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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.

[? ? ?]

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.


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Dec '18

Trip Report: Waikiki!

Time to head for sunshine…but first, got to bottle the holiday Cinnamon Brandy…by Christmas the liquid will be a dark mahogany color:

And get the wine shop’s
wine club boxing started – and I get to do it in our new space (so I can actually start it on a Sunday while the shop is open):

Some hiccups, but easier than last month.

Off to the airport in the morning…no upgrade (sigh). I hit the lounge, but bought the sandwich onboard since it’s a five-hour flight:

The Granola Bar is a freebie are a perk of Premium Class (along with doubles of Woodford Reserve) is a and the JcoCo Chocolate is a perk of being either an MVP Gold, or MVP Gold 75K.

Since I just had smaller carry on, I opted to take the “cheap” way to get to Waikiki – TheBus, the local city bus, a whopping $2.75 and an hour of my time. You can do the airport shuttle, or 808-EXPRESS for a direct transfer if there a couple of people. Don’t know what the UBER would be, but there is service.

I got into Waikiki in the early afternoon – and they gave me a choice of rooms that were ready:

  • 23rd floor, no lanai (that’s deck in Hawaiian)
  • 7th floor, lanai

Uncle Markie always loves a deck.

Not much of a kitchen (microwave, fridge, toaster, coffee maker, but plates, glasses, dishes, etc).

The closest grocery store is a dozen blocks away, and I’d rather have food now, rather than later. Headed down the street to Cheeseburger Waikiki, which used to be Cheeseburger in Paradise, but are still under the same corporate umbrella.

I started with some weird drink special of whiskey, gin, orange juice….

One was enough, and I ordered something for the starter menu, the Cheeseburger Sliders – still a lot of food. Should have taken one home for breakfast!

Headed back to the condo to just hangout and recover from the trip – nice view:

And plenty warm:

Yes, there are Speedos involved.

Wonderful pillows meant a wonderful night’s sleep – so I could get up in the morning and revisit a place Bliss and I had breakfast on our trip here: IHOP for the 55+ Menu.

Next up was another local bus ($5.75 for the full-day bus pass) to the Salvation Army because it’s Senior Day which is a 15% discount. I usually am able to find nice Aloha Shirts at a great price. I DID find some finds, at .50 each – and one of them a TRUE FIND.

Yep, the middle one is a PanAm glass, the other two, Hawaiian Airlines.

Across the street at Ross Cross Dress For Less…

Oh, I bought a new small carry-on suitcase – I started the trip with a Hawaiian print small duffle with a shoulder strap – I wasn’t even to the Alaska Lounge in Seattle before I realized my mistake. I needed something small enough for the city bus…but with wheels.

On the way home courtesy of my “all-day bus pass” was a stop at Food Pantry for a little pupu stuff for dinner – go Poke!

Here are some more pictures from my deck, but during the daytime…

And some of the Royal Gardens amenities….

The next noon thirty I was off for a Wyndham Timeshare presentation…Wyndham is the parent company of WorldMark, where I usually stay, but they have no places in Waikiki so I traded points with The Colonels for this stay, and my next one – which, as part of the tour, was a two-bedroom deluxe upper floor at the Waikiki Beachwalk – sadly, next door to this:

But here is the Wyndham Waikiki Beachwalk property…

And some nice additions…

And the view….

For the ninety-minute presentation I got a $125 AMEX card, and a tour of the type of unit I’ll have the first week of January when I’m back in Waikiki with DancingBear.

Next stop was at CVS to see if I could transfer a prescription that I had two doses left – and my pharmacy in Seattle, while truly wonderful, is only open Monday-Friday, and I’m on the road M-F this week and next. Since I’d just changed insurance, I wasn’t sure….but they said they’d text me when it was ready.

Across the street was a Tommy Bahama, with a bar on the second floor and a restaurant on the third… a little snack was in order. Turns out their happy hour was 2-5. Woohoo!

With a decent Manhattan ($12.50, not Happy Hour pricing):

A great view:

And KILLER Two For $10 Mahi Fish Tacos!

The “signature” coconut prawns were good, but next the tacos…..

Turns out both the CVS and Tommy Bahama are just across the street (and down an alley) from The In Between (and the porno store upstairs):

Dinner tonight was going to be the Wailea Coffee Shop….which Rache and I ate at on another visit…now closed, along with Hy’s Steakhouse next to the Royal Garden. Lot’s of “old school” restaurants seem to be closing. I ended up at the Korean place across the street sub-street-level. Korean Kang Nam Style BBQ Yakiniku.

I should have just ordered a “Highballu”, because the concept of whiskey and Diet Coke (they served Pepsi) barely made it through translation:

But it was served with Kim Chi! And some interior shots:

I ordered the BiBimBap in a stone pot:

Nice to have some more vegetables in my system.

Waikiki, being a tourist Mecca, you have t-shirt shops with Obama’s picture, saying, “Miss Me Yet?”, and this:


The next day found me poolside:

And then back in yesterday’s neighborhood to check on my prescription (it was ready, but no text), and another stop for Fish Tacos at Tommy Bahama – this time I went for the Happy Hour Cocktail of a Vodka Martini (which my mother claimed, “There is NO such thing as a VODKA martini!”). It nicely came with small olives, but they were stuffed with Blue Cheese – rest in peace Swanda.

Sadly, check out at the Royal Garden is 10AM. Meaning I ate some cubed papaya, and got back on the city bus to the airport – and with no checked luggage, soon I was in the shared AA/JAL Lounge with a Hot Asian Buffet!

And a “pour-it-yourself” bar!

With a nice view of the Japanese Garden that is in the middle of the airport:

And even bidets in the loo!

Before long I was back on the plane, yet again, not upgraded…but free cocktails, and thanks to Jonathan, a ride home from the airport.

Another week, another journey.

[? ? ?]

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Nov '18

Trip Report: Election Night In Austin – Part Duo

Rache was up way before I and was out exploring the city.

I made it out the door to lunch, at a place run by Sandra Bullock’s sister that is part deli, part flower shop – Walton’s Fancy & Staple:

I went for the Rueben and a Burnt Orange:

Stopped by Austin Wine Merchants, had a nice chat with Ian, picked up a bottle of Blue Corn by the Texas Distillery, Balcones – whose used 5-gallon barrels I use to age my hooch.

And I thought Madrona Wine Merchants was stocked to the gills!

Rache brought home fried chicken from Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, and I popped a bottle of Chilean wine (since we will be going there in January).

It being election night, we were definitely eating dinner “in” with the television locked on MSNBC and Rachel Maddow. Especially since we are in Austin, and the Beto/Cruz race is tight:

Sadly, we went to bed without definitive results…

Wednesday found us having lunch at Z Tejas – which, as it turns out is on Alaska Airlines Dining For Miles plan!

Pretty yummy food! House margarita for Rache, the Hard Day for me.

Rache ordered the Table Side Guacamole…

I ordered the chicken-fried rib eye, the healthy alternative!

I didn’t finish my vegetables, or the complementary corn bread, so we took those back the condo. Think a meal of various leftovers.

We took a detour after lunch to the amazing “junk” store, Fortney Home…which soon will be moving to a historic building in a small town an hour away:

When I mentioned “leftovers” for dinner, we do them well. Leftover lunch salad from the other day, and from the chicken bones from election night, I’d made stock, bought some noodles, added the vegetable from lunch…. And voila!

The wine was a South American Bonardo…yep, another oddball grape, courtesy of the wonderful wine shop around the corner.

Think I’ll save Thursday and Friday for part three.


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Nov '18

Trip Report: Election Night In Austin – Part Uno

When we made the plans, it was when we both had time open – not looking at the calendar and noticing that it was going to be election day in Austin, and when we made the reservations, Beto wasn’t the buzz that he was on election night.

Rache showed up the night before, and I had to open the lovely bottle Fico gave me in Tucson last week when he brought mixers to my room on the train:

I think that’s a GREAT picture – almost as good as the one from the lounge in the morning….

Or from the plane….

In a drunken booking moment, I’d blown four Gold Guest Upgrades to get us into First…which was good, because when we got to the airport, there were 42 people on the upgrade list!

It was an afternoon flight, so this was our meal:

Still not a fan of meals served all at once, but it was tasty.

Got checked into the condo after an Uber ride…nice place:


With a CRAZY long deck – 102 feet of deck, with a minimal two chairs and a side table:

Here is a video condo tour….

One of the nice things about the WorldMark Austin is its location to GREAT food close by – like Ranch 616 (as in 616 Nueces, and we are 801 Nueces):

I had two appetizers….the side of Grilled Quail (something like $6 – a STEAL):

The Don Combo, which is a Half Dozen of Crispy Oysters, Half Crispy Calamari, Chipotle Tartar and Green Goddess, and Pico de Gallo salad:

Rache got the Divorced Quail, which is Quail three ways, One Buttermilk Battered and Fried with Ranchero, One Sugar Cured and Grilled with Tomatillo, separated by Herbed Boursin Cheese Mashers and Sautéed Mixed Vegetables

This is the third time I’ve eaten here, and it never disappoints.

That was our Monday getting to Austin….stay tuned for more details!


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Nov '18

Trip Report: Beantown

They ask, I visit – when I can. This trip started with a random text three or four weeks ago. The questions was: “When are you coming back through?” My answer was, probably winter, but let me look at fares. And the fare was $237 round-trip Seattle to Boston. Off to the Lounge go I:

And it nicely started with an upgrade!

At least it’s an aisle near the front for the long red-eye flight.

And I learned something new on the Alaska First Class Menu:

The unit of measure called an IBU which stands for International Bitterness Unit (though it also is a medical abbreviation for Ibuprofen). People who like really hoppy IPA (India Pale Ale) want a higher score. Check out the Wikipedia article HERE.

It’s a redeye, so the food is going to be minimal, but it starts with a little berry smoothie….

And then usually, it’s veggies and hummus….but this was a small hot sandwich thing, which I was grateful for:

The problem with red eye flights is that they are red eye flights – my arrival in Boston was around 6am, and with checked luggage I couldn’t even go sleep it off in the lounge one terminal over, so it was:

  • Baggage claim
  • Silver Line to South Station (Free)
  • Red Line to Alewife (Free)
  • Uber to Pucci’s place ($15)

As also is my way when getting into Boston (actually Belmont) is to head straight to bed for a nap – which is what I did in my lovely guest bedroom:

After my nap, we were out the door to Total Wine & Beverage (which isn’t close, but it’s cheap), and then back to the house for a lovely Pucci lunch. Plans to get together with Jill were thwarted by UPS deliveries at her place. Sadly, I didn’t get a pic, so you’ll have to take it from me, it was a stunning lunch.

When I visit midweek, I basically get to see Pucci around his teaching/performing schedule, so it’s catch as catch can. Left me time to wander up the street to The Spirited Gourmet to grab a sandwich for dinner – and to check out the wine selection and look for a favorite Gin of Pucci’s.

I got back just in time to miss the rain storm dumping!

While Pucci was off teaching – I ACTUALLY tuned to TV to watch the first game of the World Series:

Much cocktails and conversation at the end of the game when he returned from teaching and watched them win. Almost felt like I was with Dad watching football!

The following day’s lunch was at The Red House in Cambridge where during the day they feature ½ price oysters for the first dozen – I decided to tag mine with a couple of Maine Crab Cake sliders (and a Manhattan!)

I should have had our server get a picture of all four of us – Jill, Norma (Jill’s mother and wonderful woman), Pucci and I. Seems like I’m missing a lot of “photo ops” on this trip.

Pucci had the entire day off – he rearranged his schedule to move students to Friday and Saturday. THANKS!

With the afternoon free, we headed to a museum that I learned about through the North American Reciprocal Museum group that I get access to through my family membership at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (with Rache). This is the same organization that exposed me to Intuit –Museum of Outsider Art in Chicago a couple of months ago.

Today’s visit it to the Boston Waterworks Museum:

This is actually the back of the building – had to borrow a shot of the front from their site:

Pucci had never been, and I hadn’t either – and they gave up a grizzled mobility challenged docent who was a font of knowledge about not only the equipment in the museum, but the whole Boston area water system. I was glad Pucci was there with his knowledge of some of the public reservoirs. Amazing old pumping equipment in the building, that was only shut down in 1974.

Serious “Steam Pump” at this place.

Jill was back at the house for dinner (after Pucci and I had afternoon naps!), and what a dinner it was, Beef Tenderloin, green beans, sautéed mushrooms, mashed potatoes – what a meal!

And I can’t forget the special guest, Jill’s dog, Murphy (aka, Murphy, The Wonder Dog):

It was a wonderful quick trip.

The return trip was as cruel, timing-wise, and the incoming – a 7am flight (basically getting on the same plane that brought me here). I was out of the house, in an Uber (under $30) to the airport at 5am.


[? ? ?]

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Oct '18

Trip Report: The Amtrak Cardinal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With our before noon boarding – we got lunch.

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

Dessert was better than the burger:

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

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

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

Welcome to our bedroom:

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

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

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

Back to the Amtrak lounge we went before the flight…

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

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


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Sep '18

Trip Report: The Big Easy

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

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

Settled in, and lunch is on the way!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the fried oysters looked pretty good, too!

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

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

Got some cocktails ordered…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dozen charbroiled oysters ($10).

A dozen raw ($3)

Fried Green Tomatoes.

And dessert – another two dozen on the half shell!

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

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

There is an outside eating/drinking/entertainment area:

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

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

Three UNIQUE wines open – my kinda place!

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

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

And then topped it off with cocktails!

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

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

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

It was an early night for both of us.

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

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

Garlic shrimp for Rache:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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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:


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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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.


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Jul '18


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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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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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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May '18

Trip Report: Mileage Run To NOLA

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

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

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

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

Same meal, different caterer and presentation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made it an early night.

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

Wonder why!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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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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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.


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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.


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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.


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