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Mon
15
Jan '18

Trip Report: Ocean Shores With Rache

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

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

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

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

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

The 80’s theme extended to the placemats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon, we were at the WorldMark Surfside….

They have completely redone the exterior:

And the interior:

And the food continued to flow….

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

With some leftover hollandaise from the other day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mon
28
Dec '15

Trip Report: Ruby Princess With Rache

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boat was all decked out for Christmas:

As was Vancouver, BC:

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

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

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

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

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

Said menu:

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

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

Shramsburg Brut Rosé (California) for the charcuterie platter

Boutari Moscofilero (Greece) for the starters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should see what they do with a watermelon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wed
26
Dec '18

Trip Report: NEXUS For Rache

Final trip of the year, if you’d like to see where I’ve been in 2018, here is a link: CLICK HERE.

This is a driving trip – which starts with a long drive through the driving rain to get to Vancouver and the moderately OK Rosedale at Rosemont Suites, which are part of the WorldMark system until the end of the year. With the cost of parking, the limited kitchens, not sorry to see these units go away. Hence, no pictures of the place. Just pictures of food and friends.

We had our mutual friend Solus+ over for a chicken, pilaf, and salad dinner.

We were just in Vancouver for an evening, the main goal being beautiful Blaine, staying on Birch Bay, so Rache can do his Nexus interview. The wait in Blaine is a couple of weeks. The wait at the Seattle office at Boeing Field is at least three months out.

Another downside of Rosedale on Robson is the 10am check-out time, which is standard for Wyndham and Vacation International units. Bloody early by my standards.

On the upside, Rache nibbled on biscotti with his coffee, and I waited for an early lunch at Ominitsky Kosher Deli. Kosher Rueben for me:

Smoked Tongue for Rache, who doesn’t love a hot tongue?

They are also a deli and small market – which a huge selection of cold-case pickles:

Plus, a guide to your wiener:

Not too much of a delay at the border – and it will be even smaller next time now that Rache has his Nexus card!

Got settled into our lovely 2-bedroom Handicapped unit at the WorldMark Blaine, which is right next door to the WorldMark Birch Bay – but a more intimate place with nicer furniture. Again, no pictures, just food.

Our first (of two nights) was steaks and asparagus off the grill (sadly on the roof deck than on our deck, unlike next door), and scratch made Hollandaise, complete with my sister’s handpicked and dried hot peppers which we whirred up in the blender:

And I found this Chilean Malbec in honor of our trip to Santiago, Chile, next month:

While I didn’t get pictures of our unit, I did take some shots of the VERY underused lounge…complete with “Elf on a Shelf” or, in this case, at a table:

Even our morning breakfast was lovely, with the leftover steak and asparagus:

Our final dinner of the trip was bratwursts off the grill and Rache’s mac and cheese:

The final trip of 2018 – and 2019 is filling up at an amazing pace (CLICK HERE for what’s on the books for next year).

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Thu
20
Sep '18

Trip Report: The Big Easy

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

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

Settled in, and lunch is on the way!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the fried oysters looked pretty good, too!

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

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

Got some cocktails ordered…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dozen charbroiled oysters ($10).

A dozen raw ($3)

Fried Green Tomatoes.

And dessert – another two dozen on the half shell!

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

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

There is an outside eating/drinking/entertainment area:

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

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

Three UNIQUE wines open – my kinda place!

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

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

And then topped it off with cocktails!

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

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

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

It was an early night for both of us.

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

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

Garlic shrimp for Rache:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sun
3
Feb '19

Trip Report: Return To Santiago, Chile

Back to Santiago we go…via a different bus company:

Seats were slightly more comfortable, and the same price, 5,000 Pesos…but had to use the bathroom, which had no water, but at least it had a hole to pee in.

Back to the Ibis Esation Centrale, though to a different floor – where we were soon visited by Thomas. Rache taught him is first year of teaching, which I won’t say how long ago that was.

Thomas had already gotten his subway pass, so we headed one stop over to the central train station to check out the restaurants at that stop – and we found several, and settled on El Hoya.

I didn’t realize we were in a place that Anthony Bourdain visited!

We didn’t notice it at the time, but there is a shrine to him mourning his death. You can read more about his visit here:

http://culto.latercera.com/2018/06/09/anthony-bourdain-las-huellas-unica-visita-a-chile/

This is particularly amusing to me because Rache took me to a place he visited in Montevideo when we were there – and we just stumbled across this place!

We stopped for supplies at the grocery in the train station (think we should have stayed in THIS neighborhood) – which I’ll make a comment about, of all things, Diet Ginger Ale. I like it. It’s hard to find Diet Ginger even in the US, so I was amazed to find a couple of different ones in Chile. Shocking.

And speaking of other “odd” things, the street next to the bus station where the hotel is turns into a string of food stalls starting at 10PM or so – for all the incoming buses!

Took this at midnight – needless to say, I was the last one awake of our crew.

Rache and Thomas were up and out early for their walking tour, which at 3 hours, was a bit much for me. I opted to sleep in and go across the street for an Italian Dog for brunch. Couldn’t figure out why it was an Italian dog when it had guacamole on it, until Rache pointed out that it was the colors of the Italian flag:

Once I saw the pictures from the “3-hour tour”, I was a bit envious as it included a HUGE cemetery. Led by a “Where’s Waldo” guide:

Late day flight out (10:45pm departure) so that will be another post – but I’d like to share observations about my time in Chile:

  • Not noted above, Rache had his wallet picked from his FRONT pocket on the morning, very crowded, subway to get to his tour. Multiple people stopped us to say that we should be wearing our packs on our fronts rather than backs. A woman stopped me to show me how I should hold my cell phone to keep it from getting taken. Most of these incidents happened close to our hotel, which was by the very crowded bus station, and in Rache’s case, on a very crowded subway – and then there is the photo Rache accidentally took of the “perp walk”. That said, out of the city we didn’t even think about these things.
  • Santiago reminds me of Rome, without the charm. A hub city best left behind to move into the country.
  • I’m glad I went, I’m eternally grateful for all the work Rache put into the planning of this trip.
  • Of our mutual trips to South America, I’d rate it this way, in order of most/best to least/worse:
    • Cityscapes: Montevideo, Lima, Santa Cruz, Santiago
    • Food: Lima, Montevideo, Santa Cruz, Santiago
    • Lodging: Lima, Montevideo, Santa Cruz, Santiago
    • Safety: Santa Cruz, Montevideo, Lima, Santiago
    • Transportation: Santiago, Montevideo, Santa Cruz, Lima
    • Disparity of incomes (homeless, etc.): Santiago, Lima, Santa Cruz, Montevideo
  • Maybe don’t come in February, the height of their summer

Still glad I came, starting to run out of South America countries to visit that have easy flights using miles. Columbia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Equator, Paraguay are left, and the first two of those are having “political” issues.

Next up, the return home.

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Wed
14
Dec '16

Trip Report: Lima, Peru – Day Two

When Rache and I travel, we settle into a routine…don’t bug me in the morning. So, it was another morning of going down for breakfast, and coming back and grabbing another hour or two of sleep. Happens on the train as well – basically, anyplace that has breakfast included in the price.

So, really, after “internet time”, my day really starts at noon – with lunch. And lunch must equal chicken!

Beer Chicken it is! From the street taking the above photo, a waiter waved us in, and then again from the top of the stairs through an empty section to this lovely private dining porch.

And before you knew it – Pisco Sours were on the way…

Followed in due course by….wait for it…chicken! Nope – salad for Rache:

Pork for me:

Slowly wandered back to the hotel, so here are a few more street scenes starting with the Swiss Embassy (turns out we are in the embassy district):

Followed by the Indian Embassy:

Rache has pictures of the Cuban and Russian embassies.

Look – they even still have Radio Shack affiliates here (tiny sign to the right of the front door):

And big city graphitti:

With beautiful boulevards – guessing there used to be trolley tracks running down this one, now a biking/walking lane:

And carts of fruit on side streets:

And back to the hotel we are…

The BIG item on today’s agenda is meeting up with Rache’s Facebook friend Rosa, who met us at the hotel at 5pm to take us on a little city tour. The original destination was Larcomer – a huge shopping mall built into the cliff by the sea. Alas – there was a fire that killed a couple of people yesterday, so it was blocked off. Here is the link to the story.

But we still have LOTS to see before out buffet/folkloric show later tonight. Yes, what on the weather report calls “Partly Cloudy” looks like smog to me:

Back in the cab we go, off to different neighborhoods – the Miraflores and Barranco Districts. Here is Rache’s description from his email blast:

Rosa is lovely and vivacious and making me want to be in her classroom. She met Markie and I here at the hotel and we headed to the Miraflores and Barranco Districts in the city. Miraflores is pretty modern, swanky and Barranco is more established with some artisans and hostels thrown in. Posh bohemian and artistic folk. Good energy, both places, actually. Rosa was an excellent tour guide.

Yet another cab, this time to La Dana Juana Restaurant for a buffet and folkloric show where they put our national flags on the table (Rosa is from the Philippines). Again, Rache’s commentary:

We eventually arrived at La Dana Juana Restaurant where Rosa had made reservations for us. It’s a buffet of Peruvian dishes (I won’t do lung again) followed by a lively 1.5 hour Peruvian cultural lesson told through dance. I had such a lovely time. Markie and I would never have found a place like this and I’m grateful for Rosa’s knowledge. Good fun.

Are those complimentary Pisco Sours? YES! And we have ringside seats and a HUGE buffet of Peruvian delights:

And I didn’t even shoot a picture of the dessert table. But we did get a bottle of wine to go with all the good food:

Soon it was time for the show:

If you needed a little video clip – there is one for you:

A BIG THANK YOU to Rosa for taking time out to show us around and arrange this wonderful dinner. Rache leaned over to say he was going to pick up her dinner/show ($22), I said, “Let’s split it.” This was certainly something that I would have experienced on my own, unless I was with some huge organized tour. Thank you again Rosa!

And a final Rache comment from his email blast:

Since Rosa lives in another direction from our hotel, we parted. Rosa hailed a cab for us, negotiated and had us on our way. BTW, we paid for three cab rides and the total for all of them was about $9.00. When we got home, I let Rosa know we were home safe. She was too, but the lady sitting in the front seat of her cab had her purse snatched while waiting at the stop light. Keep the windows rolled up, even in good neighborhoods.

Boy were we beat by the time we got back to the room.

[? ? ?]

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Thu
15
Dec '16

Trip Report: Lima, Peru – Day Three

One of the things about travelling with Rache is his LUST for experience. Leaves me in the dust.

Another day, another whirlwind. But, on a light note, I forgot something from yesterday – apparently, in Lima, you can get children made to order:

I do need someone to clean the toilet’s, vacuum, make the beds – do kids do that these days?

But, I digress – I’m up early because Edwardo (our airport driver) is back at the hotel this morning at 10am for a five+ hour tour ($18 USD per hour). Thank you Rache for pulling this off (aka making this happen).

First stop is breakfast…the meal that I never miss if it’s free:

Next up is some ruins (Huaca Pucllana) …

Unique in that they are in the middle of a thriving city. Off on a tour go we.

Seriously, IN THE MIDDLE of a mega-city. This….

Including Death Rooms of the Tumba Wari:

FYI – days later I realized I got a sunburned nose from those hours of “cloudy” days.

Ruins done – onto the Capital Square (guessing there is a more official name). Edwardo dropped us close by with a pickup time.

What we realized about that crowd gathering is that they were gathering for the changing of the guard – which I have a little video clip:

WOW – but there is more to see, next up is the Cathedral, where we get an English language tour…

Of the catacombs…

There are no photographs permitted, BUT, our guide let us take this shot of dead bones…

WOW – again, I amazed. And more amazed by the by procession out of the church:

For those interested, we were out and about on a holiday, The Feast of The Immaculate Conception.

It’s odd that when I owned an ex-church on Lopez Island, I installed a massive carving of St. Rose of Lima at the entrance. I got it (and shipped it two-day air – because it was a cheap as the two-week rate) from Dan when he lived in St. Pete who salvaged it from a bar that was being remodeled.

It took a while to track down an image of it – but apparently, I have TONS of archived project files, and it was part of the first Great Art Party to support Floating Bridge Press here in Seattle. And it was in the catalog, AND I had the files:

Which means that I also had the description – which you should note the SIZE and WEIGHT of the Saint:

St. Rose of Lima
Carved and painted wood, costume jewelry, feather boa, sequin shoes. 80″h x 63″w x 20″d
This St. Rose of Lima statue was rescued from a bar in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2002 and reinstalled at the Lopez Sanctuary on Lopez Island Washington. St. Rose is the patron saint of Latin America, florists, and embroiderers. This life-sized statue weighing 300 pounds breaks down into 4 segments.

Now imagine me flying to Florida, heading to Home Depot, building a crate, and arranging to ship that beast back to Seattle!

But I digress….

Soon we are in the old train station (turned library) …

On the way out, Rache, who totally connects with the kids, and ends up being interviewed by students working on their English:

What intrigued me was this old printing press:

And look – Peruvian Anonymous knitted hats! Looking at this photo, I should have bought a PILE of these!

Maybe I’ll contact Rosa and see if she can get me some before she leaves town headed to the US Virgin Islands for her next assignment.

But I digress…LUNCH TIME! We asked Edwardo to find us a nice place for lunch – and he took us to El Bolivariano:

Where we sat outside just off the street…

What I didn’t realize until I went to the loo was exactly how HUGE the restaurant really was:

And trying more wine with lunch (after our Pisco Sours!):

We both ordered the Ceviche – which was stunning AND wonderful:

If we needed more spice – there is a plate of HOT peppers. Note the various side of corns.

One last stop for the day – that would be Museo Larco, and anthropological museum with stunning gardens…

But the real treasures lay inside….

They have plenty in reserve as well – stacked floor to ceiling:

I was joking with Rache about “where is the naughty pottery”, conjuring up memories of my college summer class, “The Art History of Ancient Rome and Greece”. Turns out, its in its own area, just off the garden, next to the restaurant and gift shop. And “naughty” they are:

WOW – what a great museum!

We had Edwardo take us back to the hotel – Rache went out for a dinner solo at a restaurant we had passed the other night – a handmade pasta place, which I’d like to try should I come back to Lima.

As for me, I had date night with a local tech worker guy. Alas, the only shots I have of him look like mug shots, i.e., not very flattering – guess I should have gotten a selfie with him.

After he left I was starved – hello room service! Hamburgesa con caso por favor.

We are both up VERY early in the morning for our return to the airport, with Rache headed to Cusco, and I, Miami and home.

Thanks for a great trip, Rache – it made my wild-ass suggestion of Peru on cheap miles a hell of a lot of fun.

[? ? ?]

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Sat
3
Feb '18

Mileage Run Report: RDU, RDU, JFK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[228.0] YIKES!

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Fri
1
Feb '19

Trip Report: Santa Cruz, Chile

Because I believe in sleeping in, and Rache doesn’t, I decided to grab “breakfast” at the bus station on the way to the bus. Yes, it was McDonalds. It was the Quarter Pounder Meal because I didn’t realize “solo” would get me just the sandwich, and that with the combo, I had my choice of “papas fritas” (fries) or empanadas “little pies”. I bring this up because the meal (which we all know what it costs in the states) was 4040 pesos. The fare for my 3.5-hour bus ride was 5000 pesos. That should tell you how inexpensive long-distance busses are in Chile.

We are off to Santa Cruz, Chile at 12:15pm. Seats recline more than an airplane, but my butt is still too wide for them.

Arrived to Santa Cruz to find cabs, but no drivers. Paging UBER! We are staying at the Hostel Cruz Del Valle:

Again – don’t why, but no photos of the room! Staff speaks no English, so lots of phone translations, but a positive attitude by all.

For dinner tonight, we are checking out a local craft brewery restaurant (the brewery is in the countryside) for dinner – Katarkura Cerciceria Restaurante

With a great menu of food and beer:

And their story:

The food (and beer, and wine) was excellent:

You pick the meat (choice of four — I went for pork), and four sides (sautéed onions, cheese, sauerkraut, mayonnaise), and Rache got his sandwich with a fried egg, green beans, sautéed onions and mayo – and what a presentation!

Loved the FRIES – a note: the Chileans serve Papas Frites with everything. Sadly, the McDonalds did better fries than most I had in Chile – with the exception of these folks, the fries were magnificent!

It was a wonderful meal where Rache had beer, and I went for wine (and killed two thirds of the bottle):

It was a big sandwich – I finished the fries and took half the sandwich home, along with the rest of the wine.

Our main reason for coming to Santa Cruz (other than Rache prefers small towns) is to see a couple of wineries, but our first one isn’t until 3:30 so we have time to explore the neighborhood after breakfast (included with our room, with custom scrambled eggs, meats, cheeses, yogurt, cereals, pastries, coffee, etc.). I was looking for grocery store things, and we aren’t in the center of town, so we set out with our various mapping apps. We did find a convenience store, but it was closed, but stumbled upon a farmer’s market with everything you’d need (except for mixer for my bourbon):

Makes me wish we had a full kitchen in our place!

Here are a couple of random pictures from our walk…

Come the afternoon, we were back on the phone ordering an Uber to visit the MontGras Winery just outside of town:

Which was getting ready for a hundred-person wedding later in that evening:

I was sort of weird to be in a winery, on a weekend, and there were no other tourists around – so we got a private tour:

All the vineyards are drip irrigated because of the heat, this is what the soil looks like. The grapes really have to work hard, which makes them more flavorful:

And the usual bits and bobs of equipment:

And in an unusual move, they let us open one of the tanks after the guide flipped the sign around as to its contents, to taste the wine and identify whether it was red or white, and what varietal (he’d already gone through all the varietals they farmed):

We both went for white, but I was the one that got Sauvignon Blanc since it was more acidic. Rache went for Chardonnay, but it wasn’t full-bodied enough for Chard. Shit, I’m starting to get this!

Now for the tasting…

Complete with nibbles to pair with the various wines:

What a lovely tour – and we carry the MontGras Camenere at the shop.

Instead of going back to the hotel, we went into the main square to have dinner, and stumbled on yet another sort of celebration:

We ended up at Club Union Social for dinner:

The grapes (which are real) are Pais, otherwise known as the Mission grape in the US.

Again, language difficulties, but parts of the menu were in English – and, of course, we started with Pisco Sours:

I ended up ordering the rabbit…

Rache got the tonque:

We both had the wine:

And we found supplies at the big grocery store just off the square:

And yes, we got ice – but it’s in the sink slowly melting (no fridge in the room).

The next day we are off (well, after breakfast and a nap) to the Vina Santa Cruz, which is much further out of the city, requiring a driver.

 

This is definitely a “destination” winery – we passed a wine museum and an auto museum before getting to the main winery, which comes with its own gondola and history presentation area:

And then the history area:

They even have an observatory!

And display of meteorites…

And the view from the top aren’t bad either….

But it’s time for the tour – which we share with a handful of other people, but not as many as the 20 on the Spanish tour. Here are some of the production facitities:

Including one of their concrete eggs for aging wine:

This is one of the barrel rooms:

Which is set into the stone hillside:

Now it’s time for the tasting….

Followed by a stroll around their little museum…

And finishing in the gift shop:

Our driver was waiting for us (he actually cost more than the tour), and off we were back to the city half an hour away – and back to the square. We asked the driver for his favorite place to eat on the square – and he said Club Union Social– where we ate yesterday! Back we go. More pisco sours, I wanted something lite, so I went for the garlic shrimp…

And back to the store we went for more ice, more mixer, and if I’d wanted albums, I could have gotten those!

What an odd selection – Koko Taylor, Woody Allen soundtracks, Love Music, The Who – thinking I should have picked up the Koko Taylor.

Our dinner was salamis and cheeses we picked up at the store as we have a big day tomorrow, headed back to Santiago.

That’s it for now.

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Sat
28
Oct '17

Trip Report: Long Beach Staycation

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

Nice day for a drive…

View from the beach:

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

And here is the view:

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

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

Yum!

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

Grilling as the sun goes down:

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

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

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

With nice equipment:

Fully automated for repeatability.

A little bigger than my rig!

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

And cocktail.

With a view.

The food is good, too! Fish tacos….

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

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

Prep is done:

And Rache shucked another dozen oysters:

Nothing like grilling in your robe:

The aftermath…

With an after dinner hot tub:

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

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

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

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

And a little video:

Serious rain…

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

With a working player piano –

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

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

Prep:

Rotisserie mount – not stable – missing pieces:

Meat on the grill:

Dinner:

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

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

[? ? ?]

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Mon
20
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Headed Home

And, once again, I hand the floor over to Rache:

The days of ending an adventure are a mixture of sadness and goodbyes with the anticipation of getting home and comfortable back in the routine. I know Li’l Miss loves the routine time. I’m excited to see her.

Once again, I was the first to arise. I have become accustomed being the one to rid the kitchen of the morning lizards. Thankfully, just turning on the lights takes care of most the evictions. And even more thankfully, my bravery (meaning lack thereof) was not tested with a defiant one.

Tekita once again provided a hearty breakfast. What made this morning unique was the house bustling with people. Alain’s father arrived with some groceries. His mother arrived from a different direction. I was relieved to see her because she had been having back pain issues. Alain’s friends arrived. And contractors arrived. They were doing work beyond the patio to the area of the backyard where the banana trees grow.

Breakfast was also unique in that there was a little ceremony in the dining room. You see, Alain and the others are believers in an Afro-Cuban religion [Markie note: Santeria]. I don’t know a lot about it, but it came from Africa and their deities were given Christian names (like Saint Michael) in the 17th century as a way to avoid being punished by the slave owners. When the owners saw the slaves praising the names of Christian saints, they assumed that the slaves had embraced Christianity. Not so. The slaves gave the deities Christian names to avoid beatings and whippings. Smart, those slaves. Anyway, while Markie and I were at the table dining on scrambled eggs, a mat was put down next to Markie by the shrine, a visitor laid face down on it and Alain did some sort of ritual. It was short but powerful. Alain is somewhat of an authority on the Afro-Cuban religion and was to speak at the conference in New York City last year except his visa was denied by the US Embassy in Havana. Only his partner Luis was allowed to attend, where I met him and attended some of the sessions at the conference. As Alain Ramirez. I’m so glad I kept that name tag because Alain was visibly moved when I handed him the lanyard a few days before. 

Gema arrived early enough to take me for a little walk to the sea. Markie opted to pack (which I had already done). The Alamar neighborhood was built right at the beginning of Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union. All the houses are the same design although each occupant makes their individual homes all unique so Alain’s neighborhood does not seem monotonous. I must say his home is among the tidiest and maintained. There are also massive apartment buildings (again, Soviet era) that are not maintained on the exterior. Alamar is on the east side of Havana, has a population of about 200,000 and has exactly two unreliable Wi-Fi hotspots in public parks. That’s why you didn’t hear from me on this trip.

Anyway, as we walked towards the sea, Gema’s dad drove around the corner. She was happy to see her dad, who has Parkinson’s and I must say his driving was much steadier than his physical condition. I’ve met that man twice and he has a constant smile. Even tho’ they live in the city, they raise goats, chickens, turtles, and I’m not sure what else. When I was first at their house, a farmer was picking up some young animals to take to a farm. A good little side business I would imagine. 

Markie here:

Too bad I didn’t get the camera out sooner, all I caught were the last two goats (out of four) to go into the trunk of a farmer’s car along with a bag of chickens and a bag of pheasants – all live, and all headed to be fattened up on another families’ farm. Surreal to see this in a suburban neighborhood.

Back to Rache:

OK, so finally we get to the sea. It’s not a beach, because it’s all jagged rocks. Leave it to the Soviets to build a beach front with no sand. The decayed remnants of two concessions booths and an entrance to a bomb shelter were all that is visible. Gema was saying that the shelter, now sealed off, was an entire city with huge kitchens and even a movie theater. The Soviets built Alamar for Russians and they were going to protect them from the US.  Anyway, the views are beautiful, the water very clear, and the air fresh. No pollution from car fumes at all. My flip flops were not sturdy enough and they slipped on the uneven, jagged rocks where I have a little scrape (bled a bit) on my foot to remind me of my time at a Soviet beach. 

Gema and I returned home. I quickly showered and soon we were off. Now some of you know that I pack school supplies (and toys) and try to find schools and it’s that are needy. I had informed Alain of my practice and he contacted a local school director who said that donations had to be handled through the Ministry of Education. We had made plans to drop off the supplies at the ministry on the way to the airport. But when I serendipitously found Escuela Primaria José Marti in Old Havana, Alain worked magic on the director and she was more than happy to not involve the ministry. So back to Old Havana and back to “my school.” We went up a flight of stairs to the principal’s office. It was stifling hot and I’m glad I had my wash cloth used as a sweat dauber. I unpacked an overflowing Trader Joe’s bag full of supplies and she was very happy. The director informed Gema that some schools have “Spanish godfathers” but here in the poor area of Havana, there are no such things. Anyway, I have offered to become ‘The Godfather of Escuela Primario José Marti.’ [Since being home, the school director and I have been in email contact. I may be hitting you up for school supplies one of these days.] Nothing would make me happier than to help support kids in poverty. And to have visited the school and met with the director makes it even more personal. I am still filled with so much emotion. The director took my email address (she couldn’t remember her address since she rarely uses it) and will write me. Gema informed her that I have access to Google Translate. And we left. In my wildest imagination, I never came up with a scenario like this where I actually have the opportunity to “adopt” a school. This was the most emotional part of the trip for me.

Then it was off to the airport (José Marti International —- that guy is a major figure in Cuban revolutionary history). At the curb, we started to say our goodbyes when all of a sudden Gema burst into sobbing tears, having a difficult time saying ‘goodbyes.’ And I felt the same but held it together a bit more than she did. In such a short time, we had developed such a strong, emotional connection and we didn’t want it to end. Alain, Gema, Markie, and I all embraced and wiped tears. And then Markie and I left to enter the terminal. I turned back two or three times to get an additional goodbye wave in but that act just sort of prolonged the goodbye tears.

You guys, this was one hell of an adventure. Once again, the love, joy, and compassion of the Cuban people were on constant display. The warmth of the people is not allowed to be shared with us here in America. If the damn governments of both the U.S. and Cuba would get out of the way so people to people diplomacy would kick in, I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for Cuba to once and forever be free from the burden of foreign influence that has plagued this island since 1492. 

Markie here:

When the check-in counter finally opens (Alaska site says arrive 4 hours before, but the counter doesn’t open until 3.5 hours before, oddly, like our outbound flight) I quickly weigh our bags, Rache’s now empty of school materials, much of with he’d packed in a spare duffel bag I gave him at the beginning, but it’s still telling of how we travel.

My checked bag (in kilograms):

Rache’s checked bag (in kilograms):

And for some reason, we weren’t able to carry on “White Weapons”. Weapons white guys use? Or “Tough Objects”. Splain it Ricky (a nod to Ricky Ricardo, the legendary Cuban showman married to Lucille Ball.

While there is a lounge at the airport, the reviews I’ve read on The Points Guy, don’t have terribly nice things to say about it. We hung out in the terminal, had a ham and cheese, a couple of Cuba Libre (second one on the house because of an ass grabbing incident that for once, didn’t involve us).

Our plane arrives, the cleaners and security arrive, we eventually board:

Nope, there are no sky bridges at the airport.

One of the ways I talked Rache into joining me at the last minute on this trip (10 days before) is that I offered to give him some of my Gold Upgrades so he could sit up front with me (though he sleeps so easily on long plane flights it might not have made a difference). Don’t we look comfortable?

And soon, the food and booze start flying….

The full menu:

I went for the chicken…

Got through Immigration and Customs in Los Angeles with no problems even with both of us having Cuban Booze and Cigars.

Caught a couple of more cocktails in the Alaska Lounge in LA before our flight home which was schedule to arrive at 2:30am, putting us back at the house around 3:30 – where we both had a nightcap before bed to shake off the effects of flying all day.

Rache was gone by the time I was up, having swapped shifts with Jimmie so I didn’t have to be at the shop until 1:30pm – actually got a full night’s sleep!

There will be a couple of more Cuban Adventure posts with stuff that didn’t get enough attention – people, cars, architecture.

Until then…

[215.6]

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Fri
9
Dec '16

Trip Report: Peru Bound

Rache and I are headed to Peru – Lima for me, Lima and Cusco (and more) for Rache – so off to the airport we go, after a lovely meal at St. Clouds, next to the shop:

Did I mention that we had just finished a late-running Champagne Tasting (at the shop as well)?

We were in FINE spirits by the time we hit the airport – and I discovered the new kiosk in D concourse – you can get ebooks from the King County Library – at the airport!

Pretty cool if you ask me, but no time for books – we are off to the lounge!

I’m all dressed up for First Class:

Rache in the back for half the miles I used – and he had three seats to himself. And he sleeps on flights, I stay up, watch movies, and drink:

This is a LONG trip – Seattle to Dallas redeye, Dallas to Miami morning flight, Miami to Lima after that.

Got a really nice surprise on the DFW-MIA flight – it was a Boeing 777-200 on a domestic route…

Even Rache got a Business Class seat…

But alas, no food in the back…

Wish that this was my aircraft for the next leg – alas, it’s an old-style 767-300 with tight business class seating as noticed by tightness of the shared middle armrest.

But the food was plentiful even in the dreaded window seat (which also illustrates the crampedness of these old seats:

The big meal:

The little meal before landing:

Yep, life is hard.

Arrived into Lima around 9:30pm (yes, a LONG flight day), got through immigration/customs, and even located our driver, Eddy, for the ride to the hotel.

As for the hotel, the Wyndham Costa del Sol, it’s definitely nice. Here is the lobby area:

And the room I booked for the walk-in shower – was one of the larger ones on the property:

With a good daytime view, with the ocean in the distance to the right:

Rache was hungry so he popped down to Paprika – the onsite restaurant which turned out to be amazingly good – even the bread presentation:

Of course, by the time he got back up to the room, I was hungry and ordered the ceviche from room service:

BEST room service food EVER!

Eventually sleep called me, hours after it called Rache –

Off to explore the city tomorrow.

[? ? ?]

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Sat
18
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Part 3

Through the process of writing, editing Rach’s comments, add pictures, I’m still blown away by the experience of our days in Cuba. Reminds to write another thank you note to our host and extended family.

Back to Rache:

After another hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, mango juice, fresh papaya, cheese and ham, our driver Frank was ready for us to begin our day. Gema had arranged for someone to cover her work, so she was able to join us.

Our first stop was the Muséo Hemingway. This was house he lived in. While we couldn’t go in since it has remained how he left it, there were several doors and windows open with easy viewing of the different rooms. That man loved his books and mounted animal heads.

Mark here: And even Poppa’s Pooper…

If you look closely you can even see what appears to be weight measurement on the wall:

Back to Rache:

We were also able to ascend the tower. The first floor was where his sick cats would be treated, the second floor was where he wrote and the third floor was sort of an observation level where Papa could view his beautiful La Habana. This was a lovely mansion that has been preserved in its pre-revolutionary grandeur. 

The grounds also had a cemetery for his dogs – Black, Negrita, Linda, and Neron.  Where the tennis court once stood now stands Hemingway’s fishing boat, the Pilar, which was registered out of Key West. It was named after a secret lover’s nickname. The Pilar is significantly more substantial than that of the Old Man and the Sea.

We traveled through a very seedy area of town (San Miguel, wouldn’t you know) to get to Revolution Square.  The square noted for its giant tower honoring José Marti and of the huge likenesses of Ché and Camilo

Gema, Alain, and I opted to go to the top of the tower while Markie was happy taking photos of classic cars with Frank joining him. The top of the tower gave us perfect views of the entire city and beyond. You know, from a distance, poverty doesn’t seem to exist. Maybe it’s good to get up close and personal once in a while. Regardless, there is definitely beauty amongst the hovels.

Markie here:

By this point in the trip, my right knee was starting to get a little cranky, and the thought of all those steps made me winch. And I am an old car fan (as is our driver Frank). I’ve just put one group picture in as at some point there will be an entire car post:

Back to Rache:

Next we made a brief stop at John Lennon Square. Markie had an opportunity to pose with the Beattle. Unlike when I was last here, there wasn’t a guy there offering to ‘rent’ out glasses to adorn John’s face. There was an official in uniform who provided glasses at no charge. The regime has its advantages. I also noted the restaurant where Frank, Ron, Michael and I had a delightful lunch. 

Our tour of the city progressed to University of Havana where Gema attends. It is so beautiful with classic architecture and cute young students. The place feels like any other university I’ve visited (or attended) and it’s during these visits that I wish I could live my college years again. I love the energy these academic palaces emit. Powerful places, these are. 

We had worked up an appetite so off we were to sample paladar food. Fonda La Paila is about a block from Habana Libre (formerly the Hilton) and about a light year away from the quality of its food and atmosphere. This place just rocks. It’s open air, covered of course, and is a place that begs to be returned to again and again. It’s a place where chickens peck around your feet before the food arrives and where cats beg when lunch is served. OMG!  The food was superb. And of course, in true Cuban fashion, the portions were huge. Along with pork and onions were salad, Moros y Cristianos, and boiled sweet potatoes. Along with a couple Cuba Libre (Rum and Cola). This place rocked. For the five of us, the total was 56 CUC, less than in the touristy valley the day before. This is what Cuba is all about. Oh, and it was where I taught Gema and Alain about the concept of “doggie bags.” The waiter provided two plastic bags for the leftovers.

Our first stop in Old Havana was thwarted by Women’s Day. The Rum Museum was closed for the holiday so we will have to return. It may be a good thing as a cruise ship had arrived and there were swarms of tourists around. 

Mark here:

Rache forgot to mention that while the museum was not open, the bar attached to the museum was open (and we should have stayed for a drink and listened to the music:

Back to Rache:

We were successful afterwards however. We ascended to the Camera Obscura where we were able to see a 360º view of the city complete with a humorous presentation in Spanish and English. I’d recommend this rather obscure site.

By now the time was 4:00 PM and Gema had an event to attend in an hour. We were all dragging a bit so we came home to reboot and relax. 

Once home, Alain, a friend, Markie and I watched the critically acclaimed movie “Viva.” It was filmed in Cuba but it was not shown here. It brought a tear to Markie’s and my eye.

During the time without Gema, there was a bit of confusion. What Markie and I took to mean that dinner would be served after our final visit, it was actually served an hour before the visit. So much for a nap. I must tell you, while the food at restaurants have been excellent, Tekita knocks food out of the park. She is just amazing. And she runs a mean ship as well. When Alain came to the table as Markie and I were finishing our breakfast this morning, she informed Alain that she wouldn’t cook breakfast for him because he was getting too fat. That I could be as fat as Alain. Regardless, he didn’t get breakfast. It was Women’s Day after all. Anyway, if she ends up missing from Cuba when our plane departs, her room is waiting for me back at my casa by the mar. 

Mark here:

I have to add a most amusing picture – it is us giving Alain’s partner Luis’ mother a ride back to her apartment block – on Alain’s lap!

Back to Rache:

Our final adventure of the day came at 8 PM when Frank arrived and drove us to Moro Castle. Prior to the nightly ceremony, we had time to visit the Ché Museum and we actually got to step into his office. Very cool. One interesting note is that museums are rather relaxed in Cuba. For instance, there are some postcards Ché wrote from Africa. And they are just tacked on a board where folks can actually touch them — like I did.

The nightly ceremony began soon, leading to the firing of the canon at 9 PM. This  ritual goes back to early colonial time when the canon signaled that everyone should be within the castle walls so that pirates wouldn’t kill them. The ceremony was very nice. Gema explained what was happening while the colonial soldiers were drumming and marching by prior to the BOOM! The event was well attended — there was a cruise ship in town after all. This was a sweet event and was on my list of things to do. 

After the event, the crowd leisurely dispersed. As we drove home, we passed Ché’s home (it was dark) and passed through the neighborhood of Casablanca. It was a nice area.

Once home, I joined Markie in a nightly cocktail before retiring to my best night’s sleep here yet. I am reminded of the phrase, “This will make you feel better as you’re getting better.” Someone famous said that. 

Mark here:

As you can well guess, I had more than one nightly cocktail.

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Fri
9
Feb '18

Trip Report: Hawaii – Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy on the Tiki!

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

Goofy Café and Dine was the choice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had three appetizers and split a noodle bowl:

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

Another late night for both of us!

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

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Mon
20
Jun '16

Trip Report: Lost Wages – Part One

It all started with an email from Rache – “look at this cheap fare I booked!”

My response was, “Can I tag along”….and then proceeded to, while not exactly, highjack the planning. Rache had never been to Vegas, and I had, and I was trying to be “helpful”.

When I checked on upgrade seats before the 72-hour mark for me – there were 13 out of 16 available. Figured mine was a shoe in (it was). There were still upgrade seats available at the 48 hour mark (which is when the Alaska MVP’s get upgraded) – my advice to Rache was – check-in right at the 24 hour mark and see if you can pay for an upgrade ($50 for that distance). He did, and got it. So, $98 round-trip for the ticket, $50 upgrade to First – not bad! FYI – we both got upgraded on the way back as well.

One of the advantages of travelling with Uncle Markie is lounge access (i.e. free drinks/free food/newspapers):

Don’t we look comfortable in Seats 1A and 1C?

Or maybe asleep – but when food came…

WAY too much sugar and carbs – not that it stopped me from eating it!

Rache – I forgive you for booking a 6:10am flight if only because it was easy to get upgraded because NOBODY wants to fly to Vegas that early in the morning. Well, sort of. The upside is that we have a FULL day in Vegas once we pick up the rental car.

First stop – Boulder Dam!

I’ve done the full tour (pre-911 called “The Hard Hat Tour“, but “the Vegas Virgin” Rache hasn’t, and I always happy to take the tour again. We had a couple of hours to kill before the next “long tour” so off to lunch it is:

That would be Rache’s Dam Dog – this massive foot-long beef hot dog (compare the size of the standard-sized fries), and my grilled Ham and Cheese on Rye:

Sated, it was off to the Dam Tour…want to take the stairs down…not:

The Nevada side of the generating plant – and the penstock that feeds it:

In the tunnels with the tour guide:

And the view at the end of the tunnel:

Luckily WE have an elevator, because I don’t want to walk THESE stairs up the inside of the dam:

The tour was an hour-long (not including the video shown in the theatre before), and it ends at the top of the dam with these views:

After Hoover Dam is was off to check into the WorldMark Las Vegas Tropicana into our 2-bedroom condo. Hopefully I’ll find some pictures of the condo for the Part Two post. Meanwhile, it’s cooking time after our run to Albertsons – this would be Chicken Version One:

And yes, I packed wine. A Bonny Doon white (a Bianco Nero d’Avola) for tonight:

It was sort of “odd” what they considered a coffee table, but being geeks, the dining table was filled with electronic equipment.

Until tomorrow….

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Thu
16
Mar '17

Trip Report: Cuban Adventure, Part 2

One of the really nice things about travelling with Rache is the difference in our time zones. He’s the early riser, I’m the night owl. Needless to say, I was the last on out of bed this morning,

I’ll let Rache start the story:

Before I get started, I must say that Alain, his housekeeper Tekita, and Alain’s goddaughter Gema (aka translator) are amazing. AMAZING!  They are treating Markie and me like royalty.  I have never experienced such gracious hospitality. As a person who likes to be the nurturer, it has been initially difficult to accept such a lovely, genuine welcome into a lovely home. With that said, when you come to visit me, I will prepare your first drink and then you’re on your own LOL!

Yesterday started fairly early. Tekita and I were the first to arise. I was preparing to shower about the time she handed me a cup of delicious Cuban coffee. She also said something about “agua caliente” which I of course misunderstood it to mean that the coffee was hot. Long story longer, I had a cold shower as the water she heated on the stove for my shower was instead used by Markie. Yep, no hot running water. Tomorrow I’ll know.

Tekita prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon and onions, mango juice, ham, cheese, roll, and a banana from the tree in the backyard. We could’ve had some flan from the previous night’s dinner but we had no room in the tummy.

Mark here again….while the eggs were DELCIOUS, and what I usually have some variation of at home, Uncle Markie’s stomach wasn’t having much of it. My first worry was that I’d picked up a bug from the ice in last night’s drinks, but 12 hours is a little quick for gastrointestinal stuff to happen in me – the world traveler with enough flora and fauna in his system that make me reluctant to take antibiotics because they would kill the good stuff along with the bad. What I should have done is make a ham and cheese sandwich for the road. Alas, I didn’t have that forethought.

And now back to Rache:

We drove 2.5 hours out to Valle de Vinales. We passed sugar cane and tobacco fields once out in the country. It appears to be both a national park where people live, work, grow tobacco, etc. And some amazing views. Think of it almost like a tropical Monument Valley Tribal Park and you’ll sort of get the idea. Along the way, we stopped at a Centro Turístco Las Barrigonas which is along the Ruta del Tabaco (I bet you didn’t know you could read Spanish).

There we frolicked amongst a mother pig and her piglets. They were enjoying a dip in a pond near a tobacco field.  Alain is one of those gentle souls who cares for and respects animals. When he discovered the sow was not within reach of greens to nibble, he picked some for her.

Now, roadside rest areas are a little different in Cuba. Piña Coladas are sold and you get to pour how much rum you want into the cocktail.

Mark here again — at this point I have to add that Rache’s suggestion of a Pina Colada was PERFECT for my stomach, which after several hours of weaving/dodging/bouncing on major Cuban highways squished side-to-side like happy sardines in the back of our Chinese Geely motorcar was as welcome to my tummy as was just getting out of the car. Here is a picture of our touring car, though, technically, was taken a day later at a gas station (.90 CUC per liter, FYI, which is basically a USD per liter). The car was nearly new, with seating for three in the back and two in the front.

Back to Rache:

It was delicious. Before we took off, I said hello to a couple beasts of burden pulling a cart.

FYI: It’s not uncommon to see horse and “buggies” trotting down the road, even on the freeway shoulder.

Back to Rache:

Gema told us as we were approaching the valley and that we were in an area that had been hit hard with natural disasters. People lost almost everything and were trying to rebuild their homes and lives as best they could.

Our next stop was near the Hotel Horizonte Los Jazme. which overlooked the valley. The view was so beautiful that tears welled in my eyes. Wonderful piña coladas are served here as well.

Before we drove down to the valley, we made reservations at a restaurant. To speed things up when we came back to eat later in the afternoon, we chose our protein. Options were pork, chicken (my choice), and fish. Near where we parked, there was a hand cranked cane juicer for drinks. I love this type of rustic.

Our first stop was at a small tobacco farm. We were given a presentation (in a tobacco barn) on how tobacco is grown, nurtured, and cured. The seeds are tiny little things.  Everything is organic at the farm. We then ventured over to a little pavilion where we were given a lesson on how to roll cigars. And of course, we were able to purchase organic, hand rolled cigars at the farm. They are wrapped in palm fronds as a preservative. Factory cigars have additives (some harmless, others uncertain) once the organic tobacco reaches their processing.  Still, a Montecristo No. 2 is hard to beat. After all, it was the number one cigar in the world in 2013.  And as an aside, the Montecristo uses leaves from the top, middle, and bottom parts of the plant. Each area of the plant has its own distinctive flavor and quality.

Next we went to Cuevas de Santo Tomas (St Thomas’ Cave). I enjoy caves a lot. The cave was “electrified” by Fidel and it so it was able to accommodate tourists. There were some beautiful mineral formations in the cave. One of the unique features of the cave is that a river runs through it. And yes, we got to take a boat ride in the cave until it narrowed too much for us to pass. We turned around and then were surprised by an opening that lead to a small pool in the river just before the waterfall. It was dramatic.

It was here that we offloaded. Gema and Alain opted to ride a water buffalo while I decided to give the beast of burden a break. Even beasts of burden have their limits.

We stopped briefly at a cave entrance that was also a bar. It seemed quite inauthentic so we didn’t pay the 5 CUC to enter. Still, there was interesting history regarding the slave trade at that cave. “Its primary function is to show the living conditions of the Maroons, slaves who escaped from the barracks of the mills, fleeing ranchers games and took refuge in the goodness of the caves and mountains of this prodigious nature.” [Please note that I am amused by the translation but not by the harrowing existence of the slaves.]

Our last stop before lunch was the giant Mural de la Prehistoria. It was very colorful and huge, if not quite historically accurate. And it was here that I had my first Cristal (Cuban beer) of the trip. [Mark: the “tourist fee” of 3 CUC included a drink coupon—I had a Cuba Libre]. It was refreshing. The scenery in the entire valley is absolutely gorgeous, what with the vibrant shades of green from the various plant life. The dramatic plant covered rock formations make this place a magical place on Earth.

At lunch, Markie, the driver Frank and I had the barbecued chicken while Alain and Gema opted for the barbecued pork. Along with our mains, came banana chips, yucca, salad, Moros y Cristianoss, plus white rice and black beans, and probably some other goodness that I’m forgetting, plus multiple beverages. The bill was 68 CUC, which is about $76.00 USD. For all five of us. I think Alain was worried if we thought it was too expensive since it was in a tourist area. Uh, not a chance on that. $15.00 each for a feast such as ours was a bargain at twice the price.

Full and content from this amazing meal, we all napped in the car on the way back to Havana. Well, I’m assuming Frank did not doze off. As we neared the city, Frank opted for a slight detour that took us into Miramar, the west part of Havana and where I stayed with the others during Christmas 2015. We passed multiple embassies (including the iconic Russian embassy), and several places were most familiar as we drove down 5th Avenue heading for the Malecon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malecón,_Havana)

While we had a couple rain showers, it didn’t seem too windy to me. However, something was making the sea angry as waves broke over the seawall and onto the boulevard as we drove on the Malecon. I never saw that before. Obviously, not many people were hanging out at this usually busy hang out, especially for young people. Seriously, cars were getting doused just like cars along the Columbia River east of the tunnel out of Chinook during a dicey storm and high tide. I was impressed.

We arrived home (well, Markie and I were sure made to feel like home) here in Alamar and we unpacked our “happy sardine” bodies out of the car. Frank was paid for the day’s journey and it was well worth the cost.  The day was so remarkable in all ways.

Family was here and were enjoying themselves. That gave Markie and me a chance to review our wonderful day on the back patio. And for me to play with the dogs. When family had left, Alain came out back and showed us the turtle pond out beyond the banana tree. He has two turtles.

I was still full from lunch (which was served about 4:30 PM) so went to bed early. Markie stayed up for a while after that I imagine. I certainly slept with a smile on my face after experiencing the beautiful Valle de Vinales. Feeling extremely lucky.

Tekita was kind enough to make Alain a little treat before bedtime…the rolls, ham, cheese from breakfast – what I should have had with me in the car on the way down!

Nice sandwiches to go with my Jack Daniels (not my first choice, but it was what Duty Free at LAX had. I brought one for me, and one for Alain:

Soon, I went to bed myself – it was a LONG day.

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Fri
10
Nov '17

Trip Report: Uruguay – Day One

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

Montevideo has its roots in the Colonial Era:

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

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

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

Good people watching…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thu
27
Oct '16

Trip Report: Saskatoon, Headed Home

Gentle Reader: no, I am not still in Saskatoon, I’m just tardy posting my progress. But here it is, however delayed like many of my flights….

We arrived into Saskatoon an hour and a half late – something I’d anticipated when I booked a late afternoon return flight to Seattle via Minneapolis. Personally, I’d have rather slept in.

The first thing that struck me about the Saskatoon ViaRail station was the stark Soviet-era Brutalist architecture. Wikipedia claims that the 1964 station was built in “The International Style“, looks pretty Brutalist to me.

When I mentioned this to Rache – his comment was, “I was just thinking that.”

At least the cab was modern:

 

Our driver was a laid off millwright reduced to driving cabs to put some food on the table.

Our next problem was getting into the town from the prairie-side station – a 20-minute delay for the world’s longest grain train:

The plan was to go to the 9-Mile Legacy Brewery and find a breakfast place until they opened. More brutalist architecture – but at least we found ourselves in Saskatoon’s hipster neighborhood – I was surprised there was meat on the menu. This would be Drift Sidewalk Cafe. The interesting thing about doing the research for these posts is when you start looking into the history of the neighborhoods you are visiting, in this case, one of Saskatoon’s historically poorest neighborhoods – hence, where artists can afford to live. More information here: http://thewalrus.ca/reviving-riversdale/. It’s actually a well written article about the city, it’s politics, it’s aboriginal legacy issues…but back to the Drift. Decent sized menu, all a little on the “odd” side, often filled crepes:

Look at that sexy ManBun!

I had The Hero (prosciutto, aged cheddar, dill pickles, maple aioli):

Rache had the B-E-A-T Crepe (tomato bacon jam, scrambled eggs, arugula, aged cheddar) with a cup of broccoli soup:

By the time we were done, it was time for the 9 Mile Legacy Brewery – and their friendly crew:

I should point out that at this point, 9-Mile had only been able to serve flights or pints for TWO DAYS. Apparently (according to the locals), Saskatchewan is the Utah of Canada. And I scored another sticker for my bag!

While Rache did his beer thing (so NOT me), I went next door to an Archie McPhee like place called Glitch – and they DO get some of their stuff from Accoutrements, which is the wholesale arm of Archie McPhee. I have a friend who used to work at Archies – and would occasionally model some of their products:

Sadly, these are no longer available, but if you want a tattoo – check out Jeff at Project Tattoo.

After our breakfast, our beers, our novelties it was time for another cab rib – this time to the airport, which was surprisingly NOT Brutalist, including the lines:

And desks to work at – oddly with no power outlets.

With an amazing flight display of real-time what planes are coming and what planes are going:

We are on a Embraer 175 from Saskatoon to Minneapolis:

With 2-1 seating – we took the two bulkheads on the wide side:

No food on the flight – but drinks…

And blankets, with Rache trailed into the bathroom like toilet paper stuck to your shoe….

And sunsets….

In Minneapolis we BREEZED through Immigration and Customs – me with my Global Entry, but Rache wasn’t far behind – they have gone paperless in Minneapolis – scan your passport, answer the questions, it spits out a receipt, take the receipt to the desk, get it stamped, go pick up your luggage.

We were so quick through the border check (and the plane was a little early) that we had time to see if because we were paid First Class whether we could use Delta’s Sky Club – the answer was yes because we were on an INTERNATIONAL Business Class ticket (though on the site they called it First Class). Nice lounge:

And we grabbed some snacks – OK, a little more than a snack:

OK – that is for BOTH of us. The free food in US lounges is getting soooooo much better, and they were pouring Evan Williams Black (my daily bourbon drinker) as the house pour!

Back on the plane, back in the bulkheads for our last leg home to Seattle:

This was a cool addition to the overhead storage bin – a light to tell you when Wi-Fi is available. It was a 737-900 with the Boeing Sky Interior:

Notice that the No Smoking “light” is now just printed on.

More food on this flight – does it NEVER end!

I know that cream sauce is going to give me indigestion… but I hate turning down free (with the price of a First Class ticket) food.

It was a QUICK trip – but one that yielded three posts. Not bad for leaving Seattle on Tuesday morning and returning Thursday night – in time for me to work tomorrow.

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Wed
19
Oct '16

Trip Report: Saskatoon Bound, On The Train!

After our day of wandering around town, it was time to grab our bags from storage at the station, and move to the Panorama Lounge – which is the lounge for all Sleeping Car passengers.

The lounge isn’t really anything to talk about – not enough chairs inside (the heaters were on outside), free coffee, tea, cookies, crackers – they should have had the wine and canapes here, rather than once we boarded…but I’m getting ahead of myself – here is a shot of the final car in the “consist” – that’s what a train is composed of, and ours is 24 pieces (two engines and twenty-two rail cars).

Before long we were settling in our “across the aisle” Sleeper Plus: Cabin for 1. I just checked, and for fall/winter/spring, they have close-in savings every day of the week, rather than just Tuesday – too bad it’s just for trips 30 days or less. It drops the price from $1857.00 CAD to $1261.50 CAD (the latter would be $962.58 USD) for between Toronto and Vancouver (or reverse). You can find the fare page here: http://www.viarail.ca/en/deals/

But back to our rooms. Mine – which comes with booze and mixer:

The bed comes out of here – yes, it has an oddly shaped mattress:

Our car attendant actually tracked down a TABLE for me – there are like ONE of these per car!

Raches….

We went to the lounge car for the sendoff party – bad pink bubbles and uninspired canapes, but great views:

Since we didn’t leave until 8:30, not long after we both headed back to our rooms, with Rache heading to bed….

And me to get a little work done before we lose phone/internet connections:

And finally – even I turned in…

The morning finds us doing breakfast separately, well, that was the plan – but then I arrived and was directed to the seat next to Rache, who was finishing his breakfast – this one was mine (and Rache had the same which is why I knew about the Rye bread toast):

Yes, I got up at 7:30 for breakfast – and promptly went back to bed until 11 (with lunch at 12:30).

At this point we are heading into the mountains and its time to pull out the cameras!

ViaRail has an amazing collection of “bubble dome” cars, which have all been lovingly restored:

Even the kitchens, which they don’t use (all the meals are in one of the two dining rooms on this train):

Speaking of meals – it’s time for LUNCH, and maybe some wine to go with it:

We opted for a glass of the Union White and the Pillitteri whites (both from Ontario) – Rache found the touch of sweetness in the Union White a bit much so I drank that one with my tomato bisque followed by a fried chicken sandwich:

Why, yes, the food is included in the ticket price – and it’s several notches above what is served on the Amtrak long-distance trains.

Here is a little overview and behind the scenes in the dining cars:

After lunch I returned to the room to do a little more work, but mostly stare out the window at the view…

We were a little late getting into Jasper – one of my favorite stop on this trip as it is right downtown, and you have an hour to explore.

Time for Uncle Markie to do a little work – checking out as many of the wine shops in Jasper as I can:

Cute little town….

Anchored by the train station…

And inside the station, an A-Board showing the layout of our train:

FYI – we were in Franklin Manor, which has a layout like this:

We were in the second rooms in, right hand side. Rache in the bottom of the drawing, me at the top.

After our hour in Jasper, back aboard the train for some new scenery:

And some new food dinner food – RACK OF LAMB!

The reds for tonight were the Sandhill Estates Cab/Merlot from BC, and the Konzelmann Estate Winery Baco Noir from Ontario.

And the dining staff knew that it was our table mate’s 25th wedding anniversary, so when desert was brought out, it was signed:

The aspect ratio is a little off since I took that from our side of the table and flipped the image.

Breakfast in the morning was a bit of a bust – Continental Breakfast starting at 6:30, Brunch starting at 9:30 – we are scheduled to get off the train at 8am in Saskatoon – and the reason for the truncated breakfast schedule. Had a crappy croissant, a cup of coffee, a shower, and since we were running late, a “sitting up” nap, getting off the train at 9:30 – had I known, I’d have slept in.

I’ll save the return to Seattle for another post.

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Tue
13
Dec '16

Trip Report: Lima, Peru – Day One

Rache was up early and exploring, I was in bed snoring peacefully after returning from breakfast (never waste a free meal).

Once I was up, we headed in the opposite direction that Rache went earlier – in search of a place to have lunch. No, we didn’t eat here:

Nor McDonalds, KFC, TGIFridays – all at a mall a dozen blocks from the hotel. We wanted a little more local flavor, even though it was probably a chain restaurant as well, but at least it was a Peruvian chain:

Starting a theme of this trip – Pisco Sours all around!

Since it was a chicken place, you’d best order the chicken! Rache had the half chicken with two sides, I had the quarter chicken with one side, which also came with a salad:

It was funny to pointing to the part I wanted – thigh, not boob. My side was a lovely corn salad. And now for round two of drinks – this one had passion flower juice in it:

And you get a bit of a better shot of the corn salad in that shot. Witnessed one of those “birthday” staff-sung songs:

I photobombed a cute guy while Rache was taking a video of the song:

Mind you, this restaurant was on the edge of a block square mall, all decked out for xMess:

Complete with a grocery store on the bottom floor where I stocked up on some Inca Cola – a “color not found in nature” “cola”.

And pre-boxed Christmas baskets – if you look closely, I’m not sure why Corn Flakes would be in a box that also had sparkling wine:

Back in the room, it was time for cocktails!

Followed by a nap before we headed out to look for dinner – some Lima street scene photos:

With US restaurants everywhere – this corner gas station had a KFC, a Burger King, and a Dunkin’ Donuts (along with Mr. Sushi and a couple of others):

Then we move onto bugs on the street…

And fishes that eat the dead skin off your feet. My curious as to why Santa Claus is hanging from the office window….

And just so you don’t get the idea that Lima is totally safe – this is a big business in the city – laminating windows:

Eventually we wondered out for dinner – guess we should have looked on our phones, but ended up back at the hotel restaurant (Paprika) for dinner.

There are odd-angled mirrors in the background so it looks like a funhouse dinner – and it was a fun dinner, and excellent! Rache had the twice braised sweetbreads (that’s brains you know):

While I had the lamb shanks:

Part of my mission on this trip is to try Peruvian wines – so here is bottle number one:

It’s a delightful blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay.

Definitely got our 10,000 steps in today! We will sleep well tonight.

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