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Five Days in India

Five Days in India
via Etihad and Singapore First Class
February 2016
Once upon a time, well to be precise on a warm August Sunday BBQ evening 3+ years ago, after way too many G&Ts and/or too much wine, and no doubt attempting to get an entertaining reaction out of Mrs. SFO777, 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.  Jr. and I had a great time and I've been trying to get her interested ever since.  But it wasn't until a travel agent friend raved about "5 star India" that she warmed to the idea.
 
I almost lost her at the travel health center with the list of potential diseases and pills to protect against hepatitis, yellow fever, malaria, etc... and the three treatments for diarrhea.
But armed with our visa, shots and meds, we are ready to go!
 
• United Airlines First Class Denver-Washington
• Etihad First & Business Class Lounge
• Etihad 787 First Class Washington-Abu Dhabi
• Etihad Premium Lounge at AUH
• Etihad 77L First Class Abu Dhabi-Delhi
• The Oberoi Delhi
• Delhi
• Air India Business Class Delhi to Jaipur
• Rambaugh Palace Jaipur 
• Jaipur
• Jet Airways Business Class Jaipur-Mumbai
• The Oberoi Mumbai
• Mumbai
• Lounge at BOM
• Singapore Airlines First Class Mumbai-Singapore
• The Private Room at Changi
• Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Singapore-Tokyo NRT
• ANA Suites Lounge at NRT 
• Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Tokyo-LAX
• United Club at LAX
• United Airlines First Class LAX-Denver
 
And back to DIA again for the first of three flights, United to Washington Dulles.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Denver to Washington Dulles
United 461
B757-200 (international configuration)
12:40p-5:55p
February 16, 2016
Seats 2AB
 
We lucked out today as the flight we needed today was an international configuration lie flat Business First 757.   Boarding started at T-50 today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
OK, now this is a cool domestic front cabin.
 
 
 
 
 
Very comfy seats, almost a nice as the old AA MD-80 Mad Dog seats.
 
 
With almost as much leg room as 3F.  :)
 
 
\
 
 
Indeed lie flat seats.
 
 
Outstanding service today, starting with open bar pre-departure beverages.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Today's lunch options were the same as last week's DEN-PIT, Fiesta Chicken or Pepper salmon salad.  Mrs. SFO opted for the Fiesta Chicken.
 
 
While I had the salmon salad which was OK.
 
 
 
The best part of the meal was the wonderful baked on board chocolate chip cookie.
 
 
 
On time arrival and we headed for the long, long, long walk to train for the ride to the A gates...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What a treat to be back in this wonderful lounge, with outstanding staff.

Tonight's menu.

The Lamb Vindaloo was out of this world.

 

Washington to Abu Dhabi
Etihad EY 130
787-9 Dreamliner
9:10p-7:20p +1 (sked)
9:45p-6:55p +1 (actual)
February 16, 2016
First Class
Suites 1A and 2A
 

At around T-50, boarding was announced, directly from the lounge.   I originally selected 1A and 2A because 2DG were blocked.  In the end after we had boarded and settled, 2DG were available but we decided to stay in our single seats, ala Cathay First.

Our first look at the 787 Dreamliner First Cabin.   Interested mix of forward and rear facing seats.

Very nice, although the side single seats seem to have less room than the middle pair and a little smaller than the side 777 seats.

 

A happy Mrs. SFO.

 

And the Business Class cabin.  Doesn't look too bad if you're not in First.

Today's amenity kit.

 

 

A glass of Bollinger to start the evening.

Tonight's wine list.

And menu.

Showtime.

Our amuse-bouche, salmon with creme fraiche.

The Mushroom Soup was fabulous.

And the Alaskan King Crab and prawns.

Our palate cleanser.

Tried the Chianti Reserva.  OK, this was either corked or simply ugly.

And the Oven roasted Lamb Loin.  After Chef Maria's build-up, pretty disappointing.  But the side of Fresh Tortellini was tasty. 

The decadent Chocolate Nougat Souflé was delicious.

After finishing my Bollywood fix, time to bed.

Even though I'd stupidlt forgotten my Ambien, this was one of the best in flight sleeps ever.  The extra humidity on the Dreamliner makes an incredible difference as I slept for nearly 7 hours.

Another meal?  Why not.

The signature Etihad Steak Sandwich was sensational.

Despite the late departure from IAD, we arrived early.  That was the good news.  The bad news is that the horrifically bad Etihad ground experience shows no sign of improving any time soon.  We've been relegated to a remote stand.   Ten minutes for the stairs to be in position.

Ugh.

Seriously, even Emirates has  First Class Bus.

After a cursory security check, we are in ancient Terminal 1.

Just outside of security is the Terminal 1 Etihad Premium Lounge.  As with the T3 lounge, no FIrst Class Lounge, just a roped off or separate area.  Etihad has really fallen behind in premium ground services since supposedly renovating the old First Class Lounge.  It's been nearly two year and still nothing.  Etihad claims May but I'll believe it when I see it. 

On seeing our First Class boarding passes, the check-in agent escorted to the First Class area of the lounge.  LOL.   

The agent offered us complimentary spa services but we declined.

 

 

The dining room with a nice selection of buffet food offerings.

 

At around T-60, we headed out to find our Gate 8.

OK, no one is going to miss this antique gate area when the midfield terminal opens.

Abu Dhabi to Delhi
Etihad EY 218
777-200 (77L)
9:50p-2:50a
February 17, 2016
First Class 
Suites 2DC

Funny sign which meant absolutely nothing as gate agent just started processing boarding passes without any announcement or priority boarding.

Finally on board, we were met by our wonderful crew for tonight's short flight.  

Up for 30 hours, even I don't have to ask about tonight's pics.  LOL.

For an older plane, this is a wonderful First Class cabin.  Very comfy especially with only one other pax tonight (1L).

Tonight's menu.

Very cool, live TV.  Like we never left home.

 

 

Showtime.

My Asian style minted King Prawns were quite nice.

But the Yogurt Tikka Lamb was absolutely sensational.  Wow.

The Central Coast Line 39 Pinot was excellent.

With some extra yogurt.

And to finish, the Hazelnut Tart was divine.

We arrived on time and our tour company had arranged for a buggy to meet us at the gate.  Jr. and I walked last time here.  

Our greeter escorted us to and thru the e-visa line.

Where a porter met us and escorted to our tour comany liaison and drive.

Thirty minutes later we pulled up to The Oberoi Delhi.

We arrived at the Oberoi just before 4am, and received a warm welcome and were escorted to a very nice upper floor suite.  

After a late sleep, we finally surfaced at around 11:30am.

And headed to the all day dining restaurant, 360.   

Terrific wait staff.  Not sure why maintenance couldn't vacuum and polish floor overnight instead when customers are there.

Unfortunately, lunch didn't start until 12:30p so we had breakfast.   Also learned that the hotel was closing at the end of March for a 2 year renovation program.  Wow.

We finished at around 12:30p, just before lunch service started.  A very impressive lunch spread... may try that tomorrow.

And later that day after our tour, drinks and pupus in the Club Bar.

And later in the evening, a delicious meal back at 360.

OK, the best garlic naan.

 

OK, what was I thinking bringing Mrs. SFO to Delhi?  And then I compounded it by adding Old Delhi.   Quel idiot!  

The good news is that Punam, our guide from three years ago, was in the lobby to greet us at 1pm.   And with our driver Mohan, we headed out to Old Delhi and Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque.  Wow, talk about sensory overload.

Love the colors on the women.

Professional ear wax remover.

And then what was supposed to be a 20 minute rickshaw ride turned into much longer when Mrs. SFO kept saying OK to Punam's suggestions. 

And another yes to seeing the spice market.  This cannot turn out well.  But we're in too deep now.

Mercifully, the extended rickshaw tour came to an end and we headed for New Delhi... India Gate and various goverment buildings including Parliament House and the President's residence.

We arrived back at the hotel just after 5pm and headed for the bar.  Do not stop. Go straight to the bar.

Fortunately, day 2 was much better as we stayed cleared of any Old Delhi masses.   The view from our window, alternating between "Smoke" or "Fog" on my weather app.

First stop: breakfast from the buffet. 

And then more dishes that our wonderful waiter Gautam keep bringing out for us to sample.

Fortunately, the weather improved as we headed out for our first stop this morning, the Qutb Minar complex.  This fascinating site includes the first mosque in India - The Quwwat-Ul-Islam, which dates back to 1199.

A young couple posing for pre-wedding pics.  

And then some shopping.  A Kashmir cooperative type store selling wonderful multi-family owned scarves (pashmina). carpets and jewelry.  Our personable sales person Kazim.  With some coaching from our guide Punam, I haggled for a loverly scarf for Mrs. SFO.

After shopping, we headed to Humayun's Tomb, one of the earliest examples of Mughal architecture. 

 The design of the Taj Mahal is based on this stucture.

The Oberoi is only a short 5 minute drive from Humayun's Tomb.  Bank in time for the elaborate lunch buffet.

Back to our room to rest up before our fun 90 minute cooking demonstration with Chef Ishant and Chef Pivin.

Marinating our Paneer.

And River Sole.

Our Dal Tadka, a lentil dish.

Preparing the Palak Paneer.

And the Murgh tikka makhani (chicken).

Everything was wonderful, just wished we hadn't eaten lunch 3 hours earlier.  

Then over to the Tandoori ovens.

When Chef is now cooking the paneer and sole.

And the result, OMG.  Both were amazing. 

What a great experience, which apparently Warren Buffet and Bill Gates had on a recent visit.

Saturday was getaway day and Mrs. SFO is happy to be leaving Delhi.   "Can you go home today?"  LOL. With a noon pick-up, we had plenty of time this morning to relax and catch up on the latest political news back home.

 
 
 
And then our first with Air India.  Meh, not an auspicious start as I tried to check in online but the woefully challenged airindia.in was not having any part of this today.   45 minutes of mostly heavy traffic, we arrived at DEL Terminal 3.
 
 
 
 
Where our Peirce & Leslie greeter accompanied us into the terminal and to the counter.
 
 
 
 
 
 
To the Air India counter where a pleasant agent checked us in, issued our boarding passes and invitation the the Air India Lounge.
 
 
 
Then an Air India escort (not sure whether he was an AI employee (or just an entrepreneurial independent contractor) took us to security where we endured the most thorough non-body cavity search is a long time.  OK, these guys seem seriously.
 
 
They also like to stamp your boarding passes using lots of ink, which takes a long time to dry.  
 
 
Inside security, we headed for the Air India Lounge.
 
 
 
 
Reasonably comfortable seating area.
 
 
 
But with a selection of food offerings that didn't look very appetizing.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I left Mrs. SFO and headed off to explore other options.
 
 
The Plaza Premium Lounge looked much nicer.
 
 
 
But I kept on to the food court.
 
 
 
 
Went back to retrieve Mrs. SFO and we opted for Pizza Hut.  LOL.
 
 
 
 
Then off to the gate, passing an American Express Lounge which I didn't have time to visit.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Delhi to Jaipur
Air India 491
A319 
2:25p-3:15p
February 20, 2016
Seats 2AC
 
Strange boarding process as in no announcement.  Agent just opened the gate door and people started to queue.
 
 
 
 
OK, this is one old plane.  Isn't helped by some of the worst livery colours in the industry.
 
 
 
 
Pre departure offerings of juice or water.
 
 
And magazines.
 
 
The DEL-JAI is all of 30 minutes, but AI serves a hot meal in Business Class.  I wasn't really hungry but took one for the photo op.
 
 
Looks like a vegetarian Paneer wrap.
 
 
Cheese sandwich.
 
 
The cake I tried... tasted like a heavy carrot cake.
 
 
After I'd told Mrs. SFO that Jaipur was much more attractive than Delhi, we landed at the not so attractive side of the airport.   Mercifully, we pulled into Gate 13 and a jet bridge, where a half dozem AI staffers greeted the plane and specifically some notable in 1AC.  Turns out he was a former Air Force General, now a government MInister.  Not the most friendly person as he elbowed his way past me to get his bags over the first row on Economy.
 
 
 
 
 
OK, we definitely take security seriously in India.
 

Our Peirce & Leslie representative and driver met us outside the terminal.  Thirty minutes later, we arrived at the historic Rambagh Palace.

After the traditional rose petal shower, we were warmly welcomed to the hotel.

And escorted to the lovely Peacock Suite, a very nice upgrade from our original booking.

While Mrs. SFO rested, I went on the 5pm walking tour of the property.

We headed out for a pre-dinner cocktail.

We were then escorted to one of the most romantic dinners ever, a private Gazebo dinner in a wonderful setting.  WIth flower petals lining the walk all the way.

Tonight's menu.

Our own private musicians! 

 

One's last look of an amazing evening.

The next morning, peacocks were outside our patio area.