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Mon
22
Oct '18

Trip Report: The Texas Eagle

This will probably be the last of my train travel for the year – and this week I’m on The Texas Eagle:

But first I have to get there…in style, courtesy of an upgrade to First Class…

Definitely a red-eye flight…which means the food service is minimal, sadly:

So, when I hit Chicago, I headed to the Admiral’s Club (American) for a bagel, a newspaper, and a little nap:

My train didn’t leave until 1:45pm, so I had time to linger, then catch the train into town, which oddly didn’t charge me – I had a transit card from last week that apparently still had some dollars on it!

Checked into the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago, which I have no pictures of for some reason. Dropped my bags and headed to the CVS across the street for booze and mixers for the train. Returned to the lounge to drop that, then went back upstairs in the station for a world-famous Chicago Dog. Eventually they put out some vegetable and cheese in the lounge – and a complimentary half glass of some way too sweet Asti Sparkling.

Was happy to get onto the train.

Thankfully they at least had the Amtrak Signature Steak – but like The Silver Meteor a couple of months ago, no Surf to go with the turf (they were actually out of both surf AND turf):

One of things about the long-distance trains is that they feed you three times a day as part of your Sleeper fare. My routine on the train is to eat breakfast and go back to bed. I’ve tried skipping it but lunch doesn’t come early enough.

Here are some random shots from the train that I liked:

In San Antonio, The Texas Eagle gets split apart and added to the end of The Sunset Limited from New Orleans. It used to come from Orlando, but Hurricane Katrina knocked a bunch of tracks out – it’s fixed, but the route has yet to be restored. The upside is that we got The Sunset Limited’s dining car, which did have the Surf to go with the Turf.

My last night of this 66-hour trip was connecting up with my buddy Joe from Tucson. This was truly the highlight of the trip – I don’t get to see him often enough.

He was kind enough to even track down some Diet Ginger Ale for me. And he brought me a bottle of whiskey produced in Tucson to top it off!

The downside of this route is that the train arrives into LA’s Union Station at 5:45am assuming it is on-time, which for once, it was.

I hiked up to the Metropolitan Lounge to hang out for a bit before taking FlyAway to LAX. While there, checked my seat for the flight, and ONCE AGAIN they had pulled me out of premium and stuck me in the back. I fixed the problem last night in Tucson when I went to check in and noticed it. 45-minutes on that call, and another 30-minutes to change to an earlier flight that had a premium seat, albeit, a middle one.

At least there is an Alaska Lounge at LAX!

Another week, another trip.

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Mon
15
Oct '18

Trip Report: The Amtrak Cardinal

In my quest to decide if I want to keep investing in Amtrak (time, not money), I’m trying a few of the routes I haven’t tried (that still serve food). The summer it was the Silver Meteor from New York City to Fort Lauderdale. This week it is The Cardinal from Washington, DC to Chicago (it used to start in NYC as well, but track issues have caused it to not for the foreseeable future).

Rache and I started with an early flight from SEA to IAD – and then the task of getting into town by public transit (I was willing to throw an Uber at it) for $11 each (Rache was a little cheaper since he’s 65+). We were in Premium with free drinks and a snack, but sadly, not first – we were numbers 9 and 10 on THAT list. It’s less a deal for Rache since he can sleep in coach, me, not so much. But we arrived in one piece (albeit late) to the lovely (read, practical) Days Inns Washington, DC on Connecticut Ave. Nothing to write home about, but clean, good location, not over the top expensive.

Rache grabbed the desk, but not to worry, I have a travelling table!

Being beat – I suggested we just order in food (the joys of a big city!). We went for Thai from ThaiPad, which was basically across the street. Oddly, no photos. We both got versions of Pad Thai (Rache, shrimp; me, chicken). I wanted something I could eat in the morning as well – no fridge in the room (and no chopsticks with the delivery!)

Basically, it was a comfortable place to crash for a night, close to a DC Metro station (for which I now have a card).

The morning found us headed to Union Station, and directly to the Accela Lounge to chill out until our 11am train.

The lounge offers both Red Cap Service (slow) or a guide to the tracks – we took the later.

We got settled in with the help of our car attendant, Momma J – really DO wish I had a picture of her! She’s been at it for 32 years.

With our before noon boarding – we got lunch.

Please not that that the “silver colored” eating utensils are plastic – and that poor cheeseburger has been nuked. If you are going to do that – DON’T NUKE THE BUN, it comes out like rubber.

Dessert was better than the burger:

Fortunately, you are allowed to bring your own bar when you are in a sleeper (we are in the bedroom), and Momma J kept us stocked with ice:

After dinner I looked at The Washington Post – and realized I should have gone shopping last night while in DC. Evan Williams was on SALE!

Let me zoom in on the important bit….and those are prices for 1.75 liter bottles.

Welcome to our bedroom:

We DID get a good meal at Blackies not far from the station:

Definitely better than Amtrak! Next off we are to a gallery covered by our Ogden membership, the Intuit Gallery of outsider art – WELL worth a visit:

Didn’t get a chance to check out this restaurant, The Silver Palm, which has a train car attached:

Back to the Amtrak lounge we went before the flight…

And the final shot – from the Chicago Airport and a statue of a police dog…

We are done. The food on the train SUCKED. The scenery didn’t – but the food SUCKED! Abandon The Cardinal.

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Sun
14
Oct '18

Trip Report: Cabo For The 62nd

That would be 62nd Birthday. Applied for Social Security a couple of weeks ago – it was an odd feeling.

Spoiled myself by using First Class Guest Upgrades in both directions on what was supposed to be a direct flight. Annoyed that a month or so out they changed it to stopping in California each way. The upside was that 3 out of 4 flights were on Virgin America metal meaning they had more comfortable First Class seats.

First, a stop in the lounge:

See what I mean about the seats?

And the food wasn’t bad either:

And then lunch on the next leg:

Welcome to Mexico!

Met up with Dan and Lisa at the airport for the shuttle to the hotel:

 

To be honest – we were all slugs on this birthday get away – the fact that it was 90 also precluded many daytime activities. We DID do a lot of eating and drinking!

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We were actually down there for a full week. Might have been a couple of days long, but still glad we did it.

Dan and Lisa’s flight was several hours before mine, so I abandoned them in the airport and paid $50 for the Priority Lounge – which was WELL worth it.

The way home was via San Francisco (way down was Los Angeles).

Hellish transfer at SFO – there was no one to recheck my luggage so I had to drag it over two terminals, and by the time I figured out where the Cathay Pacific Lounge was, I’d already used a pass in the “not nearly as nice” United Club.

Didn’t get home until 12:30 – and I’d forgotten my key, so around the back I went to the lockbox in the dark. Took a couple of snags of the camera flash for me to get the combo entered.

Not the best way to end a trip.

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Thu
20
Sep '18

Trip Report: The Big Easy

Months ago, Rache was visiting, and NCIS: New Orleans came on, and by the end of the show we’d booked a room and flights. Same thing happens occasionally when I watch Hawaii 5 0. The shows remind me of how much I like a particular city. At the time I even had enough Alaska Gold MVP Guest Upgrades that we travelled in style both ways after a stop for a Caesar (Bloody Mary made with Clamato) in the Alaska Lounge:

They do make a good one! Almost like breakfast in a glass. Got to the airport ridiculously early so we could get a free ride from Jonathan before he went to work. It also allowed me a have a nice little nap in the room, which was good because I didn’t get very much sleep the night before.

Settled in, and lunch is on the way!

During the trip, I noticed this sign in the bathroom.

So – how I read this is: Return To Your Seat, or Ring For A Cocktail. I’ll take option B.

For some reason, the nuts come near the end of the flight…

And once again, heavy on the almonds, which aren’t my favorites. I passed the pecans to Rache, who isn’t an almond fan either.

The original plan was that “The Colonels” would pick us up and we’d go out to dinner and then they’d drop us off. Plans changed last week as the weather changed – so Uber us into the city!

Got settled into our one-bedroom condo, with Rache graciously taking the fold out couch, leaving the bedroom for me. We did get a great view of the city from our rooms:

Basically, we dumped our bags and headed down the street to Houston’s, which is my standard first night dinner and music to get me into the New Orleans mood:

This might very well be the best French Dip that I’ve ever had in my life!

And the fried oysters looked pretty good, too!

And then there is the sign on the way to the bathroom that I loved:

Per the way we usually travel together, Rache is up and out and exploring during the morning hours while I lollygag in bed – getting together late morning for our lunch stop of the day. A place that neither of us has been before – Central City BBQ:

Got some cocktails ordered…

And some BBQ! I went with the pulled pork sandwich, potato salad, which came with these house-pickled pickles and onions — yum

Rache went for a single rib, sweet corn spoon bread, and roast Brussel sprouts.

We were debating a second round of cocktails when the skies opened up and started dumping rain. Decision made.

After the rain cleared, we headed back in the direction of the condo, but stopped by Dryade’s Market to check out what had changed. When I was there earlier this year, the bar was closed – but today, were fortunate to find it open, and my favorite bartender Kevin, manning the bar.

Found this display at the end of the bar – guessing this can’t be very good wine, though it does come in its own glass:

Headed to our next stop, I spotted some lovely graffiti:

How sweet is, “Tell My Mother I Love Her”.

Before long we were off to celebrate Happy Hour (like we haven’t all day) at Samuel’s Blind Pelican – home of the 25-cent oyster.

A dozen charbroiled oysters ($10).

A dozen raw ($3)

Fried Green Tomatoes.

And dessert – another two dozen on the half shell!

In our quest to try new places – the next lunch was at Bacchanal:

It’s deceiving because from the fence to the right, all the way behind the trees on the left is the wine shop/restaurant.

There is an outside eating/drinking/entertainment area:

We opted for inside, upstairs in the bar as it was over 90 degrees outside:

Where they were also having a wine tasting! Coals to New Castle.

Three UNIQUE wines open – my kinda place!

  1. 2016 Envinate Taganan Vinos Atlanticos Tino
  2. 2015 Bodegas Ordonez Tineta DO Ribera del Duero Tinto
  3. 2009 Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling Spatlese

Plus, we’d ordered a glass of rosé to go with our lunch:

And then topped it off with cocktails!

Great staff! Including the bartender who isn’t present in the photo:

And they had one of the more amusing restroom signs that I’ve seen:

More running (well, streetcarring) around the city until the heat got to us – headed back to the condo for naps, and eventually some take out dinner – Rache went for the Brother’s Fried Chicken on the corner, I went for the Thai-ish food next door to the chicken convenience store:

It was an early night for both of us.

Our last full day in town is devoted to one of Rache’s favorites, The Dry Dock over in Algiers – which requires a couple of street cars and a ferry:

And, The Dry Dock and their wonderful food. Gator sausage and shrimp bisque for me:

Garlic shrimp for Rache:

Home for a little nap, then it’s off to The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where we are members – for a concert in the atrium, with the galleries open (though our cocktails were banned). OK music, great, thought provoking art:

And decent views of the National WWII Museum from the rooftop deck:

And even of the formerly known as “Lee Circle“:

Took the St. Charles streetcar line towards the condo and hopped off at the St. Charles Tavern, recommended by one of my wine shop customers. Seems we were there on cheap 14oz. ribeye night!

We took the leftovers home with us – and promptly dropped into a food coma.

For our final lunch, we went to Toups South, which is in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (and it has a GREAT used book section). Rache had the cracklings, followed by the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich (which is a TON of food – I helped with the fries)

I opted for something lighter – the Fried Green Tomato Salad, I think, or something delicious.

Bought a couple of books before we headed back to the condo to hang out in the owners lounge since we’d checked out before lunch. We hung out for a couple of hours, both of us napping at points on the comfy leather couches before Ubering to the airport…we were early, but still had to battle Friday “get out of town” traffic.

Back in our First Class seats, too tired to even take pictures of the evening meal.

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Wed
12
Sep '18

Home Report: Projects, Dogs, & Distilling

There is a project that I started in the middle of summer – and then abandoned when the heat spiked – but I finally got it done! A ramp from my back deck to the yard with replaces the rotted-out deck. Now I have easy rolling access from the sidewalk out front to the garage out back.

It’s not that I need a wheelchair, it’s that I need the ramp for moving shit in and out of the house by myself:

The push to final the ramp came because people were coming over for an “end of summer” dog and distilling party!

And because I’ve been home, I’ve been on a jag of making my savory cinnamon dinner bread/rolls:

Must be remembering the original rolls from The Savoy Grill in Kansas City!

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Sat
1
Sep '18

Trip Report: Kansas City

The trip didn’t come off as planned. I made it, but DancingBear had to cancel at the last minute since his dog Buster just got out of surgery the afternoon of the day before we were slated to leave. Buster went under the knife to remove a cup of pea gravel covered in BBQ hamburger drippings. I’m sure it tasted great going down, but not so much in his tummy:

Not only painful to Buster, but painful for DancingBear:

Ouch – but at least he is home and one the mend…

Meanwhile, I’m headed to Kansas City…and while at the airport, saw one of Alaska’s newest liveries, the SubPop plane…

Which also shows you the smoke from wild fires raging in BC, WA, OR, CA – seems that we are getting smoke from all of them. As seen from above:

One of the sad things about DancingBear having to cancel his part of this trip is that there is no one to swap almonds and walnuts for cashews with in First Class (I like the cashews, the almonds, not so much).

Was served a lunch from Alaska’s new “trendy” menu. For some reason they thought I’d pre-ordered the fruit and cheese plate – silly people:

Got to see an interesting view on the landing in Kansas City – the NASCAR speedway on the Kansas side of the border.

Knew it was there, but hadn’t seen it from the air before.

DancingBear had arranged a rental car, but no DB, no car. I texted my buddy Paul before I left, and he was able to be my chauffeur for the visit – with our first stop at a grocery/liquor store in North Kansas City, where they had Verners, but I didn’t really need a twelve pack (or the Yoohoo next to it):

Got checked in at the 21st C at The Savoy Art Hotel, and after a little juggling, got the two queens changed to a king bed on an upper floor. Love the “Do Not Disturb” door hangers!

Maybe I should have stuck with the two beds…would have made for a bigger room.

Live and learn. Nice, but not sure worth $250 a night (though I got a 21% introductory discount which barely covered the 19% Kansas City Lodging Tax).

After she got off work, we grabbed Gail and headed off to CharBar we went. Nothing like starting the trip with BBQ (and a Manhattan)!

Paul and Gail split a couple of things, starting with the grilled jack fruit burger (vegetarian):

And the Fruits and Roots salad:

 

I went for the Pickled Pig sandwich (deep fried pickles and cole slaw):

 

And though we were all full – we split the peach bread pudding – which was stunning:

 

Gail dropped Paul and I off at The Green Lady Lounge for a little after dinner jazz, but to be honest, from all the food, we made it through a couple of songs and a drink and grabbed Uber’s back home.

It’s one of my favorite spots for jazz in KC – just wish I’d had more energy.

Back at the hotel, I found this wandering in my hallway….

Apparently, penguins are “a thing” at the 21st C hotel chain.

The next day brought BBQ with Wendy in Lawrence at Bigg’s BBQ (the favorite of my friend Nita):

I went “small” with the three pulled pork sliders since we have 7pm reservations at The Savoy Grill:

Paul had some massive sandwich thing:

For Wendy, the burnt ends with cole slaw and fries you get two sides, but if you do it right you can end up with four between two people because the big sandwiches come with one AND endless fries:

Paul dropped me at the hotel so I could get a quick nap (which didn’t happen – worked instead), and Gail showed up at six for wine and cocktails in the room before dinner, which we made, and then headed out to check out the modern art on the first and second floor of the hotel (which is open to the public as well):

Even art in the meeting rooms:

My favorite piece in the “Refuge” exhibit:

Then we were off to The Savoy Grill (after returning our drink glasses to the room):

The view from Booth Number 4: The President’s Booth – and of cocktails:

Me: Martini, Gail: Bee’s Knees, Paul: I’ve totally forgotten!

Next up, the cheese plate:

Check out the “retro” dishware:

For drink round two, I switched from a Gin Martini (in honor of Pucci), to a Manhattan:

Paul got a Chocolate Martini (which he had at The Green Lady Lounge as well), Gail, the Kat’s Kimono:

Then the mains and sides started coming…prime rib for me:

Pasta Primavera for Gail (housemade pasta):

Salmon for Paul:

And sides of green beans almandine and creamed corned (which was pretty much mashed fresh corn):

For dessert, the profiteroles!

To go with my Benedictine and Double Espresso – and no, they didn’t let me light the cigar:

In the morning, I tried the room service (and in the restaurant) Biscuits and Gravy (same price as the restaurant [$14] and only a $3 delivery charge)

I was underwhelmed…A) salad with breakfast? B) the biscuit was more dense than fluffy, which had they split it, the gravy would have worked better.

To wrap up the visit to The Savoy, some random shots of the hotel, restaurant, and bar:

Check out was 11am (which I find annoying, but better than 10am). Paul grabbed me from the hotel, and we were off to lunch at The Nelson-Atkins Gallery:

Spent a little time seeing art….

Next stop, the airport – and fortunately, the gift shop was closed, or I might have been tempted by these two t-shirts for Kathy:

And onto the plane for dinner on the way home…

Complete with a couple of cases of BBQ sauce!

Another week, another trip.

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Sun
26
Aug '18

Trip Report: Back To Whistler For Seconds

Once again, I’m making multiple trips to Whistler to get the most value out of my Season Peak-2-Peak pass.

This trip, the midway stop on the way north is Vancouver – which it’s rare to find a room during summer, especially a 2-bedroom!

The trip north was a little smoky, though not as bad as last August:

Anne doesn’t have a Nexus card, so we had to wait for 20 minutes after duty-free (which probably shaved 20 minutes off the wait).

All my other trips I’ve been in a hurry, but this time, since we were only going to Vancouver, I could try out this hotdog stand just north of the border:

Not bad – I got the jumbo polish with the works.

Stopped for groceries and wine into town –here is a view of the condo:

And a nice steak dinner:

Anne even went to a bakery she knew to grab a little dessert!

The view from my bedroom:

We actually got out of the condo at a decent time – arriving in Whistler around 2, meaning even with stopping to get Anne’s Pass, we still had a couple of hours on the mountain.

Sadly, this week is CrankWorx, which means the village is jammed:

But not so much at the top – it’s all mountain bikers in the village:

It was so nice, the new bar had its giant umbrella folded. And the smoke wasn’t too bad (compared to last August):

For our afternoon snack we split a chicken stripes and fries – it would have been way too much food for one person:

Stella for Anne, wine for me.

After our nibble, we set off for the gondolas headed to Creekside, which are open this year since the Blackcomb Village lifts are in the middle of replacement:

 

By the time we got back up to Whistler, lines were starting to form as everyone was headed off the mountain – luckily, I knew about the “Express” lane which means you get one of the dirty mountain bike gondolas, but you get it to yourselves! It the no line to the left.

Didn’t get any pictures of the condo because:

  1. It looks pretty much like the one from last week, and
  2. We are changing units tomorrow

Speaking of tomorrow, well, that would be today now – and Anne took off for the mountain earlier than I now that she knows where everything is. Lines were a little longer today, but no too bad:

And this is the CrankWorx competition park:

And the general smoke level – I wouldn’t want to be competing in it:

Our big item today is the Black Diamond hike to the Whistler Peak Gondola and visiting the suspension bridge:

This triangular viewing platform wasn’t here last month. Pretty cool!

After our mountain peak adventure, it was the grueling trail back to The Roundhouse and the Peak-2-Peak gondola – we are both in the need of cocktails and a nibble:

Christines delivered rather than disappointed this visit. Service was still spotty, and they are still pushing expensive domestic bubbles are the beginning of the meal, but our starter was wonderful.

We then took the Peak-2-Peak back for another cocktail at the Umbrella Bar before heading down the hill for a lovely en-suite dinner of bison steaks and salad. Life is hard:

Anne went out exploring after dinner which ended up being karaoke and buying some gemstones – I was just happy on the couch.

Didn’t get up the mountain our final morning, but we at least got out of the room before noon! It’ important since it’s a Friday and we have a border to cross.

That’s it for this adventure – if you want to see some videos of the Whistler Peak Chairlift or Creekside, CHECK THEM OUT HERE.

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Thu
2
Aug '18

Trip Report: Quick Trip To Hell

Just kidding about hell, but it was Vegas in the summer, and no matter how many people say, “But, it’s a dry heat,” it’s still hot as hell in the summer. More on that later.

This trip was really about just going down to hang out with friends and spend a little time by the pool.

DancingBear went down in the morning (I put the condo in his name), picked up Ric at 3PM, and me, well, I worked all day, locked the door at 5PM and headed to airport for some expensive parking for three days. Didn’t want to miss my flight, AND, I wanted to have dinner in the lounge before my flight:

Got upgraded to First Class (actually, five days before the flight).

Which meant another dinner…

Got to Vegas, hooked up with the boys, and off to the condo we go.

Not a bad room location. Middle building overlooking the Lazy River, upper floor for more privacy. Room location is the whims of how long out you made the reservation and for how many days.

And the view out the front door, of acres of manufactured houses sweating in the heat.

DancingBear and Ric had done all shopping, including for the booze and mixers – Yahoo Boys! Coffee and breakfast ready for me when I got up.

They had friend who were staying on the strip at Aria, but I had no desire to do the strip. I just hung out in the AC with thoughts about going to the pool, but this was the high the first full day we were there:

The boys were having another expensive dinner on the strip, so I ran to the store and grabbed a rotisserie chicken sautéed up with the leftover morning potatoes and a little salad.

Tried going to the pool at 9:30pm, didn’t even bring a towel because it was still almost 100 degrees and I know I’d be dry by the time I got back to the room. And there was so much heat coming out of the concrete, it wasn’t pleasant.

Ric left a day before us, so after we dropped him off, we went to one of DancingBear’s regular stops in Vegas – the Ethel M (as in Mars) Chocolate Factory. He’d offered to take me on previous Vegas visits, but he neglected to mention the Factory Tour part…and the cactus garden.

The factory tour is self-guided, and, of course, it ends in the gift shop.

It was WAY TO HOT to explore the cactus garden – and they even put a couple of gel icepacks in the chocolates that DancingBear bought because of the heat. How hot?

When we got back to the condo, it got even hotter! And with the chance of thunderstorms:

Which meant EVERYONE was out of the pool and off the loungers – an odd scene for the middle of the day, poolside. If you look close, you can see them all under the cabana:

We overbought our groceries…

But, it was still cheaper than one of the meals on the strip…

WAIT – that was the receipt for the booze I’m packing home!

So, our final dinner was a big chef salad with eggs hardboiled, the pupu platter salami sliced, the cheese grated, the chicken shredded, the works:

It was an early breakfast on our final morning as it was an 11am flight with the rental car to return, and then, of course, checking out the Centurion Lounge that DancingBear has access to:

Before long, it was off to the terminal and the wait to board:

We are on Virgin metal going home. DancingBear in Premium, I got upgraded to First, but they have a messaging system which, while cute, is a pain in the ass to use since there isn’t an onscreen keyboard.

Plus, it would kick you out of the video section when you were messaging, so it was multiple menus to get the TV going again – there will be no love lost when Alaska kills these with the new cabin retrofits starting this fall.

Lunch on the way back…

We were back early enough that I was able to bake bread for Wednesday dinner at CourneyMatt – and now I just need 13,143 miles to Alaska MVP Gold 75K

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Sun
22
Jul '18

Trip Report: Wonderful Week In Whistler – Part Three

Well, it’s time for the final day on the mountain – and to beat the crowds we are actually AT the lift entrance just before it opened at 8:30.

I think the trick would be to show up at 8:45 when the initial crowd has cleared through.

We got up the mountain so early that we’d neglected to see what time the trail opened to The Peak Express – turns out it was 10:00, so we had plenty of time to take a Peak 2 Peak gondola ride to kill time. Almost had the gondola over to ourselves, but a handful of people jumped on at the last minute.

We were in for a surprise for our return run back to Whistler – the popular “glass-bottom” car pulled into the station, and NO ONE was in line for it.

We had the car to ourselves! I’ve occasionally had regular cars with just me in them, but never the glass-bottom car. Maybe there is something to be said for getting up early.

Got back to Whistler side and had to cool our heels for 15 minutes or so until the trail opened. Personally, I think they should have given the old men a head start as we were immediately passed by everyone else once they opened the trail.

We are headed own a steep hill to the Whistler Peak Express:

Everybody had passed us, so there was no line at the chairlift, and up we go…

Rache is calm enough on these no to pay more attention to the phone than the scenery…

Here is a short video of our ascent:

At the top, we found the new suspension bridge open:

And some great views:

There was always a trail to the other peak, but it was a serious hike up and down.

Speaking of down, here is the descent off the cliff on the chair lift:

And the view of The Roundhouse from the lift:

Once we got back to The Roundhouse – it was a slow slog for me back up that hill. I would have given a pinky for a PediCab up that trail, we went back down the mountain for a light lunch at the Beacon Pub:

I’d eaten there other years and there was semi-shaded outside seating. And booze.

Rache had the Buffalo Wings – which looked exceptional:

And I had the Seared Ahi Salad:

We split the fried pickles – some of the BEST I’ve had.

Our last stop was at the new full-service bar on the deck of The Roundhouse. What a welcome addition! Which meant going back up the mountain. Thank goodness for the Season Pass.

After our cocktails we headed back to the condo for a little nap before our final dinner. Indian-spiced chicken thighs.

I wasn’t up as early as the day before, but in a couple of hours we were at Duty Free, followed by the border:

Not more than 20 minutes or so delay (would have been 5 minutes in the Nexus lane).

All and all, a fun week in Whistler. I’ve already started to cobble together another trip in August even though there are no contiguous days available. Got to get the most value out of my Season Pass!

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Fri
20
Jul '18

Trip Report: Wonderful Week In Whistler – Part Two

Rache was up and out and on the mountain before I’d dragged my lazy ass out of bed. At least I was out of the condo at 11am.

Oh, what a difference a day makes – yesterday, no lines to get on the gondola, today, 30 minutes of wait time, even with the season pass:

Rache and I kept in contact via Facebook Messenger and decided to meet at the Roundhouse – this was the view today, as they were getting ready to install glass panels on the deck:

Yesterday, you couldn’t see much beyond the railing, today – miles of visibility. Back on the Peak 2 Peak:

To the Blackcomb side:

Back on the bus to 7th Heaven, then the lift up the hillside:

A quick side by side of yesterday and today, taken from the same location on top of Blackcomb Mountain. Yesterday:

Today:

From the edge you can actually see into the bowl to watch people skiing and snowboarding…

Oh, what a difference a day makes!

WOW! Now you know why I come up every summer…it never gets boring!

And back down the mountain we go…the two of us on the chairlift, and at least one skier on the slopes…

And you can see the bus we take back to the Peak 2 Peak:

One of the highlights of my summer trips is to blow a wad of money at Christines – the upscale restaurant on Blackcomb. Great views, and expensive enough that there aren’t many children in the place.

We started with drinks:

Followed by burgers (CAN$28).

I have to say that I was disappointed. The burger, while pretty, was seriously expensive and messy as hell to eat. Add service more interested in pushing glasses of bubbles and more cocktails at a slow pace, might be my last visit for anything other than cocktails and a view.

Back to the Whistler side to explore a couple of lifts that haven’t been open for tourists in previous years. Guessing this to make up for the inability to get down on the Blackcomb side as they replace two open chair lifts with 12-seat enclosed gondolas.

It’s a bit of a hike to the Big Red Express…

If you look closely, you can see the new suspension bridge between two peaks of Whistler Mountain.

I only have a couple of shots of descending into Whistler Creekside, where the other WorldMark is (though it’s a SERIOUS trek to get to the lift).

Tonight’s dinner is lamb with Caribbean rice and beans, and the usual salad.

Another fun day on the mountain! One more to come.

[? ? ?]

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Fri
20
Jul '18

Trip Report: Wonderful Week In Whistler – Part One

As is my usual summer holiday routine, it’s off to Whistler to enjoy some “hiking”, which for me means the one Black Diamond hike that is the only way to get to the Whistler Peak Express chairlift. But we’ll come back to that – first we have to get there.

I booked Sunday night at the WorldMark Birch Bay, to cut the drive in half so we’d get there in the early afternoon Monday. Decent view from the 2-bedroom unit. The view toward Mount Baker, which I’d never realized you could see from the resort:

And the view of the water:

Not as nice as the 3-bedroom penthouse units at the front, but also not as expensive (and hard to come by).

And I brought us food to cook on the grill since Whistler Cascade Lodge has no BBQ’s on the deck, or even the premises. We split a big steak, salad, baked beans, and a bottle of Uruguayan Tannat I brought back from Boston this spring.

Got a decent start in the morning, and the wait wasn’t too bad at the border, even with Rache not having his Nexus card yet. Of course, our room wasn’t ready, but we walked over to Guest Services and picked up our Season Passes. This makes the fourth (or fifth) year running I’ve been up there with various people:

On the way back, we stopped at Araxis for their happy hour, and still managed to spend a little over CAN$100:

While we couldn’t bring in any vegetables, we did bring in the protein for the week, helping to offset the “snack” above. Tonight, it was pork loin with Cajun rice, salad, and a bottle of Bordertown Cabernet Franc that I couldn’t find anywhere last year.

We got out of the condo around noon – Rache had already toured the village, found breakfast, and basically gotten the lay of the land. Overcast today, so NO LINES at all to get on the Whistler Village Gondola. But the views were a little obscured:

And then onto the Peak 2 Peak Gondola….

When we got to Blackcomb, we caught the bus to the 7th Heaven chairlift to the peak.

And as we got closer to the top, the less visibility:

Yes, there is a ski bowl somewhere down there…you can barely make out the T-Bars coming out of the clouds.

Grabbed this shot on the way down – man was I glad I’d borrowed one of Rache’s hoodies! It was about 34 degrees at the top.

Back we went to the Whistler side…

And eventually back down into the valley.

Tonight’s dinner was a butter chicken, salad, leftover rice, and a nice rosé:

.

After dinner I went down to the pool area for a quite soak in the hot tub. It was NOT to be:

Think twenty 6-10 year-olds.

Weather tomorrow is supposed to be better. To be continued.

[224.0]

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Wed
11
Jul '18

Trip Report: SEA-JFK-NYC-FLL-MSP-SEA

Sounds like gobblely gook when you type it out like that.

Got notice about five days before my flight that I was upgraded from Seattle to JFK in NYC. But, it’s a red eye, so I’d better fill up in the Lounge before the flight:

Alaska’s Lounge has lots of healthy options, and some unhealthy ones like cookies, which I pocketed a couple of them for emergency reserves.

Beautiful night to fly…

Looking forward to the new First-Class cabins coming to Alaska this fall, but for now, same old, same old.

But I do like the bulkhead, so I can put my feet up:

And, as I mentioned, it’s slim pickings for food on redeye flights, but they have upgraded the DigiPlayer tablets to slightly larger, but much better resolution.:

Hummus, vegetables and some pita.

Got to JFK around 7am and headed to the new lounge, which they just opened a couple of months ago. Cool entrance….

Nice views:

Including of the old TWA Terminal, now surrounded by other airport buildings – but being turned into a hotel/conference center (hotel in two attached towers). More information HERE on that project, that when it opens, I’ll be checking it out.

Decent amount of open space…

But, the bagels they served with the breakfast buffet are an embarrassment to New York City:

Hung out for a couple of hours (got an hour nap), before taking the SkyTrain (thanks, Rache, for the pass), connecting to the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) whose onboard credit card machine wasn’t working, so I got a free ride, ending up at Penn Station in NYC 90-degree heat and humidity. By the time I’d gotten to the Amtrak Acela Lounge, I was a hot, sticky, mess. Stopped at Kmart (yes, there is one in the station) for a six pack of 16-ounce Diet Coke as mixer, and then to Penn Station Liquor (also in the station, with a decent wine selection, but more expensive than I remember from my previous visit) for a fifth of whiskey for the trip – I should have brought my own hooch at the prices they were charging, but then I would have had to check a bag AND not gotten to check out the lounge for fear of losing my bag.

Read a couple of newspapers (WSJ and NYT) while I cooled down, before asking the reception desk for a recommendation of a “sit-down” restaurant in the station. The choices were TGI Fridays (no), or The Kaboozs Bar and Grill, which I settled on. Decent drinks, an OK Rueben (grilled bread so it wasn’t a sponge for the “butter” sauce many places grill them with), and service that I have never seen in NYC. Owner/floor manager stopping by to check in, servers other than my own checking in and bringing me things – really, really good.

I had the New York, New York, which is a Woodford Reserve-based Manhattan:

And the Rueben, with very good onion rings!

A little before two for our two thirty departure they escorted us down one floor – reversing an escalator – to the platform to board Amtrak’s Silver Meteor with service from New York City to Miami, though I’m getting off in Fort Lauderdale.

Which, when I went to the dining car for a “bucket” of ice, which turned out to be a “bag” with some ice in it, I discovered that this was one of the new combo dinging/café cars in the Amtrak fleet. More gut room at the tables, LED lighting, totally refreshed interior:

And the kitchen:

Ice in hand, I settled into my cabin…ice in the pull-down sink:

And plenty of leg room…

It was a cloudy, rainy, humid day leaving NYC:

First meal of the day on the train was dinner – where they were out of the Amtrak Signature Steak, and also no seafood cakes for the surf and turf. The least offensive offer off the menu was the chicken breast in something. Boneless chicken breasts always come out dry and flavorless – no skin, no bones, etc. Here is the before:

Here is the after:

Breakfast – yes, I got up at 7am because it was a free meal. This was their breakfast quesadilla breakfast with eggs and salsa verdé, side of sausage. Got a table by myself, which is a rarity on Amtrak with their “shared seating”:

And there was lunch…after my three-hour nap after breakfast. The Bacon Angus Burger with cheese:

I always get my dessert to go…eating it in the roomette later.

Massive rain in Orlando….

And then a $5 cab ride (including tip) to the hotel (Days Inn Cruise Port Fort Lauderdale Airport):

Which was in the middle of nothing.in the way of restaurants, so it was order in. Found an online place and ordered from Sarpinos – which is apparently a small chain regional chain. Love their interface.

Order and you can track, including delivery:

And the end result. I didn’t need the bread “sticks” with marinara, but it came with the order (and I left them in the room):

Check out time was 11am, so that’s when I scheduled the complimentary airport shuttle. But first, grabbed their free, boring continental breakfast…

Plenty of time at the airport to have a little lunch, since my Delta First Class flight (used a TON of miles) doesn’t leave until 3. Delta doesn’t give First Class passengers access to their Lounge – which is good, since it’s being rebuilt, so there is a “lounge kiosk” for members to pick up snacks and papers, but no cocktails.

After looking at menus, settled on Torn Basil, not for the pizza, but for the Ensalata Caprese and cocktails.

Got some reading and work done, and the plane was at the gate:

And soon, I was settled in:

And once we were in the air, oddly, even though I was in the first row, I didn’t get my choice of meals. There was a chicken breast salad or the burger. I was left with the burger, which I probably would have gotten anyway since I’d had a salad in the airport:

A little over three hours to MSP (Minneapolis), then a wait for another plane:

And another meal (dinner), which I did get my first choice, the chicken breast with vegetables:

Great views on the landing in Seattle.

Nice way to end a trip.

[? ? ?]

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Sun
17
Jun '18

Trip Report: Final Legs Of New Zealand Trip

No ill effects from my night of sobriety here in Dallas. Didn’t seem worth $15 worth of Ubers to pick up a bottle or two to drink and/or take home.

Awoke at 6am – said, what the hell, the breakfast bar is open. In the south there is always biscuits and gravy on the buffet.

Got back to the room and went back to bed. Why not?

Checked out and caught the noon shuttle to the airport since the next isn’t until 2pm, and there would be nothing to do except sit around the lobby.

Poked around at the restaurants since I had plenty of time to kill, and a cocktail might be nice, too. Found Sky Canyon by Stephen Pyles. I had been craving salad (the chop salad was $15), but then the woman next to me order the brisket tacos and the tuna ceviche. I’ll have what’s she’s having!

Sadly, no food/drink photos. Was distracted by writing a blog post.

There were some humorous A-Boards by a couple of the restaurants:

 

My flight to San Francisco on old Virgin America metal was great because I was in the two rows they have that are Premium Class, which is free food and booze in the back (unlike Alaska where it’s free booze and a snack in Premium). I made good use of it!

All ordered from their seatback screens…

Plus, there was enough time for a movie – but I’ve already forget was it was, other than classic comedy.

When I landed – I got this email (and text). Sigh.

We’re sorry, your flight has been delayed.

Confirmation Code: XXXXXX

Dear Mark,

Alaska Airlines Flight 303 is scheduled to depart late from San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington.

We take our promise to provide you with an exceptional travel experience very seriously and sincerely regret letting you down today.

You are confirmed and now scheduled to depart:

Confirmation Code: XXXXXX

Alaska Airlines, Flight 303
Departing San Francisco, California
Friday, June 15, 11:05 pm
Arriving Seattle, Washington
Saturday, June 16, 1:18 am.

Please note that flight times may continue to change. We encourage you to visit us online or download our mobile app to check your flight status.

As always, thank you for flying with us.

-Alaska Airlines

That was the first of several messages – in the end it was 11:55pm with more time waiting on the tarmac. Ick.

With my original connection I thought I’d just hang out in Terminal 2, but with this much time, might as well exit and go through security in Terminal A so I can go sit in the Cathy Pacific Lounge. I was pleasantly surprised that they had the custom noodle soup bar open!

And a full selection of hot entrees:

Plus cold sandwiches…

And the wonderful self-pour bar. I live such a tough life!

Didn’t get home until 2:30am, and into bed at 3:30am, and had to open the wine shop at 11:00. Ouch, so parts are tough.

Below is a map of my completed 12-day journey.

Actually home for a couple of weeks with fun tasks like getting a crown replaced.

[223.6]

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Thu
14
Jun '18

Trip Report: Auckland To Sydney To Dallas

Time to bid adieu to New Zealand. Up at 5am, well, 5:20, to get to the airport for my 8:35am flight. Another Uber ride.

The Auckland Airport is torn up, and it’s a maze to get to the lounge – but at least there is a lounge, though they only let me into the Business Class side (even though my connecting is in First).

Besides being torn up – my gate is a twenty-minute walk from the lounge. At least I had eggs, hash browns, and creamed mushrooms to nourish me. And, there should be breakfast on the flight to Sydney.

My business class seat – 2F:

And the leg room – not the best, not the worst – I was expecting a little better for International Business Class:

I found it interesting that there were only four people up front out of 12 seats. Apparently, they don’t upgrade people on Qantas.

We were 45 minutes late leaving the gate to a paint scrape on one of the cargo doors. And they do serve breakfast after the offer of bubbles in a real glass:

Followed by yogurt with strawberry compote and chorizo and eggs (I didn’t eat the kale):

Didn’t want to overeat in either the lounge or the flight since I’ve got the First-Class Lounge waiting for me.

I have (or had) plenty of time to make my flight in Sydney, but they have me scheduled for a spa treatment in the First-Class Lounge Spa – which was reduced to a 10-minute express massage. It wasn’t helped by having to take a bus to the terminal:

Finally found the lounge (BAD signage), and checked in at the desk – they’d been paging me for my treatment – so off to the Spa went I:

The inside was HEAVY on the woo.

But when you look at the rest of the lounge – not surprising.

With great retro flip number flight displays:

And an EXTENSIVE menu of dishes made to order:

When the waiter came by, I said I probably didn’t have time for lunch – he recommended the salt and pepper squid and the bartender made me a wonderful “perfect” Manhattan:

I could get used to this! Though, you’d think they might have sent a car for me to meet me plane-side. I’m only half kidding.

And my plane for the next 13 hours….

Yep, the double-decker A380-800.

They had three bridge ways – one for First, which is in the front of the lower section, one for Business on the second level, and a third for Economy in lower half of the back of the plane (though there is some Economy at the back of the top level, which I hear is going away when they redo the interiors in the next couple of years.

Here are the front stairs up to Business:

And the First-Class section:

And my suite, 4A:

I read up on this section, and 4A has three windows, and being on the left-hand side, only has crew and four other passengers using the aisle.

With all sorts of controls – the one on the wall is removable…and the headphones are noise cancelling:

We were still on the ground when goodies started showing up:

The bubbles are 2006 vintage-dated, and yummy:

With pajamas and amenity kit:

Once we were in the air…the parade of food began. I chose the chef’s 10-course tasting meal. And there is a chef on board, I kid you not. It started with the caviar vol au vent with crème fraiche and Korean beef tartare with pickles, doenjang mayonnaise and sesame (with a glass of Woodford Reserve):

Followed by setting the table for dinner – Moroccan spiced carrot soup with coriander yoghurt and dukkah croutons:

Then tuna poke salad with wakame and sesame soy dressing:

I opted for the grilled lamb with green beans, mac and cheese over the beef massaman curry:

I put off the cheese course and sweet wine for a little bit (which turned into never) and the bed was calling…

And I actually got some sleep, four or five hours (out of the 13-hour flight), plus watched three movies: Thelma and Louise, The Seven Year Itch, and Austin Powers. Serious fare.

There was a huge breakfast menu, but I was still a little full from last night, so this was my choice, including more of that lovely vintage Champagne:

I’d wanted to try the mid-flight option of the steak and brie on baguette – but no room in the stomach, and sleep sounded like the better option.

Breezed through passport control with Global Entry (was actually the first one through!) since all the Aussies had to go to a desk and chat.

Dallas (DFW) is a HUGE airport with multiple terminals and the though of catching the interterminal shuttle to A, then catching DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) to Love Field and calling for the hotel shuttle when the temperature is 95+ didn’t sound fun. I booked an Uber – and when the driver put my bags in the trunk he unzipped a good size soft side cooler with ice and cold drinks – even BEER! I opted for the Diet Dr. Pepper since I am in Texas.

Got early check-in – and discovered that the hotel has a couple of strikes against it:

  • In need of a serious refurbishment
  • It is near nothing other than Love Field

The room:

Not nearly on the same level as the Ramada Auckland. But it’s for one night, and I did find a restaurant (Mile High Subs and Giolittis Café) a block down on the same side of the street (with a couple of police cruisers out front), so it was just cutting through a bunch of parking lots. That was my ONLY choice. Did I mention that Texas doesn’t really believe in sidewalks? There were a handful of restaurants on the other side of the freeway. Not at 95 degrees. I was surprised that the chicken alfredo (to go) was actually pretty decent. The other choices were pizzas or hoagies.

No liquor stores or even a convenience store, so it’s a dry evening. Probably won’t kill me (it would have been an $8 Uber to/from).

[? ? ?]

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Wed
13
Jun '18

Trip Report: Auckland – Day Eight

How lovely to not having to get up in the morning on a schedule – a rarity when travelling. Today is one of those days.

The day is about starting laundry (if you pay for en-suite laundry – you should use it!), did one load last night, two loads today including one with my jacket, hat and shoes that have gotten soggy in the last week. Makes it easier when you have breakfast in the fridge – means you can wash your jeans!

Clothed in clean clothes, and a little food in my stomach – off into the city I go. My objective is finding some souvenirs to take back to the states. My first stop was the Kiwi version of a Dollar Store (I love my friends THAT much):

Yes, it’s downstairs – and it seems that everything isn’t a dollar, but NZ$3.50, with a discount for multiple purchases – which I didn’t even do one. Sigh.

Hit a handful of souvenir stores…again, nothing. Lots of walking, poking about, still nothing. Well, there is food. And I ended up in my “usual” spot close to the hotel. Federal Delicatessen. Odd to have a “usual” spot in a town half way around the world – but when the floor manager/whatever, recognizes you with a smile and a “welcome back”. This was only my third visit, a breakfast, a dinner, and now lunch, and this guy was working all three times.

Time for the Negroni drink special:

And the Chatham island Blue Cod Hoagie. The hoagie roll is much like a lobster roll bun. I ate half the cod, then shredded the other and ate it like a sandwich. Damn good.

Headed back to the hotel, grabbing a couple of mixers and a sandwich for later — and took much more than a “power nap” – it was a serious hour of snoring. Apparently, I’m catching up on something.

Spent the evening doing blog posts, packing, drinking, chilling. For tomorrow is a LONG travel day. Especially with the change I’ve made to my return schedule.

I’m leaving New Zealand 12 hours earlier than my original schedule, arriving in the states at about the same time…though in Dallas, not Seattle. Overnight planned.

I booked it on the Wednesday I arrived – it’s not like I’m getting a ton of frequent flyer miles on United for my trip down under. Here are the numbers for my 7,000+ seat-in-butt miles.

Date

Description

Activity

06/04/2018

United 816-L class

112

06/04/2018

Air N Zealand 7-S class

1,040

 

That’s a lot of time in a tube for few miles.

The fact that I’d only paid $409.10 for the original fare, it’s not like chucking two hundred bucks down the drain for a comfortable seat home is a deal breaker. This would mean that I’ve chucked TWO return tickets. I also chucked the return portion of the 16K mileage redemption to get to Wellington (and back, though chucked the return). The new return ticket was 70,000 Alaska miles, redeemed on Qantas (plus $55 in taxes/fees) for Business Class from Auckland to Sydney, on a 737 with standard intercontinental recline seats (2F), then catching an A380 from Sydney to Dallas in a Qantas First Class Suite (4A). That flight is a four-class aircraft: First, Business, Economy Plus, Economy – sadly, no stand-up lounge like Emirates, JAL, Korean have on their A380s.

That leaves me in Dallas and my return to Seattle isn’t until the next day – so booked a hotel room between Dallas-Fort Worth and Dallas Love Field for a little more than a 24-hour layover. Great way to combat jet lag.

Flying back on Virgin-Alaska metal to SFO (Love Field has been on my bucket list, along with an A380 First Class Suite experience) in Premium Class (there are only 12 Premium seats on their Airbus planes, then First from SFO to SEA.

I’d read a bit about the Qantas First Class Suite and the ten-course tasting meal:

https://www.ausbt.com.au/the-best-seats-in-first-class-on-the-qantas-airbus-a380

https://www.ausbt.com.au/a-qantas-degustation-sampling-the-a380-first-class-tasting-menu

But then today while I was in the shower, I missed a call from the concierge in the First Class Lounge in Sydney – fortunately he also sent an email inquiring if I’d like a complimentary spa treatment before my long-haul flight.

Here’s a quick overview of your flight details:  

  • Booking reference – XXXXXX
  • Flight number – QF007 SYD/DFW
  • Departure date – 14th June 2018
  • Your current seat allocation is – 4A

We’re pleased to offer you the following services before you fly:   

  • Complimentary spa treatments at our First Lounge Aurora Spa before your flight. The spa is open from 7.30am to 3.00pm daily and appointments are subject to availability. Please call us anytime from 7am to 9pm on (02) 9691 2189 to confirm your booking.  

Anthony booked me for an 11am spa treatment – I get in at 10:15am and leave at 12 something. I could get used to this.

About a month ago I forwarded this article to my Alaska flight buddies: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnnyjet/2018/05/29/5-alaska-mileage-plan-award-redemptions/

Qantas Business/First redemption is one of the five highlights they mention – and why I’m willing to spend a night in Dallas.

Night all.

[? ? ?]

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Tue
12
Jun '18

Trip Report: Wellington To Auckland – Day Seven

Its train day – I’ve got to make a 7:55am train – fortunately, the train station is right across the street, and McDonalds is just next door for a quick breakfast.

Ever heard of a NYC Benedict Bagel? In New Zealand, it’s a thing.

Mind you, mine didn’t look quite like the one from the website:

Lovely old train station in Wellington…

With nice detail:

Complete with grocery store:

Here is the map of today’s journey – well, it’s the whole system since I couldn’t find a decide graphic:

It also gives folks an overview of where I’ve been on this trip…yesterday (and the day before) was the ferry to/from Picton, at the north end of the South Island, and Wellington, at the south end of the North Island.

And here is our train:

Complete with open-air viewing car at the end.

Going to be a little chilly for that today with the rain and all!

Complete with café car:

Complete with Richard (the café car attendant):

With its selection of snacks:

With power at the seats…and not that many people so I can spread across a couple of seats:

There is actually ice in that cup – and they only have ONE BAG of ice for the entire 11-hour trip, and it’s hidden underneath the ice cream. Thanks to Richard, and the other folks in the café car, I actually get some.

In the lower left is a present for Maia that Richard passed along as a freebie. Is a travel bag filled with art supplies – perfect for road trips!

Here are some of the views from the view car (which opens about 20 minutes after leaving Wellington):

As you can see from the low cloud cover – no chance of see New Zealand’s three largest mountains around National Park:

Here are a couple of short videos taken from the open-air sightseeing car:

Boarded the train as the sun was coming up, got off the train after dark. The entire train trip is 11 hours long – about three hours longer at the end than I wanted. I was getting antsy. I’m used to chilling out in seater cabins, not where the seating is like this:

Better than coach on the SFO-AKL leg, wider seat, and the seat next to be open, but still – 11 hours.

Arrived back in Wellington not to the major transportation center of Britomart, but at the Strand Railway Station which reminded me of some of the old Amtrak Sheds – those stations which were nothing more than a shed (think Olympia before the community-funded station. It’s interesting that Britomart is also going to be the hub for the new underground transit system that currently has Queens Street torn up.

In the rain, grabbed an Uber back to the Ramada (where I stayed at the beginning of the trip).

Probably not the shortest, but it was only ten minutes and NZ$9.89 (US$6.96).

This time at the Ramada, I’m in the “one-bedroom” which was the same price as the “studio”. The pictures are in order of walking into the unit:

My smaller unit at this place also had en-suite laundry as well, but they don’t like you running it from 10pm-7pm and couldn’t make it work last week – but this week, popped a load of laundry in and headed out for a snack. I’d been snacking all day, what I needed was something quick and easy to bring back to the room…turns out it was Halal chicken (and lamb, and beef) a staple of the world of fast food outside the US. Reminded me (almost down to the chicken boxes!) of my stay in Houndslow, England. Usually staffed by Muslim immigrants.

And what it looked like in my room. He was running behind with customers – so he threw in an extra wing.

Turns out I ate the wing and the fries (fries are never good the next day) and saved the thigh and leg for breakfast.

Tomorrow is the last full day in New Zealand – thinking its going to be a low-key day.

[? ? ?]

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Tue
12
Jun '18

Trip Report: Picton To Wellington – Day Six

Yep, I really took the ferry to Picton:

  • For the ferry ride
  • So I could say I’ve been to the South Island

Didn’t even try any of the world-famous Marlborough wine while actually in Marlborough.

It seems a lot of hotel in New Zealand have a check out time of 10am – which seems a tad early to me. The Beachcomber does, the Ramada in Auckland did. The only 11am checkout was the James Cook.

With an afternoon sailing I dumped my bags at the front desk and headed out to rustle up some breakfast – which turned out to be a different version of Eggs Benedict at the Wave Café:

Not as good as yesterdays, but it least it was an English Muffin.

Here are some shots of “downtown” Picton:

You can’t tell it, but there is a good 20mph “breeze” – enough that the locals are joking as to whether the ferry will be running — FYI, this is NOT taken as a joke by me, who is on fixed schedule at this point.

Walked back to the Inn, read a chapter, then had them call me a shuttle. No Uber, no cabs, just a NZ$10 shuttle. I’d walked up the hill last night, I’m not dragging that luggage down the hill in a 20mph breeze!

Even the shuttle driver wasn’t sure the ferry was running until we got to the terminal and saw lots of people. Whew! The boat is pulling in.

And unloading:

And eventually loading us. Unlike yesterday’s ferry, we load on the car deck, dodging trucks:

But soon, I’m in my comfort zone, The Lounge:

Slightly larger than yesterday’s lounge, and without direct access to the outside, which is OK since its doing a light rain thing, along with the 20mph breeze. The starters are laid out:

And soon, lunch, with is lamb shanks and all the fixings, arrive:

I’m starting with the Cuveé Brut…

Later on, they lay out the scones and whipped cream…

All under this watchful sign by the door, above some watertight paper bags:

Wandering around the deck, found that you could also rent a stateroom for the three-hour boat ride (NZ$40):

Though, technically, that’s a nursery/changing room, my shot of the stateroom didn’t come out, but it’s the same size, just insert two beds.

Didn’t spend any time on the deck sightseeing – as this was the view where you can see the chop (and the other ferry company’s boat on this route):

Fading light as we got back to Wellington – and this gentleman’s bag takes the prize for standing out on a luggage carousel:

Short shuttle to the train station, which the Waterloo Hotel (formerly Downtown Backpackers) is right across the street.

It’s a Deco-era building that has retained some of its glory, like the floor indicator lights (though not working):

Yes, its vertical at eye level. And I love what they have done with the elevator. Not sure how you fireproof an Oriental rug….

I got a private room, en-suite bath, no TV. The one I’d previous booked, but then had to cancel had a double bed, not that the room would have been much bigger:

Yes, those are bunk beds – and if you have beer, there is an opening in the bathroom:

But some of the old tilework is still there:

Since the rain started up again, I opted for dinner at the hotel/hostel:

Thai beef salad (NZ$15), a little on the grisly side:

The large café/dining room area. Down the hall is the bar and pool table:

Mix of ages, skewing closer to the 20/30’s, but saw other people my age as well – probably because it’s right across from the train station and the train to Auckland leaves at 7:55am.That way I’M here.

The best thing about my room? The view:

The train station, all lite up.

Posted a blog entry, then went to be – early morning tomorrow.

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Tue
12
Jun '18

Trip Report: Wellington To Picton – Day Five

Check out time is 11am, but the ferry to Picton isn’t until after 2, so there is a little tie to sleep in, and scout out some breakfast after leaving the bags at reception.

For the first time on this trip I actually used Trip Advisor to find a close-by restaurant – and considering the number of reviews I’ve posted (296 reviews and ratings) on Trip Advisor, you think I’d use it all the time!

I ended up at Columbus Coffee:

I had the Eggs Benedict, which came on a couple of pieces of dense soda bread – YUM!

After my “light breakfast”, it was off to visit the Wellington Museum (Free) which is on the waterfront in the old Bond building:

Spread over four floors it has some very imaginative/interactive exhibits – like ones where you pick up a 30’s telephone handset to listen to the commentary – perfect for a history museum.

And an innovative spur of the moment donate kiosk:

By far, the most moving piece in the museum was a 12-15-minute piece in one of the two theaters:

Here is a link to a could of newsreel clips on the disaster in 1968 where dozens lost their lives: https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/nzbc-wahine-disaster-1968

A sobering movie to watch a couple of hours before I get on a boat to cross the same passage – at least today it is calm and clear. The video left me a little stunned and chocked up. It’s worth a click through.

With more time to kill, stopped in at the Academy Galleries for the 44 Solo Women’s Modern Art exhibition:

Interesting to see, but nothing moved me to bring out my wallet.

Back to the hotel for a bit of reading, then packed up and Ubered to the ferry terminal.

NZ$10.47 (US$7.37) was the cost – certainly getting spoiled with Uber in New Zealand!

With plenty of time before my boat – there is the opportunity to watch the Interislander unload cargo from Picton. Lots of camper vans…

And trucks:

Imagine my surprise when I heard a train whistle and rail cars started rolling off the boat!

Though technically out of chronological order, here is the train deck on the shop:

As for me, I’d booked the lounge for the crossing to Picton, complete with buffet and lots of wines to sample:

Attached was a lounge where I was permitted to take my wine – and it was a beautiful day, and not so windy at the back of the boat.

Here is a little short video of the panorama at the back of the ship.

It was dark by the time we landed in Picton – and I had a bit of a walk to get to the hotel, no Uber here, sadly.

And the first thing I see in front of my hotel (Picton Beachcomber) is this sign:

Signs like that always worry me, like “Seattle’s Best Coffee”, If they are saying in the name, they probably aren’t. But the room wasn’t bad:

There was even an onsite restaurant, which saved me a trip back down the hill for food. Nothing like having a bowl of seafood chowder delivered to your door.

And yes, that is half a bucket of ice…sigh. But enough for a cocktail or two:

With that, another day down. Tomorrow, the return to Wellington.

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Mon
11
Jun '18

Trip Report: Wellington – Day Four

I know someone in Wellington, he’s been to dinner at my house in Seattle at least once, a friend of Roxy. We’d been messaging over the last couple of months – I added Wellington to my itinerary because he said it was his favorite city in New Zealand. Getting together with him is proving a little more problematic. Long gone is the hope of maybe crashing on a floor someplace, replaced with an hour after his massage a couple of blocks from my place and maybe a get together later in the evening – small crisis, he’s leaving for Australia tomorrow, and he left his passport in his place two hours away.

My morning is free so besides sleeping in until 9am (not sure what is up with this trip, but I’m popping awake 8ish (which is not my norm), I’m off to ride the Wellington Cable Car – it was closed yesterday for maintenance, but open today. And it’s three doors down from the lower hotel entrance.

Needless to say, this isn’t the 1902 version, but the 1979 rebuild (including track gauge change), refurbished in 2016.

It’s a fun ride and here is the view from the top:

With the Cable Car Museum (free) at the top (along with the Rose Garden, Arboretum, and a handful of other attractions.

Crappy exterior shot, but inside was fun.

Including some props to dress up in – I really should have gotten a shot of the couple that went to town with this!

I was done with the hill early, so I hung out in the Burger King around the corner until his massage was finished…and finally we connect and he takes me to the underground market – he only has an hour, but we might be able to hook up at the end of the day once he’s retrieved his passport:

One of the things the underground market holds, is a hot dog stand that usually is on the walk to the waterfront.

Fritz’s Wieners – which during the weekend is located in the Underground Market:

What I really wanted to taste was their lamb bratwurst.

Since Rache and I are going to Chile next year, I was tempted by the booth across the way:

Jake dropped me back at the hotel (he had a car with him, and I napped, then explored the city while he ran back to “Palmy” for his passport, and, of course, another crisis. He didn’t get back into town until after seven, so we settled for a drive to the top of Mount Victoria. It was LOTS of narrow windy roads to get to the top, but the lights were amazing.

They (Jake and his mate) dropped me (again) at the hotel then went off for dinner and packing for their trip tomorrow. I called for room service for another bucket of ice. They finally got the message and brought me a lot:

The half dozen requests before got me this much:

Some day I’ll do a post comparing all the “bucket of ice” requests I’ve made around the world, and what shows up at the door. The winner still is Novatel Citygate Lantau Island (Hong Kong) that brought this. They provided ice buckets in the room, but no public ice machine. (Full post here)

This is my last full day in Wellington, off to the South Island tomorrow.

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Sun
10
Jun '18

Trip Report: Auckland To Wellington – Day Three

I had wanted the flight closer to noon, but even after spending 45 minutes on the phone with United, grabbing supervisors, etc., the 10am flight it was.

Didn’t want to do the schlep to the Airport Shuttle, so just booked and Uber door to door:

NZ$49.62 (US$34.91), which is basically twice what the shuttle would have been, but it got me there in 30 minutes as opposed to an hour plus. Money well spent!

As I usually do, showed up at the airport WAY early, just after 8am and headed straight to the lounge:

For a double shot late…

And a lovely breakfast:

And let’s not forget the wine with breakfast. I tried the White, the Red, and the Sparkling.

It wouldn’t let me check in online, so I was amazed that I could still get an aisle row seat 10F, with the guy in the window gone for most of the flight, and a skinny guy in the middle seat who moved right over to the window when the guy left. Hour plus flight so no full drink service.

At the Wellington end, headed to the well-marked Uber pickup area, though if I’d kept going I could have played a few rounds:

This was the Uber ride:

Much cheaper at NZ$27.32 (US$19.22).

Staying at the James Cook Grand Chancellery on “The Terrace”. And though it was only noon, they had a room ready for me!

The pinkish redish one…connected to Lambert Quay by a public use hotel elevator. I’m on the 21st floor:

Which has some strange amenities…like a ruler and stapler:

And they store the living area glassware in drawers…

Which is where I found the coffee pot, coffee, tea.

Look at the showerhead!

Got settled and headed out to explore and find myself some lunch. Turns out I’m about five blocks from the harbor, and where there is a harbor, that means seafood. I ended up at The Dockside:

But first, there is the mandatory Manhattan:

Before the NZ$15 Friday Special of Fish and Chips:

After that lunch, it was time to head back to the hotel for a nap!

Here are some random city scenes from around downtown Wellington:

Including the All Blacks Rugby Club team bus. They were playing France, it I remember:

And, of course, the harbor:

Having dropped a chunk on lunch, I settled for hitting the grocery store a couple of doors down…and getting a pepper steak meat pie for dinner and a quiche for tomorrows breakfast.

After the last couple of days, it was nice to chill for a bit, though air travel took its toll as well.

Just FYI, there are a couple of Maori television stations on the hotel TV – I was watching sports coverage by this Maori woman and the discussion would swap back and forth between Maori (with English subtitles) and English.

I’m amazed at the cultural integration on a daily basis here is New Zealand.

And with that, it was lights out.

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