Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Havana Running Part 8: Searching, Shopping, and Stumbling Through Havana

 

I'd like to think I'm a quick study in a lot of ways, but the ins and outs of buying Cuban cigars was a challenge.  This is likely because going in I knew absolutely nothing going in.  My faltering high school Spanish doesn't help either. 
 
I only happened to be roaming around Havana looking for cigars in the first place as a favor to a friend, but it also seemed like one of the 'things you do' on a trip to Cuba.  Plus, trying to search out and then go to the legitimate shops in town gave me more reason to explore and stumble upon other sights.  Havana is the type of place that overwhelms the senses in many ways, and you can walk the same street several times, and see things differently with each pass.

Stumbling upon beauty on the way to someplace else
Cigars are, unsurprisingly, very commonly counterfeit.  Because the more famous ones aren't cheap, even at the source, this trade is lucrative.  Knowing this sent my paranoia into overdrive, and resulted in my doing a fair bit of comparison shopping, and incremental money changing.  

Statue in the entryway
The actual process of the purchase was fairly straightforward once I learned what of the types on my 'shopping list' they had in the store.  Even though I felt like a total poser, I went through the process of checking the boxes for the required seals, stamps, and barcodes.  I'm sure they knew I was winging it, but they were already laughing at me for coming in three times in an hour, so what do I care? 

Interior doors of Casa Del Ron Cigars and Rum 
 
In the end I made the majority of my purchases at the Casa Del Habanos shop called Casa Ron which, coincidentally, is directly next door to La Floridita- a common haunt of Hammingway back in the day, and the self proclaimed 'Cradle of the Daquiri.'

Grabbing a spot at the bar at Bar Floridita
 
As an aside- this place is very well known and packed in the evenings, to the point of being uncomfortable.  If you're inclined to a bit of light day-drinking, even just for the atmosphere, I'd say that's your best bet with this place if you want a chance at a seat.  That said, the place is worth checking out, if only to watch the bartenders pour up to 20 daiquiris at a time, and to take a selfie with the bronze statue of 'Ernesto' who is immortalized, leaning on the bar. 
 
Ernesto, still at his favorite haunt
Also between the cigar shop and my Casa was the Plaza Del Cristo, which just so happens to be the location of El Chanchullero, a hole in the wall traditional Cuban restaurant with 5 tables, and a whole lot of good food, reasonably priced.  Finding this place was a challenge though, and I walked right by it several times.  To get there, find the plaza, and the restaurant is opposite the plaza in the middle of the block between Cristo and Bernaza.  Look for either a set of nicer big wooden doors, or if they're already serving, a crowd, and likely a line out the door.  Go early by a few minutes and wait for a table.
 
 
 
As became my tradition for the trip, I ordered the ropa vieja, which was made with pork here (I think).  It was much, much better than the one I got last time stateside in Houston a few weeks back.  However, I should have known I was in for a lackluster dish when the waiter tried to tell me that ropa vieja meant "old rope."  Google it.
 
After lunch, I wandered back through the city to my Casa to change my clothes (a perfunctory task though, given how even 5 minutes outside in Havana and you're sweaty again) and to put away my shopping before heading out again to check out the waterfront and get dinner. 
 
 
 
On the way back, a particularly stunning building caught my eye, and I headed into the open foyer.  It turned out to be the lobby of the Raquel Hotel, who's signature is the well maintained stained glass ceiling.  There's also a restaurant in the lobby and a bar if you want to stay awhile and enjoy it.   I wouldn't have minded a little more time, but there was another part of the city I wanted to make sure I checked out before the sun went down, so after a few minutes I went on my way.
 
And that is a story for the next update...
 
~CruisingAltitude

Havana Running Part 7- When the Rooster Crows

 
Morning wandering around Havana, after some strong coffee.
I did eventually give in and go home for the night, and tried to get a good night's sleep.  The bed wasn't the most comfortable I've ever had, but it also wasn't the worst.  Around 6 am I woke up to the unmistakable sound of a rooster crowing??? What the???
 
Now, as you may or may not know, long before my Los Angeles living and mile chasing days, I grew up in a rural and rather secluded part of Washington State on a small farm in the woods.  This is all preface to say that it's not the first time in my life I've been woken by poultry, or various other critters.  It is, however the one and only time I've been woken by a chicken on a mileage run.
 
Needless to say, at this point I was still exhausted from my trip down, and a little extra from the Mojitos.  I spent the next two hours dozing and waking again every time the rooster crowed, wondering where the heck a chicken would be hanging out in this dense part of the city, and thinking spitefully about ordering arroz con pollo for lunch the first chance I got.  
 
Eventually, I gave in and wandered out to breakfast, where my questions were answered.  As I enjoyed Jorge's breakfast of fresh fruit, bread, and eggs with Cuban sausage, I looked around to realize that I was, in fact, sharing the rooftop with several hens, and an (admittedly cute) bantam rooster. 
 
Thankfully, the strong Cuban coffee that came with it managed to knock off the cobwebs left by the prior evening, and in about an hour all was forgiven.  I was ready to take care of what little business I needed to on this trip (besides writing about it) which was buying some cigars for a friend.  That bit of adventure is next. 
 
Buenos Dias,
 
~CruisingAltitude

Havana Running Part 6: Day Into Night

 
 
Preview: What Would Hemmingway Do?


It dawns on me about now that I can't even do the math through all the time zones to sort out how many hours it's been since I actually slept.  More than 24, at the very least.  
 
Though, in this moment I'm finding it near impossible to care.  I'm sitting on the terrace of a restaurant sipping a mojito while watching the daylight die, and the lights come to life over Plaza Habana Vieja to the sounds of competing live music from the cafes below.  
 

The balcony restaurant

There are street performers, people dancing, and children and dogs playing.  It's lively, though not in that overwhelming way that many city centers and tourist traps routinely become on a Saturday night.  This is festive, but approachable.  You almost get the feeling that this might all still go on all on its own even if the tourists left.  
 
The square itself, less than a block from my accommodations, could easily be something out of Florence or Madrid, but on a livable scale.  Buildings 3 or 4 stories high, and far better upkept than most others in the city.  There are no oppressive crowds, even though it's prime time on a Saturday 
 

Evening in Havana

Intuitively, I know I must be exhausted,but with this so close I find it hard to believe I'll be getting any real sleep until a few hours from now when the music ends and people go home (or at least don't stay here.). The longer I wait, the more the heat breaks, and the more comfortable it gets to just relax and watch this tiny slice of the world go by. 
 
I heard many times before coming here that the biggest challenge of Cuba was not to fall in love.  While so far I haven't managed to fall for the city generally, I just might understand the feeling in this particular moment. 
 

I just might have another.
 
Travel well & live memorably,
 
-CruisingAltitude 
 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Havana Running Part 5: Bienvenido a La Habana

 
HAV Airport
Preview: What Would Hemmingway Do?

Part 1: Relaxing

Part 2: I Promise Not To Call This Sleepless In Seattle

Part 3: Just Sit Anywhere

Part 4: Taking It South

I'd heard horror stories about customs at HAV airport.  So had my fellow travelers, and we were all bracing for the worst when we got off the plane.  However, it turned out to be the exact opposite.  I don't know if it was because I was early off the plane, or because I didn't check luggage, or a combination of both, but it took me about 5 minutes, jetbridge to curb.  It was so fast I had to wait for my driver to arrive.  And he was on time, or at least as on time as there is in Cuba.
 
The airport itself is as you would expect- charmingly contained chaos, but on a small scale.  (Note from my future self a few entires from now- this will turn out to be more or less my experience with Havana generally, and I'm fine with that)  on the recommendation of other guests of my Casa, I didn't bother with changing cash at the airport, and instead skipped the lines and changed it with my host.  I'm not sure if this is a normal thing to do, but it worked out fine for me.
 
The view from my Casa
About 25 minutes later, my taxi rolled through the congested and narrow streets of Habana Vieja, and I was met by Jorge, my host.  He showed me up 4 flights of stairs to my room on the rooftop.  My room is small, but the facilities are renovated and it HAS AIR CONDITIONING that works!! The roof deck is common space, with tables where the guests of the several rooms Jorge rents relax between adventures, and where breakfast is served for $5 CUC per day.  US dollars convert to these 'Convertible Pesos' at 1 to 1, but with a 10% tax.  That's one downside of Cuba- you don't get the benefit of the strong dollar here, but most things are much cheaper than at home so it works out. 
 

Jorge gives me my key and the 411 on this part of Havana- don't change money on the street, don't buy cigars on the street, and understand that locals offering to 'go have a beer' are not buying you a drink, but offering for you to buy them one.  (This happens to me not 2 hours later, and it takes away any guilt I might have felt otherwise turning the guy down point blank.)
 
With those admonitions, he leaves me be and I get settled quickly, then head out into the city.  As a last minute thought, I'd printed out some maps of the area with points of interest, and they came in very handy.  
 
I'll just say that being old enough to have come of age before everyone had gps in their pockets has its benefits here.  As I got myself oriented, I made myself promise to teach babyflyer how to read a map for real.  It was so satisfying to be able to navigate confidently on my own without having to ask for directions.  Even though most places I go in the world in a pinch I can turn on my data roaming and pull up directions, or hail an Uber, it's a matter of basic travel to be able to map read well in a new city.  
 
I started out by walking around to a few of the more prominent sights in Habana Vieja- the Capitol, up to the start of the Malecon, and back through the narrow streets to the Plaza.  I knew I'd be best off finding dinner close to the Casa my first night, so I wandered the Plaza and found a balcony table overlooking the square. (My review of this in next post)
Plaza Vieja
My initial impressions of the city- having been a fairly widely ranged traveler the last several years, Havana is unique.  Everyone I'm sure says that, but I mean it in a particular way.  I've spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, as well as Peru, Euqador, and Panama, and Cuba is a more beautiful, more crumbling version of the best parts of these places.  The architecture, under the rubble, is stunning.  The detail, the grandeur, is beautiful and tragic in one.  
 
It's also, and I can't emphasize this enough, shockingly safe feeling to walk around, even as a solo female traveler.  Now, I don't want to give carte blanche to walking around at 2 am with cash visible in your pockets.  Like anywhere, common sense is important.  It also has that feeling you get in many places, especially in central and South America where you know everyone's got a hustle going, and haggling is commonplace for everything.  
 
What's different here is that while the streets I walk through are in disrepair, and anywhere else I've been would be solidly on the wrong side of the tracks- like back alley, dark doorways, stray dogs, sticking out like a sore thumb with my blond hair wrong side of the tracks- I feel safe.  The offers, the catcalls are there, but aside from maybe swindling me out of a beer or a few extra CUCs on a pedicab ride, I don't get that itchy feeling in my traveler brain that I better watch myself or something more seriously will happen.  It's both confusing and refreshing at the same time.  
 
Around Habana Vieja
I've heard that penalties for actual crimes against tourists are stiff here, and maybe that's the cause, but there's also an eerie feeling that no one here has much, but also no one has nothing.  I don't get asked for change on the street, but I get plenty of offers for directions, transport, and goods, all for a cost.  To me, it's far more preferable.  A simple 'no, gracias' and I'm on my way.  
 
After walking for about an hour, I have that telling feeling that if I don't find a place for dinner and relaxing soon, my body's going to tell me just exactly what it thinks about what I've put it through in the past 36 hours.  Heeding that, I head back to Plaza Vieja to see what I can do about that.  
 
Up next- an evening watching out over Havana. 

-CruisingAltitude

Havana Running Part 4: Taking it South

Part 1: Relaxing

Part 2: I Promise Not To Call This Sleepless In Seattle

Part 3: Just Sit Anywhere

And where we're going next....

Is Havana!  Preface to this and the following entries- I'm sorry I couldn't update from 'the road' while I was in Cuba, but (surprise surprise) I was incommunicado entirely.  No cells will work there, and while it's technically possible to get a wifi card and get online at specific places around the city, the coverage is spotty to say the least, so I opted to disconnect for my 36 hours.  In all honesty, this was part of the trip's charm.  I was anxious about being out of reach, but I survived and remembered what it was like to live before our constant contact lifestyle. 

Anyhow, that said, it's good to be back and updating on the journey!  I did a fair amount of writing while I there, so this is the first of those posts.  Thanks for reading!


Why is it that flights heading South out if MIA are just so simply stunning?  That's a bit of a rhetorical question given the coastline and aquamarine waters, but still.  I've literally been around the world, and there's nothing like it.  
 
These flights also have a certain feel to them in the cabin.  Most people are off on adventures and vacations, and it's a great vibe.  
 
Today's is even better than in the past.  It's not even a full business class, and everyone is chatty/excited, and with an edge of the unexpected.  The question of the day being asked among strangers is 'have you been before?'  The answer is uniformly - "no, have you?"
 
It's an unbelievably short 45 minute flight to Havana, which just hammers home how close Cuba is to be so removed for so long from its neighbor. 

My seat mate was nice enough to switch places with me so I could take pictures out the window, so enjoy!
 
As soon as we leveled off, it was a 10 minute cruise time, before we headed back down again.  Blink and you missed it. 

We approached Havana airport through a rain squall, but it didn't cause any issues with the flight.  We touched down on time and in good spirits, thanks to an attentive flight crew who managed a full drink service and several snack basket passes in a matter of minutes. 
 
 
We're off to a good start on this whole Cuba thing, I think.
 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Havana Running Part 3: "Just Sit Anywhere"


 
Yessss!!
Since I last signed off in Seattle, there’s been a fair amount of flying going on… and not a whole lot of sleeping.  I’m currently sitting extremely happily on my flight to MIA.  First off, I was RIGHT about the plane.  It’s a reconfigured 757 set up for international flights, so that means lie flat in 1st!  Now it really feels like a mileage run….it’s almost like I planned it that way (this time I didn’t, the tickets were way to fleeting for that).

 
In the past about 6 hours, I had a nice (if you can ever refer to domestic redeyes that way) flight to Dallas, and then dozed in the daybeds in the Centurion for about an hour, then had a long warm shower 7 breakfast.  Again- if you fly enough, these lounges make the card well worthwhile.  And no, Amex doesn’t pay me to say that…though if they wanted to work something out…..

Naptime @ DFW
After about a three hour layover, I boarded my third flight of the trip- DFW to MIA, and this brings us current.  Now, I pride myself on good airport timing.  I don’t like to cut things close, but I also don’t see the need to be hanging around the gate early getting impatient.  As we all know, the policy is that boarding starts 30 minutes out for domestic narrowbodies, and 45 or 1hour out for the big birds headed overseas.  This is a decent amount of time to get everyone settled, and it’s been this way for years.

However, more often than not lately I’ve showed up at T-30 to find things were already getting underway.  It’s not that I need to be first on the plane just for the sake of it, but with overhead bin space at a premium, part of the perks of status is that you don’t have to sweat it when it comes to finding space.

Today was completely ridiculous.  I rolled up at a perfectly timed 2 minutes to ‘boarding,’ to hear “this flight is now in final boarding, all ticketed passengers should be onboard.
Um, no.  That’s an announcement for 10 minutes out.  So….I crankily boarded with Group 8.  In the end I did find a place for my bags, and all was fine.  However, I wasn’t the only one thrown by the early boarding.  As it happens, other passengers figured the same as me, and so the boarding process didn’t wrap up early, it just took forever. 

It got to the point of comedy eventually, as the flight wasn’t completely full, and enterprising passengers kept changing their seats, making it hard for the crew to sort out who, in fact, was actually on the plane.  None of this was made better by a woman who as it turned out didn’t realize her seat assignment was actually on her ticket. She walked past me yelling to the flight attendant that her family “had seats together, but she didn’t know where” and so she was just going to “sit anywhere.”

Wow. 
MIA Centurion Food
Annnyhow….. due to the nice seats, the flight passed very quickly, and I woke up on descent into Miami.  Just enjoying one more stop at a Centurion Lounge, making it a perfect trifecta of visits on this itinerary, before getting on my last flight of the day (already??).  In a couple short hours I’ll be trying to find my way around Havana, so wish me luck!
~CruisingAltitude

Friday, May 19, 2017

Havana Running Part 2- I Promise Not To Call This Sleepless In Seattle....


SEA approach at its best!
The Story So Far:
 
…But it kinda is.  I have to face facts, having a toddler has made me old.  It’s not even 10pm, and I’m ready for bed.  I’m trying very hard right now not to think about how I won’t be able to actually lie down to sleep for a good 18 hours.
This is, of course, unless I’m right about my DFW-MIA plane configuration.  Please let me be right about that!  In that case, I’ll get a blissful 3 hours of lie flat time.  Fingers crossed.

Anyhow, I had an uneventful flight up to SEA, the highlight of which was a beautiful light show on the descent over Puget Sound.  When SEA is on its game, there’s few approaches in the world like it.  Maybe YVR, but I won’t say that too loudly around here.

In other news, I think I successfully signed up for “Clear.”  It was fairly simple since I already made my profile online- Finger scan, iris scan, picture, ID check, a few questions….okay now this sounds more complicated than it was.  I may have spent too much of my life in security lines and passport checks that I’m desensitized to all this.
The upside is that in theory it should limit such nonsense and cut all the lines in the future (where the service is provided).   We’ll see.  I’ll update with a review the first time I use it “for real.” Tonight I did get to cut the precheck line though, so it's promising.

I then spent the next couple hours having some quality time in the SEA Centurion Lounge.  Shout out to my buddy there (you know who you are, but unless a certain other buddy passes this on….you’ll never know).  As I’ve repeatedly, repeatedly said the Centurion lounges are head and shoulders above the average domestic lounge, and are the main reason we cough up the Platinum card renewal fee.  Had some specially made skinny margaritas, and dinner before the club closed at 10pm.

Since this was 2 hours before my next flight, I did what any red-blooded mileage runner would do in the situation- found the next best club.  In this case, the Alaska Airlines Board Room that I can access on Priority Pass, or my Admiral's Club access since I'm flight American for my next flight.  All's well and good when there's options until boarding.  I can't go back to the terminal....I just can't!! ;)

So, can I just take a moment here to encapsulate what exactly trips like this can add to your life?  Tonight I walked off the elevator of the Board Room, zombie style, right smack into a priest in full floor length robes… holding what appeared to be a dirty martini.  As in- the priest had the martini, not me. 

And that, Charlie Brown, is what the spirit of Mileage Running is all about.

Next up- DFW (I’ve missed you).

~Cruising Altitude

Havana Running Part 1: A ReLAXing Start


Six pretty birds, all in a row...
It begins!
The adventure is already underway- complete with unexpected perks, slight delAAys, and one extremely confused check in agent.  So basically- Friday.

Rolled into the WallyPark garage a couple hours ago to a scene of light chaos.  I booked a discount stay for Mrs. CruisingAltitude’s car for the duration, and just assumed due to the great last minute price that the place must be empty.  Whelp…no, as it turns out.  Pulled in and found out ‘they’re full.’

So….but….but…my reservation??
Nope, full in self park. But would I be okay with a free upgrade to valet?  Um…yes, yes I would. 

Onwards to LAX we go.  In the shuttle, in the traffic.  Now, as you probably may not be entirely painfully aware, LAX is undergoing about a decade of renovations and construction.  And unlike most of what’s said around here, this isn’t all that much of an exaggeration.  This leads to chronic congestion of traffic through the terminals, and I’d assume, many missed flights.  As the other occupants on my shuttle put it “this is like… Mumbai traffic”  and I’m pretty sure they were even from there, so yeah….

Many long minutes later I got to check in, and promptly hit my next slow down.  However, this was due to asking a beleaguered check-in agent to try and give me my boarding passes all the way through Havana.  He was confused- why in the name of all that’s good in the world would someone fly to Seattle from Los Angeles….to Dallas….to Miami to get to Havana.  There are one stops, there are even NONSTOPS, for crying out loud. 
Heh…yeah I know…Print me the boarding passes, and stop looking at me with your judg-y eyes please. 
Mine.  All mine.

He did (eventually), and I will say that aside from this bit of disbelief, the actual process of getting a boarding pass for Havana was pretty easy.  A perfunctory question about what category I was traveling under, and instructions to get my boarding pass stamped in Miami and I was on my way!

As per always, the next stop before a successful mileage run is the club of the day.  As Havana is considered “Carribbean” it doesn’t qualify for ‘international’ status for lounge access.  I really think an exception is due here.  Anyone who jumps through the hoops to go to Cuba in this day and age really is going to consider it an INTERNATIONAL trip.  I’m pretty sure I’d feel more at ‘home’ in Jakarta at this point….and you all know how I feel about that place.

But, rules are rules. 
However, if we’ve learned anything from politics recently- rules are only rules until you know the right people.  In this case, a friend who happened to have access to the Flagship Lounge side of the Admiral’s club on this particular day.  And the rules clearly state – one guest, as long as that guest is flying onward on an Oneworld marketed and operated flight.  Boom. Champagne.



About an hour of kicking back and watching planes out the window with a glass of bubbly, and wrapping up some last minute work details before being incommunicado for a couple days, I headed to the gate.
Some might be aware of the great airline shuffle happening this month at LAX which, if you didn’t know better, would seem like airline-pocalypse.  However, it’s been going smoothly as far as I can tell, at least as far as Oneworld is concerned.  AA now has consolidated down to T4, T5, and some scattered gates at the international terminal, while Qatar has been moved over to the proper gates at TBIT, rescuing it from the reject terminal at T2.  No complaints, and minimal confusion that I could tell.  They’re even planning a new Admiral’s Club in T5 which is badly needed.
Selfies with idols en-route to T5

Speaking of T5, my slightly delayed flight left from there this afternoon and why did no one tell me they opened a Lemonade restaurant there?!?  That’s ALMOST worth paying airport food prices for….almost.  So far, so good on the flight currently.  No pre-departure beverage to speak of though, which is every nit-picky traveler’s pet peeve.  Now, just looking forward to dinner & hopefully a smooth touch down in Seattle.  After that I’ve got a 5-ish hour layover to contend with, part of which I plan to spend trying to sign up for the newest TSA-avoidance gimmick “Clear.”  I’ve done the online part, and now just have to show up in person at the enrollment center, as long as it’s still open when I get there.  I’ll let you know….

Until the next segment, wish me luck.

-CruisingAltitude

 

Mileage Run Preview- Havana Running or "What Would Hemmingway Do?"

This is the first step to Havana- Once you find a flight deal, of course.
** I now interrupt your regularly scheduled update from my last run, which I promise is almost done, to bring you a preview of this weekend's adventure.  More to follow**

Times are changing.  Now, I'm sure most have their (strongly held) feelings about whether this is, in fact, a good thing or not.  However, let's compartmentalize for a moment and just focus on the one change that arguably is good for travelers.  Having a new place open up to visit, especially one as unique (and close) as Cuba, is good news.  What's even better news, is that with the major US airlines jockeying for timeslots at the newly accessible Havana airport, and with travel to Cuba still somewhat restricted for US citizens, there's a lot of capacity and redundancy in these flights this year.

This all adds up to a mileage deal I couldn't take the chance of missing.  For just a couple of hours, tickets from Seattle to Havana went on a flash sale, including round trip, First/Business class for $380 base fare!  Given that the routing takes has a total of six segments, and earns double elite miles because of the class of service, it's an amazing deal. 

So what's the catch??

Well, one is that it starts in Seattle, where I don't live.  However, I've been known to go as far as Toronto...or even Sri Lanka to start a mileage run, so hopping up to SEA wasn't going to stop me.  Next up, this itinerary doesn't happen to have any widebody planes, so while it's in business class, there'll be no lie flat seats (except maybe between Dallas and Miami on one segment, but we'll see).  Still.... 12k EQM and a trip to Havana for this price... the many hours on 737s wasn't going to turn me off.

The real catch is, predictably, Cuba itself.  Though the US's policy on travel has gotten far more liberal, you still have to get a special visa, and your trip must fit into one of several distinct categories.  The process (so far) has been fairly straightforward.  I followed along with AA's recommendation and got my visa card from "Cuba Travel Services."

As far as accommodations go, Havana obviously doesn't have any American chain hotels, and hotels in general can be expensive.  The 'thing to do' is to use Airbnb to book one of the traditional "casas" which are privately run, but legal, rooms for rent in small boarding houses or people's individual houses.  I booked a room in Old Town that came with good reviews for around $45 a night.  We'll see... but.... culture!

I don't have ambitious plans for my time on the ground- mostly to unplug and explore.  This is just one more example of how this hobby expands your comfort zone, and makes you consider experiences you wouldn't otherwise.  So far, I haven't regretted one, and I doubt it'll be happening anytime soon.

Bring on the Mojitos!

~CruisingAltitude

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Admirals Club at IAH- First Look


Bye, LAX, see you in 24 hours!
As you probably don’t know, CrusingAltitude has been spending their Mondays for the past month hauling back and forth to Houston’s IAH airport for one night stays, and a day of work.  It’s a new city, new airport, and new lounges to be explored.  Plus, a whole lot of time on American Eagle's E175s with their nonstop service from LAX. 
Leaving the "Eagle's Nest" at LAX
Case in point- there’s a new Admirals’ Club in terminal A at IAH!!  This was sorely needed, as American has an increasing presence at this airport, and it’s all alone over in terminal A which is just about as far as you can be from the Centurion lounge in terminal D.  If you’re not an Amex member, then you were even more stuck when flying American as there really was no lounge option. 

The New Admiral’s club is right in the middle of AA’s gates, next to gate 25 and by the connector hallway from the terminal link train.  You can’t miss it.

Club entrance- Terminal A
 The lounge is BRAND new, having just opened since the last time I was here two weeks ago.  It would have been even nicer had it been open then, seeing as how I had a 2+ hour delay due to weather, wherein I paid a cool $30 for a burger and a watered down margarita (or two) at the Hubcap Burgers location across from gate 26A…but whatever….it’s there now.

Seating areas

More seating, showing the new AC decor
My brief stop revealed a compact, but well thought out new Club.  They don’t have ample space, but they’ve made the best of it and put in a decent amount of seating divided into two distinct areas- the bar and the lounge.  
Bar area
 
Food service/Coffee bar
I was really impressed with the new d├ęcor and the well placed food bar in the divider behind the check-in desks, making the most of their space.  The staff was very friendly, though it was clear they were in the training stages.  All in all, I give it a thumbs-up as a satellite/small location lounge, and I applaud AA for taking notice of the need for an AC at IAH.  For those without access to the Amex lounge, or with delays that puts anyone in terminal A for extended periods, this place will be a welcome addition to the network!

Fly safely, lounge well,
~CruisingAltitude