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Jan '15

Trip Report: A Sacramento Quickie With Jameson

Not THAT kind of quickie – a quick two-night visit.

Scored the ticket for $116.20, CHEAP, and a rental car for $28.40 (plus gas, which you can get right at the airport), hell my parking was $40.38 (with the Senior Discount at Wally Park for those 55+).

A great day to fly…fog causing some planes that don’t have advanced avionics – RNP—were diverting to Boeing Field. Two United flights and one Air Canada flights. One of the reasons that I like to fly Alaska Airlines. Currently only Alaska and Southwest (in the US) have adopted RNP system-wide.

My plane awaits…

And you can see the pea-soup fog in the background….and my seat awaits:

Not my favorite (1C – aisle), but right next door (1A – window).That said, it was a great day to be by the window. Mount Rainier above the fog line:

And then (I believe) Mount Adams:

And mountains I know not the names of:

Thinking Hood, and really don’t know this one:

Let’s not forget my “snack” on the way down (and on the way back as well) of the Curry Chicken Salad – wish they had warmed the pita bread like they did on one trip!

Almost before finishing my “snack” we were on the way down – it’s was a 1 hour 15 minute flight – definitely running early. In Sacramento they were unloading (and loading) from both the front and rear:

Picked up the car and set off on an errand before meeting up with Jameson at his new apartment. The errand was BevMo for a little (lot of) bourbon for the visit and to take home with me.

It’s going to be dinner at the apartment tonight, with Jameson’s girlfriend (who I met on my November trip when it was her birthday). I’d brought lots of frozen (when it was packed) protein with me. Chicken Thigh Stir Fry with rice is tonight’s meal, tomorrow will either be Garlic Rosemary Rack of Lamb (girlfriend doesn’t eat lamb) or Jerked Boneless Pork Chops – depending on party of two or party of three.

Stayed up too late (for Jameson who had to get up early for a work trip to the Bay Area) so didn’t get out of the apartment until noon.

Headed into Folsom for a lunch that wasn’t good for me, but tasty. Fish and Chips at the Fat Bunny Tavern where the “Business Lunch” with a choice of half a dozen items that come with either a glass of house wine (the Cabernet wasn’t bad) or a beer (Scottish add $2.00).

Then I was off on my daily rounds – first stop was the Gekkeikan Saké Factory Tour. Normally this is a self-guided tour, but a group tour had just started so I tagged along and got a much better experience:

Sampled six things at the end, including a “Sparkling Saké” from their Japanese parent company.

Next up was the Folsom Prison Museum, a tiny little museum with on the grounds of Folsom Prison:

And a “lovely” exhibit of “shanks”:

They are hoping to expand with a new facility, The Big House Museum:

And, of course, the view of the prison walls…

I parked near the “Visitor Intake Building” with lots of “rules” for visitors:

The one place that I wanted to visit, but didn’t figure out where is was would be the Folsom Powerhouse Museum. Instead tried to find a Goodwill for some kitchen stuff for Jameson’s new place (failed, turns out it was near the Saké Factory) but did get to Safeway to pick up other supplies for dinner, like a 9×9 Pyrex Baking Pan which you can never have too many off (though that would be just one for Jameson).

No girlfriend for dinner tonight so it was the rack of lamb, and we used some of the Jerk Sauce destined for the port as a “dipping sauce”. Damn tasty.

And we finally got to try out the hot tub – tried last night but we were WELL after 10pm when they lock the gate. Nice was to finish the evening.

Up and out by 8:30 to get the rental car back and check in all the luggage (yes, TWO checked bags, thankfully FREE). It gave me enough time before my 11:30am flight to actually have a little breakfast:

Eggs Benedict at the Esquire Grill at Sacramento International Airport.

Flight was reasonably on-time, back in Seat 1A, and another Curry Chicken Salad (again with cold Pita Bread wedges). Before you knew it I was home and taking a nap.

[? ? ?]

Jan '14

Overnight With Jameson.

Left Berkeley in the late afternoon for the Oakland Airport with enough time for some steak fajitas and a couple of Manhattans:

Poor Jameson had his flight cancelled so instead of arriving in Seattle from Reno an hour before me, he arrived an hour later than I did. Blessed be the cell phone for coordinating at the airport.

After my uneventful flight I waited on the departure level at the wine bar that is on the ticketing side of the airport. Really nice tomato/mozzarella salad:

Why, yes, that is another Manhattan.

It was great to see Jameson – even if it is a short visit as he needs to be back at the airport at 10am for his flight to Vietnam for a three week visit:

Somehow I’m expecting to regret staying up until 4 in the morning.

[? ? ?]

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Nov '11

Workin’ The Shop Today.

Dinner With Jameson Tonight.

Got to the shop around 10:30am just in case there was a problem after the power went out last night. Arrive to find:

  1. We have power
  2. The credit card machine “auto-settled” so there was a nice tape waiting for me
  3. The cash register spit up its tape as well.

Got all the bookwork done and the doors open at 11am. Surprisingly Jim showed up in the early afternoon (even with a slight cold) to crank through a bunch of wine cards. For some reason I neglected to get a shot of how the racks are looking with the new vertical cards.

It was a good thing Jim did come is as mid-afternoon we had a “whale” come in talking about a case and a half of Christmas wine, and picking up several bottles of $25-50 a bottle wines to try.

Closed the doors as little after 5 and sprinted home to get ready for dinner with Jameson where we had our own little wine tasting:

The three open bottles were the dregs from the Saturday tasting, plus we opened a Chilean to go with the Italians.

Unfortunately Jameson’s visit is short — tomorrow it back to Olympia and the problem of his pump house for the rental property.

At least we had a good meal of lamb chops and spinach sautèed in bacon and vinegar.


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Dinner With Jameson Tonight.

Apr '11

Jameson, Day Four.

Nice to have company. But nice to have a little down time as well. Jameson was off to lunch with friends from Evergreen at Both Ways Cafe in Columbia City. I’d never heard of it, but it gets good reviews. Might have to check it out, but not on the weekend for bunch.

Dinner tonight are a couple of veal chops, some roasted potatoes, a nice salad with anchovies and home-made croutons and a little red wine.

Jameson’s visit makes me realize how much I enjoy his company and that I need to spend more time with him… like maybe three nights from the 31st of May to June 3rd staying at the WorldMark Tahoe in Stateline, NV, just up the road from Jameson’s place.

Hopefully the massive snows they have had this winter will have melted. Looks like renting a car is going to be necessary, I can deal with that tomorrow. It’s not right in Stateline, but outside of town. Between the shuttle, and then getting to the place, I think it will nicer to have a car. I booked a two-bedroom so Jameson can stay in a little bit of luxury while I visit.

While I was booking, Jameson was packing. Sigh.

All packed and ready for a really early morning run to the airport. Please note the ukulele sticking out of his backpack.


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Apr '11

Jameson, Day Three.

Ah, the joys of being able to sleep in and have coffee delivered bedside.

Spent the morning reading scholarship applications. It never fails to amaze me the number of people who don’t read the list of requirements. Usually it is the portfolio that is strangely missing.

Mark Stephen Souder Scholarship for Information Dissemination

Offered to a new or currently enrolled student attending full time who demonstrates an interest in information dissemination, e.g., writer, Web designer, teacher, musician, activist — anyone helping to influence the way people think about their world, to change the concepts of “nons”—”non-residents, non-Caucasians, non-heterosexuals — to create a more equal, intelligent and compassionate society. Preference will be given to non-resident gay or lesbian students, demonstrating quality and creativity of prior work in the area of information dissemination. Financial need will also be considered.


  • Letter of application addressing your passion for and level of expertise in the dissemination of information. Tell us where you have been with this concept, what you are doing now, and where you want to go in exploring how information is shared.
  • A portfolio of work that expresses your beliefs about information dissemination and demonstrates how you have put those beliefs into action.
  • Two letters of recommendation from individuals, other than relatives, who have personally experienced the power of your work in information dissemination.
  • FAFSA or Renewal Application. _______________________________________________________________________________________________

By 1:30 or so both Curt and I had finished reading all 15 of the applications (stack size 2″), which is down from the 21 applications last year. I would have thought more would be applying, but apparently the economy is so bad that students and prospective students can’t even afford to think about college.

I ran out to Summit Lake to see how the progress was coming, and see Julian who had driven up from Portland to help his brother out. They were down to the last, and hardest, panel on the car port when I got there.

Lunch for me was at the Ranch House BBQ just a couple of minutes from the rental. Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and potato salad, washed down with a glass of Petite Syrah that had been open a little too long.

Work was done by 3 and we headed back to the Westside to drop off his truck. My surprise for Jameson was taking him to the musical instrument store from yesterday, and convincing him that he REALLY needed to buy a ukulele. The ones I had priced were from $54.95 to well over $300. Jameson settled on the $99 Portuguese one that came with a bag, pitch pipe, and cord descriptions. To push him over the edge I picked up part of the tab.

We got back to the house a little after 5 just in time for the nightly news and the nightly cocktails.

Dinner was flank steak pinwheels, brussell sprouts, salad and a little red wine.

After dinner it was time for Jameson to start on the scholarships. And the winner is….

[? ? ?]

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Apr '11

Jameson, Day Two.

Up at 8, grudgingly, breakfast at 9, on the road by 9:30am.

Destination Olympia. Work of repairing the carport of his rental for Jameson, work on two chickens for dinner for me. Doesn’t look fun for him with the rain.

On the way back from dropping him off on the Westside to borrow a friends truck, stopped downtown and did a little antiquing, but found myself parked in front of a musical instrument store, with almost a dozen ukuleles hanging in the window, and as it turned out, another half dozen hanging on a rack. Apparently the ukulele craze is bigger now than it was in the 20s and 30s. Went in to price them for Jameson since he likes mine so much, and says it would be easier to travel with than a guitar.

Tried and failed to nap in the afternoon, so decided to make chicken paté from the chicken livers from the two chickens for tonight’s meal. Why the two chickens had 6 livers, 1 gizzard and no hearts, I do not know.

The two chickens were stuffed with a half an orange each (to keep them moist) and sprinkled with a Tuscan seasoning mix, and baked on top of a bed of new potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. Serve with a salad and some steamed asparagus and the boys (Curt, Rich, Brandon) were happy campers.

After dinner tried and failed to get all the scholarship applications read, only managed one.


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Sep '09

Lismore Castle – Jameson – Dublin.

A fairly lazy start to the day — thank goodness for Ambien to keep the thumping of the disco out of my dreams.

Eggs Benedict at the hotel in the morning, then off to tour the castle grounds and art gallery filled with conceptual pieces, beyond contemporary art and sort of an odd match for the castle — guess that would be the personal tastes of the Duke of Devonshire who still lives in the castle.

P1090268 - Share on Ovi

At least the windows are double glazed — though I still bet it’s a bitch to heat in the winter.

Next up on the tour is the Midleton Distillery, home to Jameson whiskey (and a couple of others). Jeff took this great picture of me in front of the waiting area bar (Irish Coffee for 6.50 Euro).

P1090289 - Share on Ovi

After the tour of the history grounds (the current working distillery is modern and located just behind the old distillery) we went to the tasting room where both Jeff and I got certified as official tasters — and I cleaned up all the leftovers from the other 7 tasters… something like 15 of those tiny little cups. Should I have wanted to purchase shots, there was one shot on the menu that was going for 250 Euro. Ouch!

Lunch afterwards was down the road a bit from the car park — an interesting place called Mojito, which couldn’t quite make up it’s mind what sort of a menu they had — Jeff had the Nachos Grande and I had the Mojito Salad(which was salmon, goat cheese, greens, olives and a yummy dressing). It’s right on Distillery Walk by the distillery.

Three hours back to Dublin, Jeff driving while I slipped in a little nap.

Just a lazy day around the house that evening — a lite meal of sandwiches made from the pork from the other night. Got to keep food moving through the fridge when it’s a half-size model.

Tomorrow is the big 53rd birthday. I don’t feel a day over 52.

[? ? ?]

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Mar '19

Trip Report: San Luis Obispo Turned Into Vancouver, BC

The plan was to visit Jameson (and fiancée) in San Luis Obispo this week on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. This is what the overnight journey should have looked like:

But I got this note at 6:50am Monday morning for my 9:45am departure:

We wanted to let you know that train #11, the Coast Starlight, from Seattle, Washington – Train Station on Monday, February 25th, has been CANCELLED due to a service disruption. Unfortunately, we don’t have other transportation available.

Well, that’s helpful. Sorry. Shit out of luck.

Made some coffee, swore a little that I was up when I didn’t need to be, and called the Service Interruption line which is smaller time waiting on hold. Got booked on the Tuesday train. One less day in San Luis Obispo, but still worth it….

Until the 10:51am, which said the same as the above, but changing Monday’s date to Tuesday.

It wasn’t until the next day that the reason finally started to show up on the web:


Yep, the train was stuck in the snow and running out of food (and I bet the holding tanks were filling up!)

With California out of the picture, and having already planned to be gone this week, it was “alternatives” time…Victoria? Vancouver? Orcas Island? Turns out Vancouver was the place that had three nights available that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg (there was a little budget since I’d be getting the train points back, got refunded for the return plane ticket, didn’t need a rental car). New trip looked like this:

It’s basically a three-hour drive. On a rare sunny day in the winter. Still didn’t take the convertible – WAY too cold.

Over the border, I’d hoped to get a dog at the dog stand just past immigration – but, sadly, they weren’t there. Must be a summer thing. Had to stop at a Kosher Deli instead:

Where I got the Rueben – sadly, not as good as when I was here last…

But I did pick up a couple of things in the Deli section:

This is the WorldMark at The Canadian.

And the view isn’t bad…

And it’s a two-bedroom, two-bath….

With a deck!

Picked up a few things for dinner on the way in…

My buddy Epick is came to dinner tonight – and I gifted him some fabric (he made my kilt):

The dinner was steamed Salt Spring Island mussels in a curry lemongrass coconut broth, strip steaks, and salad. Yum.

Next night’s dinner was with Marzi featuring seared Ahi Tuna steaks, salad, bread.

Not that there isn’t good food in Vancouver…like the JapaDog stand a couple of blocks from the condo….

BUT, if you look closely, all sorts of items are “x’d” out – and the next day it was a handwritten sign with what WAS available, but no explanations. Seems “the trend” has passed and they are barely hanging on. https://www.quora.com/Is-Japadog-overrated-or-worth-trying-out-when-in-Vancouver

Didn’t eat here either, but thought it was an interesting concept:

DID eat at Relish because they offer a discount to WorldMark owners (15% off food).

I had the Marinated Ahi Tacos – because, while the Rueben was on the menu, it was nowhere to be found, and according to the waitress, hasn’t been around for a while.

While they were good, and a $4 Highball is a rarity in Vancouver, the food wasn’t as good as I’d remembered – I’m sensing a Vancouver trend.

The final day found Epick over again for dinner (remains of the coconut sauce with chicken thighs and sugar peas), and a load of laundry (there was an ensuite washer/dryer).

Still life with tennis shoe, followed by a complete drying:

Got out of the condo around 11:30 – a little later than I’d planned, and then there was the burger stop in Mount Vernon:

Meant I was a little later into town than I’d have liked, meaning I got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes. Sigh.

I had fun, but still wish I’d been able to go to California. Now when I go down in April, it going to be a crush of people for the wedding.


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Dec '18

Trip Report: Santa Fe The Long Way

It used to be easy to get to Santa Fe…flight left in the morning, got into ABQ in the afternoon, plenty of time to drive/train to Santa Fe. Not anymore. A couple of months before my trip Alaska sent me a note saying that my flight that was supposed to get in at 1PM would, instead, be getting in at 10PM, and leaving on the return, butt early, in the morning.

Doesn’t work when you are an hour and a half from your final destination by the time you pick up your luggage.

Hello Portland along the way…

Started the trip with the usual trip to the Alaska Lounge

With a stop at Florette to hug Shua. It’s rare that his work schedule and my flight schedules align.

Bulkhead aisle to PDX…

Upgraded to First on the E175 flight from PDX to ABQ, which is 2-1 seating, with me in the 1:

So, aisle and window and the same time – and LOOK at the view!

This is why I call the Pacific Northwest home. And then, lunch was served.

On time into Albuquerque, off to the Rental Car Center, into the rental car, and headed north to Santa Fe, and checked into the WorldMark Santa Fe…Studio Handicapped Unit:

Because of getting in at 4PM, and not to Santa Fe until after 6PM, no hanging with the relatives, just grabbing food from across the street (Chopstix):

Popular, cheap, OK quality… perfect for taking back to the room, and she threw in a couple of wontons since I wasn’t willing to wait 20 minutes for the Bulgogi.

Lunch the next day (who is up for breakfast!) was at one of my favorites, a block away from the condo. Bumble Bee’s for Lamb Tacos. Love their drive through sign:

Dinner with my sis-in-law (might as well be sister at this point), and her husband, Uncle to Jameson and Julian, at Atrisco for their Chile Relleno.

Yes, this trip is about food – it is Santa Fe, after all!

Lunch at LottaBurger…a tradition with both The Colonels and I should mention that I was supposed to see The Colonels on this trip, but management messed up their 3-week reservation at their condo and turned it into a 2-week stay, so they headed back to Kentucky. I also missed them in New Orleans due to weather…I’ll see them in January in West Yellowstone.

Dinner with the family out in Eldorado (about 20 minutes from the condo):

The following afternoon Jen and I met up for lunch at Taco Fundacion – where Bert’s Burgers was for 30 years, but brought it back to the condo since it was only a block away, and they don’t really have warm seating:

I ordered the Roasted Pig, the Lamb, and the Goat (and then went back for dinner and ordered the Fried Oyster, Bison, and a side of chips). Damn good – worth a second trip.

My afternoon was spent on the computer, watching George H.W. Bush’s train ride home…

My final meal in Santa Fe was breakfast at another one of my favorites…The New York Deli:

The Eggs Benedict were $9.95 – a freakin’ bargain.

Got upgraded to my favorite seat on the E175, which is 1A – the combination aisle/window. And since it’s First Class, it comes with dinner:

And more mountain views….

Guess I’ve taken to photographing the wing tip for perspective. It works.

That’s my last flight trip for the year. Got a driving trip to Vancouver and Blaine coming up.


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Feb '17

Trip Report: Sacramento

This week’s pleasure travel is to lovely Sacramento – though technically Folsom where Jameson lives. It feels like, “another day, another flight.”

Suddenly, most of my lunches are now looking like this:

With a view like this….

Until I end up on the plane, luckily with an upgrade…

When the view changes to this:

That would be Mt. Rainer. This would be a double:

And someone in the back is making balloon animals for the crew – I just brought them chocolate.

And we get a little snack on the way down …

That would be build it yourself bruschetta.

Landed, got my bag and then rental car hell began. 45 minutes to get a car, ten people in line, one agent. Word to the wise when booking EZ/Advantage Rent A Car. The delay was long enough that Jameson actually got to the house before me.

At least when Jameson and I get together, we drink well:

And eat well:

Those it pains me to pay retail for wine – at least it was on the 50% off rack.

For some reason I didn’t get a picture of us together so you’ll just have to suffer with Jameson doing his back exercises:

Up in the morning early, off to the airport, returned the car which was painless, got home early afternoon for a quite evening.


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Jan '17

Trip Report: Vancouver & Victoria

Well, the travel season has begun again – starting off with a road trip with my old college roommate, MB.

Left my place at noon headed for CanadaLand…with a couple of stops on the way:

Since we were going into a “crown county”, we thought we’d gets our crowns on early.

First stop is a WorldMark that I hadn’t tried yet – actually a trade with Vacation Internationale or something like that – Rosedale on Robson – warning, I didn’t take this picture:

But it gives you an idea. We were in a one-bedroom unit with a sofa bed in the living room…

Good day and night views…

Not as nice as the WorldMark at the Canadian in the heart of downtown – especially considering valet parking is $30 a night at the Robson on Rosedale. However, it does have a decent restaurant ion the ground floor – Original Joes – were we had cocktails and dinner:

MaryBeth had the Brambleberry, I went for the Royal Buffalo (Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Chambord Liqueur)

My haddock and mixed chips – biggest piece of fish and chips fish I’ve ever seen:

MaryBeth went for the noddle/broth dish – both excellent:

Out at eleven to catch our ferry to Vancouver Island, but first breakfast/brunch at the ferry terminal which has a HUGE food/shopping court. No, I did not have the sugarized apples:

And it was a GORGEOUS day for a ferry ride – and we had a front row seat!

Our room was ready when we got there!

MaryBeth ignored the howling breeze and hopped into the tub. Me, I stayed inside and enjoyed the view:

Before it was cocktail time:

Sort of a “faux” Lemon Drop – Citron Vodka with fresh squeezed “orange lime” juice – we found them at the local Thrifty Grocery. These are organic (hence the code starting with “9” – regular limes are 4306):

Looks like a small orange, but has the juice more like a lemon. And we liked them so we made two more runs to the store over the stay to get more.

As is my usual Victoria journeys, people are invited to dinner – including one of the checkers from the Thrifty:

Our first set of guests managed to drain the bar – resulting in this:

This was AFTER the hot tub, which with a 30mph breeze, was more like a lukewarm tub – with heads bobbing barely above the water line to keep from ice forming.

Wednesday is all about PIG – the restaurant called PIG, and one of the cooks at PIG.

Totally forgot to take pictures of our lunch – I went for the pulled pork sandwich, MaryBeth went for the pulled port poutine (fries, cheese curds, gravy, pulled pork) small portion, which was the size of a small child’s head.

Next up was to stock up on provisions….

Great guy working there who I assume was one of the owners – GREAT customer service.

Two bottles of wine, replacement vodka, replacement whiskey, and we are on our way to the fish market for dinner protein:

Love the fact they tell you what boat and where – this is why I shop with these folks (Finest At Sea) – they are a wholesaler who has a tiny retail store a couple of blocks from the condo on a side street behind their offices, and now, a food trailer out front.

So, they translation to US measures/prices – a pound and a third of troll caught salmon for $22USD which works out to $16.36 a pound (thanks to a 30% difference between the $USD and $CAN).

The dinner company is MaryBeth’s daughter’s boyfriend (who is a cook at PIG) and his mother – how’s THAT for an interesting dinner! And I’m making him cook after I do all the prep work – doesn’t it look GREAT?

And he taught me a tip – give it grill marks on the flesh side, then finish cooking on the skin side – I’d change this to a 45-degree angle – or a 45, and then a 90 for cross hatch.

No hot tub action tonight!

When I hang with friends at WorldMark places – even breakfast is “ensuite”:

That is a coil of sausage done on the grill, Caesars (that would be a Bloody Mary made with Clamato), scrambled eggs.

Today we are off to a CASTLE – and not the one that most tourist go to in Victoria – we are driving to Hatley Castle, not his father’s castle Craigdarroch Castle (FYI, his father died before the Castle was complete). Hatley was Royal Road Military College after the family finished the cycle from rags to riches to rags and lost the place, now it the Royal Road University, mostly on-line but offering career transitions. Thank you, MaryBeth, for stopping a person on campus who must have been in the administration for the great boiled-down mission statement.

It’s “shoulder season” so no tours of the Castle since it is a “living building”, i.e. and Administration Building – but still pretty:


And the lobby…

And my favorite lobby sign from its former life:

Even though there wasn’t a tour – there is a small museum in the basement (along with gift shop, and oddly school supply stop):

Back in town, it was time for an afternoon snack – I’d taken the chicken from the first night, turned it into stock, skimmed the fat after an evening in the fridge, add noodles and frozen veg…and a lovely soup!

Got a lot of use out of that chicken! After we’d had our fill, I packed up four small containers (left over from appetizer plates) for the staff – nothing like a little homemade chicken noodle soup. They are VERY understanding of my life – they even got me chocolates for my birthday in September.

Dinner tonight was a friend of mine who connected over social media and his husband – one of those, “stop by for a cocktail” that turns into dinner. Take the two marinated steaks, cube, skewer, grill, add a couple of salads, and we have dinner!

Another day…another castle! This time it’s dad’s castle — Craigdarroch Castle!

Search on Craigdarroch on my blog to see more pictures of the interior – this time I was specifically looking for this one plaque:

Specifically, for this portion of the plaque:

My “faux” nephews Julian and Jameson, apparently names after Julian Jameson (there is a mention HERE).

Love this radiator in the library….

It was a great tour before getting in line for the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles. But first, LUNCH:

And we did have calamari with those drinks. Honest.

In the line:

On the ferry:

Made the last ferry (Bainbridge) with just enough time to line up and be the last car off the ferry.

Home, MaryBeth headed home, I headed to bed after opening one of the bottles of Duty Free and making a cocktail.


Jan '16

Trip Report:

Pigletté In Vietnam – Fourth Leg: Saïgon to Cần Thơ

One of my biggest worries of this trip was that a delay in arriving into Saïgon would screw the trip to Cần Thơ the following morning as there was only twelve hours between landing and getting picked up for the tour. Alas, no worries, even with the delay at the Visa Desk.

In the morning Sean and I head out for an early breakfast – leaving Pigletté at home since it’s Pork and Rice for breakfast (and iced tea):

Here is the guy cooking our pork on the side of the street at 7:30am in the morning…

And the end product. I think I could get used to this. 34,000 Dồng (Vietnamese Monetary Unit) a person ($1.52 USD):

Our driver was right on time at 8am – and even came down the narrow street to pick us up in front of Sean’s apartment:

He had to back down the alley as there was no room to turn around. But off we go for the 4-hour drive to Cần ThÆ¡. After we got out of the city, there was a bit of tollway that quickly turned into two lanes in each direction separated by a “Jersey Barrier“, with scooters/motorcycles going both ways on the shoulder – all accompanied by various small businesses lining the road, with the occasional break for rice paddies, banana farms and other agricultural stuff.

Part way in we stopped at what I call a “tourist rest stop” that all the tour buses stop at (though we were in a chaffered car) – a “shopping opportunity” as The Colonels would say – and a chance for a freebie for the driver. Sean mentioned that he prefers to stop in “hammock cafes” where you have your tea (or whatever) while lounging in a hammock in the shade.

All said, Pigletté enjoys his Vietnamese Coffee (Robusta-bean brewed coffee with sweetened condensed milk):

And the surroundings are pretty – but it took us a bit to find our driver again…

Before you knew it – and Sean snoozing after his tea — we are approaching the new (as of 2010) bridge over the Mekong River to get to Cần ThÆ¡. The old method was a ferry that added HOURS to the journey. This and another bridge at the Cambodian border makes it possible to drive from Saigon to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in six hours.

First stop when we arrive in Cần Thơ is our lunch stop of the day with a set Vietnamese lunch:

And it was tasty:

Luckily this was all part of the “package” I got from Luxury Travel Co., Ltd. So far, the tour isn’t disappointing. With the lunch we had some Vietnamese Red Wine (Vang Dalat, served chilled and considering it was 90 degrees outside, a good thing) by the glass (50,000 Dồng each — $4.49 USD for both glasses, NOT included in tour price). There is a review of the Van Dalat STONG wine (16% being fortified with Mulberry Wine here), but I don’t think it’s right to compare a fortified wine to a regular table wine from the same producer, but it is an interesting interview.

After lunch (and an ATM stop for Sean – he’s my “bank” this trip so far, not having changed any money at the airport on the way in), we are off to check into the Victoria Cần ThÆ¡ – a Colonial-era hotel (think French occupation of Vietnam). You have to love a check-in process where they say, “take a seat”, turn over your passports, and while they do all the paperwork, you get a shoulder massage:

Again, part of the “package” apparently – and there is a spa on premises if we want a “couples massage”. We have the afternoon free, so we settle into the room to craft a plan…

Even the bathroom is nice…they even put a condom in a little envelope on the top of the toilet…

They even sent up a fruit basket!

We had to call down for ice for the flash of whiskey I brought (flask was included with the liter of Jameson that I bought at Dubai Duty Free):

Internet and nap time rule for the afternoon – at least until happy hour in the bar downstairs…

And a little reading time (unless you want to play billiards):

We could have played Backgammon as well….

Happy hour wasn’t THAT good a deal – 2-for-1 Gin & Tonics at 4-star hotel prices, but we did need the nuts and a little snack before taking the water taxi to Cần ThÆ¡‘s city center…

Our objective was to find some supplies – whiskey and diet for me at retail rather than hotel prices…and explore some of the city center. The water taxi is run by the hotel and they just need 10-15 minutes’ notice on the hotel end, as the boat is moored in the city. Turns out we stumbled into one of the few shops early in our stroll that sold both – but hoping for a better deal, we explored further. Note the Microsoft Storefront in the background…

And a picture from Sean’s collection. GREAT picture of me.

Fresh shrimp anyone?

Or may some Tết (Vietnamese New Year) stuff – we bought some!

But soon it was time to head back to the hotel with our Scotch (Johnny Walker Red – not my first choice, but the best of the lot) and some Coke Light (Diet Coke for those in the US). We have a 6:30pm dinner reservation (also included in the tour price), so time is of the essence…

I thought I’d show you some shots of where we were staying – stunning grounds and facilities. Headed to the resort from the dock…

The river side of the place…

The view from the lobby to the pool…

The lobby (open-air – rooms have AC).

Time for dinner! Listed in the brochure as “candlelight dinner” it was true to description – complete with a custom printed menu for us:

Guess that makes Sean “and party”… love the attention to detail:

And the food was a stunning as the napkin. The “starter” – Eggplant Tartin with Mozzarella and fresh garden salad (please notice the “balled” butter):

Green pea soup (soup de legumes verts)….

Chicken leg stuffed with mushrooms, and mushroom sauce, Duchess Potatoes, and a faggot (bundle of sticks) of green beans….fagot de haricots verts as they say in France.

And dessert…. chocolate cake served with coconut ice cream…

All washed down with a little rosé from Provence (that’s in France you know – and Vietnam was a French Colony for a couple of year). It’s a Saint Roch Les Vignes which is sustainably-farmed 50% Cinsault, 50% Grenache from 225 acres from select domains in the villages of Cuers, Puget-Ville and Pierrefeu with the average age of vines at about 30-years-old.

Love a good rosé in a hot environment! Even if it did cost almost a million Dồng. Fun fact – the Dồng has the second lowest redemption value right behind the Iranian Dinar.

That said, the USD total was $44.45 – like I said – 4-star resort prices. At least I know what the mark-up at the restaurant is – that bottle would be $15 on the shelf at my shop. Considering how little we have been paying for other things on this trip, it was nice to have a nice rosé in hot weather.

The restaurant also has an enclosed, sit-in wine cellar/bar:

We got back to the room to find more attention to detail – a bedtime story scroll, and a couple of star fruit jelly roll snacks….but no new bucket of ice…that will make the third call today, or is it fourth:

Also, please note that the bottled water has a cloth “cozies” around it. Condoms in the bathroom, cloth sleeves on the water bottles – they are serious about “protection”, or is that “glove before you love”.

Off to bed – driver comes at 11:30am for us, and breakfast is served until 10am.

[? ? ?]

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Pigletté In Vietnam – Fourth Leg: Saïgon to Cần Thơ

Jan '16

Trip Report: Return to Sacramento

Nothing like a $160.10 round-trip flight to get me motivated to travel – add complimentary upgrades to First in both directions and I’m in.

Staying with Jameson (faux-nephew) and his girlfriend Carolynn at their place a couple of blocks from old town Folsom. Got my own cat-free room – yes, the cat is the downside to the trip.

I had planned on hitting some wineries after meeting up with Paul the German CouchSurfer who is attempting to hitchhike from Vancouver, BC to New York City using NO CASH. I hosted him in Seattle last week, and it turned out we were in Sacramento at the same time so hooked up for lunch and dropped him at a freeway entrance as he was headed to Reno. And it turns out all the Placerville Wineries are closed on Tuesdays (some Wednesday to Sunday, most only weekends).

Lunch? Max’s Bar and Grill in Auburn – at the start of the Sierra foothills. For picking it at random (search restaurants, Auburn, CA – look for ones close to the highway) it turned out to be the best Rueben that I’ve had in years. Pair it with a Manhattan, and it was heaven. Paul and the Manhattan:

Said best Rueben in years:

Turns out the freeway entrance I wanted to put Paul on didn’t have any place to pull over so we backtracked an exit to one with a gas station – turns out it was also Downtown Old Auburn with not much traffic. He waited five hours and ended up hitchhiking in the dark. At least he made it to Reno – by 9:30pm.

I got to Jameson’s place before he did – but check out the “economy” rental car from Advantage Rent-A-Car – apparently the economy is very good in California if you get a Kia Sedona LX mommyvan as an economy car:

Cute house. Great food – the first night what started out as a pork loin turned into a Carolina-style pulled pork with a side of creamed yams and a salad – plus a couple of bottles of wine I brought.

Wednesday was the designated “winery” day. Slept in late to make up for the prior days up early, fortified myself with another Rueben at Deb’s Frosty in Diamond Springs, California. Not nearly as good but $7.50 rather than Max’s $15 (plus Manhattan).

And the sign has seen better days. Would be interesting to try other items on the menu, which seems to be half burger stand and half Tex-Mex food.

And now for the winery report:

One of the lesser known, but fascinating California winery regions is Eldorado County, an hour east of Sacramento. Unlike the bustling regions of Napa or Sonoma, these smaller regions offer inexpensive tastings fees (if any at all), and offer up some great wines and stunning scenery.

As you can see from the map, there are no shortage of wineries in Eldorado County, many of which are only open weekends. Most everyplace you stop in will have maps of the area, including special maps for the sub-AVAs of Fairplay and Placerville. It being a Wednesday afternoon, my choices were a little more limited so I hit two that were recommended (and next door to each other) and one (Miraflores) that I just stumbled upon.

While none of the wines from the three wineries I stopped at are available at the shop, this is more informational about off-the-beaten track wine regions.

First up was Windwalker Winery in the Fairplay area of El Dorado County California. They produce 9-10,000 cases of wine a year with 10% being estate fruit. Of that production, 1/3 are white wine varietals, including dry-style Albariño (unusual for California) and a Viognier (both tasty, but I bought the Albariño). If you are a Chardonnay fan, their Chardonnay won the prestigious Golden Bear award at the California State Fair (front and center in front of their other medal placing wines).

As you can see from the chalkboard, they have an extensive and varied production. I even had a chance to chat with Ben, their winemaker:

Some of the more interesting reds they had open were the Alicante Bouschet (another rare California varietal) and their Estate Fruit Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also have several desert wines that I passed on. By the end of the tasting I’d had three whites/rosé and nine of the reds – yes, I was swirling, sipping and spitting.

Next up in the day’s adventure was Perry Creek Winery, which is just one long driveway away from Windwalker. Unlike Windwalker, most of their grapes are estate grown.

As with Windwalker, the major portion of their wines are red varietals (Chardonnay and Viognier being the two whites). I worked my way through them, finding the Zinfandels to my favorites – and oddly, the ZinMan Zin (which I bought) tastier than their Reserve Zinfandel. I ended up trying both the whites and half a dozen of the reds.

Last on the list for the day was Miraflores Winery, visually the most stunning of the bunch – no wander they have a full schedule of wine/food pairings, weddings, wine maker dinners.

For tasting they had your choice of six whites or rosé, and fifteen reds of which I sampled. With the exception of their Pinot Grigio and Misíon 1853, all of their wines are estate fruit grown on 50 cultivated acres

I really like their 2014 Barbara Rosé, along with their 2012 Méthode Ancienne – a traditional native yeast, foot-pressed Syrah. They used to invite people in to help with the stomp, but in recent years it’s just handled by the production workers. Other notable on the tasting menu were the 2014 Misíon 1853 – the first varietal planted in California in, you guessed it, 1853. Also deserving mention are their 2011 and 2012 Petit Sirah.

So, when you are travelling around the country, explore the less explored wine regions – when doing the research for this article I found a map for the wineries of Indiana – who knew.

Got back to the house before Jameson and Carolynn – but not enough time for a nap, just enough time to clear up email.

Another damn fine meal, this time with Eldorado County California wines (the Albariño and the ZinMan – taking the Syrah home with me). And while we are talking about the accommodations – said overly-friendly cat:

As usual, Carolynn heads to bed before Jameson and I, and no sleeping in for me in the morning – an 11:30 flight. But again, at least I’m in First.

And the flight comes with lunch – a yellow beat salad with focaccia (and cocktail):

Just another week in the air with Uncle Markie.




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Jan '15

Trip Report: Out Of BBQ Sauce – Off To Kansas City.

While not entirely the reason for the quick trip to Kansas City, it certainly is ONE of the reasons. The other was that it was on an Alaska Flash Sale a month ago and I picked it up for $156.20 – something on the order of half price. Alaska tends to do their Flash Sales every Wednesday from 11-1PM West Coast Time. This might be the one I bought while in Mexico while on a land excursion touring wineries. Thank goodness for T-Mobile and free data roaming in over 120 countries.

Oh, what a difference a week makes in flying. You can’t even see the North Concourse (or the end of the C Concourse) the fog is so soupy.

Luckily all Alaska Airlines planes are equipped with Required Navigation Performance (which I talked about in my last post) which means all the flights out of Sea-Tac on Alaska are on-time:

Got an upgrade on the way out to Seat 1D, across the aisle from my favorite seat on the plane, 1C. Reason? You are the second person to get your cocktail and there is no one in front of you to put their seat down, and since it’s an aisle, it’s easy to make a bathroom run.

A nice little sandwich on the way to Kansas City – along with a Digi-Player, which I wasn’t expecting:

Got into KC, and Gail was there to pick me and all my bags up.

  • Porter case filled with clothes, bourbon and wine.
  • Wine shipper filled with Adams All-Natural Peanut Butter which they can’t get in Kansas City.
  • My backpack with electronics

A lot of junk for a two-night trip.

Paul has a conference tonight so Gail and I head over to the Kansas side of the border to check out RJ’s BBQ as seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (not sure which category it falls into). We just hit the end of Happy Hour so drinks were $3 and appetizers $3.95 – Where can you get a Kettle One martini for $3 or was it $5, either way, when he couldn’t find any olives (or a martini glass, or vermouth), he just brought me a double Ketel on the rocks:

And he did find some olives – the previous shift hadn’t restocked. Onion rings in the background (so-so).

Started with onion rings (so-so, not house-dipped), corn fritters (really good – chunks of corn inside, definitely house-made), and the Bison empanadas (tasty, which a zingy dipping sauce), and then I moved onto a real meal:

Ribs with a side of slaw. They serve their ribs dry, but have several different sauces (3?). That was enough food for the evening (and for lunch the next day). You can find the whole menu HERE. There are other things on the menu I’d like to try, like the Jalapeno Sausage (ground pork butt mixed with diced jalapenos, rolled up in corn husks & smoked. Served with flour tortillas, Dijon mustard & barbecue sauce – 5.95) and the Gumbo of the Day (A Cajun-spiced soup made with rice, okra and our smoked sausage. Ask your server for the variation of the day Cup – 4.45 Bowl – 6.45).

After that meal I took a several hour nap when I got back to the condo – also feeling under the weather with a sort of cold, and then with their cat, waking up at midnight for night-caps with Paul after his conference. Reminded me of when I got off work on Sunday night I came home and went straight to bed, postponing dinner until later.

Slept until noon which is when Gail showed up with the car for me to borrow so I could go off and run some errands and get some culture after polishing off the ribs and slaw:

Stop number one – Gates and Sons sauce factory, across the street from one of their restaurants.

I finally got to meet Tina Starr who I’ve chatted with and emailed over the years. Sweet woman:

Not only did she ship my last case which Nita didn’t have time to pick up – FOR FREE, she gave me all sorts of sample bottles:

18oz. standard-size bottle on the left, a 3.1oz. bottle labeled “Fly With Me” and then the tiny 2oz. size. She gave me 5 of the “Fly With Me” and 24 of the sampler size. Maybe these should go in the wine club shipments!

Next up was Arthur Bryants for another case of sauce – I had Paul ship me one in November, but I’m out at home so when in Rome (or Kansas City, which is number two in the world behind Rome for public fountains) grab it while you can.

Errands done, time for a little culture in the form of the Liberty Memorial – apparently the only World War One museum in the US. It’s kind of funny that the park grounds surrounding the museum were the notorious gay cruising grounds in the 70s and 80s.

While you can’t see it too well, under the glass floored walkway is a field of poppies –not unlike the field of poppies that has been making the news in London.

My one-word comment about the museum: Sobering. Great exhibits including an amazing multimedia rendition of life in the trenches when you feared mud as much as bullets.

I happened to show up on World War Wednesday, each Wednesday all tickets are just $7.00 no matter normal, senior, child. My lucky day, though it’s certainly worth the $14 retail price. Other parts of the museum include being able to go up in the tower (elevator, then 45 steps):

And if you are looking at the first picture of the museum, this is the building to the right of the tower:

After the museum I went off in search of mixers for the bourbon I brought and ended up at Berbiglia, a chain of liquor stores in Kansas City. One of the Berbilia boys actually owns Arthur Bryants (and is seriously cranky, and demands wholesale orders start at 10 cases). Didn’t find what I was looking for, but was seriously tempted to put this in the back of the car. Had I been in Seattle, it would have been gone, gone, gone:

Paul was done with his conference at 7:30 and off to Boling’s Chinese we went – conveniently located about two blocks from the condo. I had the Hui Style Lamb with Spices (had a coating like that of salt/pepper squid) with enough left over for tomorrow and we all shared some tofu fresh rolls (I would have gone for shrimp, but oh well). After getting back to the condo, Paul suggested a night cap at Harry’s Country Club:

One nightcap turned into 4. Various Chocolate Martinis for Paul, various Manhattans for me. Yet another late night. Luckily, Harry’s is only ½ a block from the condo.

Afternoon came early (slept in again trying to kick the cold/allergies), got packed (pulled the bottle dividers out of the wine shipper and slid the two cases of BBQ sauce in their place), and we were out the door for a lunch north of town on the way to the airport. Trezo Mare would be the name of the place. Paul had a lunch combo of the Pasta Alfredo with a side of Grilled asparagus ($11). I love that they can out with the Pasta and said that the asparagus would be coming in a minute, that the first set was on the grill too long – and the Alfredo had these wonderful looking with roasted tomatoes, broccolini, roasted garlic, etc. I had the condo of Fish Tacos (yes, in an Italian Restaurant) which was marinated tilapia, soft shell tacos, spicy aioli, marinated vegetables, Trezo hot sauce with a side of the Italian Slaw. Also good.

Got to the airport in PLENTY of time – it is me, after all. Kanas City suffers from an airport that was being built just as hijackers were starting to lift airplanes at gun point, and was designed for you to be about to park about 50 years from your gate. Here is a great Wikipedia reflecting on TWA’s Flawed Design. Funny that they had a major role in the design and then when times changes they wanted the city to rebuilt it (to which the city said no, and TWA moved its hub to Saint Louis.

No upgrade on the way home – I was number one on the list until about 15 minutes before the flight, then I was suddenly number two. Considering how I felt at the moment, sleeping in seat 6D (bulkhead) is fine for me.

Came home, had a nap (just like Sunday), then got up and cooked dinner.

Home again, home again, at least for a bit. Next week brings company to town.

[228.6] OUCH.

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Oct '14

Trip Report: Santa Fe To Visit Mom

My little “Board Room Ritual”—a Red Baron (also known as a Poinsettia) to start the travel day. That would be sparkling wine and cranberry juice. Kill the liver, cure the kidneys.

My good travel luck is holding – got assigned Seat 1C without even having to log in a move it. Maybe the computer finally knows what seat I like. Uneventful flight. So uneventful that I forgot to take a picture of my lunch which was a warm chicken thigh sandwich that was actually pretty good.

Albuquerque has one of those consolidated rental car centers that I despise and it didn’t help that the customers in front of me were playing twenty questions with the lone rental car agent. Even if I had status with Alamo it wouldn’t have been any quicker with just one agent.

Luckily right next to Alamo was their sister company, National, and that agent did my paperwork and I was out the door in a 4-door Nissan Sentra lickity split.

Here is my little “Leaving Albuquerque” video:

Got to Santa Fe, swung by the office at El Castillo to pick up a parking pass – something I’ll have to do daily as parking is at a premium with the construction of their new Alzheimer unit.

Here are a couple of shots of the building that my mother is in:

Before long, the in-laws start showing up, all in separate cars. Brother-in-law Kennan, sis-in-law Jen, niece Karen. Off to dinner we go, to Rio Chama and boy was the food good.

Starters of oysters – lots of them. Half a dozen for me, a dozen for Mom, and another half dozen split by the Pruett/Girdners (the in-laws).

Then for my main, there wasn’t much of a decision since rarely to you see Elk Tenderloin on the menu – with a little broccolini, on a bed of pancetta roasted new potatoes and quash.

Yum, yum, yum.

Mom was in bed by 8, me by 2…which meant not rolling out of bed in the morning until 10am.

Fed myself some leftovers and headed out on the errand run – working through the “honeydo” list.

  • Staples for pens, paper, and ink for Mom
  • Albertsons for soda and bourbon for both of us

As I was loading the trunk this guy came up to me and asked if he could talk to me about shopping bags. Turns out Santa Fe banned plastic bags in an effort to get people to bring their own. But since they didn’t put a fee on paper bags, needless to say it isn’t reducing waste and it’s costing the grocery stores more. He even took pictures.

Some of the results of my shopping – like mother, like son:

Cocktails at 4 with two other residents of El Castillo whose daughter also went to Evergreen. Martinis for Mom and I, white wine for The McCarthys. Mom loves good gin – and her favorite was the Tanqueray Malacca Gin which hadn’t been produced in a decade before last year when they came out with a limited release in liter bottles. That’s all gone, but she snagged a bottle of Tanqueray’s latest limited release of their Old Tom Gin. Damn tasty, hence the plug here:

Of course it isn’t cheap, but might have to pick up one on my next trip.

Dinner was take-out from Whole Hog BBQ. The food is good, but I’m always surprised that there aren’t many people in their – guessing they do a huge lunch business through:

Thursday was the big day for us, especially when one more item got added to the list. I got an email in the morning from Kristina Hagman asking if I was in Santa Fe, as was she. Turns out she found out about me being in town because I made the front page of the Santa Fe New Mexican – above the fold!

That would be me on the right. Guess there goes my 15 minutes of fame…

Here are the links to the newspaper article and the link to my picture: ARTICLE

So Kristina popped over for a bit, and posed for a “groupie”.

Then Mom and I went out to lunch at SantacaFé. I had the Rueben (with enough left over for dinner) and Mom had the onion rings to start and the Lobster Roll for her main, but didn’t eat much of it after filling up on the onion rings which really were good:

We ate outside which was a little chilly when the breeze kicked up but still nicer than being cooped up inside on a sunny fall day.

Next up was the bank to add me to the checking accounts. It was the final item financially that needed taking care of so that there won’t be anything going through probate. I’m on one, by brother is on another, and my sister-in-law is on the third with all of us being on the brokerage account. No houses, no cars, just some possessions and we aren’t the haggling kind of family.

When 4PM rolled around it was time to head next door to a building-wide cocktail party. Man those old people know how to drink! Lots of wine, and more importantly for me, Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. They next door neighbors last name is Jameson so it was quite appropriate. Helped myself twice before we headed back to Mom’s apartment.

And I wasn’t kidding about enough food leftover to make a nice dinner:

That is the Dill laced hot potato salad that came with the sandwich.

My last day in Santa Fe (Friday) had me up and out so I could have brunch with my buddy Aaron from Las Cruces that had driven 4+ hours to Santa Fe to see me. Luckily his sister lives in Santa Fe and he’s going to stay a couple of nights.

Bunch was at the Swiss Bakery. Yes, those would be mimosas. With Eggs Benedict on the way:

I passed on the potatoes.

Walking back to the car I spotted these two train cars…

A little digging around and I came up with pictures from the interiors…

Seems these are now part of the Santa Fe Southern Railway which runs tourist trains between Santa Fe and Lamy. The last time I was on them they only had an enclosed car and an open car. Funny that the train ran right by my parent’s old house.

And digging further, I seemed to remember something about an outfit that wanted to run a high-speed privately financed train between LA and Las Vegas. Turns out that X-Train are those folks. What two of their cars are doing in Santa Fe is a mystery to me…one worth digging into.

So… X Train Rail Holdings Corporation (Ticker Symbol: XTRN) is an odd little beast of a company offering upscale rail holidays, rail car financing and leaseback, and apparently a roll out plan to have 20+ cars by the end of 2015 judging from this slide I found on their site:

The whole PowerPoint Presentation is here: http://www.vegasxtrain.com/uploads/2/5/7/8/25787513/x_rail_asset_fund.ppt

The slide mentions Mid America Railcar which lists both of the cars that I saw in Santa Fe as being in their fleet…stranger and stranger (the Keystone Grill and the Mohave).

Enough digging and you find that they now own Santa Fe Southern Railroad, but oddly they have suspended service. It will be interesting to see if they do the Holiday Trains as they usually do.

And here is their description of what they do:

About X Train Holdings
The company Las Vegas Railway Express, Inc. DBA X Train Holdings Corp., has developed a robust infrastructure of call center, travel agency, logistics planning management, food & beverage and unique passenger rail cars of the purpose of acquiring or affiliating privately owned passenger rail companies under the X Train Holdings umbrella. Independently owned and operated passenger rail companies can enlist the services of X Train to grow market share, improve operating margins by consolidating costs, and providing access to capital for asset purchase, repair and improvement. X Train is a publicly traded company under the OTCQB: XTRN symbol. It is a fully reporting company and its auditors are BDO and its securities lawyers are Sichenzia Ross of New York. By consolidating either acquired companies and/or affiliated companies, X Train Holdings can create economies of scale for its array of member companies. This is much more difficult for small privately held companies where the principals frequently must guarantee personally capital purchases or loans. X Train Holdings relieves that burden and provides a path to liquidity should owners wish to sell.

And the link to Yahoo Finance with all their press releases, news, etc.: http://finance.yahoo.com/q?uhb=uh3_finance_vert&fr=&type=2button&s=XTRN

But I digress – I really did go down the internet rabbit hole…now where was I…

Time to get back to Albuquerque and catch my plane to Seattle-Taco – or at least that’s what they sign says:

Would a Seattle Taco feature Seahawk meat?

No lounge at Sunport (the name of the airport), but a nice observation area to watch all the New Mexican Air National Guard jets, helicopters and transport planes take off and land.

It’s upstairs and underutilized – guess most people don’t know it is there – and soon enough I’m settled back into Seat 1C.

I’m so happy that my Friday night plans fell through (dinner with Josh and moving a painting). Nice to just chill at home.


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Oct '14

Trip Report: Sacramento

Yes, I know, Sacramento – lots of snippy comments on “The Pit Called Sacramento.” “Why?” they asked. $96 round-trip and I got upgraded to first class in each direction. The cheap fare was the result of a two-hour “flash sale” announced by Alaska on its Twitter Feed. A week or so later it was $128 round-trip to Denver (snagged to see Dan and Lisa), this week it was Omaha and Salt Lake City – I passed on those two.

And then there is Jameson – my “faux nephew”. He has moved from the public sector end of the environmental business to the private side, moving from Lake Tahoe to Folsom (it’s more than just a prison). As for the “faux” part, he’s me dead brother’s widow’s new husband’s nephew – but with his parents often celebrating Christmas Eve at my parents’ house when they lived out in El Dorado, it’s really more like a three family circus.

I booked a nice midday flight, but still means setting the alarm, just not for 5AM. That’s means I’m not as cranky in the Board Room:

And who could be cranky when you are flying on the Disney Cars Alaska plane:

Though I was a little confused by the need for this sign on the jet way…

One I boarded, the most amazing thing happened. Instead of water, they asked if I’d like anything to drink – so of course, Jack and Diet. On the ground! A first on Alaska. Maybe is was because the back half of the plane was only half full (First, of course, was packed). The view from seat 1D:

And there was even a light lunch on the hour and a half flight – a curry chicken salad that was quite tasty:

Picked up my bag and headed to the rental car place where they tried twice to sell me an upgrade. Tip: if they are trying that hard, they don’t have the compact car you rented. I ended up in a mid-size Mazda 3 that they were trying to get an extra $20 a day for…almost new, less than 2,000 miles on it.

Got to the hotel and checked in – Hawthorne Suites by Wyndham – I get 20% off lowest rack rate as a result of my WorldMark ownership (they are managed by Wyndham). Nice room:

Had a little nap, did a liquor and mixer run before Jameson got off work. We hung out for an hour of so catching up before it was off for a sushi dinner at Mukuni in Citrus Heights.

We opted for the Sho Chiku Bai Nigori (unfiltered Saké) and the Two For $45 tasting menu…one from Column A, one from Column B, two from Column C and one from Column D (the dessert column). Not a bad deal, we were both full at the end which is not cheap to so at a sushi restaurant:

And the “shooter” that I thought about, but didn’t get:

And the “cheesecake” dessert which was really quite good – and I’m not a dessert person:

A few more drinks at the hotel and Jameson was off to the house where he rents a room – a situation that he is trying to change. He has an eye on his own apartment, the first living by himself in his life – at 31. Wow.

As for me, it was TV and bed for tomorrow it’s off to Amador County, home of one of California’s premier Zinfandel growing regions.

A hot breakfast comes with the room – lots of starch (make-it-yourself waffles, cereals, toast, rolls, etc.) and a steam table with a protein, potatoes, some egg dish (changes daily). First stop is Renwood. We carry three of their wines…

Very quiet it being a Wednesday, but it is crush season, so there are a few people. Basically I had the tasting room to myself – with Stephen as a guide:

The benefit of owning a wine shop (and bringing your business cards with you) is complimentary tastings and the 20-30% off trade discount. I try not to abuse the privilege and generally buy a bottle – in this case for Jameson’s new girlfriend whose birthday is tonight. She got a bottle of the 2011 Barbera. I didn’t realize how much Barbera they were growing in Amador County. One slight emergency during my visit – Alaska announced a Flash Sale and I had no cell service in the country. Luckily Renwood has public Wi-Fi so I quickly logged in on my phone – only to find that this week’s specials were Omaha and Salt Lake City. I’ll pass.

I’m afraid the hot buffet breakfast didn’t last, so it was off to Villa Toscana who has a nice little restaurant at their winery.

That was my view while eating my pastrami and swiss grilled sandwich:

I’ve had their wines before and I think they are one of the “direct to customer” wineries that make all their money on selling their wine at retail and renting out the grounds for weddings. Which also means no trade discount since they don’t wholesale.

Sated, it was off to Villa Noceto – another of the wineries that I used to visit for the years that the Labor Day Manscouts Gathering was held just outside Plymouth on Bell Road at Rancho Cicada. We used to carry their Sangiovesse, which I bought a split of for my mother (headed there next week).

Didn’t get a picture there, or Terre Rouge/Easton where I sampled some more free wines, and bought a split of their Zin port (only a 20% discount), then it was onto Sobon Winery, which I’d been to before, and we carried their Zinfandel a while back. By this time I’m sort of done with wine tasting – didn’t even sample their ReServe line…until I noticed that they had a Tannat. Tannat is a fairly obscure grape (unless you are in Uruguay). Their Tannat is an 93% Tannat, 7% Zinfandel. Here is their tasting room:

No time for a nap when I got back to the hotel – time enough to have a drink and check email before Jameson showed up have cocktails before the new girlfriend’s dinner party at Hamptons in downtown Folsom. We even had enough time for a little walk around. Cute, old city center.

So apparently there used to be a rail yard in the middle of town.

Now there is a Museum in a rail car, and the old roundhouse, minus house:

And then it was off to dinner at Hamptons – dinner for 8, plus one who showed up, late.

With a flaming table:

Arrived during daylight, but at the end, we were in the dark, lighted by the flaming table:

Once everyone was gone I got a little better picture of the flaming table:

Not bad for being the oldest person there and I passed on going “caving” drunk after dinner – back to the hotel room for me as I’ve got a flight tomorrow.

Couple of more drinks after Jameson dropped me off in his “adult” car – Mink (Audi’s name for dark gray) A-6. Considering I last saw him driving a beat up Nissan pickup truck (which he still owns), definitely a step up.

Up and out in the morning to the airport (apparently my second home, any airport). If I can only get there…. I’ve never seen 40 people in line for a rental car shuttle back to the airport:

No lounge but a great airport, good food options, and charging stations everywhere, light, airy…

But soon enough I’m back in seat 1C…but no cocktail until we are at 10,000 feet:

Boeing Sky Interior, but new in the transition phase, no outlets. No worries, I’m offline.

Best $96 dollar flight I’ve ever taken.


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Oct '14

Status Update: New Year’s Resolutions

For those long time readers you might remember my New Year’s Resolutions…if you’ve forgotten, it’s here: https://blog.unclemarkie.com/2014/01/01/new-years-resolutions/

So, how am I coming on these goals?

  • Achieve Million Miler Status on United Airlines, which will give me United Premier Gold status for life for me and a significant other (accepting applications).
  • Achieve Elite Status On Princess Cruises, which will give me these lifetime benefits when cruising with Princess:
  • Achieve Alaska MVP Gold status by match (applied for at 12:15am) and keep it for next year by flying 40,000 flight miles. Benefits?
  • Reduce blog posts to only the interesting stuff, rather than the day-to-day stuff that I’ve been doing for the last five years – unless there is an outcry from the readers. That said, don’t expect a post until Sunday when I’m packing for my Bay Area trip and having Salamander Hellbender to dinner.
  • Get some more “billable hours” to quit sucking down my 401K. Have a lead on another “registered agent” gig.
  • Not piss off my business partner

For the benefits associated with each of the top three, go to the original post.

United Million Mile status (Gold For Life!):

Princess Elite (Black Card) status:

And Alaska MVP Gold status:

That covers all the status goals… and I still have a few more flights for the year:

  • Next week Sacramento r/t that I picked up for $96.20 to see Jameson
  • End of the month an Albuquerque r/t that I picked up when Alaska announced their new flights. $218.00 with double miles (three times for me being MVP Gold) to visit Mom
  • First week of November a 4-night cruise so flying to LA for $198.20
  • And I want to take one more train trip this year so that will be a one-way flight someplace.

As for the last three New Year’s Goals?

  • Kept blog posting to travel or event related stuff rather than day-to-day
  • Have picked up a few more billable hours… gained one and lost one this week but the one I gained pays more
  • Business Partner is still alive so that means we haven’t killed each other, and it’s worked its way into a comfortable situation.

Well, there’s my year-to-date report.


Mar '14

Trip Report: The Return Train To Istanbul.

Checked out of the hotel at10:30, was to the train station a little before 11 – two hours before my train. Probably way too much time but better safe than sorry.

As the last shot from Bucharest – here is where I’d like to be doing my banking.

Shades of Young Frankenstein!

Having scoped out the shops yesterday, it’s just time to assemble the goodies for the train trip:

  • (2) 1-liter bottles Coke Light
  • (2) 500ml sparkling water
  • (1) 700 ml Greek Brandy
  • (1) 200ml Pear Brandy (to take back to the states)
  • (1) 200ml Plum Brandy (also to take home)
  • (20) Spicy Wings from KFC (a bucket worth – good either warm or cold)

Now I have FOUR bags to get on the train:

  • Suitcase
  • Briefcase
  • Shoulder bag
  • KFC bag

I should have gotten a picture of that pile. Luckily to suitcase also functions as a hand truck.

The train boss, the train…

That would be the couchette card – no beds, just seats.

Technically my car is 478, but its sign isn’t as pretty. After a little run-in with a panhandler (let me help with your bags) I got settled into the compartment – pretty much the same layout as the last one, just different veneer. And then came a young American girl with the room attendant… apparently they had put her in the top bunk of my cabin. Seems this was what was on MY ticket:

Woman. Why they sold ME a woman ticket, I’m clueless, unless the ticket agent was trying to set us up since she bought her ticket the same day. And which all the empty compartments, why double up at all. The room attendant moved her next door.

One of the first things I noticed was that there were more “amenities” on the southbound train — complete with a sealed baggie with washcloth, soap, toothbrush, wipes, etc.  — and paper towels in the dispenser in the bathroom! Dwight will be getting the amenity kit for his train collection.

In short order, the bar is set up but now that I know the routine I didn’t bother with locking the luggage to the rack:

And time to meet the neighbors Eric (British) and Chandi (Texan):

It wasn’t long before the room attendant moved Eric next door to Chandi who was next door to be since we were all getting along so well. Eric is on a week’s holiday between jobs, and Chandi just finished up six months of living in Spain, working as an au pair and learning Spanish. Lots of lovely conversation as we share a little food and drink. When it was time for me to bow out, they got this great shot of me…

Which was shortly before this:

The first border stop was in Romania to get out passport stamped to get out, then 10 miles later, in Bulgaria to get our passports stamped to get in, then at 2am in the morning to get our passports stamped to get out of Bulgaria, then 3am to get stamped to gain entry to Turkey… and there is where the fun began. While Chandi and I had electronic visas for Turkey, Eric did not, nor did two other people on the train. And the visa office at the train station wasn’t open… finally one of the guards DROVE them to the car/truck crossing so they could get a visa. Those three got a pretty sticker in their passport – all Chandi and I have is a crappy piece of paper with a barcode. Sigh.

And then there was the Midnight Express (the 1978 movie about an American college student arrested and thrown in jail for trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey) aspect to the final border crossing as the room attendant wanted Eric and Chandi to buy him four cartons of cigarettes with dollars that he had. And here is the tatty Duty Free store:

Lots of inspections – even of mine and Eric’s luggage. Needless to say, that put us a bit behind schedule.

And a better shot of the terminus of the current train station:

Our scheduled arrival in Istanbul was to be 7:50, in was closer to 9. Grabbed my bags, headed to a bank machine (because when I bought my Jamesons at Duty Free I paid in Turkish Lira and they gave me change in Euro – there went my cab fare Lira, then to the cab stand for the ride to what I think is the suburbs to a Radison that has a free airport shuttle.

And we’ll pick up the story from there in the next post.

[213.4] Middle of the afternoon in a wet Speedo

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Mar '14

Trip Report: Bucharest.

How nice to get off at a real train station… multiple platforms… multiple trains.

I feel/felt like I’m back in Europe. One lone fly on the platform hitting up the Berliners for a hotel room, to which they replied, “we have a place and it’s already paid for” in English. Nobody hitting me up. No gypsy throngs at the cash machine. Life is good.

A 10 LEI (Romanian currency which would be about $3 USD) ride from the train station to what turns out to be the quiet suburbs of Bucharest near their big Village Museum which is a recreation of a typical Romanian Village if you took buildings from all generations and regions and plopped them down “Dorothy Kansas Style” in a FolkLoric ThemeTown. 300+ buildings – it wore me out just driving past them in the cab. Maybe next time. But for reference, here is a picture off their website: http://www.inyourpocket.com/romania/bucharest/sightseeing/essentialbucharest/Village-Museum_14745v

Think 250+ buildings like this over 15 hectares (about 40+ acres):

But I digress – you don’t even know yet that I didn’t make it to the Village Museum (though it’s on my list for the next visit).

First I have to get checked in, get ice, shower (because I didn’t shower on the train, though I did shave and brush my teeth), then return to the desk for “a clue” as to what to do. Of course he wanted me to eat in “the very good” onsite restaurant, but when pushed he circled a couple of others walking distance from the hotel – which is amazing since I’m in the suburbs.

And then there is the sunset over the new spa building….

Where I went for dinner – wandering down a road with little traffic and no people, I found the restaurant with NO parking anywhere which meant cars on sidewalks, etc. Turns out they should have had a parking garage according to the brochure I picked up – 500 people inside 400 people on the decks. The food? Serbian. And good.

Taverna Sarbului is the place – I had the onion salad (marinated Bermuda onions, much like Julian made in Portland a couple of months ago) and the lamb, and a glass of Rose – no credit cards so I had to moderate my spending (which is good for me). Here is what the place looks like (but add LOTS of people):

HUGE, noisy, children, but good food.

Home and off to bed – no getting up at 3AM to deal with the border for me tonight.

What the morning held was the oddest of scenes – a HUGE crush of people at the morning breakfast. Heavy on the Germans:

Hopefully it’s just because everyone is checking out after a conference. Good food, probably better than the Ramada in Istanbul, but no whole fruit to snag for the return train, though I did spy some hard boiled eggs.

Next stop is BACK to the train station – had I my wits about me when I arrived, I would have picked up the return ticket then. Oh well, gives me a chance to scope out grocery options for the return train. Busy place the train station:

Got my ticket in what seemed like record time – the International Desk in Bucharest quick and efficient – not even having trouble with running my credit card (unlike the Istanbul folks who I believe tried to run it as debit rather than credit).

The plan was to go see the Palace of the ParliamentCeauÈ™escu‘s massive civil administration building that was to also have contained his personal residence. The residence was never completed because he was thrown from power. According to the World Records Academy, the Palace is the world’s largest civilian building with an administrative function, most expensive administrative building and heaviest building.

I decided to walk from the train station getting some food along the way – and that was the end of getting to the palace by closing time at 4 – it was after 2 by the time I finished lunch at the Derby Pub and Restaurant. A lovely afternoon meal on the terrace of Greek chicken soup, octopus salad and, shockingly, a Manhattan – I had to see if they could actually pull one off, and they did quite well substituting a wedge of orange for the cherry (which is healthier anyway).

Luckily I had enough cash on me since they only took the chip style card with I foolishly left at home, not following my own advice to travel with one, especially in Europe.

Since it was too close to when the palace was to close I viewed it from a distance, turned around and headed back to the train station to scope out supplies for the train ride back to Istanbul. Found a small supermarket in the arrivals/departures hall that even sells hard liquor – which is good because the Jameson died by the end of my evening.

With that all sorted it was back to the hotel since it was also too late to take in the huge Village Museum which is a collection of 272 of historical Romanian houses and buildings relocated from around the country and set up as a village.

At 100,000 square meters – that’s a lot of walking after all the walking I’d already done.

But getting back to the hotel was an adventure in itself as the cab driver was young, new to the city, and instantly got turned around, even with his GPS. On the bright side he instantly kicked off the meter and told me he take me to the hotel at no charge since he screwed up. And he let me take a picture of him:

When we got back to the hotel – after a really nice conversation as well – I paid him the 10 Lei that the fare would have been even though he turned off the meter. This experience just amplifies my feeling that the Romanian people are friendly and helpful – not unlike the desk clerk on the first night with all his suggestions.

After what I’d spent on lunch I decided to finish the rest of the supplies from the train trip from two days ago, thought about supplementing with a salad from downstairs, and in the end just went to bed early.

Next up, the return train to Istanbul.

[? ? ?]

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Mar '14

Trip Report: Istanbul To Bucharest On The Overnight Train.

Checkout time is noon, the train is at 10pm. What to do with a day…leave the luggage at the hotel and do a little unscripted exploring.

Breakfast in Europe, lunch in Asia.

Back to Sirkeci Station (the train station I leave from later tonight) to hook up with the Marmaray Metro Line that goes under the Bosporus and ends at Aynlik Cesmesi where I catch the M4 (Metro not Tram) to Kadikpoy station where there is a historical trolley doing a circular route. I found the trolley, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to pay since it looks like they only took cards and not tokens. Tokens I have, cards I do not – and the thing was jam-packed so that dampened my enthusiasm. But it’s a cute little thing:

Lunch was a little Doner sandwich at the dock that included fries and pepperoncini peppers IN the sandwich. Really good and only 5 Lira. Solus+ had mentioned going to Princes’ Islands, but that ferry wasn’t for a while and seems to run every two hours so timing was an issue. As is the fact that it’s ninety minutes in each direction and I have a train to catch.

You will find Princes’ Islands located at the bottom right of the map below – it’s a car free set of nine islands that the emperor used to send his troublesome princes for blinding, execution and the like.

Instead I went to Besiktas and turned about and came back to Kadikoy. Here are some tourist shots from the ride:

Hopped back on the metro headed for the Outlet Mall I spotted yesterday to finally get a light-weight jacket to replace my beloved maroon and black leopard print that went missing on my arrival to Istanbul earlier this week. The Outlet Mall is at the Gungeren T1 Tram Stop and features a Carrefour Xpress (grocery store) and four floors of shops, a huge kids entertainment area complete with rides and, of course, a food court which was handy for having dinner before catching the train. Several turns around the building and I settled on a 60 lira ($30) cotton jacket that almost feels like neoprene, but has some lovely maroon bunting. Sort of funny that it’s the same color combination as the one I lost. There were ones in the 30 lira range but they were ones that I just couldn’t see wearing ever again.

Dinner at Green Salad in the mall – which I’ve been craving more salads – I had the mixed platter with 3 different meats, a little pasta, and a salad. With the Diet Pepsi it was under 20 lira (less than $10).

Off to catch the train after swinging by the hotel to grab my bags and a cab. The tram was clogged on the way back, luckily I started so far out that I got a seat, but it being Friday night traffic on the roads was ugly – it took a while to find a cab to get me to the train station. Made it with time to spare but you know how uptight I get about missing connections.

So, here is the map of train connections to the major European cities – you will find my route on the lower right:

Actually the “train” is a bus from the train station to where the Bosfor (what they call the train running from Istanbul to Bucharest) terminates due to work on a massive train tunnel under the Bosphorus – that would be Cerkezkoy station, 110km to the north. This the station that the Orient Express was snowed in for days in 1929 which gave Agatha Christie the idea for her 1934 novel. It hasn’t changed much:

I’m actually lucky enough to have hooked up with a couple of Berliner (25 and 27) on the bus who are working on a project on European youth’s impressions of Europe as an entity – but more on that later. With the boys in the car ahead of me, I don’t see them again until the border.

Its midnight when we board the train. From what I’d read on www.seat61.com (everything doing with long distance trains no matter the continent) the trains consist of newer Romanian sleeping cards with 1, 2, or 3 berth compartments with a washbasin and a Turkish couchette car with 4 and 6 berth compartments. The boys ended up in the more modern car, though the rooms didn’t have a washbasin, and I ended up one car back in the Turkish Couchette Car in a Soviet-era car complete with birds eye veneer in most places, and rooms that could have three berths tall and open the connected doors and you have a 6 berth configuration. They had mine made up for 2 berths, but it was just me all the way to Bucharest – for half the price of a room booked as a single.

Notice the differences in the hallways. Their car:

And now my hallway:

I should have re-taken the shop during the day, but I think you can get a feel for the difference… plastic versus wood. And here are a couple of shots of my home for the next 20 hours:

Made up for the evening above, and made up for the day, below.

I used the washbasin area to store all my snacks to keep them cool and the cabinet above for the liquids:

Nice that the washbasin had a closable lid – makes for a nice food prep table:

With memories of a EurRail adventure 30+ years ago with Tim, and knowing probably have to get off the train to get our passports stamped at the border, I’ve come up with this little security arrangement using a laptop locking cable. There is no way to pull the cable out of the suitcase and the suitcase is locked though the briefcase. Did I really need to do this, probably not, but too many stories of past grab and dash. These days with everyone flying, there aren’t enough people taking the train to make it worth it for thieves is my guess.

At about three in the morning we arrive at Kapikule on the border with Bulgaria – time to get our passports stamped:

Passport control is on the left hand side of the building – and I was amazed that there was a Duty Free shop at the train station – and open at 3am in the morning. Apparently the train coming in the other direction also arrives about the same time. It was a pitiful little shop, but the 1liter bottle of Jameson was a welcome site. An hour stop here… and then an hour stop on the Bulgarian side of the border. But know I have some really nice passport stamps!

Slept well on the train – amazingly. Next border stop was around 3pm – that would be the border between Bulgaria and Romania. Quicker, but again two stops, punctuated by crossing Europe’s longest steel bridge at 2.4 kilometers long.

The train is scheduled to arrive in Bucharest at 6:30 at night – we got in about 5:15 which is amazing because it has a reputation for running 1-3 hours late.

As for my arrival – WOW, a real functioning train station with cash machines, restaurants, shops, masses of people. Got some cash on the second try, grabbed a cab and headed to the hotel – which turns out is out of the city center near the large green belt. Doesn’t look to be tram friendly but the cab was cheap for the distance – 10 Lei (about $3) for the 20 minute ride.

I’ll drop the story right there saving Bucharest for the next post but I’ll return to the Berliners and their adventure. Here is the selfie I took on the platform in Bucharest:

Here is their itinerary – 3 months’ worth if I remember correctly:

The final leg of their journey is to Kiev – timed before all this nonsense, but it should be a good final chapter since their GenerationOne project is talking to youth about what it means to be European. You can follow their project here: http://herrundspeer.de/the-project/

I’m off to explore the city and pick up my return train ticket for tomorrow’s return to Istanbul.

[? ? ?] Clueless but I’ve been having more carbs that usual, but walking a ton.

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