Picturesque Bulgarian Village – Brashlian

Click on the image to follow a link to the Brashlian Page and Gallery on this Blog.  Enjoy! Related PostsBulgaria: Pirin Mountain Lakes – Continued Bulgaria: More About the Pirin Mountain Lakes Bulgaria: Pirin Mountain Lakes Arbanasi Bulgaria – Picturesque … Continue reading

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American Airlines Boeing 787 Business Class Seats

American Airlines Boeing 787 business class brief review.  My wife flew to Beijing late last year – and experienced the first of the American Boeing 787 aircraft which due to their high efficiency have been deployed on the long distance flights between Dallas and Beijing (as one example).  Her luck was good and she was able to get a system wide upgrade and had a great experience in the new business class on those planes.  All great with one BIG exception – when she came back home she complained about have a pretty weird experience flying and noticing each movement of the person in front of her (sitting on another business class seat).

My experience was better – I was in seat 6L – rear facing – first row in the mini-cabin which meant that my seat was solo i.e. not attached to another.  As a result I had a much better in-flight experience, undisturbed by others.

Reading through flyertalk I noticed that many are complaining about the movement of the attached seats.  To that effect, I think if you can you should avoid the middle seats in the minicabin and 1A & 2A and 3A & 4A, 1L &2L, 3L&4L… as those are likely to cause you the effect of the disturbing neighbor.

What else about the seats – they are narrow and shorter than the business class on the Boeing-777;   for a tall person 6ft and above – they will not allow you to truly be in a flat sleeping position.

The amenities were packaged in a Cole Han pouch which was weirdly made of of some artificial material (like PVC) – makes you wonder – why Cole Han then…?  But I think this was a minor nit pick.

American Airlines B787 business class seat American Airlines Business Class American Airlines

Interesting new controls for the seat in business class.  Made to look like an iPhone / Smart Phone.  Not sure why, but ease of use wise – not a bad design…

 

 

 

 

 

The verdict – it is up to you – if you prefer the lower prices of the new B787 flights then you will need to compromise and enjoy the better entertainment and food on the flight.  Otherwise proactively seek out the B777 service.

 

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Beijing Pollution – Not Getting Better

Greetings!   For all of you who need information on the weather and air quality in China and especially Beijing, here is an update – I was in Beijing this week – until earlier today.  Over the years I have spent a considerable amount of time – including 2 long term periods of living in the city as an expat.  The air quality has become an increasingly hot topic (in a negative way) and one of concern to a huge number of local residents and visitors from within China and abroad.

The city government has been trying (for years) to improve the situation.  Tons of measures have been taken:

  • Moving coal burning industries away from the city
  • Restricting the usage of bad quality coal for domestic purposes (although I still see the tricycles with stacks of coal being carted around the neighborhoods in the winter)
  • Heavily regulating the usages of cars – no cars from outside the city are allowed further inward in the city beyond the 3rd loop road;   The usage of motorcycles is also extremely restrictive
  • Cars with odd and even plates drive on different days of the week
  • and so on and so forth….

The results however, are NOT great.   Here are the snapshots of today’s / current (as I write) Beijing weather:

Beijing-Pollution-Readings                               Pollution-Readings-Imcl-Austin

And then – there are the photos from my window and photos taken from Hangzhou on Monday:

China-Pollution Beijing Smog

So for all of you doubters – is China really that polluted – the answer is – “We do not know…” but it is most likely bad.

Hangzhou, by the way – which used to be incredibly nice to visit and less polluted, not has similar problems  Here is a photo from Monday of this week….

China-PollutionAll in all it is a scary situation.  The reality is that the city has been under the watch for a awhile

I see a number of photos in my collection that reflect the slipping situation in the City.

Long story, short, be careful to research your destination and put it in perspective and comparable readings/assessment of the likes published by AirVisual (one of many applications reporting the air quality around various global locations)

 

None of this listed above is something new for those who have a lot of travel or living experience in China.  I have done multiple updates over the years on the pollution situation in Beijing and China.  You can see it in a 2015 posting, then again in a 2014 one, and earlier in a 2013 posting, then several in 2007 (here and here, and yet another here);

Having said all this (above)  a trip and visit to China is still an awesome idea.   Just make sure to be well informed and well prepared.   Happy Travels!

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Las Vegas – a City of Opposites

Everyone (I think) knows Las Vegas – however, I believe the know if for its gambling and lavish shows, huge hotels, endless buffets, and overall a city which never sleeps, and has dedicated itself to all things entertainment…

On a recent trip in the area, I actually determined that this is a place of huge differences.  While we all know it as an entertainment and gambling hub, a glitzy city with modern architecture, please take a look at these photos – taken as we approach the Las Vegas airport (from the air of course) and then from several spots in the city – you will see how different the place is just outside the city and on the Strip…

Las Vegas Nevada

Las Vegas

Approaching Las Vegas

 

 

 

Las Vegas

Now above the city outskirts

 

Las Vegas

Approaching the Las Vegas Airport

Las Vegas Sky

Las Vegas Morning

Las Vegas Nevada

I will publish a photo album on Las Vegas and its surprising diversity in the next week or so,  till then hopefully the photos above give you the idea…

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Interesting Photos from Recent Flights

Two weeks ago I flew Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Shanghai.   The flight is a very nice one – the flight attendants of Singapore Airlines really know what they are doing and as a result everyone on board felt very comfy.  I fly a lot – for personal and business reason – and as a result rack up around 150K – 200K miles per year on multiple European, N.American, and Asian airlines.   Singapore Airlines is certainly one of my favorite ones due to their impeccable service.

But now, back to the photos from the flights…Here we go – enjoy!

Optical effect of high speed

Clouds on Singapore flight Over Singapore

 

 

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Shanghai Afternoon

Shanghai is an incredible city.  It has become a cosmopolitan metropolis no less so than New York City, San Francisco, or London.  Gone are the days of shabby buildings, blue Mao suits and bicycles everywhere.   Although, one could argue, that the bicycles may not be a bad idea in today’s hot economy as a strong measure to reduce smog and overall pollution as well as offer the Shanghai people another way to exercise…But about that some other time.

Shanghai-PorscheI lived in Shanghai between 1988 and 1991 – at the time the city was changing every six months – and now, eventhough I visit very frequently, I continue to be amazed at its progress, building of wealth, (here comes a zooming Porsche…..might as well be on the street of one of the US cities)…

 

 

Shanghai-Funny-Englishand the occasional funny English sign…Nothing like a restaurant advertising with its permanent neon lit name the ever appealing “Tomato girl rice…”

Hm… I am not sure I want to try that….but then we have seen more weird stuff.

Oh, well

 

The city skyline in Zhabei district is very interesting – here are some photos – you can enjoy and let me know if you want to see some photos of that skyline from the late 1980s…

Shanghai Shanghai-China-Train-Station Shanghai Train Station Shanghai-China China-Shanghai

 

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TSA – Does It Abuse Its Power

TSA Rules or Abuse of Power

We all want to be safe when traveling.  I do believe that and follow the rules created by the TSA for what types of items are allowed in your carry on and checked in luggage.  I check the TSA Web site on a regular basis to make sure in my extensive travels (for business and with my family) both me and my family are in compliance.

Well, I had a rude awakening at the Chicago O’Hare airport this Friday afternoon.   I was on my way home after 2 weeks of travel through India and China.  While overseas, I had picked up some items – both several gifts as well as a plaque for my participation as a speaker in a conference.  I knew the plaque will generate additional inspection of my luggage so I was prepared for it, but what transpired was quite different.

As I went through TSA Pre-Check my bag was singled out for inspection – I expected that.  The TSA officer who was supposed to do the manual check of the bag disappeared as soon as my bag was set aside.   Very soon there were three passengers waiting in line.  The TSA officer at the screening machine kept shouting out “Bag check on 3” – but there was no one to hear him.   Very interesting….

Eventually, the TSA officer returned to the inspection station and brought in my bag.  He quickly asked me if I had any award plaques or something similar in my luggage – to which I responded with “Yes” and pointed to the compartment where the plaque was.  The officer obviously knew what he was looking for.  He inspected the plaque by taking it out of its box and proceeded to test it for chemicals.  All clear came and I thought I was ready to go…(that had happened at other checks on my way from India – e.g. in China)

Once that was done he proceeded to dig deeper in my luggage – next he picked up a gift I was carrying back to the States from India – actually Taiwanese origin as one of our business partners from Taiwan gave the gift to me while in Bangalore.   I had promised to bring the package – pineapple candy – back to our team in the States.

Taiwan-Pineapple-Cakes

Taiwan Pineapple Cakes in a gift box

The TSA officer asked me what the box was and when I described its nature and content, he proceeded to open it and started to paw thought its content.

Now, the box is full of individually wrapped candies, but still, what was the purpose of pawing through it???

This is where I started losing patience with the TSA officer.  Why?  Here is a long list of reasons:

  1. While the officer is supposed to be able to inspect any item in a travelers baggage, there is no reason to do so in a way which destroys the content of the item.  In my case, the officer cut through the packing of the candy box — why was that necessary???  He could have easily wiped the surface of the box with the cloth to be tested on his chemical analysis machine….
  2. Furthermore – There was no reason for him to paw through the individually wrapped candies.  Again, the officer / the TSA relies on chemical analysis by wiping the box, not on visual inspection of individually wrapped candies…
  3. Then comes the final item – to top it all off – the TSA Officer did not even change gloves before touching my items and furthermore touching the food.   He came to his station with gloves on.   Did not put new gloves before started handling my items and he DID NOT change the gloves before moving to the next person – after he was done with checking my items.

Taiwan-pineapple-candyI decided that this is beyond simple checking – the officer reached too far – so I called for a TSA supervisor.  First one supervisor showed up who kept telling me that the officer had the right to inspect my items as they detected a straight edge in my luggage.  No matter how many times I stated that this was not the reason I was voicing displeasure — I had no problem with checking the plaque which caused the issue – the problem I had was with destroying the commercially packaged candy…

Eventually, a second supervisor showed up – this new guy shocked me further – his reaction was “Get ready for more…!”   – he actually stated that in response to my description of why I was unhappy.   The first supervisor eventually took my complaint in and gave me a form to fill out.  The second one continued with statements to the effect of “we do what we have to do, you have no right to complain….”

Long story short, the TSA officers in some stations across the country certainly reach way over their responsibilities !    I say this based on my experience of going through different airports.   Eventhough, we should be able to bring food items (non-gels, non liquids) through security safely and without loss – some officers certainly do not understand the concept!

Cutting trough a box of candy which is wrapped as a present and pawing through food items like candy with gloves that have been trough several bags is not a safety inspection but a certain way to destroy food items / gifts.

My recommendation to the TSA:  Either post the requirements on your Web site and do not allow for any packaged food items to travel or better train your officers to respect the property of others.   I will certainly follow the rules, let’s just make sure they apply to both us, passengers and TSA personnel.

Comments?

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Austin Airport Parking – Inefficient, and Surprisingly Not Automated

Austin Airport

My gripe is with the Austin airport parking specifically…I like Austin, it is a very nice city to live in, tons of places to go and things to do.  You want music – SXSW, Austin City Limits and numerous live bands playing throughout the year at multiple venues…

Austin Circuit of the AmericasYou want fast cars – there is the Circuit of the Americas – where in November of each year you can experience a tremendous rush of excitement as you watch 700 hp rocket like cars zoom on the track…

Austin ABIA Airport Parking MapThe Austin airport parking has been weird for a long time.  I had noticed over the last several years a big problem – the place needs to be automated.   There are multiple times throughout a day when you can get to the airport and when you try to park in the short term parking you will find it closed due to the lot being full.

In reality, I have observed on multiple occasions, the lot is NOT fully occupied at all.  Earlier this week, I arrived at the airport around 3:30pm – and as I was going to be gone for 2 days decided to park in the near / short term parking. The lot was closed as being full.  Off I then went to the long term parking lots – and after leaving my car I decided to walk to the terminal through the short term parking area – Lot A in the map above.  As I walked through lot A (observing only 3 parking rows) I counted 18 empty spaces!!!  18 out of approximately 80….!!! How can this be you would ask…?  Yes, it is very annoying – here was I, a customer willing to pay the delta of $4 per day more, the parking spots were there (more than just a few), but the airport management system failed us all.

I remember talking with a senior member of Walt Disney Imagineering – specifically about Walt Disney.  After he built Disney Park, he was obsessed with finding ways to leverage the assets 24-hours per day / 365 days per year.   Why?   Well assets are to be leveraged once put in operation!

This notion appears to be lost on ABIA!  I really do not understand why ABIA cannot implement a smarter way to monitor and manage their assets!   I can immediately see two simple solutions:

  1. Brute force – ABIA has a minivan that circles the lots for safety and to see if someone needs vehicle help etc.  The minivan can certainly take notice of the empty slots – even if you drive through the lot A (and other lots) once every 3-4 hours, you can capture the empty spaces (make note of them) and open the lot correspondingly
  2. A simple database monitoring system – count the number of tickets issued at entry in the Lot A and subtract the number of tickets paid by cars leaving Lot A – the Net is your available parking capacity!

The result – more $$$ for ABIA and more happiness for us passengers!

What do you think?

 

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Southwest Airlines – Gripes Abound…q

Southwest Airlines

Seems like this is the season of griping about the airlines abilities to make things work.

Last night was the night to experience (with bewilderment) the inability of Southwest Airlines, otherwise lauded for its efficiency, to operate a working IT system.  Here is the situation that unrolled last night, and you be the judge

* over the last 9 months or so I have called the airline on numerous occasions due to the fact that every time i checked in and printed a boarding pass I would not get a tsa pre on the boarding pass.  So each time I would call the airline and diligently explain that yes, I have a global entry, give them my number, the airline agent would apologize profusely and promise that the number is now in the airline database….

* this time again the whole rigamarole repeated in exact same fashion – print –> no tsa pre –> call –> apologies –>….

* this time around though as if the hassle is not enough already, Murfy’s Law added a step – the agent updated supposedly my record but the new boarding pass did NOT show that –  so next had to call in again

* except now we got disconnected twice by the alsouthwest airlines system while in the middle of calls…and once when the airline automated system called us back when our turn was up.   The system called us and promptly disconnected us which meant we had to call back in and get us on the call back list again for the next time period…

So, after 5 or 6 calls I finally was able to print my correctly updated boarding pass….

I cannot wait for my next trip on Southwest Airlines !   This is such a precious experience …. NOT!!!

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Flight Frustrations on American Airlines

Flight Frustrations

Flight-SunsetSome flight frustrations are explained by bad weather or just purely unpredictable issues with planes or infrastructure.  Some, though are of just pure human nature – and those frustrate me the most…Read further and you will understand.

Earlier this week I flew from Austin to San Jose via Phoenix.  Over the last 1 year I have taken this set of flights / route many times.  The reason I decided to post this is because it finally dawned on me that the issues that I have observed on several occasions with how arrivals in Phoenix are handled are not isolated ones….They happen too often and have implications on the travelers…

Flying to Phoenix, the American flight had strong head winds.  The captain informed us (the passengers) of that even before we left Austin.  Due to the weather, we landed about 15-20 min late.  My connecting flight to San Jose originally had about 40-min buffer, so I thought “still good as I will have time to my connecting flight…”

Well, we landed, the pilot taxied quickly towards the gate and then we stood still about 20 yards from the gate…!  We had to wait to be marshaled in.

The gate was open – no plane

People with the right uniforms were walking around …and we just stood…

The time buffer till my next flight was melting away…

When we finally started moving towards the gate, my next flight was boarding…(according to my helpful AA iPhone App)

Long story short I had to run across the airport, as of course,  my connecting flight was at a gate quite a walk away – we landed at gate B17 (Phoenix Sky harbor) and were to take off from A24…. As a result I had a “nice” morning exercise and made it to the gate and boarded the plane with 9 minutes to spare to the time to push from the gate!

Now – why would it be the case with American to have the ground crew be so uncaring about the situation???

  1. surely they knew the plane was coming in late ( we knew we will be late based on the captain’s announcement the moment we left Austin)
  2. They saw the plane taxing to the gate once it landed…
  3. They must have known that there are people on board who are rushing to connecting flights…
  4. And on and on…

Only one way to explain this in my opinion – the ground crews operate at their own pace and don’t give much attention on the rest of the operation – and I am putting it in very moderated language – in other words they did not care…

Go figure … I hope one day they are seeing the same from the passenger view (if they travel)

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