Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sailing in the Bay of Bengal ~ Heading to HRA

We are India bound as I write this update! As I wrote in the last update, our internet strength is great, but Live Writer (the program I use for blog writing) is refusing to recognize my whereabouts so I am back to Blogger until sometime in the future. . .therefore posts will be brief; but I did want to write a quick update.

Leaving Singapore

We've left the "Far East" part of this Oceania cruise called the "Far East Odyssey" and are heading for India following an amazing three-day stop in Yangon, Myanmar (aka Rangoon, Burma - its old name). It was an amazing, yet-unspoiled-by-mass-tourism destination that deserves several blog posts when time and internet allow.



Yangon, Myanmar
It was a good introduction to the exotic and different ports of call we have ahead of us the next couple of weeks.  We are today sailing the beautiful Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world which is part of the northeastern Indian Ocean.  We are slicing through this triangular shaped body of water and will sail south of Sri Lanka en route to our next stop Cochin, India.

Saturday morning
Because many of you were a bit nervous about safety along this exotic route we've chosen to experience, I wanted to assure you that safety is taken most seriously here. This ship, Nautica, was attacked by pirates back in 2008 as it plied the waters we are heading to in a few days. The story has become like a legend among passengers and the bottom line is the pirates never reached the ship.

But for safety's sake we've been notified that we are going to be entering an area known as High Risk Area (HRA) for Piracy as we travel from India to the Gulf of Aden (yes, it is the one by Yemen, but we aren't talking about war - just pirates).  We also will have a pirate attack safety drill tomorrow and have been given certain instructions for on board while we sail the area.

"While sailing through the HRA we will be in permanent contact with an International Task Force, including U.S. and U.K. naval forces that are assigned to protect merchant vessels from pirate attack by a United Nations mandate," says the letter from our Captain.


Off Phuket Island Thailand


This ship kept watch over us while we were anchored off Phuket Island - another example of safety on our route.  So we are not worried. It is rather interesting and adds a bit of adventure to the trip. For now we sail the sea and sip morning coffee with nothing more off our port side than bands of dolphins and flying fish. Thanks for your time - safe travels to you!
Saturday Morning in the Baby of Bengal
Linking up with (maybe):
Weekend Travel Inspirations

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adrift in the Andaman Sea

Our ship is not adrift – it is us; our plans for organization, our vows to not overeat or indulge, my scheduled plan of blog posts to keep you up to date on our whereabouts and experiences. . .all are adrift. 



Strait of Malacca between Singapore and Phuket





















We’ve been lulled into the world of cruising – a timeless sort of being when the days are charted by ports of call and the passing of time by the rising and setting sun.

 I’d written a post further describing Bangkok to you but so many have written with questions about our ship and our whereabouts, that I bumped it in lieu of an update from the ship.

 
 
Oceania's Nautica - our home for the next month


And the wonders of technology are allowing me to write and post as our ship takes us to Yangon, Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma) on the 1,200 kilometers long Andaman Sea, a part of the Bay of Bengal.  However, the wonders of technology did fail me, right after I wrote that sentence.  I am cutting and pasting this blog post together. So bear with the photo size and captions!


Our cabin - teeny tiny home sweet home

Our home has been Oceania’s Nautica since we boarded in Bangkok nearly a week ago. We’ve visited Singapore and Phuket, Thailand since sailing last Wednesday. (more on those as time allows – I don’t want to wear out the welcome in your inboxes or feeds). This mid-sized ship by industry standards is small in comparison to ships we’ve recently sailed. It has only 11 decks, 9 of which serve passengers.  We are not sailing at capacity, only 550 or so of the 684-passenger capacity was filled when we boarded; a few more came on in Singapore and some are disembarking in Mumbai. Flexibility is a plus with this cruise line.




The Lobby d├ęcor reflects the ship's elegant decor



Our cabin is small, very small. That was our mistake when we booked the ship – we’ll definitely book the larger room should we return to Oceania someday. The bathroom is beyond small – as The Scout describes it, ‘don’t drop your soap!’ in the shower that is 3-feet long and 19-inches wide.

The ship and staff are above board – the same high quality we’ve experienced on Celebrity and Holland America cruise lines. The culinary department is producing excellent morsels for us each day and alcohol prices are high (like all cruise lines) but tempered with a daily 2-for-1 Happy Hour that takes the edge off the over-the-top prices.

The Weather


Balinese day beds and lounges on the Nautica

It is hot. It is humid. Temperatures have hovered at or above 90-degrees the last few days and humidity has also been in the 90 percent range.  We have beautiful Balinese day beds that surround the pool – but there is no clamoring to occupy them – it is simply too hot. (And we’ve consumed gallons of bottled water, which on this ship is provided for free – another big plus!) And for my fashionista friends out there: the Chico’s hasn’t come out of the closet – way too hot to wear. I’ve purchased thin cotton tops on shore to wear – and they tell us the weather will be even hotter in India!

Our Fellow Cruisers

As I mentioned they didn’t fill the ship on this cruise but the cruisers who are on board are a great group of like-minded people.  They don’t wring their hands worrying about safety nor do they discuss age and health issues. They are too busy preparing for their next shore adventure – and a plus for this cruise line is that you can have those adventures on your own; you don’t need to be part of a ship’s tour unless you desire to do so.

Who are these people? Well let me introduce you to a few of them:






* A couple from Florida will have been on the ship more than 60 days when they finish their trip (this segment is 35-days). They were in Singapore a few months ago and Myanmar in December and last year took the first river cruise offered by Ama river cruises through Burma.

* A couple from Australia boarded in Singapore and between cruises and land adventures they have planned, won’t be home for another five months.

*On a small world note, one couple who live full-time in Arizona, still have a home in Kirkland, Washington (we’ve been catching up on Kirkland news with them).

*Even a smaller world tale is two attorneys from San Francisco who have done work in Wenatchee, Washington State and one of whom one of The Scout’s law partners from back in our Yakima days.

* We shared a cab back to the ship in Singapore with a woman who is sailing with her 91-year-old father.  She pushes him around in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop either of them from taking the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour in that city.

* Another woman is traveling with her 93-year-old mom (who only uses a walker).
Sunset from the Horizons Bar - Nautica



It is an adventuresome, fun-loving group of people we’ve surrounded ourselves with – we meet for cocktails to discuss our day’s adventures and plan for future outings.

We are all off in different directions when we reach Myanmar tomorrow.  A couple from England is sharing a taxi with us as we are all heading to a hotel in Yangon for an independent (on our own) adventure.  Four other new friends are part of a ship’s tour that involves flying to Bagan, a heritage town in the country.

That’s it for now. Safe travels to you and thanks for your time. You can catch more frequent updates on Facebook.

Linking I hope this week with:

Budget Travelers Sandbox – Travel Photo Thursday

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bangkok: Happy New Year ~ Songkran

While sending you Songkran, or Happy New Year, greetings from Thailand, I will also apologize for the proliferation of posts arriving in your feeds and inboxes this last week.  I am making the most of our last few hours of internet connection. . .we board our cruise ship later today and internet – even the unlimited package which we’ve been promised --  is always hit and miss. . .

Songkran is Thailand’s New Year, also known as, Thailand Water Festival, a holiday of great significance here and celebrated each year from April 13 – 15. Lucky us, we arrived early enough for our cruise that we could have a peek at the festivities.

Thailand Water Festival

Water is sprinkled on family members and elders for good fortune during this holiday. In recent years it has gone beyond sprinkling to outright water fun and games with certain areas of the city drawing thousands armed with water guns, soakers, buckets and spray equipment ready to soak one and all.

Street vendors sell every kind of water spray toy and equipment imaginable. Bangkok police, however, have issued warning in the media that those selling high pressure water guns could be jailed for up to five years and be fined up to 500,000 baht, the Thai currency.

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Songkran Water guns are everywhere
Monday, the man sitting next to me on the SkyTrain, (a train that loops above the city with stops, much like bus stops) was heading out for water games.  By use of point-to-it sign language I asked to photograph his gun.  He insisted that he suit up with protective eyewear and hold the gun for the full effect. (Then he asked to have his photo taken with me).

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Songkran

The holiday has its basis though in visits to temples and family time.  Many Thais in Bangkok close up their mom-and-pop businesses and return to their hometown villages to celebrate with family. Which has eased both pedestrian and vehicle traffic immensely since our first couple of days here. Many who stay in the city make it a point to visit temples – those of the Buddhist religion participate in merit-making ceremonies and visiting temples is one sure way of making merit.

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We weren’t out to make merit, we were simply headed to the grocery store down the road to buy a bottle of wine, when we decided to stop in the temple across the street on Tuesday morning.

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We’d no more than arrived when a kindly Buddhist monk approached, welcoming us, and invited  us to participate in Bathing the Buddha image – one of the merit-making ceremonies that takes place on this second day of the holiday.

We each filled a gold bowl with water from the large tub and poured a bit on each of the Buddha images pictured above. We were symbolically washing away the misfortunes of our past year.

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Our host then took us to the large temple where monks gather three times each day to pray. He told us that he knew of Washington State (many here don’t) because he had lived for a time outside Hollywood, California. He currently has a girlfriend living in Boston. After I took this photo, he offered to take our photo. He said that way we could remember our visit. . .

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He didn’t understand we didn’t need a photo to make this visit an unforgettable one!

Songkran Quick Facts:
* Thailand’s Tourism Council estimates that 470,000 tourists will visit between April 11 – 15
* More than 150 charter flights from Shanghai will bring 26,000 tourists for the holiday.
* Silom and Khao San Road are the ‘wettest’ places to celebrate the water festival in Bangkok.
* The Bangkok post reported that by Tuesday more than 60 had been killed in roadway accidents; 40% of which involved drunk driving and/or motorcycles.

Linking up (we hope!) this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Just a ‘dash of Dubai’ to spice up the trip!

I was disappointed that we had only a few hours in Dubai – that fascinating, modern metropolis that sits in the southern Persian Gulf, a part of the United Arab Emirates – en route to Bangkok, Thailand.

We could have spent the night there instead of having a three-hour layover but still only a matter of a few more hours wouldn’t be enough to explore this city which ranks Number 1 in the world’s destinations by Trip Advisor’s 2015 Travelers Choice Awards.

So our stop was just a dash of Middle Eastern seasoning; a taster for what we have in store on the cruise with an itinerary that allows time in other exotic Middle Eastern ports. Even though it was a brief visit, it didn’t take long for me to utter my favorite, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto!”. . .

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Just strolling through the long hallways of shops, was a clue. How often do we see camels in merchandise displays back home?

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We hail from the Land of Starbucks (that would be Seattle for those of you not familiar with the brand – but is anyone not familiar with this brand?) This was the first of our ubiquitous coffee shops that we’d seen displaying the name in Arabic. We suspect it won’t be the last time before our trip is over.

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The airport, the sixth busiest in the world, is as sprawling as the city/emirate it serves.  We were forewarned that it could take 45 minutes to reach gates of connecting flights once we landed in the early evening hours.  By the time our flight to Bangkok left, the gate from which we were leaving seemed to be at the end of an endless – and empty – terminal.

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Moving walkways help ease the distance between the gates.

 I told you in the last post about flying Emirates Airlines Business Class but I didn’t mention that waiting for flights and connections, we were able to use Business class lounges – also rather luxurious places that combined restaurant, lounge, and rooms to take showers and freshen up (which we did). I was so busy doing that in Dubai I didn’t take photos so just imagine it by looking at The Scout at the Emirates Business Class lounge in San Francisco.

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Pretty amazing we have to admit!  But even topping that was the First Class lounge. Remember, I told you they had 12 First Class ‘suites’ on our flight of nearly 500 passengers, well this is where they waited for connecting flights in Dubai:

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Yes, one can only imagine what that lounge must be like . . .

So we were off to Bangkok at 10 p.m. arriving the following morning about 7:30 am – rush hour traffic time.  It made for an hour and a half taxi ride (slightly over $20US, by the way) to our Marriott Vacation Club  ‘home-away-from-home’.  I’ll tell you about it soon - it wasn't the stereotypical Marriott, that's for sure!

Thanks for your time with us.  We can’t tell you how nice it is -- especially when on the other side of the world --  to find your comments on Facebook or here in the comment section – thanks to those subscriber/friends out there in the blogosphere who’ve written emails.  All are appreciated!! Happy and safe travels to you~

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Two days later ~ Whew, that was a flight to remember!

It is Thursday evening in Bangkok, Thailand. We are 14-hours ahead of those back in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. We arrived here Wednesday morning about 7:30 a.m. – two days after leaving Seattle; some 20+ hours in a plane and more than 30 hours after our departure.

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Waiting for takeoff Seats 14 E and F

The distance and time involved in getting here was mind-boggling back when we first planned the trip and I can tell you now that we’ve completed the flight, that is was one amazing experience. . .especially for this ‘white knuckler’ who declared the first time I saw the size of an Emirates 380 aircraft that The Scout would never get me in one. (I am reminded,‘never say never’!

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Our flight from San Francisco - Emirates A380
So large is this plane that two jet ways are used for entering and exiting (you remember we used Frequent Flyer miles so were flying top-tier in Business Class) so we never mingled with any of the 400 passengers who were flying in economy below us. There are 75 Business Class seats on the upper level and 12 First Class ‘suites’ (we didn’t mingle with those folks either).

We had decided to use our miles when planning our trip to Bangkok, Thailand – it is a long flight from Seattle no matter how you approach it.  In our case the first leg of the flight from San Francisco was 15-hours – so long that they actually had on-screen reminders for those wearing contact lenses to take them out and wear glasses (I heeded the advice).

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Flight Part I
Following a three-hour layover in Dubai, we set off on the next leg which (thanks to tailwinds) was only 5.5 hours long:

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Flight Part 2
I told you in a previous post about flying Business Class but I now have to say, there is Business Class and then there is Business Class – in the case of Emirates, they’ve knocked the ball out of the ballpark. For example:

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A toast to the Wright brothers!
There’s a fully stocked lounge with nibbles, bubbly and fine wine to keep you entertained. As well as accommodating flight attendants who pose guests behind the bar for photos.

PicMonkey Collage

And bathrooms with gold-toned seats and fixtures, fresh orchids, Bulgari toiletries and of course, a window with a view!

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Route maps kept us entertained
 
P1000028 Our personal viewing screens offered dozens of shows, movies and entertainment options but I preferred to watch the route maps and views from the cameras (on the tail, front and underneath the plane) showed real time photos of the aircraft.

I was a bit amazed to see us flying directly over Tehran, Iran. . .




PicMonkey Collage
A feast of wine and food
The food and wine choices rivaled high end restaurant offerings.  But perhaps the nicest thing about the flight was the flat-bed, complete with mattress pad, blanket and pillow!

So that’s how we spent our first two days of this  journey.  I’ll tell you more about Bangkok in upcoming posts.  Thanks for being with us today and hope you’ll follow along as we set sail next week for more stops in the Far East and then head to the Middle East. . .

We hope to be linking up this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter ~ Here and There

“For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover,”
-- from our Facebook feed
 
As Easter Sunday has progressed, other similarly softened social media greetings have been received. How odd they seem, I remarked to The Scout. “Why haven’t I noticed those politically-correct softened greetings before?”

DSCF2982We are ‘here’ this Easter holiday; the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States.

It is the first time in three years that we’ve been ‘here’ and not ‘there’ in Greece for this sacred springtime celebration.  That’s probably why I’d not noticed.

Our Easter celebration tradition has been to be on Crete’s southern coast in the small village of Loutro, – a place where internet can be sporadic so we didn’t see those Easter postings – and where, just like the rest of Greece, Easter is a really big deal. Really. Big Deal.

Wishes of ‘Happy Easter’ there ring out  with gusto and conviction.







That’s the kind of thing you notice when you see holidays from the perspective of ‘here’ and ‘there’. On the flip side, we were in Greece for Christmas and were surprised at how December 25th pales in comparison to their January’s Three Kings Day, which pretty much goes unnoticed in our U.S. part of the world. And how it comes nowhere near the holiday hoopla that takes place in the U.S.

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Loutro, Crete - Easter Saturday 2014

'Here’ the clerk at the local convenience store said Saturday had been ‘nuts’ with parents buying last minute chocolate candies and goodies for Easter baskets.  Saturdays before Easter in Loutro were been pretty laid back as families start gathering early in the day so they can attend church that night, watch the ‘burning of Judas’ and then head to the tavernas that line the waterfront. There they will feast on those slow-roasting lambs that have tantalized passersby all day. Feasting will last until midnight or later.

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Easter lamb roasting at a Loutro, Crete tavern 2014
In recent years the celebration of ‘our’ Easter has fallen on the same day as the Greek Orthodox celebration. This year Greece will be celebrating ‘their’ Easter next Sunday, a week later than ‘ours’. Next Sunday though we will be in Bangkok, Thailand preparing for that cruise we’ll be starting the following week. While we will miss Easter in Loutro we will get to celebrate the Thai Songkran (New Year) that spans two days, April 13 – 15.

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Loutro Crete - Church candles
‘Here’ and ‘there’.  It’s a good way to live. It enriches the celebrations. It changes the perspectives.

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Happy Easter!
Happy Passover!
Happy Songkran!
Happy Springtime!
Safe Travels and Lovely Journeys to you all!
And, as always, thanks so much for stopping by~~
 
We are linking up this week with:
 
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Travel Visa Quest ~ A ‘Keystone Cops’ Adventure

Our tale I tell you today would make for a plotline in those early 20th century silent movie misadventures of the incompetent “Keystone Cops”. I'll let you decide who has the starring role.

Or perhaps it could be a remake of another movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”.

It is a behind-the-scenes reality story about travel . . . the quest for a travel visa.

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Not the credit card kind of visa but the kind issued by a government which allows a traveler into their country. (For you armchair travelers, more than 270 countries require visas which are one step beyond a passport.)  Many countries don’t require them. Requirements for them often depend on the nationality of the visitor and the country. Some are a quick formality – a few questions, small fee, stamp in your passport at the time of arrival.

Others, like India, have a process from hell.

Visiting India!


Map picture

My desire to visit India has never been shared by The Scout.  I was delighted that our upcoming cruise has two stops there: a day in Cochin and an overnight stop in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Even for such brief visits, one must have a tourist visa, though. So the process began – in January. . .

Skipping India?

India sets a time frame within which you can apply for a visa – not too early and not too late before your trip.  Other cruisers had left messages on user boards forewarning of the challenges ahead, but we'd thought it couldn't be 'that' bad, right?

Within days of submitting our applications The Scout and I were so frustrated, that we agreed we’d skip the visa and skip India. We'd simply stay on the ship.

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Oceania Cruise ship
That wasn't an option it turned out. As if reading our minds, a letter was sent by the cruise line to all passengers telling us that those who did not possess an India visa at the time of boarding in Bangkok, Thailand would be denied boarding.

No Indian visa.
No cruise.
Period.

Applying for the Visa

The application is a two-page on-line forms that seeks “Personal Particulars” (our education, religion, dates and places of birth); 'Passport details', 'Contact information' (where we live),'Family History' (parents names and birth places), details about countries we had previously visited, where we would visit in India and where we would stay there.

“Were your Grandfather/Grandmother (Paternal/Maternal) 
Pakistan Nationals or belong to Pakistan held area?”
               -- a question from the India visa application

A second form, a single page of questions still seemed more focused our grandparents -- who would likely be rivaling Moses at about 130 years old now -- than us. With my application, I had to submit a copy of our Marriage Certificate to show cause of my name change from birth name.

Then the antics began . . .


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Because we were working with a firm in Washington DC which handles visa processing for Oceania cruises, we packaged up our application and passports and sent them FedEx (recommended for the ability to track the package whereabouts). First mailing: $35

Two days later. . .the man at the agency who was handling our application called and said they couldn’t be submitted to the Indian Embassy, because:
* We had not included the zip code for the person we’d listed as an emergency contact – we’d given her phone number and address but ‘a zip code must be included’.
* The address of the cruise ship contact in India we’d written on two lines and it had to fill all three lines of the form.
And then there was the ‘problem with my passport:

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This is my old passport that was returned with the new one. . .hmmm, two pages. . .
“You need two blank pages” he said. “There are blank pages,” I answered, thinking back to my passport that was then in his possession. “India requires there be two blank pages facing each other like an open book – you don’t have them,” he replied. (The photo above shows my old passport that meets those requirements, but I digress. . .)

So a flurry of form-filling-out activity filled yet another morning - in February.  Forms, and more photos -- this time for a new passport, were sent to this Washington DC company that would handle getting my new passport.   Expedited passport renewal: $300 (part of that went to the company) and Fed Ex:  $35.


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They don't want you smiling either - no problem by that point
March 2nd my new passport was delivered to our door. We were ready. The corrected application forms were printed and new passport/visa photos were attached. We’d had more photos taken the day before. Before sending this packet though we got another email from ‘our man in Washington’ who’d forgotten to mention earlier that, “Mr. Smith is wearing glasses in his photo and India requires photos without glasses.”
So back for more photos. Packet sent to Fed Ex:  $35.

Two days later . . .”our man in Washington” called. He’d found a typo in one of our passport numbers on the application – India doesn’t allow any ink marks on the pages so he couldn’t correct it, we would need to complete the form again and resubmit it.  Fed Ex: $35  

DSCF1752Finally, ‘our man in Washington’ sent our passports and applications to the Indian Embassy in San Francisco to be reviewed.  Our passports complete with India visas were returned two weeks ago.

Whew! We can now board the ship.

However, we haven’t yet decided if we will get off in India or not. 


Tips on Travel visas:
* If you are considering a cruise or land tour check to see how many countries you’ll be visiting require visas. How involved is the application process?
*How much will they cost? Does the cruise line or tour company pay the cost or do you?
* Does the cruise line or tour company provide a company to handle the application process or are you on your own in dealing with – or finding – embassies that issue visas?
*If you are about to grab a great last-minute deal, do you have time to obtain the visa?
*Check your passport expiration date and number of pages you have left. Ask about ‘blank page’ requirements.
*For those renewing or obtaining U.S. passports, you now have an option to get a super-sized one with 54 pages at no extra cost (if you are traveling a lot to foreign countries, you’ll want to get it).

Thanks for your time! We will lighten up the subject matter next week when we show you the gem we found in Central Washington State!  Until then safe travels where ever you go.

Do you have any visa experiences - good or bad to share here? Please leave a comment below or shoot us an email and we'll share them for you.

We are linking up this week with an amazing group of bloggers at:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Business of Flying Business Class

“You should start flying Business Class” a friend’s accountant told her not too long ago, she said during one of our regular coffee chat sessions.

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Business class - champagne served in real stemware
Nice to think that after all those years of working and saving that we’ve reached an age and retirement income that allows such recommendations, we both agreed.

Then we laughed at the thought. We know the price of that kind of  comfort at 35,000-feet.  And we aren’t about to pay it. . .full price anyway!

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Emirates A380 - double-decker - we'll be upstairs
It wasn’t long after that conversation, though, that The Scout booked us in Business Class on Emirates Airlines for what will be a 35-hour trip from San Francisco to  Bangkok, Thailand, (via Dubai).  We’ll be upstairs at the front of the plane in an A380 like that one pictured above.

No, we are not paying the $13,810 (price tag on two one-way tickets).  Thanks to frequent flier miles (75,000 miles, each) we are paying only the taxes and fees of less than $100.

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KLM Business Class meals

It’s not the first time we’ve burned air miles to fly Business Class. In the last decade or so we’ve experienced that luxury end of the plane on British Air, Air France and KLM.  Each flight was above and beyond ‘pampered’ experiences: food (real food) served on china plates, champagne, wine and cocktails flowed freely (literally and figuratively) and space, lots and lots of space.

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The Scout unkownly demonstrating Business Class seat comfort
Frequent flier seats can be as elusive in Business Class as they are in Coach class but if you’ve got a long-haul trip coming up (eight or more hours in a plane is our definition) it might just be worth it to use them to get a lot more space and comfort.

Flexibility is  Key to Budget Business Class 

You may need to be as flexible as the seats in Business Class in order to nab a ticket though.

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Business Class Seat Position control panel
Flexible in Routes/Departure Cities?

If Business Class FF (frequent flier mile) seats aren’t available to your destination from your nearest  departure city, try thinking outside the box. Three years ago we flew a KLM flight from Vancouver, British Columbia (our Canadian neighbor) to Amsterdam. We took a 30-minute flight from Seattle to make the connection – as no Business Class seats were available flying directly out of Seattle.

The Emirates flight to Dubai is from San Francisco as there were no FF Business Class seats available on the direct flight to Dubai from Seattle.

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Champagne and leg-room - Business class treats
Change your destination?

Using our trips to Greece as an example, we’ve found that for some unexplained reason,  flights from Seattle to Istanbul, Turkey have been cheaper than those to Athens, Greece.  We’ve been flying there and catching a short flight to Athens to save several hundred dollars in ticket costs.  Could you change your destination to one where seats are available and then use a train or commuter flight to get to where you want to be?

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Istanbul as a hub vs. Athens

Can you Reverse your Route?

Because we’ll be – in a manner of speaking – commuting between Seattle and Greece the next few years, we can book flights round-trip from Seattle or round-trip to Seattle.  If you routinely fly a certain route, check out prices for tickets starting at the other city – you might be surprised at the price difference.

An example:  We will be returning to Seattle this spring from Istanbul. While checking prices The Scout happened upon a Business Class airfare, Istanbul – Seattle – Istanbul that was only $300 a ticket more than what we paid for coach class (Seattle- Seattle round-trip) last summer. We booked it, directly with the airline. (The round trip  flight between Istanbul and Athens is about $150).

That same Business Class seat starting in London is several thousand dollars more than starting in Istanbul.

Option to Pay for an Upgrade?

Airlines don’t want those premium seats to go empty any more than cruise lines want ships sailing with empty cabins.  Depending on the airline you may find some last minute upgrade-from-coach-class deals are available.  Sometimes airlines will alert you to their availability at the time of your on-line check-in or make an announcement at the gate.  The upgrade cost won’t necessarily be inexpensive, but will be far less than paying full fare.

Frequent Flyer Miles to Upgrade from Coach?

Some airlines will allow you to upgrade your coach class seats by spending your FF miles to do so.  If you are seriously considering doing so, check with the airline to make sure the coach class fare you book allows you to make such an upgrade.

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In Business Class you can wait in private lounges - instead of sitting at the gate

Shop Early and Shop for Sales

Start your ‘window shopping’ early.  Sometimes airlines will put premium seats on sale and you might just happen upon one of them.  The Scout was doing just that when he happened upon the fare I told you about above -  a fare so good that a premium seat ticket discounter told us he couldn’t match it.

Discount Ticket Agencies

We’ve never yet used one of these places as The Scout is doing a good job for us, but we’ve seen them mentioned as sources of good discounts.  Check out their track record before using one – and if earning FF miles is important to you, make sure the cheap ticket will allow you to earn miles. (Often times discounted tickets are in a class that doesn’t qualify – or qualifies for fewer earned miles).  A Google search turned up any number of agencies advertising cut rates.

Monitor Mileage Award changes to Frequent Flier programs

We are members of Alaska Airlines mileage program and therefore fly their partner airlines to earn miles towards our Alaska account.  We then use them to book Business Class on the partner airlines.
The flight we took in coach class on Delta in December to Greece earned us some 4,000 miles on Alaska. While in Greece, Delta changed its awards program so the return flight earned us less than 2,000 miles. 

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Above Athens, Greece
Happy Travels to you all and thanks for ‘flying’ with us today!  We appreciate the time you spend and love reading your comments and emails! Have you some tips you'd like to share with others about ways to find inexpensive airline tickets. . .coach or premium seats? If so, please do in the comments below or shoot us an email and we will add the tip for you!

This week we are linking up with the fine bloggers at:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

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