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New Years in Spain

New Years in Spain
via Swiss First Class
January 2013

As if on cue, snow came to Denver on Christmas eve and we enjoyed our first white Christmas in 15 years. After a quiet Christmas with our Denver son, we're off to LA tonight to see our California sons, families and grandkids. Then our first Swiss First flight tomorrow night from LAX to Zurich, compliments of Miles &More, who mistakenly gave new *A member Avianca/TACA and LifeMiles access to their entire award inventory for a couple of months this past summer. Oops. Mrs. SFO and I and our SoCal travel buddies had originally planned to be in Israel for New Years, but after the hostilities a few months ago, "the gang" decided that we'd do Israel another year.

-Admirals Club at DEN
-American Eagle First Class Denver-LAX
-Star Alliance First Class Lounge at TBIT/LAX
-Swiss First Class Los Angeles-Zurich
-Swiss First Class Lounge at ZHR
-Lufthansa Business Class Zurich-Frankfurt
-Lufthansa First Class Lounge A at FRA
-Lufthansa Business Class Frankfurt-Madrid
-Renfe Sala Lounge at Madrid Atocha
-Renfe Business Class Madrid to Sevilla
-Hotel Alfonso XIII Sevilla
-Sevilla
-Ronda
-Palacio de los Patos Granada
-Granada
-Renfe Business Class Granada to Madrid
-Hotel Villa Magna Madrid
-Madrid
-Toledo
-Iberia Lounge at Madrid T4S
-LAN Business Class Madrid-Frankfurt
-Lufthansa First Class Lounge at FRA
-Swiss First Class Lounge at ZRH
-Swiss First Class Zurich-Chicago
-American First Class Chicago-Denver
 
No traffic tonight as we got to DIA in 30 minutes prompting Mrs. SFO to recycle the old "why are we here so early? Don't ever do this again" complaint, which of course I always ignore. But she was all smiles as she experienced her first triple green beep at Pre-Check and waltzed thru security without taking off shoes, coat, hat or removing anything from her carry-ons. Off to the Admirals Club to relax.

A mix of new and recycled pics from a previous visits...

At about T-50 we headed downstairs for book and magazines and the gate.

AA 3678
DEN-LAX
CR7
December 26, 2012
7:30P-9:00P
Seats 2CD
Dinner

In spite of a narrow aisle and a stream of Y pax, FA opened bar and repeatedly swam up upstream to accommodate the 9 pax.

After take-off, drink service followed by "dinner" or what constitutes dinner on a oven-less Eagle flight. Choice of cold spinach stuffed chicken with pasta salad or steak salad with blue cheese and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Chicken was near tasteless. Salad better but, even then, only marginally better than a DL cold dinner.

The worst part of DEN-LAX on AA is the satellite terminal and the bus ride to the main terminal. Actually, that's not the worst part. That honor goes to the AA LAX ground crews, some of the most useless baggage crews in the system. Does it really take 15 minutes for gate check bags to be brought 100 feet away. Another 15 minutes and we are at baggage claim (Mrs SFO needed to check one bag this time, and we had Christmas gifts), but still no bags. That was another 10 minutes.

Outside, we only waited 5 minutes for another Avis bus, and then 15 minutes to get to the lot, after stops at T5, T6 and T7. The 35 minutes north on the 405 and 101 to The Four Seasons Woodland Hills. LOL. Would you believe the Best Western Woodland Hills. Generally good Tripadvisor ratings and $100 a night. How bad can it be? Yikes, now I know. Mrs. SFO was not impressed. "No robe? No slippers? Why do you do this to me?" My rationalization about "why spend $400 for 8 hours when for $100 I can get a much better location" was not cutting it. For those considering this hotel, don't unless you are on business and not with a princess.

Great visit with the youngest son as his two kids (age 4 and 2) including a visit to The Grove and American Girl, one of the most brilliant marketing ideas in recent years. For $300, your (grand) daughter can select a doll with matching dresses, pierced ears and a hair styling, then both get matching dresses.

Both grand daughter and her doll requested anonymity. Hey, it's LA.

Up next: Embarrassing Star Alliance Lounges at LAX.

How can anyone stand to live in LA. Traffic is horrendous. Less than 10 miles from The Grove to LAX. 70 minutes. Has anyone here ever heard of synchronizing traffic lights. Were it not for my GPS, we could still be trying to get to the airport. Arrived at ugly TBIT at roughly T-100 minutes. Can't wait for the new terminal to be completed.

While we were checking in at the F counter, I overhead an interesting conversation from the Business check-in counter... guy (with wife) beside us at the Business check-in counter asks about upgrading. Agent tells him it would be $600 today, normally $1,500. Comedian responds with "for the both of us?" then declines the offer when agent tells him "no, $600 per person". LX is selling last minute buy ups to F?? Asked and confirmed in the LX forum.

F check-in agent offered a personal escort to the FCL. Nice gesture not really necessary as no queue jumping privileges. We accepted but then bid adieu in the security line when it was apparent that we weren't getting any faster track. On the other side of security, entrance and elevators to the level 5 *A lounge level.

Wow, this is a First Class Lounge? Seriously? Why bother. This is the sorriest excuse for an international FCL I've seen in a long time.

And zero power outlets at the seats.

Premium (sort of) liquors and a weak selection of food...

The *A Business Class Lounge was actually more inviting.

And windows where you actually see things...

Next up: Outstanding LX First service but the old 343 hard product needs help.

At about T-45, we decided to head over to Gate 120. I doubt many will be disappointed when this ugly terminal becomes just a memory.

Hmm. 1L not connected tonight??

Swiss 41
LAX-ZRH
340-300
December 27, 2012
7:25P-3:45P +1
Departed 6/8
Seats 2DG

After all the raving about LX being better than LH, I am excited to experience Swiss First in person.

But not a great start as boarding commenced with "families traveling with children and those needing a little extra time to board". You can't announce and board your 4 F pax? Then to make matters worse, the next call was a cattle call of "First Class, Business Class, HON, SEN and Star Alliance Gold members". Seriously? OK, I might understand this if they used both 1L and 2L, but no, only 2L is being used so we get to enjoy a queue in the jet bridge as everyone boards in the same single door.

When it was our turn in the queue to board, FA asked Mrs. SFO where we were sitting. When Mrs. SFO said 2nd row, she asked for her BP. Once she saw the F BPs, a feat requiring a close examination since (unlike LH, SQ or CX) all LX BPs exactly look the same regardless of class of service, she smiled and welcomed us on board... although just pointing to the front of the plane as she was the only FA checking BPs at the door.

But once in F cabin, we were warmly welcomed by our two F FAs and the Purser. Our first look at LX First, the older version as the 343s have not be retrofitted. Pleasant looking although not the most comfortable seats. And some major deficiencies in the storage area. Flimsy arm rests and absolutely zero cubby storage areas for glasses, iphones, etc...

FA offered champagne. I can't remember what champagne it was, although FA knew it was subpar as he apologized for the absence of the Grand Siecle on the ground. Something about a duty issue with the good stuff. How about LX is too cheap to pay the duty on the good stuff? CX or SQ don't have a "duty issue". But the crab cake in remoulade was excellent and a nice touch at the gate.

The amenity kit was better than LH with Laprairie creams, including hand lotion (something LH not longer believes in) and eye cream.

Hmm, that galley looks awfully close and exposed. Glad we're not in row 1.

Just after take-off our crew was up and prepping for our two hour feast. But how about closing the curtain? The only flaw in an otherwise flawless service night.

The largest tray table I've experienced on any airline.

Once in the air, we can break out the Grand Siecle.

But that curtain is still open...

Very elegant setup...

Still no curtain...

Tonight's very nice menu with some great options...

With a wine list that I would on par with LH, although way too many Swiss wines, IMO.

Elegant starter tray with wonderful options.

We both went with the balik salmon and seafood cocktail, which tonight was cold lobster tail and claw. Both were excellent especially with the Grand Siecle.

Next up was a wonderful seasonal salad with bacon and parmesan. Paired with the excellent Bichot 1er cru Chablis Les Vaillons...

For the main, Mrs. SFO went with the Pacific Halibut with tomato sauce, lemon basmati rice and green asparagus. Paired with the Chablis.

I opted for the grilled beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce, fettuccine, glaced carrots and broccoli. I was asked and requested medium rare.

Indeed it was medium rare, and positively sensational... one of the best tenderloins I have eaten inflight. The 2008 Dillon Le Clarence de Haut-Brion was a nice pairing.

And then cheese from the cart, and a glass of the Graham's 20 year tawny.

By this time, somewhere over Wyoming, a few hundred miles NNW of Denver.

And to finish with sweet, the tiramisu was delicious.

And chocolates before getting some sleep.

All in all, truly outstanding meal service. The food was exceptional, better than LH, and the service refined and elegant. As the only female in the cabin, Mrs. SFO was the first to be served each course though seated in 2G. The only minor negatives were the open curtain to the galley and our FA forgetting that I had asked to try the mushroom ravioli as a starter (he did apologize profusely after dinner after he realized the omission). But those were the only minor flaws in an otherwise flawless meal and service.

It wasn't too long after dinner that I faded and decided to go to sleep. I went to the lav to change.

By the time I had returned, my bed was made. I passed out pretty quickly and woke about 5 hours later. Not the best of sleep as I recall. Cabin temp was fine. PJs were very comfy. Duvet was nice but the "mattress" and seat were just not very comfortable. Very hard and only slightly better than sleeping on a floor. Nowhere near as comfortable as the LH 744 real mattress bed.

I woke up at about T-2.5 and moved over to 2K to download and edit pics. At about T-90 minutes or so, our FA came around and offered breakfast. No formal menu just a series of options. Pretty much anything you could imagine... eggs, omelet, eggs benedict, bacon, sausage. I went with a little fruit and tea.

And delicious eggs benedict.

As descended, our FA brought coat but on a hanger on the back of the seat pod in front. Both FAs thanked us for flying LX and wishing us a pleasant time in Spain. As did our purser, who presented us with a gift of chocolates and a pen/pencil holder... mini LX galley cart.

Connecting flights (but not ours) displayed on the screen at the front of the cabin.

We landed on time at taxied to one of the E gates a few minutes later, ending a pleasant 11 hours in LX First. Outstanding attentive service and great food. Unfortunately, the 343 hard product leaves a lot to be desired. I'm looking forward to flying the new First 333 on our return to ORD.

Next Up: You call this First Class Ground Service??

Although we disembarked through our own private 1L door, we were met by no LX staff. And since we arrived 10 minutes after the SFO flight, we had to queue behind dozens of other connecting pax just to go thru security and officially enter the terminal.

Then down the escalator for the DEN-like train ride to Terminal A...

...and passport control, where we naturally picked the wrong line and were the last from our train to clear. More walking and searching in vain for non-existent Swiss First Lounge signs. So we just followed the Swiss Business Lounge then Swiss Lounges signs to an escalator up to the main A level. As we approached the Business/*A Lounge, finally a sign for the First Lounge... Sure, why not just keep on walking. A few kilometers more and we'll be in Austria.

Another escalator, this time back down to the lower A level where there are no Swiss First signs. After we walk around a but, we see the Swiss First spiral staircase, of course going back up to upper level. Confused yet? Mercifully, there was an elevator behind the staircase and we finally arrived at the FCL counter. After showing our LX First and LH connecting BPs, we were welcomed into the lounge.

Taken from the J lounge. Would have been a lot easier entering this lounge and just passing thru this door, had there been signs.

Comfortable lounge but nothing close to the luxurious appointment and atmosphere of the LH lounges in FRA. More like a very nice Business Class Lounge.

Nice looking sit down restaurant/bar area, although we were not hungry and decided to pass today.

Serve yourself options.

Pretty weak imitation of LH FCL offerings.

While Mrs. SFO relaxed, I decided to shower in rather spartan facilities. Didn't bother asking about any rubber duck here.

And the common men's shower room locker area/makeup area.

Since our original LH departure gate was A65 and having heard from other FTers that it is faster to walk to anything in the A60-A70 range, I didn't bother to inquire about the van ride. But with a gate change to A85, I asked. DWAA (dragon with an attitude) told me it was "only a 5-7 minute walk" and LX does not provide van service to anything but tarmac departing flights. I knew this was a crock but let it slide and we decided to head out to the gate at T-35, with said DWAA asking "why are you leaving so early?" Hmmm, maybe we'd rather be in the terminal than in here any more?

My overall assessment of LX is good but not great. In flight service and food is excellent. But the 343 hard product is dated and not comfortable, and the ZRH ground experience is not very good. Will give it another chance in a week, but so far, I'd pick LH First over LX any day of the week.

Lufthansa 1197
ZRH-FRA
737-300
December 28, 2012
6:20P-7:30P
Seats 3DF

Another European boarding scrum as the masses prevented any priority boarding. We just joined the queue for the self-boarding scanners. Good thing we didn't wait until the end to board as overhead space was already hard to find by the time we finally got to our seats. Push was delayed 10 minutes while some Russian refused to take his Y seat until he could be seated with his wife. FA had to request help from a pax that could speak English and Russian and translate.

Snack on a 40 minute flight. Took one for the team and photo op, but what's the point of offering anything with garbage like this??

On time arrival at 7:30P. With a gate A32 arrival and gate A26 departure, the old FCL would have been perfect. But with the new FCL at A13, that was a long hike. Despite Mrs. SFO's protestation, it was well worth the trek to this gleaming new facility.

And time for dinner between flights...

I had a sampler including Classic Beef Wok (filet, asian veggies, steamed rice), Chicken Koy Soy (chicken breast with chili coconut sauce), Ravioli al funghi and grilled salmon. Everything was great especially with the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose.

And the Viennese apple strudel.

At T-30, we headed out for the long trek back to A-26.

Lufthansa 1120
FRA-MAD
A321
December 28, 2012
8:50P-11:25P
Seats 2DF

Another scrum and self-boarding machines. Fortunately, there were only a handful of us in tonight's 10 seat Business class, so we had no problem stowing our bags in the overheads despite being in the bulkhead. The only two good seats on this aircraft. We passed on dinner but the options appeared to be curried chicken or shrimp dish.

On time arrival and only a 10 minute wait for our bag. During our wait, I had called the hotel about sending he shuttle and so only had to wait 5 minutes at the hotel shuttle bus stand. Another 5 minutes later we were at another top-rated TripAdvisor selection, the Hotel Clement Barajas. Comically small but clean room. And at 54 euros a night including shuttle and continental breakfast, I thought it was a great deal. Once again, Mrs. SFO was not amused.

Renfe 2110
Madrid Atocha-Sevilla Santa Justa
December 29, 2013
11:00AM-1:30PM

With light Saturday morning traffic, it took only 20 minutes to get from our airport hotel to Madrid Arocha. The beautiful old station has been restored and now resembles a garden.

After clearing a Hawaii ag inspection like bag security screening, we were in the departures hall. Near Gate 14 is the spacious Renfe Business Class Lounge, where we met our SoCal friends. They had arrived earlier today on US from LAX-PHL-MAD on a great RT J fare of $1,900. Both are UA regulars (1K) and thought US was better than UA Global First. Personally, I'd rather not sample either.

Admiral Club-type "food" and beverage options...

We had the entire lounge to ourselves for 15 minutes until half the red army showed up for their train.

At about T-30, we headed our to our Gate and train...

Sleek, new high speed train which was pretty comfortable

Power at the seats but no Wifi.

Not exactly gourmet food offerings. I was hungry so I took a chance.

After a comfortable 2 hour 20 minute trip, we arrived in Sevilla 10 minutes early.

Hotel Alfonso XIII
Starwood Hotel Property (Luxury Collection)
Sevilla, Spain

What a gorgeous old world hotel. Perfect location in a beautiful park like setting in Sevilla.

Our Virtuoso TA had made arrangements with a Spanish (Virtuoso) tour operator and we were booked in a Grand Deluxe Room. Front desk clerk claimed there were no rooms available for SPG Gold upgrade, but she did confirm the free Gold WiFi. I went up to our room, dropped off our coats and carry-ons and headed downstairs to lunch. Nice enough room, but not a suite.

Attractive but otherwise useless foyer...

The Virtuoso amenity was lunch for two at the hotel restaurant. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch with outstanding service.

After lunch, Mrs. SFO and I headed back to our room to relax and take a short nap before the evening. While Mrs. SFO napped, I discovered that the heat was not functioning and one of the sinks leaked. That, plus the fact that I checked online and was able to see suite availability for our entire stay, prompted me to head down to the front desk and ask for a room change and an upgrade. The power of the internet...

Fifteen minutes later, I had the keys to a beautiful one bedroom corner Reales Alcaceras Suite (320) on the top floor.

After a power nap and a few drinks at the Alfonso bar, time to head for our first night in Sevilla...

And the wonderful new tapas restaurant, Don Juan...

After dinner, strolling thru the streets of wonderful Sevilla...

Our 1st full day in Sevilla was a brilliant sunny +16C Sunday. We headed out just after noon for a short stroll to our lunch date...

... to the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes and the lovely home of the heir of a noble Spanish Marquis.

We were invited into her home and spend nearly three hours learning about her family and enjoying wine and food on the terrace overlooking the Catedral and the Plaza where some of the movie "Knight & Day" was filmed. What an absolutely delightful and gracious lady. Some of the view from her roof top terrace.

After lunch, we met our wonderful guide Virginia for a walking tour of Sevilla, starting with the Alcazar. Originally a Moorish fort, it became a Royal Palace as various subsequent monarchs made additions.

Next stop was the Catedral de Sevilla, the largest cathedral in Spain...

And then a enjoyable walk thru different parts of Sevilla as the locals were out in force with family and friends enjoying the beautiful day...

No comment on this one, but a close-up just might make the Girls of Spain section. 

Another creative street entertainer...

In the evening, the obligatory Flamenco show.

Sorry for the lousy pics quality... tough to take a good one with a no photo policy.

Late night dining is a way of life in Spain, however that apparently does not include late Sunday night in Sevilla. Our flamenco show ended just before midnight, when all the kitchens closed. Although this sports bar was still open for drinks with a dozen giant screen TV watching the Packers Vikings game.

Day 3

Next to flamenco, what is more Spanish than bull-fighting? No PETA here, although there is some growing opposition. Barcelona and all of Catalonia have apparently already banned it. Then again depending on where you live, Catalunya is not really Spain. Anyway, this morning, we're off to see the oldest circular ring in Spain.

And then for lunch at O'Neil Irish Pub. Lots of good people watching...

After lunch, a horse drawn carriage ride back around historic Sevilla and then back to the hotel to get ready for New Years Eve.

New Years Eve

New Years Eve dinner, we head out to one of Sevilla's best, Restaurante Abades Triana. An earlier pic from the carriage tour.

Beautifully lit at night. OK, someone spent a lot of money on this building.

Most but not all of the guests dressed up for the evening.

Great entertainment.

And great food and wine.

What a beautiful setting for NYE dinner. No fireworks here. Just calm and elegant.

Ronda

I have to admit that I knew absolutely zero, zip, nada about Ronda. But our tour company had it on the agenda and so far, they've delivered. But wow. If you are ever in southern Spain, do not miss this town. Some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see.

Well usually that is. Rain and fog today makes it hard to appreciate.

Our local guide said "not to worry" and walked thru town while the fog cleared and rain stopped.

And clear it did, for some spectacular views of terrain formed by earthquakes a few centuries/millenia ago.

And the best bull ring experience of the trip. Small stadium and we were able to see behind the scenes...

Evidence that some residents are not happy with their rooms.

And get out on the main stage...

Next up: Granada