Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to Reality

And so it's over... 35 days of being a road warrior has come to a close as I'm boarding my final flight within the hour. I come home after enduring many hours in the sky and many nights where I couldn't even remember what number hotel room I was staying in. The memories are vast and I survived my journey without sickness, mugging or too many blisters on my newly tanned feet. Unfortunately I only played basketball once, coached it another time, and watched it on TV a few, but the baboons showed themselves quite frequently in Cape Town so my title can endure. So after logging nearly 46,000 miles in the air, close to 500 on the rails and over 50 on my Nike Free's I leave Tokyo now and in 11 hours I will be back in the USA, where I can finally watch the Olympics... in English. See you soon Bob Costas.

Every city I went to added something to my memory.. So thank you to all of these cities:

Tokyo - thank you for crazy baseball fans and some great Scruggs Sushi

Beijing - thank you for the Great Wall and smog everywhere

Hong Kong - thank you for being so efficient and one of my top 3 favorite cities in the world

Shenzhen - thank you for the most interesting amusement park I've ever seen

Singapore - thank you for the Night Safari and less than 24 hours in your arms

Bangkok - thank you for Muay Thai, great food, and cheap massages

Amman - thank you for Petra, everyone wanting a tip, and my first horse back ride in 25 years

Amsterdam - thank you for great people who all speak English and smile a lot

Budapest - thank you for incredible hospitality by the Vrana family and no one staying awake to watch Team USA but Uncle Frank and me

Barcelona - thank you for the sun, the sand and the ability to understand what people are saying to me

Frankfurt - thank you for showing me that there are still punk rockers chasing the dream

Cape Town - thank you for the best people in the world and great food to go with them

Istanbul - thank you for cheap Kabobs, tons of history and the airport lounge

Shanghai - thank you for making me want to return again


1. JW Marriott (Beijing) - 2 nights - 5 STAR PLUS - Cost = FREE
Classy every step of the way, great room, amazing buffet breakfast, best executive lounge of the entire trip, top of the line workout room & indoor pool

2. JW Marriott (Shenzhen) - 1 night - 5 STAR - Cost = FREE
Just a step down from Beijing in attention to detail, great room, outdoor pool and food options, executive lounge wasn't quite as good, but still great.

3. Marriott City Center (Shanghai) - 1 night - 5 STAR - Cost = FREE
Probably the surprise of the trip, brand new, upgraded to a huge suite, nice indoor pool and tons of options at the buffet, great location

4. Marriott (Amman) - 2 nights - 4 STAR - Cost = FREE
Upgraded to a large suite, breakfast was good...not great and executive lounge options weren't as varied, not a good location to explore.

5. Renaissance (Amsterdam) - 2 nights - 4 STAR - Cost = $105/night
Small room (didn't get upgraded), lounge didn't have huge food offering but was very well maintained and equipped, great location.

6. Marriott AC Gava Del Mar (Barcelona) - 2 nights - 4 STAR - Cost = FREE
Another surprise as it didn't get great reviews online, right on the beach, great pool, lots of sunshine and a mini bar that they restock daily for free, great bed

7. Radisson Blu (Frankfurt) - 1 night - 4 STAR - Cost = $95
A hotel that wants to be more than it is, very cool pool, but funky design everywhere, breakfast was bountiful but not well maintained, smallish room

8. Hyde All Suite (Cape Town) - 3 nights - 4 STAR - Cost = $53 /night
Huge rooms, with large kitchen and living room, breakfast wasn't great nor was the overall attention to detail (used credit on hotels.com for $55/night discount)

9. Harbour Grand (Hong Kong) - 1 night - 4 STAR - Cost = $110/night
An older hotel that needs a bit of an updating, great location and rooftop pool, breakfast was outstanding.

10. Park Plaza (Bangkok) - 3 nights- 4 STAR - Cost = FREE
One of my favorites, and probably more of a 4.5 Star, great pool, didn't use any hotel restaurants, great location and nice staff.

11. Mercure Roxy (Singapore) - 1 night - 3.5 STAR - Cost = $110
Hotels are very expensive in Singapore and so the value for the money can't compare to anywhere else on the trip, a decent hotel, nice pool area, didn't try the food.

12. NH Schipol (Amsterdam) - 1 night - 3 STAR - Cost = $80
Not too great of an airport hotel, lobby was great and then the rooms were very sub par

13. Coco Grand Ueno (Tokyo) - 1 night - 3 STAR - Cost = $95
Typical Tokyo hotel, tiny, cool gadgets, but the smallest bathroom I've ever squeezed into.

14. Metropark Causeway Bay (Hong Kong) - 1 night - 3 STAR - Cost = $95
Needs some updating, nice view, but that's about it.

15. Hotel Akurk (Istanbul) - 1 night - 2.5 STAR - Cost = Free
It was free, thanks to Turkish Airlines 7+ hour layover program. Thank goodness it was free.

In summary... 23 nights in hotels with 12 being free due to Radisson Points or Marriott's Summer "Stay Two Nights Get One Night Free" promo. The other 11 nights cost me $744 so not a bad deal to stay at some incredibly nice places. All of the Marriott properties (except AC Gava Del Mar) also included lounge access and complimentary breakfast each day. With most buffet breakfasts around $30/day, this was another huge savings. The Marriott's also upgraded me to suites on 6/10 nights. Gotta love Marriott!


1. Cathay Pacific - 2 flights, Hong Kong - Singapore / Singapore - Bangkok
unbelievable attention to detail, great flight attendants, excellent meals

2. Turkish Airways - 2 flights, Cape Town - Istanbul / Istanbul Shanghai
"Chef" on board, great food, best seat of the trip, nice amenity kit

3. South African Airways - 2 flights, Frankfurt-Johannesburg / Johannesburg -Cape Town
excellent food, good entertainment and service, galley kept a bit messy when observed on some trips to the restroom.

4. All Nippon Airways - 2 flights, Shanghai - Tokyo / Tokyo - Los Angeles
love the Asian hospitality, had to eat the Japanese menu on the first flight (didn't eat much), western option on long haul much better, seat was nice.

5.Royal Jordanian - 2 flights, Bangkok - Amman / Amman - Amsterdam
nice amenity kit, food was quite good and the service was above average

6. Japan Airlines - 1 flight, Tokyo - Beijing
Great flight attendants, western food option not great, not a long flight so not fully flat seats.

7. Dragon Air - 1 flight, Beijing - Hong Kong
Partially owned by Cathay Pacific, much of the same high quality hospitality, good food, regular business class type seating

8. Iberia - 4 flights, Amsterdam - Madrid / Madrid - Barcelona / Barcelona - Madrid / Madrid - Frankfurt
although intra-Europe flights have coach seats in business class... Food was delicious, flight attendants were great and the thank you chocolate at the end of the meal was outstanding.

9. KLM - 2 flights, both in economy classAmsterdam - Budapest (round trip). Food was subpar, seats were small, but their customer service was outstanding, flying in coach is no fun!

10. American Airlines - 1 flight, Los Angeles - Tokyo
Not even in the same category as the international carriers, food very average and seating and entertainment not up to par.

In summary, taking off and landing 19 times in 5 weeks can take it's toll. Using an American Airlines "One World" award and United Miles I was able to book the majority in Business Class which helps alleviate many of the problems as a nice seat and a decent meal are cures for any blues one might feel from being at 35,000 feet for so much time. After flying nearly 46,000 miles I'm ready for a quick break from the air, but I'll be back soon!


1. Hong Kong
Always been one of my favorites, very easy to navigate, great lounges and tons of shopping. Access to the city is a breeze, just 20 minutes on the Airport Express.

2. Singapore
Shopper's delight, lounge was great and efficiency was unsurpassed. Consistently ranked as one of the world's best airports and for good reason. Took the hotel shuttle to and from the airport.

3. Beijing
Huge, new and modern but a bit difficult to get to the city as it was nearly an hour journey to my hotel. Lounge was decent and service was outstanding.

4. Bangkok
About 25 minutes to downtown on the airport train, newer airport (about 6 years old) and it's kind of outgrown itself, very busy, but not over crowded.

5. Madrid
Even though they lost my luggage I love the architecture, space and Iberia has some great lounges (love the beef sticks), easy to navigate (did not transit to city)

6. Barcelona
About 45 minutes to downtown via a train and subway, very easy to navigate and lounge option was fairly good.

7. Frankfurt
Great lounge, easy to get to/from the city via a 15 minute train ride, very efficient, what else would you expect from the Germans?

8. Amsterdam
Another great airport with lots of activity, train to downtown is about 20 minutes and I spent a long layover here at a park across the street enjoying the summer sun, no lounge access as I flew economy, but the blue dressed KLM girls were everywhere and very helpful. Baggage claim could speed up a bit.

9. Haneda (Tokyo)
Nice lounge, about 20 minutes from the middle of town, a bit crowded but everything is in Japan.

10. Shanghai Pudong
A good hour from town via the subway, huge airport, taxi from runway to our gate took 25 minutes, did not access lounge as I was arriving onlyl

11. Narita (Tokyo)
Another airport which is on the outskirts of the city center, about 40 minutes via train or bus, big and efficient, no lounge access as I was arriving only.

12. Cape Town
Very easy airport to navigate, not overly big so you can get where you need to go without much of an issue, about 15 minutes to city center via a bus, nice lounge as well.

13. Johannesburg
On par with Cape Town, just a bit on a larger scale and thus harder to get around, nice lounge and very friendly people.

14. Budapest
They've improved since I was last there so it gets the job done, nothing over the top but fairly efficient, although baggage claim isn't the quickest.

15. Los Angeles
Not the best, if you've been there you know what I mean... if you haven't been there then try and avoid it. American Airlines lounge was the only lounge where I would have had to pay for food or drink...enough said.

16. Shanghai Hongqiao
Worst signage of any airport, the metro drops you off at Terminal 2 (domestic terminal) and then you need to find a shuttle bus to take you the 20 minutes to Terminal 1. I asked for directions to the shuttle bus 4 times, it shouldn't be that difficult.

17. Istanbul
One of my least favorite airports in the world. It's nicely kept but the service is terrible, seems as though no one wants to be working, security is slow, ticketing is slow, customs is slow, and the passengers don't follow boarding directions... but the Turkish Airways lounge was the best of the trip, simply amazing.

18. Amman
The absolute worst. No transportation to the city except for $35 taxi rides, lounge was atrocious, check in was scattered and security and customs was a mess, I will not be back!

In summary, International airports dominate those airports found in the USA. The main thing that I discovered is that most people in airports around the world are truly excited to be there and excited for their journey versus the people in the USA who always seem stressed, upset or in a rush. Security lines moved quickly, check in was usually a breeze and the vast majority of airports I visited were immaculately clean and maintained at the highest level... not always the case in the USA.

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