The 2016 edition of our annual Safari Trip came and went all too quickly. As always it was a wonderful 10 days to be immersed in the beauty and savagery of the South African Bushveld. Being addicted to the experience, we once again stayed at our favorite place in the world, the Dulini Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand Reserve. We’ve become part of their family so it’s only proper that we visit kin every year!
Over 18,000 photos came home with us and I’ve started the daunting task of sorting through them to see what stays and what goes.
I had taken new equipment with me this year, including Nikon’s brilliant new D5, which shoots off 12 photos per second so it was easy to rack up a high photo count. Especially since it could take 250 photos without taking a break to write the photos to memory and do it with a 20.8MP sensor. Combining the D5 with the D800, I had substantial fire-power when it came to catching the right moment. As far as glass was concerned, my beloved Sigma 150-600mm , Nikon 24-70mm, and a new Rokinon 24mm / f1.4 specifically for Astro-photography rounded out the kit. Enough about the tools.
As I go through my photos, I’ll post my trip reports as quickly as possible.
For the first installment, I’ll share what we observed soon after a beautiful Leopard named ‘Torchwood’ successfully hunted a Warthog. We had just missed the actually ‘strike’ by Torchwood but got there in time to see him catch his breath and begin feeding.
Torchwood has a reputation in the region for being a Warthog specialist and is becoming one of the more dominant male leopards in the area. Warthogs will typically inhabit abandoned termite mounds and will burrow into them for shelter and safety. Torchwood, having figured this out, will stake out active burrows and will attempt to ambush the warthog. These termite mounds can sometimes between over 10 feet tall, so he’ll also stand on top of the mound and surprise the warthog from above when it attempts to leave its burrow. Simply amazing to watch his master hunter at work.
The Sabi Sand region is blessed with a vibrant Leopard population, so it’s wonderful to see these leopards grow up from being cubs to being independent and establishing their own territories. From my own count there are at least 30 leopards in the region, and I might be a bit low on that estimate.
Some of these photos may be a bit graphic for sensitive palettes, especially if you’re not a fan of seeing a bit of flesh or blood. However it is part of the experience and part of the reality that exists in such a wild environment and goes a long way to tell the story of a Leopard and his successful hunt.
You’ll notice that my photos bear the Dulini watermark. As in past years, I’ve shared my photos with Dulini for use on their Facebook page so when I processed my photos I kept it simple by just applying the Dulini watermark instead of re-doing an imagine for my watermark.
I hope these photos bring a sense of what it’s like to be there watching the event in person! Enjoy!
How we found Torchwood minutes after his kill.
Yep, he’s staring my way…..
A few minutes later he went back to the Warthog to hide the carcass from Hyenae or other predators that could challenge him for the Warthog.
Dragging his trophy to ‘safety’. Typically he would pull the Warthog up into a tree, but nothing tall enough was nearby for him to take advantage of.
You can see the exhaustion in his expression.
Hard work, but worth the effort for him.
After another short break, he began to rip into the flesh of the Warthog and enjoyed the fruit of his labor.
Clearly enjoying his success!
Simply a beautiful animal…..
Up until recently, I had never, EVER made a mistake when flying as far as flight times, gates, departure and arrival times were concerned. Well over a million miles worth of error free travel, a bit of a badge of honor.
On my recent trip to Vienna where I decided to fly aboard LOT to enjoy their 787 I finally made that one, embarrassing rookie mistake: I didn’t know how to tell time.
My travels originated in Grand Rapids (GRR), with a flight to Chicago in order to catch LOT’s LO2 to Warsaw and then to an Austrian flight to get to Vienna the following morning. Leaving GRR was fine, I knew what time it was, no problem.
In the air to Chicago, I spin my watch back an hour to account for the difference between Eastern and Central US time zones…..I’ve done it perhaps a hundred times without error.
Then I make the biggest mistake in my travel ‘career’ and basically ruin a day.
Aboard LO2 from Chicago to Warsaw, I spin my watch forward 6 hours, thinking that was the appropriate time zone difference from the USA to Central Europe time. It would have been had I boarded the ‘daily’ Lufthansa flight between Grand Rapids and Frankfurt. But with the central time zone involved, I forgot to account for the extra hour ‘gained’ when I flew to Chicago, and therefore didn’t account for it when I lost it flying eastward. I set my watch forward only 6 hours, when it should have been advanced 7 hours.
So what happens next?
I arrive in Warsaw where on paper I had about 1 hour and 20 minutes to make an easy connection at an airport designed for easy connections. But what happens? I look at my watch, and in my bizarro world, I think I have 2 hours and 20 minutes before my Austrian flight. Great. Plenty of time to visit the LOT lounge for the fantastic polish fudge and some breakfast.
I actually leave the lounge having what I thought was nearly an hour before my flight so that I could walk around the terminal since it was my first time transiting WAW. I get that covered in about 15 minutes and go back to the lounge again (at the behest of a certain Swabian friend in my What’s App chat group). All of this because in my beautiful mind I think I still have over an hour before boarding.
So I sit down to another Coke and a few pieces of fudge because I want to catch Diabetes, pass 30 minutes and decide to finally head to the gate and get myself to Vienna and onward to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m on my way to an F1 race weekend.
I arrive to the gate which is mysteriously empty and look at the display to see that my flight is ‘CLOSED’. WTF? It’s not supposed to leave for at least another 30 minutes (So I thought). But then I look at the gate clock and see that time had somehow moved 1 hour ahead of where I thought it should be. As I look out the terminal onto the tarmac, I see the bus I should have been on pulling up to bird I needed to be on. No gate personnel left at the gate, it wouldn’t matter if there was. I missed a flight due to my own screw up for the first time in my life. The pit that my stomach acid etched into me was palpable as I was overcome with this sense of helplessness and the thought of ‘Now what? How can I get to Vienna now?’ Dammit. Then I think to myself that I must have walked right past my flight while it was boarding, but I was more concerned about Polish Soccer souvenirs inside a gift shop. Nice going moron.
All was not lost as I was able to rebook (and pay the appropriate penalties) to a later flight and I finally arrived in Vienna at 7:30p with my tail between my legs after my self-induced 7 hour delay in Warsaw.
The lesson to learn from all of this?
Know where you are flying from, and more importantly, know what time it is where you land. Or buy a GPS-enabled watch that removes the risk of idiocy. Another lesson? enable location services on your phone and ALSO enable auto-update for time zones. That would have been a handy safety net had I enabled ‘auto-update’.
My only ‘lame’ defense is the fact that my last 10 or more flights to Europe did not have an onward connection once I got there. I’d usually fly directly to my destination so knowing what time it is was less of an issue.
Also, keep in mind if you fly an itinerary ‘out of order’ by missing a flight, you run the risk of having the rest of your itinerary canceled. How great would it have been when I got to Vienna for my flight home only to be told, sorry, you and your itinerary do not exist. Make sure if you miss a flight that the rest of your flights are kept intact.
Stupid is as Stupid does I guess……
Last week I had spent time in Austria to attend the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring and in a departure from my travel habits (LH/OS/LX), I flew LOT Polish Airlines primarily to experience what a 787 offers during a 10 hour flight. My only previous 787 flights were aboard United when they were testing and training crew on domestic US routes when the 787 joined their fleet. With the domestic flights, they typically lasted only 2-4 hours, hardly enough time to get a true feel for a long-haul aircraft.
Over the years, LOT has had stretches of greatness and then periods of ‘What are they thinking?’. However as they continue to upgrade their fleet and add new long haul destinations, it appears that ‘LO’ is on quite an uptick, especially as far as Business Class travel is concerned. I admit I had my doubts about what the on-board experience would offer, but the doubts were allayed almost immediately upon boarding. In my case, it was aboard LO 2 flying from Chicago to Warsaw (and on to Vienna) and then flying aboard LO 1 for the return flight to Chicago.
What was an unexpected surprise was the warm greeting that the purser offers soon after boarding. In the case of both my long haul flights, the purser personally introduced herself and thanked me for being a Miles & More Senator, which actually surprised me since I thought that was reserved for Lufthansa, Austrian, or SWISS flights (at least based on my experiences). I also realized after the fact, that I was asked for my meal preference before any other passenger on our outbound flight. I suspect that LOT follows a policy of prioritizing meals based on Status level and fare class. A nice, noticed touch.
The outbound flight to WAW was a completely pleasant experience, even with a full Business Class cabin due to the cancellation of one of the previous days flights from Chicago (LO operates 2 flights daily between ORD and WAW) the cabin crew was friendly, attentive and efficient in looking after 18 passengers. Our return flight was even better since there were only 2 of us in the cabin, giving a bit of First Class / Private Jet type feel to the trip, and a LOT of attention from the cabin crew…..pun intended.
The new Business Class cabin offers comfortable, true lie-flat seating with enough room that your ‘neighbor’ will not infringe on your space. The seats are parallel to each other so there is no fear of incidental ‘footsie’ with a stranger. The width of the seats is also a bit above average, giving you additional room to become comfortable. The Inflight Entertainment System offers almost 40 movies, several collections of TV shows and music options and is similar to what you would find on most long haul aircraft. Mine had a bit of a bug to it and had to be rebooted 3 times during the flight. But when hurtling at 600mph at 35,000 feet, a lot more serious things could go wrong than my screen freezing during a movie.
The photos below combine both the outbound and return flights and are in no particular order:
Row 2, right side of aircraft.
Row 3 right side
Row 3 Center
Row 2 center on the return flight. Only had to share the cabin with one other passenger….never saw him!
The Amenity Kit contained your basic items. Toothbrush, Socks, and Eye Mask. For you Macbook owners, the case is an absolutely perfect fit for your power supply!
As you can see, the seat design is fairly simple and does not offer some of the extras that you’d find aboard other airline’s Business Class cabins, however this simplicity is a major advantage in some aspects. A simple example is the tray table. Some Business Class seat designs require an engineering degree to figure out how to take out, and stow your tray table. With the LOT seat, it pops out, folds over and its done. No need to know geometric theory when handling the tables. Another nice feature is the fact that each seat has its own fan control. Most Business Class cabins now have centralized climate control where passengers no longer can open a vent to increase air flow. With the LOT cabin, you can adjust the fan to meet your needs. Minor feature, but major impact especially when a crew decides to turn the cabin into a Sauna.
Moving to the soft product, including cabin crew, meals, and the intangibles LOT executed very well across the board on both flights. Since LOT offers an intimate 18-passenger Business Cabin with 4 flight attendants, you are never far away from having an attendant to help. This was most noticeable during meal service. On aircraft that have larger Business Class cabins, crews are sometimes forced to use meal carts to bring appetizers and entrees to passengers. In the case of the LOT cabin and crew, each part of the meal was already pre-plated and brought to me as if I were in a restaurant. A nice touch especially since it was personalized and quiet. No rattling of plates, glasses or carts during meal service. The only time they used serving carts was for the first beverage service after take off due to the variety of options and then again for the dessert service due to the multiple choices that were available.
The photos of the meals shown below are in no particular order, but combine both flights. One minor observation is the lack of ‘presentation’ in some of the meals. Some maximizers and spoiled ‘brats’ will criticize that a poorly presented meal must not be any good, however in the case of the LOT menu, it simply is not the case. The total of 7 or 8 courses that I had aboard my flights were great, even the pickled herring was delicious! In the case of some of these photos, they simply do not relay just how good the food actually was……
Pre-Arrival Lunch aboard LO1 from Warsaw to Chicago
Pate snack shortly after boarding…..
Dessert aboard LO1 From Warsaw to Chicago: Dark Chocolate Cake and Sorbet with Vanilla Sauce.
Main Entree aboard LO1 from Warsaw to Chicago: Sea Bass, Rice Pilaf and Vegetables. My favorite meal from both flights, and notice that presentation may not have been absolutely perfect, but it didn’t matter.
Salad aboard LO1 from Warsaw to Chicago: Crusted Goat Cheese, Beets, and Mixed Greens. Again the presentation does not do the salad any justice.
Dessert aboard LO2 from Chicago to Warsaw: Sorbet, Cheese, and Grapes. In the short glass is a delicious Polish Mead. The taller glass held a Cognac ‘chaser’.
Main Entree aboard LO2 from Chicago to Warsaw: Seasoned Chicken with Risotto and Vegetables.
Appetizer aboard LO2 from Chicago to Warsaw: Mixed Green Salad along with Roasted Duck Breast. In the glass, a good tasting wine from Georgia. Tbilisi, not Atlanta!
After all is said and done, I was very happy with my experience aboard all of my LOT flights and certainly will fly with them again. The crews showed a genuine desire to make sure that passengers enjoyed the trip and were sincere in their execution. Many times you come across crews going through the motions but that was not the case with LOT. I could tell that at least with the crews I had, they actually enjoy doing what they do.
However, there is one minor criticism and piece of advice that I will leave you with that has to do with the aircraft and not the crew……
For those of you not familiar with the 787, the aircraft does not have ‘physical’ window shades that pull down to completely block out the outside light. Boeing decided to install windows that can be tinted electronically by each passenger. The electronic tint has 6 levels of strength, however at its strongest setting does not completely block out light.
Not even close!
My advice to anyone traveling aboard ANY 787 is to make sure you are sitting on the opposite side of where the sun will be during most of your flights. In the case of traveling from west to east from the US to Europe, you will want to sit on the right hand side of the aircraft, or the side that will be facing south during your atlantic crossing. If you sit on the left side, you will be extremely annoyed by the sunlight in the morning as it enters the left side of the aircraft during sunrise. When traveling westward from Europe, again, sit on the right hand side of the aircraft (facing north) since the bulk of the sunshine will enter the left side of the cabin during a typical daytime flight to the States. Quite honestly, the electronic tint is nearly worthless when exposed to direct sunlight. I specifically chose the right side of the aircraft for this reason. Otherwise, the 787 is a great aircraft for a long-haul flight. The cabin does feel more ‘humid’ due to it being pressurized to a lower altitude, and the large windows provide great views….except of course when you’re trying to block out the sun!
So what do I think about LOT? Fly them….You’ll like them a LOT!