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Last Post: Trip Report: Oahu With DancingBear
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Last Modified: May 17, 2016 @ 6:27 pm (GMT -7)
 
Tue
17
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).

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Wed
4
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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Sat
23
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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Wed
20
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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Sun
10
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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Tue
5
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:

Returning:

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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Thu
24
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:

THE TRAIN BOSS! THE TRAIN!

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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Tue
15
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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  1. UMTravels » Blog Archive » Trip Report: El Paso & The Train Home Says:

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

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Thu
10
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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Sat
5
Mar '16

Airline Report: Alaska Steps Up It’s Game

Food-wise In First Class

When I booked my New Orleans trip last October/November I paid a little more for the ticket so that I could use my Gold Guest Upgrades at time of purchase. I figured, what the hell, might as well start drinking before I get to New Orleans.

What I didn’t realize is that the time of my trip last week would be the same time as Alaska completely changed how it handles First Class meals on flights more than three hours.

The concept is small plates. Everyone gets the tiny appetizer (after the warm nut starter), and the two different mini-cheesecakes for dessert, then you chose up to three of the five small plates.

Here is the menu for the mid-day trip from Seattle to New Orleans:

And here are the food shots! First, the hot nuts (and complimentary entertainment tablet:

Next, the Caprese Skewer:

Then the small plates. I had the salad, chicken, and cod:

And the finale – dessert!

It does add a bit of work for the First Class cabin attendant!

On the way back, the dinner menu was different – this would be it:

The plating out of New Orleans wasn’t nearly as good – trying to find the feta that goes with my watermelon…

And I had to arrange my small plates for the photo – they were all askew. Went for the salad, the chicken, and the beef filet:

And the beef filet was PERFECTLY done – an amazing feat for airline beef:

Same dessert, and for some reason, the nuts came after dessert – but before the snack basket was passed around.

The chicken on the way down was a little dry, but it had the Marsala Mushroom sauce to help moisten it – the spätzle and the way home was a little dried out as well, but again, having mushroom cream sauce helped.

I had the chance to have a repeat of the first lunch, but served as dinner on the way back from DC. They still have to work out a few bugs with presentation, but overall, the meals are comparable to international business class flight meals and definitely better than anything I’ve had on a domestic flight in YEARS.

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Food-wise In First Class

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Wed
2
Mar '16

Trip Report: Arts Run To New Orleans

Off to the Big Easy just after Mardi Gras.

No photos of the flight because that is going to be a separate post after this one (or maybe the one after) because Alaska Airlines has changed its First Class service (for the good). When I booked this trip I paid a little more and got guaranteed upgrade seats coming and going to NOLA.

Should you travel to New Orleans, DO NOT take the Go Airport Shuttle (the “official” airport shuttle) to your hotel. They wait until EVERY 25 seats are filled before they leave. They are as bad as the attitude of cab drivers in NOLA. I heard other travelers who take a hotel shuttle and then grab an Uber into town. Cab is about $50. Uber $35. Shuttle $25 and well over an hour. Even though it was raining I should have just caught the county bus for $2 which ends close to the train station where I could have Ubered to the condo.

Staying at my usual crib on St. Charles. Love the convenience of the place, and the digs:

And the insides aren’t too bad either…

The first night’s dinner was take-out from Igor’s – one of my standard dive bar burger stops:

Not on my diet – but it’s New Orleans. I can be good tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, first up is a revisit to Purloo – which is turning into my favorite upscale restaurant in New Orleans.

That would be Ryan (sexy bartender) in the background with a Sazerac (rye whiskey, Peychauds, sugar, Herbsaint) in the foreground.

And the Harissa Buttermilk Fried Chicken Wings, Purloo Dirty Rice (above), followed by dessert (below) which was their version of an Old-Fashioned (bourbon or rye, demerara sugar, pecan bitters):

Interesting to note that their bar bourdon is Evan Williams Black – which is my standard go-to bourbon.

It is connected to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (see link here for notes from my last trip here):

Second up was the reason for my trip back to New Orleans for the second time in six months – the Ogden Museum Southern Art and an exhibition by the artist Michael Meads.

No photography was allowed in the exhibit (which I found out after I was told to stop), so I’ll link to an article about the show that has lots of images (that I assume were used with the permission of the artist).

http://hyperallergic.com/250636/an-artists-sprawling-universe-of-sex-and-death-with-new-orleans-at-its-center/

VERY moving – and ironic that I used the TAM (Tacoma Art Museum) Reciprocal Pass that I got joining during their ArtAIDSamerica show last year. Many of the same reactions to both shows.

Great views of the WWII Museum from their rooftop sculpture garden:

Having walked from The Avenue Plaza to Purloo, and then to The Ogden – bought the $3 24-hour streetcar/bus pass. It used to be a day pass but they upgraded the system so now it’s a 24-hour pass, which is MUCH more useful to late-risers like myself. The St. Charles Street Car Line runs right in front of The Avenue Plaza.

Dumped my bag and took off for The Blind Pelican for oysters. They have happy hour from 4-8 where the oysters on the half shell are $3 A DOZEN with the purchase of an adult beverage. No problem for me:

Then it was time for a nap and the news before my real dinner of the night – at Houston’s (almost across the street from The Blind Pelican). As I wrote in a review in 2013 – Good Food, Good Jazz.

A full day of food and culture.

And tomorrow is another day – and I have to get my full use out of that $3 24-hour Pass. Off to the New Orleans Museum of Art for a little lunch and art.

The trolley to the Museum on Canal Street.

The Museum itself is a rather impressive building. It reminds me of the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City:

And my grilled brisket sandwich for lunch, with a glass of South African Cabernet Sauvignon.

And since photography was OK, one of my favorite pieces (Pick A Ninny – Robert Colescott):

Very much in the theme of yesterday’s show. NOMA is also on the reciprocal museum list so I’m well on my way to getting back my $125 annual membership fee.

There were also the “old standards” which at times I find comforting:

Next up of the Old Mint Museum – which was mostly interesting for the mint display on the ground floor and the architecture itself.

And guess what – it’s 4PM – that means it’s OYSTER TIME! This time it’s the Charbroiled Oysters for $8.95 (with purchase of an adult beverage):

Too lazy to stay (or come back in an hour and a half) for the 2lb. crawfish boil for $15:

I guess I really should show you what the place looks like! It was a little breezy this trip to be hanging out of the patio, porch was better, but not by much:

After a long day of walking – I thought take-out from Pho Orchid (next door to Igor’s) would be a good plan (Bulgogi with rice) – and why not have them make me a Manhattan while I wait!

As a side note – arriving just after Mardi Gras means you can find all sorts of beads on low hanging branches (and in the dirt):

I decided to wash and hang them to dry before packing them:

Lots of beads!

My final day – it’s out of the unit by noon (Wyndham owners have to be out at 10am) it’s almost a repeat of my first full day. Lunch at Purloo – this time the Low Country She-Crab Bisque…

And lots more walking – want some street BBQ?

Or maybe a nice old car?

Maybe a church?

Or many just some pretty old buildings:

Or maybe a statue of Robert E. Lee that they are talking about moving because of the whole Confederate Flag controversy:

Pretty amazing weather considering we flew into a tornado on our way in.

Swung by the Ogden for a final look at the exhibit, grabbed the bag from the bell captain, grabbed a trolley to the bus stop – paid my $2 for a ride to the airport for my final NOLA meal. A Cajun Dog from Lucky Dogs in the airport which I then took to the bar had had with Sazerac Rye on the rocks – diet coke back:

Another trip to NOLA under my belt.

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Mon
22
Feb '16

Trip Report: Winter Break With Bliss – The Train Home

After a lovely couple of days in Santa Fe, it’s time for the relaxing train ride home – and our train is on time:

And before long, Bliss and I are settled into our compartment which is called “The Family Bedroom“, meaning no toilet/shower en-suite.

Here is the diagram from the Amtrak sight so you get a feel for the room configuration:

The Family Bedrooms are on the lower level and stretch side-to-side so you get lots of pretty picture taking opportunities:

Here is a short (one-minute) clip of the above…

As the sun goes down, we head into the dining car for dinner:

We both had the steak dinner and got our desserts “to-go” after dinner. Meals are included when you book a sleeping car. And it is nice to be able to stretch out – AND have a place to put your luggage since se don’t have any children with us.

Slumber time followed by a 5am breakfast call – because of the schedule it’s a short (1-hour) breakfast – and I noticed MANY of the Sleeping Car passengers just skipping it. As for me? I just went back to bed after.

Train was early into Los Angeles’ Union Station so we hung out in the Metropolitan Lounge in the station – it’s for the use of Sleeping Car passengers and Business Class passengers on the Surfliner.

9:30 they rousted us to the platform. It’s a bit of a hike, but walking was quicker than waiting for Red Cap service – and since we’ll be sitting for the next two days, best to walk.

Our train (The Coast Starlight) backing into Union Station:

After getting settled I took a shower (down the hall) which I probably should have down after breakfast on the Southwest Chief. I might have been less cranky. Or maybe just a Screwdriver with a splash of Pomegranate Grenadine:

Orange Juice (and coffee) courtesy of Amtrak. Each Sleeper Car has a coffee pot and juice station. These days it’s only orange juice, in the past it was orange, apple, and cranberry AND actual oranges and bananas and the complementary mini-bottle of sparkling wine when you boarded. Yes, the quality has gone down on Amtrak trains in the last couple of years – no amenity kits any longer as well.

But where did we get the Pomegranate Grenadine? Well, in addition to the 6 bottles of hard liquor I bought in Santa Fe, and the 6 bottles that Bliss bought – my sis-in-law also gave me the remnants of my late mother’s liquor cabinet. If you are keeping score, four people have given me their liquor dregs (one in recover, one dead, two people moved). No bourbon left, but things like the Grenadine, Blood Mary mix, Crème de Menthe, odd mixers…

Next up, a Bloody Mary with cracked pepper on the top (courtesy of Alaska Airlines – for the pepper) complete with swizzle sticks (courtesy of Cathy Pacific and oddly in my laptop bag):

Beautiful views as we sit down to lunch. The section between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara is really stunning:

And lunch isn’t bad (these would be the bar-b-qued lamb shanks with garlic mashed potatoes and a side salad, plus iced-tea…

More scenery shots from our room after lunch:

Tanks of Fire Water – like moonshine? And the rolling hills outside of San Luis Obispo:

San Luis Obispo is also a smoke stop (or in our case, a stretch your legs get some fresh air stop):

Random tourist, the guy in the engineer’s hat is a regular at the station – not an employee, but “challenged” guy with a love for trains (notice train band radio attached on his back pocket), and our conductor Joy – who I’ve had before so he knows the drill (with the help of a $20) about keeping us stocked with ice – LOTS of ice:

While we are stocked on booze and ice, after several days on the train we are running low on Ginger Ale – luckily, after dinner we are passing through Emeryville and a couple of texts to Lunetta & Onyx, we have more mixers, and a wine shipper (much better than the WalMart cheap duffle I bought in Santa Fe) and a bonus of a bottle of their Honey Mead – and a platform visit!

And said box of supplies:

Time for bed as the Emeryville stop is at 10pm.

Breakfast at a more reasonable hour (7am) but I still went back to bed after:

Because outside it looked like this.

By lunch, the weather has improved:

But we are an hour behind schedule because of signal problems in the mountains (most likely from the now). Every Amtrak trip I have to have the Angus burger at least once:

It’s a mouthful but I cut them in half.

I’d planned on getting out for a stretch in Eugene, but when I got to the door – it was dumping rain. Back to the couch for me.

Almost an hour late getting into Portland – and rain – a parked a long way from the terminal, no Metropolitan Lounge in Portland stop for me this trip – and they cut the time of the stop in half to make up ground.

The downside of the current Coast Starlight schedule is with an 8pm arrival time in Seattle you have dinner service starting at 5pm – and we had lunch at 12:30. For dinner I opted for the crab/shrimp cakes like the previous night’s meal (more shrimp than crab), but without the side salad – and I still only made it through one of the two cakes – still full from lunch!

In the end we were only ten minutes late into Seattle where we split up and ordered up Ubers home. (Click on the word Uber to sign up and get a free $15 ride).

08:32pm
269-299 S King St, Seattle, WA
08:47pm
1029-1045 S Rose St, Seattle, WA

CAR
uberX

miles
6.41

TRIP TIME
00:15:01

$15.00 from the Amtrak station to my house – not bad. I’m sure Bliss’ was less than $8.00.

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Fri
19
Feb '16

Trip Report: Winter Break With Bliss – The Beginning

One of my self-serving pay-it-forward (can you actually do that?) is to put together trips for friends (and me) who are of more limited means – example – friends of mine who are teachers, lower level office workers, etc. This week’s trip is for my buddy, Bliss, who is on winter break from the school where he teaches IB (International Bachelorette) English to high school kids. Talk about a 12-hour-a-day job plus weekends grading all those college-level papers you’ve assigned.

He needs a break. And it doesn’t’ start well – his alarm didn’t go off. Luckily (for me) we are:

  1. Travelling separately to the airport
  2. On different record locator for our flights

Luckily I’d been texting him my progress through the morning and he finally got a clue it was time to get out of the house – and he’s a SLOW one in that regard. That said, I can chill in the Board Room. If he misses his flight, he can try for the Tuesday flight. Breakfast is served! Well, OK, it was self-serve with the exception of the Red Baron, which they have to make:

Followed by one of their world-famous Bloody Marys:

He finally made it with just enough time to slam down two drinks – which he’ll need since he’s in coach and I snagged an upgrade to my favorite seat (1C). Funny thing happened at the end of the boarding process – a customer from the shop (Madrona Wine Merchants) went flying down the aisle with her daughter in tow. Later I can to find out that her daughter noticed me and said to mom, “The think I just saw our wine guy sitting in First Class.” Bliss used miles (plus I think $5 or something like that for a ticketing/tax fee), I had a $138 one-way ticket – which when you end up in First Class for the non-stop Seattle to Albuquerque isn’t bad.

Nor was lunch:

It was only a two-hour flight, but it was nice to get a hot sandwich (and a couple of cocktails).

Landed, grabbed bags, grabbed the shuttle to the Rental Car Center (I hate those things – a giant time sink), got what they call an economy car (Nissan Altima with Bluetooth phone connection) and off to Santa Fe we head. With a stop at Albertsons where I picked up four half gallons of Evan Williams and two fifths of Swedka Vodka, a six-pack of Vernors, and a twelve-pack of Canada Dry Diet Ginger Ale – Bliss picked up six (count ’em six) bottle of Jose Cuervo Cinnamon Infused Tequila, which he likes, and was on closeout, and got an additional 10% for buying six (as did I).

To save on expenses we are staying with my sis-in-law who is married to my bro-in-law. How that works is that she is my dead brother’s widow, and Kennan is her husband. It’s amazing to me that this extended family likes each other, actually loves each other, warts and all – and enough to have me AND a friend stay over.

Tonight’s dinner is:

Minus the dressing step which makes me want a crock pot – guess I should forward this to Salamander and DancingBear, who do have crock pots.

Beautiful sunset before dinner:

Watched the Academy Awards and the Pruett/Souder/Girdner clan headed to their usual early bed.

Slept in, and then it was off for some sightseeing that included hiking (yes, I said HIKING)

I was surprised that on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of February that the parking lot would be close to capacity!

Best fuel ourselves up with a Green Chile Cheeseburger at the gift/snack shop at Bandelier National Monument:

Messy but good! I feel a Trip Advisor review coming on.

As I do every couple of years I decided to purchase the yearly National Parks Pass which has some useless name like “The Inter-Agency Multiple Park Pass”. The real name is Interagency Annual Pass (aka The America The Beautiful Pass) – but here it hangs on my rear view mirror. It was $80, but the entrance fee to Bandelier was $20, so all I have to do is visit Rainier (where a car is $30) a couple of times and it will have paid for itself. I find it odd that the individual park entrance fees have gone up, but not the price of the pass. I try to buy my passes at the smaller national monuments because they get to keep a chunk of the pass money and they need all the help they can get.

Bad shot, but you get the idea – I put this on mostly for my buddy Sierra who is a park ranger. Speaking of which, he is at Denali this summer – might have to use the pass again up there!

I’ve been to Bandelier many times but this is a first for Bliss – a lovely day for a light hike:

It’s a pretty amazing place just an hour twenty minutes from Santa Fe, very close to Los Alamos if you want to combine a trip – no time for us this round.

Got back to the house in time for cocktail hour before Jen and Kennan got home from work to make Ginger Scented Shrimp (sorry, no recipe or picture). And then after dinner drinks:

I guess we know where my priorities lay…

Up earlier the second morning in Santa Fe – want to hit a museum or two before we leave for Albuquerque in the afternoon. But first, breakfast at Tia Sopia’s just off the plaza. Bliss had the Wednesday Breakfast Special (quesadilla) and I had the Green Chili Stew with flour tortilla:

Tia Sopia’s is just across the street from the Lensic Theatre where my mother often saw shows:

Bliss really wants to see and original Shakespeare
Folio at one of the museums – it takes us two museums to actually find it – both pretty much on the plaza of Santa Fe – and both members of the North American Reciprocal program which I got because of my Tacoma Art Museum membership (see blog post here on what I saw and why I joined).

The Folio itself was not terribly inspiring…

And the rest of the surrounding exhibition looked like an afterthought – they should have combined the two exhibits (there was peripheral materials at the New Mexico History Museum), but it was nice to spend some time downtown…

After the musems, it was time to return to Albuquerque, and because we had the time, stop by the Gruet Winery for some bubbles! Some of you will remember my post from December on the sparkling house the Gruet built. I didn’t even have business cards with me this trip but we managed to get the production manager to AGAIN give a tour – when I found out the disgorgement line was running I got super excited. This is the process where they freeze the necks of the bottles and blow out all the yeast before adding back a little wine and sugar to get the bubbles going.

And then onto popping the corks, refilling, and cork/wire/label:

So fun to see the process in action – and so fun to taste the results!

The unlabeled bottle is of a “no dosage” Rose sparkler – the advantages of being in the business is you get to sometimes taste “experiments”. I highly recommend stopping by for a visit if you are in Albuquerque.

They even have a little museum of old champagne equipment:

But we are on a schedule – next up is to find some distilled water for Bliss’ C-PAP machine, grab lunch (the Sonic Burger joint does a Green Chili Cheeseburger that is REALLY good), gas up the car and return it to the airport – did I mention gas is cheap in New Mexico?

Dropped the rental car and hailed an Uber for the trip to the train station with our many bags and boxes.

Next up, the train from Albuquerque to Seattle via Los Angeles.

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Thu
18
Feb '16

Trip Report: Bay Area

When I booked this bargain ticket I didn’t know whether Lunetta would be in town so I also booked the WorldMark San Francisco, which is between Union Square and Nob Hill/Chinatown.

But first I have to get there – doesn’t this look like a good day to fly?

Luckily all of Alaska’s planes are equipped with RNP (Required Navigation Performance) which is great for inclement weather, though by takeoff time it looked more like this:

Didn’t snag an upgrade, which you all know how I feel about that…

That would be seat 6C – which is a bulkhead seat – But 6A was open over I moved (and the lady next to me moved to the aisle) Now I have a view (but more of a pain to use the lavatory):

Maybe I should get window seats for often! That was the view coming into San Francisco…

And the perks of MVP Gold extend to the back of the plane (barely), so I get a free cocktail with my bag of kibble:

Since I was bringing a case of wine with me, Saint Onyx picked me up at the airport (yes, I do deliver wine to customers of Madrona Wine Merchants) – and off to a wonderful lunch at Maru Sushi as a thank you:

That would be the Sushi/Sashimi Combination Platter ($25) plus a Nigori Sake ($16) to share.

I’d hoped to meet up with Mud, my Egyptian fling from the summer – but alas, he has disappeared into the wind so it’s dinner by myself tonight – THE WORST Rueben in almost 60-years of the Perfect Ruben Hunt. The honor goes to the Sutter Pub. You can read the review here:

I had planned on eating out, but when I discovered the “Pub” only served beer and wine, I opted for takeout since it was just a block from the condo – and I forgot to show pictures of the 1-bedroom condo:

Staying in the city is a nice chance from the East Bay – so I explore parts of the city that I’d never wandered through, like Chinatown:

And Ash Wednesday to boot – so EVERY church is packed, and ash-laden people are wondering the streets:

Gorgeous day in the city…swung back to the condo for a take-out wrap from the little grocery store (Food Fair Market) that was a spicy chicken curry thing that was wonderful – it set a nice base for me to handle the next stop of my city exploration…the world-famous Tonga Room at the San Francisco Fairmount Hotel:

And the crazy-ass Tiki interior:

I just stayed for one drink – the Lychee Martini featured above.

And what San Francisco posting is complete without a cable car shot – this line is two blocks from the condo…

One day I’ll get an all-day pass and just ride them around, but not this trip.

The next morning it was off to Café del La Presse (a block away) for the BEST Eggs Benedict I have ever had in my life:

The next day I did an owner re-education dealy for $125 and lunch…

Who can’t resist a neighborhood that offers this, and who knew Thursday night was “Circle Jerk With A Porn Star” night:

Late afternoon finds me making my way to the East Bay for an overnight with Lunetta & Onyx – giving up my last night in the condo for a home-cooked meal.

Nothing like a “small” ham…

And the company of my niece and her boyfriend…

Nice to be able to just hang around the house, not having an early flight – and hang out in the sunshine:

Headed home Friday afternoon – got to spend a little time in the Cathy Pacific Business Class Lounge, alas, not while they were doing their buffet set-up, but at least there were chips, drinks, and newspapers….

And a pretty sunset:

Before you know it, I’m back in coach winging my way home with my one free cocktail and my 3-ounce carryon.

[? ? ?]

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Wed
10
Feb '16

Trip Report: Annual Victoria Getaway

Well, with all the other travel, and the Coho Ferry (Port Angeles – Victoria) being dry-docked longer, only one trip planned to Victoria this winter.

The trip didn’t start well – my Uber driver was stuck on 1 minute away for 15 minutes, killing any spare time I had to get to the boat – I ended up driving after finding out he a flat (which I didn’t find out for 20 minutes because he wouldn’t answer phone or text) – it, worrying that the car wouldn’t start when I returned from Victoria since the battery is weak and I’d had it on the charger all the previous night. Not the way I like to start a trip – stressed. You all know how I am about getting to airports/ship terminals/etc. in plenty of time.

This helped the stress:

This is Maia’s second trip with the boys to Victoria. Maia belongs to Seth. Maia likes my roller board and wants to help even though she has two bags of her own. Good Maia:

That would be Daddy Seth‘s foot to the right.

Miracle of miracles, our condo is ready – before noon! Usually, check-in time isn’t until 4pm. We have a 2-bedroom Penthouse unit on the second floor (yes, Penthouse doesn’t mean the top floor in this case, just the level of creature comforts – like our own personal hot tub):

And the view is good, even if it is the second (out of eight) floor:

You can sort of see our “pet”, Jonathan, in this shot – here is a better one:

And no – we don’t feed him – that’s against the rules.

Lunch out is at the Blue Heron Bistro, in the same complex as the grocery store. I start with a Caesar – which is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato. The Canadians are crazy about Clamato:

Lots of fun stuff on the specials menu –

I went with the Rabbit & Chorizo Poutine – that is French Fries, then a layer of cheese curds, then a Chorizo Rabbit Gravy over the top – others went for the duck curry:

Nap time for DancingBear and me – while Seth, MoSis (his BF), and Maia went out to explore the city.

But soon, it was time for dinner….and the couple of racks of ribs I brought up from the states.

Did I mention we bought a little duty-free booze? And here is the dinner, ribs on the upper right:

We do eat well on holidays. And we do relax well on holidays as well…

This is how DancingBear and I spent our time in Victoria, in bathrobes, cycling in/out of the hot tub, reading, playing Word With Friends, staring out at the planes landing on the Inner Harbour.

That and cooking:

Yes, Seth is having greens and sauerkraut with his eggs, babel and cream cheese (where is the salmon I brought?)

More relaxing for DB and I on Wednesday, with the rest of the kids out exploring (aka trying to run Maia out of energy) while we worked on dinner which included a vegan (it was supposed to include TWO vegans). Apparently we were having too much fun to get any pictures of the second night’s dinner which was olive tapenade stuffed portabellas for the vegan(s) and chicken cordon blu for the rest of us.

We were a little short on guest this visit at our favorites RobinHood and CrowDog are on the Sunshine Coast mourning the loss of a close friend – guess I should plan for next year in Victoria!

Before you know it the last afternoon is upon us – and a BIG shout out to DancingBear for renting a full-size car to get us around town and occupy us on the last day when checkout is at noon, and the boat is at five.

Final lunch was at Nautical NelliesSeth’s suggestion and it was a good one.

I wanted light, so I went for the tempura green beans…

Fish Tacos for MoSis:

DancingBear went for the Cheddar and Crab sandwich – which I really should have taken some of:

And before you know it, we are back on the boat headed out of Victoria –

And eating again….

Cheese, crackers, Chicken Caesar wrap, leftover cranberry juice and vodka we packed for the trip…

The car started when I got back to the garage. Because of the discount from The Clipper, parking was $30 for the three days rather than the $61 that was on the ticket. In the end the price was probably cheaper than Uber to/from.

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Fri
5
Feb '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Eighth Leg: The Long Trip Home

The trip is winding down – time for Pigletté and Uncle Markie to head back to Seattle. The flight to Dubai is scheduled for a little before midnight – and when the check-in counter opened, I was the third person in the business line…this is what the economy line looked like:

And there is a shared lounge for Emirates business class passengers…not bad, but no open bar, just unlimited wine. Sigh. But there is a big open buffet:

My office for a couple of hours:

Wine, seltzer, beef noodle soup…a little post dinner, pre-flight food.

Another 777-300ER on the Saigon to Dubai flight. Pigletté gets settled in:

But he has to share his seat with Uncle Markie. Thanks to the lady in the window seat for this shot:

Soon it was movie time (Specter – a 007 movie):

We watched the movie while the flight attendant worked on my Manhattan:

Which came with some hot nuts – Uncle Markie LOVES hot nuts:

Even Bond, James Bond, enjoys a drink with us:

Before long, it was dinner time – and NO, that is NOT a potato, that’s a dinner roll. The starters:

The main:

Time for some more movies:

And the controller that also runs the system (in addition to buttons on the phone) – WAY too many options:

Here is a partial list of the movies I watched on the return flight:

  • Spectre (007)
  • Martians

And then there was a little sleep before arriving in Dubai at 4am in the morning – 4-hour layover, but the lounge is comfy and has “quiet areas”:

Don’t I look comfortable?

After a nap it’s time for a little breakfast before the breakfast on the Dubai to Houston flight:

Got to love Emirates Business Class Lounges in Dubai (they have three, each of which are the length of the terminal) – and how is this for boarding. The Business Class lounge is on 5 (in this terminal), First Class on 4, 3 is god-knows-what:

I love the “Upper Deck Boarding”, “Lower Deck Boarding” buttons, which correspond this this:

Yes, that is THREE jet skyways to the jet…Emirates A380-800 from Dubai to Houston is configured with

  • 14 First Class closed suites
  • 76 Business Class lay-flat seats
  • 399 Economy seats

With almost 500 seats you got to board these things from every orifice.

Wonder what economy looks like?

That would be a wild-body seating configuration of 3-4-3 (10-across). Upstairs, well, these are the back stairs – the front stairs go to First Class:

And the Business Class section which is a 1-2-1 configuration:

And my pod…

This was before I moved across the aisle so that I didn’t have to squeeze past the end table (which the feet of the person behind me slides into. Fresh flowers even:

Which was right above my 22″ tough-screen display…more reasons for changing seats.

Lots of charging opportunities…(and noise-cancelling headphone jack):

Add reading material (and Champagne) ….

And leg room …

And seat controls ….

Bye-bye Dubai …

A shot from above …

Time to settle in:

And then the food begins….

And yummy it is… another breakfast!

I opted for the Middle Eastern version of the main breakfast course… when in Rome (or Dubai) ….and more drinks:

Rob Roys with 18-year-old Chivas:

And since it’s a 15-hour flight, mid-flight mini-sandwiches:

And mid-flight work….

The flights movie list:

  • Life with father – William Powell

5 hours of sleep (Ambien washed down with Rob Roys)

  • The Man Who Knew Too Much – Kimmy Stewart, Doris Day
  • Philadelphia Story – jimmy steward, Cary grant, Hepburn
  • Desk Set – Hepburn/Tracy

Along with some hot appetizers:

At the back bar:

I think there was lunch in there someplace —

And the cheese course with a 2000 Warre’s Tawny Port:

I love some of the FaceBook comments on the cheese course photo:

Catherine: A GLASS glass?! METAL silverware!? An actual ceramic PLATE?!

Alexis: it looks to me like you are having too much carbs, only one cracker please ! x

Carlotta: Your cheese COURSE? There’ a vegetable, meat and dessert course? Soup too?

Retta: I could live off that.

Mark: I opted for the cheese and port over the chocolate lava cake, espresso and Cointreau. And yes, three courses before that. Redeeming 75000 miles gets you good airline food.

Kathy: I need to charge more on our mileage credit card, clearly!!

Mark: Happy to be anyone’s mileage consultant!

Carlotta: Well dear, you Are The Expert!

Mark: Catherine, that was a real piece of wood under that cheese.

Sean: It is so painful to see a man suffer

Jonathan: Not used to seeing you consuming grapes that haven’t been squashed and left to ferment for several years…

David: I approve!

Mikal: Pigletté loves cheese …

And then the party ended. Arrived in Houston with a two-hour layover which included customs/immigration, a terminal change, another round of security. Thank you Alaska for digital boarding passes that kept me from having to produce TWO quart bags since I’d collected all these toiletries from Janet to put in her church’s homeless packets. The downside of the Alaska gate in Houston is that there is no lounge access. Luckily I was exhausted because this was my seat for the four-hour Houston to Seattle run, in coach. At least it was bulkhead aisle:

One free drink, one bought drink, 3 hours of sleep which I dearly needed.

Cab home from the airport (about $30) about 9 in the evening – and here what was in the mailbox:

And what remained when I pitched all the junk:

International trip number one of four planned this year (next is Greece [June], then Mexico [September], then France [November]).

Next up is Victoria, British Columbia (which because it’s so close I don’t consider to be international).

[? ? ?]

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Eighth Leg: The Long Trip Home

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Thu
4
Feb '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon City Impressions

Just a reminder to those readers arriving here from FaceBook. Links from FaceBook
are a direct link to this post, so you miss the previous posts. You can see all the posts by either clicking on the UMTravels banner, or HERE.

My last two days in Vietnam I’m on my own to explore the neighborhood (5th Ward or whatever it is). Sean is at work, I sleep in.

Welcome to sights and scenes from Saïgon. Let’s start with traffic – on the back of a scooter:


There are other clips on YouTube at the same location of other experimental traffic shots. Breath deep, assume it will all come out right.

When I’m staying with folks in a different city, I just tend to pick a street and walk 5 or 10 blocks in each direction to see what I find…and with the maze of Saigon streets running at angles, I’m going for straight lines.

Hello Kitty! I found this store on the first walk:


They were having a 50% off sale and MAN was I out of place. Lots of pretty pink dresses, nothing in the laptop sleeve that I was looking for – luggage – they had that.


I should have spent more time looking for bargains – but I got the feeling they were a little freaked out by a 50+ year old white guy in their store.

You can get everything on the streets – plane tickets:


CDs/DVDs from guys that have their own battery mounted sound system:


Random food:


Then there are the random cathedrals:


Mixed in with upscale buildings wedged between crumbling ones…


And forget walking on the sidewalk, it is filled with scooters:

Walk, and you are in the street. Speaking of the street – I have a collection of “party” billboards – Vietnam still is a nominally communist country:

I’m sorry, but in the one below, Ho Chi Min is looking a little too much like Colonel Sanders, which is in Vietnam at this point.

To me this reminds me of the YMCA song so popular at weddings in the US:

And then there is TinTin – apparently he crosses all borders:

Other amusing street scenes include auto dealerships where there is a 200% import tax on cars that are not manufactured in Vietnam – FYI – Vietnam doesn’t manufacture any cars:

Public parks have exercise equipment for everyone to use. Hello USA!:

Random shot of a street restaurant:

It is the year of the monkey after all. Apparently I’m a FIRE MONKEY:

And the “party” is still alive – this Jeep waiting to go on Communist Patrol:

As my last night in town, Ming shows up for dinner, and to pick up a painting he is taking to his father as a house-warming gift – this isn’t the painting (which I should have taken a picture of), but a large 3-6 foot mural in the showroom – which happens to be on the corner of where I’m staying. “Painting” is a bit of a stretch – unless you call painting with ground up gem stones painting.

And then we were off to dinner – s hot pot place:

A nice final meal for Vietnam for late tonight I’m at the airport headed home.

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon City Impressions

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Sun
31
Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, Second Day

Just a reminder to those readers arriving here from FaceBook. Links from FaceBook
are a direct link to this post, so you miss the previous posts. You can see all the posts by either clicking on the UMTravels banner, or HERE.

When I travel – I’m not one of those people who does stuff in the morning, then has lunch at some Michelin-rated restaurant, afternoons seeing some other museum before dinner at another Michelin-rated restaurant prior to the opera – that kind of pace exhausts me just thinking about it. I’m more the one museum/one temple-church-graveyard a day kinda a guy.

A little dim sum for brunch….

And we start today with a Buddhist temple:

Temple. Check.

Next up, our museum for the day. This one will be the opposite of yesterday’s time capsule – The War Remnants Museum (formerly the Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression)

The grounds are littered with old military equipment…and Sean got this picture of me with my Hello Kitty motorcycle helmet still on my head…

And more equipment…

These two shots should give you an idea about the “theme” of the exhibits:

And my favorite – the listing of “puppet” a.k.a. South Vietnamese forces:

Not just the US that is represented – there is an entire exhibit devoted to the French occupation and their Prisoner of War camps. Hence, the guillotine:

The rest of the exhibit was quite graphic including cells with posed emaciated dummies, so no pictures of those. Also – no pictures from the room detailing the atrocities from the use of Agent Orange. To be honest, I grazed over the exhibits rather than wading through the propaganda – I did find the section of War Photographers most interesting.

There was a little more military equipment inside:

Three floors and outside exhibits – a bit on the depressing side, but defiantly on everyone’s agenda. I heard, French, Russian, Spanish, and of-course, English and Vietnamese.

Museum. Check.

Must be time for our coffee shop stop – back to yesterday’s chain since Sean’s favorite shop seems to have closed (turns out it just moved). And Pigletté gets to try on some traditional hats be bought at the museum:

That would be hats for Pigletté, BóBó, and Mr. Lobster. Today’s Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf branch is a two-story affair, so we get a bit of a city view:

Home for a nap and cocktails – the former didn’t happen, the latter did.

Tonight – Indian Food delivered to the door – these days of sightseeing are leaving us exhausted and unwilling to leave the comfort of the apartment:

Damn tasty.

Tomorrow Sean returns to work, and I’ll explore the city on my own.

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, Second Day

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Sun
31
Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam –

Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, First Day

Just a reminder to those readers arriving here from FaceBook. Links from FaceBook
are a direct link to this post, so you miss the previous posts. You can see all the posts by either clicking on the UMTravels banner, or HERE.

Sean took Monday and Tuesday off so those are out museum days…and with him working Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll be making my wondering tours of his neighborhood. Who know where food will end of in this.

First up Is a little breakfast – turns about its cracked rice and chicken – should be a nice base for a day of sightseeing.

Maybe I should have had something other than tea — morning cocktails were $1.50 – were is Magnatroia when you need him!

Next up is a little shopping at one of the oldest Colonial-style
markets left in Saïgon. That would be Bến Thành Market

Getting there through Saïgon traffic is what we need to do first. More on that in the next post, but here is a preview (next post will have scary traffic videos). I’m in the bitch seat on Sean’s scooter wearing a Hello Kitty helmet. It goes with my Hello Kitty watch.

I’ve been to markets like this around the world – lots of touts hawking their wears – I did see an interesting domino set for Salamander – but no real time to look/bargain/haggle – just not into the markets as I once was. Just show me a price, that’s all I want.

I did see some humorous shirts I’ve have gotten if I didn’t know that they would last one washing.

Next up was to swing by the post office – Sean
had wanted stamps, but the lines made it hard – no stamps, but another cool old colonial-style
building.

Across the street is one of the Cathedrals in town:

Alas it being noon, the church wasn’t open to the public, so we settled on one of the oldest Indian-based Hindu Shrine around the corner. Apparently the original member-base were all Indian bank workers.

As mot much is open for lunch, so off to a coffee shop for tea, blood orange bubbly, free Wi-Fi, and clean bathrooms.

Rested, cooled off, relieved we next check into the Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace.
It was a time building that my friend Russ really needs to see – I’m surprised the North didn’t just level it after the war, instead, they turned it into a time-capsule.


It feels like a monument to late 60’s design – love some of the rooms:

And my favorite – the game room with bar…

I think Jill would like this room as well…or maybe the theatre with its chairs:

They even preserved the projection booth:

And if you needed to get out in a hurry, grab a Huey from the roof:

Under fire and can’t get out on the chopper – head to the bunker:

And when the attack is over, have company over and have the catering kitchen whip up a meal – yes, I had kitchen envy:

On the grounds there are examples of the rogue South Vietnam plane that bombed the Independence Palace (a pilot switched sides), that has a black “X” over the country logo:

And one of the tanks that stormed the palace:

Totally museum’d out for day, it’s off for a city tour…Graham Greene wrote “The Quiet American” in this bar of the Hotel Continental, across from the Opera House:

Said Opera House:

Last tourist stop of the day is the top of the tallest building in Vietnam to have a drink. They devote the lowest floor of parking just to scooters!

It was a little convoluted to get to the bar – query the front counter (it’s a mall and food court for the first couple of floors), take an escalator to the reservations desk, be escorted to the elevator to the reception desk on 50, put on another elevator to the 51st) – all to get to a fairly tacky bar with a killer view:

With expensive drinks – by Vietnam standards:

I had a Manhattan – decent ingredient selection, but 220,000 Dong –$9.89 USD, and it was Bulleit Bourbon (I’d have preferred their rye). Plus, add 5% service charge and 10% VAT and you are really at $10.04 a drink. Much more than the $1.50 per cocktail advertised at the restaurant we had breakfast in.

Sean had a beer – also overpriced:

But there is the view:

And the Heliport…

Done with cocktails it’s time to head back to the apartment – I’m meeting up with Ming who I met online. The plan is drinks and appetizers at the apartment which means a run to the “supermarket” around the corner for supplies. Meet Ming – medical equipment salesman:

Never did get a proper meal, but I did check out the Yacht Club Scotch!

It’s “old”, though I doubt as “olde” as me.

[219.6]

1 Comment »

One Response to “Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam –

Seventh Leg: Saïgon Museums & Markets, First Day”

  1. Conan Says:

    nice

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Thu
28
Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Sixth Leg: Mekong Delta, Cái Bè, Saïgon

Who would have thought I’d be up at 6am…guessing that it has to do with “early to bed”. Or maybe it was the fact we pulled anchor and are under way again.

Breakfast is at 7, we need to be off the boat at 8 for transfer to smaller boats to explore the Mekong Delta a little more. At least there is coffee ready for us:

And a beautiful sunrise:

Good Morning VIETNAM! R.I.P. Robin Williams. I loved that movie – and Apocalypse Now. Maybe I should re-watch those on my return to the states. We still have more time on the boat – but I’m already thinking I didn’t book enough boat time.

Pigletté is already at breakfast by the time we get there! No coffee for him, just juice.

They advertised a “continental breakfast”. I’m not sure what continent, but the options were English-style (beans, scrambled eggs, broiled tomato), American-style (omelet, bacon), European-style (breads, meats, cheeses), or Vietnamese-style (pho). When in Rome!

Yum!

When it’s time to off-load, it’s funny to watch the French people who each have one HUGE bag, and one roll-aboard – PER PERSON trying to get all that stuff into the boats. Here we are, headed away from our home of the last day…

One headed up one of the many tiny waterways of the Mekong Delta:

A word to the wise – a little mobility is required for this portion of the journey…think narrow ramps.

The poor lady from Singapore (on the English presented tour with us) was having some difficulties on this portion of the tour.

First stop was an open-air barn that they were roasting something…coal fires underneath, and pig pits above that guys with plastic shoveling moving product around – it didn’t look like a fun job:

Even the back channels of the Mekong Delta are crowded with boats as I discover on the way to our next stop:

Next up – Vietnam’s most pampered animals – Fighting Cocks!

They are kept in wire cages to keep them from fighting with each other before there is actually money on the ground.

Here is a chicken getting a bath and a massage…

As in the rest of Vietnam – scooters EVERYWHERE…

Even on the narrow village paths…

It surprised me that this one was concrete – the one yesterday was asphalt – but I guess in a country that has a monsoon season, paved is better than mud. My guess is that this village is doing OK judging by some of the houses:

Next up is a sugar cane processing “plant”:

Remember I mentioned that rice husks are used as fuel? Above, there is a sloping pile of husks that is used to feed the fire below. And the pile outside that feeds it.

Lots of sloshing around…

Before it gets poured in to plastic pots to cool and then be stacked and wrapped for shipment:

Apparently, it’s a family affair judging from the water bottle above, and this scene below:

Before you know it, we are headed to Cái Bè and their floating markets – you can tell what they are selling by what is on a bamboo pole sticking from their boat:

There is a lovely cathedral in Cái Bè – alas, it isn’t on our itinerary.

What is on our itinerary is a one-stop “folkloric” shopping opportunity – MUCH lower key than most. It features snakes soaked in rice liquor (I’m sure customs would LOVE that in Houston), and displays of candy making (using ingredients like we saw earlier), paper making, and rice popping (think rice krispies).

From there, we are off to meet up with our driver for the ride back to Saïgon – and here is a picture of our driver. Not much in the way of English skills, but Sean has some rudimentary Vietnamese.

Confession – the picture was taken in Cần Thơ, but it just didn’t fit the narrative.

Got back to Sean’s apartment a little after noon – dropped bags and off to lunch – with this amusing photo-op on the way.

Everyone is gearing up for Tết (the New Year).

And lunch!

Did you need some hot peppers? Those were sitting on the table next to us.

I just let Sean order – it’s simpler, and I eat most anything. And I get to try all the local favorites.

One of my favorite things about third-world cities is the “amusing” wiring hanging off poles.

I’d hate to trace a wire in that jungle.

After lunch it’s nap time – something about travelling Vietnam highways/streets is exhausting, even if you aren’t the one driving. Then off to the store with a fistful of Dồng!

That 2000 note is worth 9 cents USD. The print bills up to a million Dồng– which is equal to $45 USD. The smallest note is 200 with a value of less than a penny USD. And look – you can buy casks of wine at the grocery store for about $30 USD.

Sean is cooking tonight, which turns out to be a rarity with the inexpensive nature of going out to eat.

And it’s tasty as well!

Time for a little work before bed…

Didn’t last that long before it was “hit the hay” time. Another big day planned for tomorrow.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Sixth Leg: Mekong Delta, Cái Bè, Saïgon”

  1. Conan Says:

    You still call it Siagon. Why? Do the locals? It was re-named Ho Chi Mein (sp?) city when it fell in ’73. Or so I thought. Great stuff! Bucket list!

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