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Six days in India

Six days in India
via Swiss, Emirates and BA First
February 2013
Once upon a time, well to be precise on a warm August Sunday BBQ evening, after way too many G&Ts and/or too much wine, and no doubt attempting to get an entertaining reaction out of Mrs. SFO, I mentioned that I've always been intrigued by and wanted to go to India, and that we should go... this winter. As many of you know, my Princess is fond of the good life, especially first world destinations and five star hotels. Her idea of camping is a hotel without room service.
 
Her reaction was exactly what I expected... after a few choice obscenities, she pronounced flat out "I'm not going to effing India. No way, No how". Well, tell me how you really feel. Ever the smart kid and sensing an opportunity to again travel in style on dad's dime, Denver son SFO777jr chimed in with "Well, I'll go". And so it began with Mrs. SFO giving her blessing with one proviso "just don't bring back any diseases".
 
So today, our still unmarried son SFO777jr and I are off on a boys' week in India but more importantly a sampling of some great First Class service. But what an ordeal to get to this point. We endured numerous shots and pills to protect against hepatitis, yellow fever, malaria, etc... And as I sit here looking at our three treatments for diarrhea (mild, medium and you don't want to be in the same time zone), perhaps Mrs. SFO is indeed the smartest one in the family.
 
And don't even get me started on the India visa process. Wow, one really has to want to go to put up with this bulls**t. Seriously, it took six hours and $100 just to complete the visa application... trips to get passport photos (but only at place where the will give you a digital copy), a visit to a historical museum (aka the US post office) for a money order, and a website that apparently doesn't like Steve Jobs. Armed with our visa, shots and meds, we are ready to go!
 
-American Admirals Club at DEN
-American Airlines First Class Denver-Chicago
-American Admirals Club at ORD H/K
-Swiss First Class Lounge at ORD
-Swiss First Class Chicago-Zurich
-Swiss First Class Lounge at ZRH
-Swiss First Class Zurich-Delhi
-Imperial Hotel Delhi
-Delhi
-Delhi to Agra
-ITC Mughai Hotel Agra
-The Taj Mahal
-Agra
-Train to Japiur
-Taj Jai Palace Hotel Jaipur
-Jaipur
-Jet Airways Business Class Jaipur-Mumbai
-The Oberoi Mumbai
-Mumbai
-Clipper Lounge at BOM
-Jet Airways Business Class Mumbai-Colombo
-Lotus Lounge at CMB
-Emirates Lounge at CMB
-Emirates Business Class Colombo-Dubai
-Emirates First Class Lounge at DXB
-Emirates First Class Dubai-London
-British Airways Concorde Room at LHR
-British Airways First Class London-Los Angeles
-United Club at LAX
-United First Class LAX-Denver
 
On yet another beautiful sunny Denver morning, SFO777jr and I are off today on a boys' week in India. Our driver picked us up at 7:45A and 30 minutes later we were at Level 5 of DIA Terminal East. Not a soul at Pre-Check and I was thru security in 30 seconds. SFO777jr, still waiting for his Global Entry interview, was banished to the regular security emerging 7 minutes later, and we boarded the train to the A concourse and the Admirals Club.. Who said the AC doesn't serve breakfast?

 

As I was downloading iphone pics, I discovered some pics of the Nuggets-Rocket game from Wednesday night.  OK, I guess we all know where this report is going. And no Mrs. SFO to worry about.

More mostly recycles pics of the DEN Admirals Club.

At T-25, we headed out to nearby Gate A45.

AA 3613
DEN-ORD
CR7
February 2, 2013
9:35A-12:55P
Seats 2C and 3C
Refreshments

Full PDB and excellent service by pleasant and attentive FA. Refreshments today consisted of the questionably named "Gourmet Snack Mix" and, on request the cheese snack.

On time arrival at ORD, but H4 was occupied so we sat in the Penalty Box for 40 minutes waiting for a gate to open. Those with 1:30P connections were not amused. OTOH, who in their right mind would accept a 35 ORD minute connection in the winter. Once in the terminal, we had a delicious lunch at Rick Bayless' Frontera.

With 4 1/2 hours to departure, we headed to one of my homes away from home, the spacious and pleasant H/K Admirals Club.

At T-3.5 we headed for the taxi stand and the Norridge Walgreens to correct a major senior moment embarrassment. Not only had I forgotten my blood pressure meds, I left my entire toiletries bag at home. Quel idiot! Don't know I was thinking this morning but in all my travels, that was a first. I had all the India meds in one bag, and just forgot the regular bag. Left it on the counter in the bathroom. Didn't even realize it until Mrs. SFO left a VM. She was so sweet about it... even had the kit with her on her errands this morning and was going to go to FedEx to try to ship them to India. Fortunately, I was able to find my Walgreens prescription number online and called it in the store closest to O'Hare. Taxi driver was initially not pleased about the short trip... Walgreens in Norridge and then back to T-5 but was happy when we asked what his typical ORD ride was and we told him we'd pay him his $40.

We got a big laugh at the presumably standard Chicago taxi $50 Vomit Cleanup Fee. Our driver said he actually had it once, couple of months ago. He had to call the cops when the woman refused. She paid up when the cop gave her the "$50 or jail" option.

One of the advantages of a taxi is door-to-door service and you don't have to take the train between terminals. We arrived back at ORD and T-5 departures level at just under 3 hours before departure. Not much activity at the LX counter or anywhere in the terminal for that matter. We were the only pax at security.

Not sure what the thinking was with this terminal. Maybe there was a space limitation, maybe budget issues and/or too many cronies to pay off, but wow, this is one butt ugly and poorly designed monstrosity. Long narrow, dark corridors with very little space or open areas. What a stark comparison to the beautiful International Terminal at SFO.

Next up: Small but very pleasant FCL at ORD.

Just opposite TSA and security is the Swiss Lounge. I'd read some negative reviews about this lounge so I wasn't expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised. Sure the First Class/HON Lounge is small but what more do you need? Nicely decorated with the standard Swiss lounge decor. Three dining tables and seating for 12 with lots of power outlets, both 110 and 220. And a nice selection of food and drink.

We had the lounge to ourselves for 45 minutes when the other two F pax arrived. And at T-30 our lounge agent came in and announced that boarding had commenced.

Swiss 9
ORD-ZRH
A330-300
February 2, 2013
7:10P-10:55A +1 (scheduled)
7:05P-9:58A +1 (actual)
Departed 4/8
Seats 2DG

Boarding had indeed begun by the time we arrived at M7. But the priority line and relatively few pax in the jet bridge meant we were on board fairly quickly. But again, 2L was the only door LX was using for boarding. What is it with LX refusing to use 1L for separate F boarding?

But once in the cabin, all was forgiven, or at least filed away until. I wasn't sure about the cabin on our first A333 flight, but I am warming to it a bit. The seat comfort controls worked a little better than last time and I was able to contour the seat a little better. But it is still not that comfortable IMO.

The crab cake with remoulade amuse-bouche was very good.

Champagne was OK, but not the Grand Siecle. FA gave the same lame "problem with customs" company line as we received in LAX last month. Just pay the duty and serve the Grand Siecle.

The LX map feature is pretty cool, especially GPS over an actual satellite map at the airports.

Once in the air, our crew went into action.

And showtime...

Tonight's menu was exactly the same at our late December LAX-ZRH flight, which we loved. Perhaps a quarterly rotation?

But unfortunately, the same uninspiring wine list with way too many Swiss wines.

But the solution was easy... more Grand Siecle.

The Balik salmon and lobster cocktail were delicious.

Roasted beetroot and goat's cheese timbale not as good as x-LAX.

Pumpkin and aniseed cream soup was very nice.

Delicious seasonal salad with bacon and Parmesan, in an Italian vinaigrette.

But the best dish of the night was the fabulous wild mushroom ravioli with sage cream sauce.

My grilled beef tenderloin (with green peppercorn sauce, fettuccine, glazed carrots and broccoli) was excellent but not as melt in your mouth as five weeks ago.

The tiramisu was one of the best I have ever tasted.

And is if we hadn't had enough to eat, our FA left the entire box of Sprungli chocolates.

And now to the boys' sophomoric entertainment for the evening. Looking at today's movie selections, I noticed Sophie Marceau's new movie. Many of us got our first look at Sophie in 1999 when she starred as the Bond Girl in "The World is Not Enough". Now in her mid-40's, Sophie is still pretty hot, even to mid-30s SFOjr.

"Un bonheur n'arrive jamais seul" is a funny romantic comedy with co-star Gad Elmaleh. Much to the delight of the neanderthals in 2DG, the movie features a lot of Sophie... with and without clothes, and in and out of bed. Much of it is fleetingly, unless one is juvenile enough and determined enough to pause, rewind and pause again at the right point. Using the LX IFE pause/rewind feature and after copious quantities of alcohol, our quest for the perfect Sophie pic became a funny game. Eventually, we did hit the perfect guy's pic. 

And a PG rated pic for the masses.

With tonight's cabin mates in 1DG and no one else in row 2, our FA made up 2A for me and I moved over for a couple hours of sleep before breakfast and arrival.

Still stuffed from dinner, I opted for a light breakfast just before landing.

Pretty Swiss countryside just after an overnight snow.

After another great LX First flight, both FAs and our purser stopped by to thank us for flying LX. Pleasant good-byes and we disembarked through our own private 1L door, and were on our own to get to the FCL. Knowing the drill, we hustled to be first in the E security queue, and then down the escalator for the train to A and the FCL.

Now knowing the way, we stayed on the lower level of A and arrived at the HON/FCL entrance a few minutes later.

Some pics from last month's visit.

Nice looking sit down restaurant/bar area.

Serve yourself options.

Pretty weak imitation of LH FCL offerings.

Both men's showers were occupied so Lounge dragon offered me the women's shower. No doubt there were numerous jokes but nothing came to mind quickly. Same spartan facilities as the men's and the same lack of ventilation or fan produced steam bath conditions.

At T-45 we presented ourselves in the lobby for the not so First Class group hug and walk to the lower level, passport control and van dispatch.

We arrived at the gate area at about T-35, cleared another passport/visa control.

And boarded five minutes later after fighting thru Euro gate lice Y pax who clogged the boarded area.

Swiss 146
ZRH-DEL
A330-300
February 3, 2013
12:45P-12:45A +1 (scheduled)
12:45P-12:30A +1 (actual)
Departed 3/8
Seats 2DG

Almost had the entire cabin to ourselves tonight as only one other pax joined us, in 1K. Friendly crew welcomed us on board and a few minutes later, we had champagne and the our pre-departure amuse bouche... the current x-ZRH New potatoes with Vacherin Fribourgeois cheese and dried venison sausage. Wow, was particularly pungent (aka stinky) today that we both wondered whether it was our feet or the cheese we were smelling. A few bites and we asked the FA to remove.

Since we had our choice of seats, I moved over the 2A for push, taxi and take-off... and lots of great pics.

Interesting training DC-8 off to the right of Runway 16

Right after take-off, our FA jumped into action. With the same old uninspiring wine list, I went for beer, especially since I was going to have the Indian main. The Swiss Quollfrisch was very good.

Even though our first LX meal was 8 hours ago, the thought of another 7 course meal was too much.  So I opted for a much more modest 4 courses.

Delicious green salad with bacon, eggs in a vinaigrette dressing.

The red curry lamb dish (sorry, couldn't find menu) was excellent and a nice introduction to our next week.

The Indian dessert was delicious.

And of course the Sprungli chocolates.

Almost there.

And so our 16 hour LX trip comes to an end. As usual, outstanding inflight food and service, some of the best I've experienced. But, other than the Grand Siecle and maybe the Chablis, the wines are sub-standard. IFE is good but the old control system not very responsive or user friendly. And after three long haul A333 flights, I've decided that the seat is not that comfortable for me, certainly not when I compare it to LH, KE or CX. Indeed, the seat alone might dissuade me in future. But the clincher is the ZRH ground experience. Compared to LH in FRA/MUC, it's just not in the same league.
 

The Imperial Hotel
Delhi

Our meet & greet service person met us plane side and escorted us to customs/immigration and out of the terminal to meet our awaiting driver. We departed in our car to the typical chorus of Delhi honking horns. But with no traffic once out of the airport at just after 1:00AM, we were at the hotel within a half hour. Pics from the next day.

Heightened security at every upper end hotel, including a vehicle search.

Room 56, a deluxe double. Comfortable but nothing like how Mrs. SFO rolls.

Delhi

Since Mrs. SFO wasn't here, I told our TA that we wanted to see the real Delhi in addition to the usual tourist attractions. And wow, they sure delivered on that one. We started the day with a walk thru the tough area of new Delhi near the train station, an area where runaway/abandoned kids tend to occupy. The Salaam Balak Trust works with street children in Delhi providing them with a secure environment as well as health and education. The Trust has developed a city walk through the inner city, and the guides are the young people who have been rescued and know the area intimately. While introducing you to the heritage and the life of the backstreets of Delhi, little seen by the visitors, they also share with you stories of their life journeys. Our guide Ajay, who himself was abandoned at age 7 but nearly 10 years later, has turned his life around and is on his way to go to college in the next couple of years.

The sights and sounds of Delhi. As our guide said, there are three requirements to be able to drive in Delhi... a good horn, good brakes and good luck.

After a great lunch and a large Kingfisher, we headed for Humayun's Tomb.

A popular Delhi family vehicle.

Humayun’s tomb is the earliest example of Mughal architecture in India. Recently renovated with the gardens restored to their former splendor. Architecturally. the mausoleum drew its inspiration from the styles prevalent in Samarkand, and the design of the Taj Mahal is based on this tomb.

Men are pretty much the same anywhere in the world. 

Then to The Rashtrapati Bhavan, the residence of the President of India, up Rajpath or “Kings Way” and India Gate.

On the drive back to the hotel, a Ferrari dealership is another sign of the new Delhi.

Back at the hotel after a full day of touring, looks like another big Indian wedding tonight.

After we freshened up, we headed to the bar for some drinks and either cricket or field hockey on the TVs. Decided we like field hockey best no doubt because of the Star Sports on field reporter that made Erin Andrews look pretty plain. Got great laughs from the bartenders when they saw me take a pic of the TV. We all agreed this babe is hot.

Jr and I ate at The Spice Route, the hotel's excellent Thai themed restaurant.

After dinner, I crashed the wedding party, or at least long enough for some pics of the bride and groom and party.

Who said it doesn't rain in Delhi in the winter? Today is dark, gloomy and rainy day... indeed the biggest single day February rain since record keeping began. Today, we're off to old Delhi.

And Jama Masjid, believed to be the largest mosque in India and which was Shah Jahan’s last architectural legacy.

Next we boarded a cycle rickshaw and toured the narrow lanes of the 300 year old Chandni Chowk market, where shopkeepers sell an extraordinary variety of items – silver, jewelry, aromatic spices, leather, fruit and vegetables, home grown medicinal items, and roadside dentists display their bizarre array of equipment and false teeth... organized chaos which is quintessentially Indian.

More amazing electrical wiring and connections. How this functions is beyond me.

Delhi to Agra

Back at the Imperial, we dried out and checked out, heading off for the two hour drive to Agra. Fortunately, the rain has stopped.

Love the speeding warning.

About 90 minutes after departing the Imperial, we take the Agra/Taj exit.

And step back in time.

Seriously?

Rush hour in Agra means sharing the road with bikes, tuk-tuks, cows and water buffalo on their way home from bathing, drinking, grazing and no doubt pooping in and near the river.

If it weren't for the Taj, can't imagine many outsiders would venture to this filthy town.

And finally our oasis from the squalor that is Agra, the ITC Mughal. Dated but comfortable hotel. Sorry but I forgot to take room pics.

After our late PM Taj visit, our dinner later that night was at the Peshawri, the hotel's signature Indian restaurant.
Great atmosphere and outstanding food.