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Uncle Markie out and about.

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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

[228.8]

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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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Sat
9
Jun '18

Trip Report: Auckland – Day Two

Lovely to be able to sleep in this morning! Today’s wine tour to Waihele Island doesn’t depart from Auckland until the 1PM ferry.

I wandered in the direction of the ferry in search of a late breakfast or early lunch – discovering that lots of Auckland lunch places don’t open until 11:30am, and I was early.

Yes, there is a Seattle Espresso on the waterfront. Only bought a soda, but still found it “oddly” named.

And a racing yacht.

Wandering further afield managed to find a restaurant that was open and serving, which would be Dr. Rudi’s, a brew pub (in honor of Rache). though most of the front was open to the elements so finding a wind protected seat but still having a view was challenging.

Not a bad view over the water bottle…

Got a Manhattan ordered….

And some food – half a dozen oysters on the half shell, and some salt and pepper squid:

Great selection of in-house and local beers:

And if you need to bowl a frame, you can do that as well:

Plenty of time to get to my boat…

And we are off, right on time…

Then onto a bus…

And off to our first vineyard of the afternoon, Mudbrick, which is set on an amazing hillside, with views back to Auckland.

And soon we are sampling three of their wines. Very good presentation, with a walk to the vineyards, description of processes, the works:

Next up was Cable Bay Vineyards:

And their view wasn’t too shabby either, being just down the hill from Mudbrick

Plus, there were little platters of nibbles, which I needed: “this is a Chardonnay, this is a Syrah.” Her heart wasn’t in it.

Final stop of the day was at Te Motu, established in 1993, making it one of the older wineries on the island.

And our Californian Cellar Door Manager:

Good amount of information, and since we were a small group of eight, he even popped open a bottle of their 2009 Te Motu which retails for $125, unless it was the 2009 Syrah, then it’s $175 – either way, most wineries don’t pull out the good stuff for wine tours.

Just goes to show – always good to engage people who are pouring at tastings.

This was a tour that I was able to book the day before, during winter in New Zealand, through Fullers, the ferry company that serves Waiheke Island. Tour and ferry fare was $140NZD –tour itself $20NZD cheaper, but the roundtrip ferry fare to the island is $38NZD ($24NZD one-way). Tour also includes seeing other parts of the island as time permits.

It was getting dark by the time I got back on the ferry – the tour timed for you to make that boat, or let you off anywhere along the way to explore on your own, your tour ticket serving as your bus pass if you wanted to stay for dinner, or just take an earlier ferry over and explore before the tour.

This was a lovely shot on my way back to the hotel.

After wandering around, and not wanting to drop the change on the delicatessen again, found this place for an ostrich burger. Tasted of Middle Eastern shawarma seasoning, and was tasty.

Another early night for me – for tomorrow, I’m flying to Wellington.

[? ? ?]

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Fri
8
Jun '18

Trip Report: Auckland – Day One

I’m not sure what possessed me to book a winery tour for my first day in Auckland, arriving at the hotel at 7AM, which gave me time to track down some breakfast.

What I found was The Federal Delicatessen, which turned out to have just the breakfast I needed. Nothing heavy, just something to tide me over until lunch, provided at part of the tour.

And I opted for the Ugly Bagel and a mimosa!

Tour (turned out to just be the two of us) picked me up at 10am, and off we went, the three of us. The driver/tour company owner (Auckland Wine Tours), Robyn (a recent transplant from South Africa), and myself.

Because the weather looked to be changing (as it often does in Auckland), we decided to hit the Black Sand Beach and Tasman Sea viewing – at the overlook, this was the weather (we didn’t get out):

By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, it was much better:

John brought along a round magnet to show us the iron content of the sand, after he dug down and found some dry sand!

Back in the van, we were off to our first winery, Coopers Creek, which is really funny, because at the shop we carry their Sauvignon Blanc and their Chardonnay.

Because I recognized the label, and talked about how we carried at least one of their wines at Madrona Wine Merchants, the Cellar Door Manager (also John), opened a few more bottles to sample than the standard tour would get. We sampled their:

  • Marlbourgh Riesling
  • Gisborne Chardonnay
  • Huapi Rosé
  • Gisborne Albarino “Bell-Ringer”
  • Hawkes Bay Chardonnay “Limeworks”
  • Hawkes Bay Merlot/Malbec “Metals and Gravels”
  • Central Otago PinotNoir “Razorback”
  • Hawkes Bay Syrah “Gimblett Gravels
  • Coopers Gold (their dessert wine)

Quite a line-up, and again, I don’t think other tours would get this range of the Coopers Creek wines. It also was a result of it being off-season with two of us compared with the maximum of eight people on John’s tour.

Next up on the list was also our lunch stop. Soljans Estate Winery was founded by Croatian immigrants, as were many of the early wineries in this region.

More wines were sampled, and we were offered a dozen different choices for our lunch. We all went with the Croatian Ćevapčići, hand-formed sausages, since the winery was founded by Croatian immigrants. It came with mash, roasted eggplant, basil pesto, and red bell pepper sauce.


I had a glass of their dry sparkling wine (extra cost) with the meal, the rest opted for water.

Next on the list was Westbrook Winery – with it’s very impressive grounds, great area for picnics in the summer. Their wines were good, but not available in the states – and while they did offer shipping, that would have been $195 a case for air freight. A little rich for my blood considering the wines were in the $20-$40 range.

This is a shot of part of their cellar:

The final winery of the day was The Hunting Lodge:

More wines were sampled – and much wonderful conversation had with the Cellar Door pour person – who is Maori and gave massive amount of information, not only on the wines, but of their history and modern political interactions. Really, quite fascinating.

Back to the city we went, with me dropped off first as Robyn lives in the direction of where John lives – A GREAT TOUR, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Did a little on-line booking for more bits/bobs of the trip, another wine tour tomorrow via ferry to Waikike Island, and a new return plane ticket with a little more room. More on that later.

Was lazy when choosing my dinner spot – I went back to The Federal Delicatessen. I wanted to try the dinner menu, and settled on, what else, the Rueben. But first, the cocktail — NEW YORK SOUR (A refreshing blend of Thomson Whiskey, lemon & sugar. Topped w/ Borsao Garnacha)

And now The Rueben:

They even gave me extra pickles on request – normally a charge for a small platter of them.

And the company next to me – Adrian (I think), who I swear I’ve met before in an airport in the states. He’s a model, drummer in two bands, and can keep up with me drink for drink.

It was an early evening for me. Think I was in bed by 10pm, which considering I hadn’t seen a bed since Sunday night (and it’s now Wednesday), not surprising.

[? ? ?]

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Fri
8
Jun '18

Trip Report: Headed Down Under

The journey begins with the tale of two lounges…I started off in the Alaska Lounge for round one of food/drink, then went to the other end of the airport to the United Club because it was closer to my departure gate and as a Million Mile United Premier Gold for life, lounge access comes free with any itinerary that includes an international segment.

As a side note, I have a friend who works at Florette in the airport as a barista – but he never seems to be working they days I end up flying through…and I thought that would be the case today, but I messaged him, and he was scheduled to work after I left, but then two things happened:

  • He got there a little early
  • My flight was delayed by an hour

I was hanging in the United Club and he came and joined me!

I know him through Roxy, but don’t feed him dinner often enough – the funny thing was that we all just had dinner last Friday night.

Twice in one week. Yahoo.

One thing I’d like to point out is that the United Club in Seattle has stepped up it’s game, bitters wise. I really like the Dale DeGroff’s
Pimento (All Spice) Aromatic Bitters
. And all their bitters are on the bar, so you can self-doctor your cocktails. I found a wonderful combination of Evan Williams, Diet Coke, and a couple of dashes

When we finally boarded, I realized I’d booked the bulkhead row:

The only seat open in the plane was between myself and a Global Services (the highest, invitation-only frequent flyer level at United) – who had a short connection to make at SFO. It didn’t help that we were delayed another 20 minutes on the tarmac – I, on the other, had five hours’ worth of layover.

First stop was Duty Free where I picked up three bottles of Bourbon – New Zealand has very liberal alcohol importation rules, but you can only bring 50 cigarettes in – that’s a pack and a half. Interestingly odd.

Next stop was the United Club in the International Terminal – only to discover that it’s a subpar lounge. Beer and wine, yes. Mixed drinks, no. Had a glass of wine, a bowl of soup, and trekked back to the closest full-service lounge. United has three regular full-service lounges at SFO, and one Polaris Lounge which is business class only – which I’m not on this trip, though I swore after the Montevideo trip last November that I was never ever again flying international in the back.

This would be bowl number two of soup (first at the other lounge) and a real cocktail:

This lounge closes earlier than most – so it was off to their smallest lounge for one last cocktail before the unknowns of Air New Zealand’s drinks policy.

That would make five lounges in one day.

One thing I will say that I like about the United Club lounges is their use of vintage photos in their lounges. This is a collection from the four United Club lounges I was in today:

And speaking of retro things – saw this modern United jet in the 70’s Continental livery:

My flight to Auckland on Air New Zealand didn’t leave until 9:30pm, and it’s about 13 hours in this:

Not as much room as the last flight, and this one is seven times as long – and, as it turns out, a plus size person next to me. For 13 hours I sat side saddle which is only possible because I know where the hidden button is to raise the aisle armrest. More annoying was that the person wasn’t assigned that seat, but was travelling with a group of high-school students and swapped seats so a couple of them could sit together. Again, if the ticket wasn’t so cheap ($409.10 r/t Seattle/Auckland), I wouldn’t be in the back. That is about 1/3 of what a typical bargain ticket to KiwiLand is. A friend in Wellington got $800 NZD to Chicago at Christmas, another steal – and on a 787.

Here is the beef version (as opposed to pasta) option for the dinner:

A downside of Air New Zealand long-haul flights is that in the back, instead of 3-3-3 for nine seats across, as it was designed (the 777) originally, they (and many Asian-based airlines) have opted for skinnier aisles, and 3-4-3 seating.

On the upside, they have some of the most wonderful bathrooms I seen (and I’ve see a lot of airplane lavatories). While no larger than normal, they are “decorated” with a bit of whimsy – like this one with a fake library wallpaper:

Another one had wallpaper of a chandelier!

Once meal service was done – they fired up the seatback ordering system. You may be crushed in the back, but they will bring you cocktails on demand:

This is a feature that is available on the Airbus Alaska fleet that was inherited from Virgin America as well.

I used this as an opportunity to order a double and wash down an Ambien after dinner and watching The Blue Brothers from the Classics section of the inflight entertainment. I actually managed to get some sleep by extending the center armrest with the flight blanket (amazingly thick) still in it package to create my own armrest, since the other one was overflowing.

This is what greeted me in the airport – nice welcome:

The flight was running 30 minutes late, so instead of a 5:30am arrival, it was 6am – but customs/immigration was so efficient that I was on the airport bus to downtown and to my hotel by a little after 7am – and it’s a half hour ride.

Was tempted to stop for a snack curbside at the airport, but I saw the bus coming:

I’m staying in the Central Business District at the Ramada Suites:

And some shots of the room (which wasn’t ready at 7am, so these are from later in the day):

With mini-kitchen, kitted out as they say, with dishes, pans, etc., including a mini-dishwasher:

With kettle and French Press for coffee (provided, along with hot chocolate packets):

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And en-suite washer/dryer:

And decent views:

Including from the bathroom once I lifted the blinds!

I’m close to the city government offices on one side, and the big Sky Tower on the other:

Yes, at 7am, it’s not quite light yet – it being winter in New Zealand.

Let the adventure begin!

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Tue
29
May '18

Life Report: Hacking Your Luggage

Because I’ve had this design gig for the last couple of months, I’ve been traveling with a rolling laptop bag because:

  • I’ve got a pinched nerve in my left shoulder and my laptop backpack doesn’t help the tingling
  • It’s an older, heavier laptop, but it has programs installed that I can’t do this gig without

Problems with the bag are that the bag itself is old-school, meaning it doesn’t have a strap on the back to slide over your rollaboard. A drill, some strapping, and four sets of bolts/washers/locking washers/nuts solved that problem. And, what the hell, while I’m altering it, why not install a removeable battery and a couple of USB charging ports! It’s just a couple of drill holes, some USB flush mount adapters, and a little superglue.

10,000mAh removeable battery pack:

And a flexible plastic cover to keep the removeable battery pack contained between the handle supports.

Don’t really want to take this on my 10-day New Zealand adventure, but it is what it is, and the gig pays well.

And since the battery is removable, I could check it if I had to. What can you check? CLICK HERE.

Guess this means that now I’ve hacked three different pieces of my luggage.

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Mon
28
May '18

Trip Report: Andy Warhol Show At The Palm Springs Museum Of Art

I wasn’t in the building for more than five minutes when I was overcome with the thought – “oh my god, he is a talented artist” rather than the P.T. Barnum of Pop Art. Previously, I’d just thought of him as all Soup Cans and Marilyn, but that was just one portion of his career.

I was even tempted by the Warhol dominos in the gift shop:

It being Palm Springs, there is some mid-century furniture on display:

As well as this textile are piece of a melting rug:

And a quilt of the Salton Sea:

I finished the exhibits earlier than either of the boys, so I headed down to the basement café, which actually opens onto the sculpture garden:

Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

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Sun
27
May '18

Trip Report: With Bliss In Palm Springs

This week’s adventure is a mid-week trip to Palm Springs with Bliss for some serious pool time. But first we have to get there…and I’m an early airport person, Bliss less so. Always seems there is a last minute crisis, so I’m glad we are going to the airport separately, which makes sense since he is close to light rail, and I’m not.

The plan is to meet in the Alaska Lounge, but first he has to find it, so I sent him this:

But I think he came through some other security gate, not using the TSApre line (that was on his boarding pass). He made it in time for food and drink, but this was my second drink by the time he showed up:

They make GREAT Bloody Marys in the Seattle Lounges. We had a little food before getting onto the flight – where we’d been upgraded:

Round one!

And lunch followed…

Our mutual friend was running late, so, no ride from the airport – time for an Uber!

Until Craig gets here – no cocktails, just French pink wine in a plastic bottle…

And here is our unit…

And a wonderful view:

With Craig’s arrival – off to the Albertson’s to pick up food, booze, mixers…so dinner comes off the grill.

Salad, pork ribs, corn on the cob. Nice to be hanging out with friends in Palm Springs.

Followed in the morning by scrambled eggs…

And some serious pool time!

With Marines horsing around in the pool:

Followed by another grilled dinner – chicken thighs and grilled asparagus:

It’s a rough schedule that just centers around laying around the pool (Bliss and I), working out in the Gym (Bliss), writing at the coffee shop down the way (Craig).

But we did go out one afternoon for a very late lunch, or very early dinner at Sherman’s – an amazing Jewish Deli:

And I love the way they serve a Sparkling Greyhound…

In the background you can see some of the celebrity pictures – this one being my favorite:

Ricky, Lucy, Little Ricky, Ethel, and Fred of the I Love Lucy Show. And I love that they serve hot steamed onion buns and pickle spears:

And mammoth portions – Bliss’ corned beef with thick latkes instead of bread:

Or my Ruben, which looks like it has a half-pound of pastrami:

Or Craig’s early-bird half chicken dinner:

Can’t believe Craig ate all his – Bliss and I stopped halfway through (for leftovers), but Bliss then ordered this tiny slice of cake:

And there were TONS to choose from:

Our big deal for Thursday late afternoon was to head to the Palm Springs Art Museum for Free Thursday – and the closing weekend for the Andy Warhol show:

I’m going to do a separate post because the show was so good – so we’ll move onto the to the final breakfast in Palm Springs – at the Denny’s next door:

Above would be my $4 biscuit and gravy breakfast (off the $2, $4, $6, $8 menu), and Bliss’ Omelet off the 55+ menu:

Back to the condo to check out, put our luggage into storage and head back to the pool. Two hours for me, three for Kevin – once again taking separate vehicles…welcome to the Palm Springs Airport:

And up the escalator to the 12th Fairway Bar and Restaurant for a VERY EXPENSIVE Manhattan:

And some fish tacos to stave off hunger until our upgraded flight home with a light dinner included, but here are the fish tacos:

The food was cheaper than my drink – huge portion of Mahi Mahi on each of the tacos – thankfully Bliss finished the third when he caught up with me.

Speaking of which, here is our final meal of the trip:

Guess I’d better start working on that Andy Warhol post.

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Sun
20
May '18

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

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

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

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

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