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Last Post: Trip Report: Greece Reunion -- Part Five, Goodbye Athens
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Last Modified: June 25, 2016 @ 10:41 pm (GMT -7)
Jun '16

Trip Report: Greece Reunion — Part Five, Goodbye Athens

On the food front I’ve been less than ambitious – just going across the street to Pita Bar. Partially less ambitious because I know when I hit the island of Sifnos for the big anniversary party, all the food will be over the top.

I even got it to go the first night:

That, my friends, is 4.60 Euro worth of pork pitas – yep, 2.30 Euro each – and I only really needed ONE – lunch the next day took care of the other. As for the next night I splurged and ordered almost 10 Euro worth of food (which again, was WAY too much food for one person). Two orders (should have gotten one – didn’t realize the size) of the spiced lamb skewer, and a really wonderful Greek Salad – it’s not just for breakfast anymore!

And I did do a tiny amount of shopping, though I have yet to find the perfect tacky t-shirt for Kathy or a clay figurine for Kate…. got myself a flashy 3 Euro hat!

And you’ll never guess the material….

On that school trip I actually came home with a blanket made entirely of rabbit pelts – I really should have gone for the one they said was “gatto” – all calico cat pelts!

Speaking of school trips – there is one staying at the hotel! They were in the lounge finishing off their final assignments with their teacher – fun to listen in on. They leave the hotel earlier than I do my final morning in Athens.

Their bus causing a massive backup on the street – though it doesn’t take much!

I left the hotel shortly after 1 (shortly after the first version of this post disappeared) and headed for the Port of Piraeus – home to the worst of the worst taxi drivers (personal experience). I’ll be taking the Metro again (1.40 Euro).

Last time I was here, the option was taxi, no train….

Technically the port is just across the street, but in reality, the port is REALLY big.

The Metro stop is near the center, but it’s still a hike with my multiple bags. And then hunt fun begins…

  • Soda
  • Booze
  • Food

Found that – while luckily running into other people headed to the same party which meant someone to watch the bags (thanks Rueben!) Not much in the way of signage, but found the ticket counter, found a place to wait in the shade (seriously important). Because when it comes time to load – there is no shade, just chaos. No lanes for people exiting to boat, and just people pushing to get on (and out of the sun) which is ODD because it’s all assigned seats.

Off to Sifnos go I and a couple of hundred other people.

Bye-bye Athens – stay tuned for more of Uncle Markie’s Greek Adventure!

[? ? ?]

If you got to this post from a direct FaceBook link, you can find more adventures of Uncle Markie at http://blog.unclemarkie, from newest to oldest. Happy exploring.

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part Four, Athens Culture

In the midst of all this shopping, churches, LOTS of churches. This one is basically across the street from the hotel:

While this one is next to the Hadrian’s Library archeological site:

Speaking of Hadrian’s Library – paid a visit in homage to my mother (a librarian) and Salamander (a bibliophile):

Pretty amazing place (4 Euro Entrance Fee – and they try and upsell you to the combo ticket for the Acropolis and the rest of Empire):

Mind you, this is just a block beyond the Metro station – keep going and you’d hit The Agora and the Acropolis. Easily walkable, but be warned – it’s a hell of a hike UP to the Acropolis. I bitched as a 20-year-old, not even thinking about it pushing 60. And showing up early to beat the crowds means your crowds are hordes of ill-mannered pushy Asian tourists.

Also included in this site is a small museum with a winged Nike with one foot on the globe, as if landing (well, what is left of her):

Along with other fragments:

These two small pieces amused me – a clay tobacco pipe and a carved bone tobacco pipe tool ala Swiss Army Knife:

To me, the most interesting things are the murals and tilework that still partially remain at the site…

…and how they have partially restored some steps and columns to give you an idea of what this would have looked like originally:

This all takes me back to my Evergreen State College days when I took a summer course, “The Art History of Ancient Rome and Greece” with Gordon Beck. Once I return to the states I’ll see if I can dig up the guidebooks we make for the 6-week trip and post the Athens section.

Athens is getting broken up into more and more parts – stay tuned for more of the unfolding adventure!

[? ? ?]

If you got to this post from a direct FaceBook link, you can find more adventures of Uncle Markie at http://blog.unclemarkie, from newest to oldest. Happy exploring.

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part Three, Athens Neighborhood

It seems to me that the hotel is located in the hardware district – much like my hotel in Istanbul was located in the bedding linens district.

I’d love to have this drawer pulls/cabinet corners/hardware store in my neighborhood at home!

Up the street, there is a huge meat market –

With a fish market in the middle –

Nor the plants – in this case giant basil bushes –

Coffee anyone?

Fruits and Vegetables?


Or even junk!

Stay tuned for more – next up is Athens Culture!

[? ? ?]

If you got to this post from a direct FaceBook link, you can find more adventures of Uncle Markie at http://blog.unclemarkie, from newest to oldest. Happy exploring.


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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part Two, Athens Lodging

I had the post almost done with the exception of the links….and then it went away, never to be recovered. Guessing it was a hiccup during the save. Lesson to all – save early, save often – and I’m not just talking about your documents!

Hotel Attalos, where I’m staying is just two blocks from the Metro Station that I exited (three from the other exit). It’s nice to be able to avoid the overly aggressive taxi drivers that Athens is famously known for.

First, and overview of the hotel itself:

That would be my balcony in the bottom set, middle, next to the balcony for the “winter bar”. Speaking of bars, here is the day/night view from the roof top bar:

Already talking “bar” when I haven’t even shown you the room!

Or the view from my balcony – think of it as my office for the next two nights –

Not huge, but a cute little balcony, nice shower, 3-star functional! But it does (as many overseas hotels have) one of this annoying room key to keep the lights on. I understand where they are coming from, but I’d also like to return to a cooled off room AND my laptop charged. As you can see, you can use any card, or even stiff paper to get around the interlock.

One amusing feature of the hotel is a totally non-OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) approved elevator – there is no inside gate:

And we’ll finish the hotel section with the breakfast buffet room on the mezzanine – good selection!

Hot dishes like eggs and spanakopita, cold dishes like muesli, cheese, meats, Greek salad…

Athens is getting broken up into three parts since it keeps crashing – stay tuned for more!

[? ? ?]

If you got to this post from a direct FaceBook link, you can find more adventures of Uncle Markie at http://blog.unclemarkie, from newest to oldest. Happy exploring.

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part One, Getting There

Nothing like getting back from Vega at noon on a Saturday with just enough time to take a shower and get to the shop in time for your 1:30-7pm shift, working again Sunday, and getting up butt-early (that’s a technical phrase) to head off again. This is a short turn time even for me!

Destination: Greece
Reason: Friends 25th Anniversary Party

But first I have to get there.

I booked Vancouver (YVR) to Athens (ATH) via Paris (CDG) last fall in a fit of “I have to get my ducks in a row”. This is contrary to what I tell most people about international (and domestic flights for that matter) that you should book 60 days out for the best deal – when you book nine months out, you are basically getting “rack rate” – a phrase that refers to the highest rate that a hotel will sell its rooms for (think retail, versus on sale). With the difference in price of $1800 (r/t) for Economy or $2700 (again, r/t) for Business, I opted for Business Class on Air France – at least the food and wine should be good!

As for the SEA-YVR and the return of YVR-SEA, those were two separate OTHER reservations – outbound I found for $105, but the return was expensive so I used 12,500 miles for the return. One trip, three reservation numbers.

I bore you with all this because I had feared that I’d have to collect my multiple bags (see photo) in Vancouver, go through customs with them, then recheck them onto the Air France flight, then collect them as it would be the first stop in the European Union, and repeat the whole thing again. Needless to say, I’d arranged for LOTS of layover time in each city.

Now the reality. When I checked in, the guy said, “Final destination?” Answer, “Vancouver on this ticket, but connecting to Air France to CDG, then onto Athens on a different ticket.” I was pleasantly surprised he said, “Give me the flight numbers and I’ll check them in all the way to Athens.” Frankly – even this jaded traveler was amazed. Two reservations numbers, two different carriers. I knew you could do different carriers on the same reservation number.

And when I talk about multiple bags – this is what I mean. Two “carry-on” size bags, but both with liquids – like snow globes – in them:

The back pack with the computer goes with me on the plane, but in the back of my mind I’m going, “How will this actually work?” The Silver bag (and parts of the black bag) are filled with “airplane memorabilia” for one of the two boys whose anniversary I’m celebrating. I was there (the Island of Sifnos, in Greece) for their 10th Anniversary, it only seemed right to return for their 25th Anniversary.

Checked in, and time to go to The Board Room – here is the shot that I sent out in homage to Lambchop who always sends shoe/airport carpet selfies when he travels.

Seems that Alaska is upping its game in the airline lounge world. I usually start each trip with a Red Baron (sparkling wine and cranberry juice). Red Barons are my family’s traditional celebration (i.e. Christmas, New Year’s) drink. The Board Room used to serve Cooks (which is plonk – a British phrase), but they have now gone local, well, Yakima. Their new bubbles are from Treveri Cellars – we featured them at a tasting at the shop a couple of years ago.

So far, the day is going MUCH better than I expected.

  • Baggage checked all the way through to Athens
  • Better bubbles in The Board Room

Had a bagel/cream cheese and a hardboiled egg (and a Red Baron, and since the bubbles are good, a second glass of just the bubbles) before heading to the gate. Small delays boarding (crew late), and then a small mechanical delay, but really, I’d blocked plenty of time in YVR when I thought I had luggage issues, so it’s all good.

Turns out the both Alaska AND Air France use the same third-party lounge at YVR (Plaza Premium Club). Not a bad looking lounge:

With a better than usual food selection:

Soup and sandwiches – after the scrambled eggs and sausage…then kim chi fried rice and bulgogi

The only downside is that the bar doesn’t open until 11am – guessing that would be British Columbia liquor laws – and it isn’t self-pour. I did manage to get a couple of cocktails in (one featured above) before it was time for the plane:

That would be a 777-200 a bit past it’s prime as witnessed by the covering rubbed off the Senheiser noise cancelling headphones from a previous generation. These were hardwired so there was no way to use your own personal current generation headphones.

And the old-style 2-3-2 angled Business Class seating (no First Class service on this flight). At least there were universal outlets (sans USB) to charge things up.

Maybe that’s why they were giving away (at $2700 r/t) Business Class connecting service to Europe from the West Coast so cheap (or it could be the Canadian Dollar crisis). Here are a couple of more cabin shots:

They (Air France) have announced plans to upgrade their Business Class seating (Link Here), but I got the old product.

That said, the service was good, the food better, and the wine and champagne, better yet. This would be the start of dinner service for a flight leaving YVR at 2PM (though we were late). The champagne was a Joseph Perrier la Cuvée Royale Brut – both before take-off and after my whiskey on the rocks. But let’s talk food (and more wine)!

Starters and salad (though there was a Mise en Bouche [bent spoon] of salmon-cheese roulade with fennel salad) which would be from left to right:

  • Seasonal salad with pecans
  • Grill-seared dill-marinated scallops
  • Smoked breast of duck with fig compote

Wine: 2015 Château d’Olliéres Classique Côtes de Provence Rosé

Followed by the main (choice of Beef, Salmon, Vegetarian Cannelloni, or the special of the day – which is what I had, the Roast Chicken Fillet with Tarragon Cream Sauce:

Looks like I was a little late photographing that one!

Wine: 2011 Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Château Jean Faure followed by the 2013 Gérard Bertrand Domain de Villemajour Carbiéres-Bouenac (at the shop we have featured wines by Gérard Bertrand in the past).

But let’s not forget dessert —

Cheese platter with at Graham’s 10-year-aged Tawny Port, and with the dessert trio (chocolate truffle, mini raspberry-chocolate cake, lemon macaron) and sorbet (cassis) a Eau-de-vie de poire (pear brandy).

I also had to try the Calvados hors d’âge (apple brandy) and the Bas-Armagnac Château du Tariquet
Folle Blance 12 ans (12-year-aged Armagnac from a vintner we have also featured at the shop).

Time for a movie and a nap – the movie, which was actually moving (to tears at one point, but then again, after all that booze there isn’t much of a lock on the emotions) was Boychoir, which featured the Fried Green Tomatoes lady (Kathy Bates), Dustin Hoffman, Debra Winger. Really, the only time I watch movies is when I’m trapped in a tube.

Nap time before breakfast showed up – luckily they still had some Champagne!

WAY too much food, but I managed to eat most of it. Fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries, ham and vegetable omelet, bacon, roasted potatoes.

We landed in Paris pretty much on time – though to weather more typical to Seattle – drizzly overcast:

After minimal immigration (though another stamp in my passport) it was off to the Air France Lounge in Terminal 2E (after a train ride). This would be Terminal 2E at CDG which a portion collapsed in 2005 shortly after opening. Click on the CDG link for morning information – it’s actually rather informative. But today, it’s rebuilt and rather pretty.

F30 was my gate, FYI. But for my multi-hour layover (I’d rather have spare time than no time) I was in the lounge:

Where I had a nice workspace:

THIS is the reason you either have status on an airline, or pay for Business Class. AND there was an open bar, which expanded….after 11.

Which is when the wine came out – but if you wanted ice in your drink you had to snag it from the wine bucket – you’d think they were ENGLISH with regards to ice:

More food in the lounge (have yet to pay for a meal on this trip). I nibbled on breakfast stuff and lunch stuff after 11:30.

But more importantly, after an overnight trip, access to shower facilities (albeit a tad humid from constant use):

There was some worry about my checked bags (really, I don’t have to tend to them?). Wanted to make sure – went to the front desk – much punching of keys before, “Shows here that they were loaded onto the plane at 9:20.” And it was about 10:15 at that point.

Boarded the final leg of the trip to Athens knowing that “Business Class” within Europe should always have parentheses around it. Economy seats (albeit in leather) with the center seat blocked out.

And no extra leg room:

But, again, the food is better than in back:

That would be lentil salad with sautéed oyster mushroom and sun-dried tomato, sautéed chicken thigh in a lettuce cream sauce, crisp vegetables, a thyme potato crisp, cheese and an apple tartlet, all served with their covers on (a bit tacky to my mind).

We move from tacky to tatty – seems even their intra-Europe jets are showing their age. Look at the magazine rack:

But I the grand scheme, all I care about is being united with my bags in Athens – and to my surprise, they are on the belt.

Collect bags, exit through an unmanned customs booth, find the Metro Train to the city with a stack of bags (luckily one of my bags converts to a hand truck):

One of the anniversary boys gave me the number to his “driver” because Athens is notorious for aggressive cab drivers especially towards tourists. Just 38-50 Euro (plus tip) from the airport, depending on time. I was happy to skip being met at the airport and pay 10 Euro to get to within two blocks of my hotel. Mind you, the above photo was taken closer to the airport than the city, before the commuters started piling on the train.

All settled in my room – time to go in search of easy food.

[? ? ?]

For those of you who got to this page with a direct link from FaceBook – you can see other posts at http://blog.unclemarkie.com with the latest first and going back in time.

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Lost Wages – Part Four, The Final Act

I finally found the pictures of the condo unit (2-bedroom, 2-bath):

And here is the place we moved into at Bally’s on The Strip. But did I take any interior shots….no, damn. This was the view though at sunset with the wheel front and center, so who cares what the room looked like, though it was nice, unfortunately $225 nice since it was the first day of the Electric Daisy Carnival, more on that later:

Out of the condo at noon after snagging another $125 AMEX reward card for saying no a dozen (or three dozen) times, and off to Bally’s on The Strip for us – and luckily we were able to check in early! Here is a shot of Rache and I on the casino floor headed to the room:

Since breakfast was a while ago – it was time to find food. And that food would be Truffle Mac and Cheese at Off The Strip (on an “alley” leading to The High Roller).

Though you can barely see it, there is a Manhattan behind it, and Rache’s beer as well – we both had the Truffle Mac and Cheese for lunch – Rache did the smart thing and only ate half of his – I foolish ate the whole thing (which, while good) sat like a lump in my stomach with 100 degree temperatures outside.

Tourist item for today is The High Roller at the Linq Hotel. That is The High Roller in the photo above. The interesting thing about this one is that four of the cars have open bars (a more expensive ticket, but I had a two for one TravelZoo coupon).

And the stunning views:

At a pit stop after the ride – we stumbled across this mural in the bar. Yes, there is a bar at the attraction – in case you wanted a drink for the ride.

What trip would be complete without some random “about town” shots:

For my buddy Mr. Whippet – also known as LastBuffalo – one of the slot machines in Bally’s.

So – more about this Electric Daisy Carnival – one of the local DJ schools for high-school students had their kids set up in booths all over town welcoming folks to the carnival – this one sponsored by Red Bull:

This is a chunk from Rache’s email blast about his trip – he did the research so I don’t have to:

So, Markie and I are really lucky to have a room this evening on The Strip. Because this long weekend is the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), one of the biggest electronic dance music festivals in the world. The flagship is held here in Las Vegas. In 2015, it drew more than 400,000 people over the 3-day event. Helicopter rides from The Strip to the venue and back go for $800. A reporter on a local news/talk show this morning said that he witnessed a party finishing up at 5:00. He inferred that the theme of that party was beach or swimming because of the attire of the folks emerging from the party site. Anyway, Markie and I are going to be on The Strip tonight so we’ll see what comes of that.

As it turns out, my longtime friend OffWhite was in town with his BurningMan posse with their flame throwing octopus:

Thanks Off for letting me use your pictures.

One of the possible plans was to go see Wayne Newton – maybe just to see how tight that facial skin has been stretched over the years. He has a new show, Wayne Newton Up Close and Personal which, of course, he since Danka Shen and the other great hits from his 120-year-long career. Mostly he sits on a couch with his guitar singing and interacting with the audience. I heard a rumor that he lip-syncs some of the songs – who does he think he is, Milli Vanilli?

Instead, earlier in the day I’d gotten a text from NorthShoreJeremy who I met last month on, you guessed it, the North Shore of Hawaii. He came over and hung out and drank with us for a couple of hours. It was nice getting to know him better:

It was an early to bed evening for the both of us – stimulation overload is part of the cause, and early flight in the morning the other cause. I’ll close with the shot of Rache and I’s morning request communications system:

Until my next adventure….

[? ? ?]

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Lost Wages – Part Three

Not AS early a morning, but we need to be in Boulder City by 11am – and it’s half an hour away, and we need to shit/shower/shave and get some breakfast (leftover pork loin scrambled with eggs).

Our mission today? Be the Engineer on an 80-ton General Electric Locomotive emblazoned with “Jackass and Western“. Jackass as in Jackass Flats, part of what was/is the Nevada Proving Grounds. It turns out that you can become an “Engineer For An Hour” at the Nevada Southern Railroad Museum in Boulder City.

I’d passed this place a couple of times and checked out the “static” displays of cars and engines – but since it’s only open on the weekends that doesn’t work for me. But the “Engineer For An Hour” takes place during the week with a couple of weeks’ notice.

I’d booked it months ago (but didn’t call back and confirm), and showed up with Rache to be told the guy before me cancelled so they just wiped the schedule. Luckily he was able to rustle up an Engineer and a Brakeman so we could go out and play.

This is the engine I requested (they have four to choose from, but one is in the paint shop at the moment) – an 80-ton General Electric switching locomotive that was used to move nuclear rockets around the testing ground. Maybe I should have brought my Giger counter!

We also got a tour of their shop as well since they suddenly had to power up one of their four…

That is a purpose built shop – and NICE! This is the engine that’s in the paint shop at the moment, but usually available to run the circuit:

Time to learn how to drive this thing!

And because we all love a good video, thanks Rache for the above picture AND the killer video:

Alas – after an hour, and almost 20 miles (out, back, out, back), it was time to go – sigh:

But we got certificates!

We had to correct the year, but…it was a hell of a lot of fun. Thank you Rache for letting me drive – you did look a little worried at some points.

After all the excitement we also went through a couple of cars they had on display, along with a 40-ton GE Locomotive – the little brother of the one I drove.

We headed back to the condo for lunch – Revenge Of The Chicken, Round Three – chicken noodle soup. The first night of the chicken, after dinner I’d stripped the carcass (doesn’t that sound dirty!) of the meat (for omelets and salads over the next days) and made stock from the bones. Today I added vegetables, the leftover chicken and these cool rustic noodles, and lo and behold – soup!

And used up some of the sour cream!

Yum! And time for another nap because there is dinner to make tonight – bacon wrapped filets, baked potatoes, and yes, salad. Tonight was a red wine which I’ve totally forgotten the name, and apparently I didn’t take a picture of the bottle, but looking at it, guessing an Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon. And we hauled the patio table in to eat on – should have done that the first night.

This is our last night at the condo – tomorrow we are off to The Strip.

[? ? ?]

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Lost Wages – Part Two

It is slowly dawning on me that I’ve planned morning events for most of this trip. I am not a morning person. Luckily, Rache is – so I have a kind and gentle alarm clock that delivers coffee.

Our morning activity today is The Neon Boneyard – home to the signs of the former legends of The Strip.

There was only one problem – we had tickets for May 15th, not June 15th. A miscommunication via email with the museum staff about using my Tacoma Art Museum reciprocal privileges. And the 10am tour was full. Seems like we’ll be coming back tonight at 7PM for the last “daytime” tour before the more expensive “nighttime” tours begin.

Alternate plan is to do the driving tour of Red Rock Canyon.

On the way to the Canyon – a little pit stop at a ranch formerly owned by Howard Hughes called Spring Mountain Ranch. Lovely spot. Quirky Nevada state park.

Apparently Howie never lived here – he bought it for his wife as an escape from Vegas. Turns out she preferred Los Angeles.

On to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area where there was a little scuffle over whose America The Beautiful Park pass to use – seems we both had our with us!

I took the wrong fork so we bypassed the Visitors Center and it was immediately off to the 13-mile circle drive with some incredible scenery:

And a very odd vehicle – turns out it’s a Polaris (think snow machines) Slingshot – MSRP mid-20s. Looks practical doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s classed as a motorcycle in in Washington State (and most others) you’d need a helmet when driving it – not so Nevada.

To give you a clue about the place – here is a badly stitched together panoramic shot of the valley:

We had to exit the park to get back to the Visitor’s Center – this time we used Rache’s
pass. It made me proud to see that the country’s parks had their flags at half-mast in honor of the dead in the Orlando hate killing.

The drive back to the city was totally different – we came out Pahrump Highway headed in a giant loop. Going away from where we came – 10 minutes and it was a WALL of townhouses for miles that literally stopped at the border of BLM land. No transition whatever.

Made us lunch at the condo – Round Two for the Chicken. Chicken Caesers for lunch!

After a little nap for both of us it was off back to The Neon Boneyard. What a collection!

The tour is an hour long, and it was turning to dusk near the end, and they started lighting up some of the restored signs!

Hell, even the Reception Building (the old La Concha Motel – broken into eight pieces and reconstructed on the site) is retro cool:

Back to the condo for a roasted pork loin and salad – you can’t say we aren’t eating healthy.

Can’t figure out why I didn’t get a shot of it.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day.


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Jun '16

Trip Report: Lost Wages – Part One

It all started with an email from Rache – “look at this cheap fare I booked!”

My response was, “Can I tag along”….and then proceeded to, while not exactly, highjack the planning. Rache had never been to Vegas, and I had, and I was trying to be “helpful”.

When I checked on upgrade seats before the 72-hour mark for me – there were 13 out of 16 available. Figured mine was a shoe in (it was). There were still upgrade seats available at the 48 hour mark (which is when the Alaska MVP’s get upgraded) – my advice to Rache was – check-in right at the 24 hour mark and see if you can pay for an upgrade ($50 for that distance). He did, and got it. So, $98 round-trip for the ticket, $50 upgrade to First – not bad! FYI – we both got upgraded on the way back as well.

One of the advantages of travelling with Uncle Markie is lounge access (i.e. free drinks/free food/newspapers):

Don’t we look comfortable in Seats 1A and 1C?

Or maybe asleep – but when food came…

WAY too much sugar and carbs – not that it stopped me from eating it!

Rache – I forgive you for booking a 6:10am flight if only because it was easy to get upgraded because NOBODY wants to fly to Vegas that early in the morning. Well, sort of. The upside is that we have a FULL day in Vegas once we pick up the rental car.

First stop – Boulder Dam!

I’ve done the full tour (pre-911 called “The Hard Hat Tour“, but “the Vegas Virgin” Rache hasn’t, and I always happy to take the tour again. We had a couple of hours to kill before the next “long tour” so off to lunch it is:

That would be Rache’s Dam Dog – this massive foot-long beef hot dog (compare the size of the standard-sized fries), and my grilled Ham and Cheese on Rye:

Sated, it was off to the Dam Tour…want to take the stairs down…not:

The Nevada side of the generating plant – and the penstock that feeds it:

In the tunnels with the tour guide:

And the view at the end of the tunnel:

Luckily WE have an elevator, because I don’t want to walk THESE stairs up the inside of the dam:

The tour was an hour-long (not including the video shown in the theatre before), and it ends at the top of the dam with these views:

After Hoover Dam is was off to check into the WorldMark Las Vegas Tropicana into our 2-bedroom condo. Hopefully I’ll find some pictures of the condo for the Part Two post. Meanwhile, it’s cooking time after our run to Albertsons – this would be Chicken Version One:

And yes, I packed wine. A Bonny Doon white (a Bianco Nero d’Avola) for tonight:

It was sort of “odd” what they considered a coffee table, but being geeks, the dining table was filled with electronic equipment.

Until tomorrow….

[? ? ?]

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Jun '16

Trip Report: St. Louis

It wasn’t really on my “bucket list” to revisit St. Louis, but when presented with a free shared hotel room and free evening activities all for the price of an airline ticket…got to do it. Thanks DancingBear for making me your “plus 1” at your conference.

Used a MVP Gold Guest Upgrade coupon to get a seat next to DancingBear in First Class on the way out – and a good thing I did it in advance as there were 40 people on the upgrade list when I checked in. Was in couch (albeit 6C) on the way home – being number 18 on an upgrade list of 33.

Free Digi-Player (and lunch) up front. Too bad I’ve already seen all the content I like. Maybe I’ll have to start watching the movies I don’t care about. Damn “First World” problems.

Caught Light Rail to the hotel – the Sheraton Clayton.

Honestly, the rooms could use a bit of a refresh.

I did love the shower!

But this is what I returned to AFTER the maid had done her service call:

Coffee pot to cleaned and returned to its proper place, coffee, cups, and bottled water not replaced. Ice bucket not emptied and returned to its nook. Basically the trash was emptied and the beds made – not even vacuumed. I thought it might be a fluke, but when it happened the second day I went down to the front desk as ask for the day manager. Brought Jeremy back to the room to show him the situation, and mentioned that this was the second day of lackluster maid service. He promised a fix and an hour and a half later I got a call that the room was ready – even saw what I assumed was the housekeeping manager (clipboard gave it away) checking on the room. And though I didn’t ask for it, Jeremy comped one of our nights. Thanks Jeremy – but you also might want to retrain some of your staff.

So the Sheraton Clayton is, you guessed it, in Clayton, which is the county seat for St. Louis County which, oddly, doesn’t contain the city of St. Louis which is an independent city. Being the county set, the hotel was surrounded by courthouses, legal offices, and more shoe repair, jewelry, tailors than you might expect from a small downtown. Also, plenty of good food:

Shrimp Tempura Bento Box at Wasabi (Japanese).

Beef Salad at the Blue Elephant (Thai).

Sliders and a cup of the White Bean Chili at John P. Fields (American).

And let’s not forget this cool wine shop called The Wine Merchant:

A ton of space (including upstairs offices and tasting room), and a wonderful friendly knowledgeable staff. I felt bad for just picking up a bottle of the regular Four Roses – we only seem to get the “small batch” on the west coast.

Met up with DancingBear back at the hotel for the first shared evening event – BASEBALL! But first we have to all meet up at Knight Hall, part of the Olin Business School at Washington University.

The atrium area of Knight Hall is stunning – I love the amphitheater/stairs combination:

We all piled into two motor coaches for the ride to Cardinal Stadium (technically Busch Stadium). Our driver took on the scenic route (passed signs that said no tour busses) which included Millionaire’s Row. Lots of nice brick/stone work left in the city:

This is the Magic Chef Mansion that we will be visiting tomorrow night:

And views of The Arch! DancingBear went up in The Arch the day I arrived in the late afternoon. I never made it, but I was up in it when I was a teenager, low those MANY years ago.

Just before we got to the stadium…

Of course I WOULD have to put DancingBear in front of a shop called The Fudgery.

Technically we weren’t IN the stadium, but across a small street in the ATT Roof Top Deck. We had wrist bands to get us into the park if we wanted – I didn’t, didn’t notice anyone else go either. Why go when there is a free (and GOOD) buffet with four lanes and a dessert lane with a chafing dish full of bread pudding. Since it was also an open bar, for dessert I had them put a splash of Evan Williams on mine. Yes, that would be one of the MANY free Evan Williams and Diet Coke – can’t believe my favorite everyday Bourbon is their Bourbon pour:

But there was lots of cook food, and some questionable Midwestern food:

And the aforementioned “questionable Midwestern food”:

Yes, that would be a Rice Krispies ball mounts on a chocolate-dipped waffle cone.

But it’s really about the view – I mean the ball game. Let’s start with the entrance – a huge mural made up from broken apart Rubik’s Cubes:

And the view from our two-level venue:

What a fun evening! What a fun game. I had be root for the Cubs because of Barb (my cruise travel agent) – and they whipped the Cardinals. 6 runs in the First Inning, Cardinals finally scored 2 in the Ninth Inning, final score 9-2.

The next evening’s adventure was at the Magic Chef Mansion (picture up several screens). But here are some interior and group shots. Headed towards the main house.

I mostly hung out at the bar since it was an “awards ceremony” that was much less interesting than an open bar and a chatty bartendress. Note the black table near the back door of the main house.

Said bartendress:

Speaking of the main house, a shot from the library:

And talk about “man cave”, complete with bowling alley:

Belt-driven machine shop:

Pinball machines:

And, of course, a full bar…

But my favorite shot is from the bathroom that was originally part of the maid’s quarters…talk about uni-sex bathroom:

The owner bought the place in the mid-90s for $450,000, but just putting a slate roof on the stables (the event space) cost her $150,000 – lord knows what the rest of the renovations cost – I’m guessing well north of what she paid for the house.

Our return ride was in a stripper limo – only thing missing was the stripper pole!

Our final afternoon in St. Louis it was time to take the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour!

But not before a quick U-Turn when DancingBear spotted a Tasty Cake Outlet Store – not for him, but a work buddy.

When we finally made it to the brewery, there was plenty to do and see:

First stop is the stables – dating from the early 1900s – and home to the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales.

Nice digs for those ponies (they get several hours of grooming daily) – and now for the brewery tour:

And that phrase, “Beechwood Aging” turns out to be true!

Even the brewery has classy fixtures:

A free mini-beer – choice of Bud or Bud Light (though they’d just blown the Bud keg when it was our turn), and then a full-size beer at the end of the tour – with a wide selection from the InBev catalog (they own Anheuser-Busch these days. I went for the Stella Artois Cidré.

After our tour, and a little lunch for DancingBear, it was off to the airport and more specifically, the Admirals Club Lounge for drinks, soup, snacks – not the level of the Alaska Board Room, but free with my reciprocal membership.

For the return flight – DancingBear was up front in Seat 1F…

And me just behind the curtain in Seat 6C…

Another trip down after a shared Uber from the airport, dropping me off in South Park.


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May '16

Trip Report: Overnight On The Crown Princess With Friends

Another week, another trip – this one is an overnight that has been made VERY easy thanks to Punch (and Jon) because they rented a one-way SUV from Seattle to the Vancouver Cruise Terminal. And I got to sleep in the far back seat the whole way (other than the border)!

We were in the regular lane because only two of us have the gilded “Nexus” card to speed entry into Canadaland – but it wasn’t too bad.

Compared to the lines to check-in, security screening, passport control. There were three boats at the terminal – maximum capacity, and they FINALLY seem to have figured it out. Not much waiting, and if so, chairs. Of course Punch (who had to return the rental car) actually found the Global Entry line as wasn’t much further behind us.

But before lone (hour start to finish, which with three boats is AMAZING), we are checked in, on board, and still have time for a sit-down lunch rather than dealing with the masses at the buffet:

I did a combination of breakfast (eggs benedict) and lunch (insalada caprese) – and that would be a Manhattan in the background.

We’d dropped bags – between the five of us, we have three rooms. Punch and Jon in one (not sure size), Salamander and I in theory sharing an inside cabin, and DancingBear with a balcony that I’m sharing with him. I should have kept my mini-suite (Barb, my travel agent for cruises, questioned my judgement considering how cheap it was – and she was correct). But the view from the balcony isn’t bad:

Like I said, there were three boats in port, here is the Oceania across the terminal:

And leaving port:

Guess we could have taken the float plane to Seattle!

But this looks more comfortable:

And the surroundings:

That would be the Loin’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver, BC, and me almost under it!

Random scenic shots from the one-night cruise:

No LGBT on the Princess Patter Schedule tonight – DISAPPOINTING since I know there are 30+ aboard. Yep – it went on the Princess Comment Form.

I was full from an afternoon snack, so we skipped dinner and joined up with the gang for the “Magic” show:

No show is complete without cocktails!

Or entertainers!

But hunger caught up with me (and others) later…ROOM SERVICE. Not sure we needed SEVEN entrees at midnight….

But somehow they all went away…

The morning found me in pain – food overdose, too much booze – and a mandatory “breakfast” with the rest of the boys. The concept is that it’s a better dollar/value proposition is you get three sit-down meals rather than two. Luckily, the pain of disembarkation was minimal, the cab ride back to DancingBear’s place fairly painless, the traffic light, and the 2.5 hour nap before work, WONDERFUL.

I might be losing my taste for these overnight cruises – even if they do fill my mini-bar for free and give me $75 in on-board credit (paid for the four bottles of duty-free).


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May '16

Trip Report: Oahu With DancingBear

Such a deal! $423.77 round-trip for BOTH of us Bellingham to Honolulu. And parking in front of the airport is just $12 a day, a mere 100 feet from car to counter.

A beautiful day to fly, especially when you get upgraded to First as a freebie:

And the meal that comes with that seat:

Alas – because of a last minute airplane swap, no DigiPlayer Tablets, just our own laptops which take up a TAD more room – almost pushing out the black cod with bok choy.

The first two nights we are staying at the Royal Kuhio, in a one-bedroom:

Our room is on the third floor over the garage in, oddly enough, room 911. Hard to forget what room you are in with that number.

The view by day:

The view by night:

The room:

And a really cool alarm/clock/outlet/USB port device on the nightstand:

Our first full day (we got in at 9:45pm on flight day), first stop is the Honolulu Salvation Army Thrift Store to hit the rack of Aloha Shirts. Tuesday is Senior Discount Day (25%), though half of what we found was 50% off since it had been on the racks for over a month. $55 for 6 shirts and a sweater – DancingBear made out better with 4 compared to my 3:

Several of those are Tommy Bahama shirts that usually run $70 and up. Here is DancingBear in one of his finds:

Next up is a walk to the Aloha Tower:

While waiting for the Waikiki Trolley (tip – buy your tickets online and save 25% during certain sales) we did a little fish watching:

Luckily the Trolley shows up fairly quickly considering that the Purple Line only runs every 50 minutes:

That’s the last shot you’ll see of me in my Mount Gay Rum Yacht Race hat – it blew off on the Trolley – made more ironic because I bought the hat at the Salvation Army on a previous trip to Honolulu.

And some scenery shots:

We swung back by the condo (very close to the Trolley Terminus) for a quick nap for DancingBear and a quick snack for me – can you say poke?

Clockwise from upper left, edamame, ahi, shrimp, octopus. Yum.

Speaking of food – my dinner:

I got the Polish, mild sauce, star fruit relish, and Hawaiian Guava Mustard on a purple bacon taro sweet bun.

Those metal spikes next to the dog roller are to toast the bun from the inside out.

Our final day in Waikiki we took Uber to the Dollar Rent-A-Car and picked up wheels for our island tour over the next two days – and it turns out we have a mutual friend in Honolulu – Rick – and he works in the governor’s office so we are off for lunch and a tour!

Burger and fries for Rick.

Lobster roll for me.

Chicken Cobb for DancingBear.

It was a great lunch at Café Julia, nestled inside a 1920’s YMCA building. And soon it was off for a personal tour of the Hawaii State Capital.

The Senate Chamber:

The Governor’s Formal Office (for bill signing, ceremonies, etc.):

And a great shot of us all, with a giant mangrove in the background (and me in one of my Sally Ann
Tommy Bahama finds):

After our tour, off we went on a circle tour of the island, starting headed south:

Thanks to Hawaii Activities for the image – and I’ve toured with them on previous trips. Since we were in a car, no commentator other than me! Please notice my back-up hat – my Hello Kitty hat that I bought a couple of months ago in a Maui thrift store.

We are staying at the Marriott Courtyard (founded by the Mormons) right next to the Polynesian Cultural Center (founded and run by the Mormons):

The place is only nine months old, and has some very good design elements like a huge lobby for hanging out with some workstations:

And a dedicated stand up “business center” for printing boarding passes:

But in the end, it’s really only about the room comfort:

I grimaced at the $200+ a night price (and that they charge for parking), but it really was a nice place to stay, and almost one only hotel on the North Shore.

Dinner tonight is takeout from these folks across the street – Kauula Korean BBQ:

Thursday brings more of the driving tour around Oahu:

That would be Sunset Beach – famous for surf contests.

Lunch down the road at The Beach House restaurant at Haleiwa:

DancingBear went for the Black Bean soup and he talked me into the Lobster Cobb Salad.

Seriously good food for a restaurant that’s only been open three weeks!

Stopped at an old sugar mill turned coffee roaster/souvenir place…

…on our way to the Dole Plantation for a Dole Whip and a train ride:

Time to return the car and return to Bellingham – but, I have lounge access in the American Airlines Admiral’s Club at Honolulu which they share with Japan Air Lines (soon to be a codeshare partner with Alaska Airlines):

Big, and they are expanding it. Spam Musubi anyone?

A great view from our workstations…

And because it’s shared with Japan Airlines, fancy bidet toilet seats in the bathrooms:

The Honolulu Airport was originally built in 1962 and still has some remnants:

Yes, that is a non-working mechanical flip-number clock – and some working (though I didn’t check) payphones – another dinosaur technology.

Time to board and take our favorite seats – though on both legs we’ve had to swap seats with other people in row 1 to sit together (note DancingBear’s
Sally Ann find):

Not much in the way of food on the return flight – I guess they expect you to sleep since it’s a red-eye! At least the DigiPlayer Tablets are on board this leg.

Thanks to DancingBear for this flight takeoff photo (and a couple of other photos in this post):

And my arrival photo…

Got to Bellingham around 7:30am, and I’ve decided (after sleeping the entire drive home) that I’m done with red-eye flights. Luckily, June 4th is the last of the BLI-HNL flight.

And a final thanks for DancingBear for driving home while a snored (and driving there as well).


1 Comment »

One Response to “Trip Report: Oahu With DancingBear”

  1. Dancing Bear Says:

    Great trip! Can’t wait for our next adventure!

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May '16

Travel Tips: WorldMark Waitlists

I actually attended a WorldMark owner re-education session that taught me some useful trips (rather than just being a ruse to sell me more points). This post is really for my friends with WorldMark credits, though it might be of interest to Wyndham credits owners as well.

I’ve used “waitlisting” on the website for years – you get up to 4 e-waitlists. What I didn’t understand/know is that if you CALL (which I hate) you can waitlist up to 8 resorts for any room size at any of those resorts – the e-waitlist limits you to two room sizes per request, even in resorts that have upwards of eight room sizes.

So, once you call, here is something to remember – WorldMark organizes is waitlist into three priority buckets:

  1. 90% of the people in this bucket will get their room request
  2. 50% of the people in this bucket will get their room request
  3. 10% of the people in this bucket will get their room request

So, ask which bucket (I mean Priority List) you are in so you can make travel plans a little further out. LOTS of inventory opens up 30 days out from your requested date as people cancel their reservations before the cancellation deadline. Because of my points level, that’s really convenient because I can book “Fun Time” (credits from your account or $.08 per credit needed) 5 weeks out if I want to pay rather that use points. I’m comped into Platinum Elite level for another year or so, so that’s 6 weeks (up from 5 weeks at the old level), so it’s less important as Platinum Elite doesn’t have housekeeping fees (based on unit size), whereas Diamond Elite has a handful of free housekeeping tokens. Another reason to get to the top level!

Another tip to minimizing housekeeping fees is to string together contiguous nights as different resorts – you’ll only be charge ONE housekeeping fee based on the largest unit of your trip.

Another thing I didn’t know is that “waitlist requests” disappear two weeks before your stay date when all inventory in converted to “Bonus Time” (credits from your account or $0.06 per credit needed). Looking for that last minute stay, most reservations are cancelled between 5:30pm and 8:30pm. Most inventory is put BACK in the system is at 6pm and 10:30am – load the page for the resort you want and hit refresh every five minutes – haven’t tried this yet, but sounds logical.

Additionally, I hear news of resorts coming online in Brazil and Thailand, along with what I’ve been asked WorldMark for years: PORTLAND. Though Wyndham bought Shell Vacations, I haven’t seen their resorts show up in the WorldMark system yet.

If there are folks contemplating WorldMark ownership – happy to share my experiences and knowledge, including purchasing “after-market” credits. Rule of thumb for “after-market” points is that they are 25-50% cheaper than points purchased directly from WorldMark, but come with severe limitations: no access to WorldMark South Pacific (and the upcoming WorldMark South America) or TravelShare (which opens up some of the Wyndham Resorts not in the WorldMark system), and buy the amount of credits (they recur yearly as long as you pay the maintenance dues) you think you’d need as you can’t combine company credits and “after-market” credits so if you had both, you’d be paying two maintenance fees.

See what happens when I don’t travel for a couple of weeks – you get a travel geek post.


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Apr '16

Trip Report: Puget Sound Circle Tour

You never know when you book several weeks out what the weather is going to be like. This time I lucked out.

This trip started because of KPop – Korean Pop music which I know nothing about, but the 13-year-old daughter of a friend is nuts about it. During a random conversation at the shop, it was mentioned that the 19th was said daughter’s birthday, and that she’d already gotten her birthday present in advance (a different KPop concert), but her actual birthday her favorite band was playing in Vancouver. As a surprise in case the parents relented, I booked a two-bedroom at the WorldMark Vancouver that just happened to be available.

In the end, they couldn’t make the date work, and rather than cancel the room, I decided to keep it for myself and string it along with a couple of other nights – and this was the result:

Day One – WorldMark Seattle – The Camlin

I already had the Camlin booked for this year’s scholarship reading party (part two), so after work it was setting up the nibbles for the readers (Salamander, Roxy, Courtney, Mr. Whippet, Jonathan and Rodney). Here is what the results were:

And all of us hard at work!

It wouldn’t be a post of mine without a couple of shots of the rest of the two-bedroom unit…

Day Two – WorldMark Victoria

The morning found me up early – off to an 8:30am “Owner ReEducation” presentation that “promised” to me an “information” session rather than a “don’t you want to get to the next level” hard sell. I agreed to an hour (for a $100 AMEX card), which was taken up with the information part, leaving no time for the hard sell since I had a ferry to catch to get to the next WorldMark

Yes, that would be my ferry – and below, arriving at Bainbridge Island – I love the Olympics in the background of both these photos:

It was a good thing that I made a reservation on the Coho Ferry – I didn’t get to the terminal until a little after 1pm for a 2pm sailing because the rarely opened Hood Canal Bridge was OPEN, delaying my about half an hour. As you can see, I’m at the end of the line:

They even managed to get all the standby cars on!

And me looking grim with the mountains in the background…

Goodbye United States…

Hello Canada! Victoria, British Columbia to be precise.

Got all checked in – here is the view:

Since Courtney liked the video in a previous post I put a video here of the inside of the unit:

So far, I’ve had two-bedroom units, and no one to share them with – tonight, none of my Victoria peeps have the time to hang and have dinner. Sigh. I did get to see Royce since he is a checker at the Thrifty grocery store where I shop. Came back with a steak and a salad (and a view):

I do love the WorldMark Victoria – think it is my favorite of all the WorldMark Resorts.

Day Three – WorldMark Vancouver

Another day, another ferry ride. Had a reservation for this one as well, but it was only 25% full (MUCH larger boat). But the reservation did get me onto the boat before those without. A nice perk:

And it was a beautiful day for a ferry ride:

A slight hiccup checking in at the WorldMark Vancouver – I’d forgotten to change the name on the reservation – it was still in Courtney’s name – luckily as the owner, it was OK once they found the correct paperwork.

Here is the WorldMark Vancouver unit:

At least on this stop I have company for dinner:

The 2-bedroom at the WorldMark Vancouver is described as “Compact – No Dining Room” – which means eating on TV tables – but look how we made a table! Whole splayed (flattened) chicken, salad, rosé – though Epick and Tom weren’t drinking – Sebastian and I MORE than made up for them, also killing off a good portion of a bottle of whiskey as well. My kind of boy!

Our rosé…

Not bad – I’d buy it again. And again, nobody to fill the second bedroom on this stop either.

Day Four – WorldMark Birch Bay

Out of the unit at noon – US bound. Stopped at Duty Free – 10% off because of my Nexus Card, plus the 25% off because of the exchange rate – it’s like they like paying me to drink!

Got to the condo around 2pm – room wasn’t ready, but they weren’t full so they moved me to a unit that was clean – which was 308:

Not bad views:

That would be the sun going down over Birch Bay – I was here two weeks ago and we stayed with a MUCH better view (and it was available, but do I REALLY need 3-bedrooms and a hot tub just for me?)

Had a late lunch next door at The Shores – yes, a Rueben. Not the best but pretty good, didn’t realize it came with fries, would have ordered a side salad – because, yes, I ate all the fries:

What I couldn’t believe was a BRAND NEW BBQ on the deck – never used!

No company tonight – though it was on the agenda. Luckily I’m fine with flying solo.

Next time I think I might add the WorldMark Discovery Bay (east of Port Angeles) and one or both of the WorldMark Whistler resorts into the Circle Tour.


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Apr '16

Trip Report: Colorado Quickie

Again, no, not that kind of quickie! Just a two-night stay because I got a round-trip ticket for $40 plus the $100 eVoucher I got from Alaska for the detail on the Maui flight last month.

But first I have to “work” Monday – if it’s Monday, it means our distributors are showcasing parts of their portfolios – but this week’s wine tastings actually started on Sunday before work with the Locus Wines rose release party. A couple (now friends) is a nice combination, one is a winemaker, the other a professional chef, so in addition to good wine, you get good nibbles, like these:

Monday’s tasting (also rose) was larger, but the food really good, but not Ton (the Turkish chef) good:

Food in the center, wine in a horseshoe around it. Some weeks there are three tastings scattered around the city, some weeks, none, but that’s my usual Monday.

Tuesday morning is off to Denver on a mid-day flight. Actually saw a couple of examples of Alaska’s new livery:

The new livery would be the 3rd of the 4 planes in a row. The 1st is their Hawaii-themed – not sure if they are going to remake part of the fleet with the flowers or not – here is a closer show of the new livery:

Uneventful flight to Denver – in the back, WAY BACK – exit row aisle in a completely packed plane where I was 13th on the upgrade list. Luckily, with MVP Gold, it still comes with a free cocktail even in the back.

While I’m in the air flying to Denver, Dan is in the air flying from Las Vegas after a two-day business meeting. Upside is it means I have a ride waiting – though actually, I’ll be the one waiting. His flight gets in a couple of hours after mine. But I’m good at waiting – as long as I have lounge privileges…

But nothing is every simple – Alaska uses “C” concourse, as does Southwest who Dan is flying, and the Admirals Club which offers reciprocal privileges, is in “A” concourse. Luckily all gates are behind security.

I’d never been out to “C” concourse, and I think it’s main lobby area is amazing:

Very Mayan – at the bottom of the photo is the train system that takes you to the main terminal and baggage claim.

A couple of hours of drinking, eating brie bisque and reading newspapers – it was off to meet Dan at the gate:

That is the smile of someone who hasn’t been met at the gate in way too long!

I brought Dan back to the Admirals Club for a drink and a bowl of bisque while we waited for the worst of rush hour to die down. Then it was off to lovely Louisville – wedged between Boulder and Denver.

One of the “chores” of this trip is to figure out if this “computer on a stick” will actually perform as advertised:

The connector on the end is a HDMI connector, so that gives you an idea of the size of the unit. It shipped with Windows 8.1 but we got it upgraded to Windows 10 – but didn’t ever get sound to come out of it, so I’ll try my TV at home – could be an issue with Dan’s tele.

A very relaxed visit – with Dan taking off Wednesday to just hang out – including hanging out with BrightHeart!

He brought a Chai Rum from a local distillery – good, but not $40 good in my opinion!

Wednesday evenings meal was courtesy of a $$$ off coupon for a Mongolian BBQ place in a suburb over:

The food was good, but man, the place was PACKED with kids. That was a bit of a downside, but $10 off $30 made it worth it.

The next day it was back to the airport, back to the Admirals Club, more brie bisque (you’d think they’d change their soups daily like Alaska’s Boardroom), and other seat in the back – this time number 14 on the upgrade list – my window seat view:

Uber’d home from the airport. Still cheaper than a cab – even with the $5 airport fee. I can imagine that all the cab drivers are pissed if you saw the number of Uber and Lyft pickup area.

[? ? ?]

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Apr '16

Trip Report: Montana Quickie

And no, not that kind of quickie – though I wouldn’t have minded hooking up with my asthmatic hockey player, but our schedules didn’t mesh up.

Got a KILLER deal on the ticket — $105.00 round-trip! Usually, it’s in the $300+ range. Even better, the rental car for the two days was less than $50 + gas. Used points for the stay at the WorldMark West Yellowstone which is a little over an hour south of the airport in Bozeman.

And on with the show! Seattle selfie:

Bozeman selfie:

Some random shots of the place I was staying:

By the way, that is my rental “mommy van” – sure, I’d call that the “economy” car I reserved – basically I take whatever upgraded vehicle they want to give me that doesn’t have an “upcharge” related to it.

The one-bedroom unit is as big as my whole house!

And the views weren’t bad either…

Checked out one of the local grocery stores – nothing excited me so tried to find Madison Crossing which was recommended by Rach – alas, closed for the season, as are many things until about the first of May. Check out the boarded up Dairy Queen:

At least the winter plywood is nicely painted. Ended up at the Slippery Otter instead – only to find that it was a beer/wine place only, but the prime rib French dip was delicious.

Way too many fries – took them home and chopped them up for the morning scramble!

Guess you’d call that a “working breakfast”!

This morning found me out exploring the town, and the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park:

Alas – it, as well, doesn’t open until the end of the month. They just started letting bicycles through…I, VERY MOMENTARILY, thought about renting a bike.

There was a grill at the complex – but as you can see, it’s not on my deck.

Yes, that is a little kid playing in the snow while Dad grills:

I decided to pan fry my steak in the glow of the fireplace in the comfort of my unit. Speaking of the unit – the complex is really rather nice even when filled with lots of kids taking advantage of the indoor overly chlorinated pool. This is the lobby:

And one of the posters hanging in their activity room:

This is me in MY activity room…a footie to go with the selfies:

Beautiful Big Sky Country sunsets both nights:

Was out in the morning after a repeat of the previous mornings breakfast – it was time to hit the road:

And they weren’t kidding!

Gorgeous drive back to Bozeman…

Before you knew it, back at the airport – a really pretty airport by the way:

With a great restaurant (Copper Horse), complete with slot machines:

And a view:

That serves good food and drink – I actually managed to spend more money on lunch (blame it on the three Manhattans) than I did on the rental car!

Got to love an airport that has a view of the mountains – my final view of Montana…

Home again, home again, for next week we travel more.


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Apr '16

Trip Report: Spring Break Scholarship Reading At Birch Bay

The trip was originally planned as a spring break trip for Bret since I was able to book the 3-bedroom Penthouse at the WorldMark Birch Bay. For last year’s out of town reading we had the 2-bedroom (but they gave us the top floor) next door at the WorldMark Blaine. The Birch Bay unit came with a private hot tub and BBQ, whereas the Blaine unit had both shared hot tub and grills.

You never when you book what the weather is going to be like – we lucked out – Sun, Sun, and more Sun! This might give you an idea of the size of this unit – it’s like twice the size of my house with 3 times the bathrooms:

Being three guys who all weigh over 200# each it shouldn’t surprise you that we brought enough food for the Armageddon:

Speaking of the other three (Bret, DancingBear, Rach):

Is that a happy crew or what? This is Bret at the swim-up window by the kitchen requesting drink service:

And the view from said hot tub (with the tide out):

Everyone (except me) was eager to check out the beach at low tide. Going:

At the beach:


And what did I do while they were getting their shoes muddy? Watched The Simpsons, which for some reason was in Spanish:

Before you know it – it was sunset time!

Sundown means dinner time – hunks of dead pig on the grill!

It was a great dinner with the boys!

Yes, three out of four of us are in our WorldMark provided bathrobes. It definitely a couple of days of laying around, reading scholarship applications, books, playing Words With Friends and basically being slug-like:

Another day, another group dinner (well, there was breakfast, too) – but first we must have a PooPoo platter and a couple of dozens oysters that DancingBear picked up when he got lost heading to the Bread Farm in Edison and ended up at Taylor Shellfish on Bellingham Bay. One the upside, we got good oysters AND good bread – and Rach is a professional oyster schucker!

Tonight is steak night – hopefully we will have enough!

That would be four New York Strip Steaks from the Safeway 50% rack, and then the rest of the stuff to go with dinner – bread, salad, sautéed mushrooms:

And yet another beautiful sunset!

In closing, Rach forwarded some of his shots from his afternoon walk around the bay – THANKS RACH!

Sadly, we packed up, wishing for a third night in the three-bedroom Penthouse.


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Mar '16

Trip Report: El Paso & The Train Home

Another week, another trip, or so it seems. This week it’s the red-eye after closing the shop after a special Château Nuef du Pape Tasting. Getting home at 8 left just enough time to put together a chef salad and grab an Uber (click on Uber for your first $15 ride free) to the airport. Luckily, the Alaska Upgrade Gods smiled on both Rach and myself – seats 1D and 1F (after a little switching around)

He looks comfortable – as for me, I’m just crazy:

It’s a red-eye that leaves at 12:50am, so you don’t get much in the way of food:

Rach slept after food, I, foolishly watched all sorts of movies, drank all sorts of drinks, and generally DIDN’T look this good at our 5am arrival in Chicago, the three-hour layover (which I did sleep), and our eventual arrival in El Paso:

I actually know a couple of people in the El Paso area, and one of them (Aaron – a former couchsurfing guest of mine) met us at the airport for the ride to our hotelThe El Camino Real.

Got checked in on the second try and the room was adequate. I was hoping for nicer considering how cool the lobby is, but more on that later. First up it was lunch at Anson 11 Bistro. I had the pork belly tacos, as did Aaron:

Rach had the Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich with Prosciutto after his Asparagus Soup – and the fries on the right are Truffle-Parmesan Fries (YUM):

And, of course, there were cocktails!

After that meal, both Rach and I needed a nap since we (Uncle Markie, Aaron, Aaron’s Ex, Johnny [who also surfed my house], and Aaron’s 22-year-old US Army husband) are headed out for a Mexican food dinner tonight – actually Brandon (the husband) is just joining us for cocktails in the lovely lobby bar with stained glass Tiffany Dome:

And the rest of the lobby rocks as well – love the stairwells:

Actually, downtown El Paso has a lot of nice old Art Deco era buildings that have survived:

Later I’ll show you the train station, but that’s tomorrow! First we have to get through dinner at Kiki’s Mexican Restaurant:

I had the Chicken Molé which was tasty and I could only finish half it – in the background you see a glass of sangria that wasn’t overly sweet – went well with the spice:

After dinner it was off to the scenic overlook where you can see all of El Paso, and Juarez on the Mexican side of the border:

Beautiful sight – but CROWDED with people. Lots of couples.

I headed back to the room, Rach and Aaron headed to a brew pub to wait for Brandon to get off work – then we all reconvened in the room for cocktails – it was a great evening of catching up and getting to know Brandon.

Morning brought me sleeping in late (as usual) with Rach up early to journal (usual) – and a late (just prior to the lunch menu) breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel – La Huerta Café:

We both had the “Divorced Eggs” [$8.00), mine with Green Chile, Rach’s with Christmas Chile [half red, half green] – funny that it’s served with a small quesadilla, but it was all tasty. I almost had to go back to bed after this breakfast – but at noon we were off to the railroad station – which was a TAD further than I expected. Probably should have had the hotel shuttle take us with all the bags we had. We went shopping in El Paso yesterday after lunch to pick up Bourbon and Ginger for the trip.

Found on the trek to the train station – it was a great day for a walk:

And the train station itself – now if the train weren’t running late, though after the late heavy breakfast, not sure if I’d be ready for lunch at 1:30:

And a gorgeous interior – I love how Amtrak and the cities they serve have been resurrecting and renovating their old stations:


Settled in for lunch, at almost 3PM, well past the usual time they serve, but they extended it for the El Paso folks. Burgers for both of us:

I like that shot! And the lunch view – yes, that would be Mexico on the other side of that fence:

Steaks for dinner (see other Amtrak posts for pictures) – but I had to rush through dinner so I could get a “platform hug” from my buddy Joe:

He didn’t have long, but enough time to see our Bedroom unit on the train. This is my compartment selfie with him:

This is his compartment selfie with me:

I think I like he surreal one better.

From past experience – time to take a shower because we arrive in Los Angeles VERY early in the morning, and I’ve found I’m cranky if I’m not clean while waiting for the next train:

And then bed:

Alas, you can no longer leave your shoes for the car attendant to shine while you sleep – the door, long since removed on the outside, just the frame left on the inside of the closet:

We arrived in Los Angeles early – which I didn’t really want to happen, since the arrival time was already early: 5:35am. At least we have the Metropolitan Lounge to hang out in until our 9:30am boarding:

Even the non-First Class passengers have a nice space to hang out in:

There is even a piano for people to play!

Lots of Amtrak trains coming and going from Union Station in Los Angeles:

We get boarded – and get comfortable – making early morning Bloody Marys as we roll out of the station:

Between the two of us we have great connectivity – Rach has an ATT HotSpot that I’ve been using since ATT coverage in the Southwest is better than my T-Mobile coverage which we switched to after our Eugene, Oregon stop. You can see his HotSpot attached to a mount on the table mount. But Eugene is a long way from where we are at the moment – one of the most beautiful chunks of this trip, the stretch between Los Angeles and Santa Barbra:

And here is a little video clip from that section of track:

Salads for lunch after our big breakfast in the morning (and my return to bed):

More good weather as we head north – here was are at a “smoke break” in San Luis Obispo – also a crew change stop for the train engineers:

Please note the fetching Hello Kitty cap from my trip to Maui.

And talk about a little snack before dinner (since we have a late reservation), how about chopping up the remainder bagel dog from breakfast (they were $5 each, or two for $8) – with a little dark mustard. I had one for breakfast while Rach had a ham and cheese croissant – decent food (and a small grocery store) in Union Station in LA:

The sundown waiting for dinner:

Dinner – the braised lamb shanks in the Parlour Car. This is one of their most popular recipes!

Sorry for the blurry photo, but it was as good as always – click here for the recipe.

After dinner, it was another “platform hugs” moment – once again with Onyx and Lunetta in Emeryville – this time no delivery of mixers needed!

Breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, an early dinner at 5:30 – means that it’s our last day on The Coast Starlight.

And now for a station break, starting with Eugene:

And Portland:

And a shot of our lovely Parlour Car exterior. For those that don’t know, the Parlour Car is reserved for use by Sleeping Car passengers on The Coast Starlight, the only train that has Parlour Cars.

To close this post – Mount Rainier in the background, passing over the Columbia River headed into Vancouver, USA.

Such a lovely journey.


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Mar '16

Trip Report: Mileage & Shirt Run To Maui

This week’s trip is mostly a mileage run from Bellingham to Maui because I got it for $300 round-trip. And it’s like 5,500 flight miles (11,000 including bonus miles for being MVP Gold). Plus, I got upgraded to First Class in both directions!

Bellingham is about two hours north of Seattle – and morning traffic wasn’t particularly good, so add at least another 30 minutes. Parking right in front of the terminal is $12 a day, $4 a day if you want to do off-airport parking and shuttle it.

This is what I look like at the end of the drive:

Catnapping on the furniture.

And the flight is going to be longer than normal – they are reporting 125mph headwinds. So long that we have to stop in San Jose for more gas. Since I’m in First I don’t care about the delay, especially since Alaska has offered everyone on the plane an eVoucher for $100 off their next flight.

Just the pretzel pack and drinks BLI-SJC, lunch on the SJC-OGG (Maui) leg. And it wasn’t the new “small plates” menu. That might be a stretch for Bellingham catering to pull off:

Today’s menu – being in 4D I had to wrestle to get the last piece of fish:

The salad:

The entrée:

And the dessert:

It was a fun ride getting into the airport at Maui – the pilot pulled up at the last minute and came around for a second try. Once I got outside I understood why – 20mph winds with 70 degree rain. It was so fun inspecting a rental car for prior damage while getting soaked. It was just nice to get checked into my room – though I wasn’t terribly impressed with it. Far corner of the property away from the beach, view of the parking lot.

For dinner I tried out the restaurant attached to the hotel – hoping it would be acceptable because I didn’t want to go back out in the storm…turns out it reviews fairly well on Trip Advisor, and confirmed when I saw the people dining there – TONS of locals with a few hotel residents mixed in:

I order from the Filipino section of the menu:

I went with the combination Adobo chicken and the Pork with Peas & Pimientos:

With a scoop of rice and the overly-mayonnaised macaroni salad. Back to the room after dinner to work on the Evan Williams and Diet that I picked up at the Walgreens on the way to the hotel.

Turns out I got the worst room in the place from the parking lot conversations outside my window and the handicap entrance door banging all night. Stopped by the office late morning so see if I could switch rooms – nothing with a king-size bed ready to move into – I told her that the chances of me getting “lucky” on this trip were slim, so I happily accepted a slightly smaller room with two queens (bed, not boys).

And the view is much better than the parking lot!

I’m liking the digs much better, but I’ve got errands to run – time to hit the thrift shops for bargain Hawaiian shirts! And did I score!

I especially love the Hello Kitty baseball cap which I needed because I forgot a hat on this trip – a no-no for a bald dude. And I picked up a little poke at Whole Foods for an afternoon snack!

And one of my favorite shots from the trip:

Cocktail. Shorts. Barefoot. Poke. View. Life is good. Speaking of views – beautiful sunset on from my little porch:

After checking out Trip Advisor reviews, without driving for a bit, I was best off back at Tante’s Island Cuisine. Last night I started the meal with a “martini up” and got this (after several back-and-forthes with the waitress who definitely wasn’t skilled in any cocktail knowledge – and I was amazed it was on the menu since I didn’t see what looked like a bar to me.

Old-school two parts gin, one part dry vermouth. Tonight’s “dry martini-up” came a little closer, but still a little heavy on the vermouth. I’m thinking this is more of a beer place:

On tonight’s menu was the mixed platter with the teriyaki beef, kalua pork, purple potato salad, panko crusted fish, pasta alfredo – a cornucopia of food regions!

Just FYI – these two meals have also served as my brunch as well – two for the price of one!

Those who follow my posts know that I find a certain fascination with what various hotels call “ice buckets” – today’s example is your 32oz Styrofoam cup that these folks use in place of ice buckets:

At least you can assume nobody has thrown up in a disposal oversize cup (well, maybe).

Morning comes and its time for the final selfie from the hotel:

Maybe I should have booked another night, but alas, I have to work my Friday shift for the month. Time to head to the airport, gassing up the car along the way – nice 1951 F100 (last year before they went to the F150):

Got the car returned (once I found the rental return place, which isn’t that close to the airport), and found this amazing hot dog stand in the airport – two bad I was full from the leftover Kalua Pork and Teriyaki Beef!

Had a couple of drinks at a Sammy Hagar bar in the airport before boarding the direct (this direction) flight back to Maui.

Think I was working on a blog post, or maybe I was just killing internet zeros and ones.

Different menu for the return flight:

Should have gone for the Bulgogi – the Mahi Mahi was a little on the dry side – live and learn. I cared more about getting the potatoes rather than the rice, but the salad was excellent!

Fight was running late so I didn’t get to Bellingham until almost 11pm – good thing I’d arranged with SurfBetty to crash at his place – not good to drive two hours after drinking for five. And it was really good to catch up with him – don’t get to spend enough time hanging out with him. And drink into the night we did for in the morning I need to be up at 8am so I can open the shop at noon.

He was kind enough to send me off with home homemade bacon/eggs/cheese sandwiches.

Thanks SurfBetty!

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Filed from the Sunset Limited in the middle of Arizona

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    […] Please note the fetching Hello Kitty cap from my trip to Maui. […]

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Mar '16

Trip Report: DC For A Quickie

Nothing will get me out of town quicker than a $137 each way trip across the country – and a $125 off coupon code.

Didn’t get upgraded to First on the way out, but confirmed for the way back – more of that delicious new First Class food!

Funny thing about this trip is that it started out to just be a simple overnight stay in DC. I’d have just turned around and come back, but:

  1. That’s exhausting even for me
  2. I’d never seen the Air and Space Museum, and it’s a stop on the hotel shuttle

But, a couple of days before I’d emailed my buddy Sean who I stayed with in Vietnam to inquire when he was returning stateside. Turns out he arrives in DC the same evening as I do – AND has a layover and no hotel. SCORE! When I check in I change the room from one bed to two.

His flight is delayed so I’m off to the Longhorn Steakhouse for, wait for it, steak!

And yes, that is the first of three Manhattans. I’m not driving and that will leave some of the room booze for Sean. Speaking of rooms – here’s ours:

OK – that is really a “morning after” shot, but you get the idea.

Now just add Sean – confession: this is actually a picture of him from my Vietnam trip – I was so happy to see him I forgot to snap a pic of him relaxing while scratching his Malaysian Holiday sunburn.

I was great to catch up, have a couple of in-room cocktails, and crash hard – we’d both had long flight days, his, about times mine.

I’ve got to say, breakfast in the Wingate Suites Dulles isn’t bad – it’s a real buffet line with lots of hot items. I went for the “gut-buster” biscuits and gravy:

I’d scheduled the 11am shuttle to the museum, but because there was a load of flight crew on the shuttle, I was the second stop rather the usual first – not complaining, just sayin’.

The cool thing about the Air and Space Museum is that they are totally prepped for visitors with luggage – even though security has to poke around in it first. They have two different sized lockers that you deposit a quarter in (which they will loan you!) – and if it’s larger than a standard carryon, you are welcome to drag it around with you (as I saw some Japanese tourists doing).

But onto the pictures:

Lots of planes in this place!

The NASA quarantine module for astronauts coming back from the moon:

And some odd things… an R2D2 mailbox and space capsule phone booth:

Science satellites:

Many historical aircraft, from the Enola Gay (remember Hiroshima)?

To the first Fed Ex plane:

They also have their own “control tower” viewing platform:

Sadly, the restaurant in the museum was a McCafe from McDonalds.

Called the hotel shuttle and was to the airport in decent time. I didn’t think the Quarter Pounder would hold me all the way until dinner on the plane so nothing like a cocktail, some work, some corn chicken chowder:

What is on the screen is the post on First Class food from last week. Working on one post while living another. All in a day’s work.

Comfortable flight home – and you’ve already seen the food!

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