Cheers from San Francisco! If you’re following me on Facebookor Twitter, you’ll know that I’m not really in San Francisco. This trip to San Francisco has already come and gone but to keep my friends and family updated, I tweet on Twitter and frequently change my status update (or write what’s on my mind) on my Facebook page. I’ve also started personalizing my blog to make it more interesting for readers. In addition to posting a travel website or video of the day, I’m uploading current pictures and stories about my daily travels. So log on and please encourage your friends, family and colleagues to sign up for our free weekly newsletter.
AROUND THE WORLD WITH JET AIRWAYS
We left off last week from Shanghai, which was the last international destination on my around-the-world trip with Jet Airways. In case you’re just joining us now, I made stops in Florida (where I took a Celebrity Solstice cruise), Brussels, Delhi, the Taj Mahal, central India (for a tiger safari), Mumbai (48 hours after the terrorist attacks) and Shanghai (to check out the highest hotel in the world). The last leg on Jet Airways was from Shanghai (PVG) to San Francisco (SFO), but getting to the Shanghai airport was an adventure in itself.
My beautiful mate Natalie and I decided to take the Shanghai Maglev, one of the fastest trains in the world … at times it travels a third of the speed of sound. The 30-kilometer (18-mile) ride takes just eight minutes and costs only 50 yuan ($7 USD). But it’s more of a novelty because it’s out of the way; the train station is a good 12 kilometers or 30 minutes by car from most hotels.
WRONG TRAIN STATION
I made a huge mistake relying on the hotel bellman to explain to the driver where we were going, rather than getting the destination written in Chinese. It turned out that the driver dropped us off at the wrong train station, which we didn’t figure out for a good 15 or 20 minutes. We were at the domestic train station, which was a sea of locals. I ran to the ticket counter and the one line that had a sign reading “English speaking counter” was long – even though no one was speaking English.
WHAT THE BLEEP?
I waited in the line and the agent told me in broken English (and with a bit of attitude, I might add) to go to Subway Line 1 to buy the tickets. I tried – but it was a long crowded maze and I was afraid I would lose Natalie, who was a ways back, guarding our luggage. I went back to the agent and she said I needed to take Subway Line 1 to Peoples Square to catch the airport train! What the bleep? I gotta take a subway to get to the train? I was so pissed and nervous that we were going to miss our flight, which only departed Shanghai every three days that I ran back to Natalie, mumbled something and ran with the luggage. She must have thought we were being chased!
TRAIN STATION TO AIRPORT – QUICK!
The taxi line was super-long but it was moving fast. As Natalie waited in line, I approached a non-English-speaking policeman. I pointed to the Pudong Airport in my Frommers guidebook and pointed to my watch, signaling that I needed to go to the airport ASAP. He understood and was going to help me cut the line but by the time he tried to get it approved, Natalie had reached the front anyway. After a game of charades with the taxi driver, who luckily understood my hand signal of a flying plane and watch, he drove faster than the bullet train itself and we were on our way.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much traffic and we made it to the airport in 45 minutes. The meter read just 154 yuan ($22.50USD) but I gave the driver a healthy tip, even though tipping isn’t the usual practice. But this driver was cool and he’d saved the day! Lesson learned? Always have directions to where you’re going written in both English and the local language. I’ve could have avoided a lot of unwanted stress if I’d done this. And if I’d remembered I had a universal picture book with me, which I always carry in my computer case, we could have avoided the game of charades. But I forgot I had it since I’ve never used it.
Our flight to San Francisco was at 9pm and the beautiful, enormous, brand new airport was pretty much deserted.Check-in, passport control and security had no lines and didn’t take much time to clear at all. The duty free shops were like a ghost town and we quickly spent our last yuans on some last-minute gifts and headed to the lounge just to check it out. It was a shared airline lounge located on the second floor with an open concept, which made for some good people-and plane-spotting. There was a Qantas flight going to Sydney and an Emirates flight to Dubai. The lounge had a fair number of customers milling about and it was packed with Chinese labeled drinks, food and treats. BTW: The toilet in there was a souped-up Toto just like at the Park Hyatt Shanghai! I don’t want to sound like a freak but that’s my favorite loo in the world and I can’t wait to get one for my own home.
I’m not going to go into huge detail about the 10-hour, 30-minute flight since I’ve written about Jet Airways and their amazing service, food, seats and amenities for the past several weeks. However, when we boarded the plane, I was shocked to see the same crew as our flight from Mumbai to Shanghai. It turns out they had a three-day layover as well since the flight only operates a couple days a week. Unfortunately, like all airlines cutting back these days, Jet Airways recently discontinued the Shanghai to San Francisco flight. But how crazy is it that I had back-to-back flight crews, twice on the same trip? The first was New York to Brussels and then Brussels to Delhi.
SHANGHAI TO SAN FRANCISCO
This time when the flight attendants came around with the pajamas I chose to put mine on instead of putting them in my bag. I usually save them for the poor or give them to a friend but as soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I got up and changed immediately since the bathroom would be at its cleanest. The flight attendants had hung my street clothes for me so I put all my money my shoe under my seat. Since the socks that were provided didn’t fit my size 13 dogs, I wore one shoe every time I needed to use the bathroom. Wearing my blue PJs and hopping down the aisles, I looked like a Dr. Seuss Who from Whoville.
The only bummer about the flight was that the entertainment system didn’t work; not that I watch movies on the plane but I love to view the live map. The power outlet was all I needed so after dinner I worked a bit and then the flight attendant made my bed. I have to tell you, pajamas make a huge difference when trying to sleep on a plane (Jet Airways’ lie-flat bed didn’t hurt either) but I slept so well that when we landed in San Francisco just as the sun was setting, I wasn’t even thinking about going back to sleep.
The new international terminal at the SFO airport is plush. It’s a great place to hear welcome home and an even better place to welcome visitors, especially since there was no line at immigration. The agent said we’d timed it perfectly but she also said that if all the flights come in at the same time, the line can be over an hour wait – now that’s not cool. I asked her if that wait is for U.S. citizens or foreigners (they have separate lines) and she said that it depends on who’s on the plane. Duh! What a knucklehead question that was.
More kudos to SFO for providing free carts to international arrivals. It makes a huge difference and most countries do it so it makes us look good. Can you believe some airports charge $4 for a cart? TIP: I never pay for a cart; I just go outside to the arrivals section and grab one that some sucker has just left curbside.
Natalie and I landed at 4:28pm and since there was no line at customs and our bags didn’t take too long, we were able to make the 5pm shuttle bus to Marin. The Marin Airporter operates about every 30 minutes and it’s a great way to go to Marin County – right across the Golden Gate Bridge. We got off at the Sausalito exit; the ride without traffic is about 30 minutes and costs just $20 apiece. That same ride from LGA or JFK to my hometown on CT Limo is triple the price and they have more attitude than you would believe. Here it’s reasonable and the drivers are friendly and helpful.
Ralph the bellman from Cavallo Point greeted us as we’d arranged (we could have arranged for a car service but it would have been double or triple the price). Cavallo Point is one of the region’s newest and nicest hotels. This five-star escape took over 10 years to make a reality as they renovated the old Fort Baker just under the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s so nice it’s almost too good to be true and one high-end travel magazine just listed it as one of the top 10 historic hotels in America and its restaurant has already received a Michelin star.
Since Cavallo Point is so special and I’m out of time, we’ll pick up from here next week and explore this historic hotel fully. Happy travels!
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Note: This trip was sponsored by Jet Airways.