Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst REAR-FACING Amsterdam (AMS) to Chicago (ORD)

Other Posts in This Series:
    1. Whirlwind Germany: Introduction
    2. Whirlwind Germany: United Houston to Munich
    3. Whirlwind Germany: Arrival Showers at Munich Airport
    4. Whirlwind Germany: Munich to Stuttgart on ICE
    5. Whirlwind Germany: Hertz President’s Circle Rental – Stuttgart
    6. Whirlwind Germany: Hotel Englehardt Review – Pfullingen
    7. Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen
    8. Whirlwind Germany: Bremen
    9. Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam
  10. Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Review
  11. Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  12. Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst Rear-Facing Amsterdam to Chicago (This Post)

My flight from Amsterdam to Chicago O’Hare was my first opportunity to try out United’s Rear-Facing BusinessFirst seats on a 3-class plane. Instead of all facing forward, every other business class seat faces toward the rear of the plane, just like some train seats. It was an interesting experience, being in the front of the plane and facing out the window back toward the wing and engines. However, most of the strangeness was during takeoff and landing because all the motions were backwards. But during taxing and normal level flight, I really couldn’t tell the difference…especially with the windows closed.

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Our 767 to Chicago

Another difference was the pod seats themselves. I hadn’t realized that the BusinessFirst seat pods on United 3-class aircraft are actually a different design than the Continental 2-class lie-flat seats. The primary differences, other than offering backward-facing option, are that they are aligned directly parallel front to back, instead of the slightly angled Continental seats, and they don’t have the high divider and slight offset between adjacent seats. I suppose this United design is better if you are traveling with someone, but offers less privacy as the Continental design when traveling alone.

Seats

Rear and Forward Facing Pod Seats

Cubby

Foot Cubby

View

Astern View out the Window

Warm nuts and wine were served shortly after we leveled off. Dinner service started about an hour or so later. The first course was salad, smoked salmon, and my favorite…a pretzel roll!

Nuts

Warm Nuts and White Wine

Salad

Salad, Lox, and Pretzel Roll

For the main course, I chose the chicken and vegetables this time, since I tend to always have the steak. It wasn’t bad, but I’m not sure about the gravy…and of course another pretzel roll!

Chicken

Main Course

Of course desert was my favorite part…couldn’t pass on that! They use a cart with all the toppings and you can choose which you want.

Dessert

Ice Cream!

The flight itself was uneventful, and I actually managed to sleep a bit, even during a day flight, as I was pretty exhausted from the week of travel. I hardly noticed the backwards seat direction during the flight, but when we started our approach into Chicago, I could definitely tell the difference…the motions were all backwards. Then there was the actual landing…you get pressed back INTO your seat when the breaks area applied.

The first problem of the day came actually came AFTER landing when I tried to use the Global Entry Kiosks at US Immigration in Chicago. There were already a bunch of people there when I arrived. They were each trying one machine after another and not getting them to scan either their passports or their fingerprints. When a machine opened up, I too was not able to get them to work. Finally, after typing in all my information (the passport scanner wouldn’t work) 4 times at 4 different machines, then trying over and over to get a good fingerprint scan, an agent came over and suggested that the sun shining in from the skylights above was causing the problems, and that if you shaded the scanners with your hands is should work. Sure enough, when I held one hand in the air to make a hand shadow over the scanner it worked just fine. It would seem they must have had this problem every afternoon for months, so could have put up a sign, but alas they must like to sit and laugh about it during their breaks, so why fix it…

Since I didn’t check a bag, I cruised right through the baggage claim and headed to the sky train to the demestic terminal. Before heading to security, I went to reprint my boarding pass. Since I had printed my original pass at the check-in counter in Amsterdam, it didn’t have my PreCheck status on it. If I didn’t print a new one, I would have to go through the normal security queue and take all my stuff out. I just held my current ticket under the scanner, went through the checkin prompts, and selected reprint boarding pass. It just takes a few seconds, and probably saves quite a bit of time in the security queue, not to mention the pain of having to remove shoes, belt, computer, liquids, etc. (I have since realized that if I checkin online when out of the country, then print the PDF at the hotel, these passes DO have PreCheck and Premiere status indicated. This avoids having to stop to reprint after Customs and Immigration.)

Now, thinking I was all set, I headed for security. However, after going through the metal detector, the agent on the x-ray machine asked if I had cheese in my bag. Of course I said yes and didn’t think much of it at first. Then they opened the bag to get out the two cheese wheels and tested them for explosives. Imagine my, and their, surprise when the machine displayed in large red blinking letters “Explosives Detected”! A lot of rechecking, scanning, and questioning ensued (more details of the account here). In the end they sent me on my way and there was no problem, but it was a bit scary. Apparently this happens fairly often, but not to me…

Do you have an interesting TSA story, I’d be interested in hearing about it.


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Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam – The Netherlands

Other Posts in This Series:
    1. Whirlwind Germany: Introduction
    2. Whirlwind Germany: United Houston to Munich
    3. Whirlwind Germany: Arrival Showers at Munich Airport
    4. Whirlwind Germany: Munich to Stuttgart on ICE
    5. Whirlwind Germany: Hertz President’s Circle Rental – Stuttgart
    6. Whirlwind Germany: Hotel Englehardt Review – Pfullingen
    7. Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen
    8. Whirlwind Germany: Bremen
    9. Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam
  10. Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Review
  11. Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam, The Netherlands (This Post)
  12. Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst Rear-Facing Amsterdam to Chicago

I was only in Amsterdam for a few hours in the afternoon. After checking into the Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol, I headed back through the long corridor back to the airport, bought a round-trip ticket downtown at about €8 or so (if you don’t have a pin-and-chip card, you’ll probably have to go to the ticket window on the main airport level before going down to the trains, as the machines don’t accept cash or US credit cards), then headed down the escalators to the regional train platform on the lower level. After about a 15 minute ride, we arrived at Amsterdam Main Station right downtown.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam Main Station

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Downtown Near Train Station

Exiting the front of the station, you can easily walk to just about anywhere in the city, or ride one of the many street trains or busses. You will also find a very large number of boat and bus tours originating at the station. I decided to try one of the boat tours that was just leaving. They had a few seats still open so I went aboard. I sometimes like to try either the hop-on hop-off busses or boat tours when arriving in a new city. Whether you find these a value or not depends on your budget, but for very short visits like this one (especially when I’ve spent basically no time researching), you do get to see quite a lot in a short time, and you can then get off and go to the toured places afterwards. Usually these 30–60 minute tours go for around €15–45. At least in some cases you can continue to use the buses all day or for several days to get around as well.

HarborHarbor

River Cruise Ships

The tour first went out in the open bay waters and along the waterfront to see the dock side of the train station, the cruise ship terminal, and a number of other sites. Then we went into the canal system, which is quite extensive and traverses most of the city, somewhat like Venice or Stockholm.

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Canals, Canals, and more Canals…

If there is one thing that you will find in abundance in Amsterdam, it is bicycles. They estimate more than a million bikes in a city of about 800,000 residents. You can rent bikes in the city as well. They even have bike parking ‘garages’ in the city where you would find car parks elsewhere.

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Bikes By The Millions, Parked at the Train Station ‘Garage’

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Bike Rental

After the bout tour, I decided to walk the streets and see what interesting food might be available. After passing on a few Asian options I came across a local restaurant that listed a chicken club sandwich with fried egg, cheese, and bacon on toast. That seemed interesting, but it was just after 6:00pm and the lunch menu had ended. Unfortunately they didn’t serve sandwiches for dinner. I looked at several other places with the same problem. Then I came across a small sort of diner with just a few tables and a guy behind a bar making sandwiches. The fried egg sandwich was listed on his board so I asked him about it, he agreed to make me one. It was quite good, though I didn’t realize that the chicken was fried. So, what I got was essentially a chicken nugget, fried egg, and bacon sandwich on toast, no cheese though. I’ll have to make this one at home sometime!

Dinner

Chicken Nugget, Egg, and Bacon Sandwich

After dinner, I shopped around a bit as the sky darkened and a light rain began to fall. It was strange to see all the marijuana stores mixed in with all the normal tourist refrigerator pin, t-shirt, and shopping bag stores. They looked a bit like “organic” vitamin stores at a mall in the US.

Weed Shop

“Specialty Medicine” Shop

I toured a cheese making shop with cheese wheels floating in water, that was giving out lots of samples. I ended up buying a couple tiny wheels of cheese that the TSA was interested in when I got back to Chicago.

Cheese Shop

Cheese Shop

Cheese wheels secured, I headed across the street to grab a boba tea, which was quite awesome! It was down the street to the right in the image above.

Boba

Boba (Bubble) Tea Shop Across from the Cheese Shop

After tea, I headed back to the train station and on to the hotel, as the rain began falling harder as the sun started to set.

Amsterdam was certainly interesting, and worthy of spending some more time exploring at some point, though I don’t know if I would go out of my way to stay there.

Ever been to Amsterdam?


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Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – Review

Other Posts in This Series:
    1. Whirlwind Germany: Introduction
    2. Whirlwind Germany: United Houston to Munich
    3. Whirlwind Germany: Arrival Showers at Munich Airport
    4. Whirlwind Germany: Munich to Stuttgart on ICE
    5. Whirlwind Germany: Hertz President’s Circle Rental – Stuttgart
    6. Whirlwind Germany: Hotel Englehardt Review – Pfullingen
    7. Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen
    8. Whirlwind Germany: Bremen
    9. Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam
  10. Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Review (This Post)
  11. Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  12. Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst Rear-Facing Amsterdam to Chicago

The Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Hotel is right on the airport property, connected to the main airport terminal via a covered indoor walkway with moving sidewalks. Unfortunately, the Hilton is the last hotel on the quite long corridor, and until the new location opens in a couple years, requires a quick jaunt outdoors to get from the end of the connector into the front door of the hotel. There is also a free van shuttle service that will drive you directly to the airport if you are unable or just not interested in the long walk.

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(Old/Current) Hilton Schiphol As Seen From the End of the Walkway

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New Hilton Schiphol Under Construction

I chose to walk, and it only took me a few minutes. The first time, I followed the signs to the hotel entrance, which turned out not to be the easiest way to get to the hotel. The signs take you all the way to the end of the walkway, then to the right out a small door, down an outdoor elevator, then around and under the parking garage. It turns out that if you instead go to the last section of elevators on the left, before you get to the end of the walkway, go down one level into the parking garage, then to the right, you’ll save having to go outside as much and it’s quite a bit shorter. Maybe they want you to go the other way in order to see the huge hole in the ground where the new Hilton is being built, which will likely be connected directly to that end of the walkway in a couple years.

Entrance

Escalators to Interior Walkway from Schiphol Arrival Level

walkway

Interior Walkway to Hilton

elevators

Elevators to Ground Level right Before the End of the Walkway

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Outdoor Crossing From Garage to the Hotel

At checkin, due to my Hilton Gold status, I was upgraded to an Executive King room on the 7th floor, with access to the executive lounge on the 8th floor. It was a bit of a pain to have to go up one floor to get to the lounge, but I was happy to have access to the lounge at all, especially since it was open on a weekend night (I did determine that you can in fact use the stairs at the end of each of the 3 hallways to go between floors, so if you choose to avoid waiting on the elevators, the fire exit stairs are another option).

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Executive King Room

The room itself was pretty standard, like most Hilton rooms you might in the US, though there was a coffee machine and teapot. I wish US hotels provided an electric teapot in the room. Many have a coffee maker that you could use, but that always ends up making coffee-water tea, which is not ideal. There was also one bottle each of complementary sparkling and still water, though with access to the lounge, I could get as many of those as I wanted, it was a convenient touch.

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bathroom
Bathroom

WiFi was as usual free to Gold members, and one code from the front desk works with up to three devices for a week at a time. This was great, since at most hotels in Germany, you need to get a different code for each device, for each 24 hour period of use, even if the service is free. I often need a large stack of WiFi codes for all my devices on a multi-day stay (like at the Radisson Blu).

After dropping off my bags in the room, I went upstairs to check out the lounge. There were drinks available, and a few sweets and snacks, but no hot items in the afternoon. The view of the airport all around the hotel was great for those interested in plane spotting. I took some pictures, grabbed a still water, and headed back to the room to lie down for a bit before heading into the city.

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Executive Lounge on 8th Floor

Upon returning from my afternoon out, and having already eaten, I skipped the lounge and just went to the room to pack for the flight home the next day.

In the morning, I went to the lounge for breakfast. Since my upgrade had already cleared, I knew I would be eating two decent meals on the plane, I just grabbed a quick snack and headed back to check out.

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Executive Lounge Breakfast Spread

According to the sign in front of the hotel on the construction site, it will be a couple years until the new building is ready. At which time the current building will be torn down. Until then, the current Hilton is still a decent enough place to stay at the airport, and relatively cheap.

Have a favorite Amsterdam hotel?


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Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam

Other Posts in This Series:
    1. Whirlwind Germany: Introduction
    2. Whirlwind Germany: United Houston to Munich
    3. Whirlwind Germany: Arrival Showers at Munich Airport
    4. Whirlwind Germany: Munich to Stuttgart on ICE
    5. Whirlwind Germany: Hertz President’s Circle Rental – Stuttgart
    6. Whirlwind Germany: Hotel Englehardt Review – Pfullingen
    7. Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen
    8. Whirlwind Germany: Bremen
    9. Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam (This Post)
  10. Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Review
  11. Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  12. Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst Rear-Facing Amsterdam to Chicago

My official work week finished, my next stop before heading home was Amsterdam. Normally, after visiting this client in Bremen, I would fly home out of Hamburg, about an hour east by train. This time however, being mid-summer, the flights out of Hamburg, and the hotels in the area, were full and the prices extra high. I decided rather than brave the crowds, I would find an alternative option to spend my last day. Amsterdam turned out to be a good deal, and the flight was about $400 cheaper, so even with the longer train ticket it is was less expensive. My company had no problem justifying the change, so I got to visit Amsterdam and an afternoon train ride for “free” as part of my expensed travel!

From the Radisson Blu, I took the number 6 tram from the City Center station north to Bremen Hbf (Central Train Station). As we were just about to pull out of the station on the IC at Hamburg, we saw an old steam engine just arriving. It was quite a sight, and got a lot of attention. I was surprised, I didn’t think anything like that still operated on public rails in Germany anymore.

Steam

Steam Engine at Hamburg Main Station

From Bremen, I took a short hop on the DBbahn IC 2023 to Osnabruck Hbf, where I caught the IC 240 the rest of the way through Holland to Amersfoort, where I then took the Netherlands IC Sprinter to the Amsterdam Schiphol airport station. No ICE trains this time, but that was fine. Sometimes it is great to slow down and see the sights, and it was a great day for train riding! The temperature was around 20’C, partly cloudy, and no wind. It did grow more cloudy and dark as I got closer to Amsterdam, however.

The DB IC, or Inter-City trains are basically the old high-speed trains before the ICE (Inter-City Express) trains came on the scene. They are much older, some extremely dated, but they are always pretty clean and well kept. You definitely get more of the feel of the train on these coaches, unlike the modern ICE which, when running on new high-speed tracks at 300+kph feel smooth as glass much of the time, the IC coaches rattle and roll and jar you as they hit uneven tracks or switches. They’re not as slow as the night trains, which rock and roll like an old steam engine on US tracks, but they are slower than the ICE trains, maybe 200kph much of the time. Using the WC (restroom) on an IC train can seem like being on an airplane in moderate turbulence, it can be difficult not to fall down, or in, as you are jostled all about in the confines of a small room!

OsnabruckOsnabruckOsnabruck

Osnabruck Main Station

Osnabruck Hbf is a small station with two sets of crossing tracks, north-south on top, and east-west below. You need to be sure which track you are heading toward here, as the steps go only to one platform between each set of tracks. In most stations you go up or down a set of stairs from the tracks, then cross through a corridor to the track you want, before going back up or down to the platform. Here, the stairs go just up and down between each set of tracks to one platform each. Not complicated really, but you might end up going down, oops, back up, then down again at least once if you just take the first stairway you come across after exiting the train.

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Amersfoort Main Station

Once in Holland, I had to switch trains at Amersfoort since the German IC trains don’t go all the way into Amsterdam. I planned to go downtown later in the day, but since it made little difference in time, I decided to just take the train to the airport, and to the Hilton, check in and drop off my bags in the room, then head back out free of my burden to check out the city.

InterCity

Netherlands InterCity Sprinter

One awesome thing about the Netherlands InterCity Sprinter trains is that they all have free WiFi. Anyone can connect, and I have found them working and reasonably fast each time I have had the opportunity to ride them. Also, they can be quite convenient just in the station for a quick connect. If you are standing on the platform, you only have a few minutes while a train is in the station, and some stay for longer than others, but if you can find one that is just ending or starting its route, you might even get 10 minutes or more online just standing outside the coach. I have done this a number of times in the Netherlands…just stand near one of the Sprinter trains on the platform and connect your device for free until the train leaves. You will have to re-authorize your device through the login web page each time you switch trains though, which is a pain, but it’s free.

I got off at the Amsterdam Schiphol station and proceeded directly up the escalators into the airport proper. From there, I just followed the signs to the elevated walkway and moving sidewalks to the various airport hotels, no vehicle needed.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam?


If you enjoy what you read here, please share! To email this article, or to share with your friends on Facebook or Twitter, click one of the buttons below! Also, keep up with my latest travel rantings, follow me on Twitter or sign up for my RSS Feed

Whirlwind Germany: Bremen

Other Posts in This Series:
    1. Whirlwind Germany: Introduction
    2. Whirlwind Germany: United Houston to Munich
    3. Whirlwind Germany: Arrival Showers at Munich Airport
    4. Whirlwind Germany: Munich to Stuttgart on ICE
    5. Whirlwind Germany: Hertz President’s Circle Rental – Stuttgart
    6. Whirlwind Germany: Hotel Englehardt Review – Pfullingen
    7. Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen
    8. Whirlwind Germany: Bremen (This Post)
    9. Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam
  10. Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Review
  11. Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  12. Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst Rear-Facing Amsterdam to Chicago

I spent four days in Bremen for work, so I didn’t have that much time for sight seeing. However, I did manage to get around each evening to take some pictures and seek out some great restaurants. Not one to overly obsess on the ‘local’ food of the places I visit, I tend to look for types of food that I like, and if they are ‘localized’ a bit that’s fine, or I just stop at places that strike me as interesting.

Bremen

Bremen Altstadt

The first night, having just arrived from the airport and checked in at the Radisson Blu, it was quite late and many restaurants were closing. I happened cross the very first restaurant I ate ever ate at in Bremen a few years back, the Spaghetti Haus. That was great the first time, and spaghetti sounded great, so I grabbed a table out on the street to watch people pass by and the sky darken (it was after 11pm and the sun was still up this far north). I highly recommend the place if you are in the mood for Italian. The spaghetti bolognese is reasonably authentic.

The second night I went to an asian place I had noticed right down the street from the Spaghetti Haus, purported to be Vietnamese, although it was quite Germanized. I talked to one of the guys who worked there who was Vietnamese, and he agreed that the menu was not particularly traditional. However, he did point me to a place to eat later in the week which had Bun and Pho. Based on what I described I was looking for, he recommended a kind of salad with pork mixed in and a sweet sauce kind of like sweet fish sauce. It was pretty good, and exactly what I needed as a very light meal. I would have liked to have gone back another day to try something else, but alas I only had 4 nights, so that will have to wait until another visit.

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Vietnamese Salad and Apple Juice

On the third night I ate at Captain Sushi, an all-you-can-eat sushi bar right outside the rear entrance to the Radisson Blu, it’s actually part of the same physical building. It has a motorized ring around the sushi chef where he places options, then you just take what you want on little individual plates. It was very good, and for a reasonable price, however, on Wednesday evenings they have the same option for about €8 less per person. This place is pretty popular with visitors and the locals and was quite packed. I would suggest reservations if you plan to arrive much after 6pm, especially on Wednesday.

Sushi

Captain Sushi

On my last night, I went to the Vietnamese place recommended to me earlier in the week. It is just a small shop with a few indoor and outdoor tables, which shares a stall with a bar, so it might be easily missed. It is also a bit of a walk north of the main old town area. If you want to take the train, ride the #6 two stations north (toward the main Bremen Hbf station) and it will be there on your left. Although they have the menu up on lighted boards like an american Chinese fast food restaurant (which I usually avoid), it turned out to be quite good. I ordered Bun with pork spring rolls, which they made pretty close to what I get in the US and Korea, along with the sweet fish sauce that was authentic. I’m definitely adding this one to my list on future visits.

Bun

Bun and Pho Vietnamese

In addition to eating out each night, I did take some time to walk around the old town area. I walked through the Schlachte area along the river, and across several of the bridges, taking some pictures and just getting familiar with the area. In all my previous visits, I only saw the street from a taxi window and quickly hurried in and out in a day or two.

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Bremen Schlachte

The river splits and creates an island in the middle. Only the north side is navigable and has locks for ships and barges.

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Bremen

Ever been to Bremen? Where should I check out on my next visit? Hopefully that will be sometime in the fall.
If you enjoy what you read here, please share! To email this article, or to share with your friends on Facebook or Twitter, click one of the buttons below! Also, keep up with my latest travel rantings, follow me on Twitter or sign up for my RSS Feed

SIGGRAPH 2013: Introduction

I recently attended the SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim, California. This is one of the largest gatherings of academic and professional artists, engineers, designers, and executives from the electronic entertainment industry. While they do hold secondary conferences around the world throughout the year, the primary gathering is in the US every summer. I have attended at least every other year for the last 15 years or so, and I find it one of the best avenues for learning the latest graphics and rendering techniques, gauging the current and future state of computer rendering and animation, and generally getting a feel for where the industry is heading, and what my friends and colleagues at other companies are up to.

Continue reading

My First United Boing 787 Dreamliner Experience

On a quick flight from Denver to Houston recently, I had an opportunity to fly on one of United’s new Boing 787 Dreamliners. I was both excited and a bit nervous about flying this plane, after all the recent problems, and several month grounding for battery problems. More recently, there have been additional issues with wiring appearing in the news, causing flight after flight to return in a hurry shortly after takeoff. This is not uncommon for a completely new plane design, but few advances in technology on new planes have been as significant as with the 787, and Boing was so active in promoting it, that every little problem makes the news.

Plane

Our 787 Being Towed to the Gate

Unfortunately, even with 36 BusinessFirst lie-flat seats on this aircraft, there were still about 40 people remaining on the upgrade list, so needless to say I didn’t get an upgrade. I did mange to get an isle seat in the center section, and as luck had it, the other two seats were empty. As soon as we were airborne, I switched to the center seat and had a whole 3 seats to myself…not first class service, but nearly as much room!

The most interesting new feature I noticed upon boarding was the electronic shades imbedded within the windows. There are no window shades on a 787. Instead, there is a dial under each window that turns it from clear, to nearly completely opaque, with just a slight blue to green hue as it gets darker. With the shade dialed up completely, it looks almost like nighttime outside the window, even in full sun. With most of the windows shaded, it gave the entire cabin an erie turquoise glow.

Shades

Blue-Green Electronic Shades

The interior was quite spacious, with lots of legroom between seats in the Economy Plus section. There were full-sized overhead bins on both sides of each of the two isles capable of holding normal carry-on roller bags wheels-first, so that even with the plane nearly full, there was still plenty of room left in the bins after everyone boarded (a consequence of this was that there was lots of loud shifting of bags during takeoff in the closed bins above).

Takeoff was smooth, though a bit slower than I expected. Maybe it was a cost saving thing, using less thrust at takeoff, a longer runway, or just a lighter plane, but it definitely seemed like there was much less acceleration than with other large planes. Another thing that was quite obvious was the bending and stretching of the plane. Sitting in the middle, both from side-to-side and front-to-back, I could see the whole plane from the wings, to the cabin, and overhead bins just flexing and twisting all around, as if the plane were a giant plastic model (though I suppose that’s exactly what the 787 is, all composite and plastic), rather than the more solid metal feel of the other big planes.

The next big difference was the noise. From right after takeoff when the landing gear was raised, there were very loud bangs and whirs from all the motors and servos, and the whine of the flaps and other surfaces being adjusted. I think part of that was because of the lack of normal outside noise. The plane is actually much quieter, especially toward the back, than other planes. This might mean that those noises, which were always audible before, just appear louder, or maybe they were just all under my mid-wing seat. Anyway, once we were up and cruising, the noise level was quite low.

The first glitch we encountered was with the in-flight entertainment system. It soon became apparent that each time a PA announcement was made, the language would automatically change to either German or Spanish. They announced that it was a known issue, but decided not to have it fixed in Denver, which would have delayed the flight even more than the roughly 45 minutes that we were already delayed because the plane arrived late from Tokyo. A bit later, they also announced that some of the seats were requesting credit cards, but that all the entertainment was free and not to insert a card, but contact them instead. They tried rebooting the system, but that apparently didn’t help.

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In-Flight Entertainment Screens

One aspect of the 787 that I was looking forward to was the higher cabin pressure and humidity. The difference was subtle, and maybe because I have been reading about it, and was trying to find any sign of a difference, it did seem more fresh and humid, a little like being outdoors. I think it was the humidity more than any difference in pressure that you could really notice. Normally, at cruising altitude, if you take a long deep breath, your nose and mouth will get very dry and cold, as the dry air draws moisture from your body. In the 787 though, this is not the case. Breathing then, becomes more comfortable.

The flexible nature of the plane became quite evident again during landing, as there were storms in the area around Houston, and we had to turn quite a bit and hit some mild turbulence. Each time, the plane twisted and rattled and the overhead bins swayed back and forth on the ceiling. There were also lots of creaks and groans from various directions, more like an old wooden house than an ultra-modern composite aircraft. It was actually a little disconcerting. Add to that all the loud servo motors adjusting flaps, the landing gear lowering, and an unreal amount of vibration upon landing, and it seemed like pieces were going to come flying off any minute! There were quite a few loud exclamations after touchdown around the cabin, so I was not the only one thinking these things…at least there wasn’t that tacky clapping that sometimes happens after a questionable landing…

We did land safely and taxied to the gate quickly. Unfortunately there was one more issue, apparently the jet bridge was having issues too, so they had to call a tech to come out before anyone could get off. Luckily that didn’t take too long and were off and in the terminal soon afterwards. While I was eager and excited to try out this new plane, I think I can happily wait a while for them to work out the kinks before trying again.

Have you had the privilege to fly in the new 787 yet?


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Asiana Flight 214: Two Weeks Later – San Francisco Landing Video

I flew into the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on a United 767 recently, and we landed on the very runway that the ill-fated Asiana 777 was heading for a couple weeks back. The video below was recorded during our approach over the seawall until just after turning from the runway. I have to say, even though I have been flying for decades, and even landed here in San Francisco a bunch of times, this particular time my heart rate was a bit higher than normal. This is one of those times when we all remember that, as safe a flying is, things can still go wrong, and we are all so thankful that this incident went as relatively “well” as it did.

SFO Landing Video

Since the scene has long since been cleaned up, and the evidence removed for analysis, there wasn’t much left to see by this point. In fact, they have done such an amazing job of cleaning up the area, as you have to know exactly where to look in order to even know anything happened there. Friends of mine who landed at SFO right after the tragic event, were very disturbed by what they saw, as were just about everyone who flew in or out of SFO in the days afterwards. Officials at the airport were clearly quite eager to put the event behind them, and managed to clean it up up completely in just over a week.

I grabbed a few notable frames from the video. First, the rock seawall at the end of the runways that are peninsulas out in San Francisco Bay. Then, the burned areas in the grass between the two runways father down.

SFO Seawall

SFO Seawall

SFO Grass 1
SFO Grass 2

Burned Grass

Please join me in praying that another even like this doesn’t come about for a long time…

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Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen (Formerly Hilton)

Other Posts in This Series:
    1. Whirlwind Germany: Introduction
    2. Whirlwind Germany: United Houston to Munich
    3. Whirlwind Germany: Arrival Showers at Munich Airport
    4. Whirlwind Germany: Munich to Stuttgart on ICE
    5. Whirlwind Germany: Hertz President’s Circle Rental – Stuttgart
    6. Whirlwind Germany: Hotel Englehardt Review – Pfullingen
    7. Whirlwind Germany: Raddisson Blu Hotel Review – Bremen  (This Post)
    8. Whirlwind Germany: Bremen
    9. Whirlwind Germany: DeucheBahn IC Bremen to Amsterdam
  10. Whirlwind Germany: Hilton Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Review
  11. Whirlwind Germany: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  12. Whirlwind Germany: United BusinessFirst Rear-Facing Amsterdam to Chicago

After a short 45 minute flight to North Germany, I stayed at the newly rebranded Radisson Blu Hotel Bremen, which is located right in the Altstadt, or Old Town historic area of downtown, just north of the Weser River. Formerly the Hilton Bremen, this hotel has just recently changed hands and branded a Club Carlson hotel. While renovated not too long ago, the carpets are still a bit worn, and some of the decor is showing its age, but overall the hotel is very clean, well staffed, and the service I found to be quite good. The entire building also has air conditioning, including in each room, which is not always needed, but very much appreciated, especially this week as the temperatures where into the 90s F while I was there.

Hotel

Hotel Lobby

At checkin I was upgraded to a “Business Class” King room on the 4th floor due to my Club Carlson Gold status (Which Club Carlson recently matched from my Hilton Gold Status). While they do not have an Executive Floor or Lounge, I did get free breakfast with my room, though Club Carlson doesn’t guarantee breakfast as part of the Gold level benefits. Also, I received my Gold “In-Room Welcome Gift” within minutes of entering my room, which consisted of an apple, orange, kiwi, two apricots, and a bottle of sparkling water.

Amenity

“Gold Status Welcome Gift

Much of the time, an elevator valet or concierge called the elevator in the lobby and pressed the floor button, then stepped out. Someone was often helping guests into one of the three elevators and sending them each on their way by party, so no one had to ride the elevator and stop on any floor but their own. The elevators were small anyway, so this worked out quite well. You do have to use your room key card to call the elevator, so that might reduce the number of non-hotel guests on the guest floors, and perhaps slightly improve safety.

RoomRoom2

King Business-Class Room

bathbath
Bathroom

The room itself had a normal king-sized bed and two standard German pillows and comforters (like those you will find in nearly all hotels in Germany), a work desk, 36” LCD television, a lounge chair, and the standard compliment of closet space, hangers, and safe. To my delight, it also had an electric teapot and Nespresso coffee machine with a very small selection of prepackaged coffee inserts (Perhaps I will bring a few of my own coffee selections on my next visit).

coffee

Nespresso Coffee Machine

I stayed four nights at this hotel, eating out in various restaurants in the area each night. I only ate the free hotel breakfast one morning, as I stopped by the Starbucks (just outside the front door and to the left) on the way to the tram station each morning. However, the spread was great and had all the usual German fare.

There is no shortage of shopping, sight-seeing, and dining options all in easy walking distance, and many of the city’s street tram lines stop within a block or two in each direction of the hotel entrance. I definitely plan to stay here again on future visits to Bremen.

Have you ever visited Bremen? What is your prefered hotel?


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