Category Archives: Trip Reports

Lounge Review: Cathay Pacific Lounge Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)

The Cathay Pacific lounge at CDG is located right beside the American Airlines lounge, and unless you get your access to the AA lounge via an Admirals Club membership or credit card, you probably have access to either lounge.

The lounge is just a large room, but it’s decorated and furnished according to Cathay Pacific standards. It’s the same color palette for chairs, the same solus chairs, the same white marble bar that you find in these lounges around the world. There’s plenty of seating, with both a dining area and lounge area, and the lounge was overall less crowded in the morning compared to the American lounge next door.

Typical Cathay decor with solus chairs

Typical Cathay decor with solus chairs

Lots of seating

Lots of seating

More seating

More seating

Newspapers

Newspapers

Views from the Cathay Pacific lounge

Views from the Cathay Pacific lounge

Besides the dining room and seating, there’s a computer room, luggage room, and showers. There are some nice large windows with good views of the apron, and electrical outlets were plentiful (albeit with European-style outlets rather than universal ones).

Business center

Business center

Dining area

Dining area

The breakfast options in the Cathay Pacific lounge were not quite as good as the breakfast options next door, but there were some fun drinks like Orangina, canned oolong tea, and canned soy milk.

Breakfast foods

Breakfast foods

Coffee

Coffee

Drinks

Drinks

Alcohol

Alcohol

Carbs

Carbs

Desserts

Desserts

Breads and condiments

Breads and condiments

Drink fridge

Drink fridge

There is a noodle bar in this lounge, but it doesn’t start serving food until 10am. I’m just going to come out and say it, but I really don’t think Cathay Pacific’s dan dan noodles are very good… Lots of people seem to like them, but I don’t think they’re very flavorful, and the little flavor they do have just isn’t quite right.

Noodle bar menu

Noodle bar menu

Dan dan noodles

Dan dan noodles

Even if this lounge is slightly lacking in the breakfast department, it’s significantly better for lunch than the AA lounge (mostly because the AA lounge doesn’t actually transition to a lunch buffet). There’s a salad bar and a variety of hot food options, in addition to the aforementioned noodle bar.

Salad bar

Salad bar

Lunch buffet

Lunch buffet

Overall, it’s a solid Cathay Pacific lounge with better-than-average food for an outstation lounge. If you’re choosing between the two oneworld lounges, I’d probably go to the AA lounge for breakfast, the Cathay Pacific lounge for lunch, and the Cathay Pacific lounge for a somewhat quieter experience.

Flight Review: Porter Airlines Boston to Toronto (BOS to YTZ)

Porter Airlines is a regional airline that’s remarkable primarily for the fact that they fly into YTZ (Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport) rather than YYZ (Toronto Pearson International Airport). YTZ is extremely close to the downtown area of Toronto, so it can be considerably more convenient depending on where you’re going.

They fly out of Terminal E at Boston Logan. Security was empty at 10am when I arrived, but arriving at that time also meant that I didn’t have lounge access. There’s an Air France lounge at Terminal E that accepts Priority Pass, but it doesn’t open until 1pm.

Prior to my flight, I received multiple emails about checking bags before the flight. Their carry-on bag rules seem standard–22 inches by 16 inches by 9 inches and 9 kgs total–but 9 kgs isn’t very much, and they WILL make you put your bag in the sizer if it looks like a standard carry-on size.

Stuffing my bag into the sizer

Stuffing my bag into the sizer

I originally thought that they were just being a bit mean, but the planes are absolutely tiny (I flew a Bombardier Q400), and the overhead bins don’t fit very much. Even though my bag fit into the sizer (see picture above), there was absolutely no way it was going to fit into the overhead bin, so I had to gate check my bag.

Cabin

Cabin

The seats are perfectly comfortable with a decent pitch, especially for such a short flight. Announcements were made in English and in French, and people were asked to remove headphones for takeoff.

Legroom on Porter Airlines

Legroom on Porter Airlines

Another thing that’s notable about Porter Airlines is that they provide free snacks and drinks to everyone. The snacks were also pretty good: they had Terra chips, almonds, and cookies. For drinks, you could get wine or beer as well as the typical assortment of beverages, and the drinks were served in actual glasses instead of plastic cups.

Real glasses

Real glasses

Arrival at YTZ

Arrival at YTZ

Upon arrival at YTZ, I was excited to take the ferry to the mainland given that it’s supposed to be one of the shortest ferry services in the world, but the ferry wasn’t operating, so I had to walk the very short distance through the tunnel to the main land. And then it was a quick (free) bus ride to Union Station.

Lounge Review: American Airlines Admirals Club Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)

Paris Charles de Gaulle airport has two oneworld lounges: an American Airlines Admirals Club and a Cathay Pacific lounge. Both are located between Terminals 2A and 2C.

Directions to the lounge

Directions to the lounge

Entrances to the oneworld lounges

Entrances to the oneworld lounges

The Admirals Club at CDG is the best and nicest Admirals Club I’ve been to. And that’s comparing to lounges like the one in Narita and the Flagship lounges. The club has a nice space that’s well decorated and designed. There’s plenty of seating, universal power outlets, and large windows where you can some natural light and nice views of airplanes.

Large room

Large room

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

Work stations

Work stations

Counter seating

Counter seating

Tables

Tables

International outlets

International outlets

Views of apron

Views of apron

The food selection is also great for an Admirals Club. This club is only open in the mornings (6am to 12pm), but they have a great breakfast spread. They have all of the typical American-ish hot items (e.g., omelets, frittatas, eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, tomatoes), as well as a good cold selection of breads, salads, meats, and cheeses. Food seemed to be replenished relatively frequently, so things seemed fresh.

Drink fridge

Drink fridge

Coffee machine

Coffee machine

Alcohol

Alcohol

More alcohol

More alcohol

Yogurts and parfaits

Yogurts and desserts

Savory dishes

Savory dishes

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

Croissants

Croissants

More breads

More breads

Cheese, meats, salad

Cheese, meats, salads

Cereal

Cereal

I didn’t stick around too long in this club because I also wanted to check out the Cathay Pacific lounge next door, but the Admirals Club wasn’t too crowded just before 11am (which was right after a bank of flights had just departed). The two lounges are literally right next to each other, so you can take your pick, but I’d probably choose the Admirals Club for breakfast and the Cathay Pacific lounge for lunch. The Cathay Pacific lounge is also probably a tad less crowded in the mornings.

Dining Review: L’Arpège, Paris, France (Revisited)

I had dined at L’Arpège a couple of years prior and had a wonderful experience, so I knew I wanted to return on my most recent trip to Paris. I had a bit of trouble making the reservation myself, so I got one of my credit card concierges to make the reservation for me. Once again, I decided to eat there at lunch, as it’s significantly more affordable than dinner (although the dinner menu is also available at lunch).

Exterior of L'Arpège

Exterior of L’Arpège

Place setting

Place setting

I ended up going for the lunch surprise menu, which was 145 euro. I said that I didn’t eat meat, which the person who took my order confirmed, but I later realized that not eating meat doesn’t mean quite the same thing in French as it does in English.

Up first was an egg course. Last time, I had l’oeuf parfait, or the perfect egg. This time, the egg was good–an egg yolk served with maple syrup and sherry vinegar foam–but it wasn’t as rich as other egg dishes I’ve had. The yolk itself was rich and delicious, but I felt like the accompaniments didn’t bring enough to the table. You can also see butter in the background of this picture. The bread and butter service at L’Arpège is absolutely incredible–best I’ve ever had. I think I ate two wedges of butter and eight slices of bread throughout my meal.

An egg to start (with Bordier butter in the background)

An egg to start (with Bordier butter in the background)

A tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream followed. A fun play on acidity and temperature. This course was refreshing and light.

Tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream

Tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream

Up next was beet sushi with fig. Sushi is often about the rice, but I did not think the sushi rice was very good, and I’ve had much better vegetarian sushi. There was a bit of a smoky flavor, but the plate was overall a bit too sweet with the beet, fig, and surrounding caramel sauce.

Beet sushi with fig

Beet sushi with fig

The following course was simple, but one of my favorites. Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil. It was creamy, salty, sweet, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures. The olive oil was perfectly salted; the melon was perfectly sweet; the mozzarella was perfectly creamy. This dish was so, so good.

Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil

Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil

Next was vegetable ravioli, which is a “classic” dish as this restaurant (as is an egg dish). I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish the last time I was at L’Arpège, and I wasn’t a huge fan this time around either. The soup was very acidic, the ravioli interiors were very herbal and crunchy, and the pasta was overdone.

Vegetable ravioli

Vegetable ravioli

My first clue that my statement “I don’t eat meat” was lost in translation was when the next course came. It was described as a lunchtime surprise, as sea urchin had just come into season. Now, I love sea urchin, so I wasn’t about to send it back, but it seemed odd to serve seafood to someone who said he doesn’t eat meat (of course, in French, not eating meat means not eating land animals, rather than being vegetarian and not eating seafood either). The sea urchin was served with scallops and an apple, carrot, and cucumber emulsion.

Sea urchin with scallops

Sea urchin with scallops

The following course was a sweet onion gratin with parmesan cheese and caviar tomatoes. This was so sinfully rich and delicious. Incredible sweetness from the onions, richness and umami from the parmesan, and great acid from the tomatoes and greens. This was like the best grilled you’ve ever had, but multiply that experience ten times to get this dish.

Sweet onion gratin

Sweet onion gratin

I forgot to take a picture of the next dish, but it was a fricassee of green beans with pear and juice of sage. It was like an extremely elevated green bean casserole. Absolutely delicious, and the pear was a great addition.

The next dish certainly surprised me. It was a filet of dover solefish, potatoes, mussels, leeks, fennel, and cabbage. First, it was seafood, and second, it was an absolutely enormous portion. It’s not really realistic to serve such large portions in a tasting menu. Not all tables received this dish–for example, the table next to me got a lobster preparation that was similar instead.

Dover solefish, potatoes, mussels

Dover solefish, potatoes, mussels

An umami bomb was served next. A ball of vegetables composed of peppers, tomatoes, hazelnuts, beets, and other things, accompanied by a tomato sauce.

Vegetable ball

Vegetable ball

Beet root tartare followed, which was really good. The “tartare” was creamy and sweet, the tomatoes provided some nice acid, and the “egg” on top was actually a tomato sitting on cream. Super playful take on steak tartare (and the plate is gorgeous).

Beet root tartare

Beet root tartare

The final savory dish was a sweet potato lasagna. Hazelnuts on top, sweet onions and parmesan inside, with a super acidic foam surrounding. This was good, but super rich, and a bit challenging to eat after 11 other courses and way too much bread and butter.

Sweet potato lasagna

Sweet potato lasagna

Dessert number one was a hazelnut Paris Brest. The choux pastry was actually a bit salty, which made the dessert all the more delicious. This was such an incredible pastry.

Hazelnut Paris Brest

Hazelnut Paris Brest

At this point, I was also given a plate of mignardises. Often, I find that this is one of the weakest parts of the meal, but I greatly enjoyed most of these. The only one that I found a bit strange was that one of the cookies had cream and bell pepper in it.

Mignardises

Mignardises

The second dessert was a pear and raspberry sorbet served tableside. So soft and creamy and deliciously tart.

Pear and raspberry sorbet

Pear and raspberry sorbet

The final dessert was a chestnut and caramel napoleon. I had specifically requested the millefeuille for dessert since I had missed out the last time I dined here, so I was super happy to receive this dessert. There was a bit of tartness from apples inside, and the pastry was so ridiculously rich and flaky. So much sugar and butter.

Chestnut and caramel napoleon

Chestnut and caramel napoleon

Overall, the meal was 145 euro for the lunch menu, and 9 euro for a bottle of San Pellegrino. Was it as good as I remembered? Not quite, but I’ve also eaten quite a bit more since that first meal. I still think it’s a great value at lunch, and it’s definitely a restaurant to visit if you like vegetables (although if you’re vegetarian, you need to explicitly specify no meat and no seafood!).

Review: Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris, France

I had an expiring free night certificate due to keeping the Club Carlson credit card around for another year and paying the annual fee, in spite of their devaluations. So on a recent trip to Paris, I used the certificate at the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysées. The Club Carlson footprint in Paris has gotten significantly smaller since some of the hotels have since left the Club Carlson umbrella (e.g. Le Dokhan Trocadero is now an SPG property instead of a Club Carlson one). If you’re redeeming points, this hotel costs 70k per night.

The location of the hotel is super convenient. It’s quite close to L’Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Champs Elysées. This also means that it’s quite close to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile metro stop, so it’s pretty convenient to get around via public transportation.

I was assigned a small but perfectly functional room on the 4th floor of the hotel. There was a small hallway as I entered with the bathroom off to the side, and then there was another door that could be closed to enter the bedroom. The second door was helpful for blocking out what little noise there was coming from the hallway.

Bed

Bed

Furnishings

Furnishings

The room wasn’t particularly large, but the curtains blocked out the light, and it was quiet, so it was great to take a quick nap after the red eye from the US. The shower design could have been somewhat better, though. It was a bit awkward to reach the faucet given the pane of glass, but the pane of glass also didn’t do enough to block water from getting on the floor.

Bathroom

Bathroom

When I came back to the room at night after a day of exploring, there was a welcome amenity of a bottle of water and three macarons. The macarons weren’t anything special, but I’ve never been one to turn down a macaron.

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Overall, I had a perfectly comfortable and competent stay at this hotel. Would I pay 70k points per night? Probably not, but Club Carlson points are relatively easy to come by.

Lounge Review: Platinum Lounge Budapest Airport (BUD)

The third lounge that I visited in Budapest Airport was the Platinum Lounge serving Schengen flights. This lounge is located amongst the A gates, so you can only get to it if you’re flying somewhere in the Schengen region. Again, I accessed this lounge via Priority Pass.

Entrance to the Platinum Lounge

Entrance to the Platinum Lounge

This lounge was the saddest of the three that I visited. It wasn’t well lit given that it has no windows to the outside world, and it’s just a large room with some sad food options. There were only three other people in this lounge while I was there.

Also, I just walked into this lounge. When I entered, there wasn’t anyone at the front desk, so I waited for a couple of minutes. I got tired of waiting, so I just sat down, and then only maybe 5-10 minutes after that did two women come out of the back room and go to the front desk. Neither of them said anything or ask me for credentials to enter the lounge.

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Work stations

Work stations

There is a salad bar with cheese slices, salami, corn, iceberg lettuce, and mayo packets. Given the lack of traffic in the lounge, I’m not sure I’d want to eat any of those things (then again, cheese and cured meats can sit at room temperature for a while). They also had Sport bars and Turo Rudi (another Hungarian chocolate bar; it’s like a curd with a chocolate coating), and the breakfast options were perhaps better because they did have yogurt and cereals.

Salad buffet?

Salad buffet?

Dairy products and turo rudi

Dairy products and turo rudi

Fruits and cereals

Fruits and cereals

Drinks

Drinks

More drinks

More drinks

Bar snacks

Bar snacks

Turo Rudi and some sparkling water

Turo Rudi and some sparkling water

That being said, I would not recommend coming here. Just spend more time at the other lounges and budget a smidgeon more time to get to your gate. This lounge was sad and depressing. I guess if you really want some Turo Rudi or some yogurt, then it might be worth a visit.

Lounge Review: SkyCourt Lounge Budapest Airport (BUD)

The second lounge that I visited at the Budapest airport was the SkyCourt Lounge. This lounge is also accessible via Priority Pass, and it’s also above the main entrance right after you pass through security.

Entrance to the SkyCourt Lounge

Entrance to the SkyCourt Lounge

One notable feature of this lounge versus the Menzies lounge is that this lounge has toilets! No need to pee with the common people. The lounge is also a bit larger than the Menzies lounge with a variety of different seating areas. I’d say the furniture was less interesting but more comfortable compared to the other lounge.

Seating

Seating

Tables

Tables

More seating

More seating

Charging station

Charging station

Coffee and milk

Coffee and milk

Drink fridge

Drink fridge

Alcohols (with Unicum)

Alcohols (with Unicum)

This was the first time I’d ever seen a sandwich fridge in an airport lounge. So many packaged sandwiches. But the sandwiches did not look or smell very appetizing, and it seemed a little excessive given how few people seemed to be using the lounge. But I guess it’s nice to have if you’re super hungry. Beyond the sandwiches, there were also a variety of pastries (both sweet and less sweet) as well as some cereal crackers. There was also a typical assortment of drinks with Unicum making an appearance.

Packaged sandwiches

Packaged sandwiches

Food

Food

Desserts

Desserts

Packaged sandwich

Packaged sandwich

The wifi was blazingly fast for an airport lounge. I got something like 15 mbps both up and down. Some of the signs also say Malev Ground Handling, so I wonder if this space used to be the old Malev lounge before they went under?

Again, this is a solid Priority Pass lounge, but I might hit up the Menzies lounge instead if I wanted some Hungarian chocolate bars.

Lounge Review: Menzies Lounge Budapest Airport (BUD)

There are a number of Priority Pass-accessible lounges at the Budapest airport. The first I visited was the Menzies Lounge. This lounge is located above the main entrance area when you pass through security.

Signage for the lounge

Signage for the lounge

Menzies Lounge entrance

Menzies Lounge entrance

The lounge is just a simple, relatively small room, but there’s plenty of seating. I thought the furniture was cool and funky, and electrical outlets were plentiful. There were a variety of seating options whether you wanted to sit by yourself, stare out the window, or eat or work at a table.

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

Interesting furniture

Interesting furniture

Some views of apron

Some views of apron

Cubbies to charge your phone

Cubbies to charge your phone

Alcohol in the fridge

Alcohol in the fridge

In my opinion, the most notable feature of the lounge was the giant bags of Cheetos that were peanut butter flavored and ketchup flavored. I had never had either, so naturally I had to try them. I love ketchup, but the ketchup-flavored Cheetos tasted like ketchup that’s dried up from sitting out too long. The peanut butter ones were more palatable, but not worth the calories. Interestingly, I thought that they tasted better when eaten together.

In terms of other food, there were some packaged Hungarian chocolate bars (including Sport and Balaton bars–try them!), some cereal-ish bars, and some muffins. There was beer and wine on offer, as well as Unicum, a Hungarian specialty.

Snacks and drinks (including Unicum!)

Snacks and drinks (including Unicum!)

More drink options

More drink options

The wifi was decent, and there are no bathrooms inside the lounge. This lounge is nothing fancy, but it’s perfectly serviceable for a Priority Pass lounge.

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Beke Hotel Budapest, Hungary

The Radisson Blu Beke Hotel has a great location not too far from Nyugati Palyaudvar (a train station that’s also on the blue M3 line, so easy to get to the airport on public transportation) and Oktogon (on the yellow line), so it’s easy to walk to a lot of interesting places as well as take public transit everywhere. It’s a Category 2 Club Carlson hotel, so it’s 15k points per night, and at the time of this stay, I had used two free award nights through the personal and business version of the Club Carlson credit card and thus paid 30k points for 4 nights.

When we checked in, we were originally given a normal room with no mention of status or an upgrade. The welcome amenity for being a gold member was a bottle of water. Honestly, a bit disappointing, both in the lack of recognition, lack of a better room (it wasn’t even a high-floor room), and the paltry welcome amenity, but it was such a steal at 30k points for 4 nights that I didn’t want to complain.

Beds in room number 1

Beds in room number 1

The only qualms I had with our room were the lack of electrical outlets and the fact that the air conditioning didn’t seem to work. Many people have complained about the furniture and decor of the hotel, but I thought it was a step up from the Park Inn Bratislava. The wifi was also pretty fast compared to the other Club Carlson hotels we stayed at on this trip.

On the second night of our stay, it was quite a bit warmer that day, so we ended up calling maintenance to look at the air conditioning since it wasn’t getting any cooler in our room. To make a long story short, apparently the air conditioning on some floors isn’t very good, so after visiting rooms on a couple of other floors, we ended up getting a suite on the 6th floor, and they put an extra twin bed in the living room. Cheers to the front desk agent working that night for really going the extra mile. The suite had a huge living room, and the air conditioning worked well.

Furniture in suite

Furniture in suite

Added bed and table in suite

Added bed and table in suite

Main bed in suite

Main bed in suite

Main bedroom in suite

Main bedroom in suite

Overall, I’d happily stay at this hotel again. Yes, it’s a bit dated, but it’s a comfortable hotel. The location is amazing, and it’s still a pretty good deal at 15k points per night.

Taking the Regiojet Bus from Bratislava to Budapest

To get from Bratislava to Budapest, we once again chose the bus over the train. We were originally planning on the train, but the front desk agent at the Park Inn Bratislava recommended the bus over the train.

We booked tickets online for 9 euro each. The bus is scheduled to take about 3 hours. It departs from AS Mlynské Nivy in Bratislava and drops off at Népliget in Budapest, which is on the blue line. Again, this could be super convenient depending on where you’re staying.

The Regiojet buses are kinda funky in that they’re yellow and look like they have antennas. The bus arrived at the station in Bratislava 15 minutes late, so we ended up departing 30 minutes after schedule. In general, there was a fair amount of confusion about the bus, as there wasn’t really anyone at the station who could answer questions.

Distinctive Regiojet bus

Distinctive Regiojet bus

Bus interior

Bus interior

That being said, the bus ride itself was pretty nice. The bus has lots of amenities like in-bus entertainment with a fair number of movies on offer. In addition, they offer free hot and cold drinks, and they have snacks for sale. They also advertise wifi, but I couldn’t get it to work on my phone.

Bus seats

Bus seats

IBE: in bus entertainment

IBE: in bus entertainment

Info about the bus service

Info about the bus service

The bus is a good alternative to the train. Bus tickets are usually cheaper, and there’s more entertainment built in to the buses, but the schedules might be less reliable given that buses have to deal with road traffic. The bus stations might be more or less convenient than the train stations depending on where you need to go, so that’s also something to keep in mind.