It’s been almost a month without a new post from me and I humbly apologize. It is hard to keep tabs on a blog when you are thrown into five other personal and professional issues at once. Finally, these other things are subsiding and I can get back into my regular posting habit. I do love sharing details of my trips and hopefully they help any reader who sees this. I’ll be back in better form tomorrow, hopefully, and can share more details of my South Africa trip as well as some coming up this summer and beyond.
After a fine time flying SAA to Cape Town we picked up our new luggage at baggage claim (no wait this time) and drove out to the President’s Hotel for a four-night stay in the city. The hotel was suggested by my mother and had nice access to a variety of parts of the city while being situated in Bantry Bay, a neighborhood directly northwest of Lion’s Head.
We decided to splurge on a one-bedroom suite that even had a small refrigerator, microwave, and dishes. The bed was moderately comfortable (again, not the best in the world) and this time there was no distinction between shower and bathtub (they were one piece in the bathroom). That being said, we had a nice view of the ocean and very comfortable places to put our things. The bathroom was well stocked with towels and amenities and there were side table on either side of the bed. There was easy access to the wifi in the hotel and a TV with many channels.
One of the big selling points of the hotel was its included buffet breakfast. While it was Passover during our stay we could not partake in the ample bread-related products, but there were plenty of fruits, fishes, egg-dishes, and juices to satisfy us. It was such a lovely place to dine and the servers were quite attentive. The dining area overlooked the pool that we never got a chance to use but looked enticing.
One of the items we appreciated the most about the hotel was there easy-to-access room service that was pretty inexpensive, even by South African standards. We enjoyed our in-room meals immensely – we had two over the four nights! We do recommend the hotel for future stays although we might want to stay within walking distance of other places in the city in the future.
As mentioned in the previous post my wife and I had a very unfortunate experience on our recent trip to South Africa: due to what I can only imagine to be many mistakes and misunderstandings over the course of five days our luggage did not arrive safely into the country when we did. Instead, we had to wait five full days (and spend much time during those days buying necessities) in order to get our bags back.
My general theory of what happened is what follows.
When we left the US we arrived at JFK airport with about an hour until our flight was scheduled to leave on its way to Vienna. We barely made it to the check-in counter in time but our large, filled-to-the-brim blue bag was accepted and checked onto the flights that would eventually end up in Johannesburg. During the 29 hour journey we had two carry-ons containing extra clothes due to our nine hour layover in Cairo. I had wanted to shower and change before our final flight to South Africa so we planned to shower and change beforehand.
Upon arrival into JNB airport we went through the exceedingly-long customs line until we were allowed to enter the country, only to find that the blue bag we were hoping to see on the other end was nowhere in sight. We waited for 10 minutes as the belt kept moving and then made our way to the EgyptAir luggage support services people who took me for a walk around the baggage claim area in search of the bag that supposedly took a different flight path (via Frankfurt) instead of boarding our plane with us. We couldn’t find it.
So for five full days my wife and I relied on the baggage delay insurance covered to us by the Citi Prestige card we used to pay the taxes on our award ticket from to South Africa. Due to an update in their rules we did not have to book the entire flight’s cost on the card – even partial payment would allow the coverage below to kick in:
While not as good as the Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard (that offers $100 per day up to five days), it does provide you with some money to get supplies that you need. We did spend over that amount and so I also filed a claim for reimbursement from the airline itself. I am currently waiting to hear back from both entities on what we can get back from them.
In the end we had to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a whole new piece of luggage to carry it all on our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I am a patient man and will make sure to get every dollar we spent back or make sure no one flies with this airline ever again…
It’s taken a while to catch up on these posts – I hope I can do better from here on in but there are no promises! Life gets in the way. Anyway, I’ll continue with some reviews of our most recent South Africa trip!
While in Johannesburg my wife and I stayed at the Faircity Quatermain Hotel in Sandton. We chose that location because it was nearby to my family and some of the sites we wanted to see, as well as Sandton City – a mall – in case we needed to purchase anything (which we eventually did – you will find out about that in the next post on our delayed luggage).
The hotel itself was secluded behind large walls and a security entrance, as many accommodations in Johannesburg are. The grounds were beautiful, although we didn’t get a chance to use them much as we were traveling to see friends and family so much of the 2.5 days we were visiting. The room we had was comfortable with a lot of seating and amenities. It had both a shower and a bathtub – something my wife loves to partake in – with lots of lighting. The bed was moderately comfortable and there were plenty of places to put our clothing and suitcase (even though we didn’t have it).
The breakfast we ate was quite tasty – a wide array of fish, egg, bread, fruit, and cereal options, as well as various cold and hot drinks. The staff were quite considerate and tried their best to call the airport frequently for us to get our bags shipped over (which ended up not happening, anyway). There was also a lovely lounge area in the front that could be sat in for relaxation but we were moving so much we didn’t take advantage of it.
Overall, it was a lovely place to stay and a good value. We highly recommend it!
Once fully showered and changed (we brought an extra set of clothing according to our plan) we arrived at Cairo International Airport about 1.5 hours before our EgyptAir flight was set to depart. We had little difficulty checking in as we had a separate line (as had been the case a lot during this trip). Interestingly, there was also a designated kids check-in counter, although no one was staffing it and we had no idea what its intended purpose was. Once we dropped off our luggage we filled out customs cards and passed through border control with no difficulty. We quickly noted the new electronics restrictions on flights towards the US.
After security we headed towards the lounges we had access to as business-class passengers. There were two on our very long walk to the gate. One was a designated smoking lounge so we avoided it. The other was near-ish to our gate and we spent a majority of time there. It had comfortable seats with internationally adapted plugs for our devices. There were private bathrooms for us to use, a small business center, and plenty of food and drink (not of the highest quality, but definitely there). Since we knew we would get food on the plane, we did not gorge ourselves too much.
The gate had an interesting added security station to pass through before boarding. It took us a bit more time to get on board because of it. Also, there was a nod to the electronics travel ban to the UK at that location (I guess sometimes planes leave from that gate to London as well).
The seat was comfortable enough, with plenty of leg room for us and an in-flight entertainment system with many options. Since I wanted to maximize how much sleep I got on the flight I decided to forego whatever meal would have been given when we reached cruising altitude and just went right to sleep. This is where my major gripe comes in about this seat: it is not fully lie-flat. There is an ever-so-slight angle to the seat, causing you to slide forward over time and have your feet become somewhat weight-bearing at times. While I was still able to sleep because of my exhaustion, it was definitely not desirable in the least.
My wife put a provided sticker on my seat as I was asleep, asking for me to be woken up for breakfast, which was not the most appetizing thing in the world, but still better than economy-class food.
Overall, the flight was uneventful because we just wanted to sleep and arrived rested in Johannesburg. Getting through customs and passport control was not as big an “ordeal” as it had been in Cairo because there was a lot of organization, but the lines were so long it took us an extra 45 minutes to get through to baggage claim. Unfortunately, our bags had not arrived with us…. but that is a story for another blog post.
Between arrival into Cairo and leaving for Johannesburg my wife and I had a layover of about nine hours.
While some might view this as a hindrance we preferred to think with an adventurous spirit and booked a layover tour of the city through Egypt Tailor Made tour company. We estimated we really had about six hours of time between exiting the airport and needing to return, so we made sure to explain that through email communication a few weeks in advance. As you will read at the end, the tour company definitely earned their five star rating on TripAdvisor.
Our arrival into Cairo International Airport was hectic to say the least. The customs area is one large room where the mantra “hurry up and wait” is very evident: there were lines everywhere leading in every which way. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and we realized one of the sets of lines was to get our visa, which we purchased for $25 each. I had read to bring US cash in advance so it was an easy transaction. Afterward, we waited in line for our customs interview, lasting a minute or two. All told it took about 1.5 hours to get through this mess of logistics and people and end up in the arrivals hall where we met our tour guide who recognized me because of a photo I sent in advance.
During our brief time in the city and its surroundings we visited the pyramids at Giza, saw the Sphinx from afar, learned how papyrus is made, sailed down and up the nile for an hour, visited a local market, and ate pigeon, a delicacy in the city. Our Egyptologist tour guide, Seham, was kind, knowledgeable, and conversational throughout the journey. She made sure we were able to get past security and check-in at various sites quickly because we were running behind, she communicated with locals to make sure we knew where to go and what to do, and helped us negotiate prices for a few souvenirs. While I would love to have spent more time in the city and country, it was great to have her with us for the limited time that we had.
After our tour of the city was complete, we headed over to the airport to check in for our last leg to Johannesburg airport and this is where my idea of schemes gets a bit ridiculous.
I had read in advance that there are no showers in any lounges at Cairo International Airport. Despite the fact that this is an airport in the Middle East and so should have showers to make sure any sweat gathered en route could be washed off, it is also a stopover on the way to many other nearby countries where businesspeople would expect to get washed up.
So, in order to make sure we were washed up before our business class EgyptAir flight, we visited the nearby JW Marriott Hotel Cairo and booked a room to take a shower. We didn’t pay for the room in cash – or even points. Instead, I used a free night certificate for a tier 1-5 hotel from my previous Chase Marriott Rewards card that was expiring in August. Before using it I verified that our travel over the next few months would not have taken us to a location where any hotels within that range would have been available (most in NYC or other urban areas are tier 6 and above) and decided to use it for an hour’s luxurious shower purpose.
Our ridiculousness was rewarded with comfortable beds, free slippers, a bathtub and separate shower, fancy creams, lotions, etc and even a welcome message on the TV with my name on it! Even though we only spent one hour there it was a fantastic use of the free night certificate and I’m glad we got to end our stay in Cairo at that hotel – next time we might stay for longer!
When my wife and I arrived in Vienna after our overnight Austrian Airlines flight from JFK we had a two-hour layover in the airport on our way to Cairo. We decided to spend it in the lounge, eating some snack food and taking a rest before our next leg. The airport was pretty quiet since it was early on in the day and the lounge was not that full. It had a host of amenities: food, drinks, magazines, and included a special area to rest. The chairs were pitched backwards with a noise machine going on in order to make sure occupants could rest. We took full advantage for the hour or so we were there.
The flight was pretty remarkable for a few reasons. Firstly, it was the traditional European business class wherein there were no larger seats but the middle seat was left empty for the two of us to have extra space. We were also given preferential treatment for meals and drinks. The plane, however, lacked in-flight entertainment options. They did give free wi-fi, however.
The food was adequate, mostly – definitely not as good as our international flight. And the seat was large enough but not much bigger than a traditional US carrier would provide. This business-class leg definitely did not feel the same.
It was a pleasant and short flight during which I ate and slept in preparation for a whirlwind tour of Cairo that was about to take place. It got us from point A to point B in moderate style, indeed.