Saturday, February 25, 2023

First Stop, Iceland

Trip date: June 2022

Currently there are only two ways to reach Greenland; fly in from Copenhagen or fly in from Reykjavik. On my way there last summer I chose to use some points and fly Saga Class on Icelandair from Seattle to Reykjavik. 

I've had many very nice flights on Icelandair, especially when traveling in Saga Class. The only con is that the airline doesn't have layflat beds but if I'm getting off in Iceland it's a very comfortable ride. 

I had a snack and a glass of wine in the Saga Lounge at SeaTac, then settled in to 4F (and had an empty seat next to me!), did a little work using the free wifi you get in Saga Class, and enjoyed a really great happy hour followed by a delicious dinner. 7 ½ hours later we landed and I boarded the Flybus into Reykjavik. I always make reservations in advance so that I can just walk on but they have the buses lined up pretty well if you want to buy a ticket once on the ground.

I was booked in at the Marriott Ion City Hotel which was in the Hlemmur area, right on Laugavegur. This was my 4th trip to Reykjavik and I was staying in yet another new-to-me area. The main reason I booked this particular hotel is that I had a coveted reservation at Michelin-starred Ox Restaurant that evening, which was connected to the hotel. 

It was 11:30am when I arrived at the hotel and the front desk told me my room would be ready at 1:30pm. Great news as I was very much in need of a nap! I walked down Laugavegur and took myself to lunch at Messinn for a bowl of delicious lobster soup. It was excellent!

The Ion City hotel is very cute, nice modern design and the rooms are large by Europe standards (and only 16 of them). It is a little loud at night as it is right in the heart of the city, lots of bars and restaurants are close, but it wasn't too bad.

After my nap it was time to do a little happy hour crawl around town. First up was Jungle Cocktail Bar which more than a few people had recommended. 

It's a beautiful bar, and more importantly the drinks were fantastic! I had only planned on staying for one but the menu was so interesting and the bartenders so nice that I ended up having two. Highly recommend and during happy hour, from 4-6pm, drinks were only 1600 ISK instead of 2600 ISK!

My next stop was Kokteil Barinn, which is a full cocktail bar on its own, but I wanted to enjoy a glass of bubbles while sitting in their Champagne Train!
I had an absolutely gorgeous glass of 2015 Pol Roger Rosé for a fraction of the normal 3790 ISK since it was happy hour! And sitting in the vintage train car was very fun! I will absolutely come back here and try some cocktails in the main bar next time I'm in town. 

I walked down the block, back to my hotel, and checked in for my dinner at Ox. Hidden in the back of Sumac restaurant and behind a closed door, is the Michelin one-star restaurant. 11 seats are gathered around an open, old-fashioned looking kitchen and 3 chefs were busy preparing our 20-course dinner.

I had such a fantastic time here! My dinner mates were all super fun and interesting and the food was spectacular! The menu lists the dishes by ingredients such as salmon + spruce + sea urchin and then the chefs walked us through each dish, usually while plating it. 

Courses were paired with interesting wines, spirits, and juices and were hyper regional and seasonal. It felt like I was at a great dinner party with private chefs. I really loved it!

In the morning I packed my bags and left them at the front desk so I could enjoy my day in the city. I found the absolutely delicious Brod & Co just a few blocks down and bought a box of croissants and cardamom rolls to take to Greenland (I hadn't read about any bakeries in Ilulissat). One of the rolls even had licorice in it (Scandinavians love their licorice and I'm a big fan too!)

It was super sunny and warm out so I decided to take a long walk down to the waterfront. Strolling in Reykjavik is always interesting as the city is growing so much that there are always new things to see. And indeed parts of the town that I am pretty familiar with now have changed dramatically!

I did a big loop around the shipyard and marina and then made my way to the concert hall Harpa where I had lunch reservations at their newly opened restaurant Hnoss. They had a lovely 2-course lunch menu offering; I had a delicious lamb tartare smørrebrød and also a prawn salad one. I really only needed to order one of these but I couldn't decide between the two!

After lunch I stopped at Kaldi Bar and enjoyed a great gin & tonic outside on one of their picnic tables. The bartender joined me and while chatting I found out she was an actor and was in one of my favorite shows Vikings! A great way to finish up my quick Iceland visit!

What wasn't a great way to wrap up my visit was by realizing I had booked my Flybus for 3am instead of 3pm! After a frenzied call to the company I found out that there wasn't a scheduled bus for another 2 hours! I took a taxi to the main bus station and they graciously drove me in a shuttle to catch a bus on a different route that was headed to the airport. PHEW!

All Iceland photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Emirates International First Class

Trip date: January 2023

I’ve flown a lot of Business Class, both domestically and internationally. Sometimes I’ve purchased the fare and other times I’ve used points. Some have been very basic and others have been quite posh. But until this year I’ve never flown First Class internationally and WOW what a difference that was!

I had booked a stopover in Dubai at the end of my Egypt trip specifically because Emirates flew from Dubai to Seattle non stop. I mean I also wanted to see Dubai, but I really wanted to fly Emirates Business Class; the airline is known as one of the world's best carriers and currently holds the #3 ranking.

I spent points and cash and was very excited for the 14 ½ hour luxury flight. I will admit that I was a bit bummed that I couldn't swing the First Class when I booked. I had checked the box to "contact me if an upgrade is available" and on my birthday (!!) while in Luxor I received a text offering an upgrade opportunity with points! I immediately transferred some Amex points to Emirates and I was confirmed in First Class (the cash price was $14k 😲) Happy birthday to me!

14 days later (maybe 14 is my lucky number?), the ultimate luxury experience started with Emirates sending a chauffeur to pick me up at the Raffles Hotel in Dubai where I was staying. I won't lie, there was a little thrill when the front desk called and said "your chauffeur is here Ms. Miller."

It was a quick ride to Dubai International Airport. We pulled into a special departures area for First and Business Class customers only. Once inside there were separate desks for First Class Check-In. I'm pretty sure Questlove was at the counter next to me, no joke!
From here there was, you guessed it, a special passport control where we just scanned our boarding pass & passport. No agents or lines or anything. We joined the main security check but had separate lines which went quick. Once in the main airport I took the elevator upstairs to the Emirates First Class Lounge which took up the entire length of the concourse!
Emirates First Class Lounge in Concourse A is one the largest lounges in the world at 100,000 square feet! There are lots of different seating areas; you can choose couches, lounge chairs, desks, etc., there is a spa and a Le Clos fine spirits shop also. The restaurant is full service, you order from the menu and they serve you, no buffet for First Class! My breakfast was fine but the service was awesome.

I left to find my gate, walking past the bougiest of duty free shops, to the First and Business Class boarding area. Here we presented our boarding passes and then took an elevator down to join the rest of the boarding. It was a little messy compared to the other areas, but once again, on the gangway, there was a separate entrance for First and Business.

As soon as I walked onto the Boeing 777-300 a flight attendant greeted me by name and escorted me to my PRIVATE SUITE!

She showed me where my private closet was for my coat and inside the suite there was plenty of room for my carry on bags (no overhead bins in First). She asked what I'd like to drink before take off and when I requested champagne she returned with a bottle of 2012 Dom Perignon (96 points and ~$250 bottle price)!
After this she offered me a pair of pajamas and slippers and then presented me with the leather bound menu for the flight. She explained that they offer "anytime" dining up to 1 ½ hours before landing, so I could choose anything from any of the menu sections (breakfast, lunch, dinner, light meals, movie snacks, etc.) 

As soon as she left I started to check out everything in my suite. There was a lot to look at! 

As seen in the video, the suites are decked out! The sideboard, as I'll call it, had a very deep storage cupboard which held all my personal stuff.  There was an iPad that acted as a large remote for the TV, 3 lamps, seat positions, doors, privacy sign, and call to prayer with direction of Mecca. There were buttons which controlled the blinds for the 3 windows. It also had a popup mini bar full of softs and waters. Very handy!

Below the 32" TV(!!) was a desk, complete with desk lamp, and a vanity with lit mirror and skincare products from Byredo. A slide out drawer had a nice notebook and pen. On top was a snack basket complete with sweet and salty treats, and my favorite Bülow Danish liquorice! I was truly impressed!

The stylish amenity kit was filled with expensive Bulgari products including an Emirates exclusive perfume! My suite also had fresh flowers which was just lovely! The whole thing was like being in a very tiny, luxury apartment! 

Before take-off I was offered Turkish coffee and some lovely stuffed dates. As soon as we hit cruising altitude I pressed the button to shut my cabin doors and started planning on my dining options. My flight had left at 10am and would land in Seattle at 1pm. I decided to skip the breakfast options and use my time on a nice lunch and then dinner.

I started with more Dom along with a trio of snacks; olives, chips, and nuts. When the attendant asked if I wanted a meal I responded that I was going to have a fancy lunch and she said, "Oh great! So the caviar?"

Indeed! Caviar and all the fixings for lunch... HEAVEN!

She actually brought me 2 nice little amuse before; melon with prosciutto and a miniature caprese in a tiny glass. Then she popped a new bottle of Dom for me; I'm pretty sure I drank most of that delicious bottle myself! The caviar was excellent and there was so much! I confess I ate a lot of it just from the mother of pearl spoon. There were warm blini and also melba toast, chopped egg, chives, onion, sour cream, and lemon. 
I finished lunch with an excellent cheese course, each piece served perfectly at room temperature, the feta was possibly the best I've ever had. She brought me a hot towel and a nice little box of chocolates after and I settled in with a movie. 

The suites come with a mattress and comforter, which they will come set up for you, but I just did it myself as it's pretty straightforward. I turned off all my toys and went to sleep with a ceiling full of stars.

A few hours later (I mean I had 14 to work with) I woke from my nap and took a stroll around the cabin. There are only 8 suites on the Boeing 777 and I think 2 of them were vacant.

Even the First Class bathroom was posh. Everytime I went it had been cleaned and restocked, a toilet seat cover already in place, lovely Bulgari products, and fresh flowers. There was a small common area which was stocked with different things throughout the flight; booze, snacks, sandwiches, sweets. 
I decided it was now happy hour and really had a hard time deciding on my drink as the menu had impressive options like Champagne Cocktail, Breakfast Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned... but I went with my go-to gin martini and ordered edamame to snack on with my drink. 

I could hear her shaking my cocktail, no issues as a little extra dilution was probably a good thing, which made me smile. Haven't heard that sound on a flight before! My martini arrived icy and the edamame was hot. Both were so good I ordered a 2nd round, by ringing my personal call button!

The menu had quite a write up from the "chef" about their dum pukht style lamb biryani, so I had that for my dinner and I can say it was absolutely wonderful!

Instead of dessert, I opted for a little cognac tasting (no surprise to those that know me). The first class offerings included Hennessy Paradis and Tesseron Lot 29. Paradis is an amazing blend of around 200 cognacs and aged for over 100 years. A bottle goes for around $1,600!!! The 1929 Tesseron is a bargain compared at $600! Both were incredibly delicious, I might have had to try them twice.

I had really hoped I'd would catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights as we went north over eastern Russia and the North Pole, but it wasn't there as far as I could see. With still a few hours to go I took another nap on the plush leather layflat.

14 hours has never gone by so quickly! Soon it was time to open all 3 of my window blinds, replace my slippers with my trainers, and pack up my Bulgari products. I was the first person off the plane, back to reality. Well almost... 

Once I exited from International baggage and passport control at SeaTac (thank god for Global Entry!) I had one more Emirates chauffeur service waiting for me. He took my bags, led me to his waiting Cadillac Escalade, whisked me to Ballard, and carried my bags to my front door. 

I'm officially in love with Emirates and have already started planning how I can make another of these amazing flights happen again!

All photos from my First Class experience here.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Seabrook Celebrations

Trip date: June 2022

Seabrook seems like one of those places that most Seattleites have been at least once. It's a relatively short & easy road trip, just 2 ½ hours away, and situated on the beautiful Washington coast. When one of my friends decided to celebrate her birthday there last year I was excited to go. I had never been, in fact I don't think anyone in our group had! We found a great 4 bedroom/5 bath house (since Seabrook is billed as a family getaway spot there are lots of houses with a large number of rooms and beds) and booked early in the year since the resort tends to sell completely out each year. 

I drove out with my friends Lorraine and Sonja and, as has become a lovely tradition when driving thru Olympia, we had lunch at Chelsea Farms. I just love this little restaurant with its delicious oysters and stellar clam chowder. It always makes for a nice ~½ way stop. 

The three of us arrived at the house Let It Be (all the houses here have names), before the others, got the groceries put away, and had a little drink on our big wrap-around porch. The house was huge, plenty of space for the 6 of us to cook, make drinks, and relax in. That was the plan for the weekend!
We decided to head out for a walk around town to get oriented. Seabrook was built in 2004 as a planned resort town; there are about 250 homes, a small core downtown with shops and restaurants, a few parks, and of course the pristine Pacific Beach. 

It's cute, in a Stepford Wives sort of way. It's so perfectly planned that it feels a bit eery, but it's very pleasant. Like a neighborhood at Disneyland. I'm not the only person to struggle with the artificial-ness of Seabrook, you can read a great article written by my friend Allecia here.

We headed back to Let It Be where we had happy hour in the hot tub and waited for our friends Travis & Sandra to arrive.

The next morning was absolutely beautiful so after a quick stop at Vista Bakeshop we all went for a nice long walk on the beach. It's really such a beautiful spot!
We circled back up to the town after and had lunch at Rising Tide Tavern. Since Pacific Beach is known for their razor clams I chose the chowder and then a fancy fishwich sandwich. Both were great!

A few of us drove out to Hoquiam after lunch to pick up some crab for that evening's dinner at Lytle Seafood. We thought we would get a few things from them to add to our dinner menu but honestly the shrimp didn't look great so we skipped that. 

When we got home Sonja had a lovely happy hour waiting for us and our crab feast that night was delish!

The next morning our friend Gavin arrived and I made up a big skillet of truffle scrambled eggs. The weather was absolutely awful, it poured rain all day, so we stayed inside playing games and having the fireplace on. We took a very quick walk to Cookies Country Chicken, which had a food truck there, to grab sandwiches to have at home for lunch. While we waited on our sandwiches Sonja, Lorraine, and I checked out the cocktails at Rising Tide. 

That evening we cooked up some absolutely gorgeous bone-in ribeyes that we bought in Seattle at Beast & Cleaver, had a proper baked potato bar with all the fixings, and I opened some lovely wines from my cellar. It was Lorraine's birthday celebration after all!

And then the weekend was over! I was glad to have gone to Seabrook with this fun group of friends. But would I go again? Maybe? I personally wouldn't plan it for myself but if I was invited I'd most likely say "Let It Be"!

All photos of Seabrook here

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