The Longest Domestic Flight In The World, Biz Class // … & Forcing An Emergency Landing: Réunion -> Paris -> Nice -> Zurich -> Halifax -> NYC

The Longest Domestic Flight In The World, Biz Class // … & Forcing An Emergency Landing: Réunion -> Paris -> Nice -> Zurich -> Halifax -> NYC

 

 

Dearest readers, I’ll begin by documenting the longest domestic flight in the world on business class from Réunion to Paris. And then I’ll end with how I forced an emergency landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia for an in-flight medical emergency. Yeah, it escalates quickly.

36 hours ago, I was lucky enough to snag the first leg of my return home from Réunion to Paris with a domestic-level award redemption via SkyTeam on Air France.

The check-in process starts with skipping the lines!

 

 

Even though it’s a domestic flight, they still checked passports:

 

 

Lounge access at Réunion is a pleasant and simple lounge hosted by Air France. The WiFi here is worse than the general airport’s.

 

 

Once we boarded, I realized that the 2-3-2 configuration never wins:

 

 

And despite everything feeling a little dated in the hard product — especially with the in-flight entertainment showing a paltry number of films that also skipped every 3-4 seconds when playing, I did dig the high quality champagne and getting all the slippers, socks and coat hanger immediately upon seating:

 

 

They handed out a unique envelope style amenities pouch about 10 minutes after boarding:

 

 

Nice touches included CLARINS face and hand creams, cooling cream, mints, a glasses wipe, and a pen:

 

 

The oversized menu:

 

 

They began serving food about an hour after take off. The quality was exemplary, of which Air France has been known for —

Started with some light bites and smoked salmon:

 

 

I followed that up with the tender braised beef chuck:

 

 

And finished with a cheesecake and fruit salad:

 

 

I then knocked out with 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep before waking up to a simple breakfast of yogurt, quiche and another fruit salad an hour and half before landing:

 

 

Once landing in Paris ORY airport, I transferred onto my second but quick 1.5 hour flight to Nice, but not before hanging out at the Air France lounge for an hour:

 

 

Then in Nice I switched from Terminal 2 to 1, kicked back for a few hours at the Library Lounge, and caught up on preparing for the next monsoons to Greenland and Egypt.

 

 

I then switched over to my third flight on SWISS Air for a 1 hour detour to Zurich:

 

 

During my 1.5 hour layover at Zurich, I made the most out of my half an hour at the SWISS Business Class Lounge next to my gate:

 

 

And then finally, upon boarding, I was able to score the highly coveted “throne” seat on Swiss Air’s 1-2-1 configuration.

 

 

This was what I’ve been waiting for:

 

 

So MUCH SPAAAACE. It makes a huge difference, especially when I’m offered champagne and a hot towel before take off:

 

 

The menu:

 

 

My amenities kit was simpler than Air France’s, but I do dig the free Victorinox bag:

 

 

Food service began about an hour after takeoff:

 

 

I opted for the cod:

 

 

Dessert was a cheese plate, a port wine, and a chocolate mousse:

 

 

Afterwards they dimmed the lights about 3 hours into the flight and from then on with all my space I studied for my upcoming oral board exams in October. The in-flight entertainment left a lot to be desired.

 

 

…and then just like that everything changes.

At around the halfway mark I hear an overhead announcement asking for immediate medical assistance. Not the first time this has happened (although back then I wasn’t even in medical school at the time).

I introduce myself as an ER physician and get to work. Within 10 minutes we get everything stabilized and I’m relaying a message to ground control for immediate ambulance transport to the nearest ER from the gate at Newark International Airport. Then 5 minutes later I discuss with the captain and pilot whether instead to land the plane at the nearest airport (Halifax). Didn’t expect to return to work so quickly.

2 hours later, things take a turn for the worse. The patient has a bloody show, heart rate rises, and systolic blood pressure drops from 140s to 120s. With the help of a former EMT and General Surgery nurse from Switzerland, we move her to the front lavatory for more space, place an IV, hang a bolus on a coat hanger for volume resuscitation, and I’m sitting on the floor of the lavatory holding her hand asking for her blood type (she doesn’t know and husband doesn’t know). I request forceps, but they don’t have it.

I then request from the captain to make an emergency landing immediately at the nearest airport (Halifax or Boston) and call for O negative blood at the gate.

Within 45 minutes we’re on the ground in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I’m giving report to the EMT crew who quickly board the plane accompanied by cautious border agents (cuz you know, we live in the age of Trump).

 

 

They quickly take her away, and she remains awake, stable, and in much better hands.

 

 

The aftermath comedown and feels becomes very real, and I become too tired to process whether I did the right thing or not, or whether I could have done any better. The free Chivas Regal 12 Yr I get right afterwards helps:

 

 

After about an hour of refueling, we took off again at 8pm where I was then persistently showered with free stuff by the flight attendants. I in turn also persistently refused over and over, but every time I came back from the bathroom, they would leave more items on my desk.

I reasoned perhaps it’s more of my business class status why they were equally, if not more stubborn with the free stuff? I remember having witnessed other passengers in business and first class receive similar items for birthdays, anniversaries, and having elite status. . .

I however did acquiesce to the free pajamas they offered from First Class to replace my blood-stained clothing.

 

 

And as a nice denouement, we all finished with some poké and fruit salad right before landing:

 

 

Who would’ve thought how within 6 hours I would go from sitting on a Business Class throne holding a glass of champagne and asking for a warm towel at take-off, to sitting on the floor of an airplane lavatory holding a stranger’s hand and asking for her blood type at landing?

An analogy to life. And I won’t apologize for recognizing this as such. Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.

 

 

And as I disembark the plane, there’s rounds of applause everywhere for me, from the gate to passport control to customs.

Am I in a movie?

 

 

I was so tired after this experience, I realized I just accidentally left behind my Invisalign case and retainers behind on the airplane after disembarking. Womp womp.

 

 

- At time of posting in Halifax, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 64% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy, rainy

 

More Riches in Mauritius Delicious

More Riches in Mauritius Delicious

 

After 2 days in the Seychelles, we headed onwards to more of island paradise in Mauritius.

I first heard of Mauritius back in 2009 when a former girlfriend of mine idealized it as her top honeymoon destination. It has never escaped my mind since, and after so many unbelievable coincidences, happenstances, and stories in the past 10 years of travel (looking at you Keneesa, Emily, Nicole, even you Maria…) that has beckoned me closer and closer to this place, I can now see why she and many others would choose to retire to this isle of paradise.

And now I’m finally here. It’s is a personal big deal.

 

 

To get here, we said goodbye to our impromptu travel companion Duaa (whom we had met at our hostel only 4 days ago in Madagascar, leading her to join us on our trip through Seychelles!) and boarded a 2.5 hour Air Seychelles flight HM 49 at 10:30am from SEZ to MRU airport.

We also celebrated Evan’s birthday on the plane!

 

 

We landed at 1:05pm local time. 

 

 

First impressions after landing? This country is developed.

 

 

Their passport control kiosks even look like check-in counters!

 

 

Instead of the usual taxi pickups on this trip, this time in Mauritius birthday boy Evan opted to rent a minivan and drive us to our accommodations at Citadelle Mall.

The company Evan found was so legit they didn’t even bother to send a guy to greet us. His sign was left on the window.

 

 

We were actually pretty lucky to have found the only 7-person minivan on the island that drives automatic.

But again, whatever Evan found was so legit that the entire transaction took place on a corner of the airport parking lot. No office, no paperwork. And the gas tank was empty.

 

 

Once we got settled in and filled up on gas for $50 USD, we began a road trip and scenic drive towards Port Louis via the southern coast. These guys in front of us on the pickup was just kicking it with the sugar cane:

 

 

Along the south coast in the Baie du Cap area, we briefly stopped for photos at Captain Matthew Flinders viewpoint:

 

 

We then drove up to take a look at La Morne, infamous for the sad but true story where slaves in hiding threw themselves off these cliffs as they saw police approaching, not knowing they were simply coming to deliver them the news that slavery had been abolished.

 

 

Then we drove up to La Morne viewpoint while on the way towards the Seven Colored Earth:

 

 

However, we found that the Seven-Colored Earth site had closed promptly at 5pm so we turned around and drove along the western coast just in time to catch the sunset.

 

 

We arrived back to Port Louis at 7:30pm and checked into our lodgings at Citadelle Mall Apartments.

 

 

Then I would meet Celine an hour later, who stopped by our apartment with a birthday cake and candles for Evan!

Celine is the elder sister of Emily, whom I befriended last year in NYC at a rooftop party. She had grown up in Mauritius and thanks to our time together in the city the following year, she referred her sister Celine to come by and show us around when I arrived!

 

 

Celine soon took us for dinner at the Caudan Waterfront, a meeting place for teens and young lovers and comprised of a shopping centre, kiddy carnival and a huge food court.

The Blue Penny Museum is also right next door — a charming museum with stamp, coin & art exhibits devoted to Mauritius and its cultural heritage.

 

 

There in the parking lot I ran into and reunited with Keseena, one of my favorite monsooners simply for the crazy story how 16 months ago she followed the signs: Within 24 hours of meeting me randomly while backpacking through NYC (Thanks Dave!) she would change her plans from Panama to join me for 3 days in Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna, and Linz instead.

Our story is proof of magic in travel because not only do we have that story, but that she also had not expected to even be in Mauritius until she flew here from South Africa 3 days ago for an emergency work assignment.

To top it off, I had joked to her 16 months ago that if I would ever come to Mauritius, she better be there (when she had said she never expected to return). WTF?!!!!!

 

15 months ago
...and today.

 

Mark Twain once wrote that “heaven was copied after Mauritius.” With all the coincidences in my life that have led me here, it’s hard not to believe Mark Twain knew what he was talking about.

 

After dinner Keseena, Celine, Ann, Keseena’s cousin Joanne, and I continued on to celebrate Evan’s birthday by dancing with local Mauritians at Backstage in the Hennessy Park Hotel. The videos and photos turned out awful (we were too busy dancing!), and we eventually headed back to our apartments at 2:30am (but not before enjoying Celine’s chocolate mud cake that she brought us!).

The next morning we woke up to this view on our balconies at Citadelle Mall:

 

 

After a slow morning, we headed north at 10am for the laidback beaches at Pereybere:

 

 

Then after a quick Thai lunch at nearby Wang Thai, we set out at 2pm to drop off Evan and Ann for their 4pm flight out to South Africa. About 45 minutes into the drive, we were met with fire and brimstone:

 

 

 

We nevertheless made it to the airport on time at 3pm. Bye Evan and Ann! See you in less than a week back in NYC!

 

 

Afterwards Sarah took over the driving and we headed out about 18 minutes from the airport for Vieux Grand Port: the cradle of Mauritian history. This is where the first human inhabitants of the island landed on September 9, 1598 under the command of Wybrandt Van Warwyck to first settle this slice of paradise.

 

 

Then driving an hour back to Port Louis, we stopped at the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site, a former immigration depot for indentured labor that came from India. It is now an Interpretation Center.

 

 

Heading back into the city, we got out of the car for a quick walk by the Jummah Masjid:

 

 

It just so happens to be located in the middle of Chinatown:

 

 

We were recommended to then walk down and stop by Corner House a few blocks back west. It’s known as a stationery shop selling all kinds of pens, pencils and books. Its the most eccentric shopkeeper may be worth the visit.

 

 

Finally, we finished off with some shopping at the Central Market. Here we found varieties of exotic food, fruits and other items. Mauritians from all over the country come here to shop!

 

 

Then we turned around at St Louis Cathedral:

 

 

And quickly stopped at Port Louis Theatre before turning in for a night:

 

 

If you have time, Champ de Mars Racecourse to our southeast remains the oldest racecourse in the Southern Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world. The first races were held in June 1812, the same year that British forces took over the island from the French. Mauritius declared its independence right here at the racecourse 156 years later.

 

 

For our 3rd and final day in Mauritius, we enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning dim sum at First Restaurant with Celine.

 

 

And thanks to Celine’s unceasing hospitality, the goodbye was united in their appreciation for her patience with us:

 

 

We then drove the 46 minutes over to the airport, dropped off our sketchy car rental via a simple phone call, and checked into what probably is the nices airport lounge of the trip so far, the Air Mauritius Amédée Maingard Lounge:

 

 

Boarding in 5 minutes for Réunion!

 

 

- At time of posting in Mauritius, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Feeling A Little Tsingy de Bemaraha — The Limestone Forest Cathedral

Feeling A Little Tsingy de Bemaraha — The Limestone Forest Cathedral

 

 

MADAGASCAR! We’re here! The original plan was to arrive to Madagascar directly from Mayotte via a 4:40pm Ewa Air flight ZD 210. That would’ve been a personal accomplishment as about a few months ago I was struggling to book these flights online on Ewa Air’s website; only after directly emailing them at eservices@ewa-air.com to turn on their system and allow an online payment was I able to make an online payment go through.

 

 

However, about a week ago Ewa Air e-mailed me again informing me that they changed the flight to depart 2 hours earlier at 2:45pm instead, landing somehow an hour later at 6:45pm in Madagascar.

 

 

Obviously this would be very weird if I were to assume that the flight would remain direct if it were to somehow leave 2 hours earlier and land 1 hour later, but I would later learn they wanted to change the flight to add in an extra leg from DZA airport in Mayotte to HAH airport in Moroni (Comoros) before heading onwards to TNR airport in the capital of Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Then when we checked in the day of the flight after our day in Mayotte, they had no records of our flight in their system. But after I showed them the original Ewa Air booking, this led airport personnel to find our reservations now being operated by Air Madagascar on flight MD150 instead. Ewa Air was nowhere to be found. The flight would depart an hour later at 3:45pm and include the brief stop in HAH airport in Moroni before heading onwards to TNR airport in Madagascar. Thus we can confirm on the ground there is currently a roundtrip Air Madagascar MD150 flight that flies from TNR-DZA-HAH-TNR.

True to their word this time around, we were back at HAH airport in Moroni, Comoros at 5:00pm, taking off at 6:00pm, and landed at 7:00pm local time in TNR airport.

All foreign visitors require an entry visa. Initial visas are for up to 30 days, and your passport must be valid for at least six months after the last day of your stay. I was able to get mine online a few months advance directly with the government (which supposedly skips the middlemen and saving a ton of money): Madagascar E-Visa.

 

 

Although it originally was marked up as a 27 euro fee on arrival, they just increased it to 35 euros per person instead. And even though we had an e-visa set up beforehand, it still was an inefficient madhouse of a process where it took just as long to let us through as it did for those who didn’t sign up online beforehand (ex. it took a row of 4 border agents in a manufacturing-like line to process a single passport).

 

 

I think they got a lot more kinks to work out here before they can go primetime.

 

 

Once you get past baggage claims, you will be greeted by a mass of entrepreneurs offering assistance with your luggage to the waiting taxis, in return for a gratuity, and offering directions to other services. This may be helpful to some, but others may find the presence of the “Skycaps a la Tana” a little annoying. Remember to change money at the airport bank (which you have to do, since the Madagascar Ariary is not a convertible currency).

Airport Taxi to the City center is 50,000 MGA to 70,000 MGA. Another option is using airport bus Narvette, which will take you to the front door of your hotel for 10,000 MGA. We opted for our hostel’s pickup services for 70,000 MGA.

 

 

Once at the hostel for check-in I was immediately on the spot befriended by a group of Peace Corps volunteers (here’s looking at you Melissa!) and a traveler from Iraq named Duaa who also happened to have similar plans as ours to see the Avenue of the Baobabs tomorrow. We were also greeted by one of the directors of Cactus Tours Madagascar for a quick briefing on our adventure via charter flight tomorrow.

As a person who survived 50 hour bus rides through Vietnam and overnight buses across India, I’m always down for a rough road trip as anyone else would be, so why do a flight instead of conventional overland travel? Because of value and the fact the roads remain in such disrepair that a 1 hour flight = 12-16 hour drive. Value is important

For example, if we wanted the traditional “cheaper” route from Antananarivo:

  • Day 1: Domestic commercial flight to Morondava or a 12-14 hour bus ride from 7am to 7/9pm, stay overnight
  • Day 2: Hire a 4WD for a 12-16 hour drive up to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park before arriving to our lodgings tired and cranky, then stay overnight
  • Day 3: Explore the national park, stay overnight
  • Day 4: Drive back 12-16 hours to Morondava for Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset, stay overnight
  • Day 5: Fly back to Antananarivo on a domestic commercial flight or a 12-16 hour bus ride from 7am to 7/9pm.

This calculates to 2x domestic flights or 2x 12-14 hour bus rides, 2x 16-20 hour 4WD rough drives, and 4 overnight stays across 5 days.

However, if you book a charter flight from Antananarivo leaving at 7:30am, it would look like this:

  • Day 1: Morning flight from Antananarivo to Amborodia’s airstrip located next to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park, take 4-6 hours from morning to afternoon to hike and explore the national park, return to Amborodia in the afternoon, fly less than half an hour to Avenue of the Baobabs for sunset viewing before staying overnight
  • Day 2: Fly the one hour back to Antananarivo

This calculates to 1 private charter flight and 1 overnight stay. If you have a group of 6-10 to fill up a plane, the price ends up nearly the same. You do the math and determine what has more “value.”

That said, the next morning we were picked up at 6am and taken to the airport for our private charter flight to Amborodia. Duaa actually woke up with us at 6am as well and almost considered joining our private flight at the last minute! But after a bit of shared decision making, rationality prevailed and she opted to stay with us at our hotel in Morondava, and at the very least see if she could beat us there by overland driving and see the Baobabs with us for sunrise. The race is on!

 

 

We arrived at the private airstrip at 7am where we were individually weighed, given Nespresso coffee, and a red carpet treatment before boarding.

 

 

The views over Antananarivo:

 

 

About 45 minutes into the flight, I was able to see a glimpse of Tsingy of Bemaraha below:

 

 

Upon our arrival at Amborodia’s airfield, we hopped in our 4WDs for the 30 minute bumpy ride to the trail leading to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park.

 

 

Then we got strapped into our harnesses.

 

 

By 10am we began our hike.

 

 

Madagascar’s isolation from other continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. This has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the “eighth continent.” The very existence of Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park is a prime example of this as we went on our one hour hike through 2 forests there.

For example we found a ficus, aka a strangler fig:

 

 

Here you can also find an array of indigenous plants and 13 species of lemurs. We saw just 2.

 

 

We then spent about 1-2 hours carefully navigating up and down Tsingy de Bemaraha, a gigantic limestone cathedral (aka a “stone forest”), made up of a dense network of sharp limestone blocks found in only two places in Madagascar.

 

 

The hike is intense as you have to scale up cliff edges while strapped to a harness.

 

 

One wrong move and you can fall to a painful ankle sprain!

 

 

At some point you have to carabiner yourself to cliffside cables; drop something here and you lose it forever:

 

 

You also have to crawl through low-lying caves:

 

 

But once you make it to the top . . .

 

 

. . . the views are well worth it.

 

 

This is one of those moments where you know you’ll probably never get to do this ever again in your life.

 

 

After about half an hour up here, we crossed the notorious footbridge.

 

 

Afterwards we took some photos before climbing back down through cathedral like trenches.

 

 

We then stopped for a brief picnic lunch in the shade.

 

 

Then after lunch we headed back along the same trail back to our 4WDs. Overall, the hike took the 6 of us 4 hours to do at a relatively fast paced on a difficulty level I would classify as moderate.

After driving back to the Amborodia air strip, we then boarded our one hour flight to Morondava. Considering again the other option would have been a 12-16 hour overland drive over horrible roads that could have delayed our trip by up to 2-3 days, I feel that the price adjustment — especially discounted given our group size — was more than justified!

Let’s see if Duaa keeps her end of the bargain and makes it to our hotel!

Update: she did!

Update #2: And she’s joining for the rest of our trip through Seychelles!

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

The Tanzanian Safari Epic: Lake Manyara National Park

The Tanzanian Safari Epic: Lake Manyara National Park

 

 

For our 3rd day in Zanzibar, we took it easy and spent it on massages, lounging at the Park Hyatt, shopping, and essentially making the long wait before heading over for our 8:40pm Air Tanzania flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO). There we would rendezvous with Ann who would have arrived 2 hours earlier.

However, that would not be the case within the laws of travel: At the last minute Air Tanzania emailed me a change of departure time to a ridiculous 12:40am. With no other options, we thus continued to count the hours go by until a girl named Tamara checked into the hostel, sat down next to me on the floor while I was working on my laptop and playing some music, and asked me for advice on what to do in Zanzibar.

 

 

Within 15 minutes she would join our group for dinner at Lukmaan!

Love all these stories and the effortless friends we make when we travel.

 

 

We then took Tamara for a few drinks back at our favorite bar at the Park Hyatt until our 10:30pm cabs arrived. After saying our goodbyes, we headed over to ZNZ airport where we checked in and took advantage of Priority Pass access at the Dhow Lounge.

Although they usually close at 11pm, this time they kept it open late for us until boarding.

 

 

We finally boarded our at 1am slightly buzzed after raiding the lounge bar unopposed, playing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” in the background, thusly and thoroughly embarrassing ourselves as American tourists on the plane.

 

 

We landed at JRO airport an hour later at 2am.

 

 

There we reunited with Ann and were greeted by our pickup arranged by Easy Travel and Tours. We then drove onwards another hour to Arusha.

Once arriving at Karama Lodge at 3am, we quickly headed to bed.

 

 

The next morning we got up 5 hours later for a gorgeous morning view of the jungles behind Arusha.

 

 

After a quick breakfast we drove over into Arusha to meet our safari guides from Easy Travel.

 

 

We then drove 2 hours over to Lake Manyara National Park.

 

 

Once at the park we paid the entrance fee and had our boxed lunches inside:

 

 

After lunch we began our game drive; Lake Manyara National Park boasts varied ecosystems, breathtaking views and incredible ecological variety in a small area, rich in wildlife and amazing numbers of birds.

 

 

Lake Manyara’s game particularly includes Buffalos:

 

 

Wildebeests:

 

 

Giraffes:

 

 

Zebras:

 

 

Elephants:

 

 

Cranes:

 

 

Copulating hippos (yes, if you can’t tell, the hippo below is literally thrusting into his partner underwater right now):

 

 

Baboons:

 

 

Vultures:

 

 

Once we hit the early evening, we stopped for an hour shopping for Tanzanite stones before driving half an hour to Bougainvillea Lodge in Karatu town, just in time for dinner!

 

 

Today was just the appetizer though. Tomorrow we visit The Serengeti!

 

 

- At time of posting in Lake Manyara National Park, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 68% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy

 

Rwanada Forever!

Rwanada Forever!

 

After a week in Afghanistan and a sobering day in Kabul, it’s definitely time to get out of harm’s way and return home. There’s no need to exacerbate the situation by lingering during what will be another tense period in Kabul.

On our way back, Evan and I decided to spend 3 days in Rwanda as one of the cheapest itineraries back to NYC.

Why Rwanda? Well, imagine a country to boldly become the first in the world to ban plastic bags, and where the last weekend of every month requires one person from every household to help clean the neighborhood and then use that time to discuss community events. Imagine a country that has reeled from a genocide that killed 70% of an ethnic population to become one of the fastest growing economies in modern history, all the while boasting low corruption compared with its neighbors and becoming one of only two countries with a female majority in the national parliament.

Security and safety are prevalent — every mall, hotel, and restaurant requires airport-level screening — even though there is no active threat like there was in Afghanistan. It may still be a work in progress and its leadership may still have its controversies regarding political suppression but so does Wakanda. But am I talking about Wakanda?

Rwanda comes pretty close!

Look at how clean these streets are. This was everywhere we went:

 

 

So from Kabul, Evan D., Amanda and I boarded a 1.5 hour Flydubai flight FZ 306 at 6:15pm, landing in Dubai at 8:45pm where we met back up with our UAE host Sean and Evan K., another friend we met on the Afghanistan trip (who had left a few hours earlier), at a swanky hookah bar in Dubai called QD’s.

There we decompressed about our trip to Afghanistan until Evan D and I said our goodbyes and caught our connecting 6 hour Rwandair flight WB 305 to Kigali at 1:55am, landing at 6:00am.

I even got in a good full night’s rest while on the flight!

 

 

At the airport Evan and I debated whether to rent a car, eventually relenting after haggling our agent down to a decent rate.

We then drove over into the city and dropped off our stuff at our lodgings at Mijo Hostel.

Now I don’t usually comment on lodgings, but this has got to be one of the best designed free-standing hostels I’ve ever been to:

 

 

I even left a little message there, just like old times back in Punta Cana, DR:

 

 

After a lazy coffee at the hostel and breakfast at nearby Java House, we headed northwest to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a sobering tribute to victims of the Rwandan genocide where an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans and up to 70% of the Tutsi population were killed.

Free admission but the introductory 10 minute video is required before entering.

I wrote about this back when I visited Tuong Sleng and the Killing Fields in Cambodia: Conceptualize the notion where 70-80% of the ordinary everyday people you meet in an entire country is a survivor of genocide. This museum puts that very fact into perspective. Everyone here has lost someone close to them.

 

 

After an hour here we drove further south, paying our respects at Hôtel des Mille Collines aka the “Hotel Rwanda” famous for sheltering 1268 people during the genocide.

The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina, was later used as the basis of Terry George’s film Hotel Rwanda in 2004.

 

 

Afterwards we drove further south to the highly effective Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, dedicated to the 10 Belgian soldiers who were captured and hacked to death by the presidential guard during the initial events of the genocide.

 

 

If you’re not yet overwhelmed, there’s are 3 more memorial to the genocide south of Kigali. The closest is 20 minutes away at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial Centre. Admission is free.

 

 

Ntarama Genocide Memorial is another 20 minutes south of Nyanza. They require that you go on a compulsory 20 minute tour at reception but like all the genocide memorials, there is no admission fee.

 

 

It’s the piled up clothing of the dead here that really hits hard for me:

 

 

Then finally at the end of the road another 20 minutes away, we visited the Nyamata Genocide Memorial.

 

 

As it was not even close to evening yet, we drove the hour up north back towards Kigali, heading to the Rwanda Art Museum by the airport. It’s famous for housing the debris of the plane crash that killed both the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda that sparked the beginning of the 1994 genocide.

It closes at 6pm so we had 20 minutes to spare when we arrived. Entry fee is 10,000 Rwandan Francs and photography is strictly prohibited. They really watch you like hawks.

 

 

Then heading west, we stopped by for a wander at Kimironko Market north of the airport.

 

 

And finally after sundown, I was recommended to try the roasted goat ribs at Royal Car Wash:

 

 

After dinner, we returned to the hostel where we met Tom Karrell, a fellow American visiting Rwanda with friends for the week from his home base in Uganda. After an hour speaking with him and at his suggestion, Evan and I decided the next morning at 8am to drive the 2 hours up north to the Rwanda/Uganda border just to have lunch at scenic Lake Bunyonyi. That post is here: U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds!

When Evan and I floored our back back to Kigali at 3:30pm, we both made it just in time to a well-deserved 1.5 hour massage at Zenora Wellness Center for 50,000 RWF. You can book ahead online on their website here.

 

 

Then we drove over 5 minutes to take a peek at the art exhibits at Inema Arts Centre.

 

 

While there, we were recommended to come here on Thursday nights as they throw a huge art gallery party featuring the artists along with drinks, BBQ, and a DJ for a crowd of 300-400 locals and expats.

 

 

Afterwards we then killed time with some tea and coffee on top of a library at the swanky Innovation Village (aka Shokola Storytellers Café):

 

 

After an hour here, we headed to the airport to return our car. On our way back, we finally hailed the thrilling moto-taxis for 1000 RWF for dinner at Sundowners.

Once again, I had the roasted goat. And it was divine.

 

 

And to make things even more interesting, we would happen to be in Rwanda on July 4th, their annual liberation day that formally recognized the end of the Genocide when the Rwanda Patriotic Front regained control of the country.

This means nothing would be open so I celebrated by chilling at the hostel and giving myself a well earned rest day before getting on my return itinerary back home to NYC via a free Ethiopian Airlines business class flight that I just redeemed with 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

From Kigali to Addis Ababa (No In-Flight Entertainment systems!):

 

 

The Cloud Nine Business Class Lounge at Addis Ababa was also so crowded!

 

 

But they do offer special ceremonial Ethiopian coffee here near the entrance, which I thought was a nice touch.

 

 

Thank goodness for business class as I was able to skip the lengthy security lines for the USA/Canada/Israel flights (Gates 23-26):

 

 

But be forewarned, some people will try to jack the business class line without having their tickets checked so be aggressive in holding your spot on the line.

Flight ET 500 from Addis Ababa (ADD) to Washington DC (IAD) includes a 45 refueling stop in Dublin in the middle (An 8 hour flight and 7 hour flight respectively for each leg), so wherever you sit should be like a home away from home.

I snagged seat 1A (luckily seat 1B next to me was also empty, so I had the whole first row to myself!):

 

 

The amenities kit has your standard toiletries set, skimpy eye mask, foam earplugs, socks, a pen, foldable comb, lip balm, and toothpicks:

 

 

Where the IFE left much to be desired, they fed me A LOT on both flights: Light snack, dinner, and breakfast for the first leg from ADD to DUB, then a hot canapé and a 3 course lunch on the second leg from DUB to IAD.

My favorite was the local Ethiopian set where you get to choose from a variety of delightful local Ethiopian dishes on a cart complete with their special soft Injera sour flatbread:

 

 

After 16 hours in the air and sleeping for 10 hours of it, I landed 10 minutes early in IAD at 8:10am.

With a 9 hour layover before my final leg back to NYC, I messaged everyone I knew who would be free to meet up. Guess who ended up answering the call? Anya Solovyeva whom I first met back at our hostel in Baku, Azerbaijan 10 months ago!

 

 

Now I’m waiting on my final leg home where there’s a total ground stop to LGA. I figure of all the delays to experience on this entire trip, it would be the domestic one back home. First world problems.

 

- At time of posting in Kigali, Rwanda, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Cash Me In Kashmir Feeling Murree As Ever!

Cash Me In Kashmir Feeling Murree As Ever!

 

For our last day in Pakistan, we decided to head up into Kashmir for Imran’s (our friend and guide who has been showing us around the past week in Pakistan) hometown and the resort village of Murree

 

 

Starting with a drive from the Rawalpindi/Islamabad area at noon, we reached Kashmir at around 2pm. You’ll know you’re in Kashmir once you see all the military posts and artillery off the side of the road.

 

 

Once we got out into the center of Murree, it was like a literal breath of fresh air 2291m (7500ft) above sea level.

 

 

This area is completely closed off to traffic, so this pedestrian-only environment was a welcome tonic after a week of constant driving through the urban sprawls of Islamabad and Lahore.

 

 

After we passed the town’s center, we walked along the hills and took in the off juxtaposition of heavy military presence among otherwise a serene natural backdrop.

 

 

You can take a cable car/ski lift here to other parts of Murree:

 

 

After walking nearly the entire length of the Murree area, we sat down for tea and small bites with Imran’s first cousin Tahir and his friend.

 

 

Afterwards we hailed a trolley to take us back to the village center.

 

 

From there we walked over 5 minutes to Tahir’s house.

 

 

After treated to more tea and a small lunch, we debated over politics and religion which to some surprise, didn’t turn out to be very contentious at all (one of us proclaimed her atheism – eeek – which some of us thought would rattle folks a bit).

 

 

We were then invited up to Tahir’s rooftop for gorgeous panoramic reviews of the Kashmiri valleys:

 

 

And to finish off our evening, Tahir gleefully read fortunes from our palms to pretty accurate findings.

 

 

By 8pm we began to head back to Islamabad.

 

 

And right before leaving, we helped Evan haggle down some pashmina shawls to take home.

 

 

After settling back at Jungle Barracks, we then packed our stuff and had a leisurely dinner before I headed to Ali’s sister’s house for some last minute shisha and post-wedding gossip with the newlyweds (photos would get some people in trouble)! And after a lovely hour with them, we headed back to Jungle Barracks, drove off to the airport, then drove back to pick up my backpack that I had left behind in my room (ugh rookie mistakes still!), and still made it in time for my 6:30am flight out!

 

 

Istanbul

With 85,000 United Airlines miles, I was able to snag a Turkish Airlines Business Class flight out at 6:25am for Istanbul where I got in a few hours of sleep (I already have reviewed the Turkish Airlines business class product in another post).

And right before Turkish Airlines moves all their flights to their new international airport next month, I had one last chance to experience one of my favorite business class lounges in the world, which I reviewed more in depth last June. You can now feel the evident wear and tear in a lounge ready to be abandoned within the month.

 

 

Amsterdam

From there I boarded an afternoon flight out to Amsterdam where I reunited with 2 longtime friends and monsooners (at this point I can’t count how many run-ins around the world I’ve had with them), Anthony and Rik, as well as Selma, whom we befriended 2 summers ago in Kosovo

 

 

And just to make it complete with yet another monsoon serendipity: A random message on one of my Instagram stories last week would lead to someone I met 3 years ago at an ECAASU conference, Yan, to join our group in Amsterdam as she also just so happens to be in the area! In fact it would be her random message that steered me to pick Amsterdam as my layover in the first place. Don’t say I don’t follow the signs…

 

 

After a night out with outdoor drinks at Hannekes Boom and shisha at Wonder Bar Two, I turned in at Anthony’s place for a few hours of sleep before heading back out again early morning for my 9:25am flight back home to Newark Airport on the United Polaris Class 2-1-2 configuration.

Last time I took this flight a year ago, I flew out on its cramped 2-1-2 configuration on the aisle seat. What a difference moving one seat over to the middle column could make. So much more comfortable.

 

 

Although I’ve been away for a week, Ali’s gracious invitation to his wedding after a chance run-in 5 years ago made me feel it was more than just another week away, but rather a years-long course towards destiny.

Serendipities rarely have a profoundly lasting effect when you stretch them over a long enough period of time, but this one definitely did.

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Murree, Pakistan, it was 7 °C - Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast