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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Sun
20
May '18

Trip Report: What 2018 Looks Like So Far – On A Map

I discovered this great site if you want to make pretty maps of your airport itineraries – but I also do cars and planes, so those aren’t on here. Isn’t it pretty?

This isn’t the final map for the year. I’m assuming I’ll go some more places since I only have one trip for July, one for August, and none for October (when it is cheap travel time).

So, the site is called, Great Circle Mapper. I might have to start adding these to all my posts.

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Sat
19
May '18

Trip Report: Mileage Run To NOLA

Normally I make mileage runs on Alaska to keep my MVP Gold 75K status, but this spring United (where I’m Premier Gold for life) has been offering me some amazing deals for bonus miles. I got almost 50K out of my Maui trip a couple of weeks ago, then they made me another offer of an additional 50K miles if I spent just a little more – so New Orleans, here I come.

Sadly, the flight boarded at 4:30am – so no lounge access, but unlike Alaska First Class, with United First Class, you get a cocktail on the ground:

Once you are in the air, it’s time for breakfast – the first of two because of the time of the day:

Was on the ground in Denver for a little less and an hour, before the routine repeated itself:

Same meal, different caterer and presentation.

Was in New Orleans by early afternoon – plenty of time before check-in, so grabbed the $2.00 city bus into the city. Once I hit the city, hopped off at the closest stop to the condo – which also meant I could swing by the Southern Food & Beverage Museum to check out there discount cookbook shelves. Sadly, nothing. Still got to the condo before check-in, but I got a room early – and promptly make a mess of it:

Got everything set up and headed out to happy hour at Poseidon, across the street:

There are cheaper happy hour oysters, but I’m lazy, and that bar is six blocks away (in upper 90’s temperatures).

Returned to the condo and checked out their roof top deck – which I’d forgotten was up there:

Reminds me that Rache and I need to check out The Hot Tin Roof Bar, across the street at the Hotel Pontchartain.

Got some work done while watching the news, but headed out to Igor’s (basically next door) for a take-out dinner of a cheeseburger and fries:

Made it an early night.

Checked out a little before noon and grabbed an Uber to the Ogden Museum of Fine Art to just my membership before it expires tomorrow. Normally I’m really jazzed by the exhibits they mount, but this visit, the main galleries were filled with Southern Impressionists, and Impressionism isn’t really my thing. There was one piece in the photography section that caught my eye:

Wonder why!

I could have taken the bus back to the airport, but it was splurge time. Too hot and humid to be walking around the city — $38 well spent to get to the airport early and have a little lunch:

Love their Cajun Dog. Probably should have bought some Crystal Hot Sauce for Pucci while I was there – and since I was past security. Sadly, I’m travelling with a very small carryon:

I watched two other shuttle flights take off for Houston before it was my turn – seems that they just run back and forth all day…

Across the tarmac you can see the completely new airport that will be done in a couple of years – can’t wait.

Short hop to Houston, but there was seat back entertainment:

But not even a bag of pretzels to go with my cocktail – fortunately, my Houston to Seattle flight had food (but no TV):

Made it back to the house around 11:30pm – plenty of time before opening the shop tomorrow at noon.

Since I mentioned this was a mileage run, here are the bonus miles I’ve earned in the last month on United:

Though they have my mileage balance off – currently its 155,958 – enough for a roundtrip to Europe in Business/First (120,000), or on one of their partners (140,000), or Middle East/India (150,000), almost enough for Australia/New Zealand up front (160,000), but definitely enough for Bangkok (150,000 on United metal). I mention this because for less than three grand I got First Class to Maui and back, New Orleans and back, and enough miles for a nice long intercontinental flight up front in the big seat.

And now you know why I play “The Game”.

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Sun
13
May '18

Trip Report: Couple Of Nights With The Boys

When I find a fare for the low hundreds ($120.40) I book some time with the boys (Mark and Onyx).

Didn’t get out of town until early evening because of a Greek Wine Tasting in the early afternoon. It was in the old Julian’s Pool Hall in South Lake Union – where taking a small car is necessary to get parking:

Basically, that is 6″ behind and 6″ in front. I even get the “short car” discount on the state ferries!

Taking ex-Virgin America metal, where they are only two rows of Premium Seating:

But, because it’s still Virgin metal, there are seat back apps to order as much junk as you want for free in Premium – a step up from Alaska metal (that will be gone by the end of the year):

Yes, that was two doubles. Missed out on the big snack box – thought I’d ordered it, but it didn’t arrive, and was gone when I checked again.

Another amusing thing is seat back entertainment (which includes the food/drink ordering system) which includes a flight map. I just flew over (well, almost) my brother’s house in Coos Bay.

Before I knew it, I was on BART headed to Berkeley:

Did I mention I’m flying REALLY light this trip – yep, one small laptop bag:

Luckily, the boys had some leftovers then I arrived around 11pm… but nothing like dinner the next night, which was a scallop, crab bisque in a lobster broth!

I love staying with the boys (though at this point, they are way over thirty). Here is my dinner shot:

Late afternoon it was back to BART, with a stop at one of my favorite dog stands – in front of the Ashby BART Station:

Then into the lounge:

Sadly, the noodle bar wasn’t open, just burgers, sandwiches, and a lot of booze.

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Sat
5
May '18

Trip Report: Escaping The Rain In Maui

Several weeks ago, I just couldn’t take the rain anymore and booked flights to Maui on United…yes, United. You all know I’m a loyal Alaska flyer, BUT I CAN BE BRIBED! And bribe me, United did.

The offer? Spent $300 on flights completed before the end of July and get an additional 9,000 miles on top of whatever miles you earned from the flight. Spend $1500 (these are just ticket costs, no fees) and they bump it to 42,300 miles. Add another 2 miles per dollar by putting it on their credit card, and the condo on a different card that does a one-to-one match, and by the time this is all posted, it will be just shy of 60,000 miles which is enough for a roundtrip economy ticket to Europe, or one way in Business. And I get a trip to Hawaii in First Class out of it!

The adventure begins:

Yep, taking both sandals AND Panda Slippers.

Sadly, I missed my friend Shua (short for Joshua) who works at Floret at Sea-Tac in the atrium:

Before settling into United’s Domestic First Class:

I had a stop in SFO, but sadly, no new books for my collection. I love the two locations of Compass Books in the United terminals – they have a great selection of remainders (new books, but discounted):

I have two (well, now one) passes for the United Club for use when I’m flying domestic – I get free access when I’m on international. I made use of one of them at SFO:

.

It was a several hour layover, but before you know it, I was in my seat headed for Maui with my “on the ground” cocktail – one of the advantages of flying United.

And once we were in the air, my hot nuts!

What I don’t understand is meal service in First Class – it’s a five-hour flight, but they plop your dinner down all at once…

Rather than salad, then the main. At least they served dessert separately!

Aloha Maui!

Got the rental car, and the first stop is the grocery store for dinner, breakfast, booze and mixers. Here is tonight’s dinner:

And breakfast in the morning:

And yes, I cooked ALL the bacon and clarified the bacon fat using a coffee filter and the cone from the coffee maker:

And this is what the final product looks like. This makes up for not packing any cooking oil.

But I should show you the place that I’m staying…it’s a small studio, but with a full kitchen:

And then there are the grounds:

And the pool:

But, I’m at the far end of the complex:

Yep, it’s a BIG place, bur the oddly had a unit available when I booked two weeks out, VERY RARE for Hawaii and WorldMark. And the major reason that I chose Maui as my “mileage run to the sun” destination.

I only have three nights here, so the focus is on pool time, but I still have to engage in my favorite Hawaii passion – thrift shopping for Tommy Bahama shirts (average price was $12 each).This would be what I scored at The Rainbow Attic – LOTS of great stuff here:

And I did pick up a few other things to bring home:

Next nights dinner was flank steak off the grill (communal grills located around the complex):

Which, the following night, turned into steak salad – no leftovers when I left the place!

My last day held a special moment – I had lunch with Swanda’s sister from Portland. She happened to be on the island as well!

It’s great to see her enjoying life on her sabbatical from teaching. She is recently back from a couple of weeks split between Amsterdam and Paris.

And here is the requisite flower photo:

And the 360-degree video:

My last day on Maui, I had to make a stop at one of my favorite fabric stores:

With it’s GREAT selection of Asian and Hawaiian fabrics:

Before I knew it, I was back in the air headed home, with yet more food and drink.

More room on this 757 from OGG to SFO:

And room for drinks and food:

Warm nuts, and, once again, they didn’t bother to warm the rolls:

Even more room on my SFO to SEA flight:

And a present from the flight attendant – from the “pay for it” in back:

Didn’t get home until around 2am. And there is work tomorrow. Sigh.

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Sun
22
Apr '18

Trip Report: Friends And Food In Boston

Another week, another flight, another breakfast in the Alaska Lounge…

This picture is for my sister…while that plane is at my gate, it’s the departure before mine:

Got the upgrade to first days ago, so that means lots of pictures of the new Alaska First Class menu that they are rolling out, starting with the hot sweaty nuts:

Continuing with the salad (that would be Murder on the Orient Express in the background):

Onto the Cod in Miso:

Followed by what may be the best gelato I’ve had in years!

My flight arrived a little early, grabbed my luggage, struggled with surge pricing on Uber before abandoning Uber to grab the last train to Alewife – free as opposed to $50-60 door to door. I have time, I’ve been drinking and on holiday. Who cares if I don’t get to Pucci’s until 2am – he left the door open, and he sleeps soundly. Grabbed an Uber from Alewife that was $10. Much more reasonable!

When I visit Pucci, we have a system. He gets up in the morning and goes to the gym, I sleep in until eleven or so, then get up for my breakfast/his lunch:

Crab and arugula omelets. Yum. Pucci has students today, though not as many as usual since half are on break, so after a liquor store run, Jill picks me up and we are off to check out Pucci’s favorite local wine store, The Spirited Gourmet:

Well over twice the size of my shop, it includes a deli counter for sandwiches, sliced cheeses and meats, imported food goods. We probably have the same size wine collection.

Next up is the Red House, which is turning into a ritual. They have 2 for $1 oysters from 12-5pm. Yep, that’s $6 a dozen, so Jill and I both got a dozen:

And then we added the mussels and frites ($9) before we headed out.

Pucci taught until 7PM (usually 9PM), so we had a nice rack of lamb off the grill for our dinner:

Served with a lovely Bodegas Carrau Uruguayan Tannat from The Spirited Gourmet:

The following day, it was Pucci’s Homemade Chili, with a lovely Garzon Pinot Noir Rosé (also from Uruguay):

Before we headed to the Red House for cocktails (me) and oysters for dessert. Yes, oysters almost immediately after chili.

The last supper, sadly, I was having too much fun and forgot photos…here’s the appetizer spread:

With this amazing Greek Caviar Spread:

No pictures of the guests (Pucci, Jill, Netta, Joel, Susan), but I did get one of Murphy the Wonder Dog patiently waiting for something to hit the floor.

I was up at 6am the next morning so Pucci could run me to Alewife before his run to the gym.

An hour+ later I was at the airport, settled into the Admirals Club, one terminal over from mine:

And soon I was on the plane home – I’d gotten a 1am notice that I’d been upgraded…NICE.

Today’s menu was a beef in mole which was “interesting” – like they were trying too hard, unlike the flight attendant who on a 6-hour flight, served it all at once, rather than in courses (well, the nuts and gelato came out separately).

I returned to my house to find a riot of color in my front yard. What a nice welcome:

Another week, another trip – wonder where next week will be?

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Mon
16
Apr '18

Trip Report: Empire Builder

This week Rache and I are back in the air and on the rails, but first, it’s dinner at Loretta’s Northwesterner since we have a red-eye flight:

Sadly, it was a red-eye flight with no upgrade other than Premium Class:

We got the luck of the draw – empty middle seats – Rache drew an extra card with Montana Bear as his window seat.

Got in around 6:30am and transferred to the train to the city to grab the train back across the country. Good thing there is a lounge for the sleeping car passengers.

The Metropolitan Lounge is spread over two floors and is a GREAT improvement over the basement lounge of yore. Complete with minimal afternoon snacks and a “wine tasting”:

Got to see my “Sorta Sister”, which falls into the category of “Sorta Nephews” for a mid-day cocktail in the Station Bar, they don’t allow guests. No pic for some reason – apparently, we all were having too much fun. It was good to catch up, even with the short amount of time – her husband just got home from knee surgery, so I didn’t get to see him, but we did have a couple of rounds of midday cocktails (Bloody Mary, Manhattan, Old Fastioned).

Afterwards, we hit the CVS for booze, mixer, and snacks.

And onto the train, we go!

And soon enough, the bar is set up!

And the chocolates are ready to give to our room attendant. Don’t we look comfortable?

This is a view of the “Family Room” on Amtrak long track trains….

Had a lovely dinner in the dining car – we both had the “surf and turf”, steak and shrimp cakes (with salad):

Lots of interesting shots from stations along the way:

And soon it was bedtime:

The “Family Room” is the largest in the Amtrak Fleet, but sometimes cheaper (though not often) than the Bedroom unit which has its own in cabin shower/toilet. Ours our down the hall. This room has more “hang-out space” and has windows on both sides of the car since its on the lower level – which also means less rocking back and forth for sleeping at night. And it does have enough space to set up a work station (bring a power strip as there is only one outlet).

And the blue LED lights at night make for some interesting photos in the mirror on the back of the door…

We were two nights on the train, they fed us breakfast…

Lunch (I love the burger) and dinner as part of the fare for a sleeper. Wine selection sucks, wish they would institute a “corkage fee” so I could bring my own… but that’s another letter to Amtrak. I always get the dessert “to go” because the meals usually have too much food (and not enough presentation).

After two nights, the train arrived within a couple of minutes of scheduled time – rare for Amtrak, and apparently, the trains for the next two days have been cancelled because of blizzards coming to the northern plains…and the trains two days were cancelling due to 20 grain cars off the track.

Amtrak is always a crap shoot for running on time, but we were lucky.

It was fun, and I’d do it again.

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Fri
6
Apr '18

Home Report: Scholarship Time!

If it’s spring, it must be time to read scholarship applications!

For those of you that don’t know – I have an endowed scholarship that I set up back in the 90’s (when I was WAY more liquid) at The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington. That would be The Mark Stephen Souder Scholarship For Information Dissemination, whose selection criteria is, as follows:

Offered to a new or currently enrolled student attending full time who demonstrates an interest in information dissemination, e.g., writer, Web designer, teacher, musician, activist—anyone helping to influence the way people think about their world, to change the concepts of “nons”—non-residents, non-Caucasians, non-heterosexuals—to create a more equal, intelligent and compassionate society. Preference will be given to non-resident gay or lesbian students, demonstrating quality and creativity of prior work in the area of information dissemination. Financial need will also be considered.

Requirements

  • Letter of application addressing your passion for and level of expertise in the dissemination of information. Tell us where you have been with this concept, what you are doing now, and where you want to go in exploring how information is shared.
  • A portfolio of work that expresses your beliefs about information dissemination and demonstrates how you have put those beliefs into action.
  • Two letters of recommendation from individuals, other than relatives, who have personally experienced the power of your work in information dissemination.
  • FAFSA or Renewal Application.

Some of the verbiage is in the criteria because of Washington State passage of I-200 floated by shyster Tim Eyman who routinely uses political contributions to support his lifestyle. The gist of the initiative was to prevent “prohibit racial and gender preferences by state and local government”. Sadly, it passed with 58.2% of the voters who actually bothered to vote.

For the last five years or so, we’ve been holding the scholarship readings at The Camlin Hotel, now a WorldMark property in downtown Seattle:

Generally, I try to get one of the three penthouse units because of the size of the living room area, and the attached rooftop deck, which, sad to say, does not have a hot tub (though there is a hot tub and pool on the first floor, along with a small museum in the basement).

This year we had 10 applicants, down from 15 for last year’s reading, and 11 for 2016. It tends to bounce between 10 and 20 applicants per year.

We got a late start because I worked closing at the shop, which means I didn’t get there until 7:30. Usually we start earlier. We had 7 readers this year, down a couple from last year owing to it being on a Saturday night. Here is a shot of the “crowd”:

Yes, I’m in my bathrobe and slippers!

And the fabled rooftop deck view (thanks Randy for both these shots):

Jonathan stayed late to finish reading applications (he is thorough) and do the math on what the ranking is for each of the applicants. We give Evergreen the results ranked in order. Usually the top applicant gets the scholarship, but occasionally, our first choice is lots of other scholarship’s first choice, and they spread the wealth. Here are the redacted numbers:

It always amuses me that even though people grade on different scales, the chart seems to line up. Interestingly enough, last year’s recipient was also the one that we chose this year as the top ranked.

Next year’s reading will be on Tuesday, April 9th, same venue.

So, that’s how I spent my Saturday night.

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Thu
5
Apr '18

Trip Report: Austin

I can’t seem to stay home for long – so after getting back from Japan and working the weekend, it off to AUSTIN!

It was a civilized departure time…12:30, making it a lunch flight with Alaska’s new, improved, First Class food. Bring on the warm nuts!

Followed by salad:

And then the main:

Grabbed an Uber (since Lyft stopped working on my phone) into the heart of the city:

Staying at the WorldMark Austin, which has only been open since February, and is just off the 6th Street entertainment area.

WorldMark has the smallish brick section of the building, Wyndham, the tower behind. The public spaces play up the “Keep Austin Weird” vibe:

And then up on the 10th floor…owner’s lounge, chill out area, infinity pool (no hot tub for some reason):

Welcome to Texas ADA signage!

But then there is my room!

And the view from my deck!

Since I’d had a full afternoon of feeding on the plane, I didn’t get out for dinner until around 9PM – and it surprised me to have to sit inside since the place was packed outside.

The place is called Ranch 616:

You miss a bit of the big neon gun in that shot, so this next day I got a better photo:

Tried one of their Specialty Cocktails, the ATX Jackass:

And I just had a starter – but the starter (Fried Oysters and Calamari) was enough for a good small dinner.

Quirky interior,

But great service from Nick. He’s the one on the left (swiped from Facebook from 5 years ago):

Slept late, when out for lunch at Tumble 22, where I got the “wimpy” version of their chicken – no stars.

Wandered around the neighborhood and checked out this GREAT wine store, Austin Wine Merchants:

Not planning on taking anything back with me, but that store was packed to the brim – Jimmy would have been proud.

Found some amusing graffiti…

Then headed to the roof deck for a little afternoon sun:

Good thing I did as you can tell from the clouds in the background, rain is coming.

Grabbed a couple of tacos to go from One Taco for dinner:

My original nighttime plan was to go see some live music at this place:

But it started to rain, and then get heavier, so I turned around and stretched out on the deck to enjoy the thunder and lightning show:

Sadly, impossible for me to capture the lightning, just how it lit up the night sky.

The late morning found me off to Holy Roller, a hipster café, for a meatloaf sandwich and a Manhattan – enough of Texas cocktails!

Sadly, the sandwich sounded better than it was, though the cocktail was excellent.

My walk home took me past this creek, which yesterday, before the storm was 12″ wide and 1″ deep – not today!

The flooding in this section of Texas was enough to keep the sales staff from coming in, so my 3PM $90 Owner Update was cancelled. DAMN!

Amusing car that reminded me of my departed father, though no Saint:

And a couple of quaint places that I didn’t go in — gotta save something for the return trip I booked for November with Rache.

Gives you a feel of the old neighborhood with high rises plopped around.

For my Last Supper in Austin, I returned to Ranch 616 to have the other dish I’d looked at – the quesadilla. Again, an appetizer big enough for a meal. I passed on the Frog’s Legs, instead, opting for another Manhattan. This time I was on the deck as it was packed again. Sadly, Nick wasn’t working.

Quiet evening at the condo followed by lunch at Walton Fancy and Staple for their Rueben. I got there a few minutes before noon, and no line at the counter. Fifteen minutes later there was a line out the door:

After lunch, hung out in the lobby for a bit, since my flight isn’t until 7PM, but finally hailed an Uber to head back to the airport so long before my flight that I couldn’t check luggage – but I hadn’t filled the suitcase with Bourbon, and my bag was carry-on size, so, to the lounge it went with me. Amusingly, in the lounge they were serving mini-hotdogs, in honor of opening day of the baseball season.

Whiskey and dogs – great combination, knowing that I have dinner awaiting me on the flight home. Speaking of which:

Not bad for airline food.

Home next week – a rarity!

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Wed
28
Mar '18

Trip Report: Another Return Home

Early, but not wretchedly early flight from Nagoya to Tokyo…8:30am.

The plan was to have breakfast in the Japan Air Lines lounge rather than the hotel. I should have had a little something at the hotel since the lounge was comfortable, but underserved in the food category:

One the upside – look, it’s a machine that dispenses highballs (whiskey and soda) AND beer!

Guess which one I went for, though I used better whiskey than was in the machine:

Nagoya is a nice airport…

But this doesn’t look like enough people to fill a 787…

So, once again, a HUGE airplane for a 45-minute flight (think Seattle to Portland). And again, my seat was listed as “Economy”, which if this is economy, I’ll take it!

But with only enough time to get some of their “signature” Kiwi Punch. Looks like a radioactive urine sample to me.

It wasn’t long before I was in Tokyo’s Narita Airport for a six-and-a-half-hour layover. Long enough to get bored, not long enough to leave the airport and do something even though I had to go back through security.

Fortunately, the Japan Air Lines lounge in Narita is MUCH better – including a second-floor cafeteria…

Which yielded these plates over the course of the day…breakfast:

And lunch:

At least I could get some work done…

Hours later I was able to board the flight to Vancouver (when you use miles for Business Class, you take whatever routing they give you):

Not as private as on the way over, but not bad.

But the dinner was excellent:

As was the meal before landing:

Watched an interesting Vietnamese movie with some vague homosexual undertones…

And availed myself of the bidet in the airplane bathroom…

Had to do customs and immigration into the US in Canada, which meant that I could have brought back unlimited amounts of alcohol, but I already had two carry-ons because of my gift purchases. Lounge in Vancouver was mediocre, so much so that I didn’t even get a picture (though I did get two cocktails).

By mid-afternoon I was back in Seattle, preparing a meal for Jonathan and myself, including fresh baked bread.

Doesn’t everyone do that after they’ve been travelling for 24 hours?

[? ? ?]

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Tue
27
Mar '18

Trip Report: Toyota City

Wednesday was a quiet day for me. Julian works, and I made a random Scruff date in the city. We ended up at the appropriately named Seattle Sandwich Café:

I was low on cash and the café didn’t take plastic, so it was a meal of snacks and a highball or two, but not a full meal:

Interesting guy, from Lebanon, working on his Masters in International Affairs at one of the universities in the city. Not boyfriend material, but I might get a place to crash in Beirut!

The next morning was an early morning…out of the house at 8AM, on a school holiday for Julian (who is a little slow at this time of the day).

Destination is the Toyota Museum and Assembly Plant Tour, in Toyota City. The downside is that Toyota City is 2.5 hours away from Julian’s flat. And many trains (four). I had to make phone shots of the route to get us there.

I congratulate Toyota on great instruction, including shots of the building that we’d be passing from the train station to get here:

Our tour time was 10:30, but that included half an hour of wandering around their museum:

Sadly, no phones are allowed I the plant, so we have to leave them on the bus. On the way to the buses, Julian made a little friend – now we can call him Poppa Julian, guess that makes the kid my great-grandson.

And off we go!

We were a little over an hour in the plant itself – and even Julian said he’d have like more time just staring at the line and playing their interactive “can you work the line” games.

Soon, it was back on the bus with our complimentary umbrellas as it was raining by the time the tour let out. By the time we got back to the museum, even the rain had stopped, but now we have umbrellas in case it starts again.

Needing lunch, we found this place by the train station that closed at 2, luckily it was 1:30, but we had to rush through our meal:

Ours was on the second floor (Yamauchinoujou), with the homemade banner offering 800yen lunch specials:

Another 2.5 hours and we are back to Julian’s flat, in time to make a farewell meal for ME. Julian and I did the shopping, and then when his girlfriend arrived, she looked at what we’d bought and went out and bought twice as much to supplement it – but it was a stunning farewell meal:

By 8PM, I was out the door and headed to the airport where I’d booked a room for my early flight in the morning:

Again, it was time to do some screen captures of where I was headed:

Toyoko Inn Chubu Kokusai-kuko Honkan (Orange Side). Apparently, the Orange Side is Western, and the Green Side is Asian – as reflected by the morning included breakfast, though you are free to go to either side for your breakfast. I, myself, was planning on going to the Japan Air Lines Lounge for my breakfast. Nice clean hotel, half the price of the ones that are directly attached to the hotel. This one required a five-minute walk (in the rain) from the enclosed overhead walkway. Definitely worth the walk. Mine would be the building with the reflected arrow on it.

And once again, it’s the hotel ice quest. And yet, another oddity – a machine in the lobby that dispenses cups of ice:

All, for this:

It’s going to be another early morning for me…so a couple of drinks, a little internet, and off to bed.

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Thu
22
Mar '18

Trip Report: Kyoto

We arrived in Kyoto a little after three, and easily found our “hostel” – and found it closed until 4PM. We continued down the narrow alley for another block or so.

To discover this:

It was a very serene place to just SIT – one of the few public resting places I’ve come across on this trip. I sat, Julian did a roam of the neighborhood.

When he returned, we still had time to kill, so we went to this place in the alley that advertised Craft Beer (a Julian favorite), called Beer Komachi:

Julian tried a couple of different beers, I went for an interesting sounding sake. Food looked interesting but didn’t try any (though Julian would try to try late in the evening, but the kitchen had closed). It was 4:40 by the time we got back to the “hostel” (Hostel Haruya Higashiyama), just a few doors down.

The main entrance is by the bicycles… as it turned out – our room had a private entrance just behind Julian. You can see the key hanging out of the door!

They had it set up for one person, but rectified the situation after we went out. One thing that didn’t get rectified was Julian’s response to the check-in person’s question as to whether I was his father – sadly, he used the wrong version (though close) which said I was his grandfather. Damn I look good for having a 30+year-old grandson.

Thought it would be noisy, being right on the alley, but amazingly not. Basically, we threw our shit down and left to explore.

One of the things I learned quickly is that Kyoto is full of tourists – mostly Japanese, and it’s dress up time!

And they all seemed to be under 30. Apparently, this is a great “courting” city, as in, if you are trying to woo a girl, suggest a weekend in Kyoto.

While we are on “photo albums”, here is a collection of Japanese posters that I liked:

What the hell –a vending machine – also a favorite of mine, including the first one which actually in the winter dispenses HOT cans of coffee in addition to the cold beverages. Blue signs for cold, red for hot:

Enough random photos!

We wondered around the old town section of Kyoto, which was just over the river from where we were staying. Tried to get into a jazz bar we found.

But it was closed, so we opted for a Yakitori snack and drinks.

After our snack, tried to go back the jazz club from earlier – still closed, though they said they’d be open in fifteen minutes, so we wandered and found another jazz bar, Beer Bar Jive.

Where we had a drink. Turns out, later in the evening they have live jazz. Once again, we are too early.

One drink, and we went back to see if Hello Dolly was finally open…

But one of the staff let us in, since he’d been the one to say that it was still closed because their bartender hadn’t showed up. No mixed drinks, but he could handle whiskey on the rocks and a beer. The closed sign was still on the door so we had the entire place to ourselves!

Nice old wood classy bar interior, but again, we stayed for just one drink before heading back to Beer Bar Jive a little before 8, hoping to get out of paying the cover charge from 8PM on (didn’t work). The musical guests were a Harmonica (& Guitar – but he should have stuck to the Harmonica) player and a Pianist (really good). I’d wanted to hear some live jazz on this trip, so I wasn’t all that picky about what I could find on a Sunday night.

After a couple of rounds of drinks, we left at the end of the first set, not really getting value for our 1500yen each cover charge, but we needed to find food – and probably should have gone back to the yakitori place, but instead, walked around forever, finally plopping me down in a British Pub while Julian scoured the rest of the neighborhood – coming up empty, so we both decided to have a little food. Tip for ordering Western food in Japan. DO order the Fish & Chips (me), DO NOT order the nachos (Julian).

We struggled back to the hostel – and the room was set for two:

Julian went back to Beer Komachi to see if he could get a little more food. No, kitchen was closed, but isn’t beer food?

I slept like a rock. I was up before Julian, meaning I had to find the shower (we had a bathroom in our suite). It was though the lounge, left through a sliding glass door!

Had a bit of trouble getting Julian up and going, but once we were out, found a close café (La Bac a Sable) for a little breakfast:

Nice to have a sort of American breakfast after a couple of weeks!

Off to the temple (Fushimi Inari Shrine) we go – two or three trains later, we pop out here:

Next up was noodles at Men Ko Bo Ren – a place that Julian had been to before. It was popular, so we had to wait for a seat:

But it was a good thing we got in when we did, as they sold out of noodles!

We took the slow (2.5 hours) train back to Nagoya, which saved us enough to pay for lunch.

Notice the railroad watch holder set into the control panel.

I had arrangements for a business meeting with a client from Tokyo who happened to be in Nagoya for the day one business, so we got together for drinks and dinner.

TokyoDave has the ordering tablet in his hand, but here is what it looks like:

I let him order all the dishes, and I wasn’t disappointed!

It was a wonderful dinner meeting, but TokyoDave needed to catch the 7:55pm train home, it was shorter than I’d like.

I, myself, headed back to Julians, for tomorrow is another day.

[? ? ?]

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Tue
20
Mar '18

Trip Report: Osaka

I had to look it up. Hip Contusion. That’s most likely what I suffered the other day. Right leg pain and flexibility issues. NOT the thing you want when you are headed out of town doing tourist stuff that requires lots of walking and lots of stairs. Welcome to Japan!

Julian has a great view from his building, FYI. Took this shot while waiting for the elevator:

Because Julian works until after 9PM, I headed into Nagoya Central Station ahead of him to grab our two tickets on the Shinkansen headed to Osaka. Julian and I were to meet up under the infamous “Golden Clock”.

Got the tickets but needed a little food:

My choice of food was as much about my love of hot dogs as it was for a place to sit down.

While Japan has plenty of trains that run on time, they lack much in the way of seating ANYWHERE (stations and throughout public spaces), which considering all the walking and stairs, with an aging population, it’s probably not a good mix. But I digress.

Before leaving the house, I popped out to the store for some supplies for the trip. All the food groups. Whiskey and mixers:

Chocolate:

Dried squid, wasabi peas, and little sausage sticks:

Julian was on time getting to “The Golden Clock”, and so was the train:

Never seen a urinal on a train!

It took us a little over an hour to get to Osaka. Then there was the hike to the Asahiplaza Capsule Hotel.

We still needed to explore the nightlife of the Dōtonbori neighborhood and get some food.

A specialty of Osaka is their Octopus Balls (Takoyaki), so we split one:

And then it was off to a table top cooking restaurant:

Julian’s Japanese comes in handy when ordering from our VERY CUTE waiter:

Throat? Penis? Red fibrous meat of the cow’s front stomach?

Not your style? Maybe Heart Crotch, or the variation, Spicy Tongue Crotch? They have, and I quote, “Hard To Find Intestine.”

And I didn’t even mention the Hot & Spicy Retuculum or the Dainty Beef Face, nor the Red Fibrous Meat of the Cow’s Front Stomach with Scallion and Salt (how VERY SPECIFIC).

We weren’t as adventurous when we ordered…

Back to the hotel we went…full, and a little tipsy.

So, capsule hotels are a little odd, and rule bound. Shoes off in the lobby, check in, put your shoes in the shoe locker, turn in that key and get your personal stuff locker key. Luggage is not allowed in the “capsules”, so if it doesn’t fit in the gym-sized locker, that will be an extra 200yen (on top of the 3000yen [about $30] capsule rate). At the lockers you change into your yukata (rob top/drawstring bottoms), throw some personal items in the pod, and head to the basement where there is a full Japanese bath included in your room rate. Nothing like a long washing session before popping your tired bones in either still or bubbling hot water, or maybe just hanging out in the sauna (which, oddly, had a TV set in it). It being a traditional Japanese bath, no swimsuits are allowed, and they are serious about the heavy bathing before. Needless to say, no pictures of the facilities, oh, and by the way, like most of the public baths, you are not allowed in if you have tattoos, as they are associated with the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia).
LINK TO ALL THE RULES. Interestingly, the no tattoos was a sign in the bath itself, but not on the brochure or website, so I’m guessing that this is not strongly enforced for Westerners.

Here is a view from the inside of your pod. You have your choice of a TV or an electrical outlet. It’s an up-charge if you want both.

We went for the outlet as they were sold out of combo units.

I slept amazing well for it being a coffin. I think the booze helped.

In the morning we are off on our final sightseeing experience of Osaka – the Cup Noodle Museum. On the way there, passed this sign, which Julian informed me, that while Kobe, famous for its Kobe Beef, the beef at these stand is just overpriced from that region, rather than been raised in the Kobe tradition of pampering your cows:

The museum is several trains away from the hotel:

And amazingly well-signed at the destination station:

Talk about KIDS everywhere…to get to the museum we passed hundreds – all clutching these air-filled bags with their cup noodle inside so they would survive the trip home.

Yes, the statue of the founder has a packet of noodles in his hand.

If you ever wanted to know the history of ramen in its own serving container – this is the place.

Ramen through the ages:

Ramen in space:

Let’s not forget the theatre presentation:

Its free for the self-guided tour (2000yen deposit if you want the English language audio tour), but if you want the hand-on, make-your-own-from-scratch experience, that’s extra.

If that’s too much time and too much money, you can opt for the color your own bowl, and have them create a custom package of ramen with whatever toppings you want. Be prepared for a LONG line:

What can I say, I like weird tourist places – but it did make us hungry for noodles, just not from a cup, but a bowl. It took us a while to find a sit-down restaurant in the massive Osaka Train Station and my hip/leg was still bothering me, but the wait and the walk was worth it:

Next stop – Kyoto!

[?? ?]

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Mon
19
Mar '18

Trip Report: Hōnen Matsuri

That’s right, it’s Penis Festival Time – I mean Hōnen Matsuri!

This will be the third “festival“, my second time at Komaki. I’ve returned because I wanted to see what a smaller town festival would be like when it didn’t fall on a weekend. The one in Kawasaki always on the first Sunday of April, while the Komaki one is always on a specific date – March 15th, which when I was here three years ago, fell on a Sunday.

There must be some tourist interest for them to post the sign in English, especially since the route alternates even and odd years. See the WikiPedia entry.

There is lots of milling about before the parade – food stalls, if you can call chocolate covered bananas, food.

And candy stalls selling penis pops…that would be Taylor, a friend of Julian’s joining us:

Strangely, Zima is still a thing in Japan, and I got talked into trying one:

Which led to this….

And all this was BEFORE the parade was underway….which starts now:

And they were handing out free sake ladled out of a big wooden cask…

And they had a “petting zoo”…

We followed the parade all the way back to the temple…

As a side note it was interesting that locals would approach and chat with us – it helped that Julian and Taylor both speak a little Japanese.

Everyone was getting into the spirit…think Goth Sperm Dress:

Then there was the traditional “throwing of the rice cakes”…

I like the guy with the catcher’s mitt!

Somewhere along the way we met up with Kent, who Taylor knew from Tender, but had declined his invitation to go to the penis festival together…and as (his) luck would have it, he found us in the crowd.

Off we went for real food:

I do remember that this was an “all you could eat – all you could drink” place.

Which could be why I don’t remember the details of the karaoke bar we went to afterwards…at least I got a bit of a nap in. Apparently, I only made it through one drink at the bar – which was all you could drink in an hour. Not looking too hot on the train ride home:

At least tonight, we made the last train home.

Barely.

[? ? ?]

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Fri
16
Mar '18

Trip Report: Nagoya & Komaki

With Julian’s work schedule (11am-9:30pm), it was definitely a sleep-in day after chatting until 3am last night. Guess I forgot to mention that we stopped by a 24-hour market near Julian’s place to pick up some supplies. That might have led to the 3am bedtime.

The Melita is in the picture for size (it’s the standard #4 size, not the #2, next to a 1.5-liter Coke Zero – next to the FOUR LITER bottle of Suntory Classic Whiskey. Go big or go home!

I made myself a little breakfast:

Before heading out to Sakae to one of the largest 100 Yen stores in the city. It’s a short walk from Julian’s apartment in this complex:

To the subway headed into the city. No transfers (at least to Sakae), and saw a couple of interesting vehicles along the way:

And, not unlike Seattle, some interesting manhole covers:

Even a cemetery:

One of the things I do when I travel is to take pictures of the transit maps (especially if they have English on them). It gives me a backup of where I’m going and how to return:

While in Sakae looking for the exit that Julian sent me, ran across a Bear Papa, which we have one in Seattle!

Found my way to the store, which covers and entire floor of a mall:

I actually managed to spend 3400Yen which means lots of quirky presents for people upon my return:

Also went across the street to Don Quixote – a four floor mass of Japanese consumer goods:

It wasn’t until I as headed back to the station that I noticed a Ferris Wheel stuck to the outside:

Back in Julian’s neighbor it was off to the Aeon (grocery/department store) a couple of block away for grab an afternoon snack, which wasn’t these:

But these:

The plan is to meet up with Julian in Komaki where he teaches, taking a different subway line. Julian tracked down a spare rechargeable transit card with I refilled in Sakae. He works in the building right on top of the train station, so it was easy to find.

Off to dinner we go with his friend Tak at the wheel. I’d met him on one or the other of my two previous trips to Nagoya. Two more teachers, a student, Tak, Julian, and I in a van rolling towards the restaurant owned by the mother of another student who has befriended Julian with furniture for his apartment, etc.

She even gave him a bottle of sweet potato wine (Sochu).

I was fascinated by the Jazz Musician speaker set. Might have to try and track on down.

We were having so much fun that, tonight, we did miss the last train. Tak offered us a list, but it would have been 35 minutes out of his way, and he gets up at 6am, so we sucked it up and dropped about 5000Yen (about $50) on a cab for the 7-mile ride.

Didn’t stay up as late tonight, closer to 1:30am.

Tomorrow, Julian has PTO (Paid Time Off), which was a royal pain to get from a supervisor. He had to go to the district manager to get his legal PTO.

It’s festival time (again!).

[? ? ?]

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Fri
16
Mar '18

Trip Report: Headed To Japan

Nice to have a washer/dryer when preparing to leave the continent for ten days. Woohoo, clean laundry!

My trip to Japan kicked off with a humorous encounter at the ANA check-in counter…where I ran into Beth, Zilla, their two kids and his mother. And on my flight no less!

Seems like they like to get to the airport three hours before flights as well.

Left them to get through security, and I headed to the S Concourse and the Sea-Tac owned lounge that ANA contracts out to serve their Business and First-Class passengers. Nothing like a noon time Manhattan.

When I arrived, breakfast stuff was out, but quickly transitioned to lunch items:

Not a bad lounge, though not huge:

Nice views of the runway:

Before long, it was time to board:

Not the best picture of my Business Class seat, but you can see by the window size that this is a 787.

And the usual pre-departure glass of bubbles!

And it certainly was a beautiful day to fly…

Soon, food started coming out. There were choices of either Japanese-style, or what they referred to as International. I chose International. Round one:

Round two:

Here is a close up of the classiest salt/pepper contained I’ve seen on any airline:

They were two separate pieces, and the empty on is for Olive Oil that came in a tiny little bottle which immediately went into my backpack.

On to the soup (corn) course:

Followed by the main:

Followed by dessert:

And more booze:

I went back to check on my friends a couple of times during the flight – they were in Economy Plus, which has nicer, wider seats (and I believe, upgraded food), that regular economy in the far back. I think they said it was $1800 more round-trip for the four of them:

Kind of nice having people to visit during the flight!

Then there was the pre-landing food service. I opted for “International” with a little champagne:

Nine and a half hours later, we landed in Tokyo, where after immigration and customs I headed to the ANA Domestic Lounge, which was oddly, before security:

With free, pour it yourself booze:

But the food offerings were fairly puny.

In retrospect, I should have used the showers in the lounge. Next time!

The boarding was out a set of doors and onto a bus out on the tarmac to a 767-300, which seems like overkill for the short flight to Nagoya. My boarding pass said Economy – but this is what “economy” meant to ANA:

Before the doors closed, I moved to this seat instead:

Like its own little island in the sky!

There was only time for a water and tea service on the 45-minute flight – maybe that’s why they called it “economy”.

This is what greeted in at baggage claim!

And Johnny Depp was on the train with me:

While getting into town was a straight shot – finding the “Golden Clock” in the huge Nagoya station took an hour of wondering around:

I needed to find the clock because his directions to the British Pub (a chain called The Hub) we were going to meet up with started from this point.

I can’t tell you how glad I was to find the place – and get a cocktail. I would have preferred a stool to sit on, but the place was packed, and everyone was smoking, both inside and outside, where it was actually warm enough to hang out.

I couldn’t really leave my bags to go back and get a second drink, so messaged Julian to meet me at the Golden Clock instead. At least there I could sit on my bag without the smoke.

Julian works until 9:30pm (starts at noon) teaching English in Komaki, one town over. By the time he got there it was already 10:30pm so we headed out to a 60’s style restaurant, oddly, a couple of doors down from The Hub.

While it was a relaxed dinner, we had to rush at the end to make sure we caught the last train home, which was around midnight. We made it, but with only minutes to spare.

All in all, a VERY LONG day for me.

[? ? ?]

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Wed
14
Mar '18

Home Report: The Washer/Dryer Saga Continued

Well, it finally came – the brand-new replacement washer/dryer for my brand-new washer/dryer.

The replacement they installed for free (saving me the trouble), and I was amazed how they moved it in. Sadly, the pictures didn’t turn out as the flash freaked out on the reflective strip on their clothing.

Long/short of it, they used two pieces of thick, 3-inch webbing under the washer/dryer, and the two guys strapped it to themselves, lifted it and moved it into position. No handtruck with wheel marks on the floor, nothing. Yes, my washer/dryer is back, and working.

The previous error (that they replaced the machine for) was E2 – now, I’m getting an E4 error. Seriously, before I’ve finished my first load of laundry!

Went to the web and looked up the error codes – this one was basically, “water not hot enough”. It’s an evaporative drying system – they forgot to turn on the hot water supply line!

That fixed, I finally get this message on the display:

Only six more loads to go – and this machine can take the duvet cover that hadn’t been washed in a year.

Here is the baby in it’s home with the counter top and vacuum seal machine on top:

So nice that it showed up on Thursday, so I could host a dinner on Friday, which clean napkins. The rare five-person table:

Had to pull out the leaf and get both the extra chairs out of the closet. But this dinner was well worth it!

Pre-dinner cocktails, a magnum of bubbles with the dinner of Pickling Spice Shrimp Boil and some seriously spicy Asian Slaw and some seasoned rice to take the edge off.

It must have been the shrimp – or the late dinner wine that caused a scene:

Well, a scene in furs.

Off to work in the morning, pity me. At least the pile of laundry I didn’t get done in Denver and Berkeley is done.

[? ? ?]

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Fri
9
Mar '18

Trip Report: Berkeley For Laundry & Good Times

With my washer/dryer still on the fritz, once again I’m checking two bags filled with dirty clothes. Sigh. On the upside, it’s supposed to be delivered and installed the day after I get back.

No upgrade on the way down, and I only had 80% of my seat due to a POS in the middle seat. POS is airline lingo for Person Of Size. And while Alaska (and Southwest) have very generous POS policies, this lady did not take advantage of the offer or possibly didn’t know about it. Here is their policy. In reading it, I learned something new. You can use your companion fare to purchase the second seat, and if there is one seat open, they refund the taxes/fees, and return the companion fare to your account. I’m not sure if she thought that a “Premium Seat” would be wider – it isn’t, just more knee room. Luckily, I know where the latch is to make the aisle seat armrest go up that that we were both (can’t speak for the person in the window) reasonable comfortable on our hour and a half flight. The same for a flight Jill and I took to Boston years ago where she was squished into the window, and I, the aisle as we were in row six, which has fixed arms that hold the tray tables. And this was before they had Premium Class with free booze, which might have made it better.

But, enough about that.

Onyx met me at the airport and we headed off the lunch as is the case when I arrive around 11. He usually hasn’t had food yet, and I’m usually hungry. Today’s restaurant choice was Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café where I had the Rueben (I usually can’t resist) with Cole Slaw, and Onyx had the Denver Omelet minus the bell peppers.

Did I mention Champagne Cocktails as well?

Rudy’s is in the old part of Emeryville – not the high-tech world of Pixar Studios down the road.

This visit is all about hiding out, hanging out, doing laundry, relaxing… and, of course, food. First night’s dinner:

Second day’s afternoon snack at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market up the street from the boys:

Second night’s dinner:

Usually I fly into Oakland and out of San Francisco (taking BART over), but when I booked this months ago, it was only $100.60 round-trip to Oakland and back. I’ll take a deal when I see it!

The reason from plying back out of SFO is that I love the Cathay Pacific lounge and its custom-made noodle bar. No lounge that I have access to in Oakland, but I might actually spring for this one on the next trip ($45, or free to American Express Platinum Cardholders, WOW Business Class, Azores Business Class) since I spent more than the entrance fee on a meal and two drinks.

Inside, before security I had a $25.00 Manhattan (shamefully expensive, but great other than the standard red cherries), and past security it was a couple of starters and a shot of Commenerativo.

Better to eat in the airport, and to subsist on drinks and the snack box on the plane:

Had lovely company in the middle seat on the return flight – everyone in a festive mood with the free cocktails.

The last of the mileage runs, for a bit. Was home by 10pm, in bed by midnight.

[? ? ?]

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Sat
3
Mar '18

Trip Report: Midweek to Denver

When I planned this trip back in November as one of the final “Cyber Week Sale” flight, I didn’t think it would have a theme, just thought I’d be going to visit Dan and Lisa.

The new theme: Money, Laundering. Please note the comma.

Before we get to the Money portion, let me explain the “laundering” part. Exhibit A:

Exhibit A is an all-in-one ventless washer-dryer that I got in January to replace my first-generation model that lasted 13 years. The new one worked WAY better than the old one, having clothes come out warm rather with a little dampness like the old one. Well, it worked better when it worked – got less than ten loads out of it before it locked the door, gave me an error code, and forced me to call warranty service (GE Appliance Repair). Called on a Saturday morning, and they were out Monday morning (a longer service window than I would have like 8am to noon). Sadly, he needed two possible defective parts…which as it turns out, the control board was on backorder…until April 3rd. This saga played out over about three weeks whilst I was in Hawaii first, then 10 days in Europe.

As of Thursday, we have resolution. They are sending me a brand-new machine, installing it, and taking the dead one away. I think it would have been cheaper for then to air freight in the control board from China. Install date will HOPEFULLY be Thursday/Friday/Saturday of next week before I leave for another 10-day trip. I’m trying to push most of my travel to the beginning of the year when business is lighter.

What all of this means is that I’ve been without clean laundry for weeks now – and why I packed two bags of dirty clothes to visit Dan and Lisa and borrow their washer-dryer.

But back to Denver – Lisa was a doll and picked me (and my laundry) up at the airport, after my ride-to-the-airport scare of forgetting my laptop bag and less time that usual before my light.

On the upside, at least I’d gotten the upgrade to First Class, so there was food on board:

Think sort of a Southwest-style breakfast plate served in my favorite seat (1C). The stress of the airport run led me to order several vodka-cranberry doubles.

Once we got back to their house way north of the airport, those double led to nap time. Like a three-hour nap! The joys of holidaying.

The evening plan was dinner for five, we were joined by another couple around the dining table for “Instant Pot” pork belly, bok choy, and potato salad. Sadly, the only picture I have of dinner is of the bottle of Bonny Doon Le Cigaré Volant from 2008:

It worked quite well with the richness of the pork belly. Green and Black Organic Chocolates from the Alaska Lounge was dessert for several of us. Others had ice cream.

Even with the nap, I was in bed early – and oddly, UP EARLY. This has been happening for the last couple of nights since returning from Europe last week. Gave me time to get some work done in the morning before we headed into town to hook up with DancingBear, who was flying out to Denver on a mileage run combined with lunch with Dan and I, and a tour of the U.S. Mint.

We met up at the train station since there is a direct link to the airport – and grabbed a table (after swinging by the mint to get tickets for the 2PM tour) at Stoic & Genuine – where I’ve eaten before and can best describe as, “top-notch”, and “not-cheap”. With tip, $145 for lunch and drinks for three.

The lunch:

Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned for DancingBear, a Nigroni for me, Haut Toddy (which was actually a Star Wars themed cold drink) for Dan.

Nice, open, airy place with a cute bartender (you’d have to zoom in). And superb food, like my (and Dan’s) fish (cod) and chips…

And DancingBears Diver Scallops on Beat Salad…

Portions were not huge, but excellent quality.

Mint tour wasn’t until two, so we had time to kill at the train station – which is a great place to hang out and watch people:

Got to the mint at the required 1:30pm for our 2pm tour…to find us last in line to go through a very thorough security (cell phones off, no purses, backpacks, knives)…

No pictures allowed inside, so, here is the entrance:

DancingBear hit the gift shop for coinage sets for his collector Mom, and back to the station to drop him off before heading back north to make a liquor store run for me to pack in all that clean laundry.

Dinner my last night was pan-fried steaks with some more of bok choy from last night – not a fancy the pork belly, but just as tasty (and there will be leftover steak to go in the morning scramble).

Sadly, I wasn’t there for the scramble – I had a 9:45AM flight which put us in rush hour traffic to the airport – don’t know why I booked this particular flight (must have been cheap, which it was at $150 r/t), but I’ll know two things for future trips:

  • Arrive and leave mid-day
  • Two nights isn’t really enough

No upgrade on the way back, and a completely full airplane, but I was sitting in a row of partiers, so we all had a great time.

Home and a nap.

[222.2]

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Fri
2
Mar '18

Trip Report: LHR-LAX-SEA

One of the advantages of staying in Hounslow is that it’s four stops from Heathrow, meaning a short commute. It also helps that my flight isn’t until 1:10pm.

Got to the airport in plenty of time – to search out Sobraine cigarettes in Cocktail Colours…sadly, once I found the Duty-Free Cigarette section, they didn’t stock them, BUT they did hide the cigarettes from public view in a tiny room:

Canada also hides cigarette products from public display.

A decent lounge to hang out in at Heathrow:

A little food, a couple of drinks, some newspapers, and before I knew it, it was time to board my flight to Los Angeles…

Plenty of room to stretch out up here in Business Class.

About 45 minutes into the flight, the parade of food begins – hot nuts, cocktails, and watching Oscar-nominated Three Billboards!

Then onto the salad course. It was nice to have the more drawn out service that a ten-and-a-half-hour flight allows.

And then the Main Course:

And let’s not forget dessert!

While the bathroom wasn’t as nice as the double-side on the long-retired SAS flight from Seattle to Stockholm flight, this one wasn’t too bad:

Time to try and get a little sleep in my lay flat bed:

I got a little sleep, but you are still bouncing around on an airplane.

Before landing, lunch showed up:

All the food was pretty tasty!

Made it through customs/immigration in one piece, and it was off to the Admirals Club at LAX. Turns out there are THREE levels of service in Terminal 4 – the Admirals Club, which I could get in using my Alaska Board Room card, the Flagship Lounge (where I got to go) because I was on an international Business Class ticket, and a First Class Lounge which I saw glances of. I’m happy enough with the Flagship Lounge and their massive food offerings:

It’s also really nice to have a shower after a long trip, when you have another couple of hours of flying ahead of you:

Oh, did I mention the custom Pho stand? That’s what I had since I wasn’t really hungry from the overseas flight:

Or the pour it yourself bar with half a dozen whiskies?

Sort of hard to leave this luxury and get back on a plane – but that’s what I did, to be rewarded with a broken seat next to me…

And the food parade begins again…

The amusing part was that the roll on the two-hour flight was warmed – but on the 10-hour-plus flight, they didn’t warm the roll. With a little Snickerdoodle for dessert:

And then if was grab the luggage from the carousel, hail a ride home, and collapse into bed.

Another vacation completed.

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Wed
28
Feb '18

Trip Report: London

In my usual lazy travel way, I choose one major thing to do each day – and today, that would be the Beefeater Gin Distillery!

Since the printer at the “business center” (one computer and a broken printer) was dead – I just took a photograph of the GoogeMaps page to find my way:

It was amazingly easy to find (after yesterday’s hour tromp around Hounslow).

I had a reservation for the noon tour, but got in on the 11:30 – and this distillery you could take photos, just no flash. I had time to chill in the gift shop whilst waiting:

The tour started in a self-guided history of Gin and Beefeaters that was WAY too much time, though if there was a group of 20, I could see the reason.

And then we were onto the real tour:

Liquor safes and a very pretty tour participant.

And the ORIGINAL still from the 1860’s, brought back to life to do their small batch specialty runs.

And then, what we were all waiting for!

Turns out our tour guide used to be the bartender at the Plymouth Gin Distillery I toured last week!

Discovered this (and a giant Tesco grocery store) on the stroll back to the tube station:

Yep, that would be the London Eagle – a gay leather bar. Since it doesn’t open until 9PM, no reason to wait around. Lots of cities around the world (including Seattle) have gay leather bars called The Eagle.

There were street stalls set up a couple of blocks from the hotel – and I had lunch from one of the food stands:

Complete with fruit stands, clothing stands, Polish honey stands:

My lunch – chicken over vegetarian noodles:

In the background you can see the Poundland (think Dollar store) that was closing that location so everything was 25% off – making it, with the exchange rate, one US dollar. Over the course of the visit, I was in there three times finding more things to fill the suitcase.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Hounslow is a long-term immigrant neighborhood, right down to the Transylvanian grocery store next to the Polish restaurant:

These days most of the residents are from the Middle East and India.

For breakfast the final day I went to one of the local pubs – which seem to all feature “British Pub Food” and some Indian/Asian menu:

I went for the full English breakfast for $GB 4.95.

That’s a lot of food! And it definitely was a pub:

My plan had been to tour the Sipsmith Gill Distillery today – but when I went to book, their tour was expensive ($GB 25) and didn’t start until 6:30 in the evening. Instead I wondered around the neighborhood for the afternoon.

Speaking of pubs, looked in the window of this historic “bandit” pub – which also served Thai food, but decided against it for dinner:

Opted for the Polish restaurant, only to find that they were cash only – and while it smelled great in there, the patrons thought I’d just landed from Mars. Instead I just said “fuck it” and went to the restaurant in the lobby of the hotel.

And boy was I surprised! The meal started out with one of the best Negronis I have ever had, complete with sour apple slice and blueberries:

I didn’t need a ton of food, so I just opted for the Mixed Grill starter:

Which turned out to be amazing.

Not bad for my last supper in London.

In the morning it’s back to The States and work.

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