Battling snowstorms at JFK

Abu Dhabi, UAE

I’ve been pushing my weather luck while flying out of JFK recently.

Back in December, it was narrowly averting a massive snowstorm — and getting delayed about five hours in the process. Yesterday, the first leg of our trip to Nepal had originally been scheduled to leave Raleigh for New York at 4:15 p.m. Then came forecasts calling for blizzard-like conditions bearing down on the Northeast, prompting many regional flights into JFK to be proactively canceled.

Worried that our late afternoon flight would also fall victim, we pleaded with representatives at Vayama and Etihad before a sympathetic representative from American Airlines was able to make the switch. Our new flight time? 6 in the morning.

Arriving into New York at 7:30 a.m., we settled into a booth at Au Bon Pain for our 14-hour layover. Not an ideal start to an 8,500-mile journey. But if the weather held off and our flight bound for Abu Dhabi got out, we knew that we would be on board.

We burned hours with several epic Uno battles and then paid $45 for a 5-hour pass to the Oasis Lounge in Terminal 4, which served up complimentary drinks, food, Wi-Fi and couches overlooking the runway as a light snow began to fall.

At about 9 p.m., we boarded Etihad Airways flight 100 bound for the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Due to poor conditions on the runway and deicing, we were delayed about 2-hours — but grateful to get out of New York, especially since we later learned that 20 inches of snow fell.

Thirteen hours later, wheels were down in Abu Dhabi, the Middle Eastern city often overshadowed by neighboring Dubai, about 150 miles to the north. Our bags were checked through to Kathmandu so we quickly passed through immigration, negotiated a cab and were soon barreling down an empty highway at about 100 mph.

The speed warning beeps emanating from the car’s dash did not slow our Pakistani driver who was keen on showing us that, at least in another life, he could have driven a race car.

Our hotel for the 12-hour layover was the Radisson Blu, located on Yas Island, a $36 billion dollar development project (still in the works), that arises from the desert like a mirage, and, appropriately enough, is located directly across the street from the F1 Grand Prix Racetrack.

We had time for a few poolside drinks, taking in the warm evening, before heading upstairs to try and get a couple hours of rest before our next flight.

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Tomorrow, our 40-hour journey to the other side of the world continues.

Not a long enough layover

Day 45
Dubai, UAE

Sorry JetBlue and Virgin America — but Emirates has you beat in the airline race.

You might have leather seats and mood lighting, but Dubai’s national fleet has amazing entertainment consoles (free on-demand movies, television, music and real-time front and underbelly cameras), communication access (seat-to-seat calling and Wifi), unparalleled cleanliness (warm towelettes after the safety check), delicious meals (lunch menu: fatoush salad with grilled halloumi cheese, murgh kabob with saffron and a dessert of date mamoul cheesecake) as well as complimentary drinks.

This is all in economy.

My 1,498-mile flight arrived here from Cairo at around 5 p.m. Initial impression of Dubai: wow. Cranes outnumber buildings and everything is under construction — yet the city is spotless. “It all looks brand new,” I remarked to myself on the ride in from the airport. “That’s because it is,” replied my cab driver, sitting behind the wheel of an immaculate, and, likely, brand new Volkswagon.

We passed countless billboards advertising real estate investment opportunities before arriving at the Mall of Emirates, the world’s first “shopping resort.” Said to be the largest mall outside of North America, it also houses Ski Dubai, the 3rd largest indoor ski slope in the world and the first in the Middle East.

It is at this mall that Dubai’s traditional side collides with its modern. Those wearing kandouras are often outnumbered by those wearing khakis; the call to prayer can be heard while shopping for a new polo in Lacoste.

Having been deprived of fresh produce and meat for the last week, it was next time to treat myself in this emerging culinary capital. I’d read about Fire & Ice, a top-rated steak and seafood restaurant with an open-air kitchen in the brand new Raffles super-luxury hotel. Coincidentally, it has an Egyptian theme, but Fire & Ice served up anything but Egyptian cuisine.

It started with a cobb salad with grilled prawns, Serrano ham, poached quail eggs and an avocado puree.

This was followed by an Australian black angus tenderloin, seared to a perfect medium rare and served with a peppercorn sauce and truffled mashed potatoes. With a glass of Spanish rioja, it was bliss.

The food was matched only by extraordinary service. A concierge met me in the hotel lobby to escort me to the restaurant. The maitre’de then asked my name so that the entire staff could call me “Mr. Marc” for the evening. During dinner, an empty plate or glass didn’t sit on the table for more than a couple of seconds.

All of this obviously comes at a price. Dubai is an amazingly expensive place! Dinner and cabs for the evening cost just about what a week’s worth of meals in Egypt did. Still, well worth it. And, with a full belly, it was time to head back to the airport, at around 1 a.m.

DXB operates 24 hours a day, and even in these early morning hours, was buzzing. There was a traffic jam at the departure terminal, all duty-free stores were open, as were the restaurants, coffee shops — even a Coldstone Creamery! It could have been 1 in the afternoon. After a short delay, wheels were up on my Emirates flight at about 3:45 a.m. My eyes were closed about 2 minutes later.

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