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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Jun '20

Trip Report: Road Trip To The Woods

After three and a half months of being in my own bed every night, what a joy to take a road trip!

Hatched the idea on Sunday, with an email to my friends that run the Quillayute River Resort outside of Forks, Washington. Enquired about how their occupancy was since they reopened a month ago. Usually, they are completely full in the summer – but not this year. They have as many guests as they can handle with the enhanced cleaning (4 hours per unit). There was room at the inn for me!

Had I taken the ferry, it would have been less driving, and if I timed it right, about the same amount of time plus $16.00 each way since my car is under 14′, $20.40 – BUT, they aren’t sailing on their full schedule, so if you miss it, the boat is full, you wait around for another hour plus. The sun was out – and I was looking forward to driving … anywhere!

The resort has changed to a contactless check-in system so you can go directly to your room, punch in a code, and bingo. Here are some of the pics of the place:

There are six suites (one two-bedroom, the rest, one-bedroom), arranged in a shotgun style, with garages between each unit to there are no common walls with your neighbors. The garages are for housekeeping, guest laundry, lawn maintenance equipment, etc.

There is a main check-in building/front desk area that in other times would be open to the public (lending library, etc.). The owners live upstairs.

Suites in the summer are in the low $200 a night range, winter, half that. That said, you get a lot of bang for your buck in addition to the beautifully cared for grounds. Check out in suites themselves:

Gas fireplaces, comfy furniture.

Memory foam mattresses (either king or two doubles), heated bathroom floors.

Kitchen will all the gear you need to cook, like pots & pans, glasses (including wine glasses), coffee maker (with coffee!) and an electric kettle for tea lovers, olive oil, spices, etc. I would have killed for this place as a college student!

Nice touches include fast charging outlets in the kitchen at usable height, wireless (and wired) routers in all the units, flatscreen TVs in the bedroom with a massive DishTV lineup – and if you have a Tesla, there is a charging pod with two cords in the parking area.

If you look as the number of “high-touch” items in the kitchen, it explains why it takes 4 human hours to clean the units between guests. Gone are the books, puzzles, cards in the room. All the silverware is boiled (and allowed to cool so it can be put away), all the dishes/glassware/cookware gets a water/bleach dip, all the linens down to the mattress pads get laundered, packed, and spend three days in quarantine before they are used again. It also explains why they block off a unit for a day between guests.

The day I arrived, the owners (longtime friends) were off for a 12-mile first hike of the season. It was just nice to chill by the river, make a little dinner, have a little whiskey and wine (not in the same glass).

Panko-breaded Portuguese Sausage SPAM, mac and cheese, green salad, Bonny Doon Vin de Gris rosé.

Fortunately, the next night they invited me to a socially distanced dinner complete with appetizers in the main lodge. I brought the wine – more Bonny Doon, including a magnum of the 2008 Le Cigare Volant. In normal times, the lodge is used for weddings, meetings, etc., with it’s full catering kitchen.

They fired up their wood-fired oven for me!

And voila! Pizza!

They have been using the wood-fired oven in the kitchen even before the interior was done on the main lodge – in the past they have made other pizzas, fresh pita bread. Amazing.

It had been too long since I’d been out to visit – probably a year and a half. Left them a couple of versions of my brandy as a thank you. The food and the conversation that distanced evening was so heart-warming, I should have left them a case!

My return to the city started out with mist (but I still had the top down), and a return to the resort ten miles out because I’d left one of my bags, but eventually made it home. Would have been quicker, but there was a massive accident in Tacoma. But home is home.


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Jun '20

Home Report: Back Bedroom Clean/Organize

Three months into the lockdown, I’ve finished one project, the cleaning/organizing the back guest bedroom to make it more comfortable for guests. Like there will be any guests anytime soon.

The before, trashed version:

The after, before stuff starts showing up on all flat surfaces (nature abhors a vacuum):

And from the other direction – space for one more suitcase (in my bedroom at the moment) up top, and space on the rack for guests’ suitcases to be open and accessible, with room for another small piece of luggage, and a pole for hanging shirts/etc.

And, yes, that is a 42-inch inkjet printer which I’ve been cranking out posters on now that I can actually get to it (physically, and network-wise).

In addition to promotional posters for a friend’s business: (http://www.greenfireloft.com):

And even “How Is Your Covid Feeling” posters:

Complete with lamination!

Doesn’t everybody have this equipment in-house?

Also in progress (albeit small) are switching out the artwork in the living room, and cleaning/organizing the garage. Anyone else feel that they aren’t making progress on their projects even though they are no longer travelling?

[? ? ?]

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May '20

Home Report: Covie-19 Feeling Chart

Periodically during this pandemic I’ve been feeling a wide swing of emotions. I decided to make a “fire danger” chart for myself and everyone else to use.

So, if you’d like to download a copy of this, you can find the PDF at this link. It’s formatted for landscape letter (US) size.


I decided to make a really big one for myself.

First, you need to have a 42″ printer in your guest bedroom that hasn’t been used in months due to the Covid-19 virus.

Then you have to reprint it in landscape so that you can get it through the laminator that you need to warm up in the garage.

The machine on the top is a polybagging/shrinkwrap machine.

Then you trim it down….

And add an arrow – since I had to reprint twice so I have two arrows and I don’t need to cut into the original.

Think I’m done with Ennui, I’m back to Resignation.

Sunday nights for me are like Friday nights for people who work an M-F 9-5 job. Throw care to the wind, stay up late, turn off the TV, listen to music, drink, drink some more, get up in the late morning and do the weekly grocery shopping after breakfast at noon.

It’s a good thing I didn’t make this a “spin the bottle” game where you had to adopt the mood you landed on!

I think this falls into the category of, “has too much time on his hands”. Seriously, I need to get back to travelling.


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May '20

Home Report: My Tax Dollars Spent On Trump Campaign Advertising, AGAIN

Estimado Líder Exaltado,

Si bien le agradezco por devolver $1,200 de mi dinero de impuestos, la carta de explicación que llegó dos semanas después del cheque me parece una pieza de literatura de campaña para la candidatura de reelección de su alteza. El pplazamiento de us$franqueo para los 150 millones de personas que reciben estas cartas de campaña delgadamente veladas es de 36 centavos cada uno (por un total de $5.4 millones de dólares, y estando en el negocio de correo directo durante años, puedo adivinar que la impresión / relleno / clasificación corrió otros 5 centavos cada uno, añadiendo otras tres cuartas partes de un millón de dólares, llevando el total a $6.5 millones en dinero de impuestos federales. Humildemente le pido que reembolse al Tesoro de los Estados Unidos de sus arcas de campaña desbordantes (según se informa, ha recaudado $78,8 millones). Eso sería menos del 10% de lo que has recopilado hasta ahora – no es como si no puedas pagarlo. Me recuerda a la postal que envió hace un par de meses con “consejos tímidos” que también tenían su nombre engalanada por todas partes, y que fueron a todos los hogares de los Estados Unidos, alrededor de 83,48 millones. Esa era una postal de gran tamaño (que es la misma que un sobre de primera clase), por lo que el costo de imprimir y enviar correo sería conservadoramente otro gasto relacionado con la campaña de $3,244,680. ¿Sería tan amable de añadir eso de nuevo a la Tesorería? Porque sé que las matemáticas no son tu fuerte, eso sería $9,922,680. Por favor, no pose su cheque.

Gracias de antemano por su rápida resolución a este asunto.

Mark Stephen Souder
Pequeño Empresario

In case you are not a Spanish speaker, here is the translation:

Dear Exalted Leader,

While I thank you for returning $1,200 of my tax money, the explanation letter that arrived a full two weeks after the check looks to me like a piece of campaign literature for his highness’s reelection bid. The presort US Postage for the 150 million people receiving these thinly veiled campaign letters is 36 cents each (for a whopping $5.4 million dollars, and being in the direct mail business for years, I can guesstimate that printing/stuffing/sorting ran another 5 cents apiece, adding another three-quarters of a million dollars, bringing the total to $6.5 million in Federal Tax Money. I humbly request that you reimburse the US Treasury from your overflowing campaign coffers (reportedly having raised $78.8 million). That would be less than 10% of what you have collected so far – it is not like you can’t afford it. It reminds me of the post card you sent out a couple of months ago with “covid advice” that also had your name emblazoned all over it – and that went to every household in the US., around 83.48 million. That was an oversized postcard (which is the same rate as a First Class Presort envelope), so the cost to print and mail would conservatively be another campaign-related expenditure of $3,244,680. Would you be so kind to add that back to the Treasury? Because I know math is not your strong suit, that would be $9,922,680. Please do not postdate your check.

Thank you in advance for your speedy resolution to this matter.

Mark Stephen Souder
Small Businessman


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Apr '20

Home Report: Time Travel

As you all know, I live to travel, which, sadly hasn’t happened recently, and it’s looking maybe by the end of May, maybe.

About a year ago, I was on a quest to find a world clock with the ability to display four time zones at a glance to help with my every present travel bug.

VERSION ONE: Four matching analog clocks.


  • Easy to read at a glance


  • Tags too small to read the city
  • No clue if that’s AM or PM
  • No clue what day it is
  • No automatic adjustment for daylight savings time

If you wee wondering why one of the clocks is half an hour off from the others—say hello to India. Just to make it fun, Nepal is fifteen minutes off of India.

VERSION TWO: Four matching digital alarm clocks.


  • Shows AM/PM
  • Shows date
  • Shows day of the week


  • Doesn’t show city
  • Limited viewing angle (like only when I’m sitting on the couch looking directly at it)
  • Doesn’t automatically adjust for daylight savings time

VERSION THREE: Three mismatched laptop and tablets resting in the garage (was testing proof of concept before I fired up another on)


  • Shows city
  • Show AMPM
  • Shows day of the week
  • Automatically adjusted for daylight savings time


  • Day of the week too small to read at a distance
  • They seem to want to keep updating themselves
  • Not sure if the fourth one will fit up there

Sadly, I’m still not there yet. Close, but not yet. I’ve seen the one I want, but I’m too cheap to pay the $750 to $1000 on the vinyl lettered one:

And REALLY too cheap to spend the $1700 to $2000 for the ones with LED cities:

Who know, maybe I have a VERSION FOUR in me.


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One Response to “Home Report: Time Travel”

  1. Susan Campbell Says:

    Hey Mark
    I was scheduled to finally go home on March 30tth
    Guess What? COVID-19 !
    Second time I was going home
    Stuck here Again

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Apr '20

Trip Report: Last Trip To Hawaii For A Bit

It seems like a different time, though it was only a month ago. It’s taken me that long to find the motivation to document my trip to Waikiki. This was the week before the shelter in place order.

There was such a lull in air traffic, the both DancingBear and I got upgraded to First Class. Upgrades are a rarity on the SEA-HNL route with so many frequent fliers on the routes. You know that there is something up when even MVP Silver fliers (like DancingBear) are getting upgrades.

This was also when airlines were still serving food and booze in First Class, though the lounge before the flight was only serving wine and beer, no cocktails.

Since it was our last trip for the foreseeable future, we sprang for an Uber into town rather than the city bus.

Staying our two nights at the Wyndham Waikiki Beachwalk, which is a couple of blocks from the beach, and a view of the “Pink Palace“.

Had a wonderful meal out of Bills (a Sydney, Australia-based chain) since my usual happy hour spot was closed in advance of the state-wide ban.

By the time for our next dinner, the state had just imposed a ban on restaurants serving anything other than takeout – which is what we did.

It was a quick two-night trip, a final mileage run while Alaska was offering a 50% bonus on Elite Qualifying miles. I did get some tourist shopping in at one of the largest ABC Stores in Waikiki. Particle facemasks and various salts.

For the return trip home, we were also honored with First Class upgrades! Four of the above masks I gave to all the flight attendants.

We arrived a couple of hours late back to Seattle. Early Friday morning rather than 10PM Thursday night. On Friday, Alaska announced that they were stopping food/beverage on all its flights. Not surprising since we drank the entire plane out of Woodford Reserve.

I have a couple of more runs to Waikiki scheduled for mid-May, but I’m not optimistic that those won’t get cancelled. My Alaska eWallet already has about $800 in future travel funds. At one point it was over $1500, but I booked Santa Fe for early December.


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Mar '20

Trip Report: Nagoya To Seattle

We had one last afternoon meal of conveyor belt sushi (see previous post) before I headed to the airport – since I have an early flight, staying at an airport hotel.

This time (I’ve done this before), staying at the Centrair Hotel which is directly connected to both the train station and the airport:

A little more expensive than the last place I stayed, but WAY nicer.

And nicer rooms:

Better amenities, ice machine, beer and Highball machine…

Up and out EARLY in the morning – so early that I had to weight half an hour for the ticket counter was opened.

Was the first person to check in, and with the Covid-19 virus starting to temper travel, immigration was a snap and I was onto the lounge…which, even pre-virus days, didn’t offer much in the way of food.

Or people! Luckily, the Highball machine (also beer) was working – that, and little packaged snacks…I mean tiny, like less than a handful.

Decently full flight from Nagoya (NGO) to Haneda (HAN).

By the time we took off, there was one person in the window seat, but lots of middle seats open.

Because of the virus – half the JAL lounges at Haneda are closed – and the service severely curtailed. No open bar, just beer, wine, champagne – not even any Highballs! Huge First-Class buffet was down to some sani-wrapped selections.

All this would be full of buffet items…

Good think I like those convenience store sandwiches!


My hope is that the flight to San Francisco (SFO) is operating with full food/booze service.

And the status board shows TONS of cancelled flights:

Considering I had a 10+ hour layover (no frequent flyer mileage flights leaving Nagoya later in the day), it wasn’t a bad view:

Finally – BOARDING!

Yes, the had a gangway JUST for the 8 First-Class seats.

Here is the plane layout:

And what the publicity shot from the airline’s website looks like:

And here is the reality…

The very courteous flight attendant offered to take my photo – seeing how much I was enjoying my palace for the next ten hours.

This seat is loaded with electronics. A controller for the 23″ TV:

There is even a satellite telephone (as the flight attendant said – not free, very expensive):

Once we are in the air – the food service starts…both Japanese and Western-style food choices:

Some nice 2005 Rose Champagne…

The first round of food…dinner roll, and some fire squid – apparently these squid light up like fireflies.

Then we were onto the Caviar appetizer…oh how I’ve missed International First-Class Service!

Notice the Mother-Of-Pearl spoon for the caviar!

Now for the main. Upper right is a half order of the lobster. Bottom right is the Wagyu beef.

And the flight attendant was back to take more pictures:

You might have noticed that the hands of the flight attendant were gloved, and she was wearing a mask. Since the outbreak, this is standard for all Japan Air Lines cabin staff.

For dessert there was a grapefruit granita martini – one of the most innovative desserts I’ve had on an airplane:

And that is some 30-year-old port next to it.

When it was time for bed – the flight attendant asked if I’d like to have her make up the suite across the aisle since it was empty – and whether I’d like the “hard” or “soft” mattress pad. Gee. A place to relax and a place to sleep.

A note about how many people were on this flight. I’m on a Japan Air Lines 777-300ER that CAN seat up to 240 people in 4 classes (see illustration above). My flight had 5 people in First-Class that holds 8 people. There were 8 people in Business Class which holds 49 seats, and the last of the 40 people (27) were scattered between Premium Economy and Economy. A VERY light load.

Arrived at SFO and breezed through immigration and customs because I’m Global Entry, but to be honest, the place was dead. No questions, to medical screening, just a “welcome home”.

The problem with SFO coming in International is that my connection on Alaska Airlines runs out of a different terminal which I need to recheck my bag…and the only lounge I have access to is, you guessed it, back in the International Terminal. So, out of immigration, train to another terminal, recheck bag, back on the train, through security, hang out in the lounge, take the train, back through security. If I hadn’t had three hours of layover, I would have passed. But I love the Singapore Lounge at SFO even if the noodle bar isn’t open.

Apparently, lounge food service hasn’t shut down (yet) in San Francisco.

And it was great to take a shower after so many hours in the air – should have done it in Tokyo as well.

Final leg of the trip was from San Francisco to Seattle…between a retired doctor and a corona phobic lawyer headed to his second house in the Methow Valley, by plane, to a place that has no medical infrastructure. Nothing like having a cross conversation being in the middle of two people. So much for distancing.

A very interesting time to travel internationally.

Because I’m writing this a couple of weeks later, I’ll give you the update. It’s 14-days since I left Japan – and all is well (so far). This pandemic has made me realize what an integral part of life travel is to me. Everything is cancelled for the next six weeks – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is longer than that. With all the flights I’ve cancelled this year between unexpected dental work and the virus, I’ve got over $1800 in my Alaska eWallet.


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Mar '20

Trip Report: Japanese Vending Machines

One of the wonderful things about Japan is their Vending Machine Culture. Years ago, in Tokyo in the red-light district, I saw pornography in a street side vending machine. Nothing as tawdry this trip. Just everything from cigarettes, to beer, coffee, high balls….

Cigarettes —

Hot dogs and French fries —

Sodas, water, tea —

Just coffee – some of the machines dispense it hot or cold depending on the season

Beer —

And my all-time favorite – in the lounge at the Nagoya Airport…the Highball/Beer dispenser:

So, that’s my silly tour of Japanese Vending Machine culture.


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Mar '20

Trip Report: Osaka

So, took a late afternoon Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Osaka. If you were trying to save money, you could shave $25 off if you were willing to transfer three times and have it take 6 hours rather than 2. We took the semi-fast train (more stops, but direct).

Unlike last night’s hotel, which was near the central station, tonight we are in the Dōtonbori neighborhood because it has better nightlife (according to Julian). We stayed in this neighborhood several years ago in a Capsule Hotel (see post) back in March of 2018 – wow, almost exactly two years ago!

Oddly enough, the entrance to the hotel was to the right (the bar was to the left). It had an oddly, unfinished, feel to it. And I found it even stranger that they handed you the TV remotes when you checked in.

While there ARE two beds – it’s TIGHT. This should really be a one bed room. Julian cut a deal with the front desk for a separate room for himself, as video didn’t work in mine (or his first one – they moved him again).

We’d had a late lunch, so I just had some convenience store food (which is really fresh and cheap). Julian went out for a bit. I was spent from all the walking.

The morning found us up and out early – Julian has an appointment at the US Embassy at 11:45 to get some notarized documents for his upcoming wedding (celebration in November so I’ll be back).

You can see the police bus in front of the embassy – didn’t want to get too close to photograph least they lock me up.

Looks like those people are headed to the embassy! Julian showed up 45 minutes early, got in 30 minutes early, was out before the original appointment time.

Here are some random shots of Osaka.

As a side note – there are 7-11 EVERYWHERE in Japan, and they are more than just a convenience store, you pay bills, pick up packages, etc. They also run a bank.

Time for lunch in the bowels of the Osaka Central Station – there are dozens of restaurants. Fast food near the gates, food mall on the lower level, then sit-down restaurant in the basement.

The food here doesn’t suck – whether it’s food out, or dining in with Julian cooking:

My trip to Japan is ending…longer than I expected, and somehow, not long enough.

I’m already looking forward to my return in November for the wedding.

Headed home tomorrow.


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Mar '20

Trip Report: Hiroshima

With my unexpected extra time in Japan, Julian and I decided to head several hours south to Hiroshima, yes, that Hiroshima. Back on the train go we.

And yes, there are little smoking rooms on the train:

At the train station in Hiroshima, besides displaying cars…

They also had a seating chart of the station bathroom:

And the stations are kind of gorgeous:

Got into Hiroshima in the evening as Julian had to work a little during the day – found us this place with its high-tech check-in system.

Features a free self-trouser press, and most importantly, an “Ice engine” – interesting translation:

If you were wondering what the top item is, VOD is Video On Demand, ART is…

But the room is nice.

It was dumping out – but fortunately out the back door of the hotel was this GREAT restaurant serving Hiroshima specialties (photo is of their front entrance, not the back entrance we came through):

Lively place:

Fortunately with picture menus! One for Julian…

One for me…

And the food was great!



After dinner it was time to check out their “onsen” (Public Bath).

The tattoo rule is pretty standard in Japan as usually only the Yakuza have them. The baths were great. Julian was impressed with the place I’d picked – and it beat walking around in a downpour outside.

The morning found us sightseeing as best we could do with all the closed museums. The manhole covers almost made up for the closures:


Next up was lunch at this cold soba noodle place – that had a line to get in when they opened at 11:30:

Not a big place…

And the neighborhood:

Next on the agenda is The Peace Park – ground zero for the first atomic bomb used on people. The bombed out dome down river is the far end of the park, which covers the entire area flattened by the bomb.

The museum, closed due to the virus outbreak:

This gives you another view of the scale of the park. Keep in mind that this is in the middle of a huge city.

Various memorials as well:


And finally, the bombed out dome across the river:

And some close ups:

Time to head back to the station since the Public Gardens we wanted to go to were also closed, but first a stop for another Hiroshima specialty – OYSTERS!

We ordered the set since the individual oysters were extremely expensive:

Came with an appetizer plate:

Three oysters prepared different ways:

Followed by a pasta course.

A couple of high balls later we were ready to head to the train station for our overnight in Osaka:

The Japanese are VERY thorough in explaining things about their public toilets – like where to que up depending on what you are doing:

Back on the train!

I just want to add this screenshot that sums up my day:

That’s it for Hiroshima.


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Mar '20

Trip Report: Couple Of Days In Nagoya

Change is in the wind. Next stop was supposed to be a hotel near Tokyo Disneyland Sea – until they closed the park, then shortly after, India cancelled eVisas for Japanese citizens. Delhi was the destination after Disney. Change is in the wind, roll with it.

My answer? Cancel the Delhi-London section of the trip, get the miles back, cancel the hotels, get the points back. Rebook to fly home from Japan for less points, less money, in a suddenly available Japan Air Lines First Class Suite. Lemons into a cocktail.

Fortunately, Julian is transitioning between two jobs, and has more free time – so in that sense, the timing is GREAT. And I do love hanging out with him and his friends. And there is great inexpensive food in Nagoya…if you are willing to cook it yourself.

Julian lives on the 13th floor of this building:

Tonight, dinner is with Julian and Yosuke, who I’d met on all my previous trips to Nagoya.

Yosuke got “special rice” which comes with its own heater and timer for when it is done.

And we eat well even at home.

And there are home projects to do, like refinishing his kitchen counter…

And hanging a new ceiling fixture – honest, I love this stuff, just like home:

Isn’t that a nice view out his window – mountains in the distance.

Lunch the next day was at a conveyor sushi place near his place:

So, you can grab stuff off the belt…

Or order from the tablet…

We were cheap, we were only ordering the 100 YEN plates (that’s two pieces for USD $.093 – CHEAP) and highballs were only 350 YEN (USD $3.25). In the end, they come and scan the number of plates (and their color)…

And give you a laminated barcode to take to the counter:

Which you scan at the machine and stick in cash or your credit card:

Love this place!

So, Julian is a GREAT cook – and can-do amazing things with standard Japanese appliances…like baking sourdough bread in a fish broiler:

And our dinner with rice…

Like I said, he’s a great cook, even breakfast (with the sourdough toast) is aesthetically pleasing.

Gotta clean out the fridge before we head south for a couple of days…

I’m hugging it because it is a wedding present from Yurika’s grandparents – it has a built-in icemaker. Common in the US, rare in Japan.

Well, that’s it for this chunk of the adventure – it continues tomorrow as we head south.

[? ? ?]

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2 Responses to “Trip Report: Couple Of Days In Nagoya”

  1. Mary Willis Says:

    Love the conveyor belt dining. Great price and so convenient. You are living in the most interesting way. Will you travel while the corona virus pandemic is happening?

  2. UncleMarkie Says:

    If there are flights running. At this point would only be domestic. I’m not in a high-risk group other than age.

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Mar '20

Trip Report: Gero, Japan – A Mountain Hot Springs Town

Having had a good night’s sleep in Nagoya – thanks to Julian buying a new guest mattress – in the morning we are off to Gero, which is a town several hours away, up in the mountains. WikiPedia link here.

We took the slow (i.e. cheap) train, which took a couple of transfers – but we still look happy:

I still had the English-language papers from yesterday’s flights to read on the way up.

Julian had booked us into the Yukai Resort Gero Saichoraku Bekkan which came with buffet dinner and buffet breakfast…

It’s a bit of a rabbit warren of a place built up a hillside:

And they provide robes (yakata):

I have to add the photo of the door to our unit – using Julian as a yard stick:

We went on a little walkabout, but it was a TAD rainy:

Snack shopping to tide us over:

Since we are in a hot springs town, we explore the onsen (bath) on the roof of one of the building that makes up the warren of this hotel.

Yes, this was outdoors, on the roof, in the rain, and we had it to ourselves – water was hot, hot, hot, to cooler.

And the dinner where they butchered a tuna (with no sushi grace) at the beginning of dinner…

And if that wasn’t enough, you could get a vending machine cheeseburger and fries..

The next day we had breakfast in the buffet room (sorry, no pictures) and glanced out to sunshine in the valley…and by the time we checked out and headed to the train station, it was snowing. I kid you not:

Snow never shows up in photos…but it turned out to be a nice walk to the train station (we took the shuttle up the hill on arrival):

And things for sale in the train station:

The town mascot is the frog…

We opted for the Express Train back to Nagoya – one direct train rather than two transfers which turned out to be a good idea, even in the unassigned cars – look at the view!

And here is a little video of the train in motion…

Got home in about half the time (and less stress), and soon, I was reunited with Julian’s new refrigerator (from my previous visit), that includes a rarity in Japan – an ice maker!

It was a great overnight trip. More tomorrow.

[? ? ?]

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Mar '20

Trip Report: Seattle to Nagoya

The beginning of a 12-day adventure! All packed and ready to go.

First, a stop at Duty Free – yes, the limit is THREE bottles going into Japan:

Flight is on time…

Riding in style – Japan Airlines Business Class to Tokyo’s Narita Airport with a stop in the lounge first…

The plane is here…

And so is my compartment!

Once in the air, the food starts coming…

I got the Western-style meal with the swordfish; the other choice was beef tenderloin (which also looked good).

Nice view through the tinted windows…

And yes, the Business Class bathroom has a bidet seat:

During the flight there was a menu of dishes you could order if you were still a little hungry:

Udon noodles above, ham and cheese sandwich below…

And the miso black cod was stunning…

I just had carry on with me (that I had to unzip the gusset since there were now three bottles of booze), so was through customs and immigration quickly, then get some cash, then downstairs to grab the Narita Express into Tokyo proper:

Transferred at Shinagawa to the Shinkansen to Nagoya:

And a quick clip of it pulling into the station:

Timewise, 90 minutes to get from the airport to Tokyo, another 90 minutes on the Shinkansen to get to Nagoya – where Julian met me at the station:

Yes, he met me with a highball in a can! No taboos on public drinking in Japan.

Still had my subway card from the last visit so we headed back to his place to grab some dinner in the neighborhood…sadly, forgot to grab a shot of that.

Feels good to be back in Japan. Coming back in November for his wedding, as well. That’s it for today.

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Feb '20

Trip Report: February Mileage Runs

With being knocked out of the travel game for a month, I might finally be on the positive end of flying things I’ve booked. What I cancelled was:

  • Tucson
  • Boston
  • Bogota
  • Rescheduled Boston trip
  • Raleigh

Didn’t get in the air this year until February 5th with a mileage run to Raleigh. Puts me down by about 20,000 flight miles from where I usually am this time of year.

Did manage to get these mileage runs done in February:

  • Raleigh
  • Columbus
  • Pittsburgh
  • Raleigh (with Rache)
  • Raleigh
  • Raleigh

My map for this year was supposed to look like THIS:

Got upgraded to First from Premium on all but two of the Raleigh return flights.

The downside of mileage run after mileage run, even in first class, is that you get tired of the same menu. Going out it was the cheese omelet with one little sausage link:

Or the pulled pork with black beans and scrambled eggs in a boil:

The dinner menu was either the pasta with Bolognese sauce:

Picture To Come If I get upgraded again!
Considering I’d had it a couple of times, no picture is odd.

Or the chicken breast:

First world problems – are they the worst.

But there was pretty scenery to fly back and forth over…

Well, that’s my flying for February. Time to sign off and start packing for my “Around The World In Twelve Days” trip.


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Feb '20

Trip Report: Return To Victoria

The year of cancelled/reworked/cancelled travel continues. Boston off, Boston rebooked, Boston off, hello Victoria! Had the weekend scheduled off, hated to waste it.

DancingBear and I returned to Victoria – this time for five nights!

Lower floor unit, but much better views:

A little more room inside on this unit – much less outside:

And as usual, massive amounts of excellent food came out of DancingBear’s kitchen:

And we even managed to leave the condo for something other than groceries – like John Lennon’s Rolls Royce on display in the Museum lobby (meaning FREE).

And drinks at the Q Lobby

Bar at the Empress…

Not inexpensive, but VERY calming.

Another day we were off to a Brewery and Whiskey Tour at Macaloney’s Caledonian.

And I’ll close the post with a couple of “profile” shots we took of each other…

That’s all folks!


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One Response to “Trip Report: Return To Victoria”

  1. Mick Westrick Says:

    Another great trip. We’ll have to get together soon and drink some Scotch-style whiskey!

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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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