Monday, August 7, 2017

Adventures of Perry the Perroz deigns T-shirt Part 2: S. Petersburg to Toronto

St. Petersburg to Toronto via Istanbul and Warsaw

 For my way back home I ended up with a bit of a silly itinerary.  I would fly from St. Petersburg to Istanbul, spend a night in Turkey, and then go from Istanbul to Warsaw and from there connect to Toronto.  It sounds a bit unnecessary but it was the only way to avoid waking up at 4am to make a flight through Germany.  I've also wanted to fly Turkish Airlines for a while and trying LOT seemed like a nice perk.  

My rout home ended up looking like this:

St. Petersburg - Istanbul: 3:15pm - 6:45pm

Layover in Istanbul: 18 hours

Istanbul - Warsaw: 12:35pm - 2:00pm

Layover in Warsaw: 3.5 hours

Warsaw - Toronto: 5:20pm - 8:20pm

LED Pulkovo Airport Contract Lounge.

St. Petersburg airport still holds the code from when the city was called Leningrad but the old Soviet terminal had finally been changed a few years ago.  What you find now is a beautiful, airy and bright terminal that can be accessed by taxi, car, and bus (and doesn't smell like old cigarettes).  The city is planning on extending the subway to the terminal but that has yet to happen.  Taxi pricing getting to the airport is extremely reasonable; it’s about 10 CAD when going through official taxi companies, which is recommended to avoid misunderstandings (like getting ripped off).  If you prefer public transport there is an express bus going from Moscow Square (Moskovskaya Ploshad').  Bus fares are less than 1CAD but be aware that luggage is charged extra if more than a carry-on sized bag.

To get into the terminal there is a security check where bags are x-rayed.  Computers need to be turned on in the presence of an official after the x-ray.  The security personnel are reasonably polite, but don’t expect many smiles, this is Eastern Europe after all.  Sadly, there is no priority line for security, neither to enter the airport nor to pass through departure screening.  The double security can be tiring but in today’s climate, it is a common feature in that part of the world.  The nice thing is that you can take luggage carts through the primary screening so no need to lug any bags you may have around on your own. 

After checking in there is the customs passage for international destinations.  Be ready to answer all the questions of the border agents as they are very thorough.  Don’t be scared by their demeanor, it’s the way people in Russia look; I call it resting angry face.  Once you’ve passed passport control there will be customs (take the green side if you have nothing to declare and the red if you need to declare anything, standard operating procedure for most of Europe).  Then we have the usual security screening.  If you need to take your shoes off (if you have high heels or know that the shoes tend to set off the metal detector) there are single use booties provided so that you don’t need to walk barefoot along the floor.  You will need to turn your computer or tablet on again here. 

So, security is done, and you’re airside at last.  Prepare yourself: the path to the gates takes you through the perfume area of the duty free shops and will cling to you like tar.  I don’t see a problem about being forced to walk through duty free to the gates, airports make their money off this, but I take a personal offence at needing to walk through perfume.  It’s unreasonable and seriously not fun for people with allergies.  But once you’ve walked the gauntlette of musk you’ll emerge into a large and airy space.  The restaurants are almost all on a second level that is still open to the main area.  There are a few shops around but nothing major.  LED isn’t crowded like FRA or IST.  The signage is generally quite good and easy to follow.  The bathrooms are clean and not a relic of Soviet times and most of all, there is air conditioning.  There is also free wifi, though you will need cell reception to access it as the password is sent to your phone by phone number.  Overall it’s a beautiful airport with plenty of seating and charging ports, though they do only take Russian plugs so have an adapter ready.

The seating areas in front of the gates

Looking up at the ceiling
My Turkish Airlines plane!

The terminal building from the outside

Views of the central area from the food court

Business Class Lounge:

There are two business class lounges in LED, the Aeroflot lounge (also used by other Skyteam members) and the Mercedes Benz contract lounge (used by all other airlines).  As I was flying with Turkish Airlines I got to try the Mercedes Benz lounge. 

Both lounges are located on the second floor and are accessed by walking past the restaurant area.

Yes, there is a Burger King in the airport

The lounge is small, but well appointed with many seating areas including private cubicles, a dining area, couches for groups, relaxation areas, and a small business area.  The lounge overlooks the central part of the terminal, including the giant windows looking over the tarmac so the views are wonderful. 

Other than that, the lounge is quite basic.  There are some decent food choices but drink options are limited.  I recommend the mors, a type of fruit juice, which is what I drank the whole time I was there. 

Private lounge seating

The business centre

Sequestered seating for groups (or for napping)

Tables for groups
The dining area
Food bar

Food bar


The bathrooms, though nice, are badly planned out.  There are two single stall bathrooms that function as a toilet and a shower room at the same time.  They are also gendered.  If they are full then a line tends to form, which I witnessed firsthand.  There are public bathrooms just outside the lounge but that is just bad design on the part of the airport as there is nothing but the two lounges in that area.  I don’t know why the lounges didn’t just build the bathrooms into the area instead of making them outside the boarding pass check. 

Convenient tables for bags and shower mat

Blocked off shower

Note that since the lounge is open to the rest of the terminal all announcements are heard inside the lounge.  That includes passengers being paged, employees being pages, etc.  On the one hand it means that you know about any changes happening to your flight but it also means that the lounge gets pretty loud at times, which can be counterproductive if you are trying to work or relax.  The lounge also has multiple electronic departure boards with gate information. 

The plug situation is also bad.  With the exception of the small business centre and a few individual seats, plugs are few and far between.  They are also Russian standard so, once again, be prepared to need an adapter. Wifi, though on a separate network to the rest of the airport, also needs a functioning mobile connection to provide you with a key code.

Turkish Airlines Short-haul to Istanbul

The Turkish Airlines service to St. Petersburg is an Intra-Europe product, which means that the hard product, aka the seat, is an economy seat with the middle seat blocked.  Even so, Turkish has more than just a plastic tray or a sign blocking the middle seat: the whole back section of the middle seat folds down to create a secondary tray and armrest section between two seats.  This also creates more space for the seat, as the armrest is now two inches over.  Another nice thing is the presence of a cup holder on the back of the seat in front so that you don’t have to keep the table down if you just have a drink.  I do wish more airlines would think of this.  Business class also has footrests that lower for some added comfort, so even with an intra-Europe configuration, you can see how Turkish Airlines have tried to differentiate themselves.  This may also be a result of Turkish Airlines flying an older plane on the route.  The seats have not been “upgraded” to slim-line seats unlike the LH group of airlines.

Middle seat with the center tray table folded out

Foot rest

Cup holder 

Turkish Boarding Passes with Carr-on baggage allowance

For comfort Turkish Airlines provide a pillow and a thin blanket but no amenity kit, which is sad, because if would be nice to at least get some socks and an eye mask and ear plugs, but no airline seems to offer these on short haul flights so this is par for the course.  Turkish do provide entertainment, though, in the form of iPads loaded with movies and tv-shows, along with earphones.  For a small dose of entertainment Turkish have their safety video.  It’s pretty funny and worth watching at least once.

As with Austrian, Turkish Airlines use DO&CO as their caterer.  This means a high quality of food and drinks and they don’t disappoint.  THEY HAD DOLMA!!!!  I know I’ll be one of the few who truly cares about this, but it is hard to find good dolma (meat and rice wrapped in grape leaf) in the West so when I saw it on my plate I was overly excited.  I actually regret not asking for more, though I was pretty full by the end of the meal.  The eggplant was also delicious.  When properly prepared eggplant is amazing and boy did they prepare it well.  With that much yum on my plate, what could trump the whole meal?  Two words: Turkish coffee.  It may seem like a small thing, but North America is sadly lacking in good coffee (at least to my taste).  All the fancy cappuccinos and Americanos and whatnot can’t compete with simple Turkish coffee.  Made by boiling the ground beans in a special pot called an ibrik (or turka, or chezwa, depending on the language) right up till it starts to overflow and then pouring the whole thing, grounds and all, into a small cup it really is the simplest and best way to make coffee.  Turkish coffee ends up with a thick texture and full flavor.  It’s served with sweets, usually Turkish delight, and some sugar according to taste.  I’m not usually a big coffee drinker but for this I make an exception.  I think I had five cups in five hours.  I had been looking forward to this for months and Oh it was glorious.

Pre-flight drinks from left to right: Raspberry; Orange; Lemon/mint

Turkish Coffee in the centre there

Turkish Meze.  The Dolma is the bit in the right side

Cute salt and pepper shakers

Bulgur Pilav

Turkish Coffee!!!  With Turkish Delight on the side

Provided as a snack

Black tea

The service was warm and they kept wanting to feed me more.  I ended up eating two desserts.  Throughout the whole flight the curtain between business and economy was kept closed and it was closed again during de-boarding (it had to be opened for safely reasons during the descent).  Though we parked at a remote stand there was a private bus just for business class.  The whole process of deboarding and getting to the terminal was as painless as possible in the circumstance. 

Privacy curtain

An interesting part of the Turkish Airlines service is that if you have a connection of over 7 hours in business or 10 hours in economy mandated by the Turkish flight schedule the company will put you up in a hotel.  BUT, it has to be a forced connection, not one that was chosen by the passenger.  So, in my case my flight from St. Petersburg landed six hours after the daily departure to Warsaw, through which I was connecting to Toronto.  There is only one flight a day to each destination so there was no way for me to get a shorter connection.  If, on the other hand, there was an early morning flight from St. Petersburg then I wouldn’t be eligible for the free hotel.  The best way to check if you an get the hotel without going straight to the hotel desk is to make a stop at the lounge or at the transit desk and ask the agents there.  I did just that. 

Once you have your confirmation of hotel eligibility you can go straight to the hotel desk in the arrivals hall of the airport or you can go grab dinner at the lounge.  I actually went there and had more Turkish coffee.  Then comes the adventure of finding the desk.  Be prepared for a lot of people, a lot of signs, a lot of confusion and suspiciously empty security points that you will have to go through.  Remember as well that some countries (like Canada and the USA) need a visa to enter Turkey which you can get right before passport control.  It costs about 30CAD at the moment.  The hotel desk is on the far right once you exit passport control.  It is located beside the Starbucks so just look for that.  You go up, ask for a hotel room and then wait.  It seems that the agents wait around for a few people to gather at once before sending everyone out to the hotel. 

Gorrion Hotel Istanbul 

The hotel that is being used at the moment is called Gorrion Hotel Istanbul.  It’s a five star hotel and is exceedingly comfortable.  I got a twin room.

The entrance door with closet space on the side

View of the room from the entrance

Empty fridge


Closet section right side

Closet section left side

Giant TV, though I don't know how many tourists know Turkish

A very comfortable chair and desk

The set up is more than functional and there is ample room to either relax before bed or to do some work.  There are two sets of outlets, one above the nightstand and one above the desk. 

International outlet beside the dest

Eastern outlet above the night stand

The wifi was free and fast.  Perry, my Perroz Designs shirt was so tired after all our travelling that he passed out right away in what turned out to be a an extremely comfortable bed.  (I'm overusing the word extremely, but the whole experience was seriously above expectation.)  My only problem was the pillow.  It was exceedingly firm and high.  I’m not used to that, though it didn’t hinder my sleep at all.  The duvet was warm and large and thankfully used a real cover instead of the sheets so beloved by North Americans. 

The shower was large and had both a rainforest head and a handheld shower nozzle that could be held on the side facing out or adjusted along a bar to provide a more traditional shower angle.  The pressure and the temperature controls were good and water didn’t escape the stall. 

Removable head and the bar for mounting it

Bathroom from the entrance

Self branded toilet

I don’t know how well the hotel is located for touring Istanbul (not Constantinople) but for an overnight stay it was fantastic.  The night before I was told that the shuttle was coming at 10:00 for me so I had almost a full twelve hours to relax and rest in a real bed, and take a real shower, and charge all my electronics. If you ever travel with Turkish Airlines and have a very long layover check to see if you are eligible for a hotel, it is worth going through immigration to have a good night’s sleep and be awake and rested the next day.

Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge

Going through security again the next morning was a bit of a pain, especially as it was a two tier system, like in St. Petersburg, but was still worth it for getting real sleep.  Now, while security was twofold, it wasn’t especially invasive.  Not like the extreme process present at Heathrow.  You just need to go through the metal detector and turn on your computer for the security agents.  Immigration, on the other hand, was very strict.  Much more than what I’ve gotten in Western Europe.  Poland is the same, as is Russia.  It seems that Eastern Europe is much more concerned with WHO is coming into the country while Western Europe cares about TSA liquid rules. 

Once you are passed immigration, you are free to have fun.  IST is a great airport for people watching since there are so many cultures represented.  There is also quite a bit of shopping to do but the true fun is, of course, the Turkish CIP lounge, located to the far right after immigration.  Passengers travelling in business class or holding Star Alliance Gold status are eligible to entre.  As with most things, Turkish puts other carriers to shame with their CIP lounge.  Remember, this isn’t a first class lounge, just a business lounge but it feels like so much more. 

Wifi code stand

Once you entre there are lockers to store your larger carry-on bags and kiosks to get a wifi code.  Simply present your boarding pass and a receipt prints out with the code.

The lounge has two floors and a third half floor in the centre.  Food stations are present everywhere, as are beverage carts and stations.

The Cafe section

Coffee station.

Turkish tea

I parked myself by the coffee station and just continued downing Turkish coffees.


Youtube has many videos of the lounge so I’m pretty much going to tell you to just go have the coffee.  Seriously, just do it, it’s so worth it.  The tea, on the other hand, is oversteeped to my taste and is quite bitter, so be careful of that.

The coffee stands are served by attendants.  If you don’t see one wait a few moments, they will appear.  The same with the food stations.  Food is prepared fresh in front of you and is very tasty.

The lounge doesn’t have any announcements about flights but there are many, many boards displaying all the relevant and current information for all flights leaving the terminal.  Be aware that the gates are pretty far from the lounge so it is good to give yourself five to ten minutes to reach them. 

I am omiting the flight to Warsaw as it was almost the same as my flight into Istanbul.

LOT Chopin Lounge Schengen Zone

WAW Chopin airport is a beautiful place.  It’s aesthetically pleasing, yes, but the beauty is in the signage, at least from what I experienced.  Well done, directions clearly marked, and simple, the place was so easy to navigate.  I’d love to see how the experience is starting from the outside one day but transferring was a breeze. 

The LOT Lounge is located in the Schengen zone, right after security, so it’s easy to get to, but you will need to pass immigration.  It’s worth it, though, especially if you have Star Alliance Gold status.  The lounge has recently been renovated and it looks fresh, bright, and welcoming.  It also has the best welcome candy at the check-in desk.

I wasn’t able to get many pictures of the lounge as it was full so you’ll need to just trust me at my word that it looks nice.  There are actually two lounges here, one is the main lounge, accessible by business class and the lower tiers of the LOT rewards program.  The bathrooms are clean and there are many seating areas, including some fun hanging chairs.  There is a decent food spread, many computers, and a first come first serve mini-spa area that gives free 20-minute treatments.  The more hidden lounge is accessible by Star Alliance Gold members.

This lounge has more seating with a variety of configurations.  I especially like the high top seating for working.  There is another set of bathrooms inside.  To note, both sets of bathrooms have some extra products in them.  Wearing make-up on a flight isn’t the beast thing as it is two levels of dryness acting on your face so washing it off before a flight is a good idea.

There is also a nicer spread of food inside this lounge, and the food is quite good.  DO&CO is supposed to have the best food in the business but with the exception of the Turkish coffee (I won’t ever get over it) I actually found the food here more interesting and better.  And the food on the plane was of equal quality from what I had.  The lounge is not very big and seems to fill up quickly so I recommend snagging a seat as quickly as you can.   Note that there are no announcements in the lounge so you will need to keep an eye on the screens to be notified about your flight.

Entrance to the general lounge

Star Alliance Gold lounge food spread (more along the counter at the back)

General lounge area

General lounge pod seating

If your flight leaves from the Schengen area, great, you’re set.  But if you need to go into the non-Schengen side I’d recommend leaving early to have a bit more time to go through immigration.  You just follow signs towards your gate and you will reach the passport lines easily. 

LOT Long-Haul to Toronto 

It’s interesting that LOT has seating set aside for Business class and Star Alliance Gold members at the gate with an agent checking your credentials.  They also use zonal boarding so watch for your zone. This area is right beside the boarding gate so you can board right from it. (It's just regular seats blocked off with stantions.)

On the flight to Toronto, LOT operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and I must say it’s fantastic.  It’s a gorgeous plane and is supposed to be better pressurized, thought I haven’t been able to tell the difference much. 

LOT use the same seats as Turkish Airlines for their long haul business class and I loved them. I know that some people hate sitting beside others or not having direct aisle access from every seat but I’ll gladly give that up for the leg space and the seat width that you get here.  You can lie any way you want on these seats and not worry about knees not fitting, or leg cubbies.  There is no being stuck behind the tray tables since they swivel.  There is a large centre console between the seats, and the ottomans at the foot end double as storage areas.  The whole things is just gorgeous.

Look at all the space!

Blanket, pillow, and sheet


Swivelled table 

Privacy screens when travelling alone

Perry was more than comfortable

The seat controls are easy to use and if you do have any questions there is a instruction manual in a slot near the feet. There is also a literature slot in the console area which fits a laptop. It says not to use during take off and landing but I had no problem with my MacBook in there. In terms of other space, the overhead bins are more than enough to fit all the bags of people in business class, even with half the central area being without bins. (I like it because the cabin feels even roomier this way). Any suits or jackets are hung up by the flight attendants. The area under the ottoman has a large section for your personal item and a smaller one for shoes. Very nicely done. For anything else there is a small section beside the seat that has space for a bottle of water.  This section also houses the outlet and the controller for the screen display.  Since the screen is so far from you (it sits above the ottoman on the back of the seat in front) the controller is the only way to operate it. That may be the only drawback of this seat to me, but since I don't do much more than watch the air show I didn't really care.

TV screen, smaller than Air Canada and far away. On the side you can see a coat hook

Controller for the TV

Add caption

Add caption

When I booked LOT I did it because the timing was convenient and, since I was booking using points, there were no surcharges. I wasn't thinking of food much, I just assumed it would be average. Now, I don't know if this was just my flight but OH MY GOD it was so good. Like, DO&CO level good. And they kept trying to get me to eat more. The service started on the ground when I got served an amouse bouche and (my choice) sparkling water. Once we were in the air the flight attendant came up to each person and asked what we would like for our main course. I tried to say that I'll be good with just an appetiser but the fa convinced me to have "the vegetables" which were actually fish with veggies on the side. The rest of the service was done off a trolley so that you could choose what you want. The place setting was done staring onto the table (with tablecloth of course), with no trays in sight. Between the main course and the dessert I was offered a shot of polish cherry liqueur (they call it vodka but it is closer to a digestive  than to actual vodka, sip it don't down it in one go). I highly recommend this as it is the perfect little transition to dessert and also tastes great.  Dessert came out on a trolley once again and it all looked SO good. If I wasn't full already I'd have tried everything. As it was I got the fruit mousse and was convinced to try the panna cotta as well. Delicious. I skipped the pre-landing meal as I was quite full still but it looked delicious as well.

Small amouse bouche before take-off
Mead and nuts.  

Branded tablecloths

Soup and appetiser served directly onto the table

Notice the pine nuts and capons, not your ordinary airplane salad

The veggies were good thought they don't look it, the fish was fantastic as well

After dinner liquer

Nice cup of tea

The LOT amenity kit is pretty basic but I really it. The bag is a simple grey cube without any prominent branding. The contents are everything you need on a flight. The toothbrush was eespecially nice as it came with a cover. Guess what my new travel toothbrush is? The little nail file is also convenient for those times that nails chip when away from home. I also appreciate the addition of the hair comb and shoe horn because those are things that are often forgotten on a flight/

The only bit of branding on the bag

A nice, well made bag that can be used again

What really stood out to me during the whole thing was how warm and nice the crew were. These were obviously people who were proud of their product and wanted the passengers to enjoy it. We are always used to Eastern Europeans being brusque or even borderline rude but it seems the service culture is changing. There were smiles all around and none of them looked forced. I also have to mention the uniforms. I thought they were beautiful. The design was pleasant to the eye and the colour was a dark black/grey that didn't clash with any of the fixtures. Another thing to mention is the amount of windows you get in a window seat. Three. Three large windows with easy access. Perfect for taking photos if your camera is up to it.  What really did it for me, though, were the seats. While there are many people who find the 2/2/2 configuration in business class to be uncompetitive, I actually prefer it. For one, 75 % of the seats have direct aisle access. If you are travelling alone you can sit in the centre section and never have to interact with your neighbour. If you are travelling with a friend or partner or are the designated carer for another person, having two seats together is prefered.  I often fly Air Canada and as much as I do love them I am always frustrated that I can't get any conversation in with my friends when we fly as a group. 

With all the craziness of just how much I traveled in such a short amount of time, I managed to stay pretty comfortable all the way through. While Austrian and Turkish lived up to my high expectations I was truly surprised by how good the LOT experience was. Also that my three checked bags made it all the way. When I go to Russia or eastern Europe again I'll definitely choose LOT over anyone unless I get the chance to try Turkish Airlines long haul (I can't resist those Turkish Coffees).  

No comments:

Post a Comment