I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The big bird

Woke up on Sunday with a hangover as unwelcome as it was predictable. Bleurgh. The news of a lottery win did little to help, not least because a combination of terribly flaky wireless and the lottery's stupid "you can't look at your account if you're not in the UK" policy made me jump through more hoops than a Crufts best in show performance to find out I'd won £25 and not millions and millions.

Anyway. It was early. I'd gone to Paris on Saturday for two reasons: because flying from Paris is much cheaper in cash and BA miles terms than London, and because the one flight a day leaves at midday. I'd never been to CDG before and had been warned repeatedly that it's a horrific place to change terminals at, and there's no flight from London that gets in early enough to allow me to do it. Shame, as I'd rather have not left on Saturday 'cos I wanted to go to Pompey vs AFC Wimbledon; in retrospect, I'd done the right thing. Stupid football.

Nige was right. CDG is awful. The shuttle train was easy enough and first impressions weren't too bad, but it soon became this dystopian nightmare of tunnels and tubes. Found the Malaysia airlines desks easy enough and despite having bought a new holdall specifically so I can travel hand luggage only these days, I ummed and ahhed and went to check it in anyway, even though my boarding pass was on my phone. This was a good move in the end: the cabin bag limit is a ludicrously low 7kg and my bag is about 9kg. What's more, I needed a special invite card for the lounge despite having a business class ticket AND they needed proof that I was going to leave Malaysia too, so good job I'd panicked and printed out my onward flight details on Friday. She said to keep it handy as they'd want to see it on arrival at KL too.

The queue for immigration was very long and very slow. Yawn. No x-rays or other security so I wondered what would have happened to my bag had I not checked it in. Ho hum. Breakfast o'clock rang out in my stomach.

The Salon ICARE lounge at CDG T1 is accessed via a tiny lift and along a narrow corridor which felt like I was wandering lost around a hospital. Handed my invite over and surveyed the place, in all of 3 seconds. Tiny with maybe just 25-30 seats, it had the air of a room in a hospice where you go to gather your thoughts or wait for a chaplain. Except it had free beer. But as it wasn't yet 1000 I resisted, opting instead for juice and pastry and a giant mutant apple. And then free beer, while people watching the slew of people who turned up only to be turned away.

At the desk they'd said boarding would officially be 1030 but I could wait til at least 1100 and besides, they'd call it at the lounge. I got twitchy though, so headed off early. It was a huge trek through yet more tubes and with a travelator out of action it took a long while. The flight of 52 steps at the end was particularly unwelcome, as was the loooong security queue. Most of my fellow lounge lizards turned up soon after me, each in turn attempting the fast track barcode gate, being rejected, tutting, trying again, walking around to find someone, trying a third time, and eventually having wasted enough time that 8 or so others had joined the main queue, joined the main queue. Some quality and pointless "don't you know who I am?" behaviour. I'm regularly bemused by people who can't gauge a situation pretty much straight away. Gate rejects you? Join the queue. It's not hard. You aren't special.

The 52 steps had been good practice for the next flight of steps, as I went through the empty gate for business and first class boarding and went UPSTAIRS ON A MOTHERFUCKING PLANE. I know, it's not new, I first flew upstairs on a 747 in May 2006 - but I've wanted to fly on an A380 double decker behemoth for ages and here I finally was, woohoo!

I'd chosen seat 6G, the bulkhead seat in a centre pairing to ensure I had to climb over no one and no one had to climb over me throughout the journey, which was a hefty 12hr trip. Malaysia don't serve alcohol on the ground so no welcome fizz, I had an orange juice and fiddled around getting my pad, ipad, book, etc in the right places. Mr 6D said hello, and then NOTHING ELSE ALL FLIGHT, thankfully.

Leg room was monstrous. The personal TV screen is huge for a plane, and pretty high def too. After the headphones were dished out I started watching Family Guy, which was interrupted as we pushed back exactly on time and they activated tail cam.

Oh my god. Tail cam is FANTASTIC. It's a camera attached to the top of the plane's tail, facing forwards. You get to watch what take off looks like. I was hopelessly mesmerised and would have watched it all flight if I could, but unfortunately it's not part of the moving map options. So back to Family Guy, three episodes back to back none of which is seen before. So far, very impressed with Malaysia Airlines, but still 11 hours to go...

Oh, hello, champagne. Hello, refills. Hic.

Also nuts. And satay, 2 skewers each of chicken and beef. One of the beef ones was a bit crap, but the others were delicious. Who knew satay was nice? For the main dish I hadn't bothered to consult the menu cos I'd ordered in advance: Malaysia have a system called "chef on call" with a wider range of choice, available online the week up to departure. I seemed to be the only person who'd done this, and got a kick when they came and did the whole "Mr Foreman, you ordered xyz, yes?" thing. And a different kick from the "some more champagne?" thing.

The whole AVOD system is great. Nice chunky modern controller with a bit of colour screen bling, easy to use, loads and loads of choice and the headphone socket was in the least awkward place of any airline seat ever. My biggest complaint is that in Family Guy someone pronounced séance "see 'n say". What the deuce?

In 2010 I made another roundabout trip to Australia, flying London to Helsinki to Istanbul to Bangkok to Sydney. Like this time, it was to pick up passport stamps, save money, and try new airlines and aircraft - in that instance, to fly Turkish Airlines. Their food was magnificent. It has now been beaten. Christ on a bike, the seared chicken on MH21 CDG-KUL was gorgeous. Dessert less impressive, but a welcome cuppa was had. No cheese plate, which is odd for business class.

The booze stopped and actually I found the staff to be pretty distant and inattentive. But it didn't really matter too much as I was engrossed in movies now. First, since I was heading to KL, a Malay gangster movie called KL GANGSTER 2. I kinda dozed during it and struggled to concentrate on the subtitles, I think the plot was basically "Kuala Lumpur is violent and dangerous". Whatever. Next, New Police Story - a Jackie Chan redemption story, pretty good. Then Escape Plan, my second disappointing Stallone movie in 3 days.

Needed a break. The onboard loo was bigger than my bathroom, wow. And there was a galley of snacks including individual cheese plates, yay for cheese! No self service booze though, and no staff. I think this actually ended up being my driest long haul flight ever - 3 or 4 glasses of fizz, no beer, no port, no g&t, no brandy. I'll fix that later in the trip.

Played with the seat a lot, various positions for lounging. It goes basically completely flat, certainly if you're only 5'9". Kept hitting the back massage button, I'm a sucker for that lumbar shit.

More AVOD. Runner Runner is good but, wow, the dubbing was awful. No swear words, and they got people who sounded NOTHING LIKE Timberlake et al to say terrible replacement phrases. Worst censorship since Hertbreak Ridge was on ITV before the watershed. You melon farmer.

The documentary about Mark Cavendish was pretty boring. I ate breakfast during it, again ordered in advance. Huge sausage ahoy. Last up on the TV, an Andy Lau mahjong movie called Fat Choi Spirit. I missed the last 10 minutes cos we started our final descent - presumably he wins and gets married...? I could have done with knowing the rules of mahjong though, and should have sniggered less at all the references to "self touch". 'cos, y'know. Wanking 'n that.

I didn't mind missing the end of the film because it was replaced with MORE TAIL CAM. Again, mesmerising. It was dark, just after 6am, so lots of lights around. We landed dead straight on the runway's centre line. Beautiful. In such a massive machine falling out of the sky. God I love flying.

Left via an air bridge attached to the top deck, and was one of the first people out. Strolled through the unfamiliar airport while surrounded by confused and bleary folk. Straight through immigration with a shiny new stamp, and no questions about where I was staying or when and how I was leaving. Paris lady lied! Actually I realised there hadn't even been a landing card or owt - Malaysia requires nothing, so simple to waltz into.

My bag was one of the first out and I'd already grabbed some Ringgit from an ATM. Pleasingly empty of taxi touts, arrivals was nothing like any other Asian airport at which I've landed. Made my way to KLIA Ekspres, bought an oyster-esque Touch-n-Go ticket loaded with 100RM and got on the train. My plane had been scheduled to land at 0700 - I got the 0715 train and was at KL Sentral (oddly, not in the centre of town) before 0745. LIKE A BOSS. And just as I left the airport I got a "hey, you should check in for your Wednesday flight" alert. Now come on, gimme a chance to visit the place first...

Had made a note of how to find the hotel (Le Meridien) from a thread on flyertalk which had made it sound almost hard to find and not pedestrian friendly.  Pfft. Piece of piss to find, directly opposite the station front, obvious signage, and a pedestrian crossing - which wasn't even needed, cos I just strolled across through the traffic. Checked in and was offered a free option because of my gold card - no free internet cos I was entitled to that anyway so, bonus loyalty points or a free drink? Well, duh...

Despite barely sleeping on the plane, I'd arrived feeling probably better than off any long haul red eye ever. Probably because of a relative lack of booze, plus the A380 cabin really is much nicer than older planes. I wasn't dehydrated at all. I was only slightly tired, so I thought - ok, it's morning but you've got 2 days here now - check out the room, have a couple hours shut eye, and head out to explore KL at midday or so. Right?

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