Hey everyone, I just wanted to give you some of my thoughts on this trip. For more detailed reviews of each segment, read Ben’s posts.
Air Italy: JFK to Milan
I was so excited to fly Air Italy. They recently underwent a major rebranding, and I was curious to see if I minded the angled flat seats. (By the way, does Air Italy’s logo remind you of anyone else’s?)
JFK’s Terminal 1 is one of the saddest places I’ve been — imagine taking all the worst characteristics of the DMV, a minimum-security prison, and a bus station and combining them into one unpleasant place, and that’s Terminal 1.
The boarding process was pretty disorganized and chaotic. At one point they told us they would be boarding business class last “for our comfort,” which made no sense. Thankfully they changed their minds.
Once aboard, the experienced changed completely. The flight itself was really nice. I had no problem whatsoever sleeping on the seats – the angle was barely noticeable.
The food was actually amazing. The only area where I think they could have stepped up their game a bit was dessert, where you had a choice between fruit, cheese, or a just-okay strawberry cake thing.
I guess the pajamas were impressive, but I didn’t really think they were necessary. Plus, they only had an Extra Large, so I ended up looking like Notorious B.I.G.
Business class was served by an all-male crew, something I’ve rarely experienced. They were all friendly, gracious and professional, and smiled genuinely at every interaction.
Belavia Milan to Minsk
No references were made by the flight crew to the strange, erotic journey featured in Seinfeld. But overall it was a solid flight. I would recommend Belavia for intra-Europe travel to anyone. Ditto for connecting in Minsk.
The food wasn’t great…but the fact that they had food at all is commendable! And the crew was efficient and cordial.
The Renaissance was a solid hotel. The staff was friendly and the lounge was comfortable.
I was expecting Minsk to be austere and unfriendly. I had heard about how it looks like the USSR before its collapse. While it’s true that some of the architecture and atmosphere felt kind of Soviet, on the whole it was a modern, accessible city.
Oh, we also visited the Cat Museum, which was…an experience. It’s not so much a museum as a place where a bunch of cats live, which has cat-themed artwork on the walls and stuff you can buy. They are all rescue cats and they can be adopted. They seemed to be well looked after by very caring staff, so it’s not a kitty prison.
In general, the cats were pretty indifferent to our presence (as you’d expect), but one of them kept looking at me and eventually started putting her paw on my shoulder (she was sitting on a shelf). I realized that she wanted to climb on me, so I let her. It was cute.
Overall Minsk was very clean…but there was a lot of litter around the Cat Museum. (That was a pun.) Seriously, it’s probably not a place where a typical family would want to spend a week’s vacation, but based on my experience it’s certainly not a place to avoid. I also found the people we encountered to be friendly.
Lufthansa Minsk to Frankfurt
Not much to say about this segment, other than that we arrived at the remotest stand at Frankfurt airport and took a bus ride that felt longer than some short-haul flights.
Frankfurt to Whitehorse on Condor
This flight got off to a rocky start — we boarded and were eventually told there was a mechanical problem that couldn’t be fixed and that we’d need to board another plane. We ended up departing a couple hours late.
The cabin was nice enough, and reminded me of a typical business class cabin. The aircraft was on the older side, but looked well-maintained. Kind of like Harrison Ford.
The food they served was completely decent — it wasn’t memorable, but it was good. I would say the same of the service. Everyone was nice, but nothing really stood out. Really, these days in air travel, as long as I’m not treated like I’m a burden, I’m happy.
Frustratingly, my entertainment system kept freezing, and also inexplicably had a much more limited selection of movies and TV shows than Ben’s — something was clearly wrong with it.
And I couldn’t pass the time by sleeping. The seat wasn’t ideal…this angle was definitely more noticeable than that of the angled-flat Air Italy seat we’d experienced a few days earlier.
Landing in Whitehorse was a highlight of the flight, as we had some cool views on descent and at the airport.
This may not sound like a glowing review, but given the price we paid (a little over $900 for business class on a flight from Europe to the West Coast of Canada!), Condor was an incredible value. For a similar price, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again (not that I plan to be in the market for a flight from Frankfurt to northern Canada again anytime soon).
While Condor business class might not have the “wow” factor that other airlines offer, you do get lounge access, premium seats (albeit not fully flat), upgraded dining, and just about everything else you’d expect from business class at a fraction of the usual cost.
I’ll be doing a separate post on an activity we did in Whitehorse, but here I’ll share my general impressions. I was kind of expecting the town to be a bit run-down and kind of backwoods.
I was surprised — while it’s not exactly a megacity, it’s not tiny either. Even setting aside the amazing scenery for a moment, the town is beautiful. The only thing they really need now is a Park Hyatt (we stayed at a nice AirBnB, since lodging options were a bit limited).
As far as natural beauty goes, it’s one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been (though going at a time when the leaves were changing probably helped as well). It was chilly: even in mid-September it was below freezing in the mornings, but would warm up to the mid-50s later in the day.
One thing I learned is that Ben does about as well in cold weather as a palm tree. He barely survived the trip from the parking lot to the Tim Horton’s when we went to get coffee in the morning.
My one regret is that we didn’t see the Aurora Borealis. It looked like viewing conditions were going to be ideal, but we didn’t want to stay up all night to see it, as we were pretty jet lagged by that point.
We downloaded an app that was supposed to alert us when there was Aurora activity nearby, and Ben woke me at about 3 am to show me the alert. My response was basically “I don’t care if it’s raining chocolate chip cookies, please let me go back to sleep.”
So maybe another trip to Northern Canada is in order. Before this trip, Whitehorse hadn’t really been on my radar, but now I wouldn’t hesitate to go back! I’m also anxious to check out Yellowknife and Iqaluit (perhaps trying First Air and Canadian North in the process).
Whitehorse to Vancouver on Air North
Based on my previous post about Air North, you can guess that I was excited to fly with them from Whitehorse to Vancouver. Check-in and security at Whitehorse Airport was adorable. The Air North employees seemed to know several of the passengers, and even hugged some of them.
The aircraft itself was “vintage,” reminding me of some of the planes I traveled on as a kid…but everything worked fine and was well-maintained. Legroom was ample. The slice of berry cake that I had for breakfast tasted like it was made in someone’s home kitchen (on some other airlines, I occasionally wonder if the breakfast was made in a pet food factory).
Even with no in-flight Wi-Fi or power outlets, this was one of my more pleasant short-haul flights in 2018. One of the highlights was the scenery out the window.
Then as Ben headed back to the US, I spent the day in Vancouver. I visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Granville Island Public Market. What a cool city!
It was a little tough to explain to people at work that I was going to Belarus and the Yukon on the same trip. But it was a great trip, and Ben was a good sport about putting up with my cat cafe puns.
Some people have told me that a trip where you spend as much time in the air as on the ground doesn’t appeal to them…and I respect that, just as I would rather have a root canal than watch a football game. For me, getting to try Air Italy, Belavia, Condor, and Air North in one vacation was a great way to spend a few days!