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The Qatar Chronicles: From the Boeing Factory to the Desert

For the next week I'll be on a trip of a lifetime. With a group of writers from around the world, I am traveling to Seattle to tour the Boeing factory and pick up a new 777-200LR that will join Qatar Airways' 5-Star fleet. The airline begins nonstop, daily service between Houston and Doha on March 30, 2009. Normally Qatar Airways doesn't fly from Seattle. This is a delivery trip so besides our group, the certification team from Boeing and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, and the airline staff, we'll barely number 20 passengers on a plane that can seat 217 in coach and 42 in business.

The opportunity to go behind the scenes on the introduction of a new airplane into service is so unique, I'm going to post about the experience. Along the way I'm also going write about my visit to Seattle, a city I know and love but haven't seen for many years, and Doha, a city that is new to me and one I look forward to exploring.

Before we picked up the Triple-7 as the 777 is affectionately called, we had one day in Seattle. Luckily the hotel was close to Pike's Place Market, so a quick trip before the day began was easy to do. Mornings are a good time to walk through the Market before the crowds arrive, because it's easy to stop and take your time looking at what's for sale, which is a lot of the freshest most beautiful fish, shellfish, and salmon you're likely to see anywhere.

I love shellfish. When I lived in Seattle for the Twin Peaks and Citizen Baines' shoots, I was very happy. I'd fill up on fresh Kumomoto oysters, Dungeness crabs, and Penn Cove mussels. The oysters are delicious raw or in stews. The crabs are sold cooked or live. The mussels are easily steamed and eaten with a butter-garlic broth. While the vegetables in the Market come from many sources including California, the fish is local, coming no farther away than Alaska.

There are also fresh and dried flower stalls, bakeries, cheese shops, and a wonderful selection of small restaurants and coffee shops. A favorite place to stop is The Crumpet Shop (1503 1st Avenue between Pike & Pine, 206/682-1598) where the crumpets are freshly made and available with sweet (butter, honey, or preserves) or savory (tomatoes, pesto, cheese...) toppings. Come before 8:30am and the lattes are $1.50.

I walked over to the Market twice yesterday. Once by myself just as the stalls were opening. For breakfast I had a freshly steamed pork bao from Mee Sum Pastry (1526 Pike Place, 206/682-6780). The second time I brought part of our press junket group. Since Holly and Updesh are Brits and Parmesh and Deepti are Indian, I wanted their expert opinion about the Crumpet Shop. I know I like them because of their top crust and chewy sweetness, but are they authentic? After several rounds of crumpets with butter, honey and butter, preserves, and cheddar cheese with sliced tomatoes, they agreed that they were authentic and delicious.

We had lunch at the Space Needle Restaurant, which is always fun. Although the view is picturesque, for anyone with motion-issues, slowly rotating as the city passes below can be challenging. We had a very nice lunch as our group got to know one another. With people coming from around the world (Alberquerque, New York, Mombai, Dubai, Doha, Los Angeles, and Seattle) we had a lot to talk about.

After lunch we visited Boeing's Museum of Flight (9404 East Marginal Way South, Seattle, WA 98108, 206/764-5700). Since we were about to tour the Boeing factory in Everett, it was great to get a brush up on aviation history. I still find it amazing that there is just 50 years between the Wright Brother's tentative efforts to achieve flight and the development of the Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird.

One of our group, Betsy, used to live in Seattle and she suggested dinner at the Black Bottle (2600 1st Avenue at Vine, 206/441-1500) where we had wine and cocktails and shared a dozen gastro-pub dishes, including crispy butterflied seven spice shrimp, deep fried and battered Spanish fried olive, fried tofu with a sate sauce, sweet and tender cumin pork tenderloin with a frisee salad, fried sardines with spicy Indian slaw, braised and grilled artichoke hearts, coconut gelato with plantain fries, and a luridly rich, hot dark chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla gelato hidden inside.

Given 24 hours in Seattle, this was a pretty great day.

Today we tour the Boeing plant and pick up Qatar Airways' second Boeing 777-200LR. Our plane will join its sister already in service. When Qatar begins its daily, nonstop service between Doha and Houston on March 3oth, the 777-200LRs will make the trip in under 17 hours. Today's trip will be a bit shorter because we will fly a more northerly route.

For me this flight has several firsts: I've never flown longer than 8 hours, never been to the Middle East, and certainly have never ridden on a plane's maiden flight.

More to tell in the following posts. Tomorrow from Doha, Qatar.

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