As 2017 starts up, it is inevitable that we would contemplate how life has changed this past year. It’s a clear, sunny day - about 30ºC (86ºF) - at lunchtime here in a leafy residential quarter of Yangon in Myanmar (Burma). We are looking after Bubbles, who we met on our very first house sit in Normandy in France only 6 months ago. For that is where our story of house and pet sitting really starts, and what an unpredictable adventure it has been ever since. If you had asked us a year ago what we would be doing now, or where we would be, never in our wildest dreams would we have contemplated this. So to say goodbye to 2016 we have compiled a list of our favorite moments, best meals, and the most stunning locations we have experienced. Without further ado here are our 12 Best and Most Pleasantly Surprising (and 6 Not So Great) Travel and House Sitting Moments of 2016 in no particular order.
-Blair and Nicolo
Normandy American Cemetery
We of course expected to be moved by the experience at the Normandy American Cemetery and Omaha Beach, but it was more than that. Being halfway across the world and seeing all the graves lined up really put things in perspective. It’s stunning in its sadness, and yet there is something beautiful about the memorial to so many who died protecting our world and our freedoms. It was the least we could do to take time out of our trip to honor the dead. The exhibit is extensive and you should plan on spending a few hours here to take in everything.
Nestled in the far northwest of England lies the (very) small town of Silloth in Cumbria. For years I had driven up the M6 motorway from the south to north of England and on into Scotland. What a shame I had never known to divert west 30 minutes to the coastline. It’s beautiful. And right in the middle of town is the large Silloth Green filled in winter with dogs and their walkers, in summer I am sure with a mass of people enjoying the beautiful scenery, Victorian designs and Silloth Music and Beer Festival. - N.
Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus)
As history buffs, we would have never forgiven ourselves if we had skipped this stop on our way to Austria from France. There is a strange disparity being here as the stunning views of Austria and Germany are not to be missed while at the same time the history is almost startling when you think about what was and what could have been - especially after having visited the Normandy beaches and war memorials just a few weeks before - The bus ride to the top is gorgeous but also thrilling. And if you’re feeling adventurous you can walk all the way down to the bottom, which we did. You can also walk all the way up, but, no thank you because it is a giant hill.
Fish and Chips
If there are two people who have tried harder to survive on more than solely Fish and Chips please comment below and bring us out of our shame. Also if there is prize money for the award for most Fish and Chips eaten in one year we happily accept checks. It’s gotten so bad we now do post-mortems after each fish and chip meal and keep running reviews and rankings. We just can’t resist the deep fried goodness. So we have to shout-out or favorites of the year. Riley’s Fish Bar, a family-owned shop on the coast in Blackhall Colliery, Durham, for having humongous portions and for restarting up the fryer after closing once you saw the four sad hungry faces outside your window. And just down the road in Blackhall Rocks, Cod on the Rocks, for having very friendly staff, and for being the perfect meal for four people who had just traveled a very long way to get home. The Angel Inn in Grosmont, Monouthshire, Wales, for having Fish Thursdays instead of Fridays and for the food and atmosphere in this charming pub being perfect. The Fountain Head in Branscombe, Devon, for providing the perfect accompaniments to the excellent main dish: real ale and the best platter of local cheeses for the ultimate cholesterol booster. The King’s Road Fish Bar in St Leonards, East Sussex for being the perfect snack to take to the beach. The Pheasant Inn for being a surprise find near London Heathrow Airport with an expansive menu, quick service, so many drink options, exceptional portion sizes, and great fish and chips.
La Route du Cidre is definitely worth it if you are visiting Normandy. You can take one day to visit, but that won’t be enough time to really tour all the facilities and really take advantage of the route (ahem, taste all the cider!). The scenery, the people, and the alcohol pretty much make a perfect day! The setting is perfect for sampling the local cider, calvados, pommeau, and cheeses. Just be careful because they are very generous with the samples. If you can arrange a driver, do so, otherwise someone is going to have to DD and trust the others to pick good bottles to bring home. Our favorite was the Poiré, also known as Perry or Pear Cider, from Manoir du Grandouet. This place was really beautiful, with an informative tour of the press, caves, and farm. Also, they weren’t judgy at all when we bought 18 bottles to take with us on our travels.
Nissan, why don’t you make this anymore? If I had known how awesome it is, despite how ugly it is, I definitely would have bought one! Left to us by one of the homeowners we were housesitting for in California, this big-little car was perfect for getting around. With headroom for two 6’5” giants like us, and cargo space plus room for pets, it was absolutely perfect. Comfortable, good mileage - I’m totally a convert now. I heard they still sell them in Japan; anyone know a good exporter? - B.
Because we haven’t talked about food enough, we have to mention the Bijou Bistro restaurant in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. For a birthday breakfast, this was great. The proprietor is completely mad but it just adds to the fun. We ate way more than necessary but still not enough off this really good menu.
Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul
It’s very rare that I’ve ever wanted to stay in the airport rather than get on my next flight, but this is one of those times we would have been happy for a delay. Set across two floors, The Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Ataturk Airport is travel paradise. Just leave your stuff in the private electronic lockers and let loose. You can continually stuff your face on the buffet of different types of food being freshly prepared for you by the chefs. Lounge in front of the multitude of video screens, or pass the time playing the video games made available to you. It’s exactly what you imagine being an adult will be like when you are a kid but better because there is alcohol! - B.
The Ewyas Harold Common
One of our nicest surprises of touring and sitting England the last few months was discovering the county of Herefordshire (not to be confused with Hertfordshire just north of London). The mainly rural county runs along the southwest border with Wales. It’s beautiful, with narrow country roads and hillsides stretching for miles. Nothing exemplifies this more, though than the huge 125-acre area of common land featuring wild roaming ponies, fields of ferns, woodland, and fresh blackberries and damsons to eat there or take home to make jam and lies with at the time of year we visited. We often spent hours here each day watching our canine charge around and never tire, as we never did of the views.
National Trust Properties
I grew up, lived and worked in England before moving to the US almost two decades ago. Being back for several weeks this year made me experience again the rich history and beautiful landscapes that this island offers visitors and inhabitants alike. One of the great organizations that protects this for future generations is The National Trust While staying in the Cotswolds, in particular, we were within reach of a multitude of National Trust properties that I was able to visit - ranging from the village of Bibury with its seventeenth century weavers cottages and water meadow to Great Chalfield Manor, a fifteenth century medieval manor house, and Lacock Abbey, an 800-year-old country house with monastic roots, to name just a few. - N.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
We could not have been luckier than to be scheduled for a house sit in Edinburgh while the Fringe Festival was taking place. People pay hundreds of dollars for what little accommodation is available and we had a place to stay for free! As first-time festival attendee I were overwhelmed with options but somehow managed to see 12 shows over one weekend. From The Lady Boys of Bangkok to a bilingual English/Welsh production of A Good Clean Heart, it was an unforgettable experience. - B.
The City of Bath, which lies about 115 miles directly west of London, is a gem dating back almost a thousand years. Established originally by the Romans during their occupation of Britain as a thermal spa resort, it became hugely fashionable once again in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with its stunning Georgian architecture later added to by the Victorians who would go there to “take the waters”. Nothing exemplifies this better than The Royal Crescent, a row of 30 Georgian townhouses with Royal Victoria Park in front of it. Today, Bath retains almost all of its heritage and architectural beauty despite being a bustling city and smaller sister to nearby Bristol. Well worth a visit for a day.
Google - Hallstatt, Austria...stunning right? You have now experienced everything you need to about Hallstatt. This town that looks so beautiful in photos did not live up to the hype and felt more like a cheap roadside attraction in person. First, you have to struggle to find parking, then you pass the bus loop where loads of tourist are getting off and immediately snapping photos. After that, you stroll past the stands selling expensive pretzels, soap, and trinkets. A few duck boat peddlers and random kitsch here and there line the cobblestone streets and that’s about it. Other than one square there is really nothing interesting to look at. It’s boring, overpriced, and lame. If it wasn’t for our walk around the lake to get to the town (trying to avoid the crazy parking lots) the day would have been a complete waste.
Instead - skip going into town and have a picnic on the other side of the lake or camp in the area. Take a nice train ride from Bad Ischl. Visit some of the other lake towns in Austria like St. Wolfsburg.
I empathize with ABBA. I was definitely sick and tired of everything when I woke up the next morning in Glasgow. This city can really do a number on you. There are a number of popular bars and restaurants of which we were taking to three (or was it four) of in one night. The Karaoke at the Horseshoe Bar was definitely top notch, but most memories after that get fuzzy. There were magic tricks, deep-fried pizza, and lots of stumbling down the streets speaking too loudly. Enjoy the city, and pace yourself, but also maybe not. - B.
I have to be honest. I do not eat popcorn very often, and typically only at the movies. But I was hot and tired and feeling hungry towards the tail end of this day, having walked several miles through hot, bustling Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. When you’re still far from “home”, this is the perfect recipe for going to a Malaysian movie theater. They are inexpensive, modern, with large comfortable soft seating, A/C cranked up high (actually too high if you are just in shorts and a T-shirt), and, as with most cinemas, you can buy snacks on the way in. Not being a meat eater, and not knowing what many of the food items contained, I decided I would just have to do with popcorn. So I got in line and waited my turn to get to the front of the queue. Imagine my horror then when I was told that the regular popcorn had run out, but the featured variant - chicken flavor - was all that was left. Chicken flavor popcorn? Really? What next? - N.
Smog Season - Sounds like a bad B-movie but no, this is how Malaysians describe the period when the air is thick with haze and fog that gets irritates the eyes, nose, and throat. Said to be caused by illegal slash and burn land clearing practices taken by corporations in Indonesia, it’s a real pain. If it wasn’t for the huge storm we were lucky to get that cleared this out we might have been unable to leave the house for the duration of our trip to Malaysia.
This, of course, is not a surprise to anyone, but having spent so much time in the UK this year it has become sort of a running joke. Britain, your weather sucks, you need to do something about this. - B.
What were your favorite (or least favorite) moments from 2016? What are you excited for in 2017? Comment below.
Photograph of Nissan Cube by IFCAR (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photograph of Royal Crescent by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s a staple of all must-do lists but is the Yangon Circle Train really worth it?
So far in Myanmar I have not had a more serene moment then about halfway through the circle line train ride. The crowd had dissipated, the landscape flattened, and everyone on the train had quietly agreed to a few moments of peace. As we rumbled along the tracks, no one spoke, no one was selling anything, and I was able to just appreciate everything happening around me...
Getting on the train is a little confusing. There are lots of different ways to secure a ticket and different sources will tell you different things. We managed to get our tickets and board the train without too much trouble, but with more difficulty than usual for a metropolitan train. We arrived by taxi right outside Yangon Central , the main railway station in the city. There is a big ticket booth in the main entrance but you don’t need to stop at it. You can walk around to the left where there is a gate, turn left and head towards the staircase at the end. There are security guards at this gate, so if you need help vaguely give them a circle-like gesture and they will point you in the direction of Platform 7, from which the circle line runs. As you walk towards the stairs you might notice a tourist office to your left. You can go in there but I think it is unnecessary and you may end up paying more for your tickets, but I imagine they have English speakers in there who can help you if you are lost or confused.
Once you reach the staircase go up to the top and walk all the way until you can’t anymore because of a wall. You have reached Platform 7. Go down the stairs to the right and you will see a ticket booth down the platform in front of you. You should be able to pick up tickets here for no more than 250 kyats. You can try getting a 100 kyat ticket, but they seem to automatically sell the 250 kyats “air-con” ticket to foreigners.
The guy at the booth on the platform didn’t speak English very well and there were so many people rushing up to him that we weren’t entirely sure what happened in this transaction. There was a train on the platform leaving at 11:50 that we had intended to get on, but the same guy seemed determined that we get on the 12:20 train, which isn’t on the schedule anywhere (more on that later). I’m not sure if the train running was full, (although I don’t think so because we saw 5-10 people buy tickets and run to the train) or if the 12:20 train was supposed to have air conditioning (also more on that later), but we ended up waiting for the 12:20. There were people around we tried to ask but they seemed just as confused as us. It also seems that different types of trains run on the circle line at different times, and that might affect the price, but this is not posted anywhere.
Suffice it to say this doesn’t seem to be the most well-organized train station or system in the world. That said, it was lively and fun, and it was nice to observe for a half an hour. We noticed some other foreign-looking people coming to the track and figured that was a good sign we were in the right place. But then things took a turn for the worse. We saw a big group descend the stairs with what looked like a local guide complete with flag to wave in case people got lost. I was suddenly less excited to get on the train.
12:20 did eventually come around eventually but no train came to the platform. What did happen was: (1) A train arrived three platforms over. (2) All the local people crossed the tracks to get to it as an announcement was made in Myanmar language. (3) The tour guide started taking people across the tracks too. (4) Suddenly the rest of the foreigners were racing across the tracks to get the train. We also had to cross the tracks towards said train, walk down the track and along a fence that divided us from the platform, walk in front of the train (not knowing when it could start to move), then race ahead of the tour group to get on the last car on the train at its other far end which looked less crowded. And a good thing too because the last of that group just made it on as the train started moving.
Getting on a crowded train with a bunch of other tourists wasn’t exactly my idea of an “authentic” Yangon experience, so I was pretty miserable standing on the crowded train in the heat for the first 20 minutes or so. But slowly the mob started diminishing and we were able to grab two seats. Then the tour group got off at one of the earlier stations and the train was looking a lot more attractive. The scenery was changing as rapidly as the crowd and we were finally able to relax and settle into the upcoming journey.
Our train was actually a lot more comfortable than I had prepared myself for. The “JR” signage on the car, and writing in Japanese implied it was used Japan Railways stock. We had nice padded seats all along the sides, loops overhead if you were standing, and fans spread evenly across the ceiling hitting you with a nice breeze every so often. The ride was certainly bumpy at times but the cushioned seats really helped. I don’t know if this was officially “air-con” class, but it was fine by me as we had planned to ditch the A/C anyway. It has been implied that all the air conditioning units have been removed from the trains due to the Japanese equipment malfunctioning in the Myanmar heat, which wouldn’t surprise me. Or perhaps A/C means ceiling fans combined with windows that opened and sun blinds.
The ride itself was quite entertaining for something that amounts to sitting on public transit and people . watching for 3 hours. There was a lot to see out the window to keep you occupied, and you get a pretty good idea of life outside the center of the city. Most of the time will be spent in the suburbs of the city, so don’t get the idea that you will be seeing authentic untouched villages or anything like that. You’re more likely to see an expat walking through their neighborhood. Despite that though, there are some interesting sights with people going about their daily life.
One of the stations is surrounded by a lively market, and at this stop, many people were bringing on, or dropping off, huge bundles of produce. There are some stops that are so quick, and the station so small, you might blink and miss them. People wave as the train goes by and it’s fun to wave back especially when they see faces that are quite different from their own. You can feel free to get off the train at any time with your ticket; there don’t seem to be many rules about that.
We found the most interesting part of the journey to be just around the second major turn in the oval shaped track. It’s very peaceful here with the clear land, trees, and very few people or houses around the train.
You will also see lots of vendors selling their wares up and down the train cars. They are very polite (if occasionally loud) and not normally pushy at all. The stuff they are selling looks great. I was most tempted by the corn on the cob that I could smell coming a car away. I noticed most of them are very friendly with the conductors and police officers on the train and would offer them something from their basket - the officials didn’t seem to take too much advantage though.
As the train rolled around and came to a stop again at the Central Station. We both felt happy, relieved, and quite satisfied. What was supposed to be just a simple train ride had actually turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster, but not in a bad way at all. So was the train ride worth it? Definitely, no it’s not a life-changing experience, but for less than $0.20 USD I can think of a lot of worse ways to spend 3 hours.
My Advice For The Train -
A lot of foreign investment is being put into the rail lines in Myanmar. Train cars for the long distances routes to places like Mandalay are being built and brought from China and soon to be produced here with Chinese technology. I also just read today that the line is going to get an upgrade, funded by a loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, to improve the track, amenities, and cars. This upgrade will also shorten the journey to two hours and probably increase the price. So it may not last for many more years in its current state. While improvements are much needed for this system to be on par with most major cities, it was still nice to get what feels like a classic experience - the only thing that was missing were steam engines! I’m sure it will still be great after the improvements but get on in the next few years if you want to experience it how it is today.
How to Get There - If you’re coming by taxi just say the "Yangon Railway”. If you’re coming from Downtown walk north on Pansodan street and one the left side of the street there is a covered walkway on the overpass. About halfway through you will see a staircase that if open will take you straight down to Platform 7.
Train Stops - Information and Maps ...accuracy varies.
Times - The first train leaves at 6:10 am (06:10) and they depart the station every 45 mins - 1 hour until just after 5:10 pm (17:10).
Cost - 100-250 kyat. Our taxi also paid 200 kyats to the security guard to get into the drop-off area outside the station, not 100% sure about this but for a few cents I wasn’t going to argue.
Have you been on the train? Was your experience similar to ours? Are you tempted to get on the train now and experience Yangon? Have updated information about the train? Let us know in the comments.
The newly opened Night Market on Strand Road is a perfect place to spend an evening (or two) while in Yangon. Opened in November 2016 by the Yangon City Development Committee, it’s a buzzing strip of vendors and street-food carts where your senses are overloaded wiht sights and smells. There is Myanmar cuisine cooking, families chatting over whole grilled fish, and the occasional unidentifiable product being sold from the many many market stands along the way.
The market stretches for about a mile and a half along Strand Road from the intersection with Pansodan Street to the east and Wa Dan Street to the west. The busiest area seems to be centered around the CB Bank Head Office which is a big building with neon rainbow colors on the front that can't be missed. You can walk freely along the entire length and you don’t have to cross any roads or intersections as the whole area is blocked off and protected from the traffic on the road. We walked the whole length and it definitely makes for a good workout.
We went on both a Monday and a Thursday. Even though it was Monday the first time it was still relatively busy in some parts so I imagine you’d have no trouble going any day of the week. It’s actually probably better to go earlier in the week as the market can get very crowded and the small area they have partitioned off for walking can become a challenge with people strolling then stopping every few feet, children playing, and the general bustle getting in the way. It’s best to go on a day you are feeling... patient.
Although it was pretty busy we actually saw very few tourists when we were there, maybe two or three groups total, and the vendors, especially on the outskirts of the market, gave the impression they still don’t see many these days.
You will see a lot of similar looking stands selling the typical Myanmar street food: mohinga, skewers, samosas, fried fish cakes, dosas, tea (of course); but there are also a few rarer finds like smoothies, cotton candy, lobsters, and something that looked like fried crickets. One of my favorite places was the pop-up pub which had set up a satellite dish to show football (it was packed of course).
The fruit and vegetable stands look amazing. The produce looks so delicious: huge avocados, succulent oranges, colorful dragon fruit, you name it. There were definitely some fruits I have never seen before and couldn’t even begin to tell you what they taste like. There were also places where they were cooking fresh fish right off the ice, what a treat!
The prices are extremely reasonable and there don’t seem to be any tourist prices as of late. Lots of dishes come in under 1000 MMK ($0.75 USD) or even less. If you’re concerned just follow someone who is getting what you want and pay what they pay.
To coincide with the opening of this new market the government has also been pushing for improved hygiene practices among street food proprietors and I don’t think foreign stomachs would have a problem with any of the freshly grilled or fried food as long as it’s cooked well, and in front of you. Just be careful as people often like to touch prepared product to make sure it’s to their liking, so make sure if you do order something pick out the one you want to be cooked or ask for something that’s being made now. I wouldn’t suggest eating anything you don’t see prepared, but life is about risk, is it not?! (Maybe not.)
Getting to and perusing the market isn’t a risk at all. If you’re staying downtown it’s so easy to walk there; just head south and you will run into it. If you’re not Downtown just ask your taxi driver to take you to Strand Road, if he heads to The Strand Hotel that’s fine too. If that doesn’t work just say Sule Pagoda and it’s a quick walk from there to the market. It’s well lit, with CCTV, and nice new bathrooms (with attendants) placed in convenient locations along the walk. The whole thing seems very safe and organized but still authentically hectic. It was reported some of the vendors were concerned about business dropping before making the move, but from the number of people we saw even on weekdays I don’t think it will be much of a problem. Plus the traffic improvements from moving the stalls off of the main downtown streets must be tremendous.
The market is open every day from 15:00 (3:00pm) until 23:00 (11:00pm) but people start to close up shop earlier depending on the day and the rush.
With just one month to make all the plans, getting to Malaysia was not going to be the easiest job. We had to use most of our best travel skills to make it happen. During this house sitting adventure of ours we have really been experimenting with ways to keep the traveling budget under control, and since flights make up the majority of that budget we needed a good plan for this long haul. This is when the fun and frustration of airline alliances typically kicks in.
We always fly United Airlines within the States, and normally internationally. So our first place to check for flights is their website, but our search there ended quickly. Coming from the UK, the only way to fly on United would be to go backward to the States and then on to Malaysia. We are gluttons for travel punishment but even that seemed excessive. I have done that once to Australia and it was a killer. Occasionally on international flights we end up on another airline in the Star Alliance network. Our goal being to choose the airline with the best price for our flight while still contributing to our mileage accrual and status qualifications. That's key. If you are not careful in checking to see how each airline in an alliance interacts with your airline of choice you can be left with an expensive ticket and nothing in return. So we got online and used a couple of tools to do a quick search of the best flights from London to Kuala Lumpur. On one website, Momondo, there is actually an option to filter by the different global alliances so we could make sure to keep it in house. We had all the potential flights lined up but there was still a problem. The prices were pretty outrageous! I mean, we were cutting it close what with the trip being so soon, but the costs were out of control. It was time to step back, rethink, and figure out a new plan.
Any normal, sane person would have just sucked it up and jumped on a flight from London Heathrow which was only two hours away from where we would be staying. But since occasionally we are neither of those things (normal or sane) we decided to think bigger. We figured we had just enough time if we moved quickly to make it from the place we would be house sitting to one of the airports in continental Europe. So, through quite a bit of research, we found flights out of Brussels on Turkish Airlines, and determined it would actually be £300 cheaper to go to Belgium even including the cost of the drive. One of the big differences in price was avoiding that pesky and expensive UK Air Passenger Duty which is especially punishing on long haul flights. It’s actually not the first time we’ve done this. I’ve dropped Blair off in Paris, Brussels, and even Amsterdam before to save significant money on return flights to the US. So after a call to United and a call to Turkish to confirm, step one of our trip was in place. Yes, it was a little complicated, and we would now have a lot of plans to put in place. But we were proud that with a little perseverance, some flexibility, and a lot of research we made the system work for us. The Malaysia trip was becoming more real by the second.
Did I say we are pretty adamant about finding good deals on flights? It is almost up there with how far we will go out of our way to not pay for parking. Blair can attest to how many times I’ve made him walk an extra mile because a few pounds for parking seemed too steep for just a couple hours. It sometimes seems ridiculous but when you are traveling so much it really does begin to add up. Same reason we almost never pay for airport parking.
I can’t remember the last time I parked at an airport, and we definitely weren’t going to on this trip where every dollar counted. Instead of parking the car at Brussels Airport, we arranged to stay outside the city in a place where we knew we could street park the car while we were gone. We spent the night in a small town outside of Brussels called Merchtem. It lies northwest of Brussels about 25 km from the airport and has the typical charm of a nice sized European town. What we hadn’t counted on when we arranged to stay there was that Merchtem was hosting its 10-day long annual street festival and fair. Each year the center of the town is closed off to traffic and, inspired by hot summer weather this particular August, the entire town came out to party. Beer, Belgian waffles, fries with mayo, musical bands performing in the square, dancing in the streets until 4 am; you name it, it was going on. We left the revelers to do their thing and stumbled home exhausted because we had a bus to catch the next morning. For a few euros we were able to take the regional bus right to the front door of the airport, knowing our car would kindly be looked after by the person we had been staying with.
I mentioned were are both pretty tall. Since both of us stand just about six and a half feet, it can be tough to fit into regular sized economy airline seats. In this case, tough equals impossible if you want to be able to walk when the flight is done. Because we fly so much normally we are pretty much always able to arrange for exit row seats, but that is only on our regular airline. When you are dealing with other airlines even in the same alliance, it's like wandering through the wilderness, expect the unexpected. We thought it would be best to arrive early and see if we could get exit row seats assigned. Early being as soon as the gate opened. Apparently, in Brussels, and unlike the US, that doesn’t mean 4 hours before the flight, but that’s fine. After an hour long wait for the desk to open we were very thankful to be checked-in with great exit row seating on both flights. That early bird thing rings true in this case.
We’d never flown Turkish Airlines before, so didn’t know what to expect. We are such frequent flyers on the same airline (have to get those miles and preserve that status!) that we get nervous whenever we have to fly with anyone else. Luckily, Turkish Airlines turned out to be a really pleasant experience and great choice. Nice modern planes, good food, more than decent on-demand video entertainment options, and all of this in coach. Most impressive, though, is its lounge in Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. It makes you want to arrange for a long layover. We had never experienced anything quite like it. Split across two floors, and the size of many large hotels’ lobbies, you can help yourself to practically anything you want. A gin and tonic? Pour one for yourself. Hot pressed panini oozing with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes? Just ask the chef to make you a couple. Fresh, strong, local coffee with Turkish Delight and biscotti as a snack on the side? The barista is there to keep you continuously caffeinated.
Back in the air, it occurred to us that we had just flown out of Brussels, with a connection in Istanbul, on our way to Malaysia. Considering the recent history of all of these places we said a quick silent prayer in hopes of making it all the way without a hitch. We relaxed a bit as we enjoyed all the food, wine, and movies we could desire. Thanks to the wonderful Turkish Airlines service we landed excited and invigorated the following morning in a new part of the world.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport, locally referred to as just KLIA, is very far from the city center. You feels like you are flying straight into a tropical jungle as you land because of the surrounding palm fields. With the sun setting by the time we landed, the air had that distinct humid and sticky feel. It had been a while since we’d been to a place like this. It felt familiar yet different.
On this occasion, we would be looking after two dogs for an expat teacher who was taking some time off to vacation. So we jumped into an Uber and headed to a restaurant where we had agreed to meet her straight from work. It was at this point that we made our first exciting Malaysian discovery. Taxis are cheap. It must have taken 45 minutes to get to our destination and the fare wasn’t even $20 with tolls. This would become increasingly beneficial as the week progressed. Once we arrived at the restaurant we made another discovery, this time a little less exciting. The high cost of alcohol, yes, even beer. Oh well. They say alcohol and heat don’t mix anyhow.
We settled into, of all places, a Mexican restaurant, and waited for our host to arrive. After such a smooth journey we were pretty sure it was going to be a good week...
Photo of Merchtem, Belgium by Luc T. flickr.com
Photo of Turkish Airlines A330 © 2015 Eric Salard via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Turksih Airlines CIP Lounge by Jun Seita flickr.com
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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