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Jan '20

Trip Report: Victoria

Turns out had been almost exactly three years since my last trip to Victoria – and my favorite desk person was still on staff, now as the supervisor! She thought the last time had been for my birthday. I looked it up, that was three visits ago, but there had been three visits in a 4-month period, so understandable.

Travelling with Dancing Bear for this trip. And he is driving! And he’s fast. We had enough time for lunch at Milestones Tsawwassen Mills before we got on the ferry:

In addition to my Manhattan, I had the fish tacos with half/half side of salad/fries:

DancingBear had the Chicken Caprese Sandwich:

We had a reservation for the ferry, so we were one of the early cars onboard:

We were warm and cozy upstairs…

And with great views!

Yep, it’s a bit grey and foggy – welcome to winter in the Pacific Northwest.

Stopped for groceries on the way to the condo, where Nicola greeted us – I brought some candies for her.

Got settled into our penthouse – here are some random shots:

No pictures of the hot tub (which we used) and the BBQ (which we didn’t use). Dancing Bear did bring his sous vide:

We eat well on the road…Monday night’s dinner – fried chicken:

Lunch the next day was at the Blue Heron – a tad louder (atmosphere-wise) than I remember, but the food and drink was good…

Chicken Club for Dancing Bear:

And Crab Cakes and Salad for me

Running late to get back to the condo to greet Solus – but we left a key at the desk. He came over to pick up a cast iron pan from me and spend the night for dinner and a hot tub. Big garden salad…

And Mushroom Serrano Ham Risotto:

For lunch before his 1pm pick up for a 3pm ferry we were off across the park to Finest At Sea, a wholesale/retail fish monger that also has a food trailer in front.

We all had the Halibut & Chips, though next time might try the Tacos and Chowder.

Even breakfast at the condo is elegant! Potato cakes, sausage, and an over easy egg (and Caesar).

DancingBear discovered a new destination on Vancouver Island – the factory outlet store for Roger’s Chocolate, Victoria’s oldest manufacturer. His mother wanted chocolates, and he’s a fine son – the fact they were 50% off because they didn’t come in the fancy box just made them tastier:

And another fine meal in the evening… a bone-in pork chop roast…

Leftover risotto and veg, same scratch-made gravy – YUM!

But by Friday morning it was time to return home on the 1PM ferry…until it was cancelled due to high winds on the Straight.

We finally got the 4pm boat – and sprang for the quiet lounge with free coffee and snacks.

It was a long drive home in the rain. Originally expected to be home around 5pm – it was more like 9PM.

But, all-in-all, a great trip.


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Dec '19

Work Report: Delayed Opening At The Shop Today

Got to the shop today, only to find that I couldn’t get to the shop. The street was closed in both directions for a “police action”.

When they moved us back, I decided to grab an Irish Coffee at the Madrona Arms and watch the action from inside.

The suspecteventually came out, and was taken away strapped to a gurney for cuts on his arm (he broke out two windows)

An hour and a half late opening…the guy they took away has had police visit every week or so for Domestic Violence charges for the last six months. Drug abuse and mental health issues. Apparently, this whole thing started at 6am. At the end there were snipers on the roof of the new condos from the south of us.

Interesting start for the day!


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Dec '19

Trip Report: Trying A New Airplane Model

Had some extra Delta SkyPesos and wanted to check out the new Airbus A220-100 (formerly the Bombardier C-Series 100). And I had a spare Tuesday in December.

I booked First Class on the way down and Premium for the return.

The A220-100 is smaller than a Boeing 737, with a seating layout of 2-2 in the First-Class section, and 2-3 in Premium and Economy.

I’d forgotten the joys of a pre-departure cocktail…

Once we were up in the air, bring on more drinks, and a decent muffuletta.

The A220 has some interesting interior features – like lavatories you can spread your legs in, like this one in First-Class:

And, in a weird twist, the economy lavatory even has a window in it!

Want to know if Wi-Fi is active? There’s a light for that (and the Wi-Fi worked gate to gate).

Or sitting in the bulkhead in premium where you don’t have a seat-back monitor, there is a tiny one mounted in the ceiling so you can watch the safety video.

In San Francisco, it was off the plane, and then back on…

The Premium Seat was nearly as comfortable, not much room on the tray table for all the drinks and snacks.

I should point out that I had lunch in the lounge before the flight, and then on the way to the lounge on my return to have dinner – I had a chance encounter of the Christmas kind…it made my day.

And to all, a good night.


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Dec '19

Trip Report: Pre-xMess Trip To Santa Fe

It has become an annual tradition to take a trip to Santa Fe in early December to visit my sis-in-law, her husband, and The Colonels who drive in from Kentucky every year between Thanksgiving and xMess. Yes, they drive from Eastern Kentucky to Santa Fe, New Mexico every late fall. You could almost set your clock by it!

Flying on Alaska’s old Virgin American metal to Santa Fe…

You can see the remodel of the North Concourse in the background.

Since it was old VA metal that hasn’t been retrofitted with the Alaska seating plan, there are only 8 First-Class seats (as opposed to 12 or 16). But I was in Premium Seating, which means snacks, cocktails, etc.

And because I’m Alaska MVP 75K, they always give me nice premium chocolate – and this “hippy” crisp quinoa sesame milk chocolate had the surprising taste of a Nestlé Crunch (crisped rice and chocolate), though technically that brand was sold to an Italian candy maker in 2018.

Flight was on time, but I had to stop and take photos of some custom bikes/cars in the lobby of the Albuquerque airport – definitely a product of Chicano Culture!

Pretty amazing stuff on display.

The Colonels were kind enough to pick me up at the airport and take me to my sis-in-law and husbands for a big dinner for all of us – we’ve been become an extended family. And they even stopped by the grocery store in El Dorado so I could stock up with booze and mixers for the trip.

This WAS NOT my shopping cart:

But it was a good picture – apparently the market sells a lot of Jim Beam half gallons during the season.

Great dinner with great company and so much fun there were no pictures – having too much fun with friends and family. Already thinking about next year! Wish I was in town for more than two nights, but its hard to take a weekend off between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the wine shop responsibilities.

Wednesday I was headed home on the train – my Christmas present to myself. Southwest Chief from Lamy, NM to Los Angeles, CA, then onto the Coast Starlight to Seattle. Two nights of rocking and rolling and being fed three times a day.

Got to the station at Lamy to find a very different train station. Amtrak stopped paying to staff the station, so volunteers took over, found someone to open an extension of a brewery, open a sandwich counter and generally transform the historic station:

As usual, the train was late…sight. No lunch on board because of the delay, but when it did come, I got settled in:

What a lovely view from my office.

And then there are the views and the stops….

And, of course the food!

With dessert (with sprinkles) to take back to my room:

And Flagstaff – a stop which I keep trying to get an acquaintance of mine to drop by the station for a hug.

Transferred in LA to the Coast Starlight – another day, another roomette!

And when I rolled into San Louis Obispo (they might want to fix their station sign)…

I got my nephew to meet me at the station for a hug and a quick chat!

More food, more booze, and it’s time for bed:

Woke up to snow…

And eventually Portland…

And after dark, headed into Seattle:

End in of my trip. Off to work in the morning.


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Nov '19

Home Report: Boxing Wine For The Holidaze

Weeks ago I got a notice from my favorite US winery that they were clearing out their cellars – and offering 60% off with flat-rate $20 a case shipping. SIGN ME UP!

My favorite part of this sale was the formats other than 750ml – 375ml splits and 1.5ltr magnums. In the splits, there were enough vintages to make a four-year vertical. Incredibly rare, and even rarer in smaller formats, and at 60% off. Needless to say, I ordered three, 4-year verticals, and two magnums from other years.

The plan was to give the sets to friends who also really like the Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant – the Flying Cigar, a reference to French appellation rules:

The label has a picture of a cigar with a “beam” of red light shining down on a farmer in his wagon who is about to be beamed up to an alien spacecraft. Literally translated, “Le Cigare Volant” is French for The Flying Cigar. From the US perspective we’ve called UFOs flying saucers, but the French called them flying cigars. This was Bonny Doon’s homage to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, while at the same time making fun of silly French people.

Well this story is actually rooted in truth. A few goofy Frenchmen started to see flying cigars after drinking far too much wine. As time went on, more and more of them started to see funny things in the sky. They got scared (and most likely tried to surrender). They felt those flying cigars would be interested in their wine/grapes, and might steal them. Rather than cut back on their wine consumption they complained to their politicians and local governments. The local governments knew those who worried about flying cigars were crazy, they also knew wine was a large part of their culture and the local economy. So they passed ordinances against flying cigars and threatened the immediate impound of any flying cigars caught landing in the vineyards. The law was considered a success as no flying cigars ever landed in or near Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Source: Irrational Diversions

Time to make some presentation boxes!

And the final product:

You should note that the wood for the display boxes I made was recycled from the tops of wooden wine boxes – and once you drink the bottles you can turn the box upside down and mount it to the wall as a spice/condiment rack, recycling the wood for a third use.

Got them all boxed up for shipment, though one of them I took to Berkeley with me…

Speaking of Bonny Doon – Randall Graham (winemaker/owner of/for Bonny Doon) stopped by the wine shop years ago when he was in town and making sales calls with the distributor:

And as an endcap to the story, when I was in Berkeley, we opened the vertical that I brought down for Mark and Onyx – it went VERY WELL with the seafood bisque for dinner:

It was a damn fine meal accompanied by damn fine wine, with damn fine company!

Sadly, one of the other sets lost a member due to gorilla handling….Dan said the box smelled nice:

Dan said the cornstarch peanuts soaked up most of the liquid – but they even manage to break the wooden box!

A sad day in Denver. Amazing that the Boston package made it in one piece.


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Nov '19

Trip Report: Trying A New Airline

As regular readers of this blog, you know my loyalties to Alaska Airlines very solid. But sometimes you have to try something new, and since I’ve hit Alaska MVP Gold 75K status for the year, I can afford to have a few miles post on another airline. That airline is JetBlue, but I’m not flying them. I’m flying JetSuiteExpress, which has a mileage deal with JetBlue.

Yes, I actually clicked on a FaceBook advertisement – out of curiosity.

What I found is an airline that doesn’t have many routes, but it has one in particular that really benefits me – Seattle to Oakland. Their advantage?

  • They fly from BFI (Boeing Field International), which is an $8 UBER ride from my house
  • They fly 30-seat Embraer 135 aircraft where all the seats have extra knee room in a 1-2 seating configuration (meaning in the 1 portion, you can have both a window and an aisle)
  • Less invasive security (they swapped my checked bag and my laptop backpack) so I was able to board the plane with my phone, keys, water bottle not pulled out
  • Free cocktails and snacks onboard
  • Useless JetBlue miles
  • And the best — $79 each way if booked 4+ weeks out.

The only other scheduled airline that flies out of Boeing Field (just across the river from me, just south of Georgetown) is Kenmore Air (mostly known for their float plane operations to the San Juans and Canada) who fly fixed wing/wheeled small props to Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island) and East Sound (on Orcas Island).

Kenmore Air and JetSuiteExpress share the passenger terminal at BFI, and its lounge:

So, no free drinks on the ground, but all the StarBucks and kibble you can stand. Boarding was swift and hasslefree:


Knee room and an outlet for charging (assuming two-seat side of the aircraft only has one to share):

We the occasional good shot out the window:

Landed right on time, and here we are on the ground:

So far, this has been a seriously relaxing way to travel!

Spent time with some friends in Berkeley, but that’s another post, but two days later, I’m back in the air, this time while it is still light outside. Longer check in on the way back (but still less than 20 minutes including security) because Oakland has flights going to Burbank, Phoenix, Vegas, so the lounge was a little more crowded:

We boarded a couple of minutes late, but by mainline airline times, nothing.

And scenery…on the ground:

And before you know it, back in Seattle (after more cocktails and snacks)…

I realized when I was in the air, that by landing at Boeing Field, I was closer to Matt/Courtney’s Wednesday dinner which I’d figured I wouldn’t make – instead, I showed up with luggage.


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Nov '19

Trip Report: The Pride of Palm Springs – Part Three, The Final Days

After the parade and a nap, it was time to head out to dinner – the choice this evening is Casa Blanca, which has three locations around Palm Springs.

Attractive men at one end of the counter, not so, the other:

They were out of sweet vermouth –so it was a very dirty Martini for me (in a Mexican restaurant):

I had the bacon wrapped chili rellenos – which were fabulous!

The Fish Tacos looked great:

As whatever DancingBear had:

And since we were already in that end of the town – must be time to hit up a gay bar!

Hadn’t been to a gay bar since a memorial service for a friend earlier this year. Two time in one year – after not having stepped into one in a decade. The floors are still sticky, but they no longer wreak of smoke.

Our final meal of the trip found us back at Sherman’s for a late lunch before our early evening upgraded flight home:

I have reservations for next year for a 3-bedroom. Fortunately, it doesn’t include Halloween next year, which will make my business partner happier.

That’s it for now – now just down to two more posts to be caught up!

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Nov '19

Trip Report: The Pride of Palm Springs – Part Two

This post is only about the Pay Pride Parade on the Sunday that we were there, nothing more. But you have to start out with a good breakfast!

And now onto the Parade! The WorldMark Palm Springs is right at the beginning of the parade route, so we got to see them lining up, assembling this/that/other things:

FYI – that is the WorldMark Palm Springs in the background. Talk about CLOSE!

That giant high heel on the RV about retracts via hydraulics to pass under the traffic lights!

The GRINDR Float featuring a giant eggplant (a sex emoji, apparently).

And National Park Rangers! Featuring Craig (one of our flat-mates) who is a former ranger.


And if you want to see some videos, here they are:

Well, that’s it. There will be one more PSP post coming along, hopefully soon.

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Nov '19

Trip Report: The Pride of Palm Springs — Part One

So, I have a friend…there are both jokes and snide comments possible with that start, BUT she has tasked me with managing (and paying the maintenance dues) for her 12,000-point WorldMark account so she just doesn’t have to thank about it anymore. It was a sore point between her and her partner.

So far, I’ve used her points to go to Anaheim to see The Mouse (but was too cheap to buy a park ticket), and now to Palm Springs for the combination of Halloween AND Gay Pride. Pride in Palm Springs is always the first full weekend of November…but his year with Halloween on Thursday, it was a two-fer!

Any now, the pictures you’ve been waiting for. Gone for a week, and need to bring wine:

Arrived a couple of hours before actual check-in. Opted for the 2-bedroom unit with twin beds in the second bedroom. Probably should have looked at a property map and chosen a better location since we were at the back of the property. It was quiet, but no balcony overlooking the parade route:

Over the last year, I’ve had several people relocate either part-time for full time to Palm Springs, so lots of people to visit, starting with Jack and Stevee for dinner at PF Changs hosted by DancingBear:

We’d done some shopping so when breakfast rolled around, we had fixin’s, complete with Caesars (which is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato).

For dinner, we invited Mags, the other transplant for dinner:

By the following breakfast, Craig had showed up from LA to join us for the week:

Craig is pondering the move as well, so for lunch it was DB and I at Sherman’s Delicatessen, a tradition in more ways than one:

I started with a Sparkling Greyhound:

Before my grilled Rueben…

And DB bought a Key Lime Pie to go.

Halloween night dinner was at the condo – we had a grill, but no BBQ tongs. Called the front desk and they sent some over:

He is 6’4″ WITHOUT the heels – and works the Front Desk. Welcome to Halloween in Palm Springs! Tonight’s dinner is street tacos with John and Stevee coming to a late dinner:

And what are street tacos without a couple of desserts – including the Key Lime pie from Sherman’s and a cake from the Italian bakery.

Another day, another fabulous breakfast…

There was “pool time” involved…

And hot tub time after the sun went over the mountains. But it’s sort of rude to take pictures in the hot tub after dark.

I’ll wrap up this post because the next one will have a TON of pictures of the Palm Springs Gay Pride Parade (and videos).

Stay tuned.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: SF Quickie

Not sure why I made this reservation – I’ve already made Alaska MVP Gold 75K. But I like San Francisco, and there was room at the WorldMark San Francisco Union Square. Off I go.

Booked this flight out of Everett Paine Field because it was $115 roundtrip – and I got upgraded to First 3-days before each leg.

Figured it would take me 45 minutes or so to get to Seth’s house to leave the car. What happened was:

  • It took 30 minutes
  • And Seth doesn’t live there anymore (good thing I didn’t try and use my keys to use the bathroom)

Grabbed an Uber to the airport and was through security quickly, but only with “expedited”, not TSApre (or Clear). Had to pull the laptop out, oddly not the liquids or shoes. No lounge and I was way early, but it’s a great airport to hang out at. Just watching was is landing and taking off is worth the price of admission.

But I got upgraded into my favorite seat – 1A, the infamous bulkhead, aisle, window seat. Great view out the window for plane spotting:

Air Force 767 refueling tankers down the alley…

And one in process – you can tell by the matte grey tail…

A stored 737MAX..

And more MAXs…

And we are off!

And food and drinks!

And into San Francisco:

Landed, deplaned, got a roundtrip ticket on BART, and was on my way while cryptic message came over the PA about the TransBay tunnel being shut down for a fire – got to Montgomery Station to find BART not letting people onto the platform:

They let us out using the emergency gate (which delayed my return trip because my card hadn’t scanned out). But soon I was humping it through Union Square toward Nob Hill and the condo.

And the room was ready, even though it was before 4pm. This is a 2nd floor streetside handicapped studio:

I went out and got some supplies and settled in – and had Chinese Food sent in from City Chopsticks (chicken corn soup, green union pancakes, Human Orange Beef – as I was in for the night (as you can see from the photos above).

Late morning found me at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Mara Sushi:

Started with a sake oyster shooter – great breakfast!

And then onto a Bento lunch…

And some local shots of the neighborhood…

Before I knew it, I was headed back home…with a stop in the Cathy Pacific Business Lounge at SFO:

With its self-pour bar…

While I had some quarter sandwiches, I was an hour or so too early for the Chinese Buffet and Custom Pho orders. Next time.

Back on the plane in my same seat (1A) for more photos:

And then food…

And lovely photos as I was landing back in Everett:

These views never get old for me – I love living in the Puget Sound! And if you want to see the landing…here is the video.

That’s it for the day.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Return To Waikiki

After the long trip to Vietnam and travelling with other people, it felt like a good idea to take off on a self-holiday. Time for a little pre-takeoff breakfast!

Got the upgrade after I’d already checked in so it was a window bulkhead seat rather than my preferred aisle, but an upgrade is an upgrade!

And it being a Hawaii flight – a POG Mimosa while we were still on the ground!

Once in the air, the food really started to flow…

Hard to tell, but that was the mushroom stuffed ravioli.

Might as well take advantage of the window seat!

Once landed, grabbed the city bus ($2.75) to Waikiki and walked the couple of blocks to the condo:

Here are daytime and nighttime videos of the condo:

If you don’t want to watch the video, here is a still photo from my balcony:

Even with the snack basket an hour out of Honolulu – I was in need of something more substantial in my stomach so walked over the Cheeseburger Prime (formerly Cheeseburger in Paradise).

Got the sliders which came with fries and a cocktail (West Side Smash) at happy hour prices.

I’ve liked their food in the past, but this time the fries obviously weren’t cooked to order.

Tuesday morning, I took a bride of 20,000 points (should have held out for 30,000) to attend an “update”. There goes an hour and a half – but it replaces most of the points I gave to Conan for the father/daughter trip to London and Paris. I covered their first two nights in London with a place in Hyde Park.

Next up was my usual Tuesday in Waikiki – lunch at Liliha Bakery, which was, as often happens, out of the fried chicken, so it was the grilled ahi sandwich:

My other Tuesday stops were strikeouts –Salvation Army for Aloha shirts, along with Ross which is across the street.

In my evening stroll, noticed that Dean and DeLuca now has an outpost – mostly a café:

And that a new Tiki Bar has opened up down the street – The Lava Tube, better email Joe from Indianapolis!

Wednesday started off with one of my Waikiki traditions – the 55+ IHOP breakfast…

But it’s time to check out some new stuff to do in Waikiki…like fabric from Fabric Mart:

And these are the goodies I picked up with the exception of the napkins, which came from the quilting store on the Beachwalk:

And in this new neighborhood (well, to me), I found both a major Korean Grocery Store (Palama):

And a big Japanese Grocery Store (Don Quijote) complete with outside food court:

Thought “Oriental” wasn’t and acceptable phrase anymore…well, it is here.

Afternoon snack time found me at the restaurant at Tommy Bahama:

In the photo above, you can see one of the two $20 off regular items cards I scored on my last trip for just making a $5 donation called Kids Don’t Go Hungry. It makes the blue crab lump salad below just $2.00 (and the drink was happy hour priced at $10.00


Afterwards, I made my final ABC store run – and had enough receipts to get another Hello Kitty shopping bag for free:

Dinner was eating up all the leftovers in the fridge – a common practice.

Following day found me poolside for a bit…but sitting in the shade reading:

Didn’t even bother to put on my suit and jump in, even with the hunky long-haired young dad in the pool. And speaking of hunky guys – look what I’m missing this weekend in Honolulu!

Afternoon found me back at Tommy Bahama to use my second $20 Off card. Today it was different cocktail (only $8 – a Classic Margarita) and the Panko Breaded Fish and Chips ($4 after my $20 off):

Forget what the local fish was, denser (and more filling) than Halibut – I would have been just as happy with two pieces.

Feeling bloated from a mid-afternoon lunch is no mood to hit the Waikiki Farmers Market which happens every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday in front of the Wells Fargo Bank. Jen, Kennan and I hit it when we were here a month ago. Thought about getting some food for later, but they didn’t open for half an hour, and I needed a nap. It will be cheese and crackers for dinner tonight!

Walking home I discovered that another of my favorite restaurants has closed. Probably didn’t help that they didn’t have a full liquor license. Last time I was here was with DancingBear and Rick Rodrigues – our mutual friend that dropped dead about a year ago (and was about five years younger than me). Farewell Rick and Agu Ramen.

Final morning in Waikiki I was greeting to this view from my bed.

How magical is that!

Took the bus back to the airport – another whopping $2.75, which beats the $30 Uber. From city bus, through security, and into the lounge in a little over an hour. Not bad.

My return flight takes me through Portland because I wanted a freebie upgrade to First Class from Premium, comes with plenty of food and drink:

Had to get to the other end of the Portland terminal for the last flight of the day…which was supposedly on time except we were on the ground for 40 minutes waiting for last minute passengers. Wish they’d served a cocktail on the ground to first, because we got nothing in the air because of turbulence. The downside of going through Portland.

Some people join gyms, I get my steps being a tourist:

For comparison, Sunday I was at work. Means I walk at least twice as much travelling. And speaking of travelling, with my return back to Seattle I hit Alaska MVP Gold 75K status. Milestone benefits are 4 more Gold Upgrade Certificates, and 50,000 bonus miles. Takes 75,000 miles of flying on Alaska, or 90,000 miles of flying on Alaska and their Partners – that’s PER YEAR.

Back in time to work the weekend. Whew.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Return From Vietnam

Well, it’s been a fun trip, but now it’s time to head back to the US. Fortunately, Sean lives 10 minutes from the airport – it was a ridiculously cheap Grab fare, and quick. 51,000 Dong – or $2.20 USD – which included the 10,000 Dong airport drop off fee (0.43 USD).

No one in line in front of me – I got there minutes after they opened, and I’m in Business Class. Even customs/immigration was only 10 minutes – much less than Sean warned me about. Next up, the lounge!

And my plane is here!

It’s a 787 so it should be comfy.

Sadly, the Asian airlines don’t believe in Champagne on the ground before takeoff. Fortunately, I had a couple of scotch and sodas in the lounge. And the menu was at hand.

I went for the Japanese Menu for my lunch. And it was pretty!

I even managed to get a little sleep, along with watching Hangover 3 (that’s a movie), along a couple of TV shows.

The next photo I put in for Kathy – she loves a good bidet photo, and our plane had them (at least in Business Class).

Nothing like seeing a sign like this as you are transferring flights!

Good thing I’m getting out of the day I am – lots of flights being cancelled for tomorrow.

Unlike on the way to Vietnam, I actually had a little time in the lounge in Tokyo…with my souvenir from the Saigon airport:

Actually, there are TWO JAL Lounges at Narita – and I’d forgotten the main difference. The small one has hard alcohol, the big one doesn’t. Sadly, I didn’t remember that until I’d walked all the way (and it is closer to the gate.

The next jet is a 767-300, fortunately with an updated Business Class.

I really like the side table. And the privacy. And the food. This time I went for the Western Menu:

And they actually managed to get the steak done to medium rare!

This flight’s movie is Stand By Me, which my buddy Fluffernutter was an extra (in the pie eating barf scene).

Probably got three hours or so of sleep.

Since it’s a 10-hour flight, that means a second meal before landing…back to the Asian Menu:

I must be running out of steam because I don’t have any pictures of the lounge in Vancouver. The picture I do have is of the “haul” from Duty Free. There is a weird quirk in the system when you clear US Immigration/Customs in a foreign country (Canada has a bunch of ports of entry, as does Ireland, even Dubai). You still get to purchase Duty Free – BUT, you are already on US Soil. When I asked how much I could bring in (experiencing this in Calgary as well), the clerk asked, “How much can you carry?” Apparently, six liters is my limit!

That would be two bottles of Maker’s Mark, and four bottles of Canadian Club Rye, with two complimentary mini bottles of Maple Syrup. Thank got Shua is meeting me at the airport – at the gate! He works at Sea-Tac, and gets off a little before my flight gets in.

Here’s to friends. It was a good trip all around. Friends on both ends to meet me.

If you need refreshing on the trip – here is an infographic:

Another trip under the belt. Using Alaska Frequent Flier Miles this trip in Business Class was 125,000 miles + $67.43 in fees. According to the booking rules, I could have stopped off for a week in both Seoul and Tokyo for the same fare (though they are tightening up those rules). I’m using those rules next March to do an around the world for 160,000 miles and (because of British Air excessive fees) $850 in Business and First. People ask how I can stand to fly so much – this is the reward, one set of flights that would cost me as much as I spend on a year of flying (last time I looked I’d spent $7,500 this year on paid flights).

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Saigon, Part Three

Michael’s flight back isn’t until noon, so we have time for breakfast at the hotel:

And the rooftop views are WONDERFUL!

After Michael leaves, I stay on until closer to checkout – got to get my money out of the room (and Sean is teaching until 5pm). Looks like we had a party in the room!

And I realized I never put an exterior shot of the hotel on the blog:

Wondering the neighborhood, I actually found TWO wine shops, not including the fancy grocery store which also carried wine. OF course, it was from everywhere EXCEPT Vietnam:

And let me tell you, there must be some heavy import duties on wine with the prices I saw.

Grabbed a Grab back to Sean’s for the next two nights. Took a long walk around his neighborhood, and found something amazing to me – this guy is splicing fiber optic cable:

On close inspection, most of what is on the pole was fiber.

My walk got cut short with the usual afternoon rainstorm – meaning I didn’t find a place to eat, so back to the Family Mart downstairs from Sean’s it was…for this healthy meal:

We had better food once Sean got off work – and I even picked up a split of the local Vietnamese wine…

And Sean shared some Vietnamese dessert wine (which was better than the red – which was just sort of “flat”).

One of the features that we didn’t take advantage of during my visit is the 2nd floor deck/pool area.

Guess I’ll have to come back for another visit!

Final day in the city was more wandering and taking random photos…

All that was left was a final Thai dinner at Thai Blah Blah, a couple of blocks away through the park, where at night people learn to roller skate, salsa, you name it:

It was a lovely final meal!

Tomorrow I head back to the states. Stay tuned.

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Saigon, Part Two

Back in Saigon after our couple of day in Da Nang, it’s off to the hotel after leaving Sean’s place to drop the bags and find an early lunch.

Gold Fish was the answer (the restaurant, not the children’s snack:

Yummy food at 10am when most lunch places were still closed.

After lunch, we were off the The Independence Palace, also know of the Reunification Palace, which is what I should have put into the Grab app as we ended up in a definitely not touristy neighborhood. There was a temple there, though this is the worst possible shot of it – drunk tourist shot, and it’s too early to be drunk:

So, we Grabbed again to where we should have been, only to find that they have “odd” hours. Then close for an hour at lunch. So, we killed time until 1pm with iced Vietnamese coffee at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (oddly, a US chain, so the bathrooms were clean and the wi-fi quick).

It was across a nice park from the palace…

I’d been here two and a half years ago with Sean. It was the residence and official offices for the South Vietnamese government. You can tell by the number of formal rooms:


A closeup of the exterior reveals a design esthetic that reminds me of the Hawaii State Capital:

And the rooftop heliport…

But then there is the behind the scenes parts of the palace, like the kitchen, which filled me with envy. Four burners, a griddle, and ovens on BOTH sides.

Too bad I don’t have room for this!

And my brother Jon would love those GIANT woks!

Sadly, the “bunker” was closed when we were there – but it was where they “sheltered in place”.

And there are massive grounds to explore….

And then random vehicles…

And my favorite, the shooting range!

After the tour, Michael and I headed back to the hotel to formally check in. Formally is an odd thing in Vietnam – they take a photocopy or a cell phone picture of your passports, and hand you a key. No credit card for damages/mini-bar stuff. Just hand you the key. I should mention that I booked both our Saigon hotels on Expedia with cancellable rates.

Our hotel is the Luxury Hotel! And we are in a VIP Suite (that smells slightly of smoke). I think we have the stereo and speakers covered!

And in case we forget:

Two beds and a sitting area:

And the bathroom:

Michael went out for supplies to tide us over to dinner – which Mike is joining us:

They had a couple of beers; I had a couple of cocktails before heading out to see what was available – and we ended up in the night market (which was on Michael’s wish list).

That is going to be our restaurant on the right!

And it’s sort of like eating in a circus!

Four or five dishes – 600,000 dong, with beer for the boys, which is basically $9.00 USD each. I could get used to this!

What a great send off for Michael!

And with that, I end the post. Stay tuned for the return home.

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Return To Saigon

Our return to Saigon day was a mellow one. Sean and Michael went to the beach (China Beach) and I slept in. Not that I didn’t go to the beach, just that I took four pictures and left:

Then I set off to find a convenience store to stock up for the train trip…

We all met back at the hotel to check out and head to the train station – one that looks more like a train station than the one in Saigon:

Complete with old steam engine!

But we still needed lunch, which we found across the street from the station – Choi’s Kitchen:

Taste was good but with the bones, I think they just took a cleaver to the poor bird. Of course, our original choice wasn’t available. But the Peach Tea was great.

After lunch, we were back to the station…

Noticed several “private” rail cars on the Hanoi Da Nang train. Nicer cabins, better bathrooms, double the money:

Sadly, we were back in the EXACT same compartment that we arrived on. Michael’s USB port and my coat hook still came off in my hand.

This trip I decided to walk the length of the train…all the way back to the “café” car:

Then to the soft seats (I didn’t see a hard seat car):

Then to the 6-person sleeper – where I found a party. They offered me a beer and we toasted!

Look at the cooler full of Heineken – and the box of empties!

Dinner on the way back south was a little different than the way north – they took orders (and our money) and showed up an hour later with a most interesting tray:

Just like our ride north, we had a fourth person in our compartment – this one didn’t speak English or Vietnamese. Too bad none of us knew Chinese.

Train was schedule to arrive in Saigon at 5:45 – hopefully enough time for Sean to get to school at seven. We were running a little late when we stopped at a station Sean recognized as 10 minutes from his house (rather than 30 minutes to the main train station). We had the conductor hold it for us as we rushed off….

Basically, in the middle of nowhere – with surprised locals pointing us the way to the main street.

We all went back to Sean’s, with Sean quickly changing and heading to school, Michael and I chilling it was time to head into the city.

But more on that in the next post.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Linh Ung Pagoda and Marble Mountains

Death March Part Two – but we are in Da Nang for only one full day (plus a couple of half days). First up is the Linh Ung Pagoda…

The seven-story pagoda contains 21 Buddhist Alters – fortunately nobody wanted to walk the stairs.

Back into the car we go – one MUCH SMALLER than this morning’s car. Off to the Marble Mountains, also overlooking China Beach in Da Nang. The title refers to My Khe
beach in the city of Đà Nẵng, Vietnam, nicknamed “China Beach” in English by American and Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War

It’s an elevator ride to the top and a back down:

And it features a series of caves (where the Viet Cong hid out during the Vietnam War):

Found this outside of the final cave entrance. This is the second one I’ve seen this trip!

Got back to the hotel with enough time for a little nap before heading out to dinner at Stinky Fingers, which was started by a guy from Louisiana, and the food was amazing. They made their own tortillas from imported cornmeal from scratch for their chips. Dirty Fingers is the name.

And finally! Cocktails!

It was all good until an obviously American guy came in with a subtle version of a Trump t-shirt – America Great Again, in a slate on black t. What I found annoying was that there was a Vietnamese girl on his arm.

Went back to the hotel and fell into bed.


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Oct '19

Trip Report: Early Morning Trip To Mỹ Sơn

Having arrived in Da Nang last night, today is sightseeing day – and it starts EARLY. How early? We need to be downstairs and ready at 5:10AM (I kid you not). We arranged for the hotel to give us some tiny box breakfasts (hard boiled egg, bread, banana, coffee) since we will be missing their breakfast buffet.

We were the first people through the gates when they opened at 6AM.

We were joined by some other early risers, including three Americans doing a semester abroad in Chang Mai, Thailand.

Yes, there was an electric trolley to take us up the hill (thankfully).

And our first ruined temple:

From Wikipedia, here is the description of the ruins:

From the 4th to the 14th century AD, the valley at Mỹ Sơn was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes. It was closely associated with the nearby Cham cities of Indrapura (Đồng Dương) and Simhapura (Trà Kiệu). At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as numerous stele bearing historically important inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham.

We had our own private guide, as did it seems, most of the other groups which is handy since there are the remains of 71 temples in 14 groups.

Here is a sampling of the photos I shot:

I was awed by the column in the above photo – memories of my semester at The Evergreen State College studying the Art History of Ancient Rome and Greece, combined with my first trip overseas at the age of 20 to India and Nepal. I wandered off from the group and stumbled onto this building, which was barred from the front…

But open in the back

Yes, the temples were heavily bombed during the Vietnam war, but more on that later:

Back outside…more and more temples:


And, as promised, more about the bombing during the Vietnam War (again, courtesy of Wikipedia):

In 1937, French scholars began to restore the temples at Mỹ Sơn. In 1937 and 1938, the main temple known as “A1” and the smaller temples surrounding it were restored. Other major temples were restored between 1939 and 1943. However, many historical buildings were destroyed during the Vietnam War. The area was part of a People’s Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong base area and consequently United States aircraft bombed the region in August 1969. The surrounding area is still rendered dangerous through the presence of unexploded land mines.

Throughout the site, you will see hundreds of bomb craters:

Our walkabout ended up at a “shopping opportunity”, or in my case, a chance to sample some “banana wine”.

I don’t think we will be stocking it at the shop.

We had our driver stop at a mini-market on the way back to the hotel. We had yet to find one near the hotel, and someone (me) was out of booze and mixer.

Even with the stop, we made it back to the hotel before they stopped serving breakfast at 10:30am. SCORE!

Wish I’d know last night that I could have gotten a cocktail in the restaurant!

We have more tours planned for the afternoon, but someone (me) needs a nap!

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Train To Da Nang

Sean, Michael, and I are taking the night train from Saigon to Da Nang. This was my idea – I love a good overnight train ride.

Left pretty much on time at 9:55pm from District 3 in Saigon. The round-trip in an “air-conditioned 4 person soft sleeper” was about $100 USD each.

Each of the berths has a reading light and a USB charging port. There are also three outlets for laptops, etc.

Periodically, venders would come through offering soups, beverages, etc.

I took an Ambien and crashed out until the morning, when I caught this wonderful sunrise video:

During this time, they brought us some breakfast…

And just random pictures out the window…

Around 11, they brought by some lunch for us…

And for some reason, people with cabins started sitting in the corridor…

Got into Da Nang about 2pm –

And it was off to the Haka Boutique Hotel after a cab driver intentionally took us the long way (not realizing Sean speaks Vietnamese). Should have just gotten a Grab.

The lady at reception recommended a restaurant for dinner that she goes to (meaning local, not touristy on the beach). Quán Phước Thái 

And for some reason there was a costumed bear circulating, then, by the street, where we were, a karaoke singer shows up with a blaring speaker strapped to his motorbike, singing and trying to sell packages of chips – and then there was the sad balloon clown. Wish I’d gotten a picture of that – he was not a happy clown.

But the food was amazing, especially the scallops in their shells – Sean ordered a kilo of them (2.2 pounds), but still think we only spent a million two (about $52 USD – and half that was the scallops).

There were a couple more dishes that got eaten before I could get photos…not bad for walking distance from the hotel.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day, so I’ll close this here.

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Saigon, Part One

Sean was a saint and met me at the airport and whisked me back to his place – staying there the first two nights…comfy!

And morning brings coffee after Sean has left for work…

The plan for the day is to jut explore the neighborhood, find a cash machine, keep myself fed and amused until Sean comes home around 6.

Until I get to the cash machine, Sean let me raid his stash of Dong (the official currency of Vietnam):

I grabbed about 150,000 Dong – which is equal to $6.46.

Here is the view from his 5th floor apartment:

And a bird’s eye view of the traffic chaos and we aren’t even in the middle of the city!

Here is what the building looks like from street level:

I have company coming this evening! My former Couchsurfing now ex-boyfriend of my friend’s stepdaughter (there’s a mouthful) from Bristol, England, who is now in Saigon teaching English.

Hard to believe it’s been eight years – and he’s only 28 now! And just so you know what Sean looks like….

I’ve known Sean like 25 years at this point – my how time flies.

Here are some random neighborhood shots…

I’m not sure was a Dinky Hong is, but it sounds dirty.

More exploring the following day, followed by a quiet dinner in. Sadly (for me as he’s a great cook), has stopped cooking because the cost of having custom food cooked and delivered is so inexpensive that it gives him more time to grade papers (yes, he is a teach as well, though Science, not English).

Thursday found me downloading the Grab App for my phone – like Uber for Asia. Michael arrives in the late morning and I’m meeting him at the hotel I have reserved, the Dong Du Hotel. Yes, I chose it because it has Dong in the name.

There are definitely some “no-no”s on this list – like Bloody Steaks.

And apparently, the keep “Ken” in the refrigerator. Love the illustrations on the fire poster:

Michael and I snacked around for the early afternoon on some things I bought while at Sean’s:

Things like dried squid, cuttlefish covered peas…

And steak-flavored potato chips…

When we headed out for dinner, we stumbled across what is basically an Auto Mat – an alleyway lined with vending machines!

We settled on Café Runam, which turns out to be a chain, but the food was good:

I like that they serve their drinks with stainless steel straws!

And we both ended up getting the pork dish because they were out of the two other things we wanted. This will turn into a “theme” as we eat our way through Vietnam.

Morning finds us on the top floor the hotel where breakfast is served. They have interesting choices for breakfast:

And beverage choices…

Today’s adventures are to check out the Saigon Central Post Office. It was designed by Alfred Foulhoux, but is often erroneously credited as being the work of Gustave Eiffel  (as in that guy who did the tower):

Illiterate and need someone to write a letter for you? There is a service for that:

With the usual revolutionary monuments in the courtyard out front:

Notre Dame Cathedral (closed for renovation):

And stumbling across Book Street where we ended up chatting with kids who wanted to practice their English:

Stopped at a Circle K (I kid you not) to stock up the hotel room:

Even with the booze, that is like $7 worth of goods.

This was an unusual sighting on the street!

Apparently, they are popular for giving tours to tourists, especially ex-US Military.

It was appropriate that we saw this on the way to the War Remnants Museum, which according to Wikipedia, was originally called Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes before it was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression.

And then the inside…

Oddly enough, I found the exhibit on the loss of life by reporters in the war both fascinating and heart wrenching:

Which was paid for by the Commonwealth of Kentucky:

And yes, there is a huge print of the infamous war photo of the six-year-old girl running naked down the street, her clothes burned off by a Napalm attack.

This was one of the closing pieces in that wing – from the French newspaper Le Figaro in 1965:

There was one section of the museum that I couldn’t go into. I had been there two and a half years ago. The section deals with the use of Agent Orange. I choked up at the museum, I’m choking up as I type this, the senselessness of it all.

There might be some pictures of it from my blog post back then: CLICK HERE. Apologies for scrambled special characters – a result of a WordPress update years ago.

Michael posted some pictures from some of the exhibits on his FaceBook feed. Several were almost immediately taken down as being too graphic. Sobering is how I would describe the museum, and I believe that every President, Vice-President, and Congresspeople should tour this museum before they ever send our young men and woman into harm’s way.

I’ll get off my soapbox now and onto lunch! But we have to find someplace first:

After much walking, we ended up here:

And I even had a beer! Just an FYI, Vietnam is all about coffee and beer, sadly, not so much about cocktails.

We tried to order seafood, but they were either out of it, or “take long time”. We ended up with these dishes, which were wonderful:

After lunch, got stuck in traffic on the way back to the hotel…but at least it wasn’t raining…until we headed to Sean’s when the skies opened up.

Fortunately, the rain let up by the time we went out for dinner.

As usual, a couple of dishes weren’t available, but what we ended up with were great:

It was a great dinner, but sooner than later, we were off to the train station to catch our night train to Da Nang.

The adventure will continue in the next post.

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Oct '19

Trip Report: Headed to Vietnam

Headed back to Vietnam after a two-and-a-half-year gap.

And using miles to fly business class on Korean Airlines, which gets me into the Delta Sky Club…


Also checked out their other one on the South Concourse…


Since I’ll get fed on the plane, I try to not stuff myself. The food is much better than the Alaska Lounge, but then, the Alaska Lounge if half the price, and I don’t have to be flying with them to get entrance.

My home for the next 11+ hours…

Sadly, we were stuck on the ground for almost two hours because of traffic delays, and a change of runways. Without Champagne!

But eventually the booze and food started flowing….

And I found the “unicorn” bathroom – the HUGE handicapped one.

Couple of movies before a nap. Tried Zorba The Greek, then Spartacus, finally settled on The Dead Poet’s Society. I’d forgotten there are very “dark” parts to that movie.

Here is the bed all laid out – sadly, Korean doesn’t provide a topper for the seat, or pajamas.

And then more food and booze…

With our late departure, no time to visit the lounge, barely had enough time to hit duty free so I’d have some whiskey when I get to Saigon.

New plane, but more food and booze:


Second leg was only 5 hours, but I did manage to get about an hour or so of fitful sleep – these are the older style business class seats that don’t fully (but close) recline.

Landed half an hour late, immigration was a breeze, but it was another 30+ minutes for my “priority tagged” bag to appear. Fortunately, Sean is a patient man, who I talked into picking me up at the airport.

Tomorrow, the Saigon adventure begins in earnest.

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