Wednesday, November 30, 2011


This week I had to go on a quick business trip to Pennsylvania with a client. When I say “quick”, I really mean it; we left Istanbul on Tuesday and returned on Wednesday/Thursday.

First off let’s talk about the flight. Now I have always traveled in the economy class, what can I say I have Scottish blood and the client paid all the expenses for this trip. Anyway, we flew onTHY (Turkish Airlines) Comfort Class, somewhat in-between Economy and Business (First Class). With Comfort Class, you do not get any of the perks on the ground, so no special lounge or express services; you check in through the same line and you have the same baggage limitations as everyone else. The real perks happen on board the Boeing 777, which is the only aircraft they offer this class.

When you enter the plane, a spacious seat greets you with more legroom than you have in your home! Well not literally, but I am 6’ 3” tall, and had no problem even when the person in front reclined their seat.

Here is the layout you get, large and very comfortable seat that not only reclines twice as far as Economy, the foot rises and extends like a recliner in your living room. In one armrest, you have your fold out tray table. The other arm has a drink holder, electric plug, USB port, phone, and full entertainment system with a 10 inch LCD touch screen which you can control with the multifunctional phone (also serves as a small keyboard, mouse, and Nintendo like game controller). If you are technology minded, as I am, you have more entertainment at your fingertips than you need to keep yourself busy for more than a week. Personally, I played three games, and watched four of the 168 available movies on the trip to JFK in New York. I never got cramped up or crushed or hungry, or thirsty. Surprisingly I did not even have to bend over to use the restroom!

Alrighty then, the food! In short SUPERIOR. THY served two meals on each flight. Each meal was served on actual ceramic dishes, coffee served in a ceramic cup, and silverware was actual metal. All other drinks were served in a plastic cup.

The first meal I choose the Eggplant Pasta with Chicken Salad. It was cooked for the masses so it needed a little salt and pepper for my taste, but the Eggplant was perfect (really hard to do) and the pasta was still firm enough to hold the sauce rather than becoming a sauce paste. The sauce was a lovely thick tomato sauce with just the right amount of garlic, onion and oregano. They definitely went to the school of “Keep It Simple” hard to mess things up that way! The chicken was grilled natural pieces of chicken breast over a lovely salad with white cheese with a little vinegar and oil on the side.
The second meal I choose İmambayildı (The priest has fainted) which again is an Eggplant dish. It was served with a Dolma and Cheese selection. I really had to remind myself that this was “airplane food”. The İmambayildı was exact, lovely texture, not too much oil, and the accompanying sauce mixed perfectly. The Dolma was grape leaf wrapped rice with olive oil and it was fantastic, not mushy or dry like so many can be. Another important factor when it comes to a grape leaf dolma, is that the cooking time and the olive oil need to be right to remove the bitter bite of the grape leaf, and I have to give the THY Chef the thumbs up on that one too! So on to stage two of the trip, A drive from JFK to Wernersville Pennsylvania. I am going to tell you about two things, the car and the meal.

The car was a stock Dodge Journey van, probably a 2009 model, I am not positive. This was a good ride. It was spacious, even with the three-row seating there was room for four full-size suitcases and a couple carry-on’s behind the back row, then complete comfort for all FIVE adults who were in the vehicle. Powerful enough to get us wherever we needed to go, easily pulling a couple very steep hills, but you would expect that from the Dodge power plant. What I didn’t expect were the smooth ride, excellent handling even in a driving rain, and the fact that the windows on the two sliding side doors rolled down. Mr Curiosity here just had to find out what that switch did while traveling 70 MHP in a driving rainstorm,

Two of us got wet very fast because that is a BIG window LOL! Gratefully an independent rear heater made quick work of the mess I created. I liked the power sliding doors, and the back-up camera in the middle of the dash.

What I did not like was the overabundance of molded plastic! I cannot really comment on the performance because I did not drive. I can tell you that the three-hour drive turned into a five-hour drive because of the rain and an accident that snarled traffic for about 20 miles! This meant that we needed to stop to eat along the way.

So we stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Clinton NJ. What can I say, I was not driving. I had forgotten what it was like to have food in a restaurant attached to a country store; besides, I had little energy for arguing. Typical overdone “Americana” décor. Both the restaurant and country store were full of old farming implements from floor to ceiling. Yes they take old plows and pitchforks and pretty much anything that is rusty and hang them from the ceiling. Too bad they covered up all that great Oak and Walnut woodwork with all that trash. Food was not too bad although the portions were too big and the primary flavor in my meatloaf was the thick layer of baked Ketchup on top. The mashed potatoes were good, better if they had not included cream along with the butter and milk, but not too bad. The veggie was so forgettable, that I have forgotten what it even was. The one real draw about this place was that they were selling rocking chairs for couples. You know the old wooden rocking chair for two sitting out on the porch that by the time you like to sit in them you have been married to the same woman for so long you do not want her sitting that close! I sat in one, alone, and pretty comfy!

Now why I agreed to take a 10 hour flight, then 3 (turned out to be 5) hour drive, do a business meeting that lasted less than 1 hour, then take the 3 hour drive back to Manhattan I will never know but I did. Don’t ask me what kind of car drove back, I have no clue. It was nice I remember feeling like I was in a limousine, but let’s get real, I was pretty fried and ended up sleeping off and on for the majority of the drive. Apparently the drive was much better because in less than 3 hours the driver dropped me off at The Stay, 157 W 47th in midtown Manhattan. Nice enough, half a block from Times Square, but at 2 AM what do I care.

I walk in the door of The Stay and get whacked in the brain by neon blue and blinding white with some techno dance music coming from somewhere in the back. Check-in was easy, got my room and up the elevator to the tenth floor. Opened the door, thank god it took only one try with the key card, big plus to me at this point, and what do I find but a room so small that there is not even room for a coat rack! I have one chair, a large bedside table as a work desk and a normal bedside table on the other side of an inviting full+ bed. O the wall opposite the bed is a 42 inch Plasma with basic cable TV.

I have a problem, I slept in the car and the neon had peaked my senses! I am no longer tired, so I decide to see if I can EAT (I am a documented food addict you know)! There are a few staples like Sbarros at the corner, but I look around a bit more looking for something interesting. I decide to try an Irish Pub, but they inform me that the kitchen closed at two, but that there is a place called O’Lunney’s on 45th that the kitchen is open until three. I thanked the young lad and walked around the block, clearly at 2 AM I can no longer count because 45th is 2 streets over not one, I get reminded of that at the Pub on 46th whose Kitchen also closed at 2. I keep going one more block and what do you know, there is a place called O’Lunney’s on 45th. They invite me to the bar, give me a Guinnes and verify the kitchen is open until three. They agree to supply me with Fish and Chips and then they leave me to my exhaustion and beer. I, being the observant sod that I am start looking around. This place is classy for an Irish Pub.

It is actually peaceful feeling in here. The walls, tastefully done in natural brick and stone wash, with some very good Celtic woodcarving that seems to be in all the right places. The lighting is primarily indirect, with nicely done stained glass fixtures again in all the right places. Even the heating ductwork blends in with a nice bronze coloring. The bar and tables are natural oak that is aged just right. All in all O’Lunney’s is an inviting place where the people were very nice even at 3 AM.

When my fish and chips arrive, I am pleasantly surprised by the appropriateness of the portion and the inclusion of vinegar and lemon on the side. I did not expect the fish to be an entire half fish in one piece, and it was not, what it was, was cooked to a golden perfection on the outside while maintaining a glorious moistness on the inside. The chips were perfectly cooked as well without the overly used oil taste you would expect at closing time. The Guinnes – smooth with a nice creamy feel, kind of feels like your mother hugging you from the inside out.

With fresher eyes, I walk back to The Stay and the feel is noticeably less sever and darn near inviting. Up to my room and collapse on the one thing the room has going for it right now, a VERY comfortable bed. I watched the 42 for about a half hour to unwind (and just to say I have watched ESPN on a 42 inch Plasma) and fall into a deep sleep.

In the morning, I checked out and wanted to do some shopping for the wife and our son before going off to JFK. The staff at The Stay was very accommodating and helpful, and I began to have a new opinion of the place. They voluntarily reversed the charge for in-room WiFi that did not work on my phone, asked if I was leaving right away, offered to secure my carry-on luggage and arrange transportation to the Airport while I shopped, all after I had checked out. Honestly, I might stay there again if they have a bigger room, less like a prison cell.

I have to tell you that JFK is JFK, I don’t think anyone will be able to do anything about it unless they tear the whole place down and start from scratch. The place is a mess, and if you do not have access to a lounge, you might as well try to time your security walk through to your boarding time. I did not and ended up spending two hours bored out of my mind and being kicked out of chairs because I did not buy anything from them. I did try to time it but my first foray through security was very quick. Two hours later as I was going through the gate that all changed and they had to take me back to TSA because they had identified me for a more thorough screening, must have been the overcoat, sunglasses and fedora.

Then, thank god, I got on the plane! Once again, it was a wonderful experience. The THY attendants were just that attentive. It only took them two passes to realize that I ask for coffee when they pass by and they started bringing me a cup every time they came out of the Galley. I drank each one with a smile and spent the time watching historical documentaries about Turkey. Each was an hour long and then I watched one movie.

The food was as promised, better than any restaurant I had been to on the trip. I had chicken kabob with rice and chocolate soufflé that was to die for and in the morning a very good egg breakfast with cold veggies and cheese. Impressive! I will not fly economy again if I can help it. Please THY continue to make the travel experience FANTASTIC. You single handedly made a stressful business trip pleasant.