Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oneworld, three days part II: Second Red-eye, Roaring Good Time...

Is this the way to the premium check in counter??
[Part I of this trip report here: The one where I crossed an ocean for a drink with a lampshade]

Now about that second 11 hour redeye....

It wasn't all that bad, at least in retrospect, but let me be real here for a second.  I'll admit a lot of mileage runners like to brag about how easy all this is, how flying to Hong Kong and back in two days is no big deal, and how they 'love to fly' and on and on.  In fact, I believe an exact quote I heard regarding someone's same day turn around going LAX-JNB was 'easy peasy lemon squeezy.' But the reality is, in that moment 4 hours in with 7 to go on a non-upgradable flight, when it's about 3am in your home time-zone, with the screaming baby, and the drink service over, you do have brushes with insanity.

You might start to rationalize the timeframe:
 '7 hours left, I can do that, it's like JFK to LAX, I've done that tons of times.  Well, and then two more hours, but that's just like an onward connection to Seattle.  No big deal, Seattle's so close...'

Or, instead, if you're a rewards-focused type, your monologue might go:
 '4 hours at 500mph, that's 2000 more qualifying miles, only 3500 left...I can feel my account growing by the minute.'

Or you start really looking for the analogies:
 'It's like only half a workday left, and a drive home in somewhat moderate LA traffic.."

This is also about the time you start wondering if you should get up and move around, and if maybe no one would notice if you started doing lunges down the aisle.  Hint: they will, but you may not care at this point. This is when my 'game face' changes to my 'deal with it' face, and I'm vaguely aware that in my oversized sweatshirt complete with hood, yoga pants and tall socks I probably look like a trendily vagrant teenager.

But, still, it wasn't all that bad.... I love to fly ;)

Besides, BA serves free alcohol in economy, and for some bizarre reason, has an entire season of Portlandia on their (fairly decrepit) IFE.  The two go well together.

One additional drawback to the timing of this flight is that you bisect the African continent- at night, and thereby see nothing.  However, there's no way around it on the current flight schedules.  BA flies 3 (huge) planes within 2 hours of each other on this route pretty much 'nose to tail.'  This is, yes a LOT of seats.  Yet somehow, just about every single one was filled.  I also heard rumor that this is a big cargo route, and so on more empty flights, the passengers and their revenue are somewhat of an afterthought in BA's bottom line.

Back to the flight though.  Dinner was... airplane food.  I took a picture, but it's not all that exciting.  Not that I was even that hungry after almost six hours in the Galleries Lounge.  I did manage to get about 6-7 hours of sleep, though I woke up every few for some reason or another.  Still, upon arrival in JNB, the mileage run adrenaline hadn't worn all the way off yet.  Plus, 'the mileage running crew' was finally all in one place, and we could head out for a one-day adventure before most everyone went right back on flights up to LHR 18 hours later.

First stop- Sandton, ZA since a couple of us had hotel rooms booked.  Johannesburg's accessibility got an upgrade in the construction for the last World Cup, and so there's a fast (and well-policed) train that leaves from JNB and goes direct to Sandton with only a few stops.  It's about a $24 round trip, and tickets can be bought with either cash or credit at the stations.  From the station in Sandton, you can walk to several of the area hotels (though I wouldn't recommend it at night) or the hotels also have shuttles you can call for.  
The 'Gautrain' at the JNB stop.

The train goes almost express from the airport stop to Sandton, so it's impossible to get lost.  As an added benefit, you get a good look at the lay of the land, including a few tightly-packed townships along the way.  The train goes underground in Sandton, and consequently you have to take switchback escalators up several stories to get to the ground level. 

From the train-Township in the background
I had a night on $60 cash & points at the Hilton, and I'd definitely stay there again.  As a Gold, I was upgraded to a nice two room suite with a decent view.  Check in was quick and professional, and the property was well appointed.  No complaints.  The staff even took a few of my companions to the spa to take showers and use the facilities even though they weren't on my reservation.  However....I did hear rumor from one of them that the laundry in the spa may not be up to standard, so I'd take a lesson from The Guide, and always know where your towel is. (I noticed no unusual lack of housekeeping in my room, so it may have been an isolated occurrence)

Bedroom Hilton Sandton- Nice amenities, quiet and comfortable.  6 TV channels, 3 of them soccer, 2 rugby.
Beautiful Southern Sky- Sandton, ZA

(Note to Club Carlson elites as well- the 'Raddison Blu Gautrian' also looked quite nice, and is directly across the street from the train, so no shuttle connection is necessary)

Since we had a group, I'd emailed with the hotel ahead of time, and had arranged for a driver to take us out to the Lion Park for a few hours.  The price was reasonable, especially in a group and included our tickets to the park and entrance to the lion cub area.  No, it wasn't a week at Kruger, but for an outing on a same day turn mid mileage run, it wasn't half bad.  If you want, these tours can also be arranged with pick up right from the airport, if you don't have a hotel reservation.  There are various excursions like this from similar companies with different attractions- museums, city, animals, etc.     

Now comes the excuse to put up a bunch of pictures of animals (you knew it was coming).  The tour of the Lion Park starts with a drive through fields filled with antelope, zebras, giraffes, and various other non-carnivorous animals I can't remember all the names of.  You get up close, and sometimes have to wait for herds to cross in front of the van. 

Now, on to the LIONS...which is what this run was all about, right?  Well, that, and 22.5k EQMs...  The lion part of the park includes several enclosures with adult lions wandering around (roll those car windows up, they are NOT shy).  We got there just after feeding time, and they were still chewing on what looked like some tasty half goats or sheep.  Served rare, of course.

 The park also is home to quite a few 'white lions,' like this little guy...
Last stop on the tour is a more typical 'zoo-like' area where you're free to get out and roam around and see more animals in enclosures.  This is also where they take you to go pet (and take selfies with) somewhat domesticated lion cubs.  Yes, it's all very touristy and whatnot, but like I said- same day turn mileage run activity.  I'll take it.

One thing these photos of sleeping cubs doesn't show is that when they wake up, they're not as docile as they seem, nor are their teeth at all small.  I had the memorable experience of having one decide to growl, grab on to my sleeve, and not let go.  Even better was one of the handlers coming over, nonchalantly swatting the offender on the nose, prying her off and shrugging, saying 'yeah, we're working on her with that.'  No big deal.... 
Siiimba.... (couldn't help myself)

Your correspondent & a new friend at the Lion Park


The whole crew- So much fun traveling with everyone!

Up next- the road home, complete with a missing passport, some surprise upgrades, business class on the 77W, and the realization that in some cases the same day turn may be the easier option.**


At least Giraffe thinks I'm funny...

**Theory yet to be scientifically tested.


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