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Bergen, Oslo and Paris

Bergen, Oslo and Paris

via Air France New La Première

Mrs. SFO777 and I are off today to Norway and then to Paris for a birthday dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant. What, doesn't every go to Paris for Mexican food?? 

A whole bunch of firsts this trip… Norway, United Dreamliner, SAS/Privatair on the longest 737 flight in the world and Air France's celebrated new La Première service.  

• United First Class 787 Dreamliner Denver-Houston
• The Executive Lounge at IAH
• SAS (Privatair) All Business Class 737 Houston-Stavanger
• SAS Business Class Stavanger-Bergen
• Clarion Collection Hotel Bergen
• Bergen
• Fjord Tour by Helicopter
• Fjord Tour by Train, Bus and Boat
• The Bergen-Oslo Train 
• Hotel Continental Oslo
• Oslo
• Lounge at OSL
• Air France Business Class Oslo-Paris
• Shangri-La Paris
• Paris
• Air France First Class Lounge at CDG
• Air France La Première 77W Paris CDG-JFK
• Delta First Class JFK-Boston
• United First Class Boston-Denver

After a stop at the United counter to check-in Mrs. SFO who just received her new passport, we headed to B32 and the United Dreamliner which had arrived earlier in the day from Narita. Boarding started less than 5 minutes after we arrived.

Denver-Houston
United 1905
787-800 Dreamliner
3:05P-6:23P
September 12, 2015
Seats 5A and 5B

The now familiar United gate lice scene and lots of pax in Group 1 line especially with 36 First Class (aka Business First) seats.

United's 787s have 6 rows of Business First, 3 rows in the forward cabin and 3 more rows in the second cabin.  

Our seats 5AB in the second cabin. Comfy seats and wonderful space for a two hour domestic flight.

Open bar pre-departure beverage service.

Oops, someone forgot to tell the IFE folks that Rainey quit last month, moving to PayPal just before all the fun started.

Back to the forward cabin.

And in the second cabin section of Business/First.

Prior to departure, the usual welcome from the captain including this gem "… We have an excellent group of Houston-based flight attendants who will take care of you Continental style…" Hmmm, apparently still bitter after 5 years.

OK, it's no CX or EK but a pretty good IFE system with an reasonable selection of movies.

Good service at the outset, but then our FAs disappeared and forgot to come around offering a second round of drinks.

Very cool 787 wing curvature.

Large lav by UA and AA standards.

All in all, an most enjoyable two hour flight. UA's 787 front cabin is much different from AA's 1-2-1 version. As a solo passenger, I think I prefer a rear facing window seat on AA. But for a couple, UA is much better. And UA's seats do not suffer from the same design flaw as AA where you feel any movement from the passenger in front or behind.  

We arrived a few minutes early at far out E22 and decided to have a proper dinner, not wanting to rely on unknown lounge food. We headed to Iron Chef-famed Cat Cora's Kitchen in the E concourse.  

We split a couple of delicious dishes.

And then off to the D concourse.

And the contract Executive Lounge where friendly SK agent at the front did the doc check and issued our boarding passes. Nothing luxurious but a spacious and comfortable Business Class lounge with a surpassingly varied selection of food. The brownies were very good!

 

Our SAS Privatair 737-700 or at least the tail of it. Tough to get a good pic at D5.

 

Great SAS agent in the lounge kept up informed about departure time even suggesting that we might depart early since the crew and all pax were already here.   At around T-30, she announced that we were ready to board.
 

Houston-Stavanger
Scandinavian 952
737-700ER wet leased from Privatair
9:45P-2:15P +1 (sked)
9:40P-1:25P +1 (actual)
September 12, 2015
Departed 23/44
Seats 9CD

\

Pleasant crew of 4 flight attendants welcomed us. OK, now this is how a 737 should be configured!

With only 50% of the seats sold tonight, most of us had a seat and a bed.   I selected cross-aisle seats in row 9 just to be safe and we had the entire back of the plane to ourselves. Seats are clearly business class, pretty dated and little too firm for my liking.  

Lots of leg room.

Pretty cool when you have two seats to yourself. Angled sort-of-flat bed with very nice duvet.

Pre departure champers in real glass, unlike UA or AA.

Tonight's menu.

And the amenity kit.  Meh.

Getting ready to go.

Dimming the cabin lights.

Once in the air, our crew started service very quickly.  And the seat belt sign off while we were still climbing. Not much of a towel, but still bigger than AA's.

Showtime.

No built in IFE, so SAS distributes pre-loaded iPads.

Pretty limited list of TV shows.

At least you need to plug in your headphones to operate. 

But really limited movie selections... like a total of 18. Looks like Argo again. 

The extra seat made for a very comfy setup. Dinner and a movie.  

The chicken starter with jicama, mango julienne and fig mostarda was really good.

One of the nice things about SAS in this flight is that all the entrées were displayed on the cart so you could see what you were getting. I selected the seared sea bass which was absolutely sensational.

Perfectly moist, with sticky rice, asparagus and beurre blanc sauce.

The almond and crumble tart was a tad dry.

After the movie, I hopped over to my bed to sleep or at least try to sleep. Angled "flat" isn't really flat and indeed something less than flat was the "sweet spot" or least uncomfortable setting. After four hours of not so good sleep, I awoke to breakfast. Wow, what a substantial spread.

We started our descent about 20 minutes out.

Welcome to rainy Stavanger.

Although not the best for sleeping, it was a pleasant flight with excellent well paced service. And the food was outstanding... way better than anything UA or AA serves in international "First Class". Not sure I'd do it again as we're spoiled by Lufthansa but it's certainly a convenient way to Norway and good deal at only 45,000 Aeroplan miles and $34.30 in taxes/fees.

To passport control.

Since we arrived in the international wing, we had to re-clear security and re-enter a small but attractive domestic concourse. 

And then downstairs to a coffee bar.

And back upstairs to our gate.

Stavanger-Bergen
SAS 4172
737-600
2:45P-3:20P
September 13, 2015
Seats 2DF

SAS domestic Business Class nothing more than coach seating at the front of the cabin. And unlike many other European Business Class services, SAS doesn't even block a middle seat. I lucked out by selecting a bulkhead window and aisle and hoping that no one would select the middle seat. Turned out to be a good choice as we had the most legroom and space on the plane.

In our seat pockets was an SAS by-on-board menu. With only a 25 minute flight time, understandably nothing was offered on this flight.

 

There was no service of any kind as our FA stayed in the jump seat the entire flight.

We landed in Bergen 25 minutes later.

Lots of taxis outside the terminal and we quickly departed on the 30 minute drive into the Sentrum. That was the easy part. The hard part was that every other hotel in the town is a Clarion Collection hotel. Finally got the right hotel on the 2nd try. Nice historical building in a great location right on the water.

 

After some negotiating at the front desk, we upgraded to a corner "suite" with view and balcony.

And the view.

At night.

After a nap, we headed out for dinner at Spisekroken, rated #6 in TripAdvisor and the only resto in the top 10 open in Sunday. Food was pretty good and hearty. Nice atmosphere if you are seated upstairs. Not so much downstairs in the dungeon where we were seated.

Cream of mushroom soup was excellent if you like creamy and heavy.

Mrs. SFO had the local pork.

While I had the reindeer.

We slept in and missed the full breakfast option. Pretty good spread though.

Pics from the tail end as they were clearing the hot items.

 

We had planned a private fjord helicopter tour this morning, a wonderful five hour trip with stops alongside both Sognefjorden and Hardangerfjorden. 

The tour: We fly from Bergen Airport, Flesland and flying north over "Sognefjorden". We will most likely land in Balestrand at Kviknes Hotel. This is a little village located right alongside the "Sognefjord". Then we can stay here for about 30- 45 minutes. After this we fly south over to Hardanger and the "Hardangerfjorden" and alongside the glacier and land at "Rosendal Fjordhotel", where we also stay for about 30-45 minutes. And after this we fly back to Bergen. 

Unfortunately, weather did not cooperate. It wasn't so much clouds and rain but apparently winds. More specifically, the helicopter company blamed wind for being unable to reposition a helicopter back to Bergen for our planned tour or even a modified tour.

As a result, we were stuck in Bergen where there is precious little to do which you can see in a half day. First stop was to explore the historic part of town just up the street from the hotel.

 

 

We passed on the funicular this morning after seeing the crazy line of people.

After learning that the salmon fish farm was not open today, we took a taxi to the Norwegian Fish museum.

Mildly interesting, especially the video of three generations of fishermen talking about their lives and experiences.

Then walked back.

Interesting people watching.

After a mediocre lunch, it was back to hotel where Mrs. SFO decided to relax and sleep off her Business Class jet lag. While I headed out for the funicular.

Fortunately, the lines had disappeared and I was able to walk right up.

And departed 15 minutes later.

 

A rather nice view from the summit.

 

 

Lots of people of all shapes and sizes taking pics and being photographed.  

There is a good sized restaurant with nice views.

 And then back down, this time on a crowded departure.

And back to the hotel, along the historic waterfront and buildings dating back 600-700 years.

 

For dinner, we walked back up the street to a historic seafood restaurant. Great ambiance but uninspiring food.

And I almost convinced Mrs. SFO was that The Vikings' Ragnar or at least his son was at the bar outside.   

 

We left the hotel at 8AM for the 10 minute taxi ride to Bergen Station and the first leg of the Norway in a Nutshell Tour.

• Local train from Bergen to Voss
• Bus from Voss to Gudvangen
• Fjordcruise from Gudvanger to Flam
• Flam Railway from Flam to Myrdal
• Regional train from Myrdal to Oslo

Quiet place until one of the commute trains arrived. Whoa.

Bergen to Voss
NSB Local Train
8:43A-9:56A
September 15, 2015

OK, not the most luxurious train but there weren't a lot of pax so we were able to spread out in facing seats at the front of one of the cabins. 

Nice teaser scenery along the way.

 

Voss-Gudvangen
Touring Bus
10:10A-11:20A
September 15, 2015

Reasonably comfortable bus especially since we found open seats beside each of us at the back of the bus.

 

 

 

And just over an hour later, our bus arrived at the harbor in Gudvangen.

Gudvangen-Flam
Fjordcruise Ferry
11:45A-2:10A
September 15, 2015

Despite the overcast conditions, it was actually a nice day to be on the fjords if you came prepared.

Inside seating and small café.

 

Time for lunch. Not many options when you are out on the water.

The ferry also serves at the Postal service carrier stopping at a few communities along the way to deliver mail.

This gal was the funniest thing on the trip, snapping hundreds if not thousands of selfies with various poses. 

Not everyone was impressed with the scenery. 

Some 2 1/2 hours after departure, we arrived at Flam where it was already post-season for most of the restaurants in town.

Flam-Myrdal
The Flam Railway
4:05P-5:03P
September 15, 2015

Self-proclaimed as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world, it was pretty scenic and interesting as we climbed nearly 1,000 meters in 20 kilometers.

 

Very cool falls where the train stopped for photo ops.

And Miss Selfie still looking for the perfect pic. 

We parked ourselves in the small station café for the hour waiting for the train to Oslo. Yeah, they had free Wifi. At around T-3, we headed out to wait for the train and to get close to Car 1.

Myrdal-Oslo
The Bergen-Oslo Railway
Regional Train
5:54P-10:25P (sked)
5:56P-11:00A (actual)
September 15, 2015

For NOK 90 (around US$11) we upgraded to Komfort Class seating which feature more legroom and power outlets.

Car 2 was the Family car.

And Basic class.

Steady rain gave us precious few good views tonight.

Time for a trip to the food car.

And dinner.   LOL.

Wifi was free and worked reasonably well.

Not exactly the TGV or anything remotely close. More like the TLV. With a few stops along the way to "track repair", we lost about 30 minutes on this excruciatingly long trek.

Will this ever end??

Finally arriving at Oslo Central about 11PM.

 

Hotel Continental
Oslo

A 10 minute taxi ride from Oslo Central is the Hotel Continental. Historic although dated and old world, it was quite nice with a great staff and even better location.

Nice terrace overlooking the National Theatre.

After we dropped out bags in the room, we headed out and around the corner to the hotel's cool Steamen Bar.

Breakfast next morning was included in our Virtuoso rate at Caroline, the 2nd floor restaurant.

Quite possibly the smallest Business Centre I have ever seen in any hotel. Good use of closet space though. 

Mrs. SFO begged off the morning after getting up at 2AM to watch the Trump Show. So I headed out to explore Oslo on foot.  
Hard at work right outside the hotel this morning. 

Perhaps it means something different in Norway. 

City Hall.

The Nobel Museum.

Royal Palace.

And back to the hotel, building on the right behind the National Theatre.

For lunch, our concierge gave us a great recommendation. Told him we wanted seafood and no tourists. I believe I said "no American tourists". LOL.
Gave us a great recommendation, Havsmak, only two blocks away near the palace and the US Embassy.

Indeed, there were no Americans. Actually no anyone. Other than a government function in the upstairs private dining room, we had the place to ourselves. Yikes.
Seemed a little strange but the meal and service were wonderful.

Mrs. SFO started with a beautiful fresh salad.

While I had the fish stew, which the concierge recommended as the best in Oslo. Shrimp, salmon, hake and mussels. Just the right amount of spice. It was sensational.

I had the delicious salmon main.

While Mrs. SFO had the main size fish stew. 

And yummy cobbler for dessert.

After lunch, Mrs. SFO suggested the HOHO bus which had a stop right near the hotel. Pretty much had the thing to ourselves for an interesting tour of Oslo and the Museum island.

Oooh, The Magic Ice Bar. We may try that later.

Interesting office complex on the way to the Viking Museum.

Always a sport. 

Back on the HOHO to continue the tour.

Oslo's stunning new Opera House.

We got back to the hotel around 6PM and shortly after headed out for dinner at probably the most uniquely good dining experience of the entire trip. Located in an upscale residential area, Hos Thea widely regarded as the best restaurant in Oslo. Chef/owner Sergio is a wonderful host and true showman as he works the small room like a master.

Mrs. SFO777 started with the wonderful Mozzarella ravioli with freshly steamed langoustines.

Small club sandwich with brioche, quail breast and foie gras. Out of this world especially with a glass of Sergio's recommended ice wine.

For her main, Mrs. SFO's chose the Iberico striploin on potatoes confit. Outstanding.

While I had the Norwegian farmed duck suprême with rose hip sauce. Quite possibly the best duck dish I have ever had. 

For dessert, Sweet temptations varieté for Mrs. SFO.

While I had the incredible Rhubarb tart with orange/cinnamon ice cream.

Wow, what an amazing meal. And then the fun part. Sergio comes over and we chat. From Spain, he has been in Oslo for 28 years. His dad and brother live in Texas. "My dad has 6 guns, doesn't know how to shoot any of them. LOL"  

No idea how we get onto this topic but he explains that Norway is 2nd only to California for Tesla ownership. Apparently, all vehicles in Norway are subject to 100% sales tax... except Tesla which is tax free because its electric and supposedly doesn't pollute the environment. LOL, but I digress. Also, Tesla owners don't have to pay highway tolls and get free parking. All of his friends have Teslas.  

Said Sergio, from the resto website.   

He then offered to drive us back to the hotel in his Tesla. He laughed when Mrs. SFO asked if he had to stay and close up. "I come and go when I want " Two minutes later he is outside in his white Tesla and we get it.

OK, this is a pretty sweet set of wheels. He grins and boasts that he can go 0-60 faster than a Lamborghini. And he then proceeds to show us, pinning us with G-force to our seats as he goes 0-not quite 60 in less than 3 seconds. Wow. "See I'm only in Standard mode. It goes even faster in Insane mode." 

Obviously we arrive at the hotel in no time. He declines our invitation to come in for a drink and we bid our adieus. What a great experience.

We then remember that we were going to go to the Ice Bar. So we head out for the 5 minute walk. OK, this is pretty funny. For $20 or so, you get the basic visit and a drink.

I'm guessing that the novelty has worn off. But for us first-timers, it was cool.

Wow, and I thought DIA was way out of town. OSL is a long way from downtown.  

The first hint of wonderful Air France La Première experience came as we approached the Sky Priority lane at check-in, when an agent greeted us with "Mr. and Mrs. SFO777, we've been waiting for you". No, we didn't have a name tag but since there was only one other Business Class passenger on the flight, it seemed like a pretty safe assumption. Next, the check-in agent asked if we would like to be escorted thru security and to the lounge. Wow. We thanked her but declined after she told us that there was indeed Fast Track security.

Indeed there was and not another person in line.

Pleasant concourse with the usual array of duty free shops.

And the enticing bin full of travel size Jaeger. Yikes, keep that away from the Mrs. who turns into a completely different creature after a glass of that stuff. 

To the elevator to the lounge level.

Star Alliance to the right, everyone else to the left and the contract OSL lounge.

Pleasant but typically boring European Business Class Lounge.

At around T-40, we headed down to the concourse and our gate.

Oslo-Paris
Air France HOP 1775
E90
12:45P-3:05P
September 17, 2015
Business Class
Seats 1AC

After the handicapped and families with kids were boarded, the GA called Business Class and Sky Priority. At the end of the jet bridge, one of the agents asked Mrs. SFO and I to come forward, roping off the other Business Class pax and other Sky Priority members. As we boarded, I overhead the agent tell the flight attendant "Ils sont La Première"... not that it did any good once he left. We stored our bags and took our seats, and then he let the other pax board.   

As usual, Euro Business Class is nothing but a coach seat. But unlike Lufthansa's E90, Air France doesn't block any seats. On LH, you get two seats to yourself. AF? Nope. At least with only one row of Business Class, there was plenty of leg room. And then there was the service. Apparently, the FA didn't bother to check the manifest and had newspapers on our seats. When I told her about it, she apologized and move them to the other side, only to have the guy in 1D have the same problem.

 

After take-off, at least she closed the galley curtain.

And handed out lunch, or rather a very light lunch. Then disappeared into the economy cabin for the next 30 minutes, not even bothering to check in. Indeed, I played FA and took our empty trays and that of the other C pax to the galley.

And a selfie of sorts of the economy cabin.  And yet another evil eye.

Hotel Shangri-La
Paris
 
Lured by the beautiful website pic of a gorgeously decorated room with terrace, we splurged for an Eiffel Tower view room with terrace. Bad move. This hotel has issues. The first hint of trouble came at check-in, when the front desk reception staffer didn't know how to work a credit card machine. She thought there was a problem with my credit cards. I had to show her how to insert the card into the reader. Wow, seriously? Does anyone even train these people?

The room itself (#64) was pleasant but as we came to learn was probably the worst possible Terrace Eiffel Tower view room. It was in the lower wing of the hotel with not a single window treatment.

 

The vaunted terrace was not a convenient extension of the the room like in the web photo, but rather two flights of stairs up on the roof.

It was so inconvenient to access that we only used it once. Furthermore, while we could see most of the tower, the base of the tower was obscured by the rear of an ugly apartment building.

Back downstairs, the Eiffel Tower view from our room complete with ugly apartment building.

The hotel hadn't even bothered to remove some of the construction plastic from one of our windows.

A far cry from this pic on the web site.


During our stay, the hotel was having problems with the one and only elevator to our wing. It only worked half the time, so we had to use service stairs and/or service elevators and walk thru a maze of halls and reception rooms to get up and down.

After we settled in, we went downstairs for a drink... or so we thought. Le Bar was not open and The Lounge had no one to serve drinks. It was pretty though although you'd think that at least one bar or restaurant would take advantage of the location and have... an Eiffel Tower view. 

And the main lobby.

The Bar opened at 6P. Nice atmosphere and a great staff.

We had a few pupus to tide us over until our 8PM dinner rez.

Back in the room, a birthday cake! And Champagne.