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Last Post: Trip Report: Mt. Rainier Steam Train
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Last Modified: July 20, 2016 @ 9:48 am (GMT -7)
Jul '16

Trip Report: Mt. Rainier Steam Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Administration Building (where you get your backcountry permits:

And one of the old tour busses:

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

But we made it…

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

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

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

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

There is even an old Lutheran Church open for viewing…

Now for the train!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[? ? ?]

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Jul '16

Trip Report: Puerto Vallarta

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

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

First ticket – Puerto Vallarta!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the grilled octopus starter:

With the requisite chips and pico de gallo….

And the main of mole chicken enchiladas….

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

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

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

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

That chicken fed me for a week!

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

Complete with big ceramic frog….

My room, the one above the towels….

The pool area….

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

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

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

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

And lunch number one:

That would be plantains, not potatoes.

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

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

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

And lunch number two…

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

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

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

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

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

Home safe.


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Jul '16

Home Report: It’s 3AM And I’m Online Ordering

So, I’m home, I get an Amazon Prime offer – so at 3AM in the morning (rather than ordering pizza because I can’t sleep) I’m ordering:


Angel Soft Bath Tissue, 12 Double Rolls
Angel Soft
Sold by Amazon.com LLC


Zevia Natural Sugar Free Soda, Ginger Ale (6 Count, 12 Fl Oz Each)
Sold by Amazon.com LLC


King Arthur, Special Bread Unbleached Flour, 5 lb
King Arthur
Sold by Amazon.com LLC


Best Foods Real Mayonnaise, 15 oz
Best Foods
Sold by Amazon.com LLC


Key Limes, 16 oz
produce aisle
Sold by AmazonFresh LLC


Frankly, I would have just ordered Evan Williams (which apparently you can do) but the $10 off coupon didn’t apply.

So, sometime between 8am and 10am (I have noon commitments) somebody is showing up at my house 5 hours+ from when I placed an order.

FYI – these are random things that I was out of, there is no recipe involved. But $10 off on a $21.85 (+$2.50 cent), delivered in a couple of hours, and a future $10 off couple. Hell yes.


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Jul '16

Status Report: Alaska Gold

MVP Gold status through the end of 2017 now confirmed:

Here was what put me over the top – The Alaska/Air France/Alaska trip to Greece:

Were I you, I’d abandon Air France and catch at KLM flight if you have the option. Air France, with its recent history of strike action (almost disrupting my trip to Greece) is actually dragging down the partnership. As you can see in my POST, the Air France fleet is a bit tatty.

It was about this time last year that I hit the United Million Mile mark and had a little party.

Six full months into this year and I’m Gold on Alaska Airlines. Odd that I’m on a trip booking miles on United where I’m Gold For Life (but prefer to fly Alaska especially after the trip getting down here). Guess I could fly a bunch more international flights on partner airlines (38,820 more) to hit 75K status, but the free DigiPlayer in the back doesn’t warrant the money and the butt-in-seat time. Don’t think I’ll ever hit the Million Mile status on Alaska. Sad. That’s where I’d like Gold For Life.

Just FYI – in the Mileage Whore circuit, they call this “The Game”.

[? ? ?]

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Jul '16

Home Report: Jonathan Fixes The Honkin’ Huge Printer

You might remember a couple of weeks ago (maybe a month) when I posted this video:

And said I was just going to roll the Honkin’ Huge Printer to the curb – until Jonathan volunteered to install a new carriage belt – so, this is really a HUGE HONKIN’ SHOUTOUT to Jonathan. Thanks – I’ve already printed all the tourist maps I’ll need for my upcoming Puerto Vallarta trip.

A pro can do this in an hour….Jonathan took longer, but was meticulous in his effort:

As the parts pile up in the living room – you really DO have to break this thing down to the carcass to get to this belt:

That pesky belt – it’s supposed to be in one piece, not shredded:

And his reward!

Thank you Jonathan for fixing my printer.


If you got here from a direct link from FaceBook, you can see all the posts at: http://blog.unclemarkie.com.

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  1. Jonathan Says:

    Glad to have been able to save the plotter from whatever fate might have come from the curbside…and my God, I am really starting to go bald! You never get to see the top of your own head like that until one day someone snaps a photo of you…and then your life is changed forever.

    Oh, well…life goes on, I will adapt.

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part Eight, The Way Home

Luckily my ferry back to Piraeus isn’t until almost noon, and I’d booked the cab yesterday so it’s a gentle morning travel day.

After another lovely breakfast buffet, it was pack and get out the door – in the company of two of the other guests who are sharing the cab. Actually, they picked up the cost of the cab so I bought them a coffee at the port:

Pretty much another scrum (though smaller) to get onto and settled on the ferry:

Those would be my cab-mates standing.

Uneventful journey, but massive rains in Piraeus….

And wet kids (and me!):

We waited it out…and by the time we arrived at the airport on the train we were pretty much dry. Said goodbye to Reuben and Jasmine who had a 9PM flight – mine is at 6:30AM, hence, the night in the Sofitel Athens Airport – which besides being more than I want to send ($200+, but it’s right across the street from the airport), at least it was a really nice room:

And the full-service 24-hour restaurant in the lobby serves REALLY TASTY food (and a good Manhattan as well):

Tempura cod sticks, aioli (the yellow sauce), steamed greens, potato balls, really good bread (which I actually had on since it was an olive bun).

I must have been exhausted from the trip since my last cocktail was at 6PM, water until bedtime at 9PM, as I’m up at 3:45am for my 6:30am flight to CDG (Paris). This is what 4AM looks like:

I was able to check-in on-line at the hotel AND get a printed boarding pass, so I actually had about an hour in the lounge:

And there was ICE at the open bar (I’m so easily amused):

It wasn’t until I was through final security that I realized there was no shopping! Shit – I still have two (well, I only had two) presents to try and buy:

  • Clay figurine (for The Lady Colonel)
  • Tacky T-Shirt (for Kathy)

Well, I thought there was no shopping until I saw someone with coffee – it was just a bit of a walk, and NOT MUCH selection. Imagine my surprise when I found both, though I had to take my second choice of t-shirts (in hind-sight I think I like it better anyway) – and the clay (more likely plastic or plaster) figurine came attached to a bag with a bar of olive oil soap – which The Lady Colonel requested from my upcoming fall trip to Paris/Epernay. Score! And JUST UNDER the deadline of boarding (15 minutes later).

Off to Paris – if only for a moment. This “business class” flight is a “little” better – the armrest, while not able to be put up, did move to the right an inch or two. And unlike on my previous flight, this one had the seatback that folds down for an extra tray table space:

Unlike on the “Main Line” flights – the attendants don’t seem to think aesthetics are important and leave the steamer covers on. Tacky if you ask me – even if there are only FOUR people (out of 20 seats).

And now Champagne, sigh. She even had to track down some Coke Zero – which at least came with caramels and chocolates….

Flight landed on time, BUT I have one hour forty-five minutes to change terminals AND go through border control (at least not baggage scan again). Even the Priority Line was sluggish – can’t imagine being able to do this without the Priority Line. I did get a moment in the Lounge (after a ten-minute wait to get in), with just enough time to look for a printer for my Alaska Boarding Pass (nope) and grab a drink and a bag of crisps (that would be potato chips to the non-British).

Finally, on the plane – this was my mood….

Luckily pre-flight Champagne helped, as did the after-takeoff Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve Scotch with a chaser of Coke Zero:

That would be an empty Mise en Bouche (bend spoon, a.k.a. “An Amusement”) of Scallop and Crispy Vegetables. Dinner itself (even though it was 11:30am and they called it “Lunch”) was smoked duck foie gras terrine, mango chutney with lime and ginger, mozzarella cheese timbale with pesto sauce, lime radish escabéche.

With a lovely glass of Côtes de Provence Château d’Olliéres Classic 2015 Rosè. The main (my choice of three) was the baked filet of beef with Banyuls wine, vegetable pearls and chestnuts with orange zest.

Did I remember to take a picture – no. But I had the 2011 St. Émillion Grand Cru Château Jean Faure. I didn’t even get a photo of dessert! I did get a photo of the forward lavatory – which, while not as nice as the SAS old Seattle-Copenhagen route, which was a “double-wide” with blinds and full-length mirror, this one was better than most, though I should have picked up the towellette before photo’ing.

At least you can “spread your legs” as the disgraced Idaho congressman introduced into our lexicon.

Watched a movie, took a nap, watched another movie and it was time for “breakfast”. This would be thyme potato crisp, sautéed asparagus, cèpe mushrooms with smoke-flavored cream, hazelnut cake, custard sauce, chocolate puff, and berry panna cotta. And look – more champagne!

Luckily I don’t eat like this every day!

The final picture, but not comment, is that these Air France 777-200’s are tired old beasts – I had a pop up screen (that you could angle for a better view), the seats behind me had small embedded screens:

The resolution is SOOOOO bad on these screens that any subtitles are virtually unreadable. Apparently, this fall, they will be all updated (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France). It can’t come soon enough. And hopefully they will move to lie-flat beds as part of the move.

Arrived YVR (Vancouver, British Columbia, CanadaLand) and got through Border Control with just my on-line Alaska Boarding Pass (whew!) and rolled my case to the next available Alaska flight back to Seattle. I arrive around noon – and my official flight isn’t until 9:30pm – luckily the flight gods were with me again, scored a window exit seat on an almost completely full flight and I was home and in bed by 2:30pm – almost 8 hours early.

Slept for four hours, was up for four hours, took a sleeping pill and woke up at my normal time.

Yahoo! Home and rested.


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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part Seven, Sifnos Anniversary Party

It’s not exactly time to say goodbye to Sifnos, but it is the final day. Last night I said I wasn’t going to make the hike (in the heat) the 20-minute walk from the road – this morning I caved, feeling that they’d gone to all the bother, at least I could show up.

Bus time again! We get dropped off at the goat trail leading to the farm and wait (luckily in the shade) for those driving to join us…

Guess I could have taken a helicopter in – though actually that just serves Athens.

This should give you an idea of the terrain of the goat path…

That would be the town of Kastro in the distance. Here is a better look:

What you need to realize is that ALL of the materials to fix up the house and build a small guest house had to come up this path – by human or donkey. Idyllic if you don’t mind hiking in and out.

And it even comes with its own chapel which they are hoping to renovate within the coming year.

The picture somehow manages to hide all the bird poop – it really does need a lot of work, and the boys, well, they can garden, but not plaster.


Mulberries (which stain the hell out of everything) …

And originally a cistern with waterwheel for grinding grains.

It really is a lovely quiet place (if it weren’t for that brutal hike in).

Hiked back out, caught the bus to “the big city”, Apollonia where I spied this sign – mind you, this the day AFTER the British decided to leave to the European Union.

Lots of Brits as part of the party so needless to say, the conversation later around the pool is Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

It seems that I’ve rather bonded with this particular British family….

Speaking of poolside food (they had the seafood risotto which looked heavenly) I tried their marinated octopus (7 Euro) that came with a caper/green onion potato salad that was stunning. I don’t usually rave about poolside food but this deserves it.

Such a hard life – after all that hiking I needed a little (or a lot) of relaxing, especially since tonight is the big party. But wait! More walking – at least this time there is a band to march along with. But seriously – is everything off the beaten path – on Sifnos, apparently.

At least at the end of this march there was Champagne!

And stunning views…

This should give you an idea of the place…

Big party, big food, lots of fun. I’m feeling all GREEK!

The band….

And the happy couple!

As the sun goes down….

Dinner begins….

Nice buffet spread….

The plans called for the party to go all night – with a spaghetti feed at 3AM. For those of us with less fortitude, buses start running at midnight, running every 40 minutes until dawn. These people know how to party, alas, I don’t. I’m on the first bus out – I’ve got a morning ferry back to Piraeus.


If you got to this post directly from FaceBook, you can find the rest of the trip in chronological order at http://blog.unclemarkie.com.

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  1. Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill Says:

    The Food And Family Look awesome and that plate right above me makes me awfully hungry. Can you explain about some of the dishes on the plate? What were they exactly inquiring minds want to know. It all looks pretty delicious. Thanks for sharing your adventure. One day want to go with my family to the island of Santorini

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Jun '16

Trip Report: Greece Reunion – Part Six, Hello Sifnos

On the boat after the chaos is “freestyle” boarding – assigned seats so I’m upfront (not “Comfort Class” which is upstairs) in 6A, and Nigel and Reuben are separated by a row in the back near the snack bar – and in this picture, totally absorbed in their zeros and ones:

Speaking of the snack bar….

It’s about two and a half to three hours from Piraeus to Sifnos – with one stop – and it’s a cute little port town to arrive in:

Just as with boarding, there is a scrum for cabs – all four of them on the island (just kidding). There were twelve of us on the boat that are attending the party – which is clocking in at 120+ people. Talk about a “destination” anniversary!

I think we (Nigel, Reuben, me) were the last out of the port, but we are already on “Greek Time” so no worries.

We are booked into the Hotel Alexandros at Platy Yialos which is a beach town (though we are on the hill overlooking the beach). More money that I wanted to pay (315 Euros for the three nights, single occupancy). That said, the place is really nice:

View from my bougainvillea shaded deck followed by the view up the hill to the breakfast room.

This would be my deck on the right…

And the pool area…

This anniversary is planned down to the last drachma…with buses arriving to take guest to dinner at another beach town, Vathi Beach.

Good to see old friends and meet new friends – I was last here 15 years ago for their 10th Anniversary Party.

GREAT breakfast spread in the morning…

And the view isn’t too shabby either…

A sampling of my usual breakfast over the next couple of days…

Complete with fresh squeezed orange juice…

Just a little housekeeping note here, the Greeks aren’t big on providing wash cloths, and they have a very odd (by US standards) way of disposing of soiled toilet paper – one that I will not miss.

I’d think if that was you plan you might put bidets (France) or wands (Vietnam) next to the toilet. Luckily, the shower (with wand) was right next to the toilet.

With nothing planned during the day Friday (most people are arriving today), pool time sounded good…

And maybe a little lunch as well…

With a Gin & Tonic (or two)!

I shouldn’t say there were no daytime activities planned – there were Greek dancing lessons for tomorrow huge celebration:

Here is a short video to give you the idea:

The evening activities are a reception at 7pm with free wine – and you know how I feel about my free wine:

There was white in there as well – but I think it’s locked in my ViVino account pictures. Nothing to write home about on the wines, frankly we have better Greek wines at the shop, but everyone was having a good time.

No official dinner tonight so Reuben, Nigel, and now daughter Jasmine and I hiked down the beach a bit for food. Man are the portions BIG! I had two starters – the grilled octopus and the fried cheese:

Reuben and Nigel both had the calzone (the size of a cow’s head) which they could have easily split one

And Jasmine had the burger which came with fries and a big salad – being gluten intolerant at least she could throw out the bun.

But wait! Dessert. Unfortunately, I spied waffles on the menu – not so much for me but out of amazement, which turned into Reuben ordering the Nutella Waffle:

Nigel the Fruit Waffle:

And Jasmine, the gluten-free Banana Split – honesty, where do these people put this food?

As for me – like my mother, I’ll just drink my dessert….

I think we will all be sleeping well tonight – the only downside is that at 10am the buses leave for the tour of David and Ethimios’ 13-acre farm.


If you got to this post directly from FaceBook, you can find the rest of the trip in chronological order at http://blog.unclemarkie.com.


2 Responses to “Trip Report: Greece Reunion – Part Six, Hello Sifnos”

  1. Fumi;s Kitchen Says:

    Just the pictures of the food and drink are so sexy and makes me want to jump on a plane and visit and maybe even live there. Everyone looks so happy and dancing around in the streets! Now that is the way to live life! Thank you for sharing just love the photos so much and wish you would speak more of the dishes and what they are made of. Thank you again for sharing these intimate moments publicly

  2. Chef Pabs Says:

    Enjoyed the food photos especially. The Greeks don’t play when it comes to food it seems. That fried octopus and the fried cheese looks the best and that nutella waffle my children would go nuts over that! Got to get over to Greece myself.

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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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One Response to “Trip Report: Greece Reunion — Part Five, Goodbye Athens”

  1. John Hall Says:

    I wish I’d stayed in Piraeus last time, and poked around there. Same thing with Livorno, and Civitavecchia. I think I’d have preferred sitting in a bar with locals, instead of doing multi hour tour bus trips for a few hours milling around in Florence, Rome and Athens

    BTW, your link http://blog.unclemarkie/ cannot find a server.

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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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One Response to “Trip Report: Greek Reunion – Part Three, Athens Neighborhood”

  1. John Hall Says:

    I remember a time in Seattle when one could find whole pigs heads at the Pike Place Market. I’m not sure their absence now is proof we’ve advanced.

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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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  1. UMTravels » Blog Archive » Status Report: Alaska Gold Says:

    […] disrupting my trip to Greece) is actually dragging down the partnership. As you can see in my POST, the Air France fleet is a bit […]

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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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