to Vienna just isn’t long enough. I want a little more time to rest, relax and enjoy the Business Class product. This flight gives me a bit more time and I was going to love it.

Meal Service

Austrian Airline’s crew includes an on board chef.  Before take off, the chef meets with every Business Class Passenger, explaining the menu and taking orders.  It is a nice additional service, although not really necessary.  It’s this aspect that I like the most I think.

After departure, drinks are served and the food service begins.  I like the antipasti trolley that wheels through the cabin.  You select the exact appetizers you want to try.  I selected all options, of course!

Antipasti Selection on Austrian

Antipasti selection, including marinated prawns, herbed chicken breast, feta cheese, Thai beef salad, maki and crab cakes.

The meal service continued for the next 90 minutes.  It was efficient and friendly.  Austrian does a good job of ensuring that your wine glasses are never dry too.

Austrian Airlines Red Lentil Soup

Red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croutons.

Main course - Stir Fried Beef on Austrian Airlines

Stir Fried Beef, ginger oyster sauce, egg fried rice.

Austrian Airlines Dessert Chocolate Cake

Dessert of Chocolate Cake

With the meal over, the we had about eight hours until we landed in Vienna.  I spent the rest of the flight watching movies, TV shows and napping. I really didn’t want to get much sleep as we’d be landing in Vienna at 19h00 and I sure didn’t want to be up all night.

Other than a little bit of excitement midway through the flight, our time in air was quiet and uneventful.  We landed 20 minutes early, but were requested to remain seated while a passenger was taken off the plane by paramedics.  More on that story in another post.

Wrap Up

Flying in Business Class on Austrian Airlines is still exciting and fun for me.  It isn’t the world’s most avant garde product, but the service is smooth and efficient.  The wine and food is good and the seats are really comfortable in both seated and bed positions.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines from Asia?  What is your favorite Business Class product out of Bangkok?

 

NOSHtrekker Private Dining Singapore

Finding a unique dining experience ranks among the top things we focus on when traveling.  This doesn’t have to mean a Michelin Starred restaurant or one ranked on the World’s Top 50 List.  Our requirements are more broad than that.  We want a good meal, with an equally engaging experience. Now that could be a tasting menu, a cooking class, or local casual food eaten on a squat stool.  In Singapore we found a private dining experience that was like nothing we’d had before. NOSHtrekker brings a truly unique experience to discerning travelers.

With only 68 Hours in Singapore, I knew I wanted to make the most of it.  The idea of a Michelin Rated Restaurant just wasn’t exciting me.  I decided to step out of my normal routine and after a bit of Googling, I found articles written about a newer service in Singapore.  This group offered private dining experiences, food tours and cooking classes that focus on Singapore’s rich cultural heritage.

The Selection

With more than a dozen unique options to choose from, you’ll have a hard time picking one.  I quickly decided that I wanted a full dinner and a relaxing space the day I arrived in Singapore.  A few emails and a Paypal payment later we were all set.

We’d be joining the Masala Mistress for dinner.  We wouldn’t be helping shop for or make dinner, we’d just be eating.  Just be eating.  Looking back on our time with Dhershini, it’s hard to say we “just ate” with a straight face.  Let’s start at the beginning.

The Experience

We arrived at her home at 19h30. Yes, we dined in her home.  It was about a 20 minute walk from the closest MRT station and upon our arrival, she greeted us like long time friends.  She welcomed us into her home, offered us some refreshing juice and escorted us to a lovely sitting area on her patio.  She had help in her kitchen, so the meal prep would continue uninterrupted while we chatted.

I can’t properly say how warm and welcoming Dhershini was.  She made us feel at home, in hers.  We initially talked travel – she was enthralled with the idea of my flying 45 hours to spend just 68 in Singapore.  She had lived much of her life in Singapore and was honest about that time.  While the discussion was mostly positive, she did talk about immigration struggles, political change in the City/State and the region and even discussions on climate change.

Her husband had recently passed away and that was still really impacting her. When she spoke of him – he was an avid traveler too – you could see how she both lit up and was hurting.  This wasn’t a restaurant meal.  This was a meal with a friend.

NOSHtrekker requires a minimum of two guests (which we had) but you can have many more depending on what you select as your experience.  Since there were only two of us, Dhershini was joined by another NOSHtrekker – Heather (I believe).  The four of us enjoyed drinks (both alcoholic and non), and talked throughout the whole experience.

The Meal

The meal was a traditional Indian from Kerala.  Served family style, we had vegetarian dishes, mutton and chicken.  The four of us sat at the family’s dining table while Dhershini’s assistant finished the meal.  She even continued to make more dishes as we ate.  Some things were just too good to stop eating!

We were encouraged to take photos and share our experience on social media.  I will say, it did feel odd to take pictures of this lovely woman’s home and blast it on social.  As you can see, my pictures are very limited and they sure don’t do the whole experience justice.  When taking photos, sometimes you have to step away – step out of the experience to get the right shot. I didn’t want to do that. I was having too much fun.

NOSHtrekker Dinner Table

Dinner is served with the Masala Mistress

Dhershini and Heather (?) seemed like they were our old friends.  These experiences are billed as about 2-2.5 hours long. We stayed there for just under four. There was never any feeling that we had overstayed our welcome – or that there would be a surcharge for the extra time.  We were just talking – telling travel tales, talking about food, life and the future.  At this point, I had been up for days, traveling half way around the planet and I was getting sleepy.  We needed to excuse ourselves.

This was so much like a friend’s dinner party, that Heather offered to drive us back to our hotel in her cute little convertible.  We reluctantly took her up on the offer, but made her agree to drop us off at the MTA station on her way home.  No need to go out of her way on our account.  I wouldn’t even ask a great friend to do that!

Final Thoughts

At the end of it all, our time with Dhershini and Heather was utterly stellar.  A completely new experience for us, but one that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.  Dhershini is a cookbook author, former restaurateur and culinary ambassador for the Singapore Tourism Board – could you find a better dinner companion?  I think not.

Have you worked with NOSHtrekker before?  For a truly amazing private dining experience in Singapore, you really can’t go wrong.  Also, I should remind everyone that we did pay for this experience – no part of it was comped (other than the ride partway back to our hotel).  This is truly our thoughts on this unique experience.  Go give them a try and tell them Tim (that crazy guy from Chicago who spent just 68 hours in Singapore) sent you!

Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-BKK SQ 972

I was excited about this flight. Probably the most excited flight of the trip.  It would be the only flight in this trek where I would be experiencing a new airline. I had flown EVA and Austrian before and of course have heard amazing things about Singapore from so many friends. Singapore SQ 972 is a short, 2.5 hour flight from Changi to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport but would give me a taste of the world class service offered by Singapore’s flag carrier.

My ride from Singapore to Bangkok - SQ 972 - Airbus 330-300

My ride from Singapore to Bangkok – SQ 972 – Airbus 330-300

Changi International Airport - F Concourse

The less than glamorous terminal at Changi International Airport

We boarded about 45 minutes before scheduled departure. When I arrived at the boarding area, there were already at least 200 people waiting.  Plus probably 20 children running around, Lord of the Flies style.  Like my last flight, there were a couple of people already lined up in the Business Class queue, despite near constant announcements to remain seated.

Very full boarding area at Changi International Airport

Gate F31 was packed – and this was just half of the room.

Changi is unique in that each gate area has its own separate security screenings – you don’t get screened until you enter your specific gate area. Passports and boarding passes were checked four different times from the point I got to the gate until in was seated in 14F. The Business Class of this A330-300 consists of five rows of six seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. I chose the middle section so I could have direct aisle access and not worry about someone crawling over me.

Changi Airport Security Checkpoint

Gate Specific Security – F31 Changi International Airport

Boarding

Upon boarding, I presented my boarding pass and was escorted to my seat. Daisy, the flight attendant, helped me put my bag in the overhead bin. Then properly welcomed me aboard, telling me of the flight time to Bangkok and letting me know that I wouldn’t have a seat mate. Score!

Before I sat down, I start snapping photos of the empty cabin and one of Daisy’s colleagues came up with a tray of beverages. His tray included orange juice, apple juice, sparkling and still water and champagne. He asks if I’d like a drink, “perhaps some refreshing bubbles?” How did he know? Yes please.

A330-300 Business Class Seats

Seat 12F taken from my seat. Not industry leading any more, but still wonderful.

Singapore Airlines SQ 972 Business Class to Bangkok

Singapore Airlines SQ 972 Business Class to Bangkok

Singapore AIrlines Business Class Seating

Seat 14D & 14F on Singapore Airlines A300-300

Singapore AIrlines Business Class Seating

Seat 14D & 14F on Singapore Airlines A300-300

The Flight

On board we were served the same champagne that was on offer in the KrisFlyer Business Class Lounge, which was a perfectly nice option. After champagne, he quickly returned with a warm, moist towel. I love these refreshing little treats. This flight wasn’t as empty as the EVA flight to Singapore, but it wasn’t full – 23 of the 30 seats were occupied.

This plane is an older model, but does have seats that lie fully flat. There is ample storage and several charging options including a UK/Singapore/US Outlet plus two USB ports.

The chargers on Singapore Airlines A330-300

The multiple charges on the A330-300

Boarding was quite quick as well. The last passengers boarded and we still had about 25 minutes until departure. I perused the in-flight entertainment selection, which was perfectly fine for our short hop to Thailand.

In-Flight Entertainment and In-Flight Selfie Reflection

In-Flight Entertainment and In-Flight Selfie Reflection

A short taxi and roll to take off found us airborne right on schedule. Just as we crossed 10,000 feet the flight crew sprung into action. Taking drink orders and distributing another warm moist towel. This morning flight served a selection of western and Chinese breakfast food.

Singapore Airlines Business Class Menu

Singapore Airlines Business Class Menu

Champagne and Brunch Menu

Champagne and Brunch Menu

You all know by now that I’m not big on breakfast, so I chose the Thai Pineapple Fried Rice option. It was surprisingly great.

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken and Prawn

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice with Chicken and Prawn

The elaborate tea menu. My favorite is the Vanilla Bourbon Tea.

The elaborate tea menu. My favorite is the Vanilla Bourbon Tea.

The Vanilla Bourbon Tea. My absolute favorite flavor. Thank you TWG Tea!

The Vanilla Bourbon Tea. My absolute favorite flavor. Thank you TWG Tea!

After breakfast, I converted the seat into a bed and rested. I wasn’t ready for sleep, but I wanted to try the seat out. I watched reruns of Big Bang Theory, which always puts me to sleep on a plane.

Before I knew it, Daisy offered me another glass of champagne as the crew began final preparations for landing. A nice surprise.

We landed in Bangkok at 10h48. We deplaned through door 2L and the flight crew held the deplaning economy passengers while Business Class left. This practice is so elitist, but I do love it, don’t you?

Final Thoughts

The flight was very lovely. My biggest complaint was the length. The flight was just too short to really enjoy all the amenities. Two and a half hours isn’t enough.

Have you flown Singapore Airlines Business Class on a short regional route before? What was your favorite part? What is your favorite Asian Airline for short regional trips?