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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Aug '12

Solus+ Arrives.

Out of the house at 10:30 to pick up Solus+ at the train station and pick up my ticket for tomorrow’s train trip.

Solus+ arrived on time and while he waited for his luggage I finished this morning’s Wall Street Journal – yes, it is still coming almost three months later (was supposed to stop on May 31st).

And luggage he had –briefcase, carry-on roller bag, and this massive suitcase. All of which, including us, needed to go into the tiny Miata. Thank goodness for the trunk rack and the straps I keep in said trunk.

First stop was Filsons for a little shopping – he actually got out of there for under a hundred dollars, which is hard at Filsons – great quality, at a cost. He was after a ranger belt (http://www.filson.com/products/1-1-4-ranger-belt.63206.html). Funny that Solus+ and my brother both love Filsons.

Next stop is Salty’s At Alki for a little seafood lunch with a view:

Solus+ and the view:

Solus+ had the grilled Klamath River King Salmon on a bed of roasted potatoes and greens:

And after my half dozen Penn Cove oysters, it was on to the blackened salmon Caesar that came with a cup of their wonderful seafood chowder that was topped with a little sherry:

Safeway and the liquor store for Solus+ trip supplies and it was home to dinnerand cooking for me while Solus+ napped.

Think Pork Shoulder Roast, asparagus in a roasted bell pepper sauce, a nice loafof challah, a little slaw, good conversation with a bottle of nice Turkish wine in honor of Solus+’s upcoming trip to Turkey.


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Dec '11

Hello Vancouver.

Dinner With Epick & Solus+.

Out of the house at noon, out of Swanda’s place after watering the plants at 12:30, and off to the border we go.

Odd thing at the border — the Nexus line was actually LONGER than the standard lines, though it was only a ten minute wait (with no way to get out of the Nexus line once you are in it. The hitchhiker (Jack Daniels) was safely sitting in the front seat. Sort of odd that the crossing guard asked more questions than usual.

Traffic in the city was oddly heavy, maybe the holiday shopping season with everyone taking their cars rather than the bus?

A stop at Safeway for groceries, no need to stop for wine as Solus+ is bringing both a red and a white.

Here is a shot of the view from the condo:

I finally figured out how to force the flash on in “Happy Heart” simple mode — it only took twenty minutes reading through the manual on-line.

By 7 or so both of the boys were here, the pupu platter was out, and cocktails in hand.

Dinner at 8ish with a marinated pork tenderloin, a chunk of backed squash, a large salad. The plan was for a baguette, but I had left them on the roof of my car in the garage downstairs and when I returned they were gone. The funny thing is that a little after 9 the phone rang, it was the front desk asking if I’d happened to leave a couple of baguettes on my car roof. Too bad we were done with dinner at that point.

The rest of the evening was spent in conversations over kilt design, I brought up some WILD fabric for a kilt and Epick is a kilt-maker.

A late night — I see sleeping in tomorrow.


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Dinner With Epick & Solus+.

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).


For more blog posts, CLICK HERE.

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Aug '17

Trip Report: Final Trip To Whistler This Summer

Managed to score some additional nights in lovely Whistler this August – one might in Creekside (where we spent two nights in two different rooms last trip), and three nights at Cascade Lodge, where we parked the last trip.

Lunch stop just after the border in Cloverdale. Boston Pizza was the choice – last time I was here was with CaddyDaddy when he was alive:

Steak strip French Dip, tasty, as was the salad…

You might have heard that there are wildfires burning in British Columbia – the smoke getting as far as Seattle and beyond. Here is the first example of the smoke. First photo is from previous drive up:

This photo is from the trip’s drive up:

I’ll post later about pictures of the mountain valleys, earlier in the summer, later in the summer.

Shopped for our veg and eggs in Squamish (cheaper than Whistler, and we brought all our protein) and some wine – but the grocery store in this hippy/hiking/biking/snowboarding/skiing town has a dispenser for growlers of Kombucha:

About our first night’s lodging, I love the BBQ and room size at Creekside, HATE the stairs. No way to avoid them, and we were on the first floor which is actually the basement floor, reception is on three. And it was the first night, so coolers, all the food, drink had to go down (and back up) lots of stairs.

That said, it was a nice place…

Living room above, second bedroom below…

And the SECOND bath:

And we had a nice meal….

In the morning, we repacked and headed to Whistler Village.

And up to the mountain we go!

Here is Mags playing with his tools!

I contrast these photos to late July’s photos of what the air was like:

And back to the present…

Talked Mags into appetizers and drinks at Christine’s – which wasn’t open my last two trips up this summer:

Great time around the mountain… one day we went to Pemberton, and a museum!

Our adventure done, back to the condo, with me going up the hill for lunch, and a wine flight:

And when we leave Whistler – it ramps up for Red Bull’s Crankworx. They are already assembling the video platforms.

No wonder rooms are tight for the next week!

Up to the top, across the Peak-2-Peak, and back into the welcoming arms of Dan, the bartender.

Who after he poured by BC VQA tasting flight….

Arranged for a little “amuse bouche”:

That is a lovely slice of paté on that crostini courtesy of Chef. Soon to be followed by the Vietnamese Pork Burger….

As you can see, the rosé vanished quickly.

Look at these photos – serious smoke in the air. Once again, my hiking has been thwarted.

Compared to late June….

Crazy wild difference.

Tonight’s dinner was leftovers, cleaning out the fridge – then out of the house a little after ten in the morning with a stop at the mining museum (too cheap to actually buy a ticket):

So, in the parking lot of the museum, there was this beautiful car camping hack – a 4″ black pipe mounted to the roof rack with a fill nozzle and a spigot to attach a shower to. In the sun, the black tube heats the water, and you get at least a warm shower in the afternoon. Brilliant!

Got into Vancouver around 1PM and Mags dropped me at Steamworks Brewery to meet up with Solus+. Got there early – ordered a Manhattan. What else!

And with Solus+…

And we both had the same meal – seafood chowder in a sourdough bowl with a small Caesar:

Wonderful meal, but it’s off to the train station to catch the 5:30pm to Seattle…didn’t know they had a Nexus line! I was business, so I would have gotten the same expedited service, but it’s nice to know:

Being the first one in line, the lady (turned out to be the Business Car attendant) gave me the best seat on the run – 1A, window, wheelchair blocked 1B.

Some nice views on the way home, and more than a few drinks….

Sadly, the train was running 45 minutes late into Seattle, AND I arrive at the station in the middle of a Mariners baseball game letting out. Total chaos. How far do I have to walk before I find a Lyft/Uber with non-premium pricing!

Made it home, made it to bed, for tomorrow, it’s off to work.


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Jun '17

Trip Report: Vancouver To Edmonton On The Canadian

A tad late updating the bog with the final adventure in Uncle Markie’s May Train Month.

Because I need the miles, and I had a discount coupon I decided to fly from Seattle to Vancouver to catch the train, giving me most of the day (noon-6pm) to poke around Vancouver. Sadly, my buddy Solus+ was under the weather so there went my lunch plans.

I got an all-day transit pass ($12.50 – 30% exchange rate) which got me from YVR to the train station where I ditched my bags for the beautiful day.

Ditched the bag and got back on the SkyTrain to Granville Station – the closest to the WorldMark at The Canadian on Hornby. Why swing by a condo that I’m not booked into? Coupons for 10% off on groceries (mixers for the whiskey I bought at Duty Free and 15% the food portion of my lunch at Relish, a couple of doors down from The Canadian.

Which helped pay for this:

That would be a Manhattan (duh!) up top, with a hipster Ruben (has avocado on it) and fries on the bottom.

Ended up hanging out there for a couple of hours – not like they had a rush – reading, drinking, relaxing.

Swung by the IGA for a six pack of Diet Pepsi – not my favorite, but it was the only thing diet they had in 16 ounce plastic. I’ve got a 28-hour train ride in front of me.

When you travel on The Canadian in a sleeper (for one), you get all your meals included, and the right to consume your own private alcohol in your stateroom – and access to the Lounges in Vancouver and Toronto.

I had ViaRail Preference points that needed to get used while they were having a 40% discount in honor of Canada’s 150th birthday. I also have a coupon for 50% off on The Canadian which I need to use before the end of April.

Today’s train is a LONG one – 2 engines and 23 cars (of which, only two are economy). So many cars that there are TWO dining cars.

Boarded at 6:30 for a 7:30 departure (the train is so long the break it in half to load passengers:

But, here are some shots of my Cabin For One:


Time for a cocktail before heading to the bubble dome car for some bubbles:

Since I’ve been on this route before – knew that I had to ask at boarding if there was a table available for my room:

And here is a shot of how the toilet and sink work (yes, you have to remove the table):

We they said “champagne” I was not surprised that it was really Italian Spumante – they “might” have had real champagne in Prestige Class where you get your own double bed and 32″ flat screen TV.

But, the view was lovely:

Having just the week before taken the The Cresent from New York to New Orleans I’d forgotten the difference between Amtrak and ViaRail in terms of food service. This was my morning breakfast:

Rye toast, eggs up, fresh ripe fruit, chicken sausage, grapefruit juice and coffee on china with a white linen tablecloth. On Amtrak, the plate would have been plastic, the white linen covered with butcher paper, and all options microwaved/reheated.

Lunch was equally wonderful – I started with the vegetable soup which had fresh fennel ferns in it:

For the main I got something I’d NEVER order on AmTrak – the Chicken Pot Pie, which looked and tasted like from scratch:

That would be a glass of Ontario red with my Chicken Pot Pie. Here was my choice of options for lunch:

Might as well get dinner out of the way before changing to scenery!

The salad course, followed by the main, which was rack of lamb…

Obviously, I’m not on AmTrak where the food was so underwhelming it didn’t even deserve a picture.

But the trip isn’t just about the food, it’s about the scenery!

Maybe a video clip or two?

Before I knew it, it was time to pack up and get ready to disembark in Edmonton. We were due in at 11, but it’s more like 12:30am when we arrive. I’ll use this moment to show you what the berth seats look like:

The upper pulls down and the lower pulls together, meaning the lower (cheaper berth) is a bigger bed!

Soon, I’ve Uber’d to the airport for my 6am flight – which check-in doesn’t open until 4. I actually manage a couple of hours of “flat” sleep on a “lounge couch” in the departures lounge. Before you know it, I’m checked in, through customs and immigration, which means that duty free has NO limits, other than what you can carry.

Oddly, I bought two more bottles (rum) because they gave me a free travel bag and a 22% coupon for more purchases the same day. Let’s see. Duty Free, 30% off because of the exchange rate, and a 22% coupon for two bottles of rum (which came with glassware). I could barely get my carryon into the overhead with all the extra weight.

The Edmonton Airport has some INTERESTING seating options (and no lounges):

I seem to remember a chorizo egg sandwich at the Starbucks because I ask about food on the flight in First Class, and the gate agent said, “minimal”. She was right.

I took the bite, it didn’t come that way. But I was on a E175 (operated by SkyWest) and I was in 1A, which is a single seat window/aisle seat.

Not bad for a regional jet! But I still look tired.

I look better with a drink, but not much. Nothing like a couple of hours sleep on airport furniture.

And I get views…

Not a bad view or seat. I was home by 7:30am in the morning with the time change – and went directly to bed.


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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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Sep '15

Amtrak Guest Rewards Report: The Times, They Are A Changin’

Some of you have been following my obsession with Amtrak Guest Rewards and gaming the system. Well, the game is changing as of January 24th. Here is the current zone system:

Amtrak Guest Rewards

Sleeper Rewards




1 Zone



2 Zone



3 Zone




Under the new system it will be an almost complete rip-off of the Delta SkyPesos program. It’s all about the dollars you spend and how you spend them, including no points earning for slightly discounted tickets:

Q: What fares do not qualify for point earning and redeeming?

A: As is the case today, members may not earn or redeem points for Amtrak 7000-series Thruway services or the Canadian portion of joint Amtrak/VIA Rail Canada services. Additionally, discounted Amtrak fares (including Saver Fares, AAA discount, Senior Fares etc.) will not be redeemable.

Currently Saver Fares aren’t eligible for the AAA discount, but at least you still get the dollar spend – pity my rail buddies like Solus+ who gets the senior discount (which is the same as the AAA discount). So, if we look at some older posts you can see lots of examples, but I’ll use my favorite trip as an example:

Currently this is considered at Two Zone Award Ticket costing 20,000 miles in a Roomette and 30,000 in a bedroom. These tickets are for two passengers including all your meals and access to the Metropolitan Lounges in (on this itinerary), New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland.

Under the new scheme this routing would be…

Post January 24, 2016
Amtrak Guest Rewards Redemption Values
How Far Out

Roomette Retail

Points Cost

Price Per Point

Old Points Cost

Price Per Point

3-months out

$ 1,733.00


$ 0.03


$ 0.09

6-months out

$ 1,529.00


$ 0.03


$ 0.08

9-months out

$ 1,657.00


$ 0.03


$ 0.08

How Far Out

Bedroom Retail

Points Cost

Price Per Point

Old Points Cost

Price Per Point

3-months out

$ 2,872.00


$ 0.03


$ 0.07

6-months out

$ 2,592.35


$ 0.03


$ 0.06

9-months out

$ 3,339.00


$ 0.03


$ 0.08

Some notes on the chart above. Three months out from today is mid-December (mid-season, pre-Christmas), 6-months out is mid-March (low-season), 9-months out is mid-June (high-season).

As you can see, under the new “scheme” points have been devalued by 2-3 times.

What to do about it?

  • If you haven’t bought your maximum number of points this year (15,000), top up that account and book your trip before January 24th, 2016. Current costs are .04 each, but sometimes they have bonus points sales (up to 30% extra points), though I doubt that is likely to happen again before they change the system.
  • Get the new Amtrak Chase MasterCard and pray that your 20,000 points bonus (after spending $1000 in the first three months) hit your account before January 24th, 2016 and book that trip (and don’t change it) under the old rules. They say 8-12 weeks posting time so spend that thousand dollars quick.
  • Take the train this fall between 9/21/2015 and 11/21/2015 and register for the Double Points Promotion.

Looks like I’m going to bank as many miles as I can over the next couple of months, and book as many trips as I can before the middle of January since once the new program is in place, that will be the end of my freewheeling days on Amtrak.

And in other news, Amtrak has just released a bunch of new ads to get people to take the long distance trains – the first in 15 years. Maybe there is hope for the system after all. It’s a lifestyle choice, not a dollar choice.


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Apr '15

Travel Tips: Amtrak Guest Rewards Update

Yesterday was another “train day” – not on the train but dealing with Amtrak.

As it turn out, the routing that I proposed in my earlier post, while a valid “routing”, isn’t a valid “redemption”. Seems that ALL LEGS of the journey must be within a single zone.

The route in question was Denver to New Orleans (for my birthday ramble this year) via Chicago (California Zephyr) and Washington, DC (Capital Limited connecting to The Crescent):

After a longer than usual chat with a couple of Guest Rewards folks (who, in turn, had to check with their supervisors) the above routing would be a two zone (three nights) ticket. To get from Denver to New Orleans using only one zone, the trip would look like this and only be for two nights using the California Zephyr and The City of New Orleans:

That said, if you really wanted to maximize a two-zone (four nights), this, believe it or not, is a legal routing:

But there are other legal routings that would work:

The green line at the top would be the Empire Builder, the blue in the middle would be the California Zephyr and the purple at the bottom would be the Sunset Limited.

Bottom line – my September Birthday Ramble will be two nights in Denver, two nights on the train, five nights in New Orleans.

In other train news – realized that it was Double Points time (they do one in the shoulder season of fall as well). That promotion is good until May 16th – AND I have a $75 Coupon I need to use for Amtrak travel before October 11, 2015. The coupon is from the snarky letter I wrote about being forced out of my sleeper and onto a bus between Portland and Eugene on my way to Denver last fall. You can see that blog post here:

The bottom line was I got a $75 Guest Certificate for the hassle of have to pack up my room, get on a bus, and then set the room up again a couple of hours later. Not terribly happy at the time, but feeling better about it now that I just booked a trip using $74.80 of the $75.00 – the station agent (stopped in when I took Solus+ to catch the train yesterday) asked, “Do you mind eating the 20 cents?” It might have been amusing to get a 20 cent certificate, but I said I was happy just eating it. And the seats are in Business Class (free newspapers and a $3.00 off coupon for some food/booze).

The trip? Olympia to Portland (I’m in Olympia the previous night for an Evergreen event), spend a couple of hours at Powell’s Books or eating oysters at Jakes, then back on the train to Olympia to grab the car and go back to Roxy’s for another sleepover. Nothing like a free trip! AND 300 Amtrak Guest Rewards points.

Well, that’s my Amtrak news for today. Next post will be the much delayed Spring Break Three post.



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Apr '15

Trip Report: Spring Break Number Two – Birch Bay & Vancouver

Spring Break trip number two – another student: Jonathan. Student Spring Break trips are on the cheap: driving. Teacher Spring Break trips, frugal, but flying.

The route:

Lots of miles on the Miata this Spring…speaking of which, when you travel in a small car, forget hard-side luggage, think lots of small, squishable bags:

And my stuff and ½ of Jonathan’s stuff in the trunk…not much room left:

But the reason that you own a convertible is for a little Miata on Miata action…..I really don’t know why they didn’t have their top down:

Thanks Jonathan for the great cell-phone photo with Dad’s Habitat For Humanity hat on backwards.

What I’d booked in Birch Bay was the WorldMark Blaine. I’ve stayed next door at the WorldMark Birch Bay in the 3-bedroom Penthouse units with the private hot tub that are out of a student’s network are lovely, but they just added the place next door (no private hot tub, no private BBQ). I’d booked the “2-bedroom Standard” and was somehow rewarded with a Penthouse Unit (again, no private hot tub, but the BBQs were just down the deck).

Top floor – out unit was on the end, at the other end was the communal lounge:

And then there is the view….

Before long, I was settled in on the deck in the sun, cocktail in hand…

It’s not a bad little place….

It was a two-bedroom 2-bath unit. Not quite up to WorldMark standards (no BBQ tongs, no non-stick fry pan), but the furniture was comfy.

Steaks for dinner the first night, then for me, it was off to WorldMark Owner ReEduction for a $100 AMEX gift card for an hour and a half of them trying to sell me more points. No more point purchases until I sell the next house, or Mom dies – and I don’t think either of those are coming soon.

The LITTLE “event” for today is Jonathan trimming my locks – thoughts? It’s short!

The BIG “event” for today is the Scholarship Reading….

The following morning we were up and out by noon (thanks for the GREAT breakfast strata DancingBear!). The only downside was that my laptop pack got put in the wrong car – no laptop on my next stop Vancouver.

But before I move on, a couple of other pictures:

It’s just me headed to Vancouver. Jonathan didn’t get his Enhanced Washington State ID figured out in town.

Easy border transit even with having to cross several lanes of stopped traffic to get from Duty Free and back into the Nexus lane…hopefully this will be fixed once they open the new lanes.

Destination is the WorldMark at The Canadian in Vancouver. One of my favorites. And when I got there after shopping for dinner, the unit wasn’t ready, but Hummingbird had already been by just getting off “work”. That would assume that being a priest is “work”.

But we did get a unit early – they switched us to get us in earlier…not a bad room:

Time for Hummingbird to start reading scholarships! And me to start working on the Pu Pu Platter for the friends arriving for dinner…

It was salmon on the menu tonight (with bread, salad, wine). Much fun. Guests were: Solus, Hummingbird, and his friend Kevin who was standing in for BamBam who couldn’t make it.

Slept in, and then couldn’t find the Cathedral where Hummingbird was doing the Maundy Service (the Thursday before Easter) so I went back to the condo and went back to bed. Another dinner tonight.

Second dinner of the visit was steak, brazed green onions, salad, bread – and of course — starting it off, the Pu Pu Platter.

No pictures—don’t know what I was thinking. Guests Helene, Tom, Stephen – and much good conversation (and knitting on Helene’s visit).

Out of the condo a little before noon – and the signs were saying 70 minute delay for the truck crossing – even the Nexus line was backed up past Duty Free – but I took a shortcut via the truck entrance to get to Duty Free which as a Nexus pass holder you get to park right out front AND get 10% off your purchases. Talk about cheap whiskey!

Between the 10% discount and the 20% exchange difference… that’s some mighty cheap whiskey, and a 1.14 liter bottle at that!

But back in the line (they shunt you into the existing line if you show your receipt) there were only a dozen or so cars in front of me:

And before you knew it I was home (after picking up my laptop bag that got put in the wrong car yesterday).


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Sep '14

Trip Report: Birthday Ramble – YVR

Got to the condo around 10AM – and check-in as at 4PM.Been there, done that. Left my name and number at the desk, went down the hall to the lounge, gathered a couple of pillows and took a 3-hour nap.

The nap done, it was off to find some lunch…and a coupon from WorldMark to make it cheaper. The choice? Relish, a European Gastropub just around the corner. The deal? 15% off food.

Got there to find the house wine, a Naked Shiraz on offer for $4 a glass, VERY cheap by Canadian standards and not a bad glass pour. I paired it with the Duck Confit tacos ($11) for a wonderful little lunch:

That put me back at the WorldMark around 2PM – room still not ready, so it’s off to the IGA Marketplace with a 10% off coupon to get the rest of the stuff we need for dinner.

Tonight’s dinner guests are Solus+ and Helene. The dinner menu is:

  • Fish that Helene is bringing
  • Sourdough bread
  • Caesar salad
  • Red and White wine
  • Croatian cookies for dessert

But before that can happen, I have to get checked in, which turns out to be around 2:30 – after declining to have them fix a broken light in the kitchen. I think I can suffer.

And oh how I suffer at The Canadian…

Helene arrived around 5, Solus+ around six…alas, none of the dinner picture turned out…might have been the wine…

A late night, and a late morning of sleeping in…did a 3-egg fish scramble with cheese for my breakfast this morning, before settling into getting caught up on the blog… and by 3 it was time for another run to Relish for their oyster happy hour from 3-6PM with oysters at a “buck-a-shuck” – paired nicely with a Beefeater slightly dirty martini in honor of Pucci:

I ended up having a dozen of those “buck-a-shucks”.

Back to the IGA for a little more fish – Helene brought more than enough, but not quite enough for two meals – more salad and a little more for the pupu platter that BamBam always devours….

Croatian chocolate cookies on the left, sliced up heirloom sweet peppers that were on sale at the IGA for .99 a pound.

The boys (Hummingbird and BamBam) got there a little after 6, and with no word from Epick since I emailed him yesterday, finally a text response that he wasn’t coming….would have been nice to know, might not have bought more fish.

But a good dinner it was:

With leftovers for the boys to take home.

Their big news is that they finally, after seven years, have settled with the insurance company over their house fire. The money is in the bank, and they’ve found a place that they want to put an offer on in the city, in a neighborhood that I really like (as does Helene), so I’m wishing them the best of luck.

Another relaxing morning capped with another 3-egg omelet (no fish this time – sent it home with the boys for the cats). Checked out a little after 10:30AM, waited a few minutes trying to flag down a cab and finally just decided to save the $10+ and walk back down the hill to the cruise terminal – at least it wasn’t raining!

This is one of my favorite oddities on Hornby – it’s actually the bottom floor of what is now the Vancouver Art Gallery, but obviously in the past it was a police station…

Showing up at 11am seems to be the thing to do…unless you are on the Holland America boat that isn’t boarding until 1PM since they had a little norovirus outbreak. The downside of the Vancouver Cruise Terminal is that everyone, no matter how many boats are in dock, are all shoved through the same security line….meaning to Elite Line. At least past security – where they always notice my bottle of wine and direct me to the registration table – which I’ve started ignoring since no one seems to notice – there were dedicated lines for Preferred Passengers.

And a waiting area with coffee and pastries — too bad my Cruise Card is still showing Platinum (Silver) rather than Elite (Black) …I hate to start my cruise by bitching someone out, but I want my free mini-bar setup and I’ve got shirts that need laundered and starched.

[? ? ?]

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Sep '14

Trip Report: Big Easy Quickie, Part Two.

Today’s mission: The New Orleans Museum of Art, which I’d read was free on Wednesdays… as it turns out free for RESIDENTS on Wednesdays. Oh well — $10 towards the arts and culture scene.

NOMA is at City Park which is at the end of one of the Canal Street Street Car lines (the other goes to the Cemeteries).

Reminds me vaguely of the Nelson-Atkins Gallery in Kansas City with the big columns out front.

Not a huge collection and a couple of wings were closed for upcoming exhibitions, but here are three of my favorites:

To which, when I sent it to my buddy Solus+ he said: “Is that a PENIS?” Answer: “YES, I believe it is.” Of course, being a priest he might find this piece less than….

And then there is the creepy Dutch Boy that looks slightly (well, not slightly) menacing. Man, did it get a bunch of comments on FaceBook:

  • I’ve seen that painting there! 🙂
  • It’s like some satanic boy on a donut box….
  • Would you recommend the NOMA? Thinking about going.
  • Not a huge collection, but a MASSIVE sculpture garden (which I didn’t see but have the brochure for). Lovely café that is an outpost of Ralph Brennan.
  • It looks like a selfie!
  • Dutchboy paints used this painting for marketing.
  • Slightly!?
  • Somewhere in Maine Stephen King is missing a piece of cover art.

Now for something tame… from my love of furniture.

Great lunch at Café NOMA which is a Brennan outpost. I had the BBQ Chicken Sliders:

Yep, a glass of red wine and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal – got my news fix.

From the St. Charles Street Car line.

A view down Canal Street towards the Mississippi. The rain from my first night in town has turned into just a muggy overcast.

Maybe a new profile picture?

That was the end of day one…dinner was pork chops simmered in BBQ sauce. Last night was a pan-fried rib eye steak, both meals came with salad – yes, I’m condo cooking in New Orleans, the land of great food (where the portions are HUGE as are the calories).

Full Day Number Two: the goal is the Mexican Consulate’s Art Gallery to see an exhibition of Five Generations of Mexican Art – focusing on printmaking. Damn fine show! As I said to the gallery director as well. Hard to find. The address on Convention Boulevard finds you across from the Convention Center at a Hertz car rental. It’s a slightly run down building which if you walk around the east side you find the Mexican Consulate on the ground floor, and if you walk around the west side you find the gallery, which you have buzz someone to unlock the door – guessing they aren’t listed in any of the “art gallery guides”. I just stumbled across them on the interweb (as Mags would say).

Also on my agenda – though just added when I noticed it on a directional sign at transferring from the Canal Street Street Car to the Waterfront Street Car was the Museum of Southern Food and Beverage which looked to be close to the Mexican Consulate. When I couldn’t find any other signs for it, tapped it into the phone to find out some sad news:

SoFAB will re-open to the public on Monday, September 29, 2014 following a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

Exploring their site on-line led to this interesting entry:

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum and the Museum of the American Cocktail are located  at 1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70113. Street parking is available, or you can take the St. Charles Streetcar line to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and walk three blocks to Oretha C. Haley Boulevard.

Who knew? Guess I have another reason to come back to New Orleans….

Walking back to the street car almost stepped in this:

Not sure how it met it’s end, but doesn’t look pleasant.

And now a couple of random “tourist” shots – the cruise terminal on the Mississippi next to the Riverwalk Outlet Mall…

Harrah’s Casino – now on-land rather than a boat:

Another restaurant with a cool neon sign:

Headed back to the Avenue Plaza to whip up a little dinner…

And before bedtime headed out to pick up more of the cheap “bourbon” since it wasn’t that bad…

Before settling into bed…

For tomorrow it’s check-out at noon and meander to the airport for my 5:55PM flight.


The Road Home….


It’s wonderful to have a late afternoon flight (though that means getting in rather late as well) – no need to worry about setting alarms, having enough time to make breakfast, etc. It takes about two hours using the cheap public transit to get to the airport – but I’ve got plenty of time, and the check-in desk at Alaska doesn’t open until 3PM anyway.

There isn’t a Board Room at the New Orleans Airport, but there is a Delta Sky Club that I have privileges in, albeit in a different terminal which means going back through security to catch my flight. And when I get there, the place is PACKED – there were more people in the Sky Club than were in the concourse – apparently due to a couple of delayed flights.

But the food was good and the drinks were strong.

That would be the Chicken Salad with walnuts and cranberries, marinated olives, and a Jack and Diet – not shown, the Italian Wedding Soup with meatballs (also good).

Alas—no gate upgrade to First Class for my trip home. And there was a tall muscly guy in the middle seat…spent most of the flight leaning towards the aisle. Looks like my “upgrade luck” finally ran out.

[? ? ?]

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May '14

Trip Report: Cruise To Nowhere.

It really isn’t a cruise to nowhere… just an overnight from Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA – with a couple of nights in Vancouver with friends at the beginning.

Since Swanda wants to see lots of selfies, this might be a report in selfies….starting with not getting to bed early enough…

But I make the train – cab is early so I boxed my breakfast and headed out. Luckily they boarded 40 minutes early so I could just chill and snooze.

Three hours later and a couple of drinks later, we stop at the Canadian border for a red signal…more delays.

Finally coming into Vancouver, British Columbia with snow-capped mountains in the background…

A beautiful day in Vancouver…

Had lunch with Solus+ at The Parlour – a great little Yaletown eatery. He was kind enough to pick me up at the station. We shared a bunch of appetizers:

  • Arugula — Anjou Pear, Red Onion, Butter Croutons, Parmesan, Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Maple Shallot Vinaigrette
  • Ahi Lettuce Wraps– Tuna, Avocado, Citris Ginger Soy, Mint, Spicy Ponzu Aioli, Crispy Shallots
  • Brocco — Garlic, Shallots, Jalapeño, Pine Nuts, Sweet Soy Sauce
  • Stacked Short Ribs — Hosisin and Tamarind marinated, Granny Smith Apple and Jicama Slaw

Solus+ had a couple of stouts; I had a couple of Manhattans. What was I thinking! No selfie? No food shots.

Got to the condo after lunch – and only had to wait20 minutes to have my room ready – a couple of hours early. Hummingbird had left me bread and wine with the front desk – what else would a priest leave ( body and blood of Christ).

The early check-in gives me time to grab 10% off coupons and head to the IGA for some grocery shopping. Much wandering later the meal plan is in place:

  • Pupu platter which BamBam will decimate and not have it effect his appetite
  • Southwestern salad (pre-packaged kit)
  • Bread
  • Rolled pork roasts on a bed of multi-colored potatoes

Hummingbird showed up with white wine and dessert. Their friend showed up with more wine, which is good since there are four of us and all I have is two bottles of whiskey.

Great views from the apartment – we lucked out and got one of the few balcony units at WorldMark at The Canadian.

After dinner the silliness begins…

No, it’s not a stitched picture, it’s a times picture with two pieces of mirror in the background, showing off the BBC News we are watching.

The boys (minus Kevvy, their guest) spent the night since they now live north of town in the Frasier Valley. Way too much whiskey was consumed, so in the morning we were off to church after a breakfast scramble:

Hummingbird is an Anglican priest who does regular Eucharist Services at the Cathedral in Vancouver.

At the noon service he asks for healing thoughts for the family and friends of my buddy CaddyDaddy who would have been on this trip had he not crapped out last year. He is due to be planted tomorrow at 11:15am with full military honors in Olympia. The mere mention of him in the service left a huge lump in my throat – I can’t imagine the mess that I would have been had I attended his interment.

The boys were off after a quick run back to the apartment, giving me time to make a run for tonight’s dinner with Helene, and a quick nap, and some work on wine shop stuff (site updates, blog postings to other sites, graphics).

Tonight’s dinner:

  • Bread of Helene (a small baguette which wasn’t large enough for the carb carnivore)
  • Mixed greens salad for from the salad bar at the IGA
  • Broiled salmon on a bed of buckwheat noodles (leftovers from the boys – the noodles that is)

I love the condo vase with a couple of stems of fresh flowers. I’m sure that vase has NEVER held a flower in its life in the condo.

Luckily Helene brought wine, though with DancingBear dropping off wine on his way to dinner with friends, we didn’t get to it – but I was glad I popped next door and picked up another bottle of whiskey.

DB got home just as we were finishing dinner and we popped in the DVD that I bought the other night at the IGA – The Poseidon Adventure (the remake) which is appropriate since DB and I are going on a cruise tomorrow.

HUGE scramble in the morning:

  • Eggs (5)
  • The leftover potatoes from the first night’s roast
  • The leftover cheese from the Pupu platter
  • The leftover pork from the first night

Seems it’s a WorldMark tradition to have scrambles in the morning with the leftovers from the night(s) before. Now you know why I pack butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (not the last for breakfast).

We (DB & UM) bail on the condo at 11:15am for the Golden Princess for our cruise home to Seattle. The lines were moving OK, in contrast to one of DB’s cruises from the same terminal when four ships were in port (as opposed to two today) where the line went out the door and around the building. Think three hours in line.

Selfie of us in line waiting for the Golden Princess with the folks also on the Holland American Westerdam :

DancingBear and I booked separate cabins so we could each get 2 Princess Cruise Credits (rather than 1 for a double occupancy cabin). I booked a balcony, he booked an inside and the plan was that we’ve hang in the balcony cabin and he had Princess put him 4 doors down from mine…but the upgrade gods (yes, even on Cruise Ships there are upgrade Gods) intervened and he got bumped from his Inside Cabin to a Balcony (a two-class upgrade), and I got upgraded from a Balcony to a Suite – a sweet Suite. I hadn’t looked at what cabin I was in for a while so I didn’t notice the upgrade until I got to the room and thought “this looks bigger than I remember balcony cabins”.

Yes, that is a King Size bed on a Princess. Yes, there were TWO flat screen TVs. Now add a porch with a couple of lounge chairs and a table.

We had a quick drink in the cabin before heading to the Donatello Dining Room for lunch, bypassing the huge crowds at the buffet:

Our quite sit-down lunch at a shared table with other cruisers was:

And yes, we both had dessert (Orange Soufflé). There weren’t many people having the sit-down lunch (only open until 1:30pm)

A little quiet time after lunch and before you know it we are in full swing – 3:45pm is the Mandatory Life Boat Drill:

After the drill it’s time to get underway. Here is us sailing away under the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver:

Honest – I was trying to get my phone ready to take a selfie, and not drop my Manhattan. We were out there for the LGBT gathering – formally known as the “Friends of Dorothy” which I sort of miss… “code and all”, like “beard“. Apparently the youngsters don’t get the old reference. FOD is to the old gay world like FOB (Friends of Bill [W]) is for the people in “recovery”. It always amuses me on cruises with they have the recovery people meeting in a bar that isn’t open.

That party quickly moved to the Skywalker Lounge (17 Aft) because it was Happy Hour with Hors d’oeuvres in the Platinum Lounge with discounted drink of the day. We ran in to a couple of other Gay Short Curisers – or as they are known on Facebook as the Seattle Princess Sea Men.

Some chips and guacamole, a way-to-sweet top shelf Margarita for cheap and we were back to the cabin for another round before dinner – the way-sweet margarita was helped by watering it down with the last of the white wine we packed on board. The red wine was headed to dinner with us ($15 corkage fee – on Princess you are allowed to bring one bottle of wine per person free and the corkage fee only applies to having it in one of the restaurants.)

Speaking of dinner:

Starter of the red snapper ceviche, then the indecision of two choices for dinner — order both. That would be the Prime Rib AND the Crawfish Étouffée.

We probably DIDN’T need to order THREE desserts…

With Limón cello for me and Bailey’s in Coffee for DB (both on sale). My best shot is of the heart “broken” to share:

That’s the Princess Loveboat Heart in the foreground and the flan in the background (the other was a flourless chocolate thingee).

DB was done after that… and I surfed the internet until midnight (150 free minutes to use as a Princess Platinum) until hunger called again at a little after midnight. I didn’t reen the cheeseburger and fries (free) but I did need the Diet Pepsi Mixer ($2.25 with fees). I asked for a “bucket of ice” – and they brought me a damned bucket:

Things from duty free and some emptys… and the “bucket” next to the ice bucket:

Don’t worry – the ice is sitting in front of a mirror.

Up early – yet another meal in the dining room – so far haven’t hid the buffet at all – a record.

Separate disembarkation lounge for the Platinum Folk (both DB and I) so it was basically leave when you want and it was home by cab (in different directions) for both of us. I actually got a nap of over an hour before heading to work for the opening shift.

Dinner at Swanda’s for dinner with two mutual friends and then it was hone to bed. Long day. Or should I say long days.


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Mar '14

Trip Report: Istanbul To Bucharest On The Overnight Train.

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

Breakfast in Europe, lunch in Asia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice the differences in the hallways. Their car:

And now my hallway:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar '14

Trip Report: Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania – Getting There.

Thank you Russ for marking one of my maps with the highlights to see in Istanbul:

Now all I have to do it get to them all. Thanks also to Solus+ and Ton who also provided lists of things to see and food to eat.

Russ’ unexpected visit (in town to clean up the personal effects mess left behind from a friend’s suicide) means that I get a ride to the airport for my morning flight. Downside it that he will be in Seattle until Wednesday morning so I’ll miss two nights of dinner with him, though since he used to live in Seattle I doubt he will go hungry.

The upside is a ride to the airport, the downside is that it’s VERY early in the morning. Here is what I look like in the morning:

Grumpy Markie. Looking a little better after sleeping most of the flight from Seattle to Washington, DC. In the United Club at Dulles:

One of the nice things about airline status is that Premier Gold (I’m Platinum) and above is that on international itineraries you get free access to the United Club locations for your entire itinerary. Too bad the food in the US clubs is basically just cheese, crackers, vegetables and dip, cookies – not like the soup and salad fare in the Board Rooms of Alaska Airlines.

A couple of shots from the DC-Munich flight. I was amazed to find both a USB port AND a 110 outlet on the 767-400 aircraft – assuming this is a retrofitted aircraft rather than new since not many 767’s are being delivered these days:

The blue circle is the headphone jack, the other blue lite thingee at the bottom is the USB port. Sorry, no picture of the 110 outlet. I did get a picture of this “odd” message on the in-flight entertainment system as I was cruising through for movies to watch:

Yes, that’s what it says, “For Korean select Dutch.” This on a flight to Europe. The Dutch never get enough respect. And, no, I didn’t watch I Love You, Man. Saw it on another flight. What I did watch:

  • Adore – wild sexual Australian sex comedy. Might have to buy that one – about the taboo of a surfer boy sleeping with his mother’s best friend when your mother is sleeping with your surfer buddy.
  • Parkland – the hospital that they took Kennedy to after the grassy knoll. I don’t think I’ve ever cried at the beginning of a movie. As a child I made a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of the events. My first publishing project. Between all the tears there is the amazement that everyone seems to be smoking cigarettes in the workplace. Oh, right, that IS how it used to be.
  • Rushmore – a nice relief from Parkland. Reminds me of Ferris Buller. In a suit. A little dark at times but the ultimate happy ending.
  • And the capper of the four movie night…that I will watch anytime… Young Frankenstein. God I love that movie!

With all the inclement weather on the East Coast – what the displays show as an almost full flight has LOTS of empty seats. I’m guessing lots of people missed their connections:

Most every seat where you see the blue map on the screen is empty. That’s not a full flight.

So, basically NO sleep on the DC-Munich leg. Local time approximately 7am – time for the Lufthansa Senator Lounge which actually does have a breakfast buffet:

Scrambled eggs, a pretzel, some cheese, some meat – yes, there were cereals as well – a Scotch and a Diet Coke.

Had I wanted beer, there were a couple of taps to choose from:

Scotch – it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Onward towards Istanbul:

My plane awaiting me. Had to go back to the check-in desk to retrieve my jacket, but eventually got settled into what was supposed to be an Exit Row seat, but Turkish changed the airplane type, AGAIN. Moved to a vacant Exit Row seat, but no extra legroom. It’s only a two-hour flight, so no big deal. I was amazed that it came with free food and free booze.

Arrived in Istanbul, found the right line, had my Electronic Visa, and got through Immigration in 15 minutes, and my bag was actually one of the first dozen off the plane – and my driver was waiting. Off to the Ramada Grand Bazaar – a hotel I booked thinking it was “next door” to the Grand Bazaar but is actually a short walk or two tram stops. As it turns out, the hotel seems to be in the textile district where everything seems to move around on giant handcarts because the streets are chocked with cars. The other reason for booking this place (besides frequent flyer points) is that unlike booking.com or other sites, I didn’t have to pre-pay and got 20% off of cheapest rack rate via my WorldMark by Wyndam membership.

Got checked into my room at a lovely low desk that you had to sit down at (after an offer of water/coffee/tea) – to find out that I’m getting the breakfast buffet as well (a 25 lira value – that would be $12 USD):

Got to the room and got the wi-fi set up – only to discover a low signal.

Sigh – this is the view from the room – nice street view:

A little stop at the desk and I’m moved from the 2nd floor to the 6th floor. So, no double bed, but two twins – and a balcony – and a see through shower. Think I’m liking this:

And the new view from the balcony:

And how close I am to a wi-fi repeater on the balcony (the in-hotel one is just down the hall):

And as the “topper” for the evening, it’s the square toilet for my square butt. Complete with little butt sprayer. I haven’t tested it to see if it’s aimed for men or woman:

Went out to explore the neighborhood and get some grounding. Got my fix of Coke Light (what all other countries call Diet Coke) for the room, to go with the ice I had delivered.

Please compare the picture of this ice to the COOLER of ice that I got delivered in Hong Kong.

Dinner was downstairs in the hotel restaurant… not memorable, but close by. A Caesar salad with chicken which cost less than the glass of wine I had with dinner. It was what I needed after a day in the air.

Dinner – done.

Cocktails – done.

The only casualty is my maroon and black leopard print jacket (that I love) has gone missing, most likely in the shuttle from the airport, but so far the front desk hasn’t been able to find it. Guess I’ll need to check out the grand bazaar for a new jacket.

[210.4 when I left town I think]




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Sep '13

Back To Land – Hello Vancouver.

We had to be out of our room at 8am… early. We were packed and on-time, and hit the buffet line at the same time as everyone else… the downside of disembarkation day.

Had a light breakfast and headed to Customs – not bad, a half an hour line, and no luggage search.

Luckily the cruise terminal in Vancouver has the cabs come into the building to pick people up, which is good since it’s raining Mountie and Mooses.

Arrival time at the WorldMark Canadian? 9:30 – chance of room being ready. Really, really, slim.

Our luck? The party in our room had checked out a day early so our room was ready – and I was ready for a nap.

And nap I did – till about noon. Still raining… sigh. What a difference 18 hours makes.

Ran out for groceries for dinner – should have waited. Got wet on the way there, but by the time I was done shopping, no sun, but not a raining.

Tonight’s dinner guests:

  • Helene
  • Solus+
  • Hummingbird
  • BamBam/Cyndi
  • Magnatrious
  • Uncle Markie


  • PuPu platter with pate, two cheeses, crackers
  • Pear-Gorgonzola salad
  • Salmon steaks
  • Three bottles of red wine
  • Bottle of Jamesons


  • All

Tomorrow we are back on a boat headed to Los Angeles – which mean YET ANOTHER queue in the morning.’

Sigh. But a good sigh.

[? ? ?]

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Jan '13

Hello Vancouver.

Out of the unit a little after 11 to catch the 1pm ferry to Tawassan. Everything was going fine until suddenly the road was blocked by police and the detour was long, crowded and inconvenient – NOT what you want when you are trying to make a ferry. Instead of the ½ hour or so drive, it turned into an hour. And we know how I like to be early for things.

This is a lovely shot from the ferry:

Might have been better to go up to the sun deck and take this picture, but since I’d left my jacket at the condo, it would have been damn chilly.

Got to the Vancouver condo a little before four after a little last minute shopping at Safeway for salad and such. They were running a bit behind so it was almost 4 by the time I was in the unit.

Solus+, Marmot, Epick, and Tom for dinner tonight. Pork loins over a bed of potatoes, a nice salad, after the appetizer course… sounds like a broken record. And speaking of records we might have set a new one. Irish whiskey killed, bourbon killed, two bottles of wine killed… not a drop left in the house.

And Solus+ used the spare bedroom for the night and think he was happy to not have to head back to the suburbs.

[? ? ?]

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Sep '12

Hello Vancouver.

Up and out of the house one time at 9:15 for a 10:15 BoltBus to Vancouver – the cost for the two of us to get to Vancouver… $13. Not bad.

CaddyDaddy and I on the BoltBus getting ready for the 3 hour trip to Vancouver.

Got to the condo at 1:30 or so, and of course the room wasn’t ready so it was drop the bags and go out to lunch and do the grocery shopping for dinner. Hummingbird met up with us at the restaurant and wentshopping with us. Room still not ready upon our return, and Hummingbird wasn’t feeling the best so he picked up his presents and package in the game room at The Canadian.

At 3:30 the condo was ready and Epick and Aaron were waiting for usat the door when we got to the 22nd floor. Apparently they were right behind me coming into the lobby as I was leaving.

So they showed up early, Helene showed up late, Solus+ showed up late, dinner was ready at 7 which by that time it was just three of us for dinner, Solus+ left, Helene returned and I woke up at 2am on the couch.

I must be on vacation.


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Aug '12

Train Day.

The day of trains today…

First, the Coast Starlight to Portland with Solus+:

And the Tacoma Narrows bridge from our roomettes (across the hall from each other).

Our lovely cabin attendant who I recognized from a previous Coast Starlight trip provided each of us two mini-bottles of champagne once we were under way.

I had about an hour in Portland before getting on the Amtrak Cascades service in Coach, but with two seats to myself and no children in my car.

But the most exciting news is that I heard that I’m definitely in on a train trip from San Diego to Los Angeles:

San Diego to Los Angeles

Make Reservation



09/05/2012 (400pm)


09/05/2012 (650pm)

Departing From

San Diego


Los Angeles

Price Per Person


Max Persons for Trip


Trip Overview

TIOGA PASS has been chartered by a group for a one-way trip Los Angeles to San Diego on September 4th. On September 5th, TIOGA PASS will “deadhead” back to LA, but who wants to ride on an open platform car along the coastline without passengers? Sign up now for the triumphant return to Los Angeles on train 585. You will be in LA in time for dinner at Phillipe’, after enjoying sunset on the ocean. Fare for this fun adventure: Just $50.00 per person, including beverage service. The open platform is yours to enjoy. Call now as this trip is limited to just 15 riders. 760 955 6079 or WWW.RideMyTrain.com


And here is what the Tioga Pass looks like:

And here is the interior layout:

And the floor plan:

And the cost?

  • Train portion: $50 (for a three hour coast hugging trip with an observation platform
  • Air portion: $7.50 and 25,000 miles (last minute tickets were pricey, so good use of miles)
  • Hotel portion: $62.40
  • Airport transfer to LAX: $7.00
  • Transportation in San Diego, unknown, maybe Debbie Dye will be my chauffeur, in which case then there would be a nice dinner out.

$126.90 and two days of my time…. Just got confirmation this afternoon. I’m uber-excited.

Leftovers from last night for dinner, still tasty.


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Aug '12

Good Day At The Shop.

A good day at the shop, which adding to yesterday’s massive day (Jim joked that maybe I should stop working Saturday) made for a really good week – may those favorable winds continue to blow.

The last quiet evening before more company comes. Solus+ is due in tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, dinner was three little lamb chops and some slaw.


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Jul '12

Friday At “The Office”.

Happy Friday the 13th. I wonder if Bowman still holds his parties every Friday the 13th in the Haight (at Ashby) in San Francisco.

Noon finds me at “the office” unlocking the front door and preparing for a day of receiving shipments from our distributors, pricing bottles and finding places for them in the racks – sometimes a challenge. I did get bored at one point and actually count the number of “facing bottles” that we have. Answer 442. Not bad for a shop that is only a little over 500 sq. ft.

Locked up the shop a little after 7pm owing to a last minute panicked customer who sent her daughter to keep me open while she parked the car. The panic? She needed 4 bottles (one cold) of the Gilbert Cellars Rosé for some sort of alley party.






2011 Gilbert Cellars Rosé of Mourvèdre ($13)

A dry local pink that actually does a great job of imitating the French. Nicely layered floral notes and good acidity.

Nice little wine for the price. I had a bottle Tuesday afternoon with Solus+ camping at American Ridge.

After work swung by the house, dropped off the car and walked over to Gnarlene’s place for his 50th birthday. Stayed too long, drank too much of his whiskey.

Late night to bed.


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