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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Oct '16

Trip Report: Saskatoon Bound, On The Train!

After our day of wandering around town, it was time to grab our bags from storage at the station, and move to the Panorama Lounge – which is the lounge for all Sleeping Car passengers.

The lounge isn’t really anything to talk about – not enough chairs inside (the heaters were on outside), free coffee, tea, cookies, crackers – they should have had the wine and canapes here, rather than once we boarded…but I’m getting ahead of myself – here is a shot of the final car in the “consist” – that’s what a train is composed of, and ours is 24 pieces (two engines and twenty-two rail cars).

Before long we were settling in our “across the aisle” Sleeper Plus: Cabin for 1. I just checked, and for fall/winter/spring, they have close-in savings every day of the week, rather than just Tuesday – too bad it’s just for trips 30 days or less. It drops the price from $1857.00 CAD to $1261.50 CAD (the latter would be $962.58 USD) for between Toronto and Vancouver (or reverse). You can find the fare page here: http://www.viarail.ca/en/deals/

But back to our rooms. Mine – which comes with booze and mixer:

The bed comes out of here – yes, it has an oddly shaped mattress:

Our car attendant actually tracked down a TABLE for me – there are like ONE of these per car!


We went to the lounge car for the sendoff party – bad pink bubbles and uninspired canapes, but great views:

Since we didn’t leave until 8:30, not long after we both headed back to our rooms, with Rache heading to bed….

And me to get a little work done before we lose phone/internet connections:

And finally – even I turned in…

The morning finds us doing breakfast separately, well, that was the plan – but then I arrived and was directed to the seat next to Rache, who was finishing his breakfast – this one was mine (and Rache had the same which is why I knew about the Rye bread toast):

Yes, I got up at 7:30 for breakfast – and promptly went back to bed until 11 (with lunch at 12:30).

At this point we are heading into the mountains and its time to pull out the cameras!

ViaRail has an amazing collection of “bubble dome” cars, which have all been lovingly restored:

Even the kitchens, which they don’t use (all the meals are in one of the two dining rooms on this train):

Speaking of meals – it’s time for LUNCH, and maybe some wine to go with it:

We opted for a glass of the Union White and the Pillitteri whites (both from Ontario) – Rache found the touch of sweetness in the Union White a bit much so I drank that one with my tomato bisque followed by a fried chicken sandwich:

Why, yes, the food is included in the ticket price – and it’s several notches above what is served on the Amtrak long-distance trains.

Here is a little overview and behind the scenes in the dining cars:

After lunch I returned to the room to do a little more work, but mostly stare out the window at the view…

We were a little late getting into Jasper – one of my favorite stop on this trip as it is right downtown, and you have an hour to explore.

Time for Uncle Markie to do a little work – checking out as many of the wine shops in Jasper as I can:

Cute little town….

Anchored by the train station…

And inside the station, an A-Board showing the layout of our train:

FYI – we were in Franklin Manor, which has a layout like this:

We were in the second rooms in, right hand side. Rache in the bottom of the drawing, me at the top.

After our hour in Jasper, back aboard the train for some new scenery:

And some new food dinner food – RACK OF LAMB!

The reds for tonight were the Sandhill Estates Cab/Merlot from BC, and the Konzelmann Estate Winery Baco Noir from Ontario.

And the dining staff knew that it was our table mate’s 25th wedding anniversary, so when desert was brought out, it was signed:

The aspect ratio is a little off since I took that from our side of the table and flipped the image.

Breakfast in the morning was a bit of a bust – Continental Breakfast starting at 6:30, Brunch starting at 9:30 – we are scheduled to get off the train at 8am in Saskatoon – and the reason for the truncated breakfast schedule. Had a crappy croissant, a cup of coffee, a shower, and since we were running late, a “sitting up” nap, getting off the train at 9:30 – had I known, I’d have slept in.

I’ll save the return to Seattle for another post.


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Oct '16

Trip Report: Saskatoon Bound, First Stop Vancouver

Who doesn’t want to go to Saskatoon for a couple of hours! It’s really just about the journey, not the destination. Rache and I are going on a train ride! Actually TWO train rides, one short (to Vancouver), one long (Vancouver to Saskatoon). You might ask why not Edmonton (would require a hotel room either two or from because of when the trains arrive/leave), or Winnipeg (same reason), or Toronto (it arrives Saturday, and this week I’m also working Friday). The train from Vancouver arrives at 8am in the morning (assuming it’s on time), and we have a 3:20pm flight to MSP, then SEA. Enough said.

I really wish Amtrak’s Cascade Service had a mid-day train. Our only choice was the 7:30 departure which gets us in at noon, and our ViaRail connection isn’t until 10:45.

Don’t I look happy on the train:

It’s a little better once we are on the train and I have a little food in me, but…

Lovely fall colours (since I’m headed to CanadaLand I’ll get a head start on the spelling):

Here is a shot of the Vancouver train station. Sorry for the lighting…j

We need food, so we head in the direction of China Town which I’d never really explored – found this piece of street art made more sinister by the shadow of my hand – I’m seeing a theme here!

We walked, and walked – what we were looking for was a sit-down, service, bar, nice lunch. It wasn’t in China Town, but there were enough street junkies and people shooting up, hanging out, offering us drugs, that I was glad it was noon on a sunny day with lots of cops around.

An hour and a half later – stumbled into Per Se Social Corner and settled in for a cocktail for me, and a beer for Rache:

Before settling into our shrimp and vegetable linguini with flatbread and salad:

Wonderful presentation – and on the lunch menu the food was $14 CAD each, my drink was $12 CAD – and the booth was comfortable and the bathrooms clean.

After our leisurely lunch, MORE WALKING – YES, ME. Passed by the Law Courts, spied the WorldMark Vancouver, passed three JapaDog stands, ended up at the Waterfront near the Cruise Terminal.

Random Vancouver tourist pictures….

Decided to take a ride to North Vancouver on the ferry. Neither of us had ever been, and at $4, seemed like a great way to kill time even though the transit was under 15 minutes. Man, they have loading and unloading down to science!

Since it was after three at this point in the day – HAPPY HOUR – and we found one in the Harbour (those crazy CanadaLand spellings) at the Tap and Barrel:

It was a HUGE space – look at the Keg Room!

And the bar area (dining area is at the far end, upstairs to the right are private function areas):

And it really is about wine and beer (but with a full bar). The barrels are the wine taps, the stainless steel, the beer:

I ordered a Happy Hour highball (Rye and Diet Coke) for $4 (CAD) for the 1oz shot (they are a little skimpy with hard liquor in CanadaLand), Rache went for the $10.50 beer sampler:

And who can say no to deep-fried pickles (well, Roxy could – he hates pickles and anything else sour, except for me):

It was easy to kill time in the only two cushy club chairs in the place – right in front of the non-running fireplace.

And the two random photos from the dock area of North Vancouver – two signs:

As for the upper one, self-explanatory, the one below, just because it’s a sign for a Green Market with a planter of dead plants, both of these The Tacky T-Shirt Lady would love.

Here was our wondering journey this afternoon – if you look closely you can see the miles and steps on the map (dashed line = public transit):

What, were we (NOT) thinking!

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Oct '16

City Report: Lunch At Loretta’s and The Space Needle

In the city for a week – and company is in town! Now where to go – for guests who used to live here. Can’t believe we had dinner Sunday night and I don’t have pictures.

But Tuesday, we headed for a quick lunch we headed to Loretta’s Northwesterner for lunch for me, soup for Gail (which came with my Lunch Special), coffee for Paul:

The soup was a Cream of Broccoli which wasn’t overly thickened had lots of celery, and I had the panko-breaded chicken cutlet burger. Both GREAT!

Wednesday lunch was the Prime Event – Paul said they wanted to have lunch on their last day in town, “somewhere with a water view.”

I made a reservation at the Space Needle Restaurant. Great views (and it turned out to be a sunny day), and while the ride to the observation level is $22, for a $25 minimum lunch spend at the restaurant, you get a free ride up, AND access to the observation deck AND a free digital photo from your meal. This would be ours:

For those of you who don’t know, the Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, and these days looks like this:

The lower section is an event space.

Did I mention that it rotates? Here are some lunch shots:

And views….North – the horseshoe buildings are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation buildings with Lake Union to the top.

East towards Bellevue with downtown Seattle to the right (more like Southeast):

South to downtown – cloud cover over Mount Rainier:

Southwest over Puget Sound:

49 minutes to rotate – but first we need drinks!

We DID NOT order the Millionaire Martini at $250! I started with the Seattle Sazerac (Paul and I), and then after dinner the Woodinville Manhattan for me:

We all spent WAY over the $25 – but think of it like a $22 off coupon! Round one for me – Razor Clam Chowder, salads for Paul and Gail:

Round two – Penn Cove Mussels with Chorizo – I was feeling the need for seafood, the Dungeness Crab Melt for Paul, and Gail had the Roasted Cauliflower Flatbread:

Paul got a little Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert, not on the list, but provided (and shared by all) while I had my Manhattan:

What I realized when we went up one floor to the observation deck is that every view had wire, rather than windows:

Finally, it was time to go down to ground level:

Since the $25 minimum includes food AND drinks – literally, you could sit at the table, nurse two cocktails for two hours (the maximum dining time allowed) during lunch hours, and meet the minimum. As Gail said, “well, lunch was less than our insurance deductible for the rental car that we scratched and we were expecting to pay for – but they said it was nothing.”

Fun in the city.


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Oct '16

Trip Report: Birthday Ramble 2016, Part Two – Canada Loop

Nothing like flying in, working for two days, and then leaving again. Hit town Sunday night, did a trade tasting Monday, followed by a private event at the shop Monday night (and baking bread in the afternoon for said event), and boxing wine club Tuesday before heading to Blaine for Tuesday night.

Seaside Boy flaked out, but Rache was in tow, and Surf Betty came up from Bellingham for dinner in the 3-bedroom, 3-bath Penthouse at the WorldMark Birch Bay.

Not a bad unit – and then there is the sunset!

And it comes with presents!

Oddly, no photos of dinner or Surf Betty – who slept over but was gone before dawn headed to Seattle for a work week.

In the morning we were off for CanadaLand, with not much of a wait at the border after hitting Duty Free – and we had a reservation, so no worries:

And it’s a comfortable 90-minute run to Swartz Bay…

With lots of WONDERFUL scenery along the way – this is one of the nicest ferry runs in the Northwest:

We were an hour early for check-in – but the place was ready, though being on the ground floor by the pool was a bit confined:

Especially with the new balcony furniture – the old stuff was better sized:

I had to chuck one of the chairs past the BBQ to be able to cook! But the views are great:

Made a run to the grocery store for dinner for four – all of my usual Victoria dining buddies couldn’t make it (dissertation, cabaret, on a plane to NYC) but one of them sent emissaries!

And we feasted well!

What a WONDERFUL way to turn the BIG 60 – old friend, new friends!

Birthday Ramble Part Two is just three single overnights – so we are one the road again in the morning – but first breakfast:

With a ManMosa (so they call it):

We tried to have a cocktail at the Bengal Lounge at The Empress – but alas, since my last trip, it’s no longer a bar, but a banquet facility. Bad Empress, no links!:

For the pictures of when it was actually a bar, with a WONDERFUL Chinese bartender, CLICK HERE. It’s a LONG post, one that Rache found VERY amusing for so how my nerves where frayed that visit. I miss the that lounge – even with the Curry Buffet that wafted through the space.

We opted to put the car in the ferry line and get a MUCH cheaper cocktail at the Days Inn across from the ferry terminal:

When we hit the lot to load – there was a SERIOULSY cool Land Cruiser-like vehicle – turns out it’s a Bandeirante – a Brazilian manufactured Toyota Land Cruiser.


Nice views from the harbor (harbour if you are Canadian):

And of our boat coming in:

We loaded, had some snacks, didn’t take any pictures and suddenly we are off the boat, through immigration, and checked into our final night on Discovery Bay – in a2-bedroom loft – spread across FIVE split-level floors with the master on the lowest floor with a Jacuzzi IN THE BEDROOM.https://www.worldmarkbywyndham.com/resorts/db/

It was nice:

And the views were good:

And we had a nice steak dinner off the grill:

Only a small hiccup on the way home – the Hood Canal Bridge was open and we were 1.5 miles in a backup. Towards the bridge:

Behind us:

And a pretty day for a boat ride….

Home safe and sound.


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Oct '16

Trip Report: Birthday Ramble 2016, Part One – Cabo San Lucas

The annual tradition continues – the multiple week Birthday Ramble. This year week one is in Cabo San Lucas. Total of three of us.

Salamander and I are travelling together with Roxy taking an earlier flight, but arriving in Cabo at the same time. Roxy misses out on The Board Room with his earlier flight, but with the size of Salamander’s machine-made pancake, maybe he isn’t missing anything:

That’s a lot of butter for that mini-pancake.

UncleMarkie’s breakfast on the other hand…(with Salamander’s in the background):

I got us upgrades on the way down, so we are comfortably in 1A (Salamander) and 1C (UncleMarkie):

And it doesn’t take Salamander long to look like this:

Maybe it was the cocktail – but he did wake up for breakfast number two:

A little too much starch and sugar in the encrusted waffle (maybe I shouldn’t have applied the corn syrup packet), but tasty.

Turns out we have a stop in San Diego, where there is no duty free shopping – good thing I put a “handle” of Evan Williams in my checked bag!

Back on the plane after the security pass – I had to snap this pic just before the door closed. Had we been in the back we would have had a TON of seats to ourselves:

And soon it was time for lunch…

Ah, the joys of travelling up front!

Roxy met us after immigration (quick) at baggage claim – he’s flying with just carry on, and we are out the front to find our driver – and before you know it, on the road with a pretty full van of other people headed to Coral Baja:

After a hellishly long check in process (made better my free watered down margaritas) we are off to the 3-bedroom penthouse, our home for the next two nights:

And then, there is the view… this doesn’t suck!

Dinner night one was room service from the on-site restaurant – we were all beat up from the early morning.

Did I mention that we had our own private hot tub…

And that you can order a full moon from room service?

The night hot tub view!

Terrible admission – there were no groceries in the unit so we headed out to the former MegaMart, now a LaComer after the hurricane a couple of years ago – but I was hungry – hungry for hot red head!

But shop we did…

Mixers, booze, refrigerator (we passed on that), eggs, fresh tortillas…. And next to the sex shop next to the market, a wine shop!

I did stop in, but I’m running with a cocktail crowd this week.

Hopefully we won’t end up like El Gordo (the fat one), who died between the store and the condo:

To be honest, it was 90+ degrees out and we had the A/C cranked, and were mostly running around in robes. Me, I have my Bernie doo on.

I’d been hoping to find the TackyT-ShirtPrincess a shirt from the market on the highway outside the condo:

This place used to have a ton of stuff – a deli, fresh pico de gaia, the works, since the hurricane, it’s now lame, though I did buy some Mexican Brandy the last night of the trip as we’d exhausted all booze in the condo. I was hoping to find a t-shirt in a women’s medium for her to match the one I bought years ago and had to dig up and take a photo of:

Alas – nothing close to it, and the shirts they had were $20USD. Sigh.

After two nights, we “downgraded” to the 2-bedroom penthouse, which I found larger and I loved the rooftop hot tub and tanning deck area – see what you think.

And then the spiral stairs to our private roof top deck:

If you want the walking tour of the place, here it is:

Did I mention the brand new looks like never used BBQ?

And we used it!

Rib eyes and onions on the grill!

And now just some random photos of how we spent our week doing nothing, I say NOTHING:

OK – we did a little more than lay around! There is drinking and tanning to do.

Why leave to penthouse when you can watch them releasing baby sea turtles into the high surf:

And eavesdropping on a wedding!

And there was eating as well….pupu platter…

Scratch-made chicken tortilla soup:

And because you need things you didn’t bring, you improvise. Hot chili sauce made from four packets of ketchup from the first nights room service, combined with the red chili flakes and some garlic powder in the spice rack:

Need breading for fried fish? Crunch up the crackers that came with my octopus ceviché afternoon snack (yes, we did eat out twice in the week):

Crumble those crackers! And no, we aren’t talking about the upcoming election.

Whip an egg, batter the fish, and fry!

I could blame it on the heat, but we didn’t do ANYTHING tourist related. No walk into San José del Cabo, no bus ride to check out Cabo San Lucas, we only did grocery store runs for more supplies – and in the end we were taking the cab (100 pesos, basically $5 USD each way) to the store.

I barely finished a book, Roxy only got one more chapter done in the book he started when we were at Whistler two summers ago. Yep, slugs.

Sunday we headed home on different shuttles – Salamander and I early, Roxy later.

Did spot the cool American Airlines Piedmont Airlines livery at the Cabo San Lucas airport – sorry the shot isn’t better:

Salamander and I managed (after a Wi-Fi call to the US – got to LOVE T-Mobile!) to get upgraded to First on the Cabo to Los Angeles leg, which included a chicken (never found it) and rice lunch:

No upgrade on the LAX-SEA leg, but we had lounge access for more free food and drink:

And before we knew it, Salamander had his bag and headed for Light Rail, I was waiting to see if my hard-side came out on the regular belt or the “oversize” (because it looks like an OtterCase filled with expensive equipment).

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Birthday Ramble, but first I have to work a couple of days.


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Sep '16

City Report: Two Tours Not Open To The Public

Being in town the week – I know, how unusual – got to keep busy. I set up these two tours a month or so ago for when Jonathan is out of school (and not working).

Tour Number One:

Not open to the public, it just happens that my buddy Seth is one of three machinists at the, part of UW’s Nuclear Program.

What you need to understand is that Jonathan is an engineering student at South Seattle – so this is cooler for him than me, that and I’ve been here before to meet Seth for lunch.

Here is the overview of the place – a view I HADN’T seen before:

And some of the individual machines….

Most of the equipment is World War II vintage – but as you can see, has be upgraded to the modern world. I wouldn’t want to help move ANY of these machines.

One of my favorites of this shop is how they recycle stuff that has served its original purpose, but is now “upcycled” into other useful things:

Nice reworking of Lucite shipping mounts.

Tour Number Two:

This tour WILL be open to the public in about a year and a half – it’s of the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Kent, Washington. Turns out that I know the guy that is in charge of all the center tours in the US – like the one that I had booked in Indiana for October 4th, that I cancelled when I got a much better option called, no airfare, hotel, rental car, just ugly traffic.

The downside, blogging wise, is that it’s a photography prohibited area, so, you get the outside…

And the lobby signage:

And the secure nature of the faculty – badge coming in, metal detector coming out – my buddy has a plastic belt buckle and a wooden watch (I kid you not, CLICK HERE for Wooden Watches on Amazon) to speed the process (and the watch is cool!)

But it was an amazing tour – it was an incredibly efficient Rube Goldberg Device of pick, pack, robots, multiple sorting, dump it on a truck. Our hosts quest is to eventually make this the “gold star” tour of fulfillment centers in the US, to couple with the tour of Amazon Headquarters that Mags and I did in August. CLICK HERE for ink to that post.

If you’d like a list of Amazon Fulfillment Centers that are currently open for public tours, CLICK HERE. Mind you, they are popular and book up quickly.

So, that’s how I spend my non-travelling weeks, exploring the odd bits of my region.


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Sep '16

Trip Report: Round Two At Whistler With Roxy

In July Roxy and I purchased season passes to Whistlers Peak-2-Peak Gondola – this would be the second year for us doing this, my third year running for going to Whistler a couple of times a summer:

Interesting that they just pulled last year’s picture off the server – so If I go next year, the same picture.

So, the pass is $40 USD for the day, or $58 for the season (Mid-May to Mid-September) plus taxes/fees. Roxy and I were trying to get the most value out of our season pass so we came back up to get the most bang for our bucks. I think we are down to less than $1 per ride.

But first, we have to get there, and I’ve booked us into a Studio Unit at the WorldMark Birch Bay:

A word to the wise – avoid the Studio Units, though I hear the handicapped units have a better configuration – this is with the bed lowered:

Yep – really easy to get to the bathroom or kitchen from the couch.

I declined the “owner update” in favor of sleeping in – and we were actually out of the place around 10:30, and 20 minutes later (after Duty Free), this:

Now if Roxy would get a Nexus Card – though in all honesty, the lines at the borders weren’t bad in either direction.

Here is a shot on the Sea To Sky Highway which skirts Howe Sound:

And a VERY disturbing selfie of Roxy:

We got to the WorldMark Cascade Lodge in Whistler a little after 1pm, expecting to not be able to check in until 4pm. Surprise!

The sort of original plan was to go up the mountain while we waited to check in…we got lazy, we went out for a snack instead – we split a Charbroiled Kobe Beef Burger at The Beacon Pub. You can just barely catch the rim of my Manhattan ($11.95 CAD) – nicely made from Bullitt Rye (which seems to be the “house rye” in Whistler), Cinzano Vermouth, Orange Bitters, and THREE Luxardo cherries!

And I’m a dipping sauce kinda guy, which is why we got the “Royal” sauce on the side, and I order a little tartar sauce as well. Roxy is NOT a sauce kinda guy.

And it was a little gray and drizzly out:

After that “snack” dinner was late – post 9PM. Pork loin and roasted potatoes and a salad:

Lots of left overs to go with the eggs in the morning!

We actually were out of the condo before noon and headed for the mountain!

Overcast and drizzly, but not bad at the top:

Even with the overcast we are up to our usual hijinks on the gondola:

Yep – reading – Roxy is still working on the same book from our last trip. Back and forth we go until we work up an appetite for a late lunch at Christine’s On Blackcomb – our guilty, expensive, pleasure. The view is a little socked in, but you can see the lake in the valley:

Went with the “house” Manhattan which was Crown Royal ($14 CAD) – good, not as good as yesterdays.

Roxy went for the Vietnamese Pork Burger (I had a taste – YUM!):

I went for the lighter Scallop Ceviché:

A most interesting presentation – but damn tasty.

Time to go back and forth, and forth before heading back down to the village:

Dinner was rib eye steaks…oddly, no pictures. Just an evening in watching TV and surfing the web.

Turns out the next day on the mountain was even worse, weather wise – more time for reading!

On the upside – less people, no line to get the photograph on the rings:

Or to disturb the wildlife – like this black bear (the only black bears in British Columbia populate Whistler/Blackcomb):

Or the Hoary Marmot:

Popped into the theatre (first time in my three years of going to Whistler) for a 15-minute video which I wish had more about the building of the gondola….

But soon it was time to go back to Christine’s – this time splitting an entree so we don’t ruin dinner. And a Manhattan with the Bullitt Rye (same price as the Crown Royal – wish I’d known!):

That would be the Frittata – a second breakfast!

We ran into the General Manager of Nester’s Liquor Store on the Gondola – turns out there is a trade wine tasting in another part of the restaurant this afternoon – I could have made it a “work” trip!

Maybe we should have ordered from the Kid’s Menu – they have a HOT DOG!

I’m a little surprise to see both Salmon and Falafel on the Kid’s Menu – those crazy Canadians.

Yep – more reading in the drippy weather before we finally bail on the mountain:

Did I mention that there is EXCELLENT 4G LTE service on the mountain – and Wi-Fi at both mountain tops.

Met lots of fun people just going round and round on the gondola – who thought we were “odd”, especially the Australian ladies.

Back in the condo, it’s time for a cocktail and dinner… not the fanciest, but I had sausage on the mind.

We were actually on the road at 9:30 in the morning – yes, ME. And the weather cleared up at bit for the drive home:

Another adventure down – more to come.


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Sep '16

Trip Report: Calgary For Lunch (And More) – Day Three, Headed Home

This morning is was in-room coffee maker coffee that I slept through and had to no nuke. No real rush to get out the door other than hunger.

Checked out and drove half a block to Phil’s (since 1956!)– which could be a Denny’s north of the border. They have five locations in the Calgary area.

Rache went for the eggs/bacon/hash browns, I went for the eggs benedict with the whitest Benedict I’ve ever seen:

Fueled up, off we go to explore Calgary since our flight isn’t until early evening.

Once again I’m passing the “writing baton” to Rache as he did all the homework, so why should I redo it! I’ll just add my pictures (and those pesky links) and VIOLA!

You know you’ve reached a very obscure museum when the curator greets you with, “May I help you?” instead of “Welcome!” Markie masterfully replied, “Believe it or not, we are actually here to visit the museum.” The Grain Academy Museum in Calgary is not only obscure but well hidden. It’s located in the BMO Centre on the Plus 15 Level in Stampede Park. No outside signs were visible. Even Siri was a bit perplexed, getting us close but we finally just had to enter what appeared to be a closed building. 

After the curator’s initial surprise of actually having visitors, he escorted us to a little theater. Metal tractor seats offered most sitting options but the two of us did find a couple cushioned chairs. The video “The Way it Was” depicted how the Canadian prairies were settled and the difficult work that was required before motorized machinery. Oh, just as the video started, a mother of four (one in a carriage) entered the showing. The curator must’ve been completely surprised at having so many people, but he was on a roll and asked if we would like to see another shorter video about modern life on a farm. We took the bait and he showed a YouTube video called “Farmer Style” which is a parody on “Gangnam Style.” What a hoot. I’m sure the Peterson brothers paid their way through Kansas State University with this video which has over 16.5 million views. I’ll attempt to share a link for more about the video and the Peterson family (http://www.cnbc.com/id/100310964). Other displays include everything from barbed wire types to wheat straw weaving, pioneer farm tools and various models of farm implements. There is also a sizable model train display on the movement of grain from the prairie to the terminals at Vancouver. When I say ‘sizable,’ we’re talking two room’s worth. The multiple trains really fascinated the three young boys the mom brought in.

I gotta tell you, this museum is a gem. The videos, displays, and the delightful curator (who asked Markie and me if we were farmers) actually made the effort to find the place well worth it.  And it’s free!  And since nothing was going on at Stampede Park, there wasn’t even a parking fee. 

Next we navigated towards the airport but before that, we checked out the Aero Space Museum of Calgary. It’s immediately south of the airport. The museum was founded in 1975 by aviation enthusiasts and former World War II pilots. Aircraft displayed include a Douglas DC-3 which was the very first aircraft Buffalo Airways ever owned [Uncle Markie flew in one of their “current” DC-3’s between Hay River and Yellowknife], a Sopwith Triplane, a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, and several other planes and helicopters, plus 58 aeronautical engines. Additionally, historical documents, including letters from a WWII prisoner of wars are on display. The exhibits are in two large hanger-type buildings. There was no interaction with a curator like at the grain museum (other than to take our money), but the displays spoke for themselves and information was displayed for many of the craft. 

After that, we filled up the rental car with petrol and returned to the airport. On the way, we passed a Hyundai dealership which was having a “Hail Damage Sale.” Prior to our arrival, Calgary was hit with severe hail storms. Our rental had several dents as well. Our Canadian prairie adventure was coming to a close. This trip turned out to be much, much more than merely eating lunch in a restored Pullman car. This short jaunt offered quirky museums, an amazing server at the restaurant near our hotel, and Heritage Park was absolutely remarkable. This turned out to be one of the more delightfully surprising trips. I’m so, so glad to have experienced this. 

Thanks again Rache for the narrative!

But we aren’t home yet…we have to navigate the seriously under construction Calgary International Terminal – where they only let you in a little bit (two hours) before your flight.

That’s barely enough time for duty-free shopping and grabbing real food before the flight – so, this is my version of “real food”:

Actually I just got the regular Chicago Dog (and a couple of double Jack and diets):

Because this is what “dinner” on the plane was:

Yes, I’m mixing diet, Crown Royal, red wine, chocolate and pretzels — though not all together.

Speaking of duty free – they let me by four (the legal limit is one)…the lady said, “Buy as many as you want, you’ve already passed customs and immigration – during the holidays people are walking out with cases.” I guess pre-clearance in Canada has its perks!

In our defense, I did make us small chef’s salads once we got home.

I’ll agree with Rache – what an amazing trip for being just two nights.


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Sep '16

Trip Report: Calgary For Lunch (And More) – Day Two, There

As usual Rache was up earlier than I, working away on his updates, and just as important, tracking down coffee for the grumpy morning one (that would be me). We have to be out of the hotel earlier than I’d like as our Lunch Date with the restored 1929 Pullman Dining Car is at 11:30.

I can’t really improve on Rache’s commentary of the day, I just going to lift it and add my own photos. THANKS RACHE!

“You are about to embark on an incredible journey through Western Canada: from a timeless First Nations’ encampment to a rustic settlement, from a bustling young prairie town to a mid-20th Century urban square.”

That’s how Heritage Park is introduced in the guide/map. This 127-acre park is on the banks of Glenmore Reservoir and is Canada’s largest living history museum. Exhibits span from the 1860s to the 1950s. Staff dress in historic attire and antique autos and horse-drawn vehicles service the site.  The park opened July 1, 1964.

So now I have to confess something. The reason Markie and I came to Calgary was to go to lunch. Thankfully the park offered a much better reason to come to Calgary. But lunch on the restored River Forth Pullman dining car is what motived our trip. This car is a restored 1929 observation car purchased in 2011 by the park from the Canadian Pacific Railway for $1. What a bargain! Heritage Park restored the rusty, rundown mess, taking it from the brink of scrap metal and turning into a 36-seat moving restaurant.

We climbed the few steep steps onto the car and navigated past the kitchen and proceeded down the narrow aisle to Table 2, table for two. The first course was a pear and fig salad with prosciutto and balsamic drizzle served with a white wine from Okanogan Valley. The salad was a nice balance of salt and sweet. Markie and I ordered each of the main courses. I started with the pan seared B.C. Steelhead Trout that was served with potato rosti, charred summer vegetable ragu, and French vinaigrette. Prepared perfectly. At mid-meal, we exchanged plates and I dined on the Filet Mignon Lyonnaise that came with sweet pea purée, potato pave, puttered patty pan squash and spring carrots. Lovely as well. Served with the red wine from Okanogan Valley. Dessert was vanilla and toasted almond creme brûlée with seasonal berries and lemon sugar cookie. Yum! Before dessert, Markie and I exchanged seats so we could each get the experience of viewing the scenery going forwards and backwards.

The meal was worth the trip, but the park was so inviting that we decided that instead of dining and dashing, we would spend the day. Smart move. Dining on the train gave us a chance to see then entire park as we circumnavigated the grounds several times.

The Railway Car Shop had several restored cars from bygone days and furnished in period pieces down to the spittoon. The rare and unique passenger cars were remarkable. The wicker seats reminded me of the seats in the old subways that were displayed at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn where I visited in May. It was at this stop that we first met Riley. More on him in a bit, but as Bill P. and Steve R. can attest, he was one of the types of people I just gravitate to.

Next, we boarded the S.S. Moyie. This is a paddle steamer sternwheeler that worked Kootenay Lake in British Columbia from 1898 until 1957. Well the original did all that and is the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler that you can see on display in Kaslo, B.C. But this replica gave us an idea of what it was like way back when. We plied the waters of the reservoir and dodged a bunch of little tykes running around. To his credit, Markie did not attempt to grab one of them and toss him overboard. Honestly, the trip was a delight as we toured the boat as the boat gave us a tour.

Next we moseyed over to Hudson’s Bay Company Fur Trading Fort, circa 1860. The rustic digs were manned by two capable young lads who were full of knowledge. One greeted us at the nearby Our Lady of Peace Mission (1885). In one display, I noticed that a large cast iron pot had 13 tally marks on it. Our young guide reminded us that since the traders and First Nation folk didn’t speak a common language, the marks were an indication of how many beaver pelts it would take to buy the pot. Love this stuff.

BTW, navigating the park was easy as there were plenty of railroad stations where the train stopped so one could board and you were on to your next destination. It was during one of these boardings where I got to sit next to Riley. Riley is one of these special guys who would probably fit somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He remembered us from the Railway Shop and remembered that we had dined on the train and what we ate. He anticipated every ring of the bell, every “All Aboard” and apologized that he had not yet mastered the whistle of Engine #24 (which was pulling the train) but only Engine #23. When I asked if he lived in Calgary, he not only gave the neighborhood but also the amount of shade. His ambition is to be an engineer and he was thrilled when I told him Markie had operated an engine at the train museum in Boulder City. Riley is just one of those wonderfully quirky guys that some people are unsettled by but is absolutely delightful. He alone would’ve made the price of admission a bargain.

We strolled through Village Centre and walked through Wainwright Hotel and Bar Room. Again, the furnishings were period pieces — many original. Our amble led us to the Antique Midway. Honestly, who needs Disneyland? The old rides, from the Caterpillar to the small Ferris Wheel were amazing. But our ride of choice was the one where I can’t remember the name. You sit in a little seat dangling from chains as the ride spins around and you sway out. Sort of like a dangling carrousel. Ahead of us was a little girl in a princess dress and a young lad you turned around and exclaimed to his mom, “This is awesome!”  And it was. Markie and I had a blast as well.

We were tiring so we walked over to the Shepard Station and rode over to Midnapore Station, the closest to the park entrance. We quickly guided ourselves through the Gasoline Alley Museum before heading back ‘home.’

Heritage Park is also wonderful in that the main attraction is history and “Sell, sell, sell!” One could buy things but the focus on this particular park was to experience the park. And it was almost delightful experience to be sure.

Now that Rache has had his say – Jesus, Mary, Mother of God the strollers in the park. There were dedicated “Stroller Parking Areas” at every attraction and train station. That said, if I lived in Calgary I’d probably have a season pass, it was that good.

We both had a bit of a rest before checking out a couple of other restaurants before settling back into the Big T BBQ for dinner. Just a couple of appetizers after the lunch we had! Well, there was booze and eye candy in addition to the food:

Seems the price hasn’t changed since our favorite waitress is on shift again. These are the brisket, fried green tomato, and pulled pork sliders with onion rings and coleslaw.

And the eye candy.

Our flight isn’t until the late afternoon tomorrow, so we get to wake when we feel like it. Yahoo!

[218.0] And that was late afternoon!

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Sep '16

Trip Report: Calgary For Lunch (And More) – Day One, Getting There

It was originally about lunch – fine dining on the restored Pullman Dining Car River Forth – but the trip turned into much more. And better yet, our hour and a half flight left in the middle of the afternoon. It felt weird to be able to sleep in as long as I wanted – on a flight day.

Our Q400 painted in the University of Idaho Vandals colors

My brother Karl was a Vandal (in more ways than one). And it was a great day to fly…

And it being Horizon – free wine for me, and free beer for Rache, but as an MVP Gold I get chocolate (along with pretzels) and a cocktail as well. Didn’t know that the first free drink had moved to Horizon from Alaska. Either way, I’ll take it, but it did make the tray table a little crowded on a little plane.

Turns out we are staying in a “Motel Village” next to the University of Alberta Stadium. Travelodge (ours), trendy hotels, no-name places.

And right around to corner we find BBQ at Big T’s BBQ with an attitude judging by the shirts the staff are wearing:

I Like My Butt Rubbed            Terrorizing Vegetarians Since 2004

It’s All About The Meat            I Like By Butt Rubbed

Butt (as it says on the shirt “I Love My Butt Rubbed”) the food is pretty good as well as the visuals it being near campus:

And Monday night is Old Fashion night – 2oz. drinks for $8.50 and they are using Knob Creek with is 108 proof! Not back for CanadaLand! Needless to say, I had several, and our server was POURING FREELY, another Canadian anomaly.

If I remember, I only got charge $8.00 per since it was just booze, ice, and a cherry! And we start with an appetizer of the fried dill pickles:

Followed by splitting the Half Rack of the Memphis Baby Back Ribs – which came with an assortment of sides. We opted for the Fried Green Tomatoes, and Cole Slaw as cornbread is included in all the platters.

One of the interesting sauces (they had many) was the Carolina-style mustard sauce, which, of course I had to try.

A little less yellow than some I’ve had, but tasty. We sort of killed the platter.

Did I mention the eye-candy crowd in this place?

And they all seem to be sucked into their devices….

We headed back to the Motel to settle in with the telly for the evening. Can’t believe I didn’t take any interior shots, but it was clean and came with a fridge and a microwave.

Tomorrow we are off to lunch!


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Sep '16

Trip Report: ROAD TRIP!

What happens when there are no cheap flights during the summer? ROAD TRIP!

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it turns out to be a parade of visits to friends that I’ve known for years:

  • Cathy = 46 years (stop 2)
  • Dwight = 31 years (stop 3)
  • Peppermint = 22 years (stop 6)
  • Yusaf = 19 years (stop 6)
  • Rache = 21 years (stop 7)
  • Bliss = 24 years (stop 8)

And the weather was stunning – probably got more sun than I should have.

First stop was to see Cathy – and drop off some cookware from my mother’s estate. She had many dinners at my parent’s table and reveled in the fact that my mother had nice things – and used them everyday. I passed on a Dansk 60’s turquoise double boiler and a Le Creuset orange saucepan with lid.

It was good to catch up in person with here rather than email/Facebook.

Next up – Dwight. My overnight stop. The photo from Dwights:

He does stock the bar for me! There was also a “handle” of Evan Williams Black. Dinner tonight was lovely Steak Fajitas delivered in (by a cute delivery guy). I got the “blow-up” queen-size bed in the spare room. We don’t get to see enough of each other – one of the reasons is that he has cats. I just doubled up on the antihistamines!

Morning found me early out of the house – Portland bound. I’ve got to hook up with Peppermint at his shop and head to a food show in SE Portland. Somehow I didn’t get a picture of Sunnyside Espresso.

I did get a couple of pictures from the food show – spread over two floors:

And this is a serious “cold press” coffee machine – using ice water:

On the way to my evenings lodging I passed the corner that was a block from where Jimmy and I lived in Northwest Portland – which was a corner market/butcher shop – now it’s a Mcmenamins Bottle Shop.

Tonight’s lodging is with Yusaf and Peppermint – who have also rolled out the red carpet! Here is the “Love Shack” that is my home for the night:

Complete with turquoise appliances!

And power!

They sacrificed an animal for the grill in my honor:

I brought a couple of bottles of a 2005 Bordeaux that we have at the shop – was $25, now $14 – and drinking GREAT!

There where even vintage “gay” magazines in the “love shack”!

They are from 1974 – when I was a senior in high school. I had to borrow them to scan and return. The T-Shirt Princess will love the images.

Slept in late, knowing that “breakfast” will be at Burgerville – my weakness in burger places – and the St. John’s one had a full parking lot and a drive through line that stretched onto the street:

After the “Devil’s Burger” it’s on the road to Long Beach (Washington, not California!) for an overnight with Rache.

It’s odd to pass through Seaside and not visit Seaside Boy – who actually is in Blaine these days:

Tried to find some new cargo shorts – after four stops, found some Ralph Lauren “not cargo” shorts, but they had a nice feel and were new at $10.

Stunning lamb dinner of the grill with Rache:

Again, my host is out of the house before me – and I’m on the road for the longest leg of the trip. But the top is down, and all is fine in my world.

Until I hit a backup – only 15 minutes:

And a blog update stop in a roadside rest stop:

The last stop of the trip is an overnight with Bliss. And the Cowboy Bed!

And the view isn’t bad:

Little did I know what was planned for my visit – a whirlwind of cocktails, boating, oysters and dinner! Bliss making scratch thermos’ full of Piña Coladas for the boat.

Bliss’ contractor has a boat and friends…I have a Speedo!

And even I went swimming in Hood Canal:

We did a little motoring around before heading to Union for beer, and as it turns out, oyster samples:

After a little ass-grabbing (NOT on my part, well, the ass was, not the grabbing) it was time for a sunset dinner with the guys – what a lovely end to the evening!

Not a bad road trip. Got stuck in a little traffic around Tacoma on the way home, but it was nice to sleep in my own bed.


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Sep '16

Trip Report: New Orleans For The Miles – Part Two

I left off mid-way through one day because the post got too big, so here we go with Part Two (Part One Here!).

I tried to get to the New Orleans Museum of Art after the Ogden – and there were streetcar delays and I was having a food meltdown – as in I needed food NOW. And look what I stumbled across!

Nice raw bar – extensive menu, light on the “décor”.

I opted for the Bevi Gumbo – just what I needed!

This is in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans – which I’m guessing was originally Italian judging from the number of pizza/pasta places, along with a Spumoni place:

And while we are showing city scenes, here is Canal Street from the trolley tracks:

Tonight’s dinner was markedly “down-scale” – I went next door and grabbed a burger to go from Igor’s Bar/Laundromat/Library/Pool Hall:

Which has a Fireball Dispenser

No, I didn’t have any vending machine Fireball.

That would be a crappy “Whiskey & Diet” – and because it’s New Orleans, everything is served in a plastic “to-go” glass.

In the morning it’s off again, and in my neighborhood in NOLA – these are the parking signs:

Destination is the New Orleans Museum of Art – and LUNCH! Here is what greats you:

I reminds me of the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City for the entrance….but the food place here, is well, New Orleans quality:

And the brisket sliders stunning!

That looks like a Sazerac as well – I’m working my way through the city – and its art. Here are some of my favorites – note, there are many fewer than from the Ogden:

Again – more Southern Art, but then some Classical:

This happy boy has appeared in a number of New Orleans posts – Boy With Twinkie!

So far, I’d been lucky to only get caught in a few bits of rain – often just having another drink and waiting it out. This is what the streetcar ride back from the Museum looked like!

It was SERIOUSLY dumping rain.

By the time I hit Canal Street it had stopped. And speaking of stops – stopped by The Red Zone again. This time to stock up the suitcase for the way home:

A couple of those (the rye and the single-barrel) aren’t available in Seattle, and even if they were, they’d be at least 35% more expensive.

It being my last full day in New Orleans, time to print out the boarding pass for tomorrow – and have a little free wine as well:

So I headed downstairs with a cocktail in hand, just in case the wine was bad.

For the last night in The Big Easy – I picked a new restaurant – which turned out to be a winner since I was there for happy hour, and I was already a little happy from the wine tasting. Poseidon is just across the street from the resort. Here is the Happy Hour menu:

And some of the wonderful food and drink I ordered:

WAY too much food for one, but I managed it. And the bill wasn’t that bad:

Returned to find this “Roller” parked in front of the condo – guessing it belongs to the lawyer’s office next door:

Off to the airport for a mid-day flight that was delayed by….wait for it…..weather. More rain dumping down on New Orleans and Houston – ground stops in both locations. Lots of people missed connection, luckily I had a three-hour layover planned, so no problem. This should give you an idea about the rain:

One the upside – I managed to have three cocktails and snacks before we ever left the gate. The Captain wanted us out of there and first in line when the weather permitted.

Just enough time for a quick cocktail in the lounge (courtesy of my seatmate who brought me in so I didn’t have to use my last pass) before heading to the Seattle flight.

My final airplane meal of this trip:

Home again safe and sound.


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Sep '16

Trip Report: New Orleans For The Miles – Part One

It was a trip for the miles – the final flights to hit $1,500 in United Airline tickets excluding taxes – I just squeaked over the spend at $1.506. And what did I get? 25,000 bonus miles on top of the miles that I earned. Since all 5 segments were booked in paid First Class (which has class bonuses), that brings the total miles earned to 37,048. Basically 5 cents a mile on a cost basis. It would have been cheaper to just wait for a United Bonus Miles sale (like they are having now) and pick up the miles for a little more than 2 cents a mile – but then again, I wouldn’t have gotten to go to both New Orleans and Puerto Vallarta (my two mileage runs).

That said, under United’s OLD mileage plan (two years ago) my Gold status and class of service bonus would have earned me 37,884 miles into my account, under the CURRENT mileage plan, my Gold status and the class of service bonus got me 12,048 miles – basically a THIRD of the miles. And you wonder why I prefer Alaska Airlines and their mileage-based program.

In reality – I made a decision to go for more miles. I just redeemed 20,000 of those miles for a reduced award round-trip ticket to Columbia, South Carolina in late October. This, by the way, is the best use of miles – tickets to out-of-the-way places that NEVER go on sale. And trust me, Columbia, South Carolina is one of those destinations – and I even got a one-stop (DC) in both directions, and “oddly” United offers “status” upgrades even on mileage redeemed tickets – mind you, you are the LAST of those upgraded. No first on the DC-Columbia legs, and can’t imagine getting an upgrade on a flight between Seattle and DC.

Now that you’ve suffered through my “mileage whore” section of the post – let’s talk New Orleans.

It seems I’m now going a couple of times each year, which means that I’m developing “habits”. New to the mix is paying the $50 UberXL fee for a private ride from the airport to the condo. And considering the storms on the way in, waiting for the bus was out.

Got to the condo, and for once – NO ONE was in the check-in line (it’s a big place). Threw the bags down, went out for Bourbon and mixer, fixed a cocktail, and basically chilled out. I have to say – HELLA view from this unit, best I’ve had here!

I got a one-bedroom, so there is room:

The rest of the pictures of the unit are from later in the trip when the place really looked “lived in”.

Here is the outside – not sure I like the new paint job:

The Bourbon and mixer – Basil Hayden for $30 a bottle – freakin’ cheap by Seattle standards:

My habit on the first night in NOLA seems to be a visit to Houston’s – a small national chain that adapts each cities menu. In this case, it includes jazz starting at 8.

And good food/booze – in this case, because it’s NOLA – that would be a Sazerac:

And an $18 burger:

I love the haystack fries, even though I shouldn’t have them.

My plan for the first day was to return to Purloo for an early lunch – only to find that they are no longer there, and that the Southern Food and Beverage Museum is closed on Tuesdays so that meant no shopping for odd southern cookbooks.

You can find the link to both those places on my February New Orleans post (http://blog.unclemarkie.com/2016/03/02/trip-report-arts-run-to-new-orleans/)

Had to come up with a new plan for lunch so I kept walking down Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. until I stumbled across Dryades Public Market, which is in what looks like an old schoolhouse. Got a Cuban from one stall and a Sazerac from the bar and called it lunch:

And I thought the bartender at Purloo!

Attempted to go back to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art – but guess what? Closed on Tuesdays. After a little shopping for Kathy (Princess of Tacky T-Shirts), caught the street car back to condo, futzed a bit, then headed out to Samuel’s Blind Pelican for an early dinner/late afternoon snack of oysters. Ended up getting a dozen of the raw on the half shell for $3 a dozen – and YES you read that correct – during Happy Hour which is 4-8pm, must purchase an “adult beverage” to qualify for the cheap price. No problem here.

Then moved onto the Charbroiled at $8.50 a dozen (and another “adult beverage”.

Even the dogs were eating oysters – this one trained to grab them from the edge of the bar!

Not sure how THESE guys who are on their feet for hours shucking oysters feel about them being dog food….

And this is one of the most amusing repurposing of door knobs – to hang you coat/purse on!

They go through a TON of oysters so they have their own truck:

And let’s not forget the Shrimp Boil and BBQ!

Whew! Real dinner later in the night was at Pho Orchid, starting with Vegetable Spring Rolls (well, after a Manhattan):

And then the combo fried rice – which I didn’t finish – but which made a great breakfast in the morning!

The following day brought me back to The Ogden Museum of Southern Art:

Here are some of my favorite pieces like this “quilts” from their invitational show:

The major show was works on paper from their collection, including two by Michael Meads – the artist that I came to specifically see in February:

Some other favorites:

And from the basement History of Graffiti in New Orleans:

Of my favorite museums, this one ranks in the top ten – maybe because they take chances and have more “adult-themed” exhibits rather than “general audience” exhibitions.

We’ve reached the end of this post – longer and it chokes in the machine. Stay tuned for Part Two!


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  1. UMTravels » Blog Archive » Trip Report: New Orleans For The Miles – Part Two Says:

    […] I left off mid-way through one day because the post got too big, so here we go with Part Two (Part One Here!). […]

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Aug '16

Travel Report: “Interesting” Trip To New Orleans

Guess this means that there will be more than one post for New Orleans as there were some “interesting” events on the way to The Big Easy.

It started out WAY too early – and I stayed up the night into the morning before. Short story – bed at 1am, alarm at 3am, flight at 5:30am. The only good thing about this was that I was in First Class so after breakfast I got an hours sleep or so. But here is what I look like at that time of the day – not pretty:

This was on the Seattle to Denver leg – Seat 1B, my favorite. And the breakfast was tasty, but a tad under warmed:

Choice of biscuit or cinnamon roll – since I’m headed to the south, it was biscuit (where is my gravy!)

Since it’s a domestic only ticket – no lounge access EVEN on a Paid First Class Ticket – something that Alaska Airlines does (Paid, but not on upgrades) but apparently United Airlines doesn’t. This meant that I took a two hour “nap” (much needed) on the carpet at DIA. Man did I need that nap!

But the real reason for this post is TWO different run-ins with Service Dogs – BOTH times I was seated in 1B – maybe it shouldn’t be my favorite seat after all!

The first time it was on a Seattle-Tucson direct flight with the woman sitting next to me reeking of cigarette smoke and for most of the trip was on her shoulders – panting in my ear, and going after my meal.

The guy behind me seems freaked out as well. This was in in August of 2014. Here is the post back then: http://blog.unclemarkie.com/2014/10/05/trip-report-ficos-birthday-in-tucson/

I boarded the flight for my favorite seat (1B) to find my legroom filled with a service dog the size of a small pony. When I went to sit down, the woman noticed my apprehension and asked if there might be another first class seat that I’d be more comfortable in – “First is booked full.”

The said small pony:

Luckily, the woman pestered all the flight attendants trying to get a gate agent involved – I actually didn’t say anything, but she could tell that I was uncomfortable. The matter was solved when the guy in 1C offered to switch seats saying, “I like dogs.” Situation defused, but you can see the dog is clearly laying across the leg room of 1A and 1B.

My post on the other dog (http://blog.unclemarkie.com/2014/10/05/trip-report-ficos-birthday-in-tucson/) was skeptical of the “service dog” – seemed more like a cranky, smoky, old lady wanting to keep her pooch with her.

On this trip I actually saw the “small pony” in action.

Turns out that she has HUGE fear of flying issues and was flying to New Orleans when there are huge storms and flooding all over the region. She said she refuses to board flights with expected turbulence – she shouldn’t have boarded this one (I was expecting to be it bumpy), or they gave her bad information at the gate. When we hit the expected turbulence she really started to freak out – grabbing the arm of the gentleman who traded seats – she was pushing the call button, yelling for more alcohol, etc. That’s when the dog (who was totally chill), got up and snuggled up to her – and it did help her, but she was still a mess, not helped by the captain telling the flight attendants to strap in.

After my day I said the hell with the hour plus bus to the city ($2.50) and then a trolley ($2.50) and opted for the UberXL (no UberX from the NOLA airport) for $50.00 – it was just nice to get to the condo in half an hour.

Next post will be the fun of New Orleans.

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Aug '16

City Report: Back to Filson’s For A Drink With Smokey The Bear

I know, I was just at Filson’s last week – but they were having a Smokey The Bear birthday party complete with Smokey himself, mini-cupcakes (the kids were running wild), and for the adults – it turns out, real cocktails, served in Mason Jars with Smokey The Bear cozies.

First – the Smokey The Bear photos:

This one features the “hottie” tour guide from last week (in the plaid).

And, of course, Uncle Markie had to get his picture taken with the big guy…

But really it was all about cocktails and cupcakes…

And “real” designer cocktails they were:

I had the “Smoke But No Fire”…

Any they even were giving out Smokey The Bear cozies!

The one thing I passed on was the Union Pinot Noir in a can – I kid you not – an aluminum can!

I really wanted to pocket one – apparently they also had a white and a rosé that they were desperately to get cooled down (along with the beer) after a delivery held up my Seattle’s infamous traffic.

The timing was good for the SODO-area event – I had to make a run to the Post Office to drop a Priority Mail envelope – nice to have a cocktail and a cupcake (OK, two) with Smokey on the way home.


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Aug '16

City Report: Time Off In The City, From Free To Pricey

So, its summer, which for me is no cheap bargain flights anywhere, so it’s time to explore the city. So over the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing tourist things with friends who are also free during the week.

Let’s work from Free to Pricey – though I visited these places in the reverse order.

Filson Factory Tour (FREE):

Filson is what Eddie Bauer used to be – the rugged outdoor ware company, albeit from the West Coast rather than the East Coast. Eddie Bauer has bounced around from corporate overlord to corporate overload, but Filson is still privately owned. But one thing is the same – they stand behind their product, even if your grandfather bought that jacket, they will repair it.

Here is great overview of Filson from Wikipedia: LINK HERE. Like most things, you start digging into it and although privately held, it’s held by the same folks who have Fossil and Shinola. On the upside, you should see the Filsons/Shinola bike which I don’t see on their site (or Shinolas) that had nice bamboo accents. There is still one in their showroom in Seattle – last time I asked the price I think it was upwards of a grand.

All of Filson’s production is done domestically for most of its flagship line of bags and heavy-weight jackets with a free small exceptions like dry bags (thick rubber bags for rafting, etc.) – belts, bags, all US production in Seattle, but their new line of more casual shirts I believe are outsourced/partnered to Levis (guess I’ll have to look at the “made in” tags on the next visit) but the one I looked at on the site said “imported”.

All that said, it was great to see high-end work being done in the middle of Seattle. Here are some shots. First the showroom:

And then the factory tour – with the “hottie” tour guide:

TONS of staff (ratio 4 staff to 1 customer) on the floor. Unfortunately the one item I wanted was only part of a package of a watch and books. Sigh. FYI – that “package” with the watch runs $1000. I just wanted the orange bandana! Tours are Tuesdays at 10am, Thursdays at 1:30pm– the meet on the THIRD floor, showroom is on the SECOND floor. It almost made me miss the tour!

Next up (in reverse order) is:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitors Center (FREE)

The Foundation is right across the street from EMP – The Experience Music Project, located at Seattle Center. Why not add it onto a visit to Seattle Center, The ChuckHooy Glass Abuse Garden, the Science Center, etc.

During opening hours it’s a self-guided tour – which is esthetically pleasing, but WORD heavy. Show up at 2pm for the guided one-hour tour. It still give you time to explore areas of interest in-depth, but give you a better overview of Uncle Bill’s work (no, I’m not his nephew, I’m just an ex-Microsoft employee).

Here are a couple of shots from the Visitor’s Center:

Because we need a “selfie” in this post – they had a photo booth:

Would have been nice to have some starving children in the background or something (just kidding).

And the final stop in this Seattle Tour is:

Experience Music Project – EMP ($25 but free for “North American Reciprocal Museum Association” Members)

This might be the hidden benefit for my “Pioneer” Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) membership. Last October I got a TAM membership to support the AIDSartAmerica exhibit which they were lead organizer. With the membership I got reciprocal privileges to The North American Museum Association and Museums West. Very amazing for a smaller regional museum – and that level of membership was $125 for a year, with half a dozen guest passes to the museum.

So far, during this year, I’ve gotten six entrances to EMP ($150), 4 entrances to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans ($54 soon to be 5 at $67.50), 1 entrance ($10.50 soon to be 2 at $21.00) to the New Orleans Museum of Art, 4 entrances into The Tacoma Art Museum ($60), 2 entrances into The Neon Museum in Las Vegas ($36), 2 entrances into the Georgia O’Keefe Museum ($24), Palace of Governors ($24), and New Mexico Museum of Art ($24). Round numbers: I’ve gotten $382.50 value out of my $125 – think about that they next time you are in a museum – check out their partners and get something than the other “basic” membership (caveat – some reciprocal memberships restrict benefits within 60 miles of your “home” museum, and some [like the Neon Museum] require BOTH member cards for two people, most do not). It’s nice to be able to give your “Guest of Mark Souder” pass to visitors in town especially for the EMP. Just like my National Parks Pass, I tend to favor smaller museums because they collect a larger chunk of the money.

But I digress (as usual) – we are talking about the Experience Music Project which started as Paul Allen’s dream to build a Jimi Hendricks Museum. The Hendricks family looked at the co-founder of Microsoft and wanted a whole wad of dough to aloe name to be uses – hence “The Experience Music Project” that holds Paul Allen’s’ collection of Jimi Hendricks memorabilia, his Sci-Fi (Paul’s, not Jimmi’s) collection, and rotating exhibits. It is in a Frank Gehry designed building that has the Seattle Monorail running through (but not stopping in) it. Here is the LINK to the background of the museum.

Let’s get to some pictures of the place!

Mr. Whippet and the EMP.

So, the Museum is split into sections – Guitars, Hendrix Nirvana and various other music-themed exhibits, and then there is the Horror, Fantasy, Infinite Worlds sections, plus a couple of areas for special exhibition – currently one on Star Trek (extra $5 upcharge) and the other “The World of Wearable Art (WOW)”. Here is a sampling of photos starting with Fantasy and a couple of costumes from The Wizard of Oz:

Then Science Fiction:

Then into Guitars:

And finally, wearable art:

By the end of the Museum I was feeling a little peckish – luckily there is a Wolfgang Puck Pop Kitchen & Bar – 50% off on food items for members and reciprocal members. Yahoo!

Time for a Manhattan and some parmesan fries.

Next time I go to the opera I might have to come here for an early dinner!

So there you have some free and not-so-free (unless you want to borrow my pass).

Safe travels everyone.


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Aug '16

City Report: Touring Amazon’s Headquarters

I really would have preferred to tour one of their fulfillment centers – but alas, nothing in the state and nothing with slots open (I would have FLOWN to get on a tour), so Seattle Headquarters it is.

Here is a map of the fulfillment centers that offer tours:

And I was serious about flying to do a tour! Just rechecked – Jeffersonville, Indiana has an October 4th opening…sigh. And now I have spots for two people. Where the hell IS Jeffersonville! Across the river from Louisville, Kentucky it turns out.

I’ve got friends in Kentucky – The Colonels, Babs…but it turns out The Colonels will be in NOLA (New Orleans) during that time – might have to reschedule.

But back to the HQ Tour! We start at “Day One North” – because in Amazon speak, “Every Day Is Day One”, in this case North, but we parked in Day One South – separated by a free Banana Stand for everyone (Amazon or not):

We were early so we wandered down to Lake Union, stopped at my Credit Union for cash, ogling all the “worker bees” before our tour.

And off on the tour we go, with two guides (and BADGES!):

Random shots of the “views” from various Amazon buildings (12 spread around South Lake Union and Belltown):

All the buildings are named after Amazon’s history – this building, Rufus, named after the first “office dog”. Currently there are about 2,000 dogs at work per day – doggie biscuits at all the reception desks. Rufus is also the name of one of our “shop dogs” – i.e., dogs what drag owners into Madrona Wine Merchants:

Lots of rooftop gardens!

And a candid shot of my tour buddy Mags:

Lots of walking – should have brought my hat from the car.

For me, the highlight was the Tote Robot (nicknamed Tottie) that delivered our “swag” – here is the video:

Please note that the robot is running at 20% of its normal speed – now you know why I want to get a tour of a fulfillment center!

Here is the SWAG and my “badge” from the tour – one of the stops was at the “reading room”, filled with advance copies of books which we could take one with us – I grabbed a “thriller” call “The Capitalist” – appropriate for an Amazon tour!

Selfie stick, badge, book, and not pictured, pen and stickies set – not sure where that’s gone to!

It was a fun day – we’d thought about doing the Gates Foundation Visitor Center, but we’d run out of energy. OK, I’d run out of energy!

Fun day in the city.


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Jul '16

Trip Report: Whistler With Roxy

In what has become an annual tradition for the last three years, Roxy and I are once again off to Whistler for some “hiking”.

Top down the whole way, with a few sprinkles – overcast mostly.

Condo was ready for us when we arrived a little after 4pm – not a bad place. It’s a one-bedroom so Roxy is on the fold-out couch:

First stop is the IGA for a bird and supplies:

Just like my trip to Puerto Vallarta a couple of weeks ago, it’s going to be a chicken week, made easier by the fact that Roxy is enthusiast about food.

The next morning up and on the road – but with a wake-up selfie for a friend just back from Europe:

A bit out of focus, but that’s Roxy’s fold-out couch/bed.

We were SLOW getting out of the condo, it was after noon when we picked up our Peak2Peak Season passes… what was overcast yesterday was cloudy and drippy on the mountain….this is on the first gondola:

Which turned into this on the Peak2Peak….

For us, having skipped breakfast (for sleeping in until 11am) we headed directly to Christines for lunch – it was closed for renovations last summer, but it was a favorite our first year:

Roxy had the Salmon…

I had the Blackened Ahi…

Sorry that both shots were after we’d “tucked in” as the Brits would say.

This should give you an idea of the weather on our first two days on the mountain:

But there was a “cool” display of a “faux” GMC Denali gondola:

After last night’s dinner, I’d stripped the chicken and Roxy made us Chicken/Ciabatta/SweetOnionDressing sandwiches for our mountain adventure – tasty they were:

I also boiled down the bones and made stock for chicken/vegetable/noodle soup – with is tonight’s meal:

Got to get your money out of that chicken!

Even made it to the hot tub for a soak post dinner after our “grueling” day of “hiking”:

Day Three in Whistler required a room change – down the hall in the Handicapped Unit – couldn’t find four days together in one unit, so that meant packing everything up, leaving it on a trolley, bagging the stuff in the fridge, and having it magically appear in our new unit.

But, again, the mountain was socked in…

This day, we were wise enough to bring books along, spending many revolutions in the Peak2Peak Gondola, not bothering to get off – just introducing ourselves to new riders with each turn.

More chicken noodle soup for dinner – the staff kindly moved it pot and all, replacing the missing pot from our new kitchen.

And oh what a difference a day makes when the sun comes out! Lines everywhere…

No more round-and-around for us. People everywhere because of the break in the weather…

And the first hike we do – it’s a Black Diamond trail to the Peak Express. Remember, I’m the guy that only does the Green Diamond Trails. That would be the lift down in the valley – bad for my knees on the way down, bad for my breathing on the way up:

Said “Black Diamond” trail:

On the walk I saw this gentleman doing a watercolor on the path – reminded me of my brother-in-law on hikes:

That would be a snow making lagoon on the upper right.

As you can see from the video below, there is a reason we didn’t take this lift Tuesday or Wednesday in the bad weather – they are open chairs!

But it sure is pretty at the top!

The way DOWN is actually a little more breathtaking – though I didn’t get the camera turned on in time to see the sudden “over the cliff” launch – but as luck would have it, that’s right where the lift stopped.

I had a hankering for a hot dog – apparently not easy to find when they don’t have their outdoor grill going – unless you are a whole suckling pig!

Guessing that’s for the pulled pork poutine (which I had last year). I had to settle for the Children’s Combo which had a VERY SAD hot dog, fries, and three sides (yoghurt, fruit strips, fruit cups, etc.). That said, it was $10 CAD, minus 10% because we are pass holders, bringing it to $9 CAN, and with the exchange with $1 USD equal to $1.30 CAD, it was a cheap lunch in an expensive place:

Alas – lunch at Christines is a once-a-trip treat (we spent $110 CAD on lunch Tuesday for the two of us).

The trip is coming to the end, so, a little more reading, hanging out on lifts, but no more hiking:

And from our final ride down the mountain:

Before you know it, we are one the road headed home – actually got out of the condo by 9AM! Don’t we look relaxed on the road?

The border was maybe 20 minutes because I spent five minutes buying duty-free rye, cutting off another 10 minutes of traffic – would have been quicker, but Roxy doesn’t have a Nexus card – but not bad. We made it home after getting stuck in Seattle traffic by 3:30 or so… plenty of time to cook dinner for our mutual friend, Mr. Whippet!

Pardon the stacks of wine boxes – got 10 cases of “Buck-A-Bottle” for upcycling.

All-in-all, a fun trip. Going back early September since I have a season-long pass – and there is “room at the inn”.


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Jul '16

Trip Report: Mt. Rainier Steam Train

This week’s adventure is a visit to Mt. Rainier, and a Steam Train ride on the way home. Rache is back along for this adventure as we both like trains. We are also flying to Calgary at the end of August for a Lunch Train to nowhere. But back to the present.

Nice overcast day – perfect for a top-down drive.

With just a two-hour drive, we get to leave at a leisurely time since check-in is a 4.

Had to swipe the picture – forgot to get a decent picture of the place. But I did get a shot of the room and the view:

This is the view from the first floor – there were screens on the windows making for bad photos, but you get the idea:

We had a little nap after our “long” drive and before long, it was time for dinner. I’d brought a bottle of the 2005 Château de Clairvoy Bordeaux – and was amazed at the low ($8) corkage fee. Glad we brought it since the wines on their list trended to mass market Washington State wine (Sagelands), or $60-100 better bottles (but way over-priced).

Rache ordered a Bombay Dry Martini, I, a Manhattan – his arrived proper, mine was a little “less” properly glassed. Apparently the “up” confused our server and didn’t get that you also “shake and strain” Manhattans:

And it’s minor – but someone orders cocktails, wait to pour the wine.

Dinner was good, not “write home” excellent, but well-prepared. I went for the linguini with clams and a salad – Rache the bone-in pork chop (which he said he should have ordered medium rare):

After dinner it was time for a hike – with a cocktail from the room in hand….a ¾-mile loop across the road from the lodge – site of a former “Medical Springs Resort” – alas, just a couple of baths and one building are left, but it was a pleasant dusk walk, hence, the darkness of the photos…

Rache, as usual, was up early and revisited the trail from last night, I grabbed breakfast at 8 (early for me – but they have limited hours)…

And went back to bed until just before check-out at 11am.

A quick drive to look at a couple of things I hadn’t seen before in Longmire…and a random selfie:

Uncle Markie and mountain, followed by a cool suspension bridge for the road that goes to the Community Building:

The Administration Building (where you get your backcountry permits:

And one of the old tour busses:

Next up, a drive up to Paradise – the bigger and older lodge at Mt. Rainier National Park – but with road construction delays….

But we made it…

A little more “grand” than the National Park Inn at Longmire. Here are some random pictures from the run down the hill:

We stayed for a bit before heading back down the hill to the town of Elbe, just outside the boundaries of the park. This is where we catch the Mt. Rainier Steam Train – but after we grab a bite to eat at The Sidetrack Room:

Might as well start with a drink – much better than the one last night:

We both ended up with the pulled pork sandwich, which was really good, though I would have served it on an onion bun!

There is even an old Lutheran Church open for viewing…

Now for the train!

And some stills from the trip to the Museum in the woods….

First Class where we WERE NOT, which was air conditioned…

Couch Class where we were which was not air conditioned, but the windows opened…

LOTS of kids – might have been worth the extra $10 each in the “less children zone”. Lots of scenery:

But the Museum was the real treat (which for me was unexpected):

Lots of building housing engines, renovation shops, and this display of 1/8th scale functioning steam trains that they are going to start laying track for next month…

And a final shot before we headed back to the city.

It was a quick (just one overnight) but fun trip.

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Jul '16

Trip Report: Puerto Vallarta

After the craziness of the Greek Reunion was fun – but as all “group” endeavors, there is a schedule of stuff to do. Even with most of a week off to get printers fixed, status, sleep in my own bed, cook for friends, work – I needed a vacation vacation.

Luckily I’d scheduled Puerto Vallarta as part of a United Airlines promotion – spend a grand, get 10,000 bonus miles (on top of miles and bonus’ earned), spend another $500, get another bonus of 15,000 miles. Yep, another quest! Having done the math, with “class of service” bonuses, turns out a couple of First Class tickets is the quickest/cheapest (in terms of lodging/cars/etc.)

First ticket – Puerto Vallarta!

United was actually running a 757 on the SEA-SFO route. Actually one of my favorite airframes, becoming hard to find as operators like the size as well:

Smaller bins than newer models, but a larger First Class section but I’d gotten up at 3:30am to make my flight, so I’m not looking my best:

Too bad the flight wasn’t on time EVEN BEING THE FIRST FLIGHT TO SFO OF THE DAY.

Arrive SFO – and my flight to PVR is at a Domestic Gate – miles from a Duty Free. Managed to HIKE to the International Terminal AND get back in time for the flight – and eventually have my Duty Free delivered onboard. Why? I’m a Bourbon drinker – Bourbon is NOT cheap in Mexico (though with the exchange 18 to 1, cheaper than it used to be).

737-800 to SFO-PVR. Still looking like the walking dead:

And I’m still tired – but this flight comes with breakfast:

With just carryon luggage it was quick through immigration and customs, into the cab (use the cab ordering stand in the terminal) and to the condo. I’m staying at the Vacation Intervals exchange resort with WorldMark – that’s a mouthful!

And I love that they offer you a free beer at check-in….

Not that is was a GOOD beer, but it was cold and I drank it looking out the balcony of my one-bedroom (full kitchen/no washer-dryer).

Yep, overcast, but humid as poop, with the occasional afternoon showers:

But when it’s raining outside, there is always inside:

And other than picking up mixers at the Soriana a half block away:

It was off to the restaurant in the complex – I didn’t get to the condo until almost 5pm.

Turns out this would be my ONLY meal out while in PV – starting with a margarita!

And then the grilled octopus starter:

With the requisite chips and pico de gallo….

And the main of mole chicken enchiladas….

Enchiladas were a little on the dry side, but I was poolside in PV, so……

Next day it was back to the Soriana to get supplies for the rest of the week – maybe I shouldn’t have brought Bourbon, because they sell Jack and Coke in cans in Mexico:

But I was shopping for real cooking things for the kitchen – like chicken/eggs/cheese/pico de gillo/salad…..

And that chicken will turn into heavos rancheros/stock/soup/quesadillas…..

That chicken fed me for a week!

But here are some other shots from the place (which I basically never left)…the entrance area…

Complete with big ceramic frog….

My room, the one above the towels….

The pool area….

Trust me, there were MANY, MANY more kids in that pools usually – between the heat and the kids, reading on the balcony with the sliding door open and AC wafting over me…..

But really, when the sun started to go down, too wonderful:

But after four nights – back to the airport (half the $12 equivalent fare to get back to the airport), no lounge, but a Carl’s Jr., you’d think I was back in Cali:

A little shopping and it was onto the flight – some decent leg room….

And lunch number one:

That would be plantains, not potatoes.

Another short international transfer – TIP – in Houston take the exit rather than transfer lane if you want TSA-Pre. You have to show ID again, but at least you are express.

Enough time for a QUICK cocktail in the lounge (use it or lose it) before leg two of three (PVR-IAH-DEN-SEA):

I DO love bulkhead aisle….and some of the new tray table tricks – a prop for your tablet:

And lunch number two…

The plan was for a four-hour layover in Denver (the joys of a cheap First-Class ticket), but with club access (Gold Status, International Itinerary) I went to the desk to inquire about the delayed earlier flight and First. Question: “Reward travel?” “No, paid First.” Click, click, click. “Got you a seat.” I get to the gate and there are two screens of people (about 40 people) on the complimentary upgrade list waiting in vain – a part of me feels like I actually got some value out of paying cheap for up front – and I get home three hours early! This is actually huge since I would have gotten home at 1AM and had to work at 11AM.

And rather than a snack (and the couple of drinks in the lounge waiting) on the flight – yet another meal:

That would be the mushroom risotto – the other choice was pasta in a tomato sauce – a guarantee of heartburn for me.

A four-night holiday – didn’t do ANYTHING cultural in PV, unless you consider the last Soriana photo – looks like the soda pop aisle doesn’t it?

This is the DISH SOAP aisle – THAT’s an accident waiting to happen.

Home safe.


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One Response to “Trip Report: Puerto Vallarta”

  1. UMTravels » Blog Archive » Trip Report: Whistler With Roxy Says:

    […] like my trip to Puerto Vallarta a couple of weeks ago, it’s going to be a chicken week, made easier by the fact that Roxy is […]

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