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New Years in Rome and Malta

New Years in Rome and Malta
via Lufthansa First Class
December 2016

Mrs. SFO777 and I are off to Rome for New Years and then a couple of days in/on Malta.   The original plan was to go with our SoCal travel buddies but an illness and doctor's orders to not travel for a month grounded them.   As I told Mrs. SFO777, looks like a romantic couples weekend in Rome.   She laughed.  OK, not sure what that meant???

Today we're back on Lufthansa and the same LAX-Munich nonstop that I took last month, and hoping for a better experience.  
 

First stop was the Star Alliance First Class Lounge.   Small and uninspiring but we were the only passengers there most of the time, so Mrs. SFO777 decided that we would stay here instead of going to what I consider the nicer Business Class Lounge.
 

Same weak selection of serve yourself food as last month.

Yeah, that really looks appetizing.  Yikes.

And yuck.

There is a made to order menu with more interesting options, but neither of us were hungry at that point.  Not to mention the stains on the menu being a major turn off.  Jeez.

Then there was this strange bench with dirty towel.  We both guessed footrest. 

Some pics of the nicer Business Class Lounge from last month... 

 
 
 
... with a very nice terrace overlooking the shopping concourse. 
 

How true this is!  LOL.

The Lounge includes a really cool outdoor terrace.

Even the serve yourself food offerings were better than in the First Class Lounge.

Another Lufthansa disappointment as this airline continues its slide into the ranks of mediocre.

Although Lufthansa has joined the airines participating in PreCheck, your OLCI self-printed or mobile boarding pass doesn't say TSA PRECHECK.  LH requires you to stop at the check-in counter to get a boarding pass that says TSA PRECHECK.   So we did, where our stop at the check-in counter was a little bizarre with the First Class agent acting like he was doing us a favor.  Perhaps it was the award ticket but that has never mattered before.   We declined counter to lounge escort but I did request lounge to gate escort, mostly to test the service, since last month the escort was a no show.   We indicated our preference to board first and our Personal Assistant confirmed our desire when she visited us in the lounge about 30 minutes before boarding.   Boarding was announced and she was AWOL, just like last month.  As we gathered our things to head to the gate, she arrived claiming that they were about to board.   Uh huh, first to board my butt.

... especially since our gate was far away Gate 157.

Naturally, by the time we arrived, boarding had been underway for 10 minutes.

Lufthansa 453
LAX-Munich
A340-600
5:15p-1:40p (sked)
5:25p-1:35p (actual)
December 28, 2016
Departed 4/8
Seats 2DG
 
Despite the attractive and comfy cabin, there were tell tale signs that this was not going to be good flight.   The senior seasoned cabin crew ignored service protocols and was simply mailing it in tonight.   No idea whether 1DG were friends or family, but that was part of the problem, with lots of loud chatter in German and laughter with them and between the crew from the galley.  The crew yapping continued during taxi and take-off.   Definitely Bose moments.    
   

Back to the Romena amenity kit tonight...

... with the same old, same old meh.

Once at cruising altitude, the crew finally finished their gossiping and started service.   Yo, how about closing the curtain to the galley??

One of the battle-ax attendants finally came around and asked if I wanted something to drink.   I asked to see the wine list to which she responded "oh, did I not give you the menu?  Sorry." 

Today's menu, same as last month as LH runs two month cycles.

 

I went with another glass of the always excellent Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle.

The disgusting amuse-bouche which I forgot to warn Mrs. SFO777 about.   Flight attendant seems surprised when I declined.

Showtime, LH style.  Still very nice, but it was all downhill from here.

I passed on the caviar again tonight. 

Serving 1DG.  And still no use of the curtain to block light from galley.  Obviously, that would involve too much work opening and closing each time. 

Despite my warning, Mrs. SFO777 accepted the starter trio and the salad.

I took 2 of the 3 starters and the salad.  I use the word "took" as our lazy attendant reached over Mrs. SFO777 and handed them to me.  I think she got the message when I hesitated to take them and rolled my eyes.

Yo, where are the galley curtains?  Seriously?   

We both had the beef as it was delicious last month.  Tonight was terrible.  Tough cut, undercooked and the au gratin potatoes had no au gratin.

Not even close to the same dish I had last month...

Still no curtain.

And still no curtain, prompting me to finally ask "are you ever going to close the galley curtains?"   And her response, "uh, oh we usually do it after service."   Maybe you do it that way, but that is not the way any other crew does it or the manual says to do it. 

With only 4 passengers, we each had our own "seat and a bed" and I moved over to 2A and Mrs. SFO777 to 2K.   Ambien was again my friend tonight and I slept for nearly 6 hours.

I didn't want to eat much as I was planning on having the Weiner Schnitzel in the MUC Lounge.

So just a little scrambled eggs and bacon.

We arrived on time which was one of the few bright spots about this flight.  Mrs. SFO777 declined Ambien and didn't sleep well as the bed/mattress was not that comfy.  Add in the mediocre service and we decided that we've both pretty much had it with Lufthansa.  You were once great, but you've regressed and much of the world has passed you by.    

We arrived at Gate K-7 which was almost directly across from the Terminal 2 Satellite First Class Lounge.

This was my 2nd visit here and I really like this lounge.   Very attractive with lots of windows for plane watching.

While Mrs. SFO777 headed to one of the sleep rooms for a nap, I explored this beautiful lounge.

The lounge attendant showed me the new outdoor terrace which I hadn't noticed last month.   It's a nice feature but small... and likely to be used mostly as an outdoor smoking lounge.

None of the wines interested me so I went with a beer... 

WIth Mrs. SFO777 napping, someone else joined me for lunch.

My Viennese Schnitzel.

Which was delicious...

... but not as fabulous as this one at the FCT in Frankfurt last year.

In Munich, Lufthansa only provides limo service to planes operating from a remote tarmac position.  Unfortunately unlike my LHR flight last month, our Rome flight departed from a real gate, Gate K04 about a 5 minute walk from the Lounge.

Amazingly, all other passengers were seated with no gate lice at all.   Since we had the bulkhead seats and no nearby available seats, we became gate lice, standing at the gate for 5 minutes before boarding commenced. 

Munich-Rome
Lufthansa 1846
A321
3:45p-5:15p
December 29, 2016
Seats 1AC

 

Welcome aboard the ever uncomfortable phony Business Class seats that European airlines get away with.

Friendly cabin crew offered excellent service after take-off and closed the galley curtain immediately.  Time to promote this crew to international First Class.  I wasn't hungry but took the lunch offering for the photo opp. 

The custard dessert and chocolates were good.

FCO is not the most attractive airport, although there were pretty pics of Rome along the way to the exit.

Our personable Hassler driver Momy was waiting for us outside baggage claim.   After a short walk to the car, we were on the road and at the hotel 35 minutes later.

At the top of the Spanish Steps with a commanding view of Rome, The Hotel Hassler is one of the great classic hotels of Europe.   
 
 

Not sure whether it was the hotel equivalent of a mistake fare, but I was fortunate to find an amazing online deal on the Hassler website, a prepaid Classic Suite that was priced less than a Jr. Suite and not much more than a Deluxe Room.  I then received a further 40% discount when I called Citi Concierge and used their 4th night free offer, as the 4th night was the most expensive night of our stay.  Our luck continued at check-in as we were upgraded to a 6th floor suite with a view of the city.

Although the matchy matchy furniture and wallpaper was a bit of a sensory overload.

After we settled in, we headed downstairs for a drink and something to eat, at the elegant Salone Eva.

We both had the wonderful Amatriciana style mezzi rigatoni pasta and a glass of Brunello.

OMG... sensational.

We met our hotel driver Momy and concierge booked guide GianLuca in the lobby at 9:30am and headed out to the Vatican Museums.   Long line of visitors waiting to buy tickets snaked down to and around the next via.   

Fortunately, we had reserved tickets and were able to skip most of the queue.  Although, that didn't help with the throng that was inside.

Just a few other visitors.

OMG, let's pack 'em in.

After the Sistine Chapel, outside right by the entrance to St. Peter's.

And outside again.  

Unfortunately, we missed out 1pm reservation at Roscioli which Mrs. SFO777 had chosen because Mario Batali claimed it was his favorite Rome lunch spot.   So we headed back to the hotel and re-group, decided to take both driver Romy and concierge Cristian's recommendation for nearby Tullio.    Nice atmosphere and the bread was great but nothing we ordered was pretty disappointing.

But the wine was great.

After lunch, back to Hassler to rest up for the next round.   The view from Suite 620.

Much better luck for dinner that evening at Moma.   Great atmosphere, service and food.   Typical North Americans, we were pretty much the first to arrive at 7:30p opening time.  By 8pm, the place was hopping.

Wow!

Our pasta with truffles was fabulous.

This morning we are off with Gianluca to the wonderful Borghese Gallery.  

The Borghese was a wonderful experience helped in large part by the civilized limited access policy.  Only 200 visitors at a time are allowed and then for only 2 hours  Reservations are required for the five daily two hour blocks... 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm.  The Borghese also has a no photo policy with which I complied.  We spent our full 2 hour allotment and enjoyed the museum's wonderful collection of paintings and sculptures by Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio and Canova.

From the Borghese we headed over to take in the marvels of the Colosseum, which had recently completed an exterior cleaning and looked stunning.

Unlike The Borghese, crowds here were awful.  Although with prereserved tickets, it only took us 10 minutes to access, instead of the hours wait for those without reservations. 

This guy had just proposed and she accepted... to applause from those nearby.

I still marvel at the amazing advanced design and construction from over 2,000 years ago.

Back outside as the New Years Eve Marathon passes by the Colosseum.  

As we head off to our 3pm lunch reservation at Roscioli thru insane traffic and hordes of New Years Eve visitors.   

Located down a narrow street, Roscioli is a multi-generation family owned combination deli, restaurant and wine bar.  Mrs. SFO777 picked this as she read that it was Mario Batali's favorite Rome lunch resto.  The Roscioli website claims 300 types of cheese, 150 varieties of cold cuts, 2,800 wine labels, and a wide selection of preserves, sauces, mustards, canned foods, pastas, oils, and vinegars – not only Italian – for takeout or to enjoy seated at the tables of the Ristorante.  Great atmosphere.  

Our vino and cheese plate starter were fabulous.

But the rest of the meal was a meh.

Average meat balls.

Way overcooked and underseasoned veggies.

My carbonara looked great but was disappointingly tasteless, almost like someone forgot the cheese.

Uber was our friend this afternoon and our Uber Black arrived within 5 minutes, and dropped us off close to Via Condotti for a little shopping.

And then back up the Spanish Steps to The Hassler.

Later that evening, we headed over to nearby Ristorante Life for New Years Eve dinner.   Nice atmosphere in a variety of rooms with great food and wine. 

Back at the Hassler, we had a great view of some of the fireworks which had supposed been banned by Rome's mayor.  I guess not so much.

We slept in and pretty much relaxed in and enjoyed our suite on New Years Day.   Mrs. SFO777 was a little under the weather and opted to stay in pretty much all day, while I headed out to enjoy the sunny +12C/54F temps and head over to check out Trevi.

Ah, here's were everyone is today.  Yeah, it's touristy but a nice atmosphere, and great people watching.   

This woman was the funniest, looking for the perfect selfie.

After a stop at the Pharmacia to pick up something for Mrs. SFO777, I headed back to the hotel.

 

The 7th floor Hassler terrace with wonderful views of the city.

I checked in with Mrs. SFO777 and then headed downstairs for lunch at the Salone Eva.

And a repeat of our delicious meal from our first night... Amatriciana style mezzi rigatoni and a glass of Brunello.

OMG!

Back up in our suite for a little nap, only to wake up to the sound of marching bands.   I headed down the Spanish Steps to find Rome's New Years Day parade featured local and US marching bands, including American university bands... Northern Iowa, Marshall and South Florida

Sunset over Rome from our Hassler suite.

Dinner tonight was easy as we simply walked down the hall to the Hassler's Michelin one star resto Imago.   A great experience with wonderful service and food. 

... or maybe not.  

This one started to look like trouble as early as a couple of weeks ago.   There are two daily Rome-Malta nonstops, Alitalia at 9:55am and Air Malta at 10:10am.   Been there, done that with Alitalia short-haul and it was miserable.  Air Malta Business Class was cheaper and it was the later flight.  So I figured, "how bad can Air Malta be"?   LOL, Quel idiot I can be sometimes.   The first sign of trouble came a couple of weeks ago when I starting getting emails with my flight confirmation.  Since the seats were the same 1D and 1F, I didn't pay much attention.  I thought that it seemed a little anal to be repeatedly sending me the same confirmation.  Then I started getting phone calls from +356 and message to call Air Malta.  Seriously?  I finally contact them and was told that our flight had been changed to all Economy and there is no Business Class on our flight.  We still had the same seats 1D and 1F and there is no one in 1E.  OK, whatever.  Strange, as the seat map still showed the same A320 seating with Business Class now on the Economy seat map.  Well I guess we just saved money as we'll get a refund.

Fast forward to last night and OLCI tells me our seats have changed and 1D and 1F are now 1D and 2F, and 1F is now occupied.  What the eff?  Air Malta Customer Service is completely useless as I am bounced from one department to another and then back the first department and person I spoke with at the outset.  I OLCI'd with 1D and 2F and figure I'll head for check-in counter and find out what's up.

This morning we arrive at Terminal 3 just over 2 hours before departure.

A few people in line and we get to the agent a couple of minutes later.

Agent apologizes for the seat confusion and advises that today's flight is not an Air Malta plane but operated by a Lithuanian airline on a wet lease basis.  

Agent offered to move 2F to 1C so we would then have bulkhead cross aisle seats.  Perfect solution, or so we thought.  Forgot that It's Italy, it's FCO, it's Air Malta.  More later...

After security, we headed for the D gates...

To the lounges on the mezzanine level.

We used our Priority Pass to access the AviaPartner Mosaici Lounge.

Large but dated, drab and depressing.
 
 

Whoa, don't those look good.  LOL.

While Mrs. SFO777 relaxed, I decided to check out the neighborhood.  The Alitalia Lounge.

And the other smaller but more modern Priority Pass lounge, strangely adjacent to the one we were in.

At around T-40, we headed down to our Gate D3, where there was still no plane but hoards of gate lice already lined up.  Really? 

Twenty minutes later, a plane pulled into the gate.  Ellinair?  I thought we were on GetJet today??

We found seats at an adjacent gate, which was calm and quiet... until two kids with no piano skills started banging on the keyboard.  Oh joy.

I periodically visited the gate podium to see what was going on.  On one occasion asked the same agent that checked us in if there was priority boarding?  She said yes, if I'd like.  Huh? Cool.  After some supposedly handicapped preboards, the gate agent invited Business Class to board.  LOL since it was an all Economy flight.  Nevertheless Mrs. SFO777 and I and a couple others cut to the front of the line.   OK, that worked pretty well... until we got an error message that our 1C had been assigned to another pax. Say what?  After much discussing between gate agents, we finally settled for 1D and 3C and boarded. 

Air Malta 613 operated by GetJet on Ellinair 
737-400
10:10a-11:35a (sked)
11:30a-12:35p (actual)
January 2, 2017
Seats 1A 1B, previously 1C 1D 1F and 2F
 

Once on board, if finally dawned on us as to what happened. Some fat old DYKWIA political type and his Imelda Marcos-like wife and their entourage had apparently got someone at Air Malta to bounce us from our seats. Imelda was sitting in Mrs. SFO777's original 1F and fatso was sitting in 1D even though he was apparerntly assigned 1C.  I mentioned the seating issue to the pleasant Lithuanian FA and he told us to just take 1A and 1C and he'd work it out.  Better for us since we now had even more legroom.  We squatted there and decided we weren't moving anywhere. In the end, we got the last laugh as someone sat in 1E in between fatso and Imelda.

OK, now that's legroom.

I did move from 1C to 1B when the woman who was originally assigned 1B arrived.  

Said fatso.

We boarded 30 minutes late and were then delayed another 30 minutes as there was a head count issue... 165 vs. 166.  Lots of discussion about how to proceed with gate agent deciding to go row by row to check boarding passes.  OMG, this will take another hour.  Mercifully, she gave up after row 4 and decided that 165 and 166 were close enough today for Italy. 

And Imelda.  LOL.

Our seatmate stored her bag between her feet in front of her, which apparently is permitted in Lithuania.

After a short taxi, we were in the air and on our way.

Our FA's were quick to action after takeoff, rolling our the cart and handing out bottled water and a snack.

OK, what the heck is that?

I don't think so.  Yikes.

Approach to Malta.

As soon as we pulled into our parking position, I jumped up and headed back to row 3 to retrieve our bags.   Imelda did not look happy as people were now in her space.

No jet bridges at MLA so everyone heads for the buses. 

This day just keeps getting better and better as we arrive at our hotel... in the middle of nowhere, The Corinthia Palace Hotel.  OK, it's located near embassies and the presidential palace but it's still in the middle of nowhere.  And not even close to 5 stars.  LOL.  The Corinithia in London is spectacular but this originial Corinthia one isn't even close.   While the lobby area has had a make-over, the rooms haven't been touched in 20-30 years.  Quel dump.  Yikes.  On the other hand, the staff here is very nice

 To top it off, our "suite" wasn't ready.   So we headed for lunch at lobby resto Orange Grove while we waited.   Buffet or by menu.

Let's check out the buffet.

I don't think so.

We tried to play safe with a club sandwich and burger.

Uh-huh.

Not a good start.

Nearly two hours later after lunch and a short nap in the lobby, our suite was ready.  OK, this is one sorry and tired looking room.  But for €155 a night, what did I expect?? 

And the living room portion of our suite.

We were both pretty depressed after the flight and the hotel, so I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for flight options home the next day, or better accomodations.  We decided to tough it out and give Malta one more day.  Then decide to either stay or take the afternoon Emirates MLA-DXB-LAX option.  With Mrs. SFO777 resting, I headed for the bar, which was actually quite comfy and with a great staff.

The outdoor terrace would be lovely in warmer weather.

For dinner, we headed into Valletta and seafood restaurant Scoglitti.  Nice location and decor, pleasant staff.

 

Maltese wines?  Never knew that.

I'm thinking that this vineyard is probably not going to have much luck marketing Isis wine for export. 

The bruschetta was very good.

But the rest of the meal disappointing.