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Archive for the Category "Travel"

Hotel Ullensvang: breathtaking views to fjord and mountains Aug 20

P1000981For many years I have heard stories about Ullensvang hotel from colleagues and they have been raving about it like it was most amazing place in the world. In August 2012 I decided to take my wife on a surprise trip to Hardanger and I saw that Ullensvang hotel is located here so I decided to stay at the hotel to check it out. We drove from Stavanger on a Friday afternoon and when reaching Odda and Hardanger fjord you get a spectacular viewDisplay of Hardanger bunad in the lobby. The fjord stretches out from Odda and on both sides there are majestic mountains with waterfalls and on the one side you can also get a glimpse of the Folgefonna glacier. On both sides apple trees are clinging on in the slopes leading down to the fjord. When we parked at the hotel a young boy came over to help with the luggage – he was a poster boy for the typical Norwegian with his bunad inspired work outfit and blond hair sticking out under the hat. Once you get into the lobby there is a display of the Hardanger bunad (the traditional Norwegian costume from this area). But if you walk a few more steps you also get a beautiful view of the fjord in front of the hotel!

IMG_3427We got room 628 and after traveling a lot and staying at pretty nice hotels around the world I have to be honest to say that I was not expecting much as Norwegian hotels normally don’t have that much to offer. But I was pleasantly surprise when walking into the room. The room was not that big but it had light walls, two beds pushed together to form a double bed, a dark purple/greyish carpet, dark wooden furniture with purple colors in the fabric, a small IMG_3429TV on a small fridge, a desk with a chair and a mirror. There was also a dark wooden wardrobe by the entrance to the bathroom. We got a room with a view towards the apple tree garden and the mountains but I’m sure that you can get an amazing fjord view if you pay a bit extra. The bathroom seemed to be brand new and was tiled in large, light tiles and the bathroom furniture seemed modern and new. The shower option was in the bathtub and a glass panel prevented water splashing everywhere and it worked pretty well. There were not that many bathroom amenities…only a body and hair shower gel and small bars of soap.

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P1000999We also had breakfast included in our stay and they have a pretty good breakfast indeed – breakfast is usually good in Norwegian hotel and Ullensvang could also offer a great selection of bread, cereal, locally produced apple juice, cheese, cold cuts etc. There was also a bit of egg and bacon but as usual Norwegian hotels are better on the cold food compared to warm food for breakfast. The hotel also had a dinner buffet at night which was very good. Gammalost - a traditional Norwegian cheeseAt night they had a wide variety of cold cuts including some typical Norwegian stuff such as rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge), fenalår (salted and dried leg of lamb), smoked whale meat etc. But they also served various fish (salmon and trout), crab, roe and various meat (pork, reindeer, beef etc). The dessert selection was also outstanding serving cheese, a selection of cakes and again typical Norwegian favorites such as karamellpudding (flan) and tilslørte bondepiker (apple jam and cream). The dinner buffet is about 500 Norwegian kroner per person (about 85 USD).

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Dinner at the a la carte restaurantThe hotel also has an a la carte restaurant which we checked out on Friday night. They had a small but good menu and to start with we got some cold cut with a strawberry jam which sounds like a weird combination but it was actually a pretty good combination. I continued with the duck confit starter and had rack of lamb with roasted vegetables which was excellent. Together with a good bottle of Italian wine we really had an excellent meal at the Zanoni restaurant. In the end we had some dessert made from local products and I also got a small glass of dessert wine to round it off.

P1000977The hotel is large and provides lots of activities. If you move outside there is a beautiful garden leading down to the fjord. You can rent a pedal boat or a rowing boat if you want to get away from the hotel, you can rent a fishing rod if you want to try to catch a fish for dinner…or you can head over to the activity part of the hotel where you can play squash, tennis, table tennis, work on your swing in the golf simulator etc. There is also an indoor/outdoor pool and it seems like they are working on expanding the pool area where the water will be heated (of course).

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P1000982The room cost about 2000 Norwegian kroner per night (including taxes and breakfast) which is about 340 USD per night and hence it is quite expensive. We did get free wifi included but I’m a bit annoyed to see that you have to pay extra to get access to e.g. the fitness room. Maybe stuff like that should be included when you pay that much for the hotel room itself. I would also have liked to see more amenities in the bathroom (shampoo, conditioner etc). But all in all I was very impressed with the hotel. The hotel is filled with items that tell a story about Norway, the history and the location. I’m glad to see that they are also serving some traditional Norwegian dished for breakfast and dinner to let the tourists get a taste of Norway. But the best of all is of course the location of the hotel…located just a step away from the beautiful Hardanger fjord gives the hotel a breathtaking view. Once you step out of the hotel you get an amazing view of the fjord and the mountains that surrounds the fjord. If you are going to the area I can really recommend a stay at this hotel.

Read more about the hotel on http://www.hotel-ullensvang.no/

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Traders Hong Kong–modern, small room and not the best location Aug 12

IMG_2768My wife and I had only one night in Hong Kong in connection with a trip to Korea from Europe. I chose Traders hotel in Hong Kong as I am a Golden Circle Jade member and there are some perks involved in that Smile We arrived quite late at the hotel as we had been a bit delayed and I had arranged for pickup from the hotel. This turned out to be a large bus that had to drop off a few other people before driving us to Traders hotel and hence it took more time than expected.

IMG_2769The check in was fast and we got a room “upgrade” – I had booked the cheapest room as we were only staying there for the night but we were upgraded to a room with a harbor view. The bed was more queen size than king size but then again hotel rooms in Hong Kong are a bit on the small side. There was also a desk with a chair, I got welcome gift due to my Jade membership, we got some complimentary water and there was a small fridge with some drinks. The room also included a wardrobe with a couple of robes, a small safe and iron/ironing board. The room itself was with a beige carpet and light walls and we had a view of the ocean but we didn’t see much of the main harbor as that was blocked by other skyscrapers.

The bathroom was tiled and in light colors. It featured the same amenities that I’m used to when staying at Traders in Kuala Lumpur and there was a bathtub with a shower option (by using a shower curtain).

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We had breakfast at Cafe508 on the lower levels. The breakfast did include most of the stuff that you want for breakfast but maybe we came just after the main rush as it seemed pretty empty and “dirty”.

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Location
P1000155Located on Queen’s Road West it is not the ideal location of a hotel. The hotel is on Hong Kong Island and a bit west of the center. Both my wife and I had problems getting our taxi drivers to drive us to the hotel even if we tried to say the name of the road. I was on Queen’s Road central and ask my driver to continue west as I knew the road would turn from Queen’s Road Central to Queen’s Road West and the taxi driver just suggested hotels along the way. But note that it is not far to walk to the nearest tram stop and from here you can take the tram to get on the subway. Taxi can be expensive in Hong Kong as it seems like the passenger has to cover the toll when driving through the tunnels from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

Conclusion
I’m not sure that one night at a hotel gives you enough inside to make a good review. But the bed was comfortable and room was nice but I think I would pick a more centrally located hotel if I was going to spend many days in Hong Kong.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Thai Airways First class–tried & tested Aug 08

IMG_7533I have had the great privilege of trying Thai Airways first class a couple of times and it is no doubt that if you fly a lot, this is a real treat! It all depends on which routing you fly, which plane you get, which crew you have etc but this review is based on experience on first class on an older Boeing 747 and a newer Boeing 777-300ER (leased from Jet Airways). First of all – if you check in at Suvanabhumi airport in Bangkok when flying Thai Airways first class, life could not be any simpler. You just go to the Royal First class check in and they will take your suitcases, your passport and then seat you in HUGE chairs and while you are enjoying a cold drink and a cold cloth, P1000111they will check you in and make sure that you get your boarding pass. After this you get guided through airport priority security check and a separate immigration control and once you are through it leads you straight to the Royal Orchid lounge. But for first class passengers it is not enough with a business lounge – you get picked up by a small “car” and driven through the business lounge and into the first class lounge next door. As a relative young and healthy person I could easily have walked this but I guess this is a part of the special treatment Winking smile

P1000116The First class lounge has been voted the best first class lounge in the world but I’m sorry Thai Airways…I have to object and say that this is not correct. The best first class lounge is in Frankfurt (Lufthansa First Class Terminal) but that is a different story that you can read about here (XXX). But the first class lounge in Bangkok is great –you have lots of good chairs, separate rooms if you are traveling in a group, lots of good free drinks (but only Moet and Chandon champagne) and a good selection of food. You can also take showers, get a PC to get online, the wifi is free etc. But there is also a Royal Orchid Spa where you can get a massage complimentary! There is no better way of starting a long flight than having 1 hour full body massage! Smile

IMG_7534When traveling in June 2012 there was a bit of fuzz as we were supposed to travel through London but when we checked in we got another routing via Frankfurt. Luckily the two flights had take-off at approximately the same time and the advantage was that we got a Boeing 777 leased from Jet Airways instead of an old Boeing 747. Due to this we got a first class with separate compartments like you can find on Emirates first class and Singapore first class. There are only 8 first class seats on the 777 (in a 1+2+1 configuration) and we got first class treatment the moment we got in there. The headset was already in the seat together with the duvet, menus etc. It didn’t take long before we got offered some drinks to start with and it is hard to say no when they ask you if you want a glass of Dom Perignon champagne Winking smile

IMG_7554I was seated in 2A and I got a HUGE seat by the window. It resembles the seat that you find on Swiss airlines first class where you have a big seat and an ottoman in front and when reclining you form one bed. The difference between Swiss and this Thai flight was that the Thai flight included a small compartment where you can close the door to get more privacy around your seat.  Like on Swiss the table is HUGE and it is so large that you can actually invite a guest to come and sit with you so that you can dine together and face each other while you are eating –how great is that? The remote on the Boeing 777 were a bit confusing as there is one large remote just to cover the seat adjustments and then there is one regular remote to control the multimedia. The Thai AVOD system is quite good and it was displayed on a large 17” (or is it 20”?) screen so seeing movies etc was not a problem.

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IMG_7550It was a bit scary to look behind the seat of the first class seat btw – there was lots of trash there so I’m not sure there are routines in place to handle this – it could have needed a round of vacuuming! The toiletry bag that we got was OK and the TUMI bag included stuff that you normally need: lip balm, mouth freshener, brush, tooth brush etc.  When the service started we started getting hot and wet cloths and I can honestly say that I have never gotten that many in my life before! We got these lovely warm and scented clothes both before and after meals!

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IMG_7546When the table was set for two it was beautiful with the Thai logo stamped into the butter and fresh bread served. We got real caviar to start with (with garniture), followed but a salmon dish and topped up with a slow cooked beef cheek. One of the pieces of the beef cheeks was quite tough but the rest of the pieces were delicious. We also got an ENORMOUS cheese platter – me and my friend could have easily have shared this and not been able to eat it all but instead we got two large portions of cheese each! The dessert was a bit of a disappointment – I got a small chocolate cream and a pretty dry “muffin” with custard and berries on top.

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IMG_7541The great thing about having a small compartment is that it is easy to get some privacy to be able to slip into the pajama that was handed out. The seat with the huge table in front is also perfect for pulling out the PC and working a bit. The only problem in my seat was that someone had stuck something into the power socket so I wasn’t able to get power to my PC and they didn’t have a plug adapter either. The table was a bit hard to move back and forth – so hard in fact that my friend and I had to really put our muscles into moving it. In the process of moving the table I managed to get my finger sliced but the flight attendant was there to patch me up.

IMG_7577The flight time from Bangkok to Frankfurt is about 10-11 hours so there was time for another food serving before landing. This time I started with breasola served with a mix of mozzarella and tomato and it was delicious. After this we got a tom kha gai (a typical Thai chicken soup which is creamy, a bit spicy and a bit sour) and the main dish was a chicken breast served with garlic mashed potatoes. Having chicken breast on flights is normally not a good idea as it normally becomes quite dry but this chicken was actually quite good. Once again the dessert was nothing special and I was a bit disappointed by that. But you can enjoy some very good cognac if you are into that – they served Otard Extra 1795.

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The service onboard was great and we were mainly served by two flight attendants and towards the end of the flight they came to say goodbye with a traditional wai. I tried to talk a bit with the one flight attendant to hear what her work schedule was like etc. but she seemed to be very professional and didn’t seem to be interested in getting into personal details which is fine.

IMG_7587All in all this was a great experience. The spa treatment at Bangkok airport is great before going on a long flight and the small suites on board the flight is perfect if you want a bit of privacy for working or for sleeping. As they provide a pajama you can slip into a comfortable outfit while enjoying the great food and drinks served. Thai Airways might not have the same modern layout as you can find on Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa these days but this will change soon when they introduce the new A380 (see presentation here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6Us4r02JRk ). I had a great flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt on Royal First Class and I look forward to flying with them again. If you want to read about a previous experience on Thai Airway first class (on a Boeing 747) you can read this blog entry: http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=497

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Westin Chosun Seoul: Expensive but great location and very nice room Aug 06

P1000650My wife and I stayed at the Westin Chosun in Seoul, Korea in July 2012 in connection with a vacation in Korea and decided to stay at this hotel as we wanted to splurge on the hotel stay while in Seoul and the hotel was also in a great location compared to many of the attractions in Seoul. I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this review. I have been a bit spoiled by staying at some very nice hotels in Asia and due to this I do have high expectations when I stay at nice hotel chains like Westin. We booked the hotel on the Starwood Preferred Guest site (SPG) and it was a special summer “promotions” and it was 300.000 Won (300 USD) for club level (meaning free breakfast and cocktail hour at night) and free internet.

IMG_2796To get to the hotel we took a train from the Incheon airport and it arrived at Seoul station after about 45 minutes and it was only like 4000 Korean Won (about 4 USD) and from there it was only about 5 minutes to the hotel and it was only about 3000 Won (about 3 USD). We got room 1904 and check in was pretty fast as we had booked the room on the SPG site. The room is very nice when entering – as usual the room was in light colors with a wooden floor to start with and then a carpet. There was a wardrobe to start with that contained robes, slippers, a safe, ironing board and iron.

IMG_2797The main piece in the room was the king size bed and as often in Asia, it was huge! On the right side of the bed there was a control panel to adjust lighting in the room, air con etc. The air-con was very quiet which is excellent! The bed was quite comfortable but I don’t really like the layer of sheets options – there are also a number of pillows to choose from if you are picky when it comes to that. There was also a small sofa with a small table (that could also be used as a stool) and a desk with a chair. The plugs were a mixture of Korean and European sockets so I could actually plug in my Norwegian plugs in some sockets.

IMG_2800The flat screen TV was a bit on the small side if you ask me but it had the common English channels and a number of Korean channels. Westin have integrated a bit of stuff into the TV system (wake up calls, messages etc) and it makes it a bit slow. The fridge had some great options when it comes to drinks – I think it is the first time I have seen that a hotel offers both a half bottle of Champagne (Veuve Clicquot)and a half a bottle of Cognac! There was also a Nespresso machine for making your own espresso Smile

IMG_2808The bathroom was pretty small and it was tiled in rather ugly tiles – but it was at least functional. The bathtub also featured a shower option with a glass panel to avoid splashing all over the floor and it did actually work out as intended. There were a few amenities on club level (shampoo, lotion, toothbrush, comb, shower cap etc) but in general I’m not a big fan of the products they use. Normally I don’t mention the sink itself but this time I have to as it was quite modern with the glass bench around it – it was not very practical as the soap holder would slide off the sink and end up on the floor. I normally don’t mention the toilet either but this time the toilet was high tech compared to what I’m used to. In some areas in Asia they have toilet seats that contain warm water for cleaning yourself and even a drier to dry up your private parts. But the best feature is probably the seat warming function! But the ventilation in the bathroom is not very good but luckily there is heating in the bathroom mirror to avoid that it steams up.

P1000496We had breakfast both upstairs in the lounge (on the 20th floor) and on Aria on the lower lobby level. As usual it is quieter upstairs and the view is great but the selection of food is not as extensive as in the main breakfast restaurant. I e.g. seemed to stir up quite a fuzz when I asked to get an omelet made. The hotel was not very good when it comes to healthy cereal option but you have a selection of bread, fruit, bacon/egg/sausages and there are a couple of coffee machines if you need your fix in the morning. In the main breakfast area they had stations focusing on bread, hot food, egg station etc so you have a more extensive selection. From 6 to 8 pm there were evening cocktails severed in the lounge so we could enjoy a drink while watching the sun set over Seoul – they have wine, whiskey, vodka, brandy etc. They also had some food but don’t eat too much – remember to taste the Korean cuisine while you are in Seoul ;-)

On the third level there is a swimming pool and one floor down you will find a large gym with lots of treadmills, stationary bikes and all the stuff that you expect to find in a good gym. And with large windows you also get a bit of a view while working out.

The location of the hotel is very good at least when looking at the main attractions of Seoul. You don’t have to walk far to get to the City Hall metro station and you can easily walk to many of the main attractions. There are a number of restaurants, bars etc nearby but Seoul is a huge city so you can find that all over the place.

P1000649But everything is not perfect with the hotel of course. First of all: the lifts are extremely slow and maybe it is not enough with 4 lifts when you have 20 floors. When we were there they were doing maintenance with one lift and hence there were only 3 lift operational and they seem to work on two different systems! I’m also surprised by the reservation system. We decided to stay a few days extra and they said they it was not possible to get the same rate as before. I can understand this but I think the right phrase is “we don’t want to give you the same rate”. When we started talking to the reservation desk they said that they could offer us a rate of 360.000 Won but instead of king size bed we would get twin bed. But when we checked online it was possible to get a king size bed…so we showed this to the reservation desk and they were like “Ok, then it is possible”. We then decided to extend and they booked it but then after 5 minutes they were like “Oh…you are two people in the room? The rate will then be 360.000 + 50.000 for an extra person”…this is after we had talked to them for quite a while when booking the room. When we checked online we could still get it for 360.000 for two people so I showed this to the reservation team and asked them if I really had to book it online in front of their eyes compared to just getting them to do it and the answer was “Yes”….this is too weird if you ask me.

Being a 5 star hotel the services are expensive. We had a breakfast at the lower lobby floor one day at the Vecchia e Nuovo when we woke up late and two sandwiches and two coffee was like 70.000 Won (about 70 USD) and it was not worth it at all.

Conclusion
IMG_2809The Westin Chosun is a very good hotel – the room was large enough, there are amenities and services and on club level you can enjoy breakfast and evening cocktails on the 20th floor with a view. But Westin has a tendency to annoy me a bit – no free internet in general, not really offering any perks when you have a gold card on SPG (like when I stayed at Westin in Madrid earlier this year) and this time there was the incident of having to book a room online in front of the staff in the hotel to get a lower rate. So I’m still going to stick to Traders/Shangri-La if I have a chance!

But all in all…if you are willing to cough up the money then Westin Chosun does offer a nice room in a very central location in Seoul !

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Very disappointed by Lufthansa long-haul business class Aug 01

The Asiana lounge at IncheonOver the years I have flown quite a lot with Lufthansa in economy class – they have provided great offers to many parts of the world and their onboard service has been quite good (apart from their really bad in flight entertainment system). So when I was going to fly Lufthansa business class long haul from Seoul (ICN) to Frankfurt (FRA) it was something that I looked forward to! In July 2012 my wife and I checked in at Incheon airport in Seoul to fly LH713 to Europe. Check in was fast even if though the The Lufthansa A340-600ground staff looked and behaved as if she had gotten out on the wrong side of the bed that day. Our request to sit together was met with a frown and statement that business class was full and this was not possible. There was no priority security check and no priority immigration and that was a bit disappointing for an airport that is labeled as the best in the world. I guess this is Asiana’s home base so I was also looking forward to checking out their lounge – but let me assure you, there is not much to look forward to. It is a rather dark airport lounge with no view of the runway. Maybe they have tried to make it look like home with all the books in the book shelves.

The amenity packOur flight was scheduled for 14:05 and we boarded at about 13:30. Contrary to grumpy check in lady’s statement, our seats were changed so that we could sit together – in seats 10 G and K. These seats are located in the smallest business class cabin at above the wings of the plane (you can see the setup of the plane on the Lufthansa site ). The Airbus A340-600 has been the longest plane in the world until recently when the new Boeing 747-8 took that title. Anyway, the Lufthansa flight LH713 had a three class configuration with 8 first class, 48 business class in a 2-2-2 configuration and the rest being economy class.

Business class seatWhen we sat down we noticed that a bottle of water had already been handed out together with a blanket, headset were already attached and we had also gotten a small toiletry bag with a toothbrush, socks, eye shades, ear plugs and some lip balm – the toiletry bag and water was “hidden” in a small compartment on the side and behind the seat so I wonder if everyone actually noticed it. After a looong while we were offered a glass of champagne (they had different bottles during the service so I’m not sure it was champagne) but the plane was still parked at the gate. After a while the captain announced that they had to take out some luggage, that there were flight restrictions over China etc. (it was not easy to understand as we could hardly hear what he was saying) and it would cause a delay. Some champagneI pushed down the call button immediately to get some more champagne but I would have died of thirst if I had to wait for that response. I think I had the call button on for 30-40 minutes and no one came to check on me once – at all. You might say that they were busy with flight preparations but as I said we were supposed to take off at 14:05 and we finally left the ground at 17:40! Finally take-offSo in the end I had to just grab a flight attendant that was just walking past or actually go to the galley to ask for service. I walked in once and two flight attendants were casually chatting away. When I asked for some champagne and maybe some peanuts they all of a sudden seemed to think that it was a good idea so they started offering peanuts to all the business class passengers. After a while they did walk around to serve us a small snack while we were waiting but the standard response when asking for a drink was “Just wait a second and my colleague will come past to serve it”.

The menu for the flightAfter takeoff they could finally start with the regular service and a menu was handed out. It was rather grand but my wife was like “I’m not sure I understand the menu” and I had to agree. It was not very clear what we would get, what decisions we had to make etc. But when they started serving the food we got some explanation.My salad starter There were three starters to choose from and I went for the fresh garden greens with Gruyere cheese. The salad was quite good but there was actually not that much salad but more cheese – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But this was served on a tray with salt/pepper, tooth picks etc and before the main course they actually removed this tray and hence they removed the stuff that you might want to use for dinner (or after) e.g. the salt/pepper and toothpicks.

My fish dinner with "risotto"The dinner option was braised chicken, sea bass on asparagus risotto or bibimpap (a traditional Korean rice dish). I went for the chicken and my wife went for the sea bass but when it was served it was easy to see that my lactose intolerant wife could not eat the sea bass dish. I like the Italian cuisine and I love my risotto and to call this dish sea bass on asparagus risotto is an insult to Italian cuisine…no, actually an insult to Italy and everyone that loves Italian food! The sea bass itself was OK but what was supposed to be risotto were just a few rice grains swimming around in a creamy soup.

DessertMy wife was not that that impressed by the chicken on linguine either. It was presented as “Tomato basil olive sauce” but she said the chicken was dry and the sauce was merely a few splatters of tomato puree. So could the dessert make up for this rather bad start? On the menu we had the option of chocolate terrine or cheese or fruit salad – when the FA came to me I asked for the chocolate and she was like “Oh, you got the last one” like I had won a prize. But I can assure you…I did not feel like I had hit the jackpot. I don’t know who came up with the idea of combining chocolate cake with terrine as this was not very good – a chocolate “cake” that seemed to have been overdosed on gelatin and with not a lot of taste.

Seat controlLet us talk about the configuration and seat for a bit. Lufthansa is a big company and they have lots of different planes and they also have different options for seats. I think there is at least three different first class seats at the moment and they have finally came to realize that they have to introduce a proper lie flat business class seat to be able to compete with other major airlines. This plane had a pretty standard Lufthansa business class seat for long-haul flights if I’m not mistaken which means that you have a more or less flat seat but in a 160-170 degrees configuration. TV screenFor me this means that you can get a better sleep than in an economy seat but I keep on sliding down so in my case it is better to turn the seat into a deep reclining seat but this depends on your preference of course. I think what bothers me the most about the seat is that there is nowhere to put “stuff”. There was a narrow compartment behind the seat where the water bottle and toiletry bag was placed but apart from that there is nowhere to place stuff like camera, the holder for my glasses, iPad etc. At least there was a small place for a glass of champagne ;-) There is also a power outlet if you need to top up your iPad or laptop! In addition to this there was a 15”(?) screen that popped up from the seat (we were on the first row before the next section) and the in flight entertainment is not bad but a problem with the StarAlliance deal is that it seems like all the airlines show more or less the same movies.

Drink menuWe were seated in the business class section in the back and there are only 12 seats there and the next section is economy. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work but it seemed like most of the economy passengers were using the toilets in the business class sections – and as the flight attendants didn’t seem to give instructions, the economy passengers were walking around in the business class section. In fact, I had to go back to the economy section to go to the toilet as this was available while people from economy were lining up for the business class toilet! This is not a very impressive setup! Maybe Lufthansa should consider informing people where toilets are located. The toilets in economy on the A340-600 are kinda cool as they are located on the lower floor of the plane. It is not like I mind sharing my toilet with economy passengers but the whole idea of flying business is to get better service, have a better seat, get a quieter environment etc. Having people from economy led to a lot of traffic through our business class section. Even SAS (Scandinavian) are able to handle this issue!

Korean fish dishBefore landing it was time for a new meal and as the previous serving had not been a great success, we were looking forward to tasting the Cajun chicken breast with some caprese salad. But when the flight attendant came she asked me if I would care for some Korean braised sea bream with rice. I asked what the alternatives were and then she said that they didn’t have more of the Cajun chicken. Wouldn’t it be better to just say this to start with? Well, she served the fish with a smile and assured me that it was delicious. The fish was not bad but it was not the meal that I wanted!

As we took off several hours after planned schedule, we arrived late in Frankfurt. We were lucky to get out of the plane early and got to a Lufthansa service center to get information about what would happen next as we just missed our connecting flight. For some reason we had been rebooked to go to Copenhagen the next morning – which is great if you live in Copenhagen but our final destination was Stavanger in Norway. But they fixed this by booking us into a hotel (where we got up at 4 am due to a fire alarm) and sending us to Norway via Aberdeen the next day.

Conclusion
My wife had the chicken for dinnerI know I sound like a spoiled brat when I describe the service on board. I mean…I should be thankful for flying business instead of economy right? But I have had the privilege and pleasure of flying first class on a number of airlines and business class on e.g. Scandinavian (SAS), Turkish, AirCanada, Emirates, Thai Airways so I feel like have something to compare it to.  When flying for work I have looked into flying with Lufthansa several times but the prices has normally be substantially higher compared to  e.g. Scandinavian (and sometimes more or less on par with Singapore Airlines). If I can save 30% by flying Scandinavian compared to Lufthansa I would do so as the seat on Lufthansa is not any better, the service is certainly not any better,Snack we got when waiting for 4 hours in the plane the facilities is not any better etc. And if I had the option of flying Singapore Airlines with their new business class or flying this Lufthansa business class…let there be no doubt about it: I would pick Singapore Airlines any day! While Singapore can offer an amazing seat, perfect service, option of selection food before you flight etc. Lufthansa could only provide a tired business class seat with a crew that didn’t seem too interested in it’s passengers. Maybe the business class is too big for the crew to handle as service was slow, they ran out of food, when I tried to call for service no one checked on me etc. I know that this seems like a harsh conclusion – but I have to admit that I am disappointed by the Lufthansa business class.

If you are flying long haul on business class you are far better off by choosing Singapore airlines, Scandinavian, AirCanada etc. I do look forward to testing out the new Lufthansa business class (currently being installed on the new Boeing 747-8) – so Lufthansa: feel free to invite me back for a test of the new business class and I will make new flight review and hopefully it will be substantially better.

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

December hotel in Jeju island in Korea Jul 29

P1000709My wife and I stayed at December hotel in July 2012. We booked the hotel online on Agoda and we had to pay 170 USD for the room for three nights. When we booked the hotel we were not familiar with the island so we didn’t really know where to stay but we decided to stay near Jeju-si as it seemed central. Taxi from the airport to the hotel only takes 5-10 minutes and it was about 3000 W. Check in was fast and we got room 305. The guy who checked us in was not very fluent in English but he managed to explain the basics of our stay and to explain the remote control (as this controls TV, aircon and light). When we got out of the lift on the third floor we became a bit skeptical as the carpet seemed stained or really dirty. But the room was far nicer than expected. When we entered the room there was a tiny room to leave your shoes and to put on the slippers – one door leads into the bathroom and one into the main room.

IMG_3314The main room contained a bed, two big chairs, a table, a small fridge that was empty apart from two bottles of water (complimentary each day), a desk and a TV. Let’s start with the king size bed: it was brick hard and not the way I like it! And to make it even more challenging the pillows were huge and also very firm! I don’t think I have ever tossed and turned that much during sleep as I did at this hotel. So if you like your bed soft, this is not the hotel for you.

 

IMG_3316The remote control gives you access to control the TV, air con and light. There were some problem with the light and the guy in the reception tried to explain it to us and we did manage to turn of the light but we did experience that it came on automatically a couple of times. The air con was OK but it was a bit tricky to get the right temperature at night and it became pretty freezing at night. IMG_3317And we only got a thin sheet at a duvet for the bed – I like it better when the blankets are covered up by a sheet. The TV contained a lot of Korean channels and only a few English ones. There were not that many amenities in the room but there was a water boiler and some bottles. One was with a gel called Exciter Superhard – with a lot of Korean signs on the back. I thought it was hand sanitizer gel to start with but in the end I think I came to the conclusion that it was hair gel!

IMG_3321The bathroom was actually quite nice with light tiles and a decent shower. The only “problem” was that the drain was in the middle of the room so when taking a shower it would get kind of wet in the room. There was also a drain for the air con and that would leak water all the time on to the floor and it is kinda annoying with a wet bathroom floor. But I guess that is why you have bathroom slippers. The decorations in the bathroom were also a bit cheesy (with decorations on the toilet seat) but maybe that is common practice in Korea? Bathroom amenities included dispensers for shampoo and body wash.

The location of the hotel is very good – when we walked out of the hotel we could walk to places like FamilyMart and GS25 (places like 7Eleven) within seconds and nearby there are lots and lots of restaurants and bars. It is close to the airport and a taxi to Jeju-si bus station is about 4000 W in a taxi. If the taxi driver doesn’t know where the hotel is, ask him to take you to Grace Hotel – it is just around the corner.

The lobby has a selection of pamphlets for the main attractions of Jeju. The hotel also has free wifi which seems to work well. Note that there is not safe in the room so we just used a suitcase to lock up our valuables.

Conclusion
IMG_3320Due to extensive business traveling in the last few years, I have gotten a bit spoiled when it comes to hotels as I have stayed at very nice 4 and 5 stars hotels all over Asia. December hotel in Jeju is a pretty basic hotel and my main problem was the bed and pillow that were brick hard and due to this I had a hard time getting decent sleep in this hotel. But the room is pretty cheap at least compared to some of the big chain hotels that you find around the island and the location is quite good. So if you can handle the bed it is not a bad place to start exploring the island of Jeju. But as the island is bigger than you think I would advise you to get a hotel on the different parts of the islands if you want to explore it in an effective way. I’m not sure the hotel has a homepage but you can find some more information on the Agoda page for the hotel.

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Air Canada Executive First Class– tried & tested Jul 21

IMG_7612In June 2012 I went from Stavanger in Norway to Calgary in Canada. I started on a Sunday morning from Stavanger and there was only 1 row (3 seats) for business class passengers and I was seated by the window. On the way to London I was served a warm lunch of salmon and pasta and the salmon was pretty good. When we were getting closer to Heathrow it was of course very busy and we had to circle for like 15 minutes before we could approach the airport – at one point we got pretty close to another plane!Both SAS and Air Canada are a part of Star Alliance and in London I stopped by the SAS lounge on Terminal 3 while I was waiting for my next flight and I only had a 1 hour wait.

IMG_7613The next flight was the Air Canada flight directly to Calgary on a Boeing 777-300ER. On the business class (or Executive first class as Air Canada chooses to call it) they have a 1-2-1 seat configuration but they are angled. You can see the same configuration on some of the Thai Airway flights these days (on the planes that they have leased from Jet Airways). The seat itself was not bad as you can recline it all the way down and it connects with a small foot stool in the front to form a horizontal bed. But I’m not sure about the angled configuration. If you travel alone it feels a bit weird as you are looking over to what 2-3 other passengers are doing. And if you are traveling as a couple you get a bit too far from each other to really talk without raising the voice. And if you have a window seat it is a bit tricky to look out the window as the seat is facing in towards the aisle.

IMG_7628When I got to my seat 3D the blanket and amenity bag had already been handed out. The amenity bag was not very impressive as it only contained socks, eye shades, ear plugs and a toothbrush – but then again, what more do you need? J There was also a headset in place and it was actually non-detachable IMG_7622and I think it is the first time I see that on a flight. They didn’t look that great and I was glad I was bringing my own BOSE noise reducing headset. But the sound quality was not great and I’m not sure if it was because of a problem with the socket or the quality of the actual movie. The TV folds out from the side of the seat and I would guess it was about 15” – for me it was a bit on the small side as it was not possible to bring it closer. The screen is a touch screen but I still think there is room for improvement as it was very slow to navigate around the system. But the selections of movies were quite good but games were not working. The TV can also be controlled by a small remote and this contains a small joystick that was not very easy to use. And I think it is the first time that I have seen commercials being shown before a movie on a flight!

IMG_7630We had to wait almost two hours onboard the plane before we could finally take off – Heathrow can be really busy! When I first got on board the plane I was offered sparkling wine and not champagne. I’m not sure why they do it like this as flight attendants were very generous with the champagne later on. The meal was served after a while and the starters were a green salad with tomato and parmesan cheese and with the olive oil/balsamic vinegar it was delicious. The IMG_7631smoked salmon was also served at the same time and that was also quite good. While I was enjoying the starter, the main dish was prepared. There was a choice of 4 main courses and I went for the rack of lamb which was simply excellent. I don’t think I have ever tasted so juicy meat on a flight in a long time. After the main meal I got some cheese and it was fun to try some Wensleydale cheese after seeing a Wallace and Gromit movie on a flight home from Asia recently. To round it of an apple pie was served together with coffee – all in all I have to say I’m impressed by the meal. It must have been one of the best meals I have had on a business class flight.

I took the same route back from Calgary and check-in at the airport was uneventful. The Maple leaf lounge at the Calgary airport looked a bit tired to start with but when I walked around it was quite big with various seats and it also had a nice view towards the planes parked on the outside and towards the city center. There were food, fruit, soft drinks, wine etc on offer.

IMG_7684Going back I had once again a Boeing 777-300ER and I had picked seat 1G. Once again amenities were already laid out on the seat when I got there but this time the toiletry bag was different. I guess it makes sense to have a different toiletry bag on a night flight compared to a day flight. Once again the service was good and I enjoyed the salad for starter together with a small dish including scallop and tiger prawn. There were several options for the main meal and I was tempted to go for meat again but as I had eaten a bit of meat during my stay in Calgary, I went for risotto instead. As I love risotto it is always a potential for disaster. The risotto served on this flight was not great in any way but it was lighter than then meat option. The meal was rounded off with a selection of cheese and a toffee apple cranberry cake.

IMG_7688As this was a night flight I got to test out the seat for real and when reclined all the way down it forms a more or less flat bed that provided a good place for a few hours sleep. I did wake up in connection with breakfast and got served an omelet, sausage etc. After we had landed in London, one of the cabin crew asked me if I wanted to see the cabin crew resting area on the second floor and I have never been offered this before so I said yes of course. There was a small staircase leading up to it and on the second floor there were two beds and two comfortable chairs. After a short stop in London I took a SAS flight back to Norway.

Just a few things that I didn’t like about the flights/planes/service on board AirCanada:
First of all it is a bit strange to be seated at an angle. The seat itself was pretty good but if you are traveling with someone this is not an ideal configuration. On the way over the TV that you fold out was a bit loose and the menu system on the inflight entertainment is not very good. Games did not seem to work at all both ways. And when using the BOSE headset instead of the headset that was supplied, there was a constant cracking sound. Going to Calgary there was a toilet in business class where the sink was not working.

But all in all: the service and food on board the flights were quite good and as the seat provides a flat bed for sleeping.

All in all I would rate the Air Canada Executive First Class higher than e.g. Scandinavian business class as they do provide a lay flat seat and the food is a bit better but it still does not compare with the seat and service from Singapore Airlines.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Westin Calgary–good hotel location if you are working downtown Jul 03

IMG_7636I stayed in Westin Calgary in connection with a work trip there in June 2012. I chose this hotel as the location was very good and it was possible to walk to where I was going to work within minutes. I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this review. I do admit that I have been a bit spoiled by staying at some very nice hotels in Asia and due to this I do have high expectations when I stay at nice hotel chains like Westin. I booked the hotel through t a travel agency in Norway.

IMG_7638The taxi from the airport to the hotel was about 35 Canadian dollar (about 35 USD these days) and on a Sunday afternoon it only took 15 minutes. Check in was fast and I got room 551 – to my surprise the internet was included in my business room rate which is great. I was also offered more Starwood points if I could do without room service during my stay and I think this is a great idea. The internet worked pretty good and when logged in I did not have to log in again every time I got back to the hotel – excellent! I was also able to log in with several devices which is also great.

IMG_7674The room I got was located on the 5th floor and from the hall there was a view out on a huge construction area. I think they are putting up a large building here so it might create some noise for the next few years. The rooms at Westin are refurbished recently but I have to admit that my first thought when I walked in was that it was a bit outdated. The carpet was dark brown while the curtains where dark greenish in color. Due to this the whole room seemed a bit on the dark side. The lighting in the room was not very modern either as there were no master control for the lighting – IMG_7640each of the lamps had to be switched on individually. The walls in the room were covered in a mustard colored wall paper and there where dark furniture. The flat screen TV was mounted on the wall and it was possible to pull it out to face it towards the chair in the room and that is a great feature. Under the TV was a rather big dark furniture of drawers and a cupboard. It was totally empty so I guess it at least provides space if you unpack your entire suitcase. In many other hotels this normally contains the mini bar and the amenities that you need in connection with that.

IMG_7642The mini fridge was located by the entrance in the room and it was totally empty which seems a bit weird but maybe that figured that they don’t sell anything anyway as prices are normally too high compared to prices on street level. But at least there were two wine glasses and two regular glasses and a bucket for ice (there was an ice machine on the floor). There was also a coffee maker but there is a Starbucks in the lobby so there are also other options for coffee. The wardrobe included quite a few hangers, two robes, iron and ironing board and a small safe – but no slippers. The desk had a pop up plug stand but it did not have international sockets – but luckily I could borrow a plug adapter from the reception.

There were two queen sized beds in the room and the bed was quite comfortable. But I’m not sure I understand the lack of a proper bed linen around the duvet – instead the duvet is just placed between two sheets – not a very good system for the guests in my opinion.

IMG_7646The bathroom was partially tiled and included a bathtub with a shower option. The shower curtain was on a curved bar so at least it didn’t stick to me while I was showering. But it did splash a bit on the floor anyway as it was hard to control the water pressure in the shower. I was very disappointed by the amenities as there was only shampoo, conditioner and a bar of soap – but then again I’m not a big fan of the Westin products. I did get a few more amenities after a couple of days at the hotel e.g. mouth wash. There was a bit of noise in the room – the aircon was not very quiet kind even when running it on low. The traffic on the outside also created a bit of noise but luckily there is not that much traffic at night so it was not a huge problem. I was also in a room close to the elevators and that is never a good idea as you get quite a bit of noise when the lifts go up and down.

IMG_7670The location of the hotel is good for work as it is located close to many of the main office buildings in downtown Calgary. There is also direct access to Calgary +15 from Westin which is great – the +15 is the skybridge system that connects many of the building together in the downtown area. Note that the downtown area is pretty dead after like 6 pm as most shops and food courts close about this time so just finding a 7Eleven around the hotel was tricky. Breakfast at the hotel is served at Essence restaurant and it had a pretty decent selection of food. I enjoyed the cereal on offer but they also had an egg station and a selection of bacon, sausages etc. The pool and gym is located at the 20th floor but the gym was smaller than I had expected. But if you want to go jogging you can easily walk over to Prince’s Island to go jogging there.

Conclusion
The Westin Calgary had a great location for me as I was basically working next door. But I was not that crazy about the room itself. There was quite a bit of noise from the lifts next to the room and the room was a bit on the dark side and not very cozy. But thanks for providing me with free wifi and complimentary drinking water. I don’t have experience with other hotels in Calgary so it is hard to compare how Westin is to other hotels – so if I go there again I might try a different hotel.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Access to SAS lounges this summer Jun 27

This summer you can pay to get access to the SAS business lounges in Stockholm (Arlanda), Copenhagen (Kastrup) and Oslo. In the period from May 16th to September 30th you can pay 219 Kroner (about 36 USD) per person to get access to these lounges but you need to have a ticket on SAS, Widerøe or Blue1. So if you have a long wait it might be worth it – you do get access to some snack and drinks at least Winking smile

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Turkish Airlines business class–tried & tested Jun 23

IMG_7389I used Turkish Airlines on a trip to Beijing in May 2012. It was actually my first trip with Turkish Airlines and I chose it as the price was quite good compared to the alternatives for going to Beijing. I have used Scandinavian Airlines a lot as they have had good prices to Asia but their prices to Beijing was a lot higher than on Turkish Airlines and it was one of the reasons for choosing this airline. My trip started in Copenhagen and it was a fairly new Boeing 737-800 if I’m not mistaken. The flight from Copenhagen to Istanbul is about 3 hours and I was seated on 4D on business class. I’m not sure why but it seemed like it took forever to get the people on board this flight – Scandinavian Airlines seems to be better to get people on board more efficiently.

IMG_7393The seat was a proper business class seat with a 2+2 configuration. There was of course an offer of having champagne to start with and they also handed out a big menu where the options were sea bass, chicken breast or pasta. When I wanted some red wine together with the food, the flight attendant asked me if I wanted Turkish or French wine. I have not gotten the memo that Turkey is a great wine producing country so I went for French wine and the FA was like “why does everyone want the French wine?” The various starters were great but the chicken breast was dry as it often is on flights.  My colleague ordered a glass of cognac after the food and we asked what kind of cognac it was. The FA replied that it was “VIP cognac”. It is not a brand that we are familiar with and I guess she could say that we were wondering about her answer. So she went to get the bottle and it was a Hennesey VSOP (so VSOP became VIP) – but all in all we got great service and the FA seemed to be enjoying her job.

IMG_3834As I had a bit of time at Istanbul Ataturk airport I had the pleasure of waiting a bit in the Turkish Airlines lounge. It is a huge lounge and I guess it is needed as Istanbul airport has become quite a busy airport and hence there were lots of people in the lounge. Here you can get something to eat, wine and spirits was available, they have recliners, TV screens and with a username and password you can also get online.

IMG_7397The flight to Beijing was at about 11 pm and I think boarding started about 1 hour prior to departure.  We had to take a bus out to the plane so there was no business entrance into the plane like you often see on larger airports. When we checked in my colleague and I got seats behind each other and when we got into the plane we asked if we could change seats and if the flight was full or not. She replied that the flight was full but it later turned out that there were lots of seats available on business class and we did get to sit next to each other. The Turkish Airlines flight TK020 is a Boeing 777-300ER and the configuration in business class is a kind of strange 2+3+2 configuration.
The seat was good and when inclined it links up with the foot stool (or ottoman) in front of it to form a bed that is almost completely flat (I think it is 177 degrees). Blankets, slippers, amenities pack and headphones were already laid out in advance before I came on the plane which is a good solution in my opinion.

IMG_7404In front of each seat there was a 15” screen and the in in-flight entertainment system seemed to be quite good with lots of movies on demand. But it was kinda annoying to have the control docked in a space next to the seat on the right hand side – it was hard to reach when I started reclining the seat!  I was not that impressed with the headphones – I’m not sure it is noise cancelling or not but they didn’t feel like it at least. After takeoff I got the menu and it was quite extensive. I had a choice of two starters and I chose the potpourri of Mediterranean meze and it also came with a small salad, some yogurt and cucumber etc. It was also possible to get a soup before going to the main meal where I went for the mushroom ravioli.

IMG_7405When they brought in the meal it was served on a tray of course but the various dishes was served on glass plates and I got real cutlery. Each tray also had a small salt and pepper shaker – the only “problem” was that the butter was brick hard! I tried chicken as a starter, I tried the leak soup and finally the mushroom ravioli. At the time I was getting hungry so I found the meal to be very good. After dinner they walk past with a dessert trolley and I asked for the chocolate “fondant” and tiramisu. This was not very good in my opinion – it did not resemble real tiramisu.
The amenity kit was contained in a rather big bag and it contained some lip balm, toothbrush, eye shade, comb/brush, ear plugs, socks etc. The toothbrush was horrible as it was built up by two parts and it kept on falling apart when I used it. The toilet on board the 777 was a bit larger than what I’m used to on the SAS Airbus A340 which means that it is easier if you want to slip into a pajama before you try to get some sleep.

IMG_7407The seat is quite good and when you recline it, it connects to the foot stool in front to give you a long and almost flat bed. It is also great that there is room under the stool as you can store e.g. shoes there. I had a pretty good sleep when flying to Beijing and I actually did not wake up until they announced that we were descending and seats had to be in an upright position. I shouldn’t complain about that of course but when I got the menu at takeoff I did fill out my breakfast menu and handed this over to the FA and indicated that I wanted breakfast but no one woke me up and by the time I did wake up it was too late for breakfast. The 2+3+2 configurations seems a bit strange but it seemed to work out pretty good – there is a small gap between the seats so you can get out without having to step on the passenger next to you – and there is also a small wall that you can raise if you want a bit more privacy. But it can’t compete with the amazing configuration of the business class on Singapore Airlines.

IMG_7410On the way back I flew the same route – Beijing-Istanbul-Copenhagen on business class. The plane on the way back to Europe was also a Boeing 777 so it was very similar to the one that I had when flying to China. Again the amenities were laid out prior to passengers coming onboard – everything was pretty much the same but the toiletry bag was a smaller version with different brand of lip balm and moisturizing cream. It is a bit weird that this has not been standardized.  This time I got a menu with my name on it and the food was once again quite good. IMG_7447The business class was completely full on this flight and it seemed like they were struggling a bit to serve all the business class passengers at more or less the same time so the FA seemed a bit stressed out. One asked me if I wanted some more red wine and I said “yes please” but I never saw the wine. When she was serving dessert I asked for port wine and I think she remembered as she first gave me some dessert and then she ran off and brought me a huge glass of port. Once again I slept pretty well in the seat but again I was not woken up for breakfast even if I had put the sticker on the seat indicating that I wanted breakfast service and once again the breakfast menu that I filled out was ignored. In the end I had to call the FA and ask for breakfast and what I got was not what I had ordered but at least I got something to eat.

IMG_7445From Istanbul to Copenhagen the rather new Boeing 737 was replaced by an older Airbus A321 and it contained seats in a horrible cyan/ turquoise color. Instead of having a proper business class seat and a 2+2 configuration, this plane had standard seats with a 3+3 configuration with the middle seat blocked to give each passengers a bit more space. But once again the service was very good and I got a very good breakfast including one of the best omelets that I have had on a plane.

Conclusion
I think Turkish Airlines long haul business class is quite good. The seat is almost horizontal and provides the possibility to sleep well when traveling for many hours and the service is quite good with a decent menu with various options and several options when it comes to the wine. But it seems like they are struggling a bit with the breakfast menu setup or at least it failed both ways when I used them. The on board entertainment is quite good as you can start watching a movie right away and you can watch it until you land basically – not like SAS where it takes forever to start it and they terminate it like 30 minutes prior to landing.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures