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Mon
15
Jan '18

Trip Report: Ocean Shores With Rache

Through an odd set of circumstances, I acquired a free RCI week. Problem was that it a full week (which would mean missing a weekend of work), or more troublesome, only bookable less than 30 days out. If you think about it in inventory terms, it’s the sloppy leftovers that no one else wants. And why it wasn’t until December that I could book a January get away.

I was hoping for this place outside of Nanaimo, British Columbia which had one-bedroom units available in December (when we couldn’t go), but for January booking (had to book by 12-13 when the certificate expired) they only had their hotel room sized units, which is too small for the two of us. They DID have a two-bedroom unit in Ocean Shores, Washington.

Rache showed up on Friday, which was check-in day – I joined him on Monday, after, once again, mopping up water in the shop. Despite being called “Ocean Shores”, from the Sandpiper, you can neither see Ocean or Shores.

Their picture, not mine. My phone was deciding to be finicky. But the place had the amount of charm you see in this photo:

As you can see from the deck view – no ocean or no shores, but furnishings like your grandmother’s 1980’s retirement home…

The 80’s theme extended to the placemats:

As in, Corelle, the unbreakable plates from the 80’s/

The internet was also from your mother’s era (OK, my mother used dial-up until 6 months before she passed). Rache’s comment was: “The only internet more dysfunctional was in Cuban, where they know their internet is dysfunctional.” At check in you get three “chits” good for 5 Gigs among a couple of devices – and they say the connection is good only for email and web browsing, not for streaming anything. They were correct – it wasn’t even really good enough for even email. I ended up sharing my T-Mobile Data Connection with Rache since he’d used all the ATT Data and had bought $45 more, and it was only Monday (after checking in Friday).

That said, the kitchen was quite functional, and they even provided a little aluminum foil (which WorldMark doesn’t), but no spices other than salt and pepper. Fortunately, Rache brought his:

And we did eat well! I brought a shrimp appetizer:

With Veal Chops and a sampling of the Wines of Uruguay from the tasting on Saturday (and they were still tasting great!):

For breakfast, Rache made Eggs Benedict (from scratch) with fired Risotto patties rather than English Muffins:

After breakfast I called WorldMark and booked us into new places for our remaining three nights – giving up three free nights of lodging to pay $180 for better digs, and MUCH better internet. In the afternoon we moved to the WorldMark Mariner Village for Tuesday night, and the WorldMark Surfside for Wednesday and Thursday nights. Around 2pm we packed up and went out to lunch at Galway’s Pub in Ocean Shores:

The make a GREAT Manhattan. They brandy their own cherries, use your choice of Rye or Bourbon, and use the Vya Sweet Vermouth (my mother’s favorite). I went for the Corned Beef on Soda Bread, and a cup of Chowder, Rache went for the Fish & Chips, subbing chips for onion rings:

After that heavy lunch, it was off to WorldMark Mariner Village:

This is their photo (as are the others), but in a wonderful accident, that would be our room on the second floor, front corner, and those are the dunes to the right! And the inside:

Rache found out in the morning that we also had “resident deer”.

After he tossed them a couple of crackers, we had ten of them. Yes, I told him not to feed them, but he never listens to anything I say.

No pictures of dinner – phone was being wacky, but we were out of the unit by the noon deadline and headed to Long Beach (where Rache lives, and oddly, almost as far a drive as to Seattle) for a lighter lunch at Pickled Fish, where we ran in Matt, the distiller for the Adrift Hotel, home of Pickled Fish and Adrift Distillery. Thought I got a picture of him, but apparently, not. I did get a picture of our cocktails!

Manhattan for me, Old Fashioned for Rache. Fried oyster in buttermilk batter for Rache, Clam Chowder (even better than yesterday – thicker) and deviled eggs for me.

After our snack, stopped by the front desk to see Matt’s latest product – his Cranberry Liqueur.

Went next door to the distillery and had some, and some of his latest Gin. Yum.

Soon, we were at the WorldMark Surfside….

They have completely redone the exterior:

And the interior:

And the food continued to flow….

Wednesday night dinner of lamb chops, and breakfast in the morning….

With some leftover hollandaise from the other day.

On the shelves in the common area I found a nice book for Rache

He rejected my offer, sadly. Nothing to do but go back to cooking, this time Kalbi Beef off the grill with the last of the risotto:

And for after dessert – some Rainbow Unicorn Chocolates – just kidding, we didn’t open them:

The WorldMark places are so much more relaxing than most others. It was an early checkout for me in the morning…I’ve got company coming to dinner.

I took a slightly longer route home so I could stop here:

Burgerville is the BEST! Well, probably not the best for me, but I did have the halibut sandwich.

[? ? ?]

Mon
28
Dec '15

Trip Report: Ruby Princess With Rache

It seems like it was only a couple of weeks since I was on the Ruby Princess – wait – it WAS just a couple of weeks ago!

New partner this time, and a different itinerary, but with all the same stops, just in the opposite direction.

Now – just point the arrows in the other direction – I couldn’t find a graphic for our trip, and it seems that next late summer they are making other stops coming down the coast.

Our trip started with an early morning Amtrak ride to Vancouver, BC where I spied this “private car” parked at King Street Station. It is the Silver Rapids, part of the California Zephyr fleet. They mostly rent out the cars to parties, tours, etc., though they do some of there on tours as well – check on this page – but sit down before you read the prices.

As for Rache and I, we didn’t have such luxury, but they did assign us four seats in Business Class which was nice and roomy.

I do wish they would run a mid-day train. Getting into Vancouver at noon means waiting around the condo until our room is ready. Luckily it was at 2:30 rather 4pm which is the real check-in time. The extra time allowed me a nap in the rec room, Rache a walking tour of the city, lunch and grocery shopping for both of us.

Once we got into the 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit, the view was lovely – we even had one of the rare units that has a tiny balcony:

Dinner tonight is with Solus+, a longtime friend (and dinner companion.

Solus+ is on the left, Rache is on the right. Great dinner of chicken thighs poached in Salsa Verde, a nice salad, loaf of bread, two bottles of wine (rosé to start, then red), and amazingly a bottle and a half of bourbon. Rach claims (rightly so) that it was Solus+ and I who did the most damage to the bourbon.

Out of the condo a little before noon, cab to Canada Place and a relatively smooth boarding process. I’m afraid I’m spoiling Rache with Business Class on the train (first through immigration/customs), Elite passenger check-in a boarding for the Ruby Princess, and the mini-suite that we got for $179 plus $45 port fees per person. I can’t believe I didn’t take any shots of the interior; you can find them here on the previous trip on the Ruby. Here is the layout from Princess:

Of course, you’d have to flip our, but that’s basically it, except double the size of the deck since we were the last cabin on the side:

Since we were actually on before 1pm, we actually got to do a sit-down lunch! Tasty!

And, of course, we had to have dessert…both of which were EXCELLENT:

No shots of the mandatory life-boat drill. Rache got some so maybe I’ll link to his trip report at some point.

The boat was all decked out for Christmas:

As was Vancouver, BC:

Before you knew it was we’re departing, passing under the Lions Gate Bridge:

Then quickly off to the LGBT gathering set for 5:30 in the Adagio Lounge, deck 16 aft:

There were at least 25 of us who showed up – the group pictured I’ve been on other cruises with – probably upwards of 10 previous cruisers – seems there are a lot of us who like the little under a week cruises.

When 7pm approached, a couple of the ring leaders invited us next door to SHARE, a Curtis Stone (LA restaurant guide whose restaurant, Maude, is in Beverly Hills) venture. They’d gotten a tabel for eight. What the hell, opening night, new restaurant put in while the Ruby was in dry dock – I’ll swallow the $39 (per person) upcharge.

And, oh my god, the food. There were enough of us that we got to try EVERYTHING on the menu:

Said menu:

By the time all the dishes started coming out it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a cover charge for us tonight – I celebrated by ordering a $48 bottle of wine.

Truly a stunning meal – I wa even more stunned when I realized that the wine was going to be comped as well. Had I know that, I would have suggested the following pairings:

Shramsburg Brut Rosé (California) for the charcuterie platter

Boutari Moscofilero (Greece) for the starters

Patz & Hall (California) & Ridge Vineyard Lytton Springs Zinfandel for the mains

Punch reviewed the resaturant at 2am after dinner – by the morning, it had 2,000 views, by afternoon 5,000 views… read the thread here. First post is the about half the menu, scroll down for the rest of it.

But, then, of course we had to go see some of the entertainment…

Something about “Colors Of The World” or some such thing…kept us amused until it was time to return to the cabin be explore how the pull down bed worked.

Of course, you have to have a “special key” to drop the bed down, but I happened to have one in my suitcase – it’s called an “emergency tool”:

Good for beds, electrical cabinets, hose bibs, random screws…

There is a “downside” of a wonderful meal of shared plates – at 3am you are starving, and unfortunately room service is merely a phone call away – and oh, did we order:

Because, of course, by 3am, all the ice had melted – that would be “Ice – Bucket Of” – if you look two pictures up, you can see Rach ordering the above (as seen in the mirror). I didn’t need really need breakfast when IT showed up at 9am. I went back to bed.

Onboard, you can always see where you are (and there is always “The Love Boat” on one of the channels):

At that moment, I was basically off my brother and sister-in-law’s places in Coos Bay/Corvallis – but this was my view:

The weather is starting to get a little better, at least no rain. I REALLY like this extra large balcony!

Another think about cruise ships is that they like to carve things, luckily not the guests. This was from the Elite Lounge on night two where it was salmon (most likely farm raised) on toast points with capers and Bermuda onions.

You should see what they do with a watermelon!

Another BIG gathering at the Adagio Lounge for the LGBT gathering – more cocktails, after we’d finished the cocktails brought from our suite…and then it was off to dinner – which the queue up for the dining room was MASSIVE so we opted for the buffet on the Lido Deck. My meal:

Not bad, but I prefer sit-down service – but hunger trumped waiting.

The entertainment for tonight was “The Uncle Markie Show” – featuring yours truly posing on a pedestal meant for a poinsettia:

And then there was tragedy on the “dis-mount”:

I hit the marble with a thud, and suddenly there were four Princess staff swarming in – luckily I’m padded (and was lubricated). Of course, I need a room service bacon cheeseburger to ease the pain. Please notice the absence of fries (bucket of ice not shown):

Our final day at sea was STUNNING – and made the balcony more worth it.

This give a nice idea of how big out balcony was, and these too give you an idea of how the weather was:

Another well attended (25+) gathering of the LGBT crowd – not bad considering that this isn’t a “gay” cruise:

No shots of dinner, just a couple of shots of dessert:


We shot for another show after dinner and I made it through ½ of one song – it was like a bad junior-high-school musical. I abandoned Rache to go grab another cocktail from the room, but walked past the remodeled Wheelhouse which now has another “upcharge” restaurant called “Salty Dog Gastro Pub” and found “the boys” trying out the other new venue:

Technically, that’s one of the waitresses in my puss print Santa hat.

And the menu – mind you, I was just eating the lukewarm leftovers which still weren’t bad!

Sigh, out last night aboard, and our final shot of the post. Moon off the balcony…

We had to vacate the cabin before 8am – but we had squirrelled away muesli, bananas and yogurt so we didn’t have to brave the morning buffet line or have a lackluster final sit-down meal.

Reporting to the Elite Disembarkation Lounge (thankfully in Club Fusion, one deck below so we didn’t have to brave the elevators) we had a little coffee, juice, pastries, though not enough for the MASSIVE delay in getting off the board. The phrase “clusterfuck” comes to mind. When we got to the lounge boarding groups were running 20 minutes early – always a good sign. And then there was the announcement. “There will be a delay in disembarkation, we will have details soon.”

We were an hour late disembarking, then another hour in line for customs. It seems that MANY of the passengers decided to ignore their designated times and swamped the customs/immigration lines. This seems to be a problem with cruises between Los Angeles and Vancouver. I hear even worse stories of cruises terminating or ending on Hong Kong. Must be a cultural thing. Serious points off to Princess for not checking people’s disembarkation numbers

Add another hour waiting for people to get to the airport transfer, and I’m starting to stress out. Our flight is at 1:25pm and I’d planned on getting a couple of hours of work in at the airport in the Board Room. By the time we got checked in and through security (EVEN with TSApre for both of us) I barely had time to slurp down two cups of soup, a salad, and a couple of drinks.

We were number one on the upgrade list, but First was stacked full, at least I had the seat next to me open, and we both got a free cocktail (me for my MVP Gold Status, Rach’s from the middle seat MVP who didn’t want hers).

A wonderful trip marred at the end, but still a fun way to spend five days.

[215.6]

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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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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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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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Sat
19
May '18

Trip Report: Mileage Run To NOLA

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

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

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

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

Same meal, different caterer and presentation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made it an early night.

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

Wonder why!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[222.8]

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Mon
16
Apr '18

Trip Report: Empire Builder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And onto the train, we go!

And soon enough, the bar is set up!

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

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

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

Lots of interesting shots from stations along the way:

And soon it was bedtime:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was fun, and I’d do it again.

[? ? ?]

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Thu
5
Apr '18

Trip Report: Austin

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

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

Followed by salad:

And then the main:

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Texas ADA signage!

But then there is my room!

And the view from my deck!

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

The place is called Ranch 616:

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

Tried one of their Specialty Cocktails, the ATX Jackass:

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

Quirky interior,

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

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

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

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

Found some amusing graffiti…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not bad for airline food.

Home next week – a rarity!

[? ? ?]

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Mon
12
Feb '18

Trip Report: Hawaii – Part Three

Our final day on Oahu finds me sleeping in again, and Rache exploring. This pattern works well for us.

Our morning chore is to get out of the room by noon and get to the airport to pick up our rental car for our island tour – which looked something like this:

We added a couple of stops, like the cemetery at Punch Bowl:

This would be between Waikiki and stop number two on the map, the Pali Lookout, where it was windy as hell!

Next, we backtracked on the map to see the view from Hanuama Bay, which was closed to swimming because of tidal action. On the map, it’s at the lower right hand corner:

Then headed up the windward side of the island:

We made a quick stop and L&L BBQ, where I had the Kaluai Pork Sandwich:

I’d hoped to make it all the way to Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck – but I couldn’t hold out, hunger-wise. When we finally made it there, we split a garlic shrimp:

After that, it was a couple of stops at famous surfing beaches on the North Shore:

Again, lots of chop on the water, so not many surfers with all the orange flags up.

We made it back to the airport with four plus hours before out flight, which we needed because Rache’s phone rang as we were about to return the rental car. Someone had found his wallet under the picnic table at Giovanni’s. They’d tracked down his brother, who called his neighbor, who went over to have his roommates call and tell him. Amazing detective work by a mother/daughter team staying out by Turtle Bay (beyond Giovannis).

Forty-five minutes back to the North Shore, a wallet reunion, forty-five minutes back to the airport, more gas in the car before returning it.

I don’t think this much stuff has gone missing on a trip, EVER!

We still had time to chill in the American/Japan Airlines Lounge before our flight – but not as much as I’d planned.

Heavy on the ramen…

But the bathrooms had heated toilet seats with water!

It was a red-eye flight home. Sadly, no upgrade to first, but we were in Premium, and I managed to get some sleep.

Gotta work the next two days. Sigh.

[222.8]

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Sat
10
Feb '18

Trip Report: Hawaii – Part Two

This morning I get to sleep in…until 10 – it feels SOOOOOOOOO good. Rache is out discovering the city. The plan is to meet back up at noon latest so we can get to our afternoon mission.

What did Rache do with his usual early rising? Explore Waikiki? Nope. He grabbed an Uber to Pearl Harbor and snagged a ticket to the 8:45am tour, leaving his enough time to explore some of the other exhibits.

I don’t have his pictures, so I grabbed one from their site:

I did the tour many years ago, and more recently, Rich (while he was alive) did the Aviation Museum at Ford Island. Sobering is how I describe the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It reminds me that I should revisit – through you really do need to get there before the tour busses arrive.

We met back up at the hotel, and headed out to grab some lunch at Aloha Sushi which is a block or so away, nothing fancy, but not that expensive either:

While they look like they are pre-made, they are made to order, and placed into standard containers.

Next up is a tour of the Hawaii State Capitol led by Rick, but we had a little bit of time to kill, so here’s what is on the grounds:

Soon, we are on the tour!

There were some great mountain views from inside the open atrium:

After the tour it was off for a little stroll past the Iolani Palace

Ending up at the Supreme Court building of Hawaii

After no security at the Capitol, we had to go through metal detectors set to “useless” to get into the building:

Complete with 1930’s courtroom:

And displays about WWII, including internment of residents and other topics:

Having our history lesson for the day it was off for cocktails and snacks at Tiki’s, which overlooked the beach:

And on the way out, a most lovely restroom sign:

We walked back to the hotel passing the DUKE statue on the beach:

Rick joined us for cocktails after he got off work, and well into the evening. Quiet night at the hotel, other than the clinking of ice.

[225.7]

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Fri
9
Feb '18

Trip Report: Hawaii – Part One

When is a mileage run more than a mileage run – when you actually go someplace warm for a couple of days.

This was supposed to be surprise trip number two for Rache – amusingly spoiled by the TSA agent that said, “Have fun in Hawaii.” So much for THAT surprise. Rache still didn’t know the island until we got to the gate. Stopped at a couple of the lounges along the way for food and drink since we didn’t get upgraded to First, we were merely in Premium (extra knee room, snack box, free booze).

Uneventful flight and our driver was waiting for us even though our flight was about half an hour early…but hungry we were, and it was almost 11pm by the time we checked in. Off to Wailana Coffee House for us.

The place has all the charm of a Denny’s, which other than some bamboo accents, seems to be what it was at some point. Oddly, cash only.

The $4.50 drink special was a Mai Tai – which can often be WAY too sweet. Blessedly, this wasn’t the case, and it was amazingly good!

That would be Beaumont the Basset — Rache’s travel companion (other than me).

We split a Rueben, which was the perfect amount of food, though the sandwich was a little thin, and the fries a little soggy. Maybe we should have just had another cocktail and call it done. Instead, we poked our head into the Karaoke bar attached:

Heavy on the Tiki!

We both stayed up too late – me longer than Rache, considering we have a plan for Tuesday, a 10:30am tour of the Kamaka Ukulele Factory.

This was probably my fifth tour, sometimes by myself, often with travel mates. It really is an interesting tour, which these days is started by the 91-year-old son of the founder:

With the history out of the way, it was time for one of the grandsons of the founder to take us out into the plant:

.

The tour runs about an hour and is offered at 10:3am, Tuesday through Friday. It must be popular because it used to only be offered on Tuesdays. And as you can see, Kamaka Ukuleles are not cheap – and there is at least a two-month wait for one since they are all custom made.

After the tour off we went in search of The Salvation Army, which I was having a hard time locating on an Uber map – but knew how to get there, but not before we ended up at a closed store miles away. Our driver took us the rest of the way for cash. Nice Mercedes S-class ride:

I snagged some glassware and six Tommy Bahama shirts (average cost was $12.25 each), of which five fit, and I’ll find someone for the other.

Needing food, we tried to eat at Liliha Bakery, but they were out of fried chicken (which we both wanted), and more importantly, panic set in when I discovered I’d left my phone in the Uber. Further panic when we realized that Uber’s Help System was offline. Nothing to do but head back to the hotel and get some food to calm my nerves.

Goofy Café and Dine was the choice:

I went for the Pork Belly Eggs Benedict, Rache went for the Grilled Shrimp:

Of course, there were nerve calming cocktails. Here is a picture that Rache took of Grumpy at Goofy:

The remainder of the afternoon was spent fretting, checking to see if Uber Help was back up, changing passwords on any apps on the phone that auto-logged in….

Around seven we headed to a Gay Karaoke Dive Bar in Waikiki which is on a hard to find pedestrian alley:

This was when a miracle happened. We got a call from our Uber driver who had my phone! He needed to finish a ride but agreed to bring it to the bar. Uber has a $15 lost item return fee, and I gave him a $20 tip – so happy to have it back.

The plan was to meet my friend Rick for drinks for happy hour which lasted until eight – he was running late, so we finally met at a noodle place instead:

We had three appetizers and split a noodle bowl:

After our dinner, we all went back to the bar where I was able to get a pic or two:

Another late night for both of us!

Tomorrow, I’ll post about our next day in sunny Waikiki.

[225.3]

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Sat
3
Feb '18

Mileage Run Report: RDU, RDU, JFK

A quick post before I go off to work for the weekend. This week was another “mileage-run week”, which started off with a bit of a hiccup…

The plane was there…and we were all boarded…and then we were unloaded due to a mechanical problem with the bathroom. So, there was a delay…

And sent to another gate at the end of C Concourse, and then BACK to our original Gate (N1) – to get back on the same plane we got off of, however, with a new lavatory. Yes, they did a toilet swap.

We were over two hours late getting out – good tailwind, so we made up an hour, but it turns out our plane wasn’t doing a simple turn at RDU – it was going in for a heavy maintenance check.

Thankfully they held the plane for the EIGHT people, like me, who were doing mileage runs – and FOUR of us took up the entire Row 1 on the return flight. But we had a brand-new interior – look at the carpet!

Yep, got off the plane, walked over to the gate next door, and was onboard in minutes – guessing they held if for us since none of the eight had luggage.

Got home later than I expected – around 10:30 – fixed a drink, watched a little TV, went to bed because I’m up at the crack of dawn (again) to return to RDU.

But this time I had COMPANY. DancingBear did the Wednesday turn with me, and we were both upgraded!

That’s a picture from the Admiral’s Club at RDU – with another tailwind, we had time to walk to the other end of the terminal for a quick drink and a cup or two of soup. Not we hadn’t eaten on the way out.

Turns out, the plane we came in on, was headed elsewhere other than returning to Seattle:

Looks like IT’S going in for a C Check as well in Greensboro (this is a 10-year or so major event). You won’t find THAT flight number in their database.

Seems like they are doing a bunch of overhauls at their maintenance facilities. http://www.mro-network.com/maintenance-repair-overhaul/alaska-airlines-haeco-americas-spend-100-million-facilities

Flight home was on-time so it was quicker than last night since DancingBear just picked me up and we left the car at the airport.

Final mileage run of the week was a surprise for Rache, but not to DancingBear who was also joining us. Surprise for Rache in that he didn’t know where we were going until we got to the boarding gate for our redeye. Gave me time during the day to actually pick up the new washer/dryer combo I’d ordered weeks ago, and just for shits and giggles picked up a 32-bottle wine cooler for the living room:

Man, it’s nice having a car that can haul shit! With Rache’s help, got the boxes wrestled into the house, and even got the washer/dryer installed!

Yes, it’s all-in-one wash, dry, sadly, it doesn’t fold the clothes. Didn’t get as far with the wine cooler installation:

Returned to the airport around 7PM, and DancingBear got us into the Centurion Lounge, which Rache hadn’t been to – and it really does have better food/drink than the Alaska Lounge:

That would be DancingBear’s Old Fashioned, and my Manhattan (with Luxardo Cherries).

We were separated on the plane – originally, we’d all been in row 8 on the way out (DancingBear in 8A, me in 8C, and Rache in 8D), but Rache and I got upgraded, sadly not so for DancingBear, but it’s a red-eye, so mostly sleep.

As both Rache and DancingBear will tell you, I don’t sleep really well on planes, though on the way back I was so exhausted from the redeye that I did manage to get some. And went to bed as soon as we were home.

Sort of odd to have two free afternoons in a week of mileage runs – but it did give me time to start on the MOUNTAIN of laundry that had piled up in the month that my washing machine had been dead:

Loads take in the three-hour range, but since it’s a combo, you don’t have to move them over! I love the various options and the display that tells you the time it will take with your options:

Though you can really tell it – got the shelf done that sits on the washer/dryer – and even got the new wine cooler installed!

It’s probably time to replace the massive amplifier that feeds the ten speakers spread around my tiny 800 square foot house. But that’s a project for another day.

In case you were keeping track, by the time these miles posts, I’ll be at 35,442 flight miles for the years. After next weeks’ vacation (yes, I’m staying someplace for a bit), I’ll be at Alaska MVP Gold through 2019.

[228.0] YIKES!

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Sun
12
Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day Four

My final day in Uruguay and I’m sleeping in again, waking to go get breakfast before they stop serving, and then go back to bed for another hour or so. Today is going to be a long day that stretches into tomorrow. Missed a market with Rache – but figured I needed the sleep more.

After he returned, we headed out to Tres Cruces to pick up tickets for the 1st Class airport bus:

We picked a restaurant close by, one that I’d passed the first day in town assuming it was only pizza. El Refugio. Unlike Monday’s restaurant, no Visa excepted here – guess I shouldn’t have bought the bus tickets with cash!

We ordered a bottle of Tannat and sparkling water to go with lunch, only to find out they had no Tannat. We settled for Merlot.

Today, it’s my order that turns out to be something other than I’d expected (which was grilled octopus and a salad):

Rache got what he expected…chicken and rice:

Lovely meal, lots of people watching…

But soon, it was time to grab the bus to the airport – Rache is sweetly going with me, which in retrospect, now seems silly, but it was nice. It was $6.50 to the airport, and he caught a local bus back for $2:

The bus made a couple of quick stops, but we got to the airport in less than 45 minutes:

Wasn’t long to get through security and immigration, and off to explore what’s on offer in the airport – apparently more wine if I’d like it, and I saw seats and a bar, so I’m guessing they do glass pours…

After a little snack and a cocktail or two, boarded to plane and hung my headphones and phone holder on the brochure holder. Tips and tricks of travelling a lot. Only once have I been asked to hold them during takeoff/landing:

The rest of the post is all about the return flights home. Red-eye to Miami, then to Dallas, finally to Seattle.

On the upside – ALL the legs of my return were in Main Cabin Extra, ALL with an open seat next to me (which is rare these days).

On the downside – the 767-300ER on the Montevideo route, while more recent than the one on the way down, still had some mechanical issues. Yes, the reading lights worked. Yes, the audio worked. Sadly, what didn’t work was the heat. It being a red-eye flight, we had pillows and blankets – which weren’t enough to be comfortable when only half the heat sources on the airplane were working. It was so cold that even the cabin crew was saying it was ridiculous and stripped down the crew beds once they were done with their naps and distributed the thicker blankets to those who looked in distress (myself being one of them). I’d packed my jacket in my checked bag – and even having a spare blanket from the empty seat next to me. I was VERY thankful to get one of the thicker ones. EVERYONE on the plane was bundled up in whatever they had.

Got to Miami half an hour early, happy to be in a warmer environment, even if it was having to trek a half mile to immigration and customs, which was quick because of Global Entry. First stop – the Admiral’s Club for a long hot shower to get my body temperature back to normal. The breakfast snack was also welcome. Too early to actually get a cocktail though.

Got four newspapers read before grabbing my flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth on a MUCH newer A321S, complete with USB charging, free in-flight entertainment system with LOTS of movies, I opted for “Classic” titles like Lost In Translation.

Arrived in A terminal in Dallas/Ft. Worth, the terminal with the Admirals Club under renovation, and a tight connection with just enough time to grab a wrap at 7-11 (yes, there is a convenience store in the terminal – wish ALL airports had them).

Another A321S, another open seat next to me, all was good, though the memory of shivering the night before still fresh in my memory. Guessing there will be a letter to American about the equipment they use on their South America routes.

Grabbed an Uber home, dumped luggage, drove to the Post Office for a “must sign for” couple of small packages, came home, took a nap, made fresh chicken noodle soup (OK, the noodles, the vegetables, the bone-picked chicken, and the stock were all in the freezer) to make sure I didn’t get sick from all the people I’d been around.

Work the next two days, and leave again after work on day two. Boston, here I come!

[224.4]

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Sat
11
Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day Three

I should mention that our hotel rate includes breakfast – and it’s not a bad breakfast:

And, as it turns out, there is also a convenience store – and since they use the restaurant’s credit card machine, so it’s 22% off snacks, sodas, etc. The ice (Helio in Spanish, pronounced Yellow), they will give you for free.

Wednesday in Montevideo – another day, another adventure. Calgon, bring me an Uber. And off we go…with Rache providing most of the commentary, and me adding my [ ] comments and pictures.

First of all, I use Uber. Call me cheap, but getting across this city of 1.3 million folk for less than $6.00 instead of 3,4, even 5 times that amount via cab, I can somewhat justify providing the Uber drivers something instead of nothing. Having the Skyroam Personal Wi-Fi device [$8 a day, plus hardware – and it’s more reliable than my 2G free T-Mobile connection] makes accessing the Uber app just as easy as in the States. 

Markie’s and my first stop was the Castillo Pittamiglio. The castle was designed by a guy who was an architect and alchemist. The visual reflects both. Alas, the tour wasn’t until 5 PM so we just saw the exterior and the entrance. 

We opted to walk on the Rambla for a while but a squall (no, a SQUALL!!) sent us to shelter.

We summoned a driver and he delivered us to Mercado del Puerto. About the only thing that stands serve there is meat and more meat. This place I had seen on Anthony Bourdain and we found the “Estancia del Puerto,” stall, and basically sat where Bourdain sat.

We opted for the BBQ for two and included beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, plus blood sausage, white sausage, kidney, sweetbreads, intestines, and perhaps more. Instead of a platter, a metal pan is filled with hot embers, then a metal top piled with meat is placed on top. Everything stays hot.

We chose a Tannat and mineral water to wash things down.

The BBQ for 2 could easily feed 3 or 4 and what we left behind certainly reflects that. This meat event is high on things to do in Montevideo, but I must tell you, it’s more about quantity rather than quality. Bodega Bouza focuses on quality. I’m glad we did it. [We also spent a little bit of time looking at the half dozen shops that sold tourist goods rather than hunks of grilled meat.]

The rains had stopped and so had our energy. We summoned a ride to the hotel for a needed nap before our concert [and a little deck time with chairs I liberated from the supply closet and cocktails].

Prior to the concert, Markie and stopped in at Cerveza Patagonia, an Argentinian company with several locations. The server there was so into beer and gave me the name and address of a craft brewer here in Montevideo. I’ll perhaps check it out today or tomorrow. The kid was really into beer and he was delighted with the North Jetty stickers I gave him. He immediately stuck one to his phone. Lots of enthusiasm and definitely an IPA fan. It would be fun to get him up to North Jetty Brewing. [And I love the repurposed kegs into bar stools and the Seattle-based Elysian posters in the bathroom.]

Teatro Solis opened in 1856. The interior is amazing. Tiers of boxes and fabulous seats throughout. Mario Laginha and Pedro Burmester, a piano duo, dazzled with technicality and artistry, if not always jazz. Still, it was a great event.

Our lunch was fading, so even though the concert started at 9PM, we are at 11PM looking for meal and ended up at Praga Restaurant y Café just off Plaza Indepencia. Again, we keep ordering two dishes each! Even with the bread and salmon spread as a freebie.

Ceviché starter for me:

Salad starter for Rache (and he actually got a real salad this time):

Tempura Shrimp for my main:

Risotto for Rache:

Back into an Uber, back into the beds, for tomorrow is an abbreviated last day.

[223.6]

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'

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day Two

One of the reasons that Rache and I travel together so well is that I sleep in (and stay up late) and he goes out and explores (and goes to bed earlier). So far, no notes by the coffeemaker – we don’t have a coffee maker (two-burner range, microwave, and an electric kettle).

On this trip, Rache has been doing all the planning so I just make myself available, knowing he spent months working out the details. My requests were a winery or two and a concert in the Teatro Solis. Today we are being picked up at 1pm to go to the Bodega Bouza winery, which, unbeknownst to Rache, we carried their 2011 Unoaked Tannat at the shop.

Rache says it all better in his email post of the day…I’ll pick it up later. My comments are in brackets [ ], and the pictures are mine:

Markie and I have a very workable routine. He is a night owl, I’m a morning person. I often get up, get breakfast, showered and out the door for my morning urban walk. We have a good 8-10 hours of together time during the day. Then we give each other our quiet alone time. It works really well.

Our hotel is not in a very pretty part of town [but if you want bus or need a hospital, got plenty of both]. Still, it is very convenient to my transportation needs so it’s perfect. And Uber is so inexpensive here. Love it. My plan today is to haul Markie’s ass all around today. Anyway, there aren’t too many photos of the city so far. Hopefully today. Still, got over 9,000 steps in before Markie was up and ready to go.

Back on September 18, I tried to make a reservation online to the winery. Somehow, I was unable to complete the form and send. So, I found an email address and wrote my dilemma. The response was, “We’ll be glad to have you here. To complete your reservation, we need you to tell us the name of the hotel in which you’ll be staying.” I did. The response was, “Our van will pick you up around 1 PM.” That was it. It seemed so informal and incomplete. I also sent an email day before yesterday with no response, I was wondering…

1:00 came and went, 1:05, 1:10, 1:15 and my concern grew more. But at 1:20, the Bouza Bodega van arrived.

Markie and I joined a young couple from Brazil. And off we went. In about a half hour, we were at our destination. Amazingly [on the grounds waiting for the tour], Markie ran into the young man he had met on his flight from Seattle to Miami, [and then again on the Miami -Montevideo flight a day later] along with two of his friends. They had just completed their winery tour and lunch and assured us we were in for a treat. Small world. 

Before long, Pablo, dressed in a pinstriped suit [looking very much like an undertaker], said the tour was about to begin. We started the tour in front of some Tannat vines. Pablo was masterful because he had folks who spoke Portuguese, Spanish, and English. He explained things thoroughly to each group.

After the vines, we went into the winery, where the winemaking process begins. Huge stainless steel and French oak fermenting vats (5,300 liters) were there along with some epoxy lined concrete chambers used for the same purpose. The grapes also arrive and were squeezed in this room. The methods for squeezing grapes for red wine and white wine are different. 

From the fermenting room, we descended into the chilly cellar where barrels and bottles were stored. Bouza uses French and American Oak. They use the barrels only three times before they are replaced. Each year, a third of the barrels are sold to other wineries, beer makers, and distillers. 

Below the cellar one could see a special room where each year 42 bottles of each [vintage] are aged [to be evaluated as to how they are holding up, when to drink them, etc.]. There is a glass floor revealing this room. Pablo has been in this lower chamber but once.

Back in September, I had requested that we have the total Bouza Experience. That included transportation to and from the winery, the tour, a tasting and lunch. So, after the tour, we were escorted to the onsite restaurant. And sure enough, my name was on the roster for the complete package. Our table was ready, right next to 23 festive Brazilian women [out of 27 travelling together] who were obviously in celebratory mode. They were a riot, at one point gathering all together for group photos with a server being the photographer. Anyway, our tastings consisted of an Albariño, followed by Merlot, Monte Vide Eu (blend), and the Uruguayan national wine, Tannat. Markie and I both loved the big-ass red of the Tannat so we ordered that to accompany our main course. 

I started off with grilled octopus [I went for the paté]. While just as tender as the tentacle I had in José Ignacio, it wasn’t quite as flavorful. Still, it was amazing and the Albariño went well with that. “Bouza Baby Beef” was my choice for a main. There was a special of “Arm of Lamb” that Markie chose. The steak was perfectly rare and combined flawlessly with the big ass Tannat! Yum. Markie’s lamb shank was also delicious! For dessert, I opted for the classic Créme Brûlée while Markie had the Martin Fierro Soufflé that was inspired by Stella. Markie and followed it all with a coffee and a Tannat grappa. 

So, if one pays with a foreign credit card [at least in restaurants], the 22% value added tax (VAT) is deducted [from the credit card slip. This rebate was recently extended to April 2018]. Because of that, I was able to be more than generous with the much-deserved tip. So instead of 6,000 pesos, the bill came back at about 4,900 pesos. When all was said and done, round trip transportation, a tour, a tasting, and a 3-course lunch and tips to the servers and driver came to about $112.14 each. Truly, it was a bargain!

Before boarding the van for the return to the hotel, Markie and I each bought a bottle of grappa plus we got to tour the grounds and gardens afterwards. It was a fabulous experience.

Because lunch started at 3:00, we really had no room for dinner last night. We did a little snacking but seriously, the meal was so satisfying and memorable, we opted to not dine out [but we did go explore the rooftop deck which you access through the gym]. 

Oh, one thing before I go. A Uruguayan soccer team [Club Atlético Torque – part of the Manchester City franchise, as I learned the next morning in the elevator] arrived on our floor last evening. Young men in the early-mid 20s from all appearances. We thought there was going to be mayhem and frolicking all night but at 9:00, it was lights out and everyone in their rooms, uncannily silent. Apparently, a very important match is on tap for today.                                                                                                                                                                

Off to bed without the soccer team being tempted by our open door and displays of whiskey. What a fun day!

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For more than just this post, check out the whole blog at https://blog.unclemarkie.com

 

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Fri
10
Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day One

After my red-eye flight in, it was time to explore the neighborhood (and find some lunch). We are just off a traffic circle that also has a tunnel under it to help through traffic:

Montevideo has its roots in the Colonial Era:

This would be the British Hospital, in the same block with the National Hospital and the Italian Hospital:

I was surprised at how rare cash machines are (but there are cambios seemingly on every block). I found one and got a little cash until I could meet up with Rache – more on the cash situation later.

You’ll see LOTS of places offering pizza (thank or curse the Italians), but I opted for an outside table at La Flama, a bar/tavern/gastro pub a block away from Tres Cruces Mall and Main Bus Terminal (for long distance buses).

Good people watching…

I opted for the Hamburgusa Al Pan Completa with Frites. That would be a cheeseburger stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, ham, chopped green olives:

It was WAY too much food – or I could blame it on the rare beer (I was thirsty, and that’s really a bad way to rehydrate). It was here that I realized that while in major cities around the world, English is a second language – not so in Montevideo, which to me is interesting because it’s such a middle-class country. Nothing like trying to explain I wanted the leftovers boxed to go – in pantomime.

Headed back to the hotel to just sit on the couch and read until the room was ready, but they surprised me having our room available a couple of hours early. Rache did a GREAT job getting us a two-bedroom with kitchenette for about $85 a night. Well worth it. Rache was about an hour behind me getting to the hotel as he was coming in from the nether regions – he’d arrived a couple of weeks before me. So close to when I got into the room I didn’t even have a chance to get pictures of the pristine room:

We got settled in, and promptly took naps before Rache scouted through Trip Advisor to find us a dinner spot. I’ll turn it over to him:

Using TripAdvisor, we chose a restaurant. The desk clerk called to make sure it was open. I asked if taxi or Uber was better. “Uber is much cheaper.” I was somewhat reluctant after the hassle getting from the airport. However, within three minutes, we were heading across town to Restauran Don Andrés. The reviews were somewhat misleading but still the food was delightful. And we had our first Uruguayan red wine with dinner. Uruguay is famous for “Tannat” wine. The modern wine industry in Uruguay dates back from 1870. Uruguay is the fourth largest wine producer in South America. Tannat grapes were introduced to the country by Don Pascual Harriague, a Basque. (Oh dear, this paragraph is getting out of control) Anyway, I thought I was ordering a Caprese Salad but ended up with ravioli for my first course. Followed by a delicious and rich lasagna about the size of a flying saucer. OMG! Restauran Don Andrés was not what was expected, but it was delish.

I think we were both thinking more Carne than Italian, but the preparation and presentation was wonderful, and the restaurant filled on a Monday with multiple large tables of extended family.

Rache’s “Ensalada Caprese” top, my calamari bottom:

Rache’s lasagna top, my four cheese incrusted fish with mash potatoes (and yes, it was time for another pantomime of “box to go”):

The Uber rides were the equivalent of six bucks each was, and the meal with wine and tip was a little over $45USD. Not bad for dinner for two with wine.

With a short Uber ride, we were back at Mercosur Universitas Apartment/Hotel where we both needed to be horizontal.

[? ? ?]

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Sat
28
Oct '17

Trip Report: Long Beach Staycation

I booked this almost a year ago – figuring that it would be easy to fill four nights in a three-bedroom/three-bath Presidential unit right on the beach in Long Beach…turns out, two of the usual cast of characters are going with me a week later to Vegas, so it’s just Rache (who actually LIVES in Long Beach, Washington) and I in the massive place – we each have our own wings!

Nice day for a drive…

View from the beach:

Ours is the upper left hand top unit, big enough to take a little video of….

And here is the view:

I don’t’ think we will run out of alcohol anytime soon!

And Rache brought some pre-dinner nibbles in the form of bivalves. Luckily, he’s a pro at shucking…

Yum!

Before long, it was time to start work on dinner and get the BBQ fired up:

Grilling as the sun goes down:

Steaks off the grill – and Rache brought navy bean soup to go with it.

Life is hard at the ocean, but then you go to bed and wake up to a scramble of eggs, fresh corn tortillas, and leftover steak:

One of the reasons we brought all the booze was to sample the distiller who is setting up shop across the street from the WorldMark. Nice facility:

With nice equipment:

Fully automated for repeatability.

A little bigger than my rig!

Ran some errands and then headed over to Ilwaco for a little lunch snack at Salt.

And cocktail.

With a view.

The food is good, too! Fish tacos….

I’d forgotten my slippers, so we visited the local clothing/hardware store (Dennis Company) – where I found these FABULOUS rubber slippers marked down from $30 to $10 – I had to take the inserts out to turn the Women’s Size 11 into a 12.

Tonight’s dinner is BBQ Chicken with Grilled Corn-On-The-Cob.

Prep is done:

And Rache shucked another dozen oysters:

Nothing like grilling in your robe:

The aftermath…

With an after dinner hot tub:

Rainy day but we wanted out of the apartment. Met up with a friend of Rache’s who used to dog sit for him across the street at the Pickled Fish, above Adrift (which also owns the distillery). My eggs benedict with Bloody Mary:

The Yoghurt Parfait (which I’d never have ordered, but it looks REALLY good).

And Rache’s light breakfast sides of Grits and Bacon:

Back to the apartment for a bit of storm watching – this is what happened to the hot tub cover:

And a little video:

Serious rain…

We ducked into the Long Beach’s version of Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe in Seattle – Marsh’s Free Museum. Half alligator, half boy….

With a working player piano –

Found a moderately tacky t-shirt for Kathy, but sadly none in her size.

Fortunately, by the end of the day, the storm died down enough that I could actually BBQ again – and try out the rotisserie I found in the water heater closet.

Prep:

Rotisserie mount – not stable – missing pieces:

Meat on the grill:

Dinner:

After dinner hot tub celebration with a Cuban cigar I brought back from Havana:

Fun trip – all sorts of weather. Hustled back to the city on Friday for something that turned into a date.

[? ? ?]

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Fri
6
Oct '17

Trip Report: Birthday By The Bay

Another weekday, another trip – this one to the Bay Area to visit Mark and Onyx, and celebrate my 61st birthday!

It’s always lots of luggage when I visit – bringing wine to the boys. A lot of stuff for three nights!

Another early morning flight….

And no upgrade to first…

But plenty of room in the overhead!

Onyx was a saint (a hungry saint) and stopped at a small burger stand on the way home.

Pretty good stuff (even if the staff is a little surly).

Got settled in and took a nap before getting rousted for a dinner of take-out Ethiopian which, for some reason, I don’t have a picture of, even though the boys had company over – must have been having too much fun.

Was up late (Mark [the other one] was up until 4am working), so slept late. Hit BevMo in the afternoon for bourbon, rye, and ginger – because at 6pm we are due at Rosenblum Cellars on the Oakland waterfront for the start of my birthday (61) evening:

Devon is a member so the first flight is on the house….

A good time was had!

Even the hipsters who are playing Giant Zynga on the lawn:

We had some little nibbles, but it was off to dinner at Marica, starting with a Beefeater Martini in honor of Pucci:

It was a fine meal…. with free mussels for the birthday party!

Followed by swordfish for several of us:

Meatballs for Devon:

Salad and Calamari for Mark (I thought about those, almost wish I’d ordered them):

A damn fine birthday meal!

Friday was a laid-back day, I took BART into town to hook up with Rache who as on a day trip to the Brazilian embassy for our upcoming trip to Uruguay in November.

Takes about 15 minutes to walk to the station, and 20-30 minutes later, you are in downtown San Francisco. I found Rache in the Ghirardelli chocolate shop having a coffee:

We headed out for an afternoon of drinking, starting at The House of Shields:

Next up is the Pied Piper (which didn’t open until 4pm):

The Pied Piper is the home of this WONDERFUL mural by Maxfield Parish:

Just the three of us having scallops and Brussel sprouts as our dinner.

All the fun came to an end with an early Saturday morning run to the Oakland Airport for my return home. Had enough time for a real breakfast at Chili’s…

Which, as it turns out, sadly I wouldn’t need when I heard my name called:

But really, all I wanted was a place to sleep, not a huge breakfast burrito and a fruit place (though it looked REALLY good).

Next week is Kansas City, and the completion of my quest for Alaska MVP Gold 75K!

[? ? ?]

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Fri
29
Sep '17

Trip Report: Trip Report: New Orleans For Pre-Birthday Celebration – Part Three

Another day, another adventure.

Didn’t feel like walking back to Touks or the Market – opted for The Trolley Stop Café. I wanted a Mimosa, but they were out of bubbles, so, Bloody Mary it was:

I have to say, nice amount of spice (you can SEE the black pepper), olives, pickled okra, TALL.

Not exactly NOLA food here, though they do have some on the extensive menu. After all the seafood over the last couple of days, I needed a Rueben:

That’s actually a really nice photo of the glistening fries and Rueben!

Needless to say, after that I went right back to bed for a nap, only to get up in time for the WorldMark Avenue Plaza “Wine Tasting” – always on the clock, this one.

Our server is from Mr. John’s Steakhouse, which is housed in the building. Two Washington State wines, one Lodi, California Chardonnay.

The wine wasn’t quite up to the quality of the Italians on Wednesday at the Ritz, nor the cheese/fruit/crackers. I took my glass and headed to the second floor balcony at the front of the building.

I can only imagine this during Mardi Gras because several of the parades come down St. Charles.

And there is no one else here, so I put up my feet in the humidity…

… and take in the people watching.

Next event on today’s schedule is at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which Rache and I are members from our previous visit. It’s an afterhours jazz trio in the lobby (which has good acoustics). I show up early, as the musicians are setting up, and wander the galleries, drink in hand – yes, they set up a bar, and I’m having Pedicabs:

I knew there was a reason I joined earlier in the year – discounted cocktails!

That would be the inventor of the PediCab. And “The Cab” itself, waiting for the band to set up.

And they also had an interesting food offering from a winner of some television show called: Chopped: Pride of New Orleans:

And here is Ms. Linda herself (and her son):

The dish is basically a New Orleans take on ramen – but using spaghetti noodles. I have the combo beef and pork:

As you can see, the PediCab to the right is in a 16-ounce beer cup.

It was nice to see their collection again – this might be my favorite museum in the US. Their choices art are “edgy” for what I consider “the South”.

It’s not all edgy – there are some oil portraits of influential people connected with Louisiana:

And this amazing quilt…

And the detail:

The band was OK – made better by free entrance (member) and discounted cocktails – and everyone seemed to be having a good time:

Sadly, the top floor of the gallery is cut off from the others, not letting the music carry through the upper galleries.

Caught the street car back to the condo – exhausted – but drink in hand.

Ended up getting fried chicken from the corner store (which is a small convenience store known for their fried chicken). A nice amount of grease to cut the alcohol.

Tomorrow, most of a day awaits me before I head back to the airport.

[? ? ?]

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Mon
11
Sep '17

Trip Report: Road Trip to Eastern Washington

In an incredibly busy work week for my consulting business, but the trip to the Tri-Cities had been planned for months.

Brought two laptops so I could keep up with the work.

We picked a smoky week to travel with the top down…

We stopped in Cle Elem for gas and a BQ Pulled Pork:

Needed more BBQ sauce, but not bad for a chain. Even stopped in at a sausage company – which if we have time, we’ll stop at on the way home. No way to keep sausage from rotting in a black car in the heat of Eastern Washington.

Sadly, the Telephone Museum across the street wasn’t open either. Off through the smoke, to Kennewick we go!

Saw this sign at a rest stop….

Guess they are trying to stop “Trucker Bombs”. But the ragtop looks good…even in the smoke.

Made it to Kennewick and got checked into the Days Inn.

Rache went out for beer, he came back with a cocktail glass for me (I’d bitched about the paper cups in the room)!

And I got the “workstation” set up…

Since I write reviews for Trip Advisor, decided to use them to find us a spot – Barley’s BrewHub:

I had the special – which was a DAMNED FINE Rueben:

Rache had a burger and rings (rings GOOD):

Not a full bar, so I’m ordering off the cider menu:

I tried the Huckleberry and the Cider Green Apple. OK – but not a Manhattan.

Rache sensibly went out for breakfast – I went for the in-house cold biscuits and gravy, and got another hour of work in before we need to check out and head out to the real reason for this road trip:

Yep, that’s the visitor center for one of the three branches of the Manhattan Project National Park, the others are in Los Alamos, NM, and Oak Ridge, TN.

We board a HUGE bus for the six people on the tour – the early tour (8:30am) was worthy of the big bus. Ours had a lot of “smoke related” cancellations. The tour starts with a 12-minute film, which I saw most of after having to step out for a client call. I turned in the project — think 7ft tall by 10ft tradeshow backdrop and more artwork for the case that turns into a podium. This is the bottom 1/3 of the backdrop…

But back to the tour – it’s 30-45 minutes on the bus to the Hanford Nuclear Reactor B site. We get more information on the bus:

Some (including me) would say that I’ve never met a geeky tour I didn’t want to take. Guilty.

If it wasn’t so smoky, you could see more of the complex. In the distance, you can see Reactor D (twice the size of B), which has been cocooned (in concrete):

And other various sites:

But back to Reactor B (there is no A, no C, no E) and the tour:

The face of the reactor

And a early robot used to pull fuel rods:

The control panel for the reactor:

The picture below shows the inspection plates removed. The Russians come once a year to inspect this reactor as part of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.

You can’t run a reactor without lots of water…but really, the it probably just a boondoggle by the inspectors to get a trip to The States. And below, the backup water supply to shut the reactor safely without power:

And more pictures!

And the intercom system. Uncle Markie wants!

And a final look at the core of 1500+ rods:

Outside is the one of the trains used to move nuclear materials (including waste) around the site. When they were constructing this place, there were 45,000 workers on site. WOW.

Another 45 minutes back to the visitor’s center, which is in a complex where there are three breweries, a winery, and a distillery. Guess which one we did first! Solar Spirits:

After the tasting (four tiny pours out of the six they make), I took two of the cups out to the trunk and poured some of my hooch – which got a favorable nod from the mater distiller, who then gave us a private tour.

And because Rache is a craft beer fan, we stopped at Shrub Steppes Smokehouse Brewery. Rache enjoyed the beer, we both found the BBQ a little on the dry side – we both had the meat platter.

After our early dinner, it was back in the car for the three hour twenty five minute return trip, using the 4-lane route which is mileage-wise longer, and probably 30 minutes quicker.

Home by 9PM!

[223.2]

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