Friday, May 31, 2013

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

The oldest pub in London: Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, is located right off Fleet Street. It is actually one of the handful of restaurants/pubs claiming to be the oldest in the City.  Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (YOCC) has been in constant operation since 1667. It was open before that, but was shut for a bit because of the Great Fire of 1666.

This was not my first visit to YOCC.  When I lived in London for about 5 weeks in College we visited this place. I had fond memories of the restaurant. I remember this cheddar soup that was fantastic.  I wanted to bring MS to this place and see if it was as good as I remembered.  Let me clarify, I never considered this place to have outstanding food, but I did want to revisit.

We took the train from our hotel and walked about 5 minutes from the Mansion House station, finding YOCC without a problem.  We were greeted by a woman who asked if we were there for restaurant food.  Foolish me, I said yes. I didn’t clarify what the alternative was. Honestly, I thought the options were Restaurant Food or just a drink. Silly me.

We sit down and peruse the menu which is full of standard English Pub Food.  I didn’t see the Cheddar Soup. Dammit.  I didn’t really see anything that jumped out at me as something I had to have.  I opted to eat the Fish and Chips with a cup of the fire roasted tomato soup to start.  MS had the pheasant, which he was so overcooked you couldn’t tell it was pheasant.  My fish and chips were quite fine. Not worth visiting YOCC again for it, but it was acceptable.  MS then decided to have the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Lemon Curd – two things he absolutely loves.  Very disappointed.  He said it was like eating a stale Entenmann’s cake. He didn’t even finish, which says something because he loves dessert.

Very tasty Fire Roasted Tomato Soup
Average Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas
Overdone pheasant
The server was a bit rough too. She was probably in her late 20s and when she did speak she used as few words as possible and when we asked for advice she just walked away.  I know this place will never be rated by Michelin, but come on, at least pretend to provide service.

The meal, like everything in London was a bit pricey, but I wouldn’t say it was out of line.

Would I go back.  Maybe. If I do, I’m not eating the restaurant meal, I’ll be popping downstairs to the cool underground pub and have a pint or two and eat whatever they are serving down stairs.  This place is something you do and mark it off the list. It’s history is cool, but that’s about it. If you are stumbling down fleet street and need a pint, definitely pop in, but I wouldn’t seek out this little pub.

Have you been to the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese?  How was the food, the service and the ambiance?  Do you ever visit a place because you “have to”, because it’s the oldest, the smallest, the largest, the dirtiest (well, hopefully not the latter) place in town?

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

#SNAPChallenge Round 2 Day 1

#SNAPChallenge Round 2 Day 1 was as rough as I expected it to be.  The night before my first full official day on the challenge I made and packed a great Tomato Garbanzo Soup to have for lunch each day, so lunch was covered.  For breakfast I had an English muffin with peanut butter (shocking, considering that's what I ate every single day on my last challenge). I paired two pints of water with the muffin as well.  The water was an interesting choice - I drink a ton of water every day, but starting my day off with two pints made me have to pee about every 47 seconds all day.  Not ideal.

Lunch was thrown for a bit of a loop -- I had a last minute meeting scheduled from 11h30-13h30, then constant meetings for the rest of the afternoon until 16h00.  I hung tough and didn't eat any of the food during the meeting but found a few minutes between each meeting in the afternoon to eat my soup.

For mid-day snacks, I put a quarter cup (one serving) of raw almonds in zipper baggies. My plan was to have one serving mid-morning and one in the afternoon.  The raw almonds are so healthy and are slow to digest, keeping a full feeling in my stomach much longer. Interestingly enough, I wasn't hungry in the morning, but ended up eating both the baggies of almonds for the day throughout the afternoon.

For dinner I decided to roast all the chicken breasts I had purchased for the week. Five large bone and skin on chicken breasts weighed just over 6 pounds.  I roasted the chicken at 350 for 47 minutes ( started at 40 then checked the doneness with a meat thermometer -- thus needing the extra 7 minutes to finish).  I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper and olive oil -- all under the skin, then restretched the skin to cover the flesh.  Fantastic!.

I ate half a chicken breast along with about a half cup of steamed broccoli and 2 chopped raw carrots.  It was pretty filling.  Before the challenge I had gotten into a bad habit of having a taste of chocolate or some sorbet (or even ice cream) after dinner. This treat was not part of my challenge.  I found myself with dessert constantly on my mind.  I ran upstairs to brush my teeth -- knowing that if I cheated the food would taste gross (yeah toothpaste) thus cheating makes no sense.  It worked.

Day one down - 6 more to go.  So far so good.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

UAL: 928: ORD-LHR (Economy Plus)

Headed to the #airport after my office closed early on Friday before Memorial Day.  Departing the office at 15h00, taking a taxi to a train in the loop then the Blue Line to the Airport had me arriving at ORD at approximately 16h20.  The traffic to the train was a bit much and then I just missed one train and the next was completely full of people with luggage.  The next train was almost empty, so I was able to sit, with my suitcase and relax for the 40 minute ride to the airport.

Upon arrival, since I wasn’t  checking a bag, I headed right to the security checkpoint.  Since I recently obtained Global Entry (thank you American Express Platinum Card for reimbursing this expense) I’ve been consistently getting the triple beep indicating TSA PreCheck has been approved, thus allowing me to blow through security without taking my belt or shoes off, removing my laptop, tablet or my 3-1-1 baggie from my carry on. I didn’t realize until  today that PreCheck worked for International travel too. I thought it was only for domestic or if you were flying international it would only work for you domestic portion, if you had one that is.  Not so.  I heard the triple beep and was elated.  I blew through security in a matter of minutes and was off to the UnitedClub to get some Milano cookies and a mediocre red wine.

30 minutes passed and we headed to the C Concourse for our 18h20 departure for LHR.  In the past, United would start boarding 30 minutes before departure on most planes (20 minutes for lawn darts) and 40 minutes for larger (777 and 747) planes.  I’ve noticed recently they’ve really increased their boarding window.  To London we boarded 50 minutes before hand.  This is good and bad – who wants to be on the plane that much longer, but at least now people will be on board and ready to fly when it is time to depart.

Carrier: United (ORD-LHR)
Flight #: 928
Seat: 20B
Departure: May 24, 2013 - 18h20 / 18h20
Arrival: May 25, 2013 -  08h35 / 07h35
Travel Time:  8 hours 20 minutes / 7 hours 15 minutes
Flight Miles: 3,953

We were in our standard exit row seats – the second row, so you get all the benefits of extra legroom, full recline for your seat and very limited recline of the seat in front of you. Who could ask for anything more?

We boarded and were ready for pushback 20 minutes before departure, so we sat. And sat.  And sat.  We had an on time departure, obviously and after a quick taxi we were airborne.

As usual, the meal was a shade below adequate, but the service was stellar.  The stew working our row (Tom) was great. He was very personable and kept our water cups full and when he saw we were out of sparkling wine (yes, United does carry sparkling wine again – for sale – in Economy) he would be proactive in asking if we wanted a refill.  At the end of the meal, I even ask him if they had port in his little cart – he said they didn’t (which I knew all along), but he did say BusinessFirst has some – and after about 15 minutes he came back with some very fully airline cups of port.  What a great way to finish our a meal.

The rest of the flight was uneventful.  We landed 50 minutes early, which in some instances can be great, but when you are now arriving before 08h00 in London, you know there is no way you are going to be able to check-in early and you’ll have to be travel gross all day.

Customs and immigration were an utter breeze – we were from plane to the Heathrow Express in less than 30 minutes, which is fantastic considering where United parks at LHR – that walk can be a killer.

All in all, it was a pretty stellar flight considering: We flew a domestic carrier on an international route, in economy AND considering our last international trip include flights on Thai’s A380 in First Class and both Asiana and Lufthansa in Business..

Beautiful Arrival in London
What do you think of the flights to London? Too long? Too Short? Just right?  Do you find yourself able to get the stews to throw in a freebie cocktail or glass of wine from time to time?  Do you think the food in Coach is just a small step above dog food on international routes run by domestic carriers?

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weekend in London: Introduction

London for a weekend?  Last August I visited London for a few days (as part of a drip to Spain and France) and commented on an earlier post that  London (from Chicago) is an easy weekend trip.  So for Memorial Day (in the US) and Summer Bank Holiday (in the UK) I decided to pop over for a quick visit.  This trip report will be a bit limited since we  were only on the ground for 54 hours, but we managed to back a decent amount of fun in.

What did you do for Memorial Day (a/k/a Summer Bank Holiday)?  Have you ever thought about popping over to London for the weekend, but thought that may just be too crazy?  I say do it!

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Monday, May 27, 2013

#SNAPChallenge 2 Food Prep

My second #SNAPChallenge is starting tomorrow and today I am prepping for the week.  After my last  #SNAPChallenge I had a surprising amount of food left, which is outlined here. I did a bit of shopping tonight, after I returned from a quick trip out of town for Memorial Day.

I picked up the following items:
  • Two 28 ounce cans of tomatoes at $1.59 each
  • One 16 ounce bag of lentils at $0.99
  • Two pounds of carrots at $1.59
  • One yellow onion at $0.56
  • One eggplant at $1.62
  • Half a pound of broccoli at $0.80
  • Six pounds of Split Chicken Breasts at $9.21
  • 32 ounce container of raw almonds at $8.99
The total cost was $26.94 plus tax.

#SNAPChallenge Round 2 Food
My goal this time around was to find things to eat that are more filling for a longer period -- more proteins and less carbs -- which is why I bought the lentils, the raw almonds and the chicken breasts. I figure I can eat one breast a day for the week.

I am starting off by cooking the Tomato Garbanzo Soup that I made last time I did this Challenge. I'll eat this for lunch for the next few days and hopefully remain full longer than I did before.

Wish me luck tomorrow on my first day of living on just $35 / week.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

#SNAPChallenge Round 2

I completed my first #SNAPChallenge in January and I had every intent on doing it each month in 2013. Unfortunately life, work, travel all got in my way. Not a valid excuse, I know.  I decided to do Round Two of Tim's #SNAPChallenge starting next Tuesday (May 28-Monday June 3).

You can read about my first experience of this Challenge here.  I've got a decent amount of food left over, so this time I think I can start by adding some more healthy veggies and legumes and less carbs.  MS will be out of town the week I do this, so I won't feel obligated to stray from this Challenge.

I'm also starting this the day after Memorial Day as I will be spending a good portion of that day on a plane, returning from London -- can't really do the Challenge whilst airborne.

Have any of you tried this Challenge since I did it in January? Do you have any more recommendations on food or recipes for me?  Who wants to join me in this #Challenge? As you read before, it isn't easy, but it makes you really feel for others.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Frankfurt Airport: Check-in and Lounges

We headed back to the Frankfurt Airport after spending a few hours exploring the City.  Our bags had been checked through to Hanoi, but every other time we've flown with various carriers we've had to get new boarding passes with the carrier we were actually flying on. In this instance, we figured our Lufthansa boarding passes for the Thai flight wouldn't cut it.

We found the Thai check-in counter and the Economy line was quite long - but the counters weren't even open yet. The first class check-in wasn't even set up (the stanchions weren't in place and the first class carpet wasn't extended). We stood in what appeared to be the first class check-in area.  After about 15 minutes, a woman with a trolley stacked with 6 suitcases all wrapped in cellophane cut in front of us.  I didn't care for that one bit. The conversation with the cutter went as follow:

Me (to MS): I guess we weren't already standing in line here, were we?
MS (to me): Grumbles and is frustrated that I'm being rude to Line Cutter (LC).
LC: Oh, I'm sorry, did I just cut the line?
Me: Yes, but that's ok. Go ahead, you've got so much more luggage than we do, it just makes sense for you to go first.
LC: Oh, thank you...wait, that doesn't make sense, please go ahead. Being number three in the Business Class Line isn't that bad.
Me: OH! You're flying business class?  We are flying First...go ahead to the front of the business class line.

The line opens up and the first class ticket agent collects our passports and types away for probably 5-7 minutes without saying a word. She initially claimed she had problems with our Vietnamese visa.  Once she let us go, we turned around and we were greeted by a Thai Airways representative, who would act as our escort through the airport.  Score!

While our escort didn't speak much to us, she did push her way through the crowds and made sure that we were closely following in her wake. Several times she did loudly exclaim "First Class passengers coming through, First Class".  I must admit, I loved this -- absolutely loved it.

We headed to security and the lines were outrageously long.  Our escort didn't like the lines, so she bypassed the lines she planned on taking us through and took us to another security area. This time there was no line.  Loved it.

Our escort showed us the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge (even though we were flying First Class, there was no other lounge for us to access).  The escort told us she would be back to collect us and bring us directly to the plane -- handing us off to the flight attendant.  Loved it.

We took a quick shower in lounge and had a bit of a snack.  The food was pretty blah - much better than what you get at a US based lounge. There was hot food and a full bar. I enjoyed the tortellini, but that was really all that I found to be edible.

After relaxing in the lounge for a couple hours, we headed out to find me a new camera and MS wanted to find an inexpensive travel watch. I was successful, MS not so much.  We walked around the airport for about 90 minutes then decided to return to the lounge and wait for our escort.

Since we knew the in-flight experience to Bangkok would be phenomenal, we wanted to be one of the first people on board.  We were quite excited and couldn't wait for our escort. 30 minutes before departure we head for the gate.

We arrived before boarding had commenced and who did we run into shortly after our arrival? Our escort. She found us and, like earlier in the day, she pushed her way through the crowd noting that "First Class Passengers, Coming Through".  Loved it.  There were really so many people all crowded around the doors to the jet bridge, but not in a line -- just a mess.

The sea of humanity crowding around the door to the jet bridge.

The Thai Airways A380 that would be our home for the next 10 hours
Part way down the jet bridge, we took the upper
path which led us to the first class cabin.
She walked us all the way down the jet bridge and handed us off to the First Class Stews...

What is your favorite Ground Experience when traveling?
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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sunday Morning in Frankfurt

We had a 7 hour layover in Frankfurt. While I haven't heard many (or any) redeeming things about the City - I often hear it is the "Dallas of Germany", we figured we'd at least give it a try.  There is a train that takes you from the airport to downtown with only two stops. The ticket was about 8 Euros round trip. We didn't do a stitch of research before we left. We figured we'd find an old square, a beautiful train station and someplace to have breakfast.

Snowy countryside view from the train.
  The train station was not as beautiful or ornate as I was expecting, but it got the job done.

Haupt-Bahnhoff in Frankfurt
The street outside the main train station was snowy and at 08h00 was very dead.  We watched the street car go by with what looked like a bunch of people heading off to work.  No tourists. No locals heading to the market.
Snowy cable car line outside the Haupt-Bahnhof
Snowy roads were not part of the plan for a 2 week trip to SE Asia...
We wandered aimlessly around the area surrounding the Haupt Bahnhof and we stumbled on the European Central Bank, with the Euro Monument.

Euro Close Up

Old Frankfurt - with the Frankfurt Cathedral in the background.
Fountain of Justice near the Frankfurt Cathedral.
After walking around in the snow and the wind and the miserable winter weather in Germany, we decided to head back to the airport for a shower in the lounge, a quick meal and some duty free shopping. I found that my camera was a broken while we wandered around the old square.  Good thing I discovered this now, at least I had the opportunity to hit duty free before we head off to Asia.

So, what did I think of Frankfurt?  It wasn't as bad as Dallas, but from what I could tell, there wasn't much to write home about.  We were there on a Sunday morning, so that might have been part of it. We couldn't even get a bit to eat or a drop to drink as everything we came across was closed up tight.  If I had a layover in Frankfurt again, I would definitely consider exploring the City, but would not do so if it was a Sunday morning.
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Monday, May 06, 2013

Vietnam and More: Introduction

Our #Vietnam Vacation was two years in the planning. We had to delay this trip by 1 year because of my quick descent down the stairs in February 2012.  We chose Vietnam because the group of travelers (me, MS, JB and RK) all wanted to visit a place that none of us had been -- and that list is getting pretty limited now.

We took two weeks to explore Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand - while JB and RK skipped Thailand, as they visited last year and ended their trip in Singapore.  We cashed in United Miles for premium cabin round the world airfare.  We stayed in mostly local hotels, except where it made much more sense to stay in western chains.  We more often than not, ate at local establishments, but as you will see at this trip report progresses we did make a few interesting choices.

Over the next few weeks I'll tell you all about the trip, in the following installments:

This will be my longest trip report to date, but it has also been my longest vacation in history.  I'll do my best to keep the installments coming at a regular pace.  As questions pop up, just ask.

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LH 431: ORD-FRA (Lunfhansa Business)

Our trip to Vietnam started off with a quick business class flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt.  I had only flown Lufthansa intra-Europe before. We all know the business class flights on intra-Europe flights are just an economy seat with the middle seat blocked. No lay flat seat, no improved IFE, nothing special whatsoever.  I was excited to try a real business class product on Lufthansa.

Carrier: Lufthansa (ORD-FRA)
Flight #: 431
Seat: 11D
Departure: March, 16, 2013 - 17h00 / 16h59
Arrival: March 17, 2013 - 07h20 / 07h05
Travel Time:  8 hours 20 minutes / 8 hours 4 minutes
Flight Miles: 4,342

Lufthansa leaves from Terminal One at O'hare (along with United and ANA).  Both Lufthansa and ANA have separate check-in areas at the first door as you approach T1.  There were a surprisingly large number of passengers just milling about. It was obvious they were flying on the Lufthansa flight that evening, but it was unclear exactly what the hell they were doing. The business class check-in counter was empty and the rep was very helpful. We had a minor hiccup as she said she couldn't check my bag all the way through to Hanoi -- since technically we were arriving two days later.  After a bit of help by the supervisor, we were all set and ready to go.

After a quick stop at the United Club we headed to the sea of humanity that is the boarding mayhem of a Lufthansa flight.  We were flying on a Boeing 747 - the first time I've been on this amazing plane since I flew an old United version to Denver in 2002. Love that plane.

The business class configuration on this plane was a 2-3-2 and we were in the middle section. MS was generous enough to take the middle seat.

My legroom.

Pre-departure champagne and the Lufthansa Bird.
I always attempt to speak only German while on a Lufthansa flight and this time was no exception.  The flight crews always humor me. I think I do pretty well, but then again, I'm not chitchatting with these folks either. I'm ordering food, drink and water without ice (Wasser ohne Eis).

I really enjoy flying on Lufthansa, but they sure aren't known for their food.  A couple of the items I really enjoyed and would actively order again at a restaurant, but most I could take or leave.
Seared tuna salad - favorite part of the meal.
Salad course with a pretzel roll - why isn't this always an option?
Official Lufthansa Spork
The cassoulet was flavorful, but dry.
The fruit, cheese and chocolate course was pretty damn good.
The beautiful 747 we flew from Chicago -- in snowy Frankfurt.

Our flight was quick and quite uneventful - just the way a trans-Atlantic flight should be.  We even remarked upon landing that the flights to Europe seem so short, we can easily handle a flight like this even in economy...

What do you think of Lufthansa's trans-Atlantic business class?  How much better is the First Class product compared to Business?  If you had to fly economy to Europe, would you choose to fly United or Lufthansa?
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Friday, May 03, 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Wrap Up

Shanghai in  78 hours - 26 of those on a plane.  No sane person would think this was a good idea - but I had to give it a try.  I loved it.  Did I get to see everything I wanted to see in the largest City on Earth? No, not at all. Did I have a fantastic adventure, great food, interesting chats with people. Yes. 

I think my favorite part of the trip was the Bike Tour with Cycle Shanghai. We saw so much of the City and got a great feel for the various neighborhoods.

If you ever have the opportunity to take 4 days and travel to the other side of the planet, but are fearful that it won't be worth it - do me a favor, just give it a try. Worst case scenario, you are right. A better case scenario - you have a once in a lifetime experience that you'll be able to talk about for the rest of your life.  It's a tale that is worth telling. Do it.

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