Another post written while traveling, this time I’m sitting on a high speed train, heading to Grenoble from Paris. It’s Tuesday morning here, night-time in New Zealand.

I’ve just spent a great 36 hours in Paris, vastly different to the last time Nancy & I were here in 1993 – after that trip we were disillusioned and disappointed. We felt ripped off and had a very unpleasant travel experience. This time it really was the opposite – I enjoyed the time immensely and will definitely be back.

I left Wellington on Saturday evening, the first of four flights to get me to Paris. The ticket was purchased on Lufthansa German Airlines, as that was over $1400 cheaper than other choices, so the routing was Wellington-Auckland-Hong Kong-Frankfurt-Paris for a total of 38 hours travel door-to-door.

At Wellington airport I checked in and was issued with boarding passes for the whole trip. The first set had me in window seats from Hong Kong to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Paris. Window seating in economy class on full long-haul flights is awful – if you need to get up there are probably two people you’ve got to bother. A wonderfully helpful Air New Zealand checkin lady (Alice-Ann) spent 20 minutes figuring out how to access the Lufthansa checkin system and changed my seating to aisles on both legs. THANKS! The first two flights were on Air New Zealand and they had my preference already recorded.

The Wellington-Auckland flight was on time and uneventful. Into the Koru lounge in Auckland and I wanted to use my remaining complimentary upgrade on the trip to Hong Kong. To my surprise this was not to be – I was flying on a Lufthansa issued ticket, so even though I am an Air New Zealand Gold frequent flyer, flying on an Air New Zealand flight out of Auckland airport I can’t use the complimentary upgrade that Air New Zealand gave me in recognition of my customer loyalty because my ticket is on an Air New Zealand PARTNER airline – strange concept of service here.

Fortunately I do get to use the business class lounges on the whole trip because all the flights are on Star Alliance carriers.

The Auckland-Hong Kong flight was on time. I had an aisle seat with an empty one next to me, so could stretch out a bit. The flight took off at close to midnight, so sleep was my primary objective for that leg. Nearly 12 hours and two movies later we landed in Hong Kong, at 07:00 local time. This was the first time I’d been in Hong Kong airport since 2002 – it’s pretty big probably a one km walk to get from the gate, through security (my hand luggage has been X-rayed so many times I’m sure they glow in the dark) and into the Star Alliance lounge. Five hours to wait before the flight to Frankfurt.

The first thing I did was have a shower – the ability to freshen up is one of the most valuable aspects of airline lounges. Shower protocol is an interesting microcosm viewpoint on the cultural differences encountered when traveling. In Air New Zealand lounges it’s everyone for themselves, passengers a expected to self-organise and handle queuing in an orderly fashion. The cubicles are clean, and a cleaner keeps an eye on when one needs servicing. Most United lounges don’t have showers, and where they do it’s pretty much the same. In Hong Kong you hand over your boarding pass before being escorted to a shower cubicle and let in, you get your boarding pass back when you’ve finished;in Thailand the attendant comes and calls you when the cubicle is ready (but doesn’t require any validation of your right to be there) and in Frankfurt you sign a register in which is logged time in and out, your name and flight numbers (both arriving and departing), show your boarding pass and are escorted to the cubicle which is kept locked when not in use.

The lounge in Hong Kong is comfortable, with five different food stations offering different styles of cuisine, coffee and other drinks on tap, helpful staff and free WiFi. I managed to partially charge my iPad and laptop, download some TED talks to watch on the next flight and deal with some emails. The iPad battery lasts 10 hours which is great, but that’s only one leg of a journey to Europe so charging en-route is necessary.

The next leg of the trip was another 12 hour flight, and I was really grateful to Alice-Ann for getting the seating sorted out. The flight was chocker-block full an a window seat would have been terrible. I was seated next to a nice retired couple from Hong Kong who were going to Berlin to visit their son. I didn’t want to sleep too much on that leg of the trip as I was getting into Paris at 21:30 and wanted to be in sync with local time. Unfortunately the plane was a fairly old 747 which meant no seat-back entertainment system, just screens placed in the ceiling of the plane showing the airline’s choice of entertainment, which definitely doesn’t match with my preference. Thank goodness for the iPad, offline TED talks and Kindle books. I hadn’t fully charged the iPad in Hong Kong so the battery went flat about six hours into the flight. A helpful cabin crew member took it and plugged it into a spare business class seat where they have power available so it could charge which I watched on of the movies (a Disney movie about lions and cheetahs in the Serengeti which wasn’t too bad).

As airline food goes Lufthansa does a fairly good job, stir fired chicken with XO sauce out of Hong Kong and Bavarian sausages before landing in Germany.

We were delayed getting into Frankfurt by thunder storms over the airport, which had us circling around for about 40 mins. Just as the captain announced “the storm has cleared and we can land” the plane was struck by lightning – a first for me, and not something I want to experience often. The flash and bang were simultaneous and the whole plane shook with the strike. Power flickered for a moment and then things settled down again. I don’t know if there was any damage, but it sure scared everyone on board. The turbulence was pretty bad all the way through the landing, and there was a collective sigh of relief when we touched down safely, at which point the captain came on and said that we had indeed been struck by lightning (in case we hadn’t noticed!).

I already had my boarding pass for the next flight, which was due to depart 40 minutes after we landed so I ran through the terminal to get to the next gate, clearing another security check and getting my passport stamped along the way. It nice traveling on a Kiwi passport – everybody welcomes you and no visa issues.

I got to the departure gate just in time for the scheduled flight, only to be told it was delayed by an hour. This gave me time to go into the lounge and have a shower (so I could arrive in Paris at least somewhat refreshed) and get a bite to eat. A helpful lass at the sandwich bar in the Gold lounge made me a delicious liver wurst sandwich on fresh rye bread. My mouth still waters at the thought – the Europeans make great bread.

Eventually it was time to board, and my boarding pass was rejected by the automatic reader on e gate, which meant standing in a queue waiting for the ground crew to finish explaining to a passenger that their 30+ kg suitcase doesn’t qualify as hand baggage and should have been left at the checkin desk. I don’t know if the bag did eventually go with us or not, but the passenger did, grumbling all the way. It turned out my seat had been changed so I was issued with a different boarding pass (still an aisle seat, fortunately) and boarded the plane for an uneventful flight to Paris.

We got into Paris at 11:00pm local time, my bags were off the plane quickly and I found a cab to take me into the city to my cousin Karl and Teresa’s apartment, I got there just on midnight.

Warm family welcome and into bed, I’d managed to get my body into sync so was ready for a good night’s sleep.

That’s probably enough for one entry – I’ll write about my day in Paris in the next one.

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