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Three Days in Moscow

Three Days in Moscow
via Singapore Airlines First Class
November 2013

Mrs. SFO777 and I are off today for our first visit to Moscow. We loved St. Petersburg when we visited two years and have always wanted to return to Russia. And what better way to go than Singapore's almost daily IAH-DME 77W service.

Unfortunately, the only convenient nonstop way to get to IAH is on that pathetic excuse for an airline United. $828 RT First per person? Seriously? That's not going to happen... even with The Princess. Instead, I bought a cheap $252 RT Economy ticket and paid $52 for E+ exit row aisle. Even Mrs. (I hate the effin' airline) SFO said I made the right call. Amazingly rush hour on I-225 was a non-event and we arrived at DIA at T-75. Pre-Check was much improved over the last few week. Only a few kettles and we were thru in 90 seconds. No point in going to the United Club. We headed to Elway's and had one of the best breakfasts in recent memory.

And downloading pics, I had forgot about the Avs-Canadiens game we went to on Saturday.

OK, things have certainly changed since my last NHL game...

 

United UA 1656
DEN-IAH
737-800
10:04a-1:30p

November 5, 2013
Exit Row aisles 20CD

 

Plenty of legroom in the exit row.

Behind the curtain, the world famous UA First Class service.

Very convenient connection today as we arrived at C-27 and SQ departs from D-2. We headed for the nearby United Club, one of the smaller ones here but quite comfortable and not crowded... reminiscent of the CLE UC.

After we settled in, I headed out to locate the Gate D2 and try to get our BPs. Amazingly, the gate was manned by an SQ agent at T-2.5 hours.

Great agent checked docs and issued our BPs.

OK, now that's a little scary. A United catering truck at our plane.

At T-60, UC agent announced that SQ 61 was boarding. Naturally, it turned out not to be true and we waited 10 minutes at the gate before boarding.

Since SQ does not release First Class award seats to partners (except for the glitch last year), KrisFiyer First award seats are pretty easy to find on most routes. And IAH-DME is one route where they will release more than one Saver First seat. Award levels are mileage based and IAH-DME-IAH was a good deal at only 115K and $450 YQ per person for the roundtrip. And since SQ is an Amex MR and SPG partner, I transferred miles and booked everything online.

Singapore Airlines SQ 61
IAH-DME
777-300ER (77W)
4:40P-2:00P +1 (sked)
4:40P-1:21P +1 (actual)
November 5, 2013
Departed 7/8
Seats 2CD

It's been three long years since our last SQ flights, and it was like coming home. So great to be back on SQ. Despite being nearly 7 years old, the cabin still looked pretty new. Although it will be nice to see the refurbished cabin next year. And the crew was as wonderful as always, providing flawless service the entire trip.

Open bar at the gate and a choice of Dom or Krug. With macabus in mind, I asked our FA how many bottles of Dom were on board. "At least 10" as they double cater and still had lots left over from the inbound.

Once in the air, the usual G&T to start. Actually two of them.

Mrs. SFO decided that she wanted a little nap before dinner. Nice to have an LH-like seat and a bed, with the only empty seat right beside you.

No Book The Cook service x-IAH means no Lobster Thermidor. 
But a nice menu nonetheless with some interesting and delicious options.

But what's with the wine-list? Yikes. Other than the champers and the Shiraz, pretty disappointing.

Showtime! With a nearly full F cabin, four outstanding FAs worked dinner service.

The Dom was nice, but I prefer Krug. Other than a glass of the Shiraz, I stayed with the Krug most of the way.

Mrs. SFO started with the Oven baked warm little neck clams with herb butter and spinach.

I pulled a Short hair Francis move and asked to try both the clams and the Warm scallop with corn kernel-cherry tomatoes and tomato vinaigrette. Our FAs created my own combo plate. The clams were out of this world amazing.

The pea purée with cold white onion custard, cress and bacon was sensational.

Salad of baby spinach, arugula, green frisée and olive. Balsamic and vinaigrette dressing.

Mrs. SFO went with the Braised chicken with ginger and spring onions, seasonal vegetables and noodles. She loved it and cleaned her plate.

I was torn but in the end decided to try the Seared beef fillet with café de Paris butter, baby carrots, kenyan beans, bell pepper and fondant potatoes.

Unfortunately, it was well done and not very moist. Ah well, the Shiraz was good.

Back on par, the strawberry crepe surprise was delicious

And an assortment of cheeses to finish.

Time to relax. Watched a hilarious French comedy, De l'autre coté du périph, and a fascinated documentary on Moscow.

And listened to some of my eclectic music tastes.

I can't remember exactly when but probably 4 hours into our 10:20 flight, I decided to get some sleep. Went to the lav and came back to my beautifully turned down bed. Who needs Ambien when you have a bottle of Krug? I slept like a baby for more than 4 hours until our lovely FA gently woke me at T-90. Wow, I could get used to that. 

While Mrs. SFO passed, I took one for the team and decided to have some breakfast.

The Pork congée was delicious but way too much to finish just a few hours after a big dinner.

Aw... a good-bye gift from our FA.

A little bumpy on the final but we touched down smoothly and nearly 40 minutes early to an unseasonably warm +15 degree day. What an amazing flight. Yes, the cabin and IFE can use a little updating but the inflight service from our wonderful SQ crew was simply incredible.

 

As pretty much the only international arrival at this time, passport control was virtually empty. Two minutes in front of a Soviet-era looking officer and we were in officially in Russia. With only carry-ons, we were thru baggage claim and into the arrivals hall in no time, where we were besieged by a phalanx of would-be drivers with "Official Taxi" signs. I may have been born at night, but... Ha!

Our concierge had offered the hotel car at 5,800R, but in the next sentence suggested two alternative taxi companies. I booked one online opting for the "Business" or "foreign" car at 1,500R. I stopped at one of the various ATMs in the hall and stocked up on Rubles. Shortly thereafter, our driver arrived with "SFO777" sign and we were off. The international arrivals hall is part of the dreary old section of Domodedovo. Seemed to be under construction as we walked outside past various fences around puddles from a recent rain. Our "foreign business car" was a comfortable mid size Nissan something or other.

Pretty boring and ugly 75 minute drive into the heart of Mockba, thru some horrendous traffic as we got closer.

Hotel National
Moscow
Starwood Luxury Collection

Not the best hotel in Moscow, but a great location right across from Red Square. Plus I need to get to 50 nights for my 10 confirmed suite nights next year, got a good rate and figured I'd get a Platinum upgrade. Lots of history here as it claims to be the oldest hotel in Moscow and that Lenin stayed here for a time. http://www.national.ru/en/history

We were indeed upgraded to a Kremlin View Junior Suite. Was initially bummed that we didn't get a Kremlin Suite or Presidential Suite but, despite my protestations, the hotel apparently does not offer those in the Platinum upgrade pool. On the other hand, one of the Platinum amenities is a complimentary breakfast buffet (about US$55 per person and worth every bit of it). Yeah, I think I'll take that instead of the 500 SPG bonus points. Comfortable if a little smallish but it probably had the best view of Red Square in the hotel.

Amazing view from our three window with balcony suite...

Beautiful staircase in the center.

 

While Mrs. SFO decided to nap, I headed out across the street to Red Square while the weather was still nice.

TV crew setting up for tomorrow's November 7th parade honoring the men that lost their lives in 1941 when Russia went to war against Hitler.

My first look at fabled Red Square with the massive GUM department store (now an fabulous shopping center... pics coming) extending virtually the entire one side of the square opposite the Kremlin. Very impressive.

Iconic St. Basil's. Amazing to see it in person.

Back at the National, Mrs. SFO was still tired and decided she wanted no part of going out on the town tonight. So she voted for a drink and dinner in the hotel bar. Naturally, we went with Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Kiev. Both were delicious.

Back in the room, late afternoon and then night brings stunning views of Red Square and the Kremlin.

Countdown to Sochi.

Preparing for today's November 7th parade.

Still standing in the same place.

Prior to our arrival, I had arranged a private guide for both Thursday and Friday. Our wonderful guide Sophie, was waiting for us in the concierge area at 10AM, and we were off on foot to explore Moscow.

The Politburo.

And The Bolshoi Theatre where we will be tomorrow night.

The famous GUM (pronounced Goom), once a Soviet-era sparsely stocked "department store", now a beautiful shopping upscale centre.

No, not Mrs. SFO. This was another one of those oops, didn't mean to take your pic moments that I usually have once a trip. I was taking the pic of the art and didn't realize that the woman was looking right at me. Sorry!

A recreation/restoration of Stalin's favorite car.

The upscale food shop, where Sophie recalled that she used to stand in line for up to two hours just to buy bread. Times have changed.

At the other end of GUM, a quick peek at St. Basil's.

Off to the explore the famous Metro, a seemingly efficient systems that moves over 7 million people a day... 30 rubles (about $0.90) per one way apparently for as far as you want to go.

To the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, rebuilt in the 1990's after Stalin had ordered it destroyed calling religion "opium for the masses".
http://www.sacred-destinations.com/r...ist-the-savior

Lunch near the National at Vatrushka, the best restaurant of our visit.

And back at hotel. From the balcony on a dreary but still warm (+13) afternoon.

And later that evening, the fabled Café Pushkin, a must for anyone visiting Moscow. Pics from their website. http://www.cafe-pushkin.ru/en/

Our table.

Moscow
Day 2

We met our guide Sophie in the lobby at 9:30A and headed out first to Red Square and then to the Kremlin.

Towards the Kremlin entrance.

By the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Towards the State Armory, which houses one of the most spectacular collections of state jewelry and treasures you will find anywhere. The Fabergé egg collection alone is worth nearly $500 million. A remarkable collection of ceremonial carriages, glittering thrones and memorabilia from Russian aristocracy throughout the centuries.

The Kremlin walls overlooking the Mockba River.

Official government offices.

Putin's office building. He was out today and unable to meet for a photo op.

Soviet era meeting/concert hall

Part of the shopping center right next to the Kremlin.

And the inside of the dome that we could see from our hotel room.

Back at the National, lunch at the gorgeous Composer restaurant, operated by local restaurateur Arkady Levin. I guess he's a big deal in Russia. Beautiful decor. Not so great food. OK, we're starting to tire of Russian cuisine. Scary that we are starting to crave Polish food. I guess there is a reason you don't hear "let's do Russian tonight" when considering dining out options in the rest of the world.

Nice presentation I guess, but this was the worst beef stroganoff of the trip.

Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow
Friday, November 8, 2013

One of the highlights of the pre-planning was our ability (or the National concierge's) to get two front row balcony tickets to the Bolshoi, and opening night of the new ballet Marco Spada. We've been to opera houses and ballets in Paris, Vienna and Prague and the exterior of the Bolshoi Theatre ranks with the best.

But the interior was actually pretty disappointing. No grand lobby and staircases like Opera Garnier in Paris or in Vienna.

Waiting for the ladies to open the doors to our box.

Once inside, nice but I guess I was expecting more. And the balcony seating leaves a lot to be desired, but row two standing behind us to the point of being annoying. They must have got the message to "back the hell off" as they never returned after the first intermission. Sorry, no pics of the ballet itself as "no photos during the performance" was not something I wanted to test.

In spite of the disappointing seating, the ballet itself was absolutely magnificent. The dancers, the sets, the staging, choreography, the music were all unbelievable. A joy to experience and by far, better than any performance we've seen anywhere. Afterwards, we walked across (or under the street) to The Metropol, where parts of Dr. Zhivago were filmed.

But by now, more of the same tiresome Russian cuisine. Although made less tiresome by a bottle of reasonably priced and delicious Casa Lapostelle Chardonnay.

 

And before we leave, a pictoral review of the Girls of Moscow.

 

After an hour taxi ride from the hotel, we arrived at the weird terminal that is DME at around 8AM. Inside, thousands of pax getting ready to depart on numerous airlines. We eventually found the check-in counter with no one at the First Class lane.

Loved the lego man and the oblivious woman sitting beside him.

Passport control and security were pretty uncrowded and we were in the Airport Business Lounge contract lounge by 8:20A. Pleasant business class lounge with comfortable seating, Wifi and basic selection of food and beverages.

Singapore SQ 62
Moscow DME to Houston IAH
11:15A-2:00P (sked)
11:20A-1:40P (actual)
November 9, 2013
Seats 2CD
 

At around T-60, we headed out to Gate 13, actually Gate 12A for the F and J pax. Due to the late arrival of the inbound flight from SIN, our crew was sitting at the gate when we arrived, but boarded 10 minutes later.

Our 77W.

And the scariest vehicle at DME, possibly at any airport.

Even though boarding commenced at 11:00A, it was completed in 20 minutes and we departed virtually on time.

Ah yes.

And presentation of today's menu.

After takeoff, our crew began service immediately.

And the amazing SQ satay with onions, cucumbers and spicy peanut sauce... one of the most delicious canapes/starters in the sky.

Unfortunately, our dining experience went south pretty quickly.

Today's menu.

Wine list was identical to four days earlier.

Let's try the Dom.

I've loved Georges Blanc and we both went all Georges today, but it was positively horrid. In light of other experiences and comments from dat4life and Short hair Francis, I'm going to assume it was a DME catering thing and not Georges gone senile. If true, no chef in his right mind would want to attach his/her name to food ex-DME.

The poached lobster with peppers and aubergine was terrible. Lobster was tasteless. Peppers not much better. Didn't even try the aubergine.

The Beef minestrone with basil pesto was bland.

By this time, Mrs. SFO had had her fill of Georges Blanc and asked our steward to change her order. He recommended the chicken noodle dish, which looked really good.

Unfortunately, I waited one more course. The halibut was gross, quite possibly the worst inflight meal I've ever had on an airline not named United or Delta. One bite and I dumped it like a rented mule. Sorry but it was so disgusting that I forgot to even take a pic. Opted for the chicken noodle dish, which was delicious.

The moist bitter chocolate tart and mango ice cream was good.

After finishing another French movie, Des gens qui s’embrassent (It Happened in Saint-Tropez), I asked the FAs to make my bed.

I slept great for nearly 5 hours. Then worked on downloading and editing pics while listening to more of my eclectic music tastes.

At around T-90 minutes, I had the second meal, which was much better.
The warm seared spice prawn with cauliflower custard and tomato soup was delicious.

The Stir fry beef in oyster sauce, seasonal veggies and fried rice was excellent, even better with Tiger beer or two.

The tiramisu was just OK but very heavy and I only had a few bites.

Almost at IAH. Wow, 12 hours went by really quickly.

We touched down some 20 minutes early and were at our gate a few minutes later. Service was excellent as always but the food offerings today were pretty weak. Nevertheless, I would gladly take this flight again and still rank SQ with the best in the world. But I would definitely be very selective about my ex-DME meals and never ever order seafood ex-DME.

 

To wrap this one up...

Global Entry was a breeze and we were out of customs and baggage claim in less than five minutes. On the other hand, security to re-enter the terminal took a good 10 minutes as there was no dedicated PreCheck lane. We headed for the E concourse United Club and then a stop at Cat Cora's restaurant before heading to C30 and our luxurious United flight home.

United 1541
IAH-DEN
737-900
6:02P-7:40P (sked)
5:58P-7:10P (actual)
November 9, 2013
Economy Plus Exit Row 21AC

This was actually a very nice flight, for Y. Brand new plane. Light load on Saturday and we had a window and aisle with an open middle seat. Loads of room and no need to turn off electronics made it a pretty comfortable flight.

Thanks everyone for following along and for all the comments. Moscow was fascinating to visit and we are glad we went. Three days was just the right amount of time for us. As others have noted, unlike St. Petersburg, Moscow is not a particularly attractive city. And while we enjoyed the visit, we are unlikely to return any time soon.