Sunday, July 03, 2016

London-Turkey-Israel 2015 Day 34: A day of epic Airport Lounges

London-Turkey-Israel 2015 Day 34: A day of epic Airport Lounges

My birthday is tomorrow!! (5/28) I can hardly believe it. So out of nowhere! I wonder what we'll be doing... exciting stuff I am sure of it. It is gonna be fun to still be traveling during it!

Finally took some photos of my place over the last little bit so I could remember it.

Up and at 'em in the morning still in London. A quick shower and get dressed, get stuff ready to roll and head out. I walked to Paddington Station with all my stuff and took the awesome Express Train to Heathrow. I got a free "upgrade" to the 1st Class of the train, which was basically the same as normal, but super cool nonetheless!! Free!!

This day may as well have been called "Day of Star Alliance Gold Benefits". This was my first year with Star Alliance Gold (or any airline status, ever) and I planned to make the VERY most of it, given that I suspect I won't get it again ever. (Note: at the time of posting this, 6/28/2016, I actually, insanely, managed to score it again for 2016... but it required a "Status Run" flight in December 2015 which is something only crazy people do!) Anyhow... man this was amazing. I am so lucky to have Gold this year. Better make the most of it.

First off at Heathrow, I got my V.A.T. refund of £30, not bad! And then let the insane and how-in-the-world-do-I-get-this Star Alliance Gold benefits roll in! First up was the 1st Class/Star Alliance Gold checkin desk... no wait. Epic. Security was next with a "Fast Track, with Star Alliance Gold!" A very short line compared to the regular line. Don't mind if I do! I arrived in Terminal 2, the Star Alliance Terminal... so fanced! There is a Harrod's in here?! Of course, I went straight b-lining towards the World of Whiskies shop.

There was a Russian lady in a sort of highland dress of some sort. "Would you like a Glenmorangie?" Why, yes. Yes I would. I also got to taste a Glenfiddich (quite nice, smooth) and a Balvenie Triple Wood (didn't like it so much, meh.) Realizing quickly I was in the normal duty free section and not yet in the AMAZING World of Whiskies section (oy, what am I doing?!) I headed to THE epic store.

There, they had tons of tastes of the incredibly rare whiskies that are only sold in UK Duty Free shops... and you could taste most of the things they sold. Insane. I tried Talisker Skye and Talisker Dark Storm. Skye was "softened"... I get what that means now. I was really keen to buy it (and actually had already purchased one for Nir in England), so it was fun to try it without needing to try to bring another bottle home. I see what they mean about it being a bit softer, it is not overpowering and a perfect "intro" to Island whiskies. More balanced than the usual Island offerings. Like Stu said last week about the Talisker 10: "it burns!" Excellent for a gift, but very close to what I have already at home. So it was a good choice to try it and not to also bring a bottle of it home! Dark Storm... was also SO psyched to buy it... but after tasking so many Taliskers by now, I actually think Talisker 10 or Distiller's Edition is my favourite! Dark Storm was not as spicy/intense as the 10. The 10 really is quite hard to beat, now that I've tried so many Taliskers. So fun to try though.

At the shop I also tried the Glenmorangie Duthac... nice, but glad I got the Dornoch already in Scotland!!!

Ok.... so it's only 9:40am now and I had already had 5 (small... but 5) whiskies... oy. Time to lounge it up. A long walk from here to the other part of T2.

I figured I'd try to flex the hell outta my SA Gold and see if I could "lounge hop", trying EVERY SINGLE Star Alliance lounge in the area. I was, of course, in the Star Alliance Terminal.... so all of the lounges technically give access to SA Gold, not just the airline you are flying on. May was well try them ALL, right?

So first tried my luck at the Singapore KrisFlyer Lounge... they let me in! Yes! They had a fancy cappuccino machine. I got Mango yoghurt and granola. "Milk Porridge" was tasty... mmm... they also had Singapore Sling Ice Cream!!

Fancy Cappucino machine
Small awesome yoghurts

Singapore Sling ice cream?! Weird and good.
Lounge Tour?! Why not?!

Across the way from the Singapore Lounge in T2 was the Air Canada lounge. Let's roll!

Air Canada's lounge had the same food for the most part as the Singapore lounge, but they also had fresh crepes. And tasty espresso! This ROCKS!!!! Tons of beer, but nope. Not after all that whisky. Gotta focus on eating at as many of the lounges as humanly possible.

Finally, we got a gate assignment up on the board and I asked when we board "20-30 min". So plenty of time in my head to check out Lounge #3 then, eh? Of course! So off I went to the United Club.

OH MAN. The United Club has a tendency to suck in the US (though they are greatly improving now), but ohhhh maan holy crap this rocks. This was the best of these 3 lounges by a longshot. Really? United?! Well done! I walked into the lounge and I think they directed me at first to the BusinessFirst/Global section?! D'oh! I didn't catch that, and walked the other way instead to the area I was supposed to be in :) Too late. Wasn't even sure that the business section was in there. But certainly wouldn't have mattered... this place was incredible!!! So epic. Elderflower Vitamin C "hydration juice" YUP.

All the fun juices.
And then... wait for it....

OMGGGGGGGGGGGGGG Bottle Green cordials!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Of ALL KINDS!!!!!!!!!!!! AHH!!! Anyone who knows me, knows that Elderflower Presse is literally the best thing on earth. This was every single kind of cordial they have, with sparkling water to make your own. .. uhhh...

I got Elderflower and Sparkling Water and an Orange Wedge... I am going nuts!!

I had my "real" brekkie now.. an Egg, mushrooms, baked beans, mmm....

What a friggin' amazing spot. I figured I better get to the gate... Delayed! Bah! But my "day of S.A.G." continues! The "Business line" you are apparently allowed to get into with SA Gold even if you're flying in coach, for some reason. It was a line of 10 people instead of 300, totally nutso.

I was flying Turkish Airlines for the sole purpose of spending 5 hours in their world-renowned Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul. The flight was pretty good, they ran out of Turkish style food unfortunately, but I needed to eat very carefully so I could GO TO TOWN and eat all the things in the epic Istanbul Lounge, as was the plan.

This flight itself was pretty good. I got Turkish Delight on arrival, which rocked.

An older dude behind me with really, really big knees (long legs, I guess?) was digging and digging into the back of my seat, for what felt like an hour straight. I had half-glanced back there, more than once, to try to see what was going on in a non-awkward way. I kept ignoring it, figuring he was futzing with the seatback entertainment or something... but it kept going. At some point I turned around to say "Are you alright?" in as respectful a way as possible despite the absurdity. He said he wanted me to move my seat up fully (it was back just slightly). Lovely passive aggressiveness aside, I did the right thing as he was a bit of an older fellow and it was still another hour with which I had hoped to no longer have a knee intentionally jammed into my back. After I moved my seat up fully, the silent protest mostly stopped. Ahh travel, always some random annoyance. But on the upswing, Turkish Delight!

The plane had a pretty good movie selection but I did journal catchup instead. I got to Istanbul, wow what a busy airport! I took a very quick look at Duty Free (Laphroaig QA Cask, 58 Euros instead of 59 pounds!) Lots of Turkish Delight, of course.

But now... most importantly... TO THE EPIC LOUNGE.

This hilarious BuzzFeed post explains the insanity that is this amazing and world-renowned lounge. "A destination in itself":

And a couple more:

This was honestly the most amazing place I've ever seen in-transit. If you ever have a chance to go here, I totally recommend it. Most of the time I would never suggest paying the $50/day or whatever it usually is to gain access to and Airport lounge if you don't have airline status, but in this case, I would absolutely recommend going. If you have SA Gold though, just swipe your boarding pass and walk on in and enjoy all the beautiful food that Turkey has to offer, without even leaving the airport!

I had actually originally planned to fly via Greece on a different Star Alliance airline, but intentionally routed through Turkey so as to take advantage of this amazing place.

On arrival, my first thought was: "WOW". This place is massive. The bag storage is very cool, there are lockers at the front you can sign up to use so you can enjoy the lounge without carting your stuff around. The other first impression I had reminded me of hanging out with Matt Parrott in Singapore the one time we got to go to a Business-Class lounge and it was absolutely insane. I went totally out of control!! And again this time.

The lounge is so large, it needs a map!

There were drink stands everywhere, 2 (well, 3!) floors of lounge epicness. I started wandering and was overwhelmed with the choices and exciting local options. The food!!! Amazing! It was so cool, as I wasn't stopping in Turkey itself and going into Istanbul, so to be able to still try so, so many local foods while on the way to somewhere else was really special, indeed. I loved this place.

It felt a bit like visiting a busy local market in Turkey, a country I haven't been to before, but it wasn't that busy and all the details are in English so it's easy to know what everything is. Oh yeah, and it's FREE?!! Totally nuts.

I started with Turkish Mezes and a really tasty local item called Pide bread (veggie and olive paste). It was so good. I also tried some Raki, which was a bit like Ouzo. The mezes were very good - tomato salad, pesto stuff. So epic. A little like Greek food at first glance, which you might suspect given the proximity of the two countries -- but definitely distinct. (Ha, this reminds me, when I was in Athens in 2007 I bought some Turkish Delight from a shopkeeper. I asked for Turkish Delight and he said, "No, this is 'Greek Delight'" (which I don't think is actually a real thing, I think it was just Turkish Delight but made in Greece!)

That "Pide" stuff was so good.

Next, to the mixed grill! I got some chicken, veggies, and Turkish beef patty (with spices). I then tried something called Manti, a fresh Turkish tortellini with lamb filling, being scooped and made right in front of me! The lady at the stand asked me if I'd like to try some Ayran, a traditional Turkish yoghurt drink... YEP!!!!! Sure do! This was all awesome.

Next up were some nuts and bar snacks, all very interesting and tasty.  And time to race some slot cars around a race track, just 'cause you can in this magical lounge.

From here I went down to the bottom floor to the "Tea Garden"!!!! Yes, they have a TEA GARDEN in the AIRPORT. Amazing. I got some Black Turkish Tea with Lemon in a cool glass. I asked the waiter there what it was called, he said it was called Siyah Çay (Çay means "Tea"), from the town of Rize in Turkey. There were lots of cool herbal teas you could try as well, but I was most excited, of course, for the standard local option. I also had a Turkish bagel with this (so good!) and "Countryside Butter". This was essentially life changing in the best possible way.

Yes, a Tea Garden, in an airport.
And time for a few more snacks.

Next up, the OLIVE BAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You guys. Seriously. Just when I thought this experience could not be any more amazing...

The Olives were by far the freshest and tastiest (and also, most varied) Olives I've ever tried in my entire life. It was magnificent. The names were funny too: "Green Scratched", "Domat Scratched", and "Rhodes Kalamata" were my favourites. Each olive had a very different flavour from the next. The taste was also subtler than at home where Olives tend to be overpowering, these were not as strong and tasted so interesting. Some were nutty, and one or two of the larger ones tasted absolutely unliked anything I've ever had before. What an incredible experience!! (Yes, I went back to the Olive bar a 2nd time later on in my lounge visit).

This was pure joy.

Next stop was Dessert, Pt. 1! I had VERY fresh Baklava. As Michal would say, it was "Melt in your mouth!" Ughhhhh soooo goood. With this I had a handmade espresso by a very nice barista, "Would you like a double?" "Why, yes, thank you!" haha. I also tried a juice made from lemon and mint. Along with the coffee, they served little tiny, mini, non-powdered turkish delight. A little more like little jellies. And also a biscuit.

All different kinds of Baklava.
A beautiful space to hang out in as well.
Yep. Amazing.
After this much constant eating for am hour or two, I wandered the lounge to walk it off. There was a very funny virtual golf driving range labelled the "Turkish Airlines Open" which was very cool. And there was a virtual Golf Coach there too!

Next thought: "Is that... is that a wandering massage therapist?!" It was.

The TV Lounge was also unbelievable. A movie lounge, complete with popcorn. And a pool table and huge library. It is literally like a 5-star resort in here.

After a nice wander around the multiple floors of the lounge, I went back to try a few more of my favourite items and re-visit a few things. I hadn't had any of the alcohol options as the food was so enticing, but saw another conveniently-placed drink cart and had a little taste of a Woodford Reserve bourbon. It was pretty much dessert time now, so I headed to get some more of that awesome Turkish black tea, and also a Raspberry & Mint juice (excellent!) There were some assorted "homemade cakes", and I had a little taste of a few of them -- the custard one specifically was good. But now time for more turkish delight. (Can you imagine how in the world I managed to eat this much?! Writing this up now, I can't believe it myself).

I took some tea bags of the couple of herbal teas to try later, and walked back to the tea garden to sit there in that nice relaxing area with a small amount of more salad mezes, another full round of olives (naturally), and a small taste of Turkish wine. The wine and olives went together VERY well!

What a TOTALLY epic spot. I ran around a fair bit during this stopover, trying ALL the things... but that's OK, the plane ride portion is the time to kick back and relax, not during the lounge visit! I had the perfect amount of time for the lounge, originally I had about 4 hrs, but the plane was quite late. By the time I got to the lounge it was already 6pm, and I stayed till about 8:15. So 2 hours in this incredible lounge is probably the minimum I'd suggest (assuming you want to eat every single interesting local Turkish item, like I did) ;)

After all of this I had about 30 min left at the end to chill. I was going to pull out my iPad, but they had a row of iMacs there for you to use if you wanted. That was cool. I did some emails for 30 min or so and then hoofed it across the entire terminal to the gates. We were not quite boarding yet so I bought some Turkish Delight for Orit and Rani (who we are staying with next).

Not to be outdone, the airline had Caprese salad for dinner.
I boarded, and met some nice folks from Northern Ireland. I am excited to get to Israel!! It has been a long travel day, but a very good one indeed. I am excited to see the Spring/love! :)

Michal picked me up at the airport on arrival and I was a little late. As I was picking up my bags at the airport, the clock hit 12:00am.... my birthday!!!!! I texted with my parents and that was nice. Birthday!

Spring picked me up and we were so happy to see each other. We got a quick car rental sorted, got a SIM card and headed up to Ra'nannah. Amazingly, there was a birthday Cheesecake waiting for me there with a sparkler in it and a lovely card. What a nice reception. And even my favourite, a Tnuva 9% cottage cheese! Some light snacks (didn't REALLY need to eat any more after this lounge visit, I suppose!), catching up, and sleep after a long and amazingly fun travel day.

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