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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.


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Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day Four

My final day in Uruguay and I’m sleeping in again, waking to go get breakfast before they stop serving, and then go back to bed for another hour or so. Today is going to be a long day that stretches into tomorrow. Missed a market with Rache – but figured I needed the sleep more.

After he returned, we headed out to Tres Cruces to pick up tickets for the 1st Class airport bus:

We picked a restaurant close by, one that I’d passed the first day in town assuming it was only pizza. El Refugio. Unlike Monday’s restaurant, no Visa excepted here – guess I shouldn’t have bought the bus tickets with cash!

We ordered a bottle of Tannat and sparkling water to go with lunch, only to find out they had no Tannat. We settled for Merlot.

Today, it’s my order that turns out to be something other than I’d expected (which was grilled octopus and a salad):

Rache got what he expected…chicken and rice:

Lovely meal, lots of people watching…

But soon, it was time to grab the bus to the airport – Rache is sweetly going with me, which in retrospect, now seems silly, but it was nice. It was $6.50 to the airport, and he caught a local bus back for $2:

The bus made a couple of quick stops, but we got to the airport in less than 45 minutes:

Wasn’t long to get through security and immigration, and off to explore what’s on offer in the airport – apparently more wine if I’d like it, and I saw seats and a bar, so I’m guessing they do glass pours…

After a little snack and a cocktail or two, boarded to plane and hung my headphones and phone holder on the brochure holder. Tips and tricks of travelling a lot. Only once have I been asked to hold them during takeoff/landing:

The rest of the post is all about the return flights home. Red-eye to Miami, then to Dallas, finally to Seattle.

On the upside – ALL the legs of my return were in Main Cabin Extra, ALL with an open seat next to me (which is rare these days).

On the downside – the 767-300ER on the Montevideo route, while more recent than the one on the way down, still had some mechanical issues. Yes, the reading lights worked. Yes, the audio worked. Sadly, what didn’t work was the heat. It being a red-eye flight, we had pillows and blankets – which weren’t enough to be comfortable when only half the heat sources on the airplane were working. It was so cold that even the cabin crew was saying it was ridiculous and stripped down the crew beds once they were done with their naps and distributed the thicker blankets to those who looked in distress (myself being one of them). I’d packed my jacket in my checked bag – and even having a spare blanket from the empty seat next to me. I was VERY thankful to get one of the thicker ones. EVERYONE on the plane was bundled up in whatever they had.

Got to Miami half an hour early, happy to be in a warmer environment, even if it was having to trek a half mile to immigration and customs, which was quick because of Global Entry. First stop – the Admiral’s Club for a long hot shower to get my body temperature back to normal. The breakfast snack was also welcome. Too early to actually get a cocktail though.

Got four newspapers read before grabbing my flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth on a MUCH newer A321S, complete with USB charging, free in-flight entertainment system with LOTS of movies, I opted for “Classic” titles like Lost In Translation.

Arrived in A terminal in Dallas/Ft. Worth, the terminal with the Admirals Club under renovation, and a tight connection with just enough time to grab a wrap at 7-11 (yes, there is a convenience store in the terminal – wish ALL airports had them).

Another A321S, another open seat next to me, all was good, though the memory of shivering the night before still fresh in my memory. Guessing there will be a letter to American about the equipment they use on their South America routes.

Grabbed an Uber home, dumped luggage, drove to the Post Office for a “must sign for” couple of small packages, came home, took a nap, made fresh chicken noodle soup (OK, the noodles, the vegetables, the bone-picked chicken, and the stock were all in the freezer) to make sure I didn’t get sick from all the people I’d been around.

Work the next two days, and leave again after work on day two. Boston, here I come!


For more than just this post, check out the whole blog at http://blog.unclemarkie.com

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Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day Three

I should mention that our hotel rate includes breakfast – and it’s not a bad breakfast:

And, as it turns out, there is also a convenience store – and since they use the restaurant’s credit card machine, so it’s 22% off snacks, sodas, etc. The ice (Helio in Spanish, pronounced Yellow), they will give you for free.

Wednesday in Montevideo – another day, another adventure. Calgon, bring me an Uber. And off we go…with Rache providing most of the commentary, and me adding my [ ] comments and pictures.

First of all, I use Uber. Call me cheap, but getting across this city of 1.3 million folk for less than $6.00 instead of 3,4, even 5 times that amount via cab, I can somewhat justify providing the Uber drivers something instead of nothing. Having the Skyroam Personal Wi-Fi device [$8 a day, plus hardware – and it’s more reliable than my 2G free T-Mobile connection] makes accessing the Uber app just as easy as in the States. 

Markie’s and my first stop was the Castillo Pittamiglio. The castle was designed by a guy who was an architect and alchemist. The visual reflects both. Alas, the tour wasn’t until 5 PM so we just saw the exterior and the entrance. 

We opted to walk on the Rambla for a while but a squall (no, a SQUALL!!) sent us to shelter.

We summoned a driver and he delivered us to Mercado del Puerto. About the only thing that stands serve there is meat and more meat. This place I had seen on Anthony Bourdain and we found the “Estancia del Puerto,” stall, and basically sat where Bourdain sat.

We opted for the BBQ for two and included beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, plus blood sausage, white sausage, kidney, sweetbreads, intestines, and perhaps more. Instead of a platter, a metal pan is filled with hot embers, then a metal top piled with meat is placed on top. Everything stays hot.

We chose a Tannat and mineral water to wash things down.

The BBQ for 2 could easily feed 3 or 4 and what we left behind certainly reflects that. This meat event is high on things to do in Montevideo, but I must tell you, it’s more about quantity rather than quality. Bodega Bouza focuses on quality. I’m glad we did it. [We also spent a little bit of time looking at the half dozen shops that sold tourist goods rather than hunks of grilled meat.]

The rains had stopped and so had our energy. We summoned a ride to the hotel for a needed nap before our concert [and a little deck time with chairs I liberated from the supply closet and cocktails].

Prior to the concert, Markie and stopped in at Cerveza Patagonia, an Argentinian company with several locations. The server there was so into beer and gave me the name and address of a craft brewer here in Montevideo. I’ll perhaps check it out today or tomorrow. The kid was really into beer and he was delighted with the North Jetty stickers I gave him. He immediately stuck one to his phone. Lots of enthusiasm and definitely an IPA fan. It would be fun to get him up to North Jetty Brewing. [And I love the repurposed kegs into bar stools and the Seattle-based Elysian posters in the bathroom.]

Teatro Solis opened in 1856. The interior is amazing. Tiers of boxes and fabulous seats throughout. Mario Laginha and Pedro Burmester, a piano duo, dazzled with technicality and artistry, if not always jazz. Still, it was a great event.

Our lunch was fading, so even though the concert started at 9PM, we are at 11PM looking for meal and ended up at Praga Restaurant y Café just off Plaza Indepencia. Again, we keep ordering two dishes each! Even with the bread and salmon spread as a freebie.

Ceviché starter for me:

Salad starter for Rache (and he actually got a real salad this time):

Tempura Shrimp for my main:

Risotto for Rache:

Back into an Uber, back into the beds, for tomorrow is an abbreviated last day.


For more than just this post, check out the whole blog at http://blog.unclemarkie.com

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Trip Report: Uruguay – Day Two

One of the reasons that Rache and I travel together so well is that I sleep in (and stay up late) and he goes out and explores (and goes to bed earlier). So far, no notes by the coffeemaker – we don’t have a coffee maker (two-burner range, microwave, and an electric kettle).

On this trip, Rache has been doing all the planning so I just make myself available, knowing he spent months working out the details. My requests were a winery or two and a concert in the Teatro Solis. Today we are being picked up at 1pm to go to the Bodega Bouza winery, which, unbeknownst to Rache, we carried their 2011 Unoaked Tannat at the shop.

Rache says it all better in his email post of the day…I’ll pick it up later. My comments are in brackets [ ], and the pictures are mine:

Markie and I have a very workable routine. He is a night owl, I’m a morning person. I often get up, get breakfast, showered and out the door for my morning urban walk. We have a good 8-10 hours of together time during the day. Then we give each other our quiet alone time. It works really well.

Our hotel is not in a very pretty part of town [but if you want bus or need a hospital, got plenty of both]. Still, it is very convenient to my transportation needs so it’s perfect. And Uber is so inexpensive here. Love it. My plan today is to haul Markie’s ass all around today. Anyway, there aren’t too many photos of the city so far. Hopefully today. Still, got over 9,000 steps in before Markie was up and ready to go.

Back on September 18, I tried to make a reservation online to the winery. Somehow, I was unable to complete the form and send. So, I found an email address and wrote my dilemma. The response was, “We’ll be glad to have you here. To complete your reservation, we need you to tell us the name of the hotel in which you’ll be staying.” I did. The response was, “Our van will pick you up around 1 PM.” That was it. It seemed so informal and incomplete. I also sent an email day before yesterday with no response, I was wondering…

1:00 came and went, 1:05, 1:10, 1:15 and my concern grew more. But at 1:20, the Bouza Bodega van arrived.

Markie and I joined a young couple from Brazil. And off we went. In about a half hour, we were at our destination. Amazingly [on the grounds waiting for the tour], Markie ran into the young man he had met on his flight from Seattle to Miami, [and then again on the Miami -Montevideo flight a day later] along with two of his friends. They had just completed their winery tour and lunch and assured us we were in for a treat. Small world. 

Before long, Pablo, dressed in a pinstriped suit [looking very much like an undertaker], said the tour was about to begin. We started the tour in front of some Tannat vines. Pablo was masterful because he had folks who spoke Portuguese, Spanish, and English. He explained things thoroughly to each group.

After the vines, we went into the winery, where the winemaking process begins. Huge stainless steel and French oak fermenting vats (5,300 liters) were there along with some epoxy lined concrete chambers used for the same purpose. The grapes also arrive and were squeezed in this room. The methods for squeezing grapes for red wine and white wine are different. 

From the fermenting room, we descended into the chilly cellar where barrels and bottles were stored. Bouza uses French and American Oak. They use the barrels only three times before they are replaced. Each year, a third of the barrels are sold to other wineries, beer makers, and distillers. 

Below the cellar one could see a special room where each year 42 bottles of each [vintage] are aged [to be evaluated as to how they are holding up, when to drink them, etc.]. There is a glass floor revealing this room. Pablo has been in this lower chamber but once.

Back in September, I had requested that we have the total Bouza Experience. That included transportation to and from the winery, the tour, a tasting and lunch. So, after the tour, we were escorted to the onsite restaurant. And sure enough, my name was on the roster for the complete package. Our table was ready, right next to 23 festive Brazilian women [out of 27 travelling together] who were obviously in celebratory mode. They were a riot, at one point gathering all together for group photos with a server being the photographer. Anyway, our tastings consisted of an Albariño, followed by Merlot, Monte Vide Eu (blend), and the Uruguayan national wine, Tannat. Markie and I both loved the big-ass red of the Tannat so we ordered that to accompany our main course. 

I started off with grilled octopus [I went for the paté]. While just as tender as the tentacle I had in José Ignacio, it wasn’t quite as flavorful. Still, it was amazing and the Albariño went well with that. “Bouza Baby Beef” was my choice for a main. There was a special of “Arm of Lamb” that Markie chose. The steak was perfectly rare and combined flawlessly with the big ass Tannat! Yum. Markie’s lamb shank was also delicious! For dessert, I opted for the classic Créme Brûlée while Markie had the Martin Fierro Soufflé that was inspired by Stella. Markie and followed it all with a coffee and a Tannat grappa. 

So, if one pays with a foreign credit card [at least in restaurants], the 22% value added tax (VAT) is deducted [from the credit card slip. This rebate was recently extended to April 2018]. Because of that, I was able to be more than generous with the much-deserved tip. So instead of 6,000 pesos, the bill came back at about 4,900 pesos. When all was said and done, round trip transportation, a tour, a tasting, and a 3-course lunch and tips to the servers and driver came to about $112.14 each. Truly, it was a bargain!

Before boarding the van for the return to the hotel, Markie and I each bought a bottle of grappa plus we got to tour the grounds and gardens afterwards. It was a fabulous experience.

Because lunch started at 3:00, we really had no room for dinner last night. We did a little snacking but seriously, the meal was so satisfying and memorable, we opted to not dine out [but we did go explore the rooftop deck which you access through the gym]. 

Oh, one thing before I go. A Uruguayan soccer team [Club Atlético Torque – part of the Manchester City franchise, as I learned the next morning in the elevator] arrived on our floor last evening. Young men in the early-mid 20s from all appearances. We thought there was going to be mayhem and frolicking all night but at 9:00, it was lights out and everyone in their rooms, uncannily silent. Apparently, a very important match is on tap for today.                                                                                                                                                                

Off to bed without the soccer team being tempted by our open door and displays of whiskey. What a fun day!

[? ? ?]

For more than just this post, check out the whole blog at http://blog.unclemarkie.com


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Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day One

After my red-eye flight in, it was time to explore the neighborhood (and find some lunch). We are just off a traffic circle that also has a tunnel under it to help through traffic:

Montevideo has its roots in the Colonial Era:

This would be the British Hospital, in the same block with the National Hospital and the Italian Hospital:

I was surprised at how rare cash machines are (but there are cambios seemingly on every block). I found one and got a little cash until I could meet up with Rache – more on the cash situation later.

You’ll see LOTS of places offering pizza (thank or curse the Italians), but I opted for an outside table at La Flama, a bar/tavern/gastro pub a block away from Tres Cruces Mall and Main Bus Terminal (for long distance buses).

Good people watching…

I opted for the Hamburgusa Al Pan Completa with Frites. That would be a cheeseburger stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, ham, chopped green olives:

It was WAY too much food – or I could blame it on the rare beer (I was thirsty, and that’s really a bad way to rehydrate). It was here that I realized that while in major cities around the world, English is a second language – not so in Montevideo, which to me is interesting because it’s such a middle-class country. Nothing like trying to explain I wanted the leftovers boxed to go – in pantomime.

Headed back to the hotel to just sit on the couch and read until the room was ready, but they surprised me having our room available a couple of hours early. Rache did a GREAT job getting us a two-bedroom with kitchenette for about $85 a night. Well worth it. Rache was about an hour behind me getting to the hotel as he was coming in from the nether regions – he’d arrived a couple of weeks before me. So close to when I got into the room I didn’t even have a chance to get pictures of the pristine room:

We got settled in, and promptly took naps before Rache scouted through Trip Advisor to find us a dinner spot. I’ll turn it over to him:

Using TripAdvisor, we chose a restaurant. The desk clerk called to make sure it was open. I asked if taxi or Uber was better. “Uber is much cheaper.” I was somewhat reluctant after the hassle getting from the airport. However, within three minutes, we were heading across town to Restauran Don Andrés. The reviews were somewhat misleading but still the food was delightful. And we had our first Uruguayan red wine with dinner. Uruguay is famous for “Tannat” wine. The modern wine industry in Uruguay dates back from 1870. Uruguay is the fourth largest wine producer in South America. Tannat grapes were introduced to the country by Don Pascual Harriague, a Basque. (Oh dear, this paragraph is getting out of control) Anyway, I thought I was ordering a Caprese Salad but ended up with ravioli for my first course. Followed by a delicious and rich lasagna about the size of a flying saucer. OMG! Restauran Don Andrés was not what was expected, but it was delish.

I think we were both thinking more Carne than Italian, but the preparation and presentation was wonderful, and the restaurant filled on a Monday with multiple large tables of extended family.

Rache’s “Ensalada Caprese” top, my calamari bottom:

Rache’s lasagna top, my four cheese incrusted fish with mash potatoes (and yes, it was time for another pantomime of “box to go”):

The Uber rides were the equivalent of six bucks each was, and the meal with wine and tip was a little over $45USD. Not bad for dinner for two with wine.

With a short Uber ride, we were back at Mercosur Universitas Apartment/Hotel where we both needed to be horizontal.

[? ? ?]

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Oct '17

Trip Report: Long Beach Staycation

I booked this almost a year ago – figuring that it would be easy to fill four nights in a three-bedroom/three-bath Presidential unit right on the beach in Long Beach…turns out, two of the usual cast of characters are going with me a week later to Vegas, so it’s just Rache (who actually LIVES in Long Beach, Washington) and I in the massive place – we each have our own wings!

Nice day for a drive…

View from the beach:

Ours is the upper left hand top unit, big enough to take a little video of….

And here is the view:

I don’t’ think we will run out of alcohol anytime soon!

And Rache brought some pre-dinner nibbles in the form of bivalves. Luckily, he’s a pro at shucking…


Before long, it was time to start work on dinner and get the BBQ fired up:

Grilling as the sun goes down:

Steaks off the grill – and Rache brought navy bean soup to go with it.

Life is hard at the ocean, but then you go to bed and wake up to a scramble of eggs, fresh corn tortillas, and leftover steak:

One of the reasons we brought all the booze was to sample the distiller who is setting up shop across the street from the WorldMark. Nice facility:

With nice equipment:

Fully automated for repeatability.

A little bigger than my rig!

Ran some errands and then headed over to Ilwaco for a little lunch snack at Salt.

And cocktail.

With a view.

The food is good, too! Fish tacos….

I’d forgotten my slippers, so we visited the local clothing/hardware store (Dennis Company) – where I found these FABULOUS rubber slippers marked down from $30 to $10 – I had to take the inserts out to turn the Women’s Size 11 into a 12.

Tonight’s dinner is BBQ Chicken with Grilled Corn-On-The-Cob.

Prep is done:

And Rache shucked another dozen oysters:

Nothing like grilling in your robe:

The aftermath…

With an after dinner hot tub:

Rainy day but we wanted out of the apartment. Met up with a friend of Rache’s who used to dog sit for him across the street at the Pickled Fish, above Adrift (which also owns the distillery). My eggs benedict with Bloody Mary:

The Yoghurt Parfait (which I’d never have ordered, but it looks REALLY good).

And Rache’s light breakfast sides of Grits and Bacon:

Back to the apartment for a bit of storm watching – this is what happened to the hot tub cover:

And a little video:

Serious rain…

We ducked into the Long Beach’s version of Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe in Seattle – Marsh’s Free Museum. Half alligator, half boy….

With a working player piano –

Found a moderately tacky t-shirt for Kathy, but sadly none in her size.

Fortunately, by the end of the day, the storm died down enough that I could actually BBQ again – and try out the rotisserie I found in the water heater closet.


Rotisserie mount – not stable – missing pieces:

Meat on the grill:


After dinner hot tub celebration with a Cuban cigar I brought back from Havana:

Fun trip – all sorts of weather. Hustled back to the city on Friday for something that turned into a date.

[? ? ?]

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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!

[? ? ?]

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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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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!


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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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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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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.


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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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