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Mon
28
Dec '15

Trip Report: Ruby Princess With Rache

It seems like it was only a couple of weeks since I was on the Ruby Princess – wait – it WAS just a couple of weeks ago!

New partner this time, and a different itinerary, but with all the same stops, just in the opposite direction.

Now – just point the arrows in the other direction – I couldn’t find a graphic for our trip, and it seems that next late summer they are making other stops coming down the coast.

Our trip started with an early morning Amtrak ride to Vancouver, BC where I spied this “private car” parked at King Street Station. It is the Silver Rapids, part of the California Zephyr fleet. They mostly rent out the cars to parties, tours, etc., though they do some of there on tours as well – check on this page – but sit down before you read the prices.

As for Rache and I, we didn’t have such luxury, but they did assign us four seats in Business Class which was nice and roomy.

I do wish they would run a mid-day train. Getting into Vancouver at noon means waiting around the condo until our room is ready. Luckily it was at 2:30 rather 4pm which is the real check-in time. The extra time allowed me a nap in the rec room, Rache a walking tour of the city, lunch and grocery shopping for both of us.

Once we got into the 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit, the view was lovely – we even had one of the rare units that has a tiny balcony:

Dinner tonight is with Solus+, a longtime friend (and dinner companion.

Solus+ is on the left, Rache is on the right. Great dinner of chicken thighs poached in Salsa Verde, a nice salad, loaf of bread, two bottles of wine (rosé to start, then red), and amazingly a bottle and a half of bourbon. Rach claims (rightly so) that it was Solus+ and I who did the most damage to the bourbon.

Out of the condo a little before noon, cab to Canada Place and a relatively smooth boarding process. I’m afraid I’m spoiling Rache with Business Class on the train (first through immigration/customs), Elite passenger check-in a boarding for the Ruby Princess, and the mini-suite that we got for $179 plus $45 port fees per person. I can’t believe I didn’t take any shots of the interior; you can find them here on the previous trip on the Ruby. Here is the layout from Princess:

Of course, you’d have to flip our, but that’s basically it, except double the size of the deck since we were the last cabin on the side:

Since we were actually on before 1pm, we actually got to do a sit-down lunch! Tasty!

And, of course, we had to have dessert…both of which were EXCELLENT:

No shots of the mandatory life-boat drill. Rache got some so maybe I’ll link to his trip report at some point.

The boat was all decked out for Christmas:

As was Vancouver, BC:

Before you knew it was we’re departing, passing under the Lions Gate Bridge:

Then quickly off to the LGBT gathering set for 5:30 in the Adagio Lounge, deck 16 aft:

There were at least 25 of us who showed up – the group pictured I’ve been on other cruises with – probably upwards of 10 previous cruisers – seems there are a lot of us who like the little under a week cruises.

When 7pm approached, a couple of the ring leaders invited us next door to SHARE, a Curtis Stone (LA restaurant guide whose restaurant, Maude, is in Beverly Hills) venture. They’d gotten a tabel for eight. What the hell, opening night, new restaurant put in while the Ruby was in dry dock – I’ll swallow the $39 (per person) upcharge.

And, oh my god, the food. There were enough of us that we got to try EVERYTHING on the menu:

Said menu:

By the time all the dishes started coming out it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a cover charge for us tonight – I celebrated by ordering a $48 bottle of wine.

Truly a stunning meal – I wa even more stunned when I realized that the wine was going to be comped as well. Had I know that, I would have suggested the following pairings:

Shramsburg Brut Rosé (California) for the charcuterie platter

Boutari Moscofilero (Greece) for the starters

Patz & Hall (California) & Ridge Vineyard Lytton Springs Zinfandel for the mains

Punch reviewed the resaturant at 2am after dinner – by the morning, it had 2,000 views, by afternoon 5,000 views… read the thread here. First post is the about half the menu, scroll down for the rest of it.

But, then, of course we had to go see some of the entertainment…

Something about “Colors Of The World” or some such thing…kept us amused until it was time to return to the cabin be explore how the pull down bed worked.

Of course, you have to have a “special key” to drop the bed down, but I happened to have one in my suitcase – it’s called an “emergency tool”:

Good for beds, electrical cabinets, hose bibs, random screws…

There is a “downside” of a wonderful meal of shared plates – at 3am you are starving, and unfortunately room service is merely a phone call away – and oh, did we order:

Because, of course, by 3am, all the ice had melted – that would be “Ice – Bucket Of” – if you look two pictures up, you can see Rach ordering the above (as seen in the mirror). I didn’t need really need breakfast when IT showed up at 9am. I went back to bed.

Onboard, you can always see where you are (and there is always “The Love Boat” on one of the channels):

At that moment, I was basically off my brother and sister-in-law’s places in Coos Bay/Corvallis – but this was my view:

The weather is starting to get a little better, at least no rain. I REALLY like this extra large balcony!

Another think about cruise ships is that they like to carve things, luckily not the guests. This was from the Elite Lounge on night two where it was salmon (most likely farm raised) on toast points with capers and Bermuda onions.

You should see what they do with a watermelon!

Another BIG gathering at the Adagio Lounge for the LGBT gathering – more cocktails, after we’d finished the cocktails brought from our suite…and then it was off to dinner – which the queue up for the dining room was MASSIVE so we opted for the buffet on the Lido Deck. My meal:

Not bad, but I prefer sit-down service – but hunger trumped waiting.

The entertainment for tonight was “The Uncle Markie Show” – featuring yours truly posing on a pedestal meant for a poinsettia:

And then there was tragedy on the “dis-mount”:

I hit the marble with a thud, and suddenly there were four Princess staff swarming in – luckily I’m padded (and was lubricated). Of course, I need a room service bacon cheeseburger to ease the pain. Please notice the absence of fries (bucket of ice not shown):

Our final day at sea was STUNNING – and made the balcony more worth it.

This give a nice idea of how big out balcony was, and these too give you an idea of how the weather was:

Another well attended (25+) gathering of the LGBT crowd – not bad considering that this isn’t a “gay” cruise:

No shots of dinner, just a couple of shots of dessert:


We shot for another show after dinner and I made it through ½ of one song – it was like a bad junior-high-school musical. I abandoned Rache to go grab another cocktail from the room, but walked past the remodeled Wheelhouse which now has another “upcharge” restaurant called “Salty Dog Gastro Pub” and found “the boys” trying out the other new venue:

Technically, that’s one of the waitresses in my puss print Santa hat.

And the menu – mind you, I was just eating the lukewarm leftovers which still weren’t bad!

Sigh, out last night aboard, and our final shot of the post. Moon off the balcony…

We had to vacate the cabin before 8am – but we had squirrelled away muesli, bananas and yogurt so we didn’t have to brave the morning buffet line or have a lackluster final sit-down meal.

Reporting to the Elite Disembarkation Lounge (thankfully in Club Fusion, one deck below so we didn’t have to brave the elevators) we had a little coffee, juice, pastries, though not enough for the MASSIVE delay in getting off the board. The phrase “clusterfuck” comes to mind. When we got to the lounge boarding groups were running 20 minutes early – always a good sign. And then there was the announcement. “There will be a delay in disembarkation, we will have details soon.”

We were an hour late disembarking, then another hour in line for customs. It seems that MANY of the passengers decided to ignore their designated times and swamped the customs/immigration lines. This seems to be a problem with cruises between Los Angeles and Vancouver. I hear even worse stories of cruises terminating or ending on Hong Kong. Must be a cultural thing. Serious points off to Princess for not checking people’s disembarkation numbers

Add another hour waiting for people to get to the airport transfer, and I’m starting to stress out. Our flight is at 1:25pm and I’d planned on getting a couple of hours of work in at the airport in the Board Room. By the time we got checked in and through security (EVEN with TSApre for both of us) I barely had time to slurp down two cups of soup, a salad, and a couple of drinks.

We were number one on the upgrade list, but First was stacked full, at least I had the seat next to me open, and we both got a free cocktail (me for my MVP Gold Status, Rach’s from the middle seat MVP who didn’t want hers).

A wonderful trip marred at the end, but still a fun way to spend five days.

[215.6]

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Fri
6
Oct '17

Trip Report: Birthday By The Bay

Another weekday, another trip – this one to the Bay Area to visit Mark and Onyx, and celebrate my 61st birthday!

It’s always lots of luggage when I visit – bringing wine to the boys. A lot of stuff for three nights!

Another early morning flight….

And no upgrade to first…

But plenty of room in the overhead!

Onyx was a saint (a hungry saint) and stopped at a small burger stand on the way home.

Pretty good stuff (even if the staff is a little surly).

Got settled in and took a nap before getting rousted for a dinner of take-out Ethiopian which, for some reason, I don’t have a picture of, even though the boys had company over – must have been having too much fun.

Was up late (Mark [the other one] was up until 4am working), so slept late. Hit BevMo in the afternoon for bourbon, rye, and ginger – because at 6pm we are due at Rosenblum Cellars on the Oakland waterfront for the start of my birthday (61) evening:

Devon is a member so the first flight is on the house….

A good time was had!

Even the hipsters who are playing Giant Zynga on the lawn:

We had some little nibbles, but it was off to dinner at Marica, starting with a Beefeater Martini in honor of Pucci:

It was a fine meal…. with free mussels for the birthday party!

Followed by swordfish for several of us:

Meatballs for Devon:

Salad and Calamari for Mark (I thought about those, almost wish I’d ordered them):

A damn fine birthday meal!

Friday was a laid-back day, I took BART into town to hook up with Rache who as on a day trip to the Brazilian embassy for our upcoming trip to Uruguay in November.

Takes about 15 minutes to walk to the station, and 20-30 minutes later, you are in downtown San Francisco. I found Rache in the Ghirardelli chocolate shop having a coffee:

We headed out for an afternoon of drinking, starting at The House of Shields:

Next up is the Pied Piper (which didn’t open until 4pm):

The Pied Piper is the home of this WONDERFUL mural by Maxfield Parish:

Just the three of us having scallops and Brussel sprouts as our dinner.

All the fun came to an end with an early Saturday morning run to the Oakland Airport for my return home. Had enough time for a real breakfast at Chili’s…

Which, as it turns out, sadly I wouldn’t need when I heard my name called:

But really, all I wanted was a place to sleep, not a huge breakfast burrito and a fruit place (though it looked REALLY good).

Next week is Kansas City, and the completion of my quest for Alaska MVP Gold 75K!

[? ? ?]

Fri
29
Sep '17

Trip Report: Trip Report: New Orleans For Pre-Birthday Celebration – Part Three

Another day, another adventure.

Didn’t feel like walking back to Touks or the Market – opted for The Trolley Stop Café. I wanted a Mimosa, but they were out of bubbles, so, Bloody Mary it was:

I have to say, nice amount of spice (you can SEE the black pepper), olives, pickled okra, TALL.

Not exactly NOLA food here, though they do have some on the extensive menu. After all the seafood over the last couple of days, I needed a Rueben:

That’s actually a really nice photo of the glistening fries and Rueben!

Needless to say, after that I went right back to bed for a nap, only to get up in time for the WorldMark Avenue Plaza “Wine Tasting” – always on the clock, this one.

Our server is from Mr. John’s Steakhouse, which is housed in the building. Two Washington State wines, one Lodi, California Chardonnay.

The wine wasn’t quite up to the quality of the Italians on Wednesday at the Ritz, nor the cheese/fruit/crackers. I took my glass and headed to the second floor balcony at the front of the building.

I can only imagine this during Mardi Gras because several of the parades come down St. Charles.

And there is no one else here, so I put up my feet in the humidity…

… and take in the people watching.

Next event on today’s schedule is at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which Rache and I are members from our previous visit. It’s an afterhours jazz trio in the lobby (which has good acoustics). I show up early, as the musicians are setting up, and wander the galleries, drink in hand – yes, they set up a bar, and I’m having Pedicabs:

I knew there was a reason I joined earlier in the year – discounted cocktails!

That would be the inventor of the PediCab. And “The Cab” itself, waiting for the band to set up.

And they also had an interesting food offering from a winner of some television show called: Chopped: Pride of New Orleans:

And here is Ms. Linda herself (and her son):

The dish is basically a New Orleans take on ramen – but using spaghetti noodles. I have the combo beef and pork:

As you can see, the PediCab to the right is in a 16-ounce beer cup.

It was nice to see their collection again – this might be my favorite museum in the US. Their choices art are “edgy” for what I consider “the South”.

It’s not all edgy – there are some oil portraits of influential people connected with Louisiana:

And this amazing quilt…

And the detail:

The band was OK – made better by free entrance (member) and discounted cocktails – and everyone seemed to be having a good time:

Sadly, the top floor of the gallery is cut off from the others, not letting the music carry through the upper galleries.

Caught the street car back to the condo – exhausted – but drink in hand.

Ended up getting fried chicken from the corner store (which is a small convenience store known for their fried chicken). A nice amount of grease to cut the alcohol.

Tomorrow, most of a day awaits me before I head back to the airport.

[? ? ?]

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Mon
11
Sep '17

Trip Report: Road Trip to Eastern Washington

In an incredibly busy work week for my consulting business, but the trip to the Tri-Cities had been planned for months.

Brought two laptops so I could keep up with the work.

We picked a smoky week to travel with the top down…

We stopped in Cle Elem for gas and a BQ Pulled Pork:

Needed more BBQ sauce, but not bad for a chain. Even stopped in at a sausage company – which if we have time, we’ll stop at on the way home. No way to keep sausage from rotting in a black car in the heat of Eastern Washington.

Sadly, the Telephone Museum across the street wasn’t open either. Off through the smoke, to Kennewick we go!

Saw this sign at a rest stop….

Guess they are trying to stop “Trucker Bombs”. But the ragtop looks good…even in the smoke.

Made it to Kennewick and got checked into the Days Inn.

Rache went out for beer, he came back with a cocktail glass for me (I’d bitched about the paper cups in the room)!

And I got the “workstation” set up…

Since I write reviews for Trip Advisor, decided to use them to find us a spot – Barley’s BrewHub:

I had the special – which was a DAMNED FINE Rueben:

Rache had a burger and rings (rings GOOD):

Not a full bar, so I’m ordering off the cider menu:

I tried the Huckleberry and the Cider Green Apple. OK – but not a Manhattan.

Rache sensibly went out for breakfast – I went for the in-house cold biscuits and gravy, and got another hour of work in before we need to check out and head out to the real reason for this road trip:

Yep, that’s the visitor center for one of the three branches of the Manhattan Project National Park, the others are in Los Alamos, NM, and Oak Ridge, TN.

We board a HUGE bus for the six people on the tour – the early tour (8:30am) was worthy of the big bus. Ours had a lot of “smoke related” cancellations. The tour starts with a 12-minute film, which I saw most of after having to step out for a client call. I turned in the project — think 7ft tall by 10ft tradeshow backdrop and more artwork for the case that turns into a podium. This is the bottom 1/3 of the backdrop…

But back to the tour – it’s 30-45 minutes on the bus to the Hanford Nuclear Reactor B site. We get more information on the bus:

Some (including me) would say that I’ve never met a geeky tour I didn’t want to take. Guilty.

If it wasn’t so smoky, you could see more of the complex. In the distance, you can see Reactor D (twice the size of B), which has been cocooned (in concrete):

And other various sites:

But back to Reactor B (there is no A, no C, no E) and the tour:

The face of the reactor

And a early robot used to pull fuel rods:

The control panel for the reactor:

The picture below shows the inspection plates removed. The Russians come once a year to inspect this reactor as part of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.

You can’t run a reactor without lots of water…but really, the it probably just a boondoggle by the inspectors to get a trip to The States. And below, the backup water supply to shut the reactor safely without power:

And more pictures!

And the intercom system. Uncle Markie wants!

And a final look at the core of 1500+ rods:

Outside is the one of the trains used to move nuclear materials (including waste) around the site. When they were constructing this place, there were 45,000 workers on site. WOW.

Another 45 minutes back to the visitor’s center, which is in a complex where there are three breweries, a winery, and a distillery. Guess which one we did first! Solar Spirits:

After the tasting (four tiny pours out of the six they make), I took two of the cups out to the trunk and poured some of my hooch – which got a favorable nod from the mater distiller, who then gave us a private tour.

And because Rache is a craft beer fan, we stopped at Shrub Steppes Smokehouse Brewery. Rache enjoyed the beer, we both found the BBQ a little on the dry side – we both had the meat platter.

After our early dinner, it was back in the car for the three hour twenty five minute return trip, using the 4-lane route which is mileage-wise longer, and probably 30 minutes quicker.

Home by 9PM!

[223.2]

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Thu
27
Jul '17

Trip Report: Headed Home, Bye, Bye To The South

Had to get up early today (another reason for sleeping in yesterday). 6am alarm as I wanted to be out of the house by 8am for the long drive from Richmond to Nashville.

Here was our route this week:

We did a little drive through for our breakfast after a piece of toast with The Colonels but pretty much drove straight though. I looked at the mileage on the rental car receipt —666 miles. Guess that makes it the Devil’s Handiwork.

Got checked in a walked over to a different terminal to get us into The Admirals Club so we could eat and drink free food and booze. Pretty comfortable:

Badly lit picture, sadly.

The return flight was less full than our incoming, both Rache and I had the seat next to us open, and being in Premium Class, the booze was flowing.

Makes me glad I didn’t drive to the airport. Much safer to grab and Lyft home.

Sadly, Rache has stuff going on in the morning so out the door he goes for his four-hour drive home.

Me, I’ll get to sleep in tomorrow as work isn’t until 1:30pm.

[? ? ?]

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Wed
26
Jul '17

Trip Report: Kentucky, Day Three

Oh, the joys of sleeping in. And sleep in, I did. Made it to 10am. Rache had advised The Colonels to not worry about me, that I’d gladly eat leftover biscuits and gravy. Luckily, the gravy was simmering when I padded downstairs in my bathrobe for coffee.

No picture, sadly – but MY they were tasty!

What I did get were some exterior shots of The Colonels Southern Hospitality base they call, Frog Hallow:

After I’d showered and shaved, we were off to today’s distillery, about 45 minutes from The Colonels in the town of Danville. Wilderness Trail Distillery is the name, and once again, showed up at 15 after for an “on the hour” tour. We went off and explored the countryside a bit before returning. Even found a little tobacco growing (sadly, not “wacky tobaccy”:

Back at the distillery:

Loved their sink stand in the bathroom – of course, I would have had it open up, in the form of a cabinet. No room in my current house for it.

Here are some shots from out tour – starting with the lab, which is unusual in that it was the original beginning of the distillery – they made under contract lots of yeast for various distilleries, troubleshot other people’s yeast problems – and now offer master distilling courses. Cart before the horse, as it was. For Wilderness Trail, they use a “sweet mash” process where is where all new yeast is used in the batch, as opposed to a “sour mash” process that holds back a portion of the previous run.

It all starts with the grain:

And then the cooking in the mash and still room:

That’s a lot of creamed corn!

All of the corn in their product (minimum 51%) comes from fields less than 30 miles away.

This is their centrical force proof safe where I had a sample of the 132-proof white dog:

And here is their bottle line – defiantly low-tech.

They are due to release their first bourbon this December – having aged it four years – that’s how young this distillery is. Th current releases are a dark rum (local sorghum) aged in old Four Roses barrels. They will switch to their own used barrels starting in December when they bottle their first Bourbon.

The tour and tasting was $7 (free for active/retired military/police/fire) and included a free shot glass.

One the way back to The Colonels, we stopped for an afternoon snack – and something else Rache had heard of, but never tried:

Yep, a rolling White Castle food truck. Makes me wonder if the pad they are working on is going to be the new home of a White Castle Burger stand.

Or other stop was a return to a Liquor Barn because I’d seen an Old-Fashioned glass with a retro Indiana postcard image on it at the store in Lexington.

I didn’t see any on the shelf in glassware, but I must have had a puzzled look as staff came up to help. She found a pair in a gift basket, which she gladly cut open to sell us just the glasses. GREAT customer service! And yes, they did have 32 Craft Beers on tap – I barely got Rache out of there since you could buy and try.

Before long we were back in our temporary home, each of us taking quick naps since The Colonels had invited neighbors over for dinner. At this point, I let Rache take over since neither of us have pictures, and he is more eloquent than I, and I’ve included his observations of yesterday’s visit to Barb as well:

Besides bird-dogging booze, Markie also included some visits of people he has known through his extensive travels. Barbara recently moved to a new (to her) home in Lexington. Even tho’ she was in the middle of a kitchen remodel, Barbara took time to greet Markie and me. Those two had a chance to catch up while I slowly made friends with Barbara’s dog Petey. It took a while form to feel comfortable with us, but he finally did. That pooch is full of personality.

And we ended up spending two nights with Eric and Kate. They are retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonels and are just full of Southern hospitality. The first night, Kate made a southern dinner of fried pork chops, green beans, fresh black-eyed peas, summer squash, and some stuff I’m forgetting. It was all delicious. We finished the night sitting outside and observing the fireflies. 

The next night, after Markie’s and my visit to Wilderness Trail, our hosts invited some neighbors to a lovely dinner party. I gotta tell you, this evening was like a festive scene out of Steel Magnolias. Kate outdid herself with putting together a lovely spread for nine of us that culminated with a stunning key lime cheese cake that she made. It was all just over the top amazing. 

Kate and Eric were incredibly gracious hosts and comfortable to be with. Friday morning felt like saying adieu to longtime friends. And I’m now Facebook friends with the neighbors.

I had worried that Rache wouldn’t have a good time – but I think I can put that to rest!

Eventually we headed to bed, as an early alarm was going off for me (another reason to sleep in yesterday!).

Tomorrow we are headed home, many things unseen, a reason for another visit.

[? ? ?]

 

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Tue
25
Jul '17

Trip Report: Kentucky, Day Two

Once again, I’m out of bed before I’d like. The hazards of planning a trip with multiple sites to visit each day.

Rache went for his usual morning saunter, and then had the leftover ribs from last night. I stayed in bed and then had my ribs and mac cheese. Pretty good breakfast. The Microtel advertised a continental breakfast, but, they too, had a vat of gravy – sadly, not enough biscuits to go around.

First stop today is the Buffalo Trace Distillery which produces more bourbon than anyone else, under about thirty brands. Pappy Van Winkel, Buffalo Trace, Sazerac are a few – think they have Blanton and Weller as well. If you click on the link it will take you to a list of their brands. This place is HUGE:

And they let you wander around before/after the tour (which is FREE!).

As usual, tours are on-the-hour, and we show up 45 minutes before – just long enough to have missed a tour. At least we got to wander.

Our tour guide is a retired Boeing employee from Cle Elum – he was amused that a couple of Washingtonians were on the tour:

Off we go to one of the aging warehouses. Unlike Maker’s Mark (and many other distilleries), Buffalo Trace doesn’t rotate its barrels from the bottom to the top – they just use whiskies from various levels in various brands.

Next up was the building that they hand bottle all the Blanton’s Whiskey:

Everything is done by hand; filling, labeling, wax sealing, bagging, and boxing.

But, what we are really waiting for it the tasting at the end of the tour. We had two choices between four samples. I ignored the vodka and the white dog (unaged whiskey) and went straight to the Buffalo Trace and the Eagle Rare.

The poor kid at the end of the bar was Italian, and didn’t turn 21 until next month – he got root beer, which they also make. Like I said, I went for the whiskey!

It even came with “dessert” which was a Bourbon Crème, that had it not been free, I wouldn’t have tried – but it was good – especially with the bourbon laced candy they were handing out. Unlike Bailey’s, it’s real cream and needs to be refrigerated after opening.

Sadly, they wouldn’t let me into this room with their most expensive products:

We needed a little lunch snack, and since it was National Hot Dog Day, we swung through a Sonic Drive-In since they were doing dollar dogs. Sorry – no pictures of us chowing down on cheap dogs.

After Buffalo Trace we were off to Woodford Reserve. Rache and I had been drinking Woodford Reserve on the flight out and I wanted to show him the distillery, but more important, the drive to get there which is through gorgeous horse country.

Yep, those are million-dollar HORSE BARNS; heated floors, the works.

We got to Woodford – of course, 15 after the hour. We opted to not take the $14.00 tour (or $8.00 for just the tasting), took a couple of pictures, browed the gift shop and left. These will give you an idea of the place:

And one of the barrel-aging houses nearby:

Next up was a cocktail visit with Barb – my travel agent for Princess Cruises. Out of kindness (and laziness), no photos of her “new to her” home since it’s in the middle of moving in and a kitchen renovation. She has a dog, Petey, cute as heck, that, of course, Rache instantly bonded with.

The is the part of the trip where all my friends come into play – and our next stop is at The Colonels, who last I saw in Santa Fe last November.

Don’t we look all comfy!

No need to haul the luggage upstairs – make the stair climber do it.

And speaking of comfy – look at our bedroom. Thanks Colonels!

The evening meal was one of southern hospitality — fried pork chops, green beans, fresh black-eyed peas, summer squash, and some stuff I’m forgetting. Needless to say, we slept well.

One more full day of exploring, tomorrow.

[219.2]

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Mon
24
Jul '17

Trip Report: Kentucky, Day One

As is usual when I travel with Rache, he is up and out in the morning while I sleep in – though today, not as late as I’d like. Rache went to a Waffle House nearby, I opted for the free breakfast at the hotel. Nothing like biscuits and gravy to start the day!

Our first stop in Bowling Green, Kentucky is at the site of the “real” Bowling Green Massacre (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, CLICK HERE). The fake one was a Trump spokesperson’s talk of radicalized US Iraqi’s plot on Bowling Green. In a humorous twist of irony, click on this link: https://www.bowlinggreenmassacrefund.com/ — which if you go to donate, you are taken to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) site to make a donation.

A massacre DID occur in Bowling Green – when a sink hole opened under the National Corvette Museum and swallowed nine pristine Corvettes – so our first stop is to the museum.

Lots of pretty cars….

And a few crumpled ones that the museum decided not to restore…

And here is the site of the massacre….

The yellow line is the cave outline, the red, the sinkhole line.

And you can even pick up your new custom ordered Corvette at the museum. The factory is on the other side of the freeway – sadly, factory tours are cancelled until 2019:

That was a fun couple of hours! And if you needed air for your tires, the Michelin Man was stationed in the parking lot:

In hindsight, I wish we pocked our head into the classic car sales lot next door:

Next, we headed to the Corsair Distillery in downtown Bowling Green – but the tour wasn’t for almost an hour so we opted for the Historic Railpark and Train Museum that we passed on our way into town:

Luckily, we tagged along with a tour that had started a couple of minutes earlier…

We got a tour of the engine:

The mail car:

The dining car:

There was also a sleeper car:

And the President’s Car (president of the L&N railroad):

Along with getting to see from the outside several other cars awaiting restoration, including a hospital car:

And what they call “The Jim Crow” car which was divided into Whites Only and Blacks Only seating:

The caboose is refurbished, and rented out for birthday parties and the like:

After the tour, we walked through the museum proper:

Once again, we are off schedule for doing the Corsair Distillery tour, and I need food! Biscuits and gravy only last so long. Hello Gerard’s Tavern:

Yeah! A full bar! Sadly, the bartender is the manager who said, “I’m the guy that hires the bartenders and I don’t put one on for lunch service.” But it wasn’t bad – the Old Fashioned that I have in DancingBear’s honor.

And the food was great – I had the fried chicken sliders, the right amount of food for me:

We were still early for the Corsair Distillery tour, so we poked around:

Turns out, we got a personal tour – as we were the only two on it:

These are the two still they use for their vodka and gin like spirits. All the bourbon production has moved to Nashville now that craft distilleries are OK in the city.

This is the mash bill for making their gin…

And warehouse storage:

And high-tech bottling line. All the labels are hand applied:

Fun tour, but now it’s time to head to Louisville…and sadly, a two-hour backup because of a big rig rollover…

Tonight, we are the Microtel Hotel on the edge of Louisville, Kentucky. Oddly, no photos. Not as nice as the Baymont, but it still had a mini-fridge in the room.

I DID get photos of our dinner at Mark’s Feed Store – a BBQ place:

Rache and I both got the same thing – the 6-rib basket. Comes with two sides. Sadly, we could have shared one order. We maybe could have skipped the fried pickles – but I always have to try them:

And the 6-rib meals…

Because we were first time customers they kicked in two slices of buttermilk pie (a little sweet for me) and a bottle of their mustard-based sauce. Too bad they didn’t have a full bar!

Back to the room and our usual routine. Rache in bed early, UncleMarkie watching TV into the night.

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Sat
22
Jul '17

Trip Report: Headed To The South

Well, it’s early Monday morning and Rache and I are headed to Nashville (though not staying there).

I got the luck of the draw with one of the only three seats vacant next to me:

Rache was less lucky:

But we were in Premium Class on Alaska, so that means free cocktails (and a little snack box):

Landed a little early and it was off to pick up our rental car, or shall I say, mommy-van:

It was a buck more expensive than the compact, and much easier on old men’s tushies.

Nothing special about our Baymont Inn & Suites room in Bowling Green – about an hour up the road from Nashville in Kentucky:

And we stocked up on supplies at the local Liquor Barn before checking in…

Couple of cocktails and it was off to dinner at Pub by Novo up the road a bit, across the freeway:

Hot, but not hot enough to not eat/drink outside. A Manhattan for me, a local craft IPA for Rache:

Followed by the fish tacos for me, and a wedge salad and an order of buffalo wings (not shown) for Rache:

Back at the hotel, Rache was asleep long before I, but he actually sleeps better with the TV on which worked for me.

Tomorrow, our sightseeing begins!

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Sat
27
May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part Four – The Final Chapter

Check out is at noon and we make it – guess it would be nice to show you where we are staying:

On the ground floor is Mr. John’s Steakhouse – definitely upscale. Here is the backstory about Mr. John, from a plaque in the lobby:

The nice thing about The Avenue Plaza is that its right on the St. Charles Street Car line:

From the condo to Canal Street is like 15 minutes:

We are headed to the Waterfront (also Harrah’s Casino):

This is Rache’s day, so we are heading over to New Algiers, which means a trip across the Mississippi!

Rache wanted to eat at this place in New Algiers called the Dry Dock:

It’s half a block from the dock.

And has a wonderful “divey” quality to it:

We both ordered specials off the chalk board:

Rache had the boiled shrimp with fried green tomatoes and lump crab meat in a red pepper sauce (not bad for a “dive” bar!).

I opted for the fried catfish with crawfish cream sauce over mash potatoes – with vegetables I didn’t eat:

Lordly, that was a FINE meal.

Only slightly marred by the non-stop coverage of what was going down on Lee Circle…

Back outside in the real world, for some odd reason, there is a statue of Louis Armstrong in New Algiers – he wasn’t from there, nor lived there:

Soon it was time to head back to the city and collect our bags from the condo.

Our last stop of the trip in New Orleans was to get another drink from Kevin…who showed us his cherry.

Technically, cherries – I had to buy some Tums from what we have done today…

And if you look at the bill, these are the cheapest, high quality, drinks in town!

Life in the Big Easy is hard!

A couple of city shots on the way to luggage collection….

Now THAT is a BBQ!

Before you know it, we are back on the plane:

Flying into the sunset:

I already miss this city.

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Thu
25
May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part Two

Our big stop of our first full day in New Orleans is The Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Both of us had been here (me, several times) for a show years ago which I refer to as “White Trash Male Erotica”. You will find a link to my blog posts HERE. This museum never fails to move me. I no longer even look up what is on exhibit because it’s consistently good, with a bit of edge to it.

The Ogden is located right next to the WWII Museum – a museum that you could spend DAYS. Here is the view from the outdoor patio, including a Carnival Cruise line ship in the background:

Here are some of the highlights:

That would be Elvis, Jesus, and Robert E. Lee.

That would be Abraham Lincoln peering through the doorway.

Some of the above were from the special exhibit, but most were from the permanent collection, which they do a very good job of rotating the artwork.

I had been planning on buying a membership to the museum even before they let us in for free because they thought we were state residents – and convinced Rache to split a dual membership with me so that we could get the reciprocal memberships to places like the Tacoma Art Museum and Experience Music Project, now remarketed as MOPOP (which costs $25 a pop to get into). Dual Membership = $100, $25 cheaper than the same level at TAM (Tacoma Art Museum).

So, if anyone wants to borrow our membership cards, let us know. The more it gets used, the better value.

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Wed
24
May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part One

With the late train arrival, my usual first night visit to Houstons is out – turns out they close at 9:30. In New Orleans, 9:30PM. How VERY odd. But we were hungry so we went to Poseidon, which is just across the street from The Avenue Plaza. Usually, I only go there during Happy Hour. We started out with a couple of Sazeracs, though they didn’t have Rye, so we opted for Bourbon:

And caught a look at the Happy Hour menu in case we want to come back tomorrow…

For some reason, I didn’t even take any pictures of the room – but if you search for Avenue Plaza on the blog, some will pop up.

We both got a good night’s sleep though on our usual off kilter schedule, with me staying up late and Rache getting up early. He spent the morning while I slept exploring the Garden District on foot.

We got out of the condo a little after noon – headed towards the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

New Orleans is not all put back together, as evidenced by this shell held up with steel:

Our favorite (though we weren’t there together) restaurant, Purloo, had gone out of business on my last visit. We were surprised and happy there was a new restaurant in its place (Toups South) – and just as good as Purloo.

Nothing like a couple of cocktails to start the day!

I had the fried pulled pork special (think squished in a loaf pan, mostly frozen, then sliced), which came with all sorts of little sides:

Rache had the crawfish balls (there was some fancy name for them, but that’s the concept). Also tasty!

The place wasn’t all that busy, so we had plenty of time to talk travel with our server:

The restaurant is in the same building as the museum so I stopped by and checked out their bargain used cookbooks table – came away with three (which I now have to carry around all day).

Next stop was Dryades Market – basically a green grocer, fish market, meat market, with a bar in the center.

As luck would have it, my favorite bartender (Kevin) was on duty:

Yes, there seems to be some good old-style New Orleans day drinking going on!

I’m sort of setting the agenda today, but everything I’ve suggested would have been on Rache’s list as well with the exception of swinging by Walgreens to check Bourbon prices.

Here are some random city shots from our walk:

Before this was a neighborhood being gentrified, it was a poor black neighborhood, and before that a poor Jewish neighborhood.

Art is everywhere in this city. Even the Doppler Radar Dome on one of the local TV stations has a bit of class to it:

Along the walk, I stumbled on this very nice wine shop – does this make the trip tax-deductible?

Though I will say that Jim’s comment was – they are storing the bottle upright, and high up in the space, meaning the corks will start drying out no matter how much air conditioning you have.

I was a little surprised when we got to Lee Circle that Robert E. Lee was still atop. I’d been reading where all the Confederate Statues were coming down – as it turns out, Lee was on the chopping block with initial police barricades already set up, and lots of people taking selfies:

Our big stop of the day is The Ogden Museum of Southern Art which I’m going to save for a separate post since there will be a lot of pictures.

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Sat
20
May '17

Trip Report: Headed To New Orleans, The Long Way

Looks like May is turning into Uncle Markie’s Train Month – though on National Train Day, I wasn’t on the train.

Rache is coming on this adventure with me, so off to the airport we go.

I didn’t realize that they could make a Cosmo in the Board Room until I heard someone asking for one, and the signature sound of a shaker!

Didn’t get upgraded to First, but pulled Premium. I think of it as Alaska’s answer to “shit we have too many 50K and 75K’s” to keep happy:

Premium is still three across, but it comes with 4-5″ more leg room, AND free cocktails and snack box:

Luckily, I got the luck of the draw – a 20-something chatty guy headed to Europe on a “buddy pass” as far as NYC:

We both look drunk and happy – I explained the rules of “premium class” to him – that applied even though he was a “non-rev” passenger, so lots of free booze for him.

Good weather as we are landing….nice views on landing:

So, this flight was a “red-eye” – left at 10PM, arrived at 6AM.

NOT my best time of the day, but I soldiered on since Rache had “a plan”.

The plan was to get a couple of trains from JFK to Brooklyn for breakfast with friends at The New Apollo Diner.

Clearly, I wasn’t awake yet since there are no pictures of the food (I had the Eggs Benedict because that’s something I don’t make at home). Luckily, I do have a shot (thanks Rache!) of our group:

After breakfast, we are off to Penn Station and the Amtrak Lounge:

Had I thought it though earlier, I’d have given Russ notice since he works in the neighborhood – Rache was luckier with the friend who couldn’t join us for breakfast:

The Amtrak Lounge is a little “tired”, with an odor of years of dust on the chairs – hopefully, they will redo this lounge like they have in Chicago, which has two floors, showers, and a real “first-class” feel to it.

Knowing there was no lunch on the train we both explored the station finding fresh-made, to-go sushi and other delights.

Next up, the train from Penn Station in New York to New Orleans.

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Mon
20
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Headed Home

And, once again, I hand the floor over to Rache:

The days of ending an adventure are a mixture of sadness and goodbyes with the anticipation of getting home and comfortable back in the routine. I know Li’l Miss loves the routine time. I’m excited to see her.

Once again, I was the first to arise. I have become accustomed being the one to rid the kitchen of the morning lizards. Thankfully, just turning on the lights takes care of most the evictions. And even more thankfully, my bravery (meaning lack thereof) was not tested with a defiant one.

Tekita once again provided a hearty breakfast. What made this morning unique was the house bustling with people. Alain’s father arrived with some groceries. His mother arrived from a different direction. I was relieved to see her because she had been having back pain issues. Alain’s friends arrived. And contractors arrived. They were doing work beyond the patio to the area of the backyard where the banana trees grow.

Breakfast was also unique in that there was a little ceremony in the dining room. You see, Alain and the others are believers in an Afro-Cuban religion [Markie note: Santeria]. I don’t know a lot about it, but it came from Africa and their deities were given Christian names (like Saint Michael) in the 17th century as a way to avoid being punished by the slave owners. When the owners saw the slaves praising the names of Christian saints, they assumed that the slaves had embraced Christianity. Not so. The slaves gave the deities Christian names to avoid beatings and whippings. Smart, those slaves. Anyway, while Markie and I were at the table dining on scrambled eggs, a mat was put down next to Markie by the shrine, a visitor laid face down on it and Alain did some sort of ritual. It was short but powerful. Alain is somewhat of an authority on the Afro-Cuban religion and was to speak at the conference in New York City last year except his visa was denied by the US Embassy in Havana. Only his partner Luis was allowed to attend, where I met him and attended some of the sessions at the conference. As Alain Ramirez. I’m so glad I kept that name tag because Alain was visibly moved when I handed him the lanyard a few days before. 

Gema arrived early enough to take me for a little walk to the sea. Markie opted to pack (which I had already done). The Alamar neighborhood was built right at the beginning of Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union. All the houses are the same design although each occupant makes their individual homes all unique so Alain’s neighborhood does not seem monotonous. I must say his home is among the tidiest and maintained. There are also massive apartment buildings (again, Soviet era) that are not maintained on the exterior. Alamar is on the east side of Havana, has a population of about 200,000 and has exactly two unreliable Wi-Fi hotspots in public parks. That’s why you didn’t hear from me on this trip.

Anyway, as we walked towards the sea, Gema’s dad drove around the corner. She was happy to see her dad, who has Parkinson’s and I must say his driving was much steadier than his physical condition. I’ve met that man twice and he has a constant smile. Even tho’ they live in the city, they raise goats, chickens, turtles, and I’m not sure what else. When I was first at their house, a farmer was picking up some young animals to take to a farm. A good little side business I would imagine. 

Markie here:

Too bad I didn’t get the camera out sooner, all I caught were the last two goats (out of four) to go into the trunk of a farmer’s car along with a bag of chickens and a bag of pheasants – all live, and all headed to be fattened up on another families’ farm. Surreal to see this in a suburban neighborhood.

Back to Rache:

OK, so finally we get to the sea. It’s not a beach, because it’s all jagged rocks. Leave it to the Soviets to build a beach front with no sand. The decayed remnants of two concessions booths and an entrance to a bomb shelter were all that is visible. Gema was saying that the shelter, now sealed off, was an entire city with huge kitchens and even a movie theater. The Soviets built Alamar for Russians and they were going to protect them from the US.  Anyway, the views are beautiful, the water very clear, and the air fresh. No pollution from car fumes at all. My flip flops were not sturdy enough and they slipped on the uneven, jagged rocks where I have a little scrape (bled a bit) on my foot to remind me of my time at a Soviet beach. 

Gema and I returned home. I quickly showered and soon we were off. Now some of you know that I pack school supplies (and toys) and try to find schools and it’s that are needy. I had informed Alain of my practice and he contacted a local school director who said that donations had to be handled through the Ministry of Education. We had made plans to drop off the supplies at the ministry on the way to the airport. But when I serendipitously found Escuela Primaria José Marti in Old Havana, Alain worked magic on the director and she was more than happy to not involve the ministry. So back to Old Havana and back to “my school.” We went up a flight of stairs to the principal’s office. It was stifling hot and I’m glad I had my wash cloth used as a sweat dauber. I unpacked an overflowing Trader Joe’s bag full of supplies and she was very happy. The director informed Gema that some schools have “Spanish godfathers” but here in the poor area of Havana, there are no such things. Anyway, I have offered to become ‘The Godfather of Escuela Primario José Marti.’ [Since being home, the school director and I have been in email contact. I may be hitting you up for school supplies one of these days.] Nothing would make me happier than to help support kids in poverty. And to have visited the school and met with the director makes it even more personal. I am still filled with so much emotion. The director took my email address (she couldn’t remember her address since she rarely uses it) and will write me. Gema informed her that I have access to Google Translate. And we left. In my wildest imagination, I never came up with a scenario like this where I actually have the opportunity to “adopt” a school. This was the most emotional part of the trip for me.

Then it was off to the airport (José Marti International —- that guy is a major figure in Cuban revolutionary history). At the curb, we started to say our goodbyes when all of a sudden Gema burst into sobbing tears, having a difficult time saying ‘goodbyes.’ And I felt the same but held it together a bit more than she did. In such a short time, we had developed such a strong, emotional connection and we didn’t want it to end. Alain, Gema, Markie, and I all embraced and wiped tears. And then Markie and I left to enter the terminal. I turned back two or three times to get an additional goodbye wave in but that act just sort of prolonged the goodbye tears.

You guys, this was one hell of an adventure. Once again, the love, joy, and compassion of the Cuban people were on constant display. The warmth of the people is not allowed to be shared with us here in America. If the damn governments of both the U.S. and Cuba would get out of the way so people to people diplomacy would kick in, I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for Cuba to once and forever be free from the burden of foreign influence that has plagued this island since 1492. 

Markie here:

When the check-in counter finally opens (Alaska site says arrive 4 hours before, but the counter doesn’t open until 3.5 hours before, oddly, like our outbound flight) I quickly weigh our bags, Rache’s now empty of school materials, much of with he’d packed in a spare duffel bag I gave him at the beginning, but it’s still telling of how we travel.

My checked bag (in kilograms):

Rache’s checked bag (in kilograms):

And for some reason, we weren’t able to carry on “White Weapons”. Weapons white guys use? Or “Tough Objects”. Splain it Ricky (a nod to Ricky Ricardo, the legendary Cuban showman married to Lucille Ball.

While there is a lounge at the airport, the reviews I’ve read on The Points Guy, don’t have terribly nice things to say about it. We hung out in the terminal, had a ham and cheese, a couple of Cuba Libre (second one on the house because of an ass grabbing incident that for once, didn’t involve us).

Our plane arrives, the cleaners and security arrive, we eventually board:

Nope, there are no sky bridges at the airport.

One of the ways I talked Rache into joining me at the last minute on this trip (10 days before) is that I offered to give him some of my Gold Upgrades so he could sit up front with me (though he sleeps so easily on long plane flights it might not have made a difference). Don’t we look comfortable?

And soon, the food and booze start flying….

The full menu:

I went for the chicken…

Got through Immigration and Customs in Los Angeles with no problems even with both of us having Cuban Booze and Cigars.

Caught a couple of more cocktails in the Alaska Lounge in LA before our flight home which was schedule to arrive at 2:30am, putting us back at the house around 3:30 – where we both had a nightcap before bed to shake off the effects of flying all day.

Rache was gone by the time I was up, having swapped shifts with Jimmie so I didn’t have to be at the shop until 1:30pm – actually got a full night’s sleep!

There will be a couple of more Cuban Adventure posts with stuff that didn’t get enough attention – people, cars, architecture.

Until then…

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Sun
19
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Part 4

Take it away Rache (I’ll just add pictures!):

Markie’s and my last full day in Cuba was certainly filled with wonderful experiences. This entire trip has been just one amazing experience after another. 

After another amazing breakfast, were sped off in Frank’s new sedan. Smaller than the big old cars, it’s certainly more reliable. And Frank is a friendly, masterful driver. 

Our first stop was at the Museum of the Revolution. It’s in the former presidential palace. Batista was the last resident prior to the Revolution. I had been here in 2015 with the “Christmas Quintet.” We ambled along and read some of the descriptions. This time, Gema secured a guide. Alina only spoke Spanish, but Gema translated. I must tell you, Gema gets more confident and competent each day. She could easily communicate very well if and when she travels to the US. Anyway, I certainly came away with a much better understanding of the history after our tour. And we spent some time out back where Granma is housed, along with several very important military objects that are just out in the open. Including the one and only remaining plane called “Marina.” Also included was the type of missile that shot down the US spy plane in October 1962 and the remains of the fuselage of the spy plane. There is an eternal flame that honors Cuba’s “New Patriots.” It was lit by Fidel on April 19, 1989.  You know, it’s pretty interesting seeing international perspectives from different eyes. Again, it seems to me that governments are more the problem than the solutions in so many instances.

After the museum, we took a walking tour. Our first destination was the Capitolio. It’s a small replica of our Capitol in D.C. It was begun way before the revolution and it’s being completed now. The Cuban parliament will move there upon completion.

Next was a brief walk by of Central Park. Think of it as a plaza but surrounded by streets instead of buildings. It’s small and is famous for guys arguing about baseball (and other topics) during the day and at night is a place for hooking up with certain people of pleasure. A “Pay to Play” sort of deal. You can use your imagination to fill in the details.

We were running out of fuel rapidly by the time we reached the cathedral so we had a bit of a refreshment outside overlooking the house of worship. Markie and I had a daiquiri while Gema and Alain each opted for colas. There was even live music.

After a brief “look-see” in the cathedral…

Oh, we stepped into the bar Floridita, home of the daiquiri and made famous by Hemingway. The place was crazy busy so we walked in and out.

As we were hoofing our way on the narrow streets of Old Havana towards our final destination in the city when a most serendipitous event occurred. We walked past an elementary school just as the kids were readying to eat lunch. The door was open and I gazed in, looking at the uniformly uniformed students and admiring the teachers. Gema asked the person at the front door if we could see. “Yes, but not photos.”  Esquela Primaria José Marti is my kind of school. It serves kids from very poor families from the neighborhood. I was able to view the center hallway and then the cafeteria. The cook was washing the metal trays before the next group of kids entered. You know, school energy everywhere is similar.

So, as Markie, Gema, and I were looking around, Alain was asking if they took donations of supplies. I brought a whole bunch of things, from playground balls to Fiskar scissors, pencils, colored, pencils, crayons, sharpeners and I don’t know what all else. Before our arrival, Gema had inquired at a school near where she lives if they could accept donations. They said they would have to go through the Ministry of Education. Well, at José Marti, they were eager to bypass that step. So today, on our way to the airport, we’re going to briefly stop back at the school and drop off the supplies. And in a gesture typical of folks in poverty (at least what I’ve observed), the school is going to share the supplies with another school that is close by. To me, dealing directly with a school is so much better than going through some damn bureaucracy. 

After that brief stop, we continued without interruption to the Havana Club Rum Museum. We arrived with about 15 minutes before the English language tour so we were able to sit for a quick Cuba Libre (rum and coke). The tour was about 35 minutes and was very informative. And of course, a sample of 7-year old rum was waiting for us at the conclusion of the tour. 

Then it was back to the house for lunch. Don’t kid yourselves, it was a feast. Yucca, chicken, red beans and rice (a change from the usual black beans), and salad filled the table. So tasty. I used to say that “Cuban food” and “food in Cuba” are two different things. Finding home cooked meals like this in Cuba has increased my appreciation of “Cuban food in Cuba” to near god-like status. So good.

After a brief pause, we walked over to a busier boulevard and hailed a cab. We were off to the beach I had visited in December 2015. We also experienced a bit of relativity. First of all, it was a ‘red flag’ day so no swimming.  The wind was pretty strong. I was basking in the warmth of the water and air while Alain and Gema were huddled with towels around them. They had no intention of dipping their toes in the ‘freezing’ water. They endured and I savored until Markie broke the tie and opted to go back home. I can never get enough beach time. What seemed chilly for Alain and Gema seemed very warm to me. 

We had lots of time to relax before a meal of leftovers and Alain’s insanely delicious malanga fries. Those things are addictive, especially dipped in delicious Cuban honey. Oh man.

This is a most welcoming house. Alain’s friends arrive and seem a part of the family. I feel beyond honored that their casa and hearts opened themselves to Markie and me. This has truly been a blessing that I feel lucky to have experienced. 

Markie here:

This was an incredible bit of luck to find as generous a host at Alain and his extended family. Tomorrow morning will be our last chance to explore before heading home in the afternoon.

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Sat
18
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Part 3

Through the process of writing, editing Rach’s comments, add pictures, I’m still blown away by the experience of our days in Cuba. Reminds to write another thank you note to our host and extended family.

Back to Rache:

After another hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, mango juice, fresh papaya, cheese and ham, our driver Frank was ready for us to begin our day. Gema had arranged for someone to cover her work, so she was able to join us.

Our first stop was the Muséo Hemingway. This was house he lived in. While we couldn’t go in since it has remained how he left it, there were several doors and windows open with easy viewing of the different rooms. That man loved his books and mounted animal heads.

Mark here: And even Poppa’s Pooper…

If you look closely you can even see what appears to be weight measurement on the wall:

Back to Rache:

We were also able to ascend the tower. The first floor was where his sick cats would be treated, the second floor was where he wrote and the third floor was sort of an observation level where Papa could view his beautiful La Habana. This was a lovely mansion that has been preserved in its pre-revolutionary grandeur. 

The grounds also had a cemetery for his dogs – Black, Negrita, Linda, and Neron.  Where the tennis court once stood now stands Hemingway’s fishing boat, the Pilar, which was registered out of Key West. It was named after a secret lover’s nickname. The Pilar is significantly more substantial than that of the Old Man and the Sea.

We traveled through a very seedy area of town (San Miguel, wouldn’t you know) to get to Revolution Square.  The square noted for its giant tower honoring José Marti and of the huge likenesses of Ché and Camilo

Gema, Alain, and I opted to go to the top of the tower while Markie was happy taking photos of classic cars with Frank joining him. The top of the tower gave us perfect views of the entire city and beyond. You know, from a distance, poverty doesn’t seem to exist. Maybe it’s good to get up close and personal once in a while. Regardless, there is definitely beauty amongst the hovels.

Markie here:

By this point in the trip, my right knee was starting to get a little cranky, and the thought of all those steps made me winch. And I am an old car fan (as is our driver Frank). I’ve just put one group picture in as at some point there will be an entire car post:

Back to Rache:

Next we made a brief stop at John Lennon Square. Markie had an opportunity to pose with the Beattle. Unlike when I was last here, there wasn’t a guy there offering to ‘rent’ out glasses to adorn John’s face. There was an official in uniform who provided glasses at no charge. The regime has its advantages. I also noted the restaurant where Frank, Ron, Michael and I had a delightful lunch. 

Our tour of the city progressed to University of Havana where Gema attends. It is so beautiful with classic architecture and cute young students. The place feels like any other university I’ve visited (or attended) and it’s during these visits that I wish I could live my college years again. I love the energy these academic palaces emit. Powerful places, these are. 

We had worked up an appetite so off we were to sample paladar food. Fonda La Paila is about a block from Habana Libre (formerly the Hilton) and about a light year away from the quality of its food and atmosphere. This place just rocks. It’s open air, covered of course, and is a place that begs to be returned to again and again. It’s a place where chickens peck around your feet before the food arrives and where cats beg when lunch is served. OMG!  The food was superb. And of course, in true Cuban fashion, the portions were huge. Along with pork and onions were salad, Moros y Cristianos, and boiled sweet potatoes. Along with a couple Cuba Libre (Rum and Cola). This place rocked. For the five of us, the total was 56 CUC, less than in the touristy valley the day before. This is what Cuba is all about. Oh, and it was where I taught Gema and Alain about the concept of “doggie bags.” The waiter provided two plastic bags for the leftovers.

Our first stop in Old Havana was thwarted by Women’s Day. The Rum Museum was closed for the holiday so we will have to return. It may be a good thing as a cruise ship had arrived and there were swarms of tourists around. 

Mark here:

Rache forgot to mention that while the museum was not open, the bar attached to the museum was open (and we should have stayed for a drink and listened to the music:

Back to Rache:

We were successful afterwards however. We ascended to the Camera Obscura where we were able to see a 360º view of the city complete with a humorous presentation in Spanish and English. I’d recommend this rather obscure site.

By now the time was 4:00 PM and Gema had an event to attend in an hour. We were all dragging a bit so we came home to reboot and relax. 

Once home, Alain, a friend, Markie and I watched the critically acclaimed movie “Viva.” It was filmed in Cuba but it was not shown here. It brought a tear to Markie’s and my eye.

During the time without Gema, there was a bit of confusion. What Markie and I took to mean that dinner would be served after our final visit, it was actually served an hour before the visit. So much for a nap. I must tell you, while the food at restaurants have been excellent, Tekita knocks food out of the park. She is just amazing. And she runs a mean ship as well. When Alain came to the table as Markie and I were finishing our breakfast this morning, she informed Alain that she wouldn’t cook breakfast for him because he was getting too fat. That I could be as fat as Alain. Regardless, he didn’t get breakfast. It was Women’s Day after all. Anyway, if she ends up missing from Cuba when our plane departs, her room is waiting for me back at my casa by the mar. 

Mark here:

I have to add a most amusing picture – it is us giving Alain’s partner Luis’ mother a ride back to her apartment block – on Alain’s lap!

Back to Rache:

Our final adventure of the day came at 8 PM when Frank arrived and drove us to Moro Castle. Prior to the nightly ceremony, we had time to visit the Ché Museum and we actually got to step into his office. Very cool. One interesting note is that museums are rather relaxed in Cuba. For instance, there are some postcards Ché wrote from Africa. And they are just tacked on a board where folks can actually touch them — like I did.

The nightly ceremony began soon, leading to the firing of the canon at 9 PM. This  ritual goes back to early colonial time when the canon signaled that everyone should be within the castle walls so that pirates wouldn’t kill them. The ceremony was very nice. Gema explained what was happening while the colonial soldiers were drumming and marching by prior to the BOOM! The event was well attended — there was a cruise ship in town after all. This was a sweet event and was on my list of things to do. 

After the event, the crowd leisurely dispersed. As we drove home, we passed Ché’s home (it was dark) and passed through the neighborhood of Casablanca. It was a nice area.

Once home, I joined Markie in a nightly cocktail before retiring to my best night’s sleep here yet. I am reminded of the phrase, “This will make you feel better as you’re getting better.” Someone famous said that. 

Mark here:

As you can well guess, I had more than one nightly cocktail.

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Thu
16
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Part 2

One of the really nice things about travelling with Rache is the difference in our time zones. He’s the early riser, I’m the night owl. Needless to say, I was the last on out of bed this morning,

I’ll let Rache start the story:

Before I get started, I must say that Alain, his housekeeper Tekita, and Alain’s goddaughter Gema (aka translator) are amazing. AMAZING!  They are treating Markie and me like royalty.  I have never experienced such gracious hospitality. As a person who likes to be the nurturer, it has been initially difficult to accept such a lovely, genuine welcome into a lovely home. With that said, when you come to visit me, I will prepare your first drink and then you’re on your own LOL!

Yesterday started fairly early. Tekita and I were the first to arise. I was preparing to shower about the time she handed me a cup of delicious Cuban coffee. She also said something about “agua caliente” which I of course misunderstood it to mean that the coffee was hot. Long story longer, I had a cold shower as the water she heated on the stove for my shower was instead used by Markie. Yep, no hot running water. Tomorrow I’ll know.

Tekita prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon and onions, mango juice, ham, cheese, roll, and a banana from the tree in the backyard. We could’ve had some flan from the previous night’s dinner but we had no room in the tummy.

Mark here again….while the eggs were DELCIOUS, and what I usually have some variation of at home, Uncle Markie’s stomach wasn’t having much of it. My first worry was that I’d picked up a bug from the ice in last night’s drinks, but 12 hours is a little quick for gastrointestinal stuff to happen in me – the world traveler with enough flora and fauna in his system that make me reluctant to take antibiotics because they would kill the good stuff along with the bad. What I should have done is make a ham and cheese sandwich for the road. Alas, I didn’t have that forethought.

And now back to Rache:

We drove 2.5 hours out to Valle de Vinales. We passed sugar cane and tobacco fields once out in the country. It appears to be both a national park where people live, work, grow tobacco, etc. And some amazing views. Think of it almost like a tropical Monument Valley Tribal Park and you’ll sort of get the idea. Along the way, we stopped at a Centro Turístco Las Barrigonas which is along the Ruta del Tabaco (I bet you didn’t know you could read Spanish).

There we frolicked amongst a mother pig and her piglets. They were enjoying a dip in a pond near a tobacco field.  Alain is one of those gentle souls who cares for and respects animals. When he discovered the sow was not within reach of greens to nibble, he picked some for her.

Now, roadside rest areas are a little different in Cuba. Piña Coladas are sold and you get to pour how much rum you want into the cocktail.

Mark here again — at this point I have to add that Rache’s suggestion of a Pina Colada was PERFECT for my stomach, which after several hours of weaving/dodging/bouncing on major Cuban highways squished side-to-side like happy sardines in the back of our Chinese Geely motorcar was as welcome to my tummy as was just getting out of the car. Here is a picture of our touring car, though, technically, was taken a day later at a gas station (.90 CUC per liter, FYI, which is basically a USD per liter). The car was nearly new, with seating for three in the back and two in the front.

Back to Rache:

It was delicious. Before we took off, I said hello to a couple beasts of burden pulling a cart.

FYI: It’s not uncommon to see horse and “buggies” trotting down the road, even on the freeway shoulder.

Back to Rache:

Gema told us as we were approaching the valley and that we were in an area that had been hit hard with natural disasters. People lost almost everything and were trying to rebuild their homes and lives as best they could.

Our next stop was near the Hotel Horizonte Los Jazme. which overlooked the valley. The view was so beautiful that tears welled in my eyes. Wonderful piña coladas are served here as well.

Before we drove down to the valley, we made reservations at a restaurant. To speed things up when we came back to eat later in the afternoon, we chose our protein. Options were pork, chicken (my choice), and fish. Near where we parked, there was a hand cranked cane juicer for drinks. I love this type of rustic.

Our first stop was at a small tobacco farm. We were given a presentation (in a tobacco barn) on how tobacco is grown, nurtured, and cured. The seeds are tiny little things.  Everything is organic at the farm. We then ventured over to a little pavilion where we were given a lesson on how to roll cigars. And of course, we were able to purchase organic, hand rolled cigars at the farm. They are wrapped in palm fronds as a preservative. Factory cigars have additives (some harmless, others uncertain) once the organic tobacco reaches their processing.  Still, a Montecristo No. 2 is hard to beat. After all, it was the number one cigar in the world in 2013.  And as an aside, the Montecristo uses leaves from the top, middle, and bottom parts of the plant. Each area of the plant has its own distinctive flavor and quality.

Next we went to Cuevas de Santo Tomas (St Thomas’ Cave). I enjoy caves a lot. The cave was “electrified” by Fidel and it so it was able to accommodate tourists. There were some beautiful mineral formations in the cave. One of the unique features of the cave is that a river runs through it. And yes, we got to take a boat ride in the cave until it narrowed too much for us to pass. We turned around and then were surprised by an opening that lead to a small pool in the river just before the waterfall. It was dramatic.

It was here that we offloaded. Gema and Alain opted to ride a water buffalo while I decided to give the beast of burden a break. Even beasts of burden have their limits.

We stopped briefly at a cave entrance that was also a bar. It seemed quite inauthentic so we didn’t pay the 5 CUC to enter. Still, there was interesting history regarding the slave trade at that cave. “Its primary function is to show the living conditions of the Maroons, slaves who escaped from the barracks of the mills, fleeing ranchers games and took refuge in the goodness of the caves and mountains of this prodigious nature.” [Please note that I am amused by the translation but not by the harrowing existence of the slaves.]

Our last stop before lunch was the giant Mural de la Prehistoria. It was very colorful and huge, if not quite historically accurate. And it was here that I had my first Cristal (Cuban beer) of the trip. [Mark: the “tourist fee” of 3 CUC included a drink coupon—I had a Cuba Libre]. It was refreshing. The scenery in the entire valley is absolutely gorgeous, what with the vibrant shades of green from the various plant life. The dramatic plant covered rock formations make this place a magical place on Earth.

At lunch, Markie, the driver Frank and I had the barbecued chicken while Alain and Gema opted for the barbecued pork. Along with our mains, came banana chips, yucca, salad, Moros y Cristianoss, plus white rice and black beans, and probably some other goodness that I’m forgetting, plus multiple beverages. The bill was 68 CUC, which is about $76.00 USD. For all five of us. I think Alain was worried if we thought it was too expensive since it was in a tourist area. Uh, not a chance on that. $15.00 each for a feast such as ours was a bargain at twice the price.

Full and content from this amazing meal, we all napped in the car on the way back to Havana. Well, I’m assuming Frank did not doze off. As we neared the city, Frank opted for a slight detour that took us into Miramar, the west part of Havana and where I stayed with the others during Christmas 2015. We passed multiple embassies (including the iconic Russian embassy), and several places were most familiar as we drove down 5th Avenue heading for the Malecon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malecón,_Havana)

While we had a couple rain showers, it didn’t seem too windy to me. However, something was making the sea angry as waves broke over the seawall and onto the boulevard as we drove on the Malecon. I never saw that before. Obviously, not many people were hanging out at this usually busy hang out, especially for young people. Seriously, cars were getting doused just like cars along the Columbia River east of the tunnel out of Chinook during a dicey storm and high tide. I was impressed.

We arrived home (well, Markie and I were sure made to feel like home) here in Alamar and we unpacked our “happy sardine” bodies out of the car. Frank was paid for the day’s journey and it was well worth the cost.  The day was so remarkable in all ways.

Family was here and were enjoying themselves. That gave Markie and me a chance to review our wonderful day on the back patio. And for me to play with the dogs. When family had left, Alain came out back and showed us the turtle pond out beyond the banana tree. He has two turtles.

I was still full from lunch (which was served about 4:30 PM) so went to bed early. Markie stayed up for a while after that I imagine. I certainly slept with a smile on my face after experiencing the beautiful Valle de Vinales. Feeling extremely lucky.

Tekita was kind enough to make Alain a little treat before bedtime…the rolls, ham, cheese from breakfast – what I should have had with me in the car on the way down!

Nice sandwiches to go with my Jack Daniels (not my first choice, but it was what Duty Free at LAX had. I brought one for me, and one for Alain:

Soon, I went to bed myself – it was a LONG day.

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Tue
14
Mar '17

Trip Report: Havana Bound

When you have to be at the airport at 3:30am, of course you should throw a dinner party the night before:

Don’t we look awake in the Uber the next morning – which for some reason was also carrying a large load of flowers:

The Alaska Lounge doesn’t open until 5am, which is when our flight departs, so nothing to do but hang out in the terminal until we can settle in our lovely first class seats. I used a handful (assuming one was missing a finger) of Guest Upgrades.

And before long it was time for breakfast:

And now I’ll turn it over to Rache for this tag team post:

Markie’s and my flight to LA took off right on time. It was a full flight and all went smoothly. Even tho’ the same jet was used from the LAX to Havana, we all left the plane and took all our belongings as it was cleaned. You can tell that there are a few kinks to work out as there was one stamp that was left off our boarding passes. That stamp is verification that Alaska Airlines took in our money that is part of the proof that we paid health insurance for the time we are in Cuba. I now have a better understanding what it’s like to get a stamp on one’s paper and I wish to apologize to all my kids for failing miserably in consistently getting stamps on their papers. 

This would be the stamp:

For some reason, we were served a second (and slightly larger) breakfast on the Los Angeles to Havana portion:

And back to Rache:

After the clog and only slight delay, we were off and actually made up time in the sky so that we landed at José Marti International a bit early. One must remember that the second you land in Cuba, there is a time transformation. It’s not like time stands still, but almost. Island Time.

Our bags took almost forever in getting to the terminal. Mercy. Markie’s bag was taken off the conveyor and mine ended up on a conveyor with another flight. Terminal 2 is small enough that it doesn’t make a difference. However, content in the luggage does make a difference. As always, I packed a whole lot of school supplies. This time, I also packed herbs, spices, flavorings, tons of chocolate, toys, etc. I inspired Markie in this endeavor and he brought six old cell phones. Mistake. We were separated, bags gone through, and we were somewhat interrogated. Markie was being asked why he was bringing in so many phones and I was being asked why I had a power converter (220v to 110v) that included several USB jacks. And I was also being asked why Markie was binging in so many phones. I am not sure if he was asked why I had the power converter [UM: they did not].

Regardless, we were almost the last ones out of the terminal. That stressed us because Alain (our host), the interpreter (his goddaughter), and the driver were supposed to meet us. And here is where “Island Time” needs to be remembered. They had called for a ride. The driver of the ’55 Chevy arrived at Alain’s home at the time they were supposed to meet us at the airport, so they were stressing as much as Markie and I were. They were sure we had left without them. As luck would have it, Alain had a photo of me on his phone so he asked security to check to see if I was in the terminal. I was – having the content of my luggage examined and being questioned. This is done unlike Peru, which takes us to a back room. This questioning is done out in the open in Terminal 2. Alain and Gema’s stress, was lessened once they knew we were in the terminal, but Markie and I didn’t’ know that so we were still stressing.

Long story longer, Markie and I were reunited, we each had to pay a $14.00 fine, and we escaped the clutches of Cuban security and greeted warmly with hugs and kisses from Alain and his goddaughter/translator. The driver loaded our bags and we were on our way.

Alain lives on the east side of Havana, in a former Soviet area called a Alamar. It seems like a lovely area but it was getting dark as we arrived. 

Tekita (cook/maid/house manager) made us a very festive meal with traditional Cuban food. black beans and rice, salad (shredded cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, beets, mild peppers), malanga fries with honey (fritura de malanga con miel). Oh, the main protein was lobster! The huge meal was topped with flan and strawberry ice cream (copa lolita). Stuffed over the top [UM:we both were]. 

And there was even Cuban white wine:

While Cuba DOES have a wine industry, most of their wine is imported from either Spain or South America. If you are interested in the growing wine industry in Cuba, CLICK HERE for and overview of the industry – makes me want to go to the Cuban Wine Show (Festival International del Vino) in October.

And now back to Rache:

We chatted for a bit, Alain and Gema (goddaughter/translator) had a friend who exchanged our money and soon we were off to bed. Markie and I both have our own rooms.

The house is lovely and I’ll describe it more as the week progresses. Besides a parrot (and a lizard), there are two dogs. And that’s important because when I was in Peru, I felt sad that I didn’t have anything to give all the stray dogs in that entire country. so yes, this time, I brought dog treats. I now have two best friends forever in Cachito (dachshund) and Kiara (husky mix).

I did stay up after Michael went to bed, but not for long – I was “running on fumes” as they say.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure.

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Sat
18
Feb '17

Trip Report: Exploring San Juan, Puerto Rico

Years ago I was in Puerto Rico with Dan – you can see the post here. Note – you’ll have to scroll past the CURRENT Puerto posts to get to the ones from 2004, but since there were several it seemed easier. In 2004 we explored the island, but not Old San Juan, the reason for this trip.

Normally I’d do a “Day By Day” report of a destination city, but I’ve rolled all three days on the ground into one report. Could be that with the heat, I’m coming back to take a lot of naps in the noon day sun. Could be that I’ve just been a slug while I’m here, walking, eating, catching up of work, watching the rolling mess of the current administration.

But let’s start with my first evenings meal here on the island – no help from Yelp, just wandering around until I found someplace that looked OK. Tonight, that would be Deaverdura. Basically, a hole in the wall with a small bar and a kitchen where I think it’s Mom cooking. Don’t expect quick service (it’s Puerto Rico after all), or a menu –what would you like, grouper, pork, chicken, etc., all served with rice and beans. That said, I felt like I was eating at a family table, and felt guilty for being one person at a 4-top..

Started out with a Pina Colada – it is Puerto Rico after all:

And moved onto the pork….

Those are the beans in the cup – they go GREAT over the rice.

I wanted a Mojito as my second drink – but they were out of mint. Truly a family place! I went for a light rum and coconut water…interesting, but not again.

After a night of sleep, it was off exploring the city. Walled down to the port and found a sandwich/wine bar for a bite. Mejunje Restaurant would be the place. I had the Sirloin Sandwich, which came with potato chips with a drizzle of balsamic – odd, but tasty:

$13 with tip and a Diet Coke. Apparently, dinners and wine run more.

Off to the old fort after my food…ended up walking there. As long as you have good shoes, Old San Juan is very walkable, and there is a free (if crowded) public trolley that winds its way slowly around the old city.

I opted for the trolley back into town for a nap. Uncle isn’t used to this heat and humidity.

Dinner at Hecho En Casa (which had a couple of Rainbow Flags inside, but I don’t see them on any Gay San Juan site, though the “hostess” was definitely family) for a local favorite, Mofongo, mine End Pulop (with Octopus). Here is a definition of Mofongo and here is a picture:

And your options:

Happy Uncle Markie….

Time for more cable TV, something that doesn’t exist in my house in Seattle. I’m an OTA (Over The Air) kind of TV watcher at home. Oddly, in the evenings, still watching the same thing, though during the day, it’s CNN with the sound off.

Exploring the city the next day brought a bit of a shock. FOUR cruise ships in town – right at the edge of Old San Juan. Holly Moly!

When I say “in the middle of the city”, I mean it. The city changed overnight as it were. The free trolley was jammed with PPPs (pasty, pudgy, plainspeople). You should have seen the CVS across from the dock. If it weren’t for cheap local rum I wouldn’t have entered!

Sad to say that my morning/noon meal the next day was at Wendy’s, on the Square across from the hotel, next to the Department of State (seriously, right next door, and there are cops everywhere) for a Clasico Singulare con Caso. This is what happens when you are cranky and need food NOW!

More exploring during the day, but I realized the cruise ships were in town for TWO days, so there goes my revisit to the Bacardi Distillery that I did in 2004. (LINK)

It might be the heat, or the new mini-dose blood pressure meds, or the humidity, but I’m taking a lot of naps in the air-conditioned cell.

But you still have to do at least one church….

The church was right across the street from El Convento – the hotel (in an old convent) that I’d toyed with staying at, but the “discount” rate of $265 a night put me off:

Maybe if I’d been travelling with someone I would have sprung for it (paging Rache!)

There was also this “odd” guy I saw a couple of time on the street – the first time is musket was not covered:

Guessing he was part of the National Park’s Fort Program. Did I mention I didn’t even go into the Fort – I left my Parks Pass as home, and was too cheap and too tired to pay the $5.

Dinner tonight was just around the corner from my hotel – at Café Punto. I opted for the non-air-conditioned hallway with more action that the two small square rooms with AC.

I ordered two appetizers off the extensive (and somewhat expensive) menu – the assorted meat/seafood turnovers and the fresh fish ceviche:

I love that it came with fried plantain chips. That would be a mojito with a slice of sugar cane as a stir stick. A little sweet for me, but when in Puerto Rico…

By day you notice that many of the street bricks are glazed (like Portugal):

Unless the cruise ships are still hanging around…

By night it is just as beautiful:

For my last full day in San Juan, decided to try the café in the lobby of the hotel for a sandwich…. Which was pretty good! The place is called Caldera.

 

And there is one very cute staff member (Ernesto?):

Wandered around the city a little more, took another nap (the heat kills me), got a little blogging and shop work done:

Even though there is no power, the second-floor breezeway between my room and the incredibly noisy ice maker is a nice quite space with a decent cell signal since I can’t get the laptop to connect to the network, but my phone will. Finally gave up and just tethered laptop to the phone.

For dinner I ended back at Café Punto to try their other ceviche which was baby conch, and their tropical ensalada capresse:

Basically I’ve been spending in the $30-$35 a night on dinner that included a cocktail or two. Trust me, I could have spent MUCH more looking at some of the menus in windows.

Well, that’s it for this post for tomorrow I leave the Caribbean and go back to Seattle.

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Mon
19
Dec '16

Trip Report: The Road Home From Lima

Oh the panic!

Just checked out of the hotel in Lima when my phone dinged. This is the phone that seemed to only work on Wi-Fi in Peru even though T-Mobile says they roam.

Text Message From American: Your flight is delayed 10.5 hours.

YIKES. Since we already had Edwardo arranged, and Rache needed to get to the airport for his flight to Cusco, off to the airport I go, knowing there is no lounge that American has privileges in that would honor my Board Room (now The Lounge) card from Alaska.

Luckily, I’m in Business Class (on an award ticket) which, if nothing else, means a shorter line. This must happen on a regular basis because all the ticket agents look nonplused…and twenty minutes later I had a ticket on a LATAM flight that left an hour later. No worries about my connection in Miami as I have six hours to cool my heals in the lounges at MIA.

Downside is that I had to then go check in at the LATAM counter, and they only checked my bag to Miami – but I would have had to pick it up before customs anyway. Just means I have to go to the ticket counter in Miami as well – but plenty of time for that.

Upside – LATAM Business Class has access to a shared lounge!

And the bar opened a few minutes after I arrived.

Turns out there is another advantage to moving over to LATAM is lay flat sleepers in Business!

Before you know it we are in the air with booze and food!

Then its nap time…

Much better than the recliner on the way down – still, it’s no Emirates. Especially in the food department. This was our pre-landing snack:

Customs and immigration was easy – call it what it is: “white privilege”.

It being Miami I have my choice of lounges for my five hour layover – including what was the International First Class lounge, now open to all while they remodel all the Admirals Clubs.

Nice spread – and a pour it yourself bar!

Time to head off for the last flight of the day – only three gate changes over the course of the day. Found this great poster on the walk:

Back on American Airlines livery – 737-800, and yet more food…

Served by a twig of a twenty-two-year-old flight attendant – only three weeks on the job:

Who also loaded me down with snacks, ran to the back for more Woodford Reserve whiskey, apologized profusely when I had to switch to Jack Daniels (almost drank them out of that as well):

He even helped fill my backpack with snacks as most of the rest of First Class was snoozing…

I close this post with an “arty selfie”.

In bed at 2pm so I can open the shop at 11am. I can just see Jimmy rolling his eyes.

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