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Uncle Markie out and about.

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Apr '19

Trip Report: Wedding Ramble, Part One – Headed To Berkeley

It’s rare that I take a weekend off that I’m not out of the country. By mutual agreement with my business partner, I limit my weekends off during the year to three, maybe four. This is the very rare domestic trip, and since I have to take the weekend off for the wedding (more on that later), I might as well fill in the days before and after with adventure.

The adventure started over the weekend before my departure with a massive sinus headache and low-grade nausea. A fun way to spend a weekend at work. Fortunately, my Monday travel was by train, in a roomette, where I could hole up…with most of the massive amount of stuff I was lugging, stored below:

And set up my life for the next 24 hours:

And have the car attendant bring me food, in case what I have is contagious:

Got on the train. Napped. Looked at the view of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. This route will be rerouted soon – once positive train control is implemented and tested on the bypass. They ran the route for one partial run before the train derailed, killing several people (click here for details):

Had him bring me lunch. Napped. Stretched my legs in Eugene:

Napped. Had him bring me dinner, the surf and turf with mashed potatoes (option of baked or rice) that would have been $39 if it weren’t included in my train fare:

While looking at the snow in the mountains:

Stepped out in Klamath Falls for some air:

And then when to bed still not feeling well…until it was time to order breakfast at 6:30am…

I had them hold the potatoes, forgot to have them hold the croissant. Think that would have been $12.50 if I were paying.

Saint Lunetta was at the Emeryville Amtrak Station to drag my sorry ass to his place – where I went to bed. For hours. I was definitely a “quiet” guest.

By Wednesday I had started to recover, and actually take some food pictures of the amazing food coming out of their kitchen. The first night was meatballs over gnocchi which I ate half and covered the remaining for my brunch the next day.

Next up was shrimp in a cream sauce over lobster ravioli, with asparagus with hollandaise…I am truly spoiled.

Starting to look better!

And the final meal was a beef stew over fettuccine with roasted brussels sprouts:

Man, these guys treat me great – including service back to the train station on Friday morning (equally as early as my arrival – 8:30am). Including seeing me off.

The story will continue as I go south…stay tuned.

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Apr '19

Trip Report: Chicago – Presidential Reserve Style

Bless The Colonels for their bounty. It will take years for me to pay them back for the wonderful places they are providing this year. Latest example is a One-Bedroom Presidential Reserve unit in the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront.

Got a flight into town during the day – a nice change, AND an upgrade to First, rare on mid-day long-haul flights. I hit the ground running with my transit card in hand from previous visits…

Sadly, my balance was -$2.50, which I’m surprised they didn’t make me recharge on the last trip! Reloaded with $20 so I’m good for another trip or two. I have cards for Seattle, Japan, Santiago, all with Magic Marker telling me which city. I really wish cities would adopt a unified system like Japan does. Maybe next year.

Fifteen-minute walk from the “El” stop. And the room is ready. The place is massive – a hair larger than my HOUSE::

And the place is heavy on esthetics, light on the practicality:

Yes, I DID turn on the water flow that comes from the ceiling (and splashes). The bath is in addition to the shower (which holds four people, at least):

The shower has a “rainforest” head, the three body side scrubbers, and a wand. It felt like I was in a car wash.

And the view wasn’t bad:

At least I wasn’t at the front of the resort, and looking at THIS:

In the materials, they’d said, “kitchenette”, which in this case means a full-size refrigerator, a full-size dishwasher, a full-size microwave, and no burners (or oven). Fortunately, there is a restaurant on the first floor, and menus for takeout in every room. Hoyt’s is the name. I got the Marble-Rye Rueben and fries.

Notice the picture of ice – I have a full-size fancy-ass three-door refrigerator, with an icemaker that doesn’t work. After numerous calls over two days, I have a guy in my apartment past eleven working on it…

To find that he has the wrong replacement part. At least he showed up with two big pitchers of ice. It never did get fixed during my 4-day visit.

I spent my days wandering the neighborhood in search of nothing other than appetizer stuff for Cynthia on Tuesday night, more on that later:

Yes, that is an Amazon Go storefront.

Tuesday lunch was along the walk, at Sweetwater, in the base of some big-ass office building. Oddly, don’t seem to have an exterior shot:

Tuesday night, my sort-of-sister, Cynthia, came to check out the place.

I put on a bit of a spread, there was plenty of wine, Uber time:

Cynthia thoughtfully brought flowers (used the blender top as a vase), chocolate, and an M&M guy to go with the wine (juice container).

A nice way to catch up – we have plans in place for Friday during the day as well.

Tried to hit Buddy Guy’s Legend on Wednesday for lunch – only to find them closed for a special event. Went with my Chicago “must-do” restaurant – Berghoffs. Been there forever:

It was a light meal compared to the dinner I had the next night at Buddy Guy’s Legends for the acoustic dinner set:

Catfish Fingers and Fries –said five fingers, got seven. Not bad for a happy hour price of $8 – as cheap as the drinks.

I paid for that dinner with an unconfutable sleep. Good, but that’s a lot of fried food.

My final day in Chicago, with a ridiculous checkout time of 10am, and a flight not until early evening. Cynthia (bless her heart) drove into town and picked me up for a Frank Lloyd Wright tour of Oak Park, followed by lunch. There are just a FEW FLW houses in the burbs of Chicago:

And we did see a few!

Last stop was the gift shop at the FLW Foundation where I spotted this beauty for a Lego buddy:

Before going to Hemmingway’s Bistro which is a French-style restaurant on Oak Park Avenue. Ernest Hemmingway used to live in the neighborhood. We passed his house.

GREAT choice of places to eat at:

We each got an appetizer and a salad – consensus was, “delicious, but too much food”. Gnocchi with a salmon cream sauce, goat cheese salad for Cynthia, the creamed carrot bisque and Frisée Lyonnaise for me.

Nice way to wrap up a tour.

Swung by Cynthia and Lawrence’s temporary digs on the first floor of their son’s house – Lawrence arrived back in town the night before at 3am reeling of a massive cold. I did not do the honor of photographing him at his worst.

Got dropped off at the Metra station for the short hop back to the airport. A wish choice since it was a Friday afternoon and the freeways were clogged.

Headed to the lounge, and though not particularly hungry (and got upgraded so there will be food on the way home), still had to have a little fresh-made guacamole:

Another trip under the belt. Going home to work the weekend.

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Apr '19

Trip Report: San Diego For A Little Sun

Another adventure starting out at Paine Field – Seattle’s newest airport. This time Seth gave me a ride to the airport since he lives 10 minutes away. And gave me a place to park my car for a couple of days.

Snagged the fare for $131 roundtrip – and since it was double miles, plus my 125% elite bonus – a lot of mile:


Flight 2677 SAN PAE






Flight 2678 PAE SAN





Sadly, Bonus Miles don’t count towards qualifying for MVP 75K next year – I still have another 24,903 flight miles to log this year.

Had a Manhattan before the flight because, by airport standards, they are cheap:

Grounded 737Max Airplanes that were parked nose-to-tail, are now staggered (and more have pile up down by my house as well):

Manage to get upgraded both coming and going to San Diego.

Smooth flight down south, and a quick Uber to The Inn At The Park, one of the WorldMark places I haven’t stayed previously – and it’s nice, and this is a studio accessible unit:

The shades behind the headboards are electric. For privacy they are screened city scenes, when you want full light, you hit the switch. Cleaver way to make use of windows you need to cover:

The late morning found me in search of food within walking distance. The first thing I found was a gay bar which has a reputation for inexpensive, strong drinks…

But just next door was Hash House A Go Go:

And yes, I did order a drink (probably would have been cheaper next door) called The Drunk Clam which is basically a Caesar (which is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato) that is half clam juice:

For my brunch, I ordered their “Original Benedict”, which I was warned was nothing like a “classic” eggs benedict.

That’s griddled mashed potatoes over a split biscuit with two poached eggs, thick bacon, and a red pepper cream sauce. And yes, that plate is a 14″ wide oval. It was a ton of food. I took half of it home for dinner!

Today’s big journey to visit Balboa Park, originally built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition as temporary structures, but then they have saved over the generations. The place is HUGE, and includes the San Diego Zoo. The BLUE X is where I’m staying. Compare the size of Balboa Park (right side of the map) to the San Diego International Airport (left side of the map).

I didn’t even scratch to surface but wandered around taking photographs of interesting stuff. Basically I dipped my toe in far enough to know that I need to come back and spend some real time here:

Got back to the condo in time for a “wine” and cheese tasting. I say “wine”, because the “wine” was Carlo Rossi jug wine (that had been opened god knows how many days/weeks ago):

That said, the cheese was excellent!

It baffles me that they spent a fortune on cheese (that would end up with the employees after the meet and greet). The view from the roof lounge area was great though:

Before you knew it, it was back to the airport for my flight home…with a stop in the lounge first:

Ubered back to Seths for dinner and to crash on the couch since I didn’t get in until about 6PM, and had a few cocktails, so no driving.

Fun trip, need to go back.

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Apr '19

Trip Report: Trying Out Seattle’s New Airport

Seattle has a new airport! Not terribly close to me, an hour north of downtown, but had to check it out (and they are offering double miles through the end of April, which with my elite bonus, it’s 325%).

It was a quick trip to Portland for a cup of soup in the Lounge, and then back on the plane.

I parked in the lot next to a retired 727 that FedEx donated to Everett Community College for their Aviation:

Paine Field Everett is a built from scratch new passenger terminal with a whopping two gates:

And there is one place open so far, and it’s run by Beecher’s Cheese, so the food is good, and shocking, the drink prices are reasonable – my Manhattan was $10 plus tax, and the bar Bourbon is Evan Williams:

The new airport is a treasure for plane spotters since it shares a field with the Boeing plant that produces the 767, 777, 787 airplanes. These are a couple of former Virgin America A-320neos – hopefully getting the new First Class seats:

These are a line of 737max’s that are grounded that they flew up from the Renton plant to store…just like they are storing more at Boeing Field, though there are also three Air Force refueling tankers parked out there as well – saw about 10 of them scattered around the field:

On the ground they offered us a little sparkling wine (out of a can, I kid you not):

And some great views after we took off:

The return flight had mimosas on the ground…

Unlike the way south when there was lots of turbulence, the Flight Attendant took drink orders while on the ground, and we actually got a quick cocktail (and a snack) once we were in the air!

And later that afternoon, I way back in Everett…

An odd way to spend a day, but the flight was also priced cheap since they just started flights a couple of weeks ago, with United Airlines just starting flights this week.

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Mar '19

Trip Report: SLO Wine

While Jameson was off at work, I was off at play, sampling some of the local wineries.

Stop number one was Sextant, who has a branch tasting room and deli in the Edna Valley. Having not had breakfast, I needed food before wine:

Was getting grounded after a little food, but did chat a little and try their Verdejo. Sadly, they didn’t have their Tannat open as it’s a Wine Club only wine. This stop was a nice “dip the toe in the water” with regard to Edna Valley prices. The full tasting would have been $20, and sandwich was a little over $10, light on the meat, but did have a nice salad. Wines ranged from $25 for the entry cab, $28 for the Verdejo, and quickly escalating mostly in the $30-60 range. They weren’t on the list of planned visits – but food call, and once you are out of San Luis Obispo, there isn’t really aren’t food option, why most people opt for the charcuterie plates that the wineries seemed to have standardized on. If you want a big lunch, grab it in the city before heading out to the valley, or pack a picnic.

The list of planned wineries started down the road at Kynsi Winery. The advantage of being in the trade (and remembering your business cards) is that other wines start appearing in addition to the standard tasting menu wines, especially if you are doing a tasting during the week it is quieter. Most of the wineries seems to be open seven days a week.

But back to Kynsi, The standard tasting ($15) included five samples, starting with their Pinot Blanc ($24), a Chardonnay ($28), then two of their Pinot Noirs ($36 and $56). The Edna Valley is a cool growing region known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The next round were a couple of their Estate cool-climate Syrahs ($34 and $48), followed by my favorites, probably because of the unusual blends. The Hutash is a non-vintage blend (I think ’15 and ’16) of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Syrah ($28 – this is the one that I purchased) and their 2015 Nocturnum which is 50/50 Pinot Noir/Grenache ($39) which got 93 points and Editor’s Choice from Wine Enthusiast. It was a tough choice to figure out which of two would be best with the lamb and feta burgers for dinner tonight.

Interesting note about the winery – the woman running the tasting counter used to run the tasting room at Bonny Doon when they had a tasting room in Paso Robles. We shared a lot of Randal Graham (owner of Bonny Doon). Showed her the picture of the two 5-liter bottles of Bonny Doon I brought down for next month’s wedding. Nice views of the valley from the outdoor tasting area – and the new tasting bar getting coats of stain. GREAT WOOD!

Next up – I usually only do two wineries a day so that I get to swallow rather than spit – was Claiborne & Churchill. Their tasting fee is $18 for a flight of four (or by a bottle and sit on the patio – which is a common theme for the wineries I visited), and most amusingly, $22 if you have 8 or more people (because they know they won’t sell even a bottle).

We started with their Dry Gewürztraminer ($24), then their Dry Riesling ($22). Next up was an addition to the tasting, the Cuvée Fredericka (named after the owner) Chardonnay ($34), followed by the 2016 Estate Pinot ($32), then another addition to the tasting, the 2017 Straw Bale Red ($28, which I bought) which is 90% Pinot Noir, 5% Grenache, 5% Syrah. Back to the tasting menu with their Wolff Vineyard Syrah ($35) and finishing up with their Portobispo (a port-like wine for $28).

Great conversations with Eileen who was running my tasting, and another couple at the bar about where to go on tomorrow’s tasting run.

Just driving around the valley is a joy…

FYI – the lamb feta burgers were consumed the with the Kynsi Hutash.

The following day started off (after breakfast at Jameson’s place) at an old schoolhouse which is the tasting room for Baileyana Tangent & True Myth. Tasting was $15 for a flight of five.

On the tasting menu was a Chardonnay ($30), a really tasty “El Pico” Pinot (35), followed by a 60/40 Grenache/Syrah blend ($38) and their Estate Syrah ($35). Usually I pass on the dessert wines, but the had a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc open. In the end, because we were having Crispy Chicken for dinner tonight, I went with their Estate Pinot Noir Rosé ($24).

Next up was the Chamisal Vineyard, just down the road by Edna Valley standards (refer to map below).

We started off with a couple of their Chardonnays ($35 and $50), a plus taste of the Rosé of Pinot ($28, which was what I bought), then a Pinot ($45), onto a Grenache ($45), and then Syrah ($60). I should note that they also slipped in a Stainless Chardonnay (18).

I broke with my usual two wineries a day, and opted for Talley, which, while closer to Arroyo Grande where next month’s wedding is, but I won’t have a car. And it was recommended by multiple people. $15 for the Core Flight, $20 for the Distinctive Flight.

Today’s tasting was “this and that” from both of the tasting flights, mostly from the Distinctive Flight, with a couple of wines from the Core Flight and a Cabernet Franc that was sold for growlers only (I thought the Cab Franc was musty, but never got a confirmation from anyone else). They were all solid wines (maybe with the exception of the Cab Franc). That said, tried the Bishop’s Peak Sauvignon Blanc ($24), two of the Chardonnays (both $34), before moving onto the Estate Pinot ($34), their Rincon Pinot ($68) and Rosemary’s Pinot ($75) before switching to the heavier reds with their Bishop’s Peak Cabernet Sauvignon (85% Cabernet, 4% Petite Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, $24, and the purchase wine from here) along with the Bishop’s Peak Elevation (Four Rhone varietals, $34).

All in all, it was a wonderful couple of days of tasting – trying to see if I can put together a shop tasting for some of these.

Here is a map of the winery area…

Hopefully, I’ll be visiting Qupé and Timbre down in Arroyo Grande next month, stay tuned!


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Mar '19

Trip Report: SLO (San Luis Obispo) Fun

Last month I tried to visit SLO, and Amtrak failed me by cancelling two days’ worth of trains. My goal was to see Jameson before he and Carolynn get married next month since I know the wedding will be crazy and I’m betting I barely get to see his brother as well.

Alaska does a direct flight from Seattle via Horizon’s E175 aircraft. I love these planes – and even more when I’m up front!

And even in my favorite seat, which is 1A, because it’s both an aisle AND a window.

It was ridiculously bumpy on the way down, enough that the flight attendants were strapped in for 2/3rds of the flight – meaning I got my sandwich, but no cocktails for the entire 2.5 hour flight.

Great airport though…

Jameson had given me directions to the house, and how to find the key, and before long, I finally had that cocktail:

It was a pretty lazy afternoon for me, just hanging out with the assorted pets…

Petting neither since I’m allergic. Outside was better than inside.

Made a run to the store after checking out the fridge—got some steaks and found an amazing post-St. Patrick’s Day price on Jameson’s IPA and Stout edition:

Normally $40.00 a bottle, marked down toe $20, and if you bought three or more, $15. Wow, that’s like pushing $50 after tax in Seattle. And speaking of booze, I brought some down with me for the wedding:

The “small” bottle is a regular 750ml size, the other two are five liters each.

Nice place they live in…

And Jameson made me up a nice bed in the office…

I did steaks the first night (sorry, no food porn), then lamb burgers the next night:

Carolynn (Jameson’s fiancée) is working in the field all this week, which is disappointing because I’d wanted to spend more time with her, but on the upside, she doesn’t like soy, beef, or lamb, so guess what we are having this week.

The final night of my visit, Jameson suggested we get a cocktail after he got off work at the Madonna Inn. WOW. The place was huge, and weird, and…..heavy on the pink:

Even the men’s room is “unique” – look at the size of the urinal!

And a clam shell his and his sink…


All I can say is, WOW, WOW, WOW. Apparently, each of the 110 rooms is decorated differently, from Safari to Caveman to yikes!

Back at the house, the final meal of the visit is a crispy skin chicken (with some leftover asparagus from the steaks):

It was a great couple of nights – I’ll cover all the wineries that I visited in the next post.

Back on the plane the morning, back in First Class, but 4A (still window and aisle), and this time there were drinks!

And pretty views:

Was home early enough that I could have had folks to dinner, but sadly, couldn’t locate any.


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Mar '19

Home Report: 737max Storage

Two blocks from my house is the Duwamish River (with kayak launch for those that do those sorts of things in the park, and a boat launch for bigger things), and this is now the view across the river:

If you go up the bridge – this is the view:

From the middle of the bridge:

And the far observation area:

So far, this is what I’m seeing out there:

  • Three Turkish Airlines
  • One 9 Air (Chinese low-cost carrier)
  • Two China United Airlines
  • Three Jet Ay (Indian low-cost carrier)

How do they get these jets next to the river?

You put in a jet crossing traffic light. On one side, there is Boeing Filed (aka King County Municipal Airport), then East Marginal Way (which is two lanes in each direction, turn lanes and bicycle lanes), then the parking lot, then the river.

The current production rate for the 737max is a whopping 52 per month just south of Seattle in Renton. Just like when the 787’s were grounded for battery problems, jets start backing up (though the production of the 787 is only 12 a month). So, every day, there is another 1.75 jets rolling off the line, and you got to put them someplace, and Renton has already filled up as there isn’t much room:

Where as Boing Field has a little more:

The little orange circle is my house! Directly east of that is the arking lot filling up with 737’s.

And there is always the Everett Plant north of Seattle:

And looking south up the Duwamish – and if it were a clear day you’d see Mount Rainier looming over the region.

Thought you’d like that last shot to see one of the reasons I live in this neighborhood.

Wasn’t planning this post – and it pushed one down the list – but people were asking questions about the FaceBook photo I posted so I decided to grab more photos and data.


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One Response to “Home Report: 737max Storage”

  1. Conan Hall Says:

    Nice post, thanx Mark.

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Mar '19

Trip Report: Vegas – Friends And Food

The main reason for the trip was the tour of the Nevada National Security Site, but you have to eat and hang out as well!

After the tour, we actually went out for a nice dinner – a rarity for us since we all are good cooks, but someone (Jonathan) was in the mood for Prime Rib. After a full day, I refused to go to a casino with the bad memories of my unexpected trip to Vegas last month due to a flight diversion. We ended up, upscale, at Lawry’s, which the original location is in LA, and I’ve heard many people wax poetic.

Cocktails, appetizers, the works (well, no dessert).

Then salads….

And then the big hunks of meat served in a big meat zeppelin!

Yes, a good time was had – and we had leftovers!

But we also cooked in the condo…

And Rache and I had lunch after the Mob Museum at the Triple George Grill

Ruben for me…

Clam chowder and salad for Rache:

Another fun trip to Vegas, with nary a foot inside of a casino.


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Mar '19

Trip Report: Vegas – It’s More Than Gambling

There is more to do in Vegas other than gambling – if I’m going to throw my money away, I’d rather drink it away. If you want to gamble, you can even gamble in the grocery store!

That said, there are LOTS of things to do without hitting the strip. Like tour a chocolate factory like Ethel M (M as in Mars, the candy bar people):

Wich also features a cactus garden—I was here in July when it was 118 degrees (no kidding!), today it’s just overcast, which is much nicer:

Other attractions that we checked out were the Burlesque Hall of Fame

We joined a tour halfway through lead by Buttercup, who I’m assuming does a little burlesque (they teach it at the museum in the evenings). We got in through our North American Reciprocal Museum card courtesy of Rache and I’s membership in the Ogden Museum of Sothern Art in New Orleans.

Next up is the Mob Museum which is reasonably close by – but MASSIVE in scale (and technology) ….

And there is a bar and distillery in the basement!

All-in-all, it would have been more interesting if it weren’t jam-packed with people (on a Thursday), but your wrist band is good for all day, and it’s open until 9pm. Not cheap to get into even on the basic ticket (but there is a senior discount for 65+ or your Atomic Testing Museum wristband will get you 25% off), there are all sorts of add-ons like the “Crime Lab Experience”, “Firearms Simulator Training”, “Distillery Tour”.

Speaking of the Atomic Testing Museum, Rache and Jonathan went (I slept in) and we ended up leaving Jonathan in the “Reading Room” for HOURS. He wished that he’d worn his boots from the day before to check out the radiation he might have picked up.

There is a TON of other stuff to do in Vegas rather than gamble – like Red Rocks National Conservation Area, Hoover Dam, Clark County Museum, Neon Museum – and more.

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Mar '19

Trip Report: Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)

Better known as the Atomic Testing Grounds north of Las Vegas.

The tale of this trip starts last June when I’m on the NNSS site trying to get a tour (http://www.nnss.gov/pages/PublicAffairsOutreach/NNSStours.html) which book up about nine months out as they are thirty people, once a month. Upside is that it is free. We finally got accepted in early July 2018 for a March 2019 tour. And, apparently, we all passed our security clearances.

Booked a three-bedroom at the WorldMark Las Vegas Boulevard for the week of the tour…and then it’s the waiting game to get airline tickets, rental car the rest.

Four of us (Myself, Rache, DancingBear, Jonathan) flew in on a variety of flights with Jonathan and I arriving first and picking up a rental car and some groceries….

Yes, I rented a pickup truck – it was supposed to be the HUGE F-150. What I got was a mid-size Nissan Frontier. I should have gotten the Jaguar F8 ragtop from Sixt! And, yes, I re-parked the truck better after the photoshoot.

 Part of the groceries were fixings for breakfast sandwiches for Tuesday, the day of the tour. DancingBear got up early to make them, so we had some food in our stomachs to show up at 7:30am at the National Atomic Testing Museum where the tour began (museum ticket not included in the free tour):

If you look closely, you can see our 85-year-old tour guide Ernie in the front window of the bus – he’s worked in the field for most of his adult life after growing up as a farmer in Nebraska.

Here is the itinerary of the full-day tour…

And with Jonathan on the tour, he marked a copy of map with all the stops the night before the tour:

Notice how close we are to Area 51? I notice the map doesn’t show the airstrip in Area 51 that a jet lands everyday from Vegas for commuters to commute. Also, Area 25 isn’t on the tour as that was the Nuclear Rocket Engine test site.

At the museum (the following day), Rache found this on display – from the Jackass and Western Railroad which was a spur line that moved around the rocket engines:

I bring this up because Rache and I had the opportunity several years ago to ride on the switch engine (I was the engineer!):

If you want to see the whole post on that adventure: CLICK HERE

Thanks, Rache for these web-scrapped photos since we were all required to leave our phone in our cars – to photos, no booze, no, well, lots of things. Here is the poster:

But back to the tour…it’s an hour and a half on a bus before you see this sign.

You get a clue about the terrain, but here is a better shot of the 1350 square miles where we also saw Predator Drones doing “touch and goes”:

Here is the link to the Wikipedia link about the site: CLICK HERE

With the 90-minute bus ride, first stop is a bathroom/snack bar stop, which is good because I’m out of liquid, then we are off to Icecap, which could be reactivated in a year if we decide to no longer ban testing (which, with our current administration, be tomorrow).

Which I really wish I’d had a camera for – it’s a building in 40-foot chunks that san be craned off and shipped to the next test site – well, before they blow a big hole in the ground.

Speaking of big holes in the ground, our next stop was Sedan Crater, which was the most sobering of visits of the day, when 12,000,000 short tons (11,000,000 t) of earth of material were moved in 11 minutes.

Standing on the rim looking down, which was TRULY sobering, they could have ended the tour after this and I would be satisfied – but we had five more hours (starts at 8am, ends at 5pm).

More driving before we arrive at the Apple II houses – structures that they built to see how the “blast” from a bomb would react with structures….this one was fine except all the windows were blown out:

Thank god the next stop was lunch at what was basically a commissary that had a bus-load of people showing up at once. Guessing the cheeseburger would have been better as a one-off rather than done ten at a time.

And there were also train trestles that were bent by the shock waves – which all the photos are heavily copyrighted, but the warping was three feet across twenty feet.

You should also be aware that during all these tests, soldiers were out there watching. It was a coveted assignment – watching something big blow up.

We were shown wooden benches on hillsides still in place (and rotting into the dessert).

All-in-all it was a fact-filled-feast with someone who was there throughout the years.

Personally, I was exhausted by the end of the day – but they did send us a commemorative photo collage of our day around radiation. The big photo is on the rim of Sedan Crater, the inset from in front of the museum:

In a little bit of weird, the world is a small place, we met a friend of our friend Sierra, another Ranger, who was on the tour, along with a bunch of SpaceX/Tesla folk (though not “on business”).

Fun day.

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For more posts, click here.

Want to see the report on the Hanford Nuclear Reactor B tour, click here.

Or the Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, click here.

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One Response to “Trip Report: Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)”

  1. Conan L. Hall Says:

    Just watched the video of you being “Engineer for an hour.” The comments section for that page were closed so I’m leaving one here: I’ll bet you got a “stiffie” (boner) when you got to blow the whistle at the crossing! LOL! I would have!!!

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Mar '19

Home Report: Dark Matter For Lunch

Before I get to the Dark Matter, let’s cover lunch which is connected to Dark Matter, though I had the fish:

That’s my crazy buddy, Seth, and, yes, we are having cocktails our lunch at Mamma Melina near U Village:

I like to call this the “Tuesday Trifecta”. I get to see Seth, I get to go to UW Surplus, and there is a Safeway nearby with decent bargain racks. But today is a little extra special in that Seth gave me a tour of the lab that he is working at UW:

That would be the Axion Dark Matter eXperiment. Last fall both Wired and The National Geographic did articles about this experiment, but here is the overview from WikiPedia:

The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX, also written as Axion Dark Matter eXperiment in the project’s documentation) uses a resonant microwave cavity within a large superconducting magnet to search for cold dark matter axions in the local galactic dark matter halo. Unusually for a dark matter detector, it is not located deep underground. Sited at the Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics (CENPA) at the University of Washington, ADMX is a large collaborative effort with researchers from universities and laboratories around the world.

While the science is WAY over my head, the geek in me loved the machinery:

The Counting/Control Room – note 60’s-70’s era equipment banks:

And one of the “messy” arts (fabrication) areas:

Complete with a World War II artillery turntable mount for a portion of the floor above:

I love my geeky friends.

Next up is UW Surplus, where many thinks over the years have come into my life…

Sadly, nothing today strikes my fancy, but these “thrones” are tempting:

A quick run through Safeway, picked up a few discount items, and then home to bed for a nap.

Next week in the world of nerdy tours will be the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas.


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Mar '19

Trip Report: Bay Area For Friends And Wine

Grabbed a ride with Rache to the airport – it was an hour earlier, than even I, the early arriver, arrives. Maybe I should have waited…since this was what I looked like in the lounge:

No upgrade to First this time, I was number 8 on the list for only 12 seats since it was a 737-800. Upshot is that I was a little hungry by the time I landed in Oakland – but thanks to Onyx (and Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café), we solved that problem with a Rueben and a Poinsettia:

Just down for a couple of nights, but off to Livermore we go to check out a couple of wineries – first stop is Concannon Winery, who claims to the oldest continually operating “label” winey in the US.

Ended up grabbing the Petit Syrah (which they introduced to California in the 1960’s).

Next up was Wente – which ALSO claims to be the oldest continually operating “family” winery in the US:

It both wineries, lots of extra tastes because I flashed my business card at the beginning. It also meant that it was best for us to stop in the town of Livermore for a little snack for the road – that would be the First Street Ale Street:

Which contained a bunch of local wines, including some we’d tried earlier:

Including a large display of beer cans:

A lovely afternoon south of Berkeley….but then we were back home due to light traffic (we were headed against the grain).

I should mention that Onyx does amazing bronze sculptures – here is one in process:

You can see his portfolio here: http://www.onyxvcrimbil.com/

Onyx shouldn’t have all the photo bombs – here’s Mr. Lunetta:

Before long, it was back to the airport, headed home. Booked myself into First because it was a Friday, and upgrades would be scarce – comes with a sandwich!

Another week, another adventure!


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Mar '19

Trip Report: San Luis Obispo Turned Into Vancouver, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the WorldMark at The Canadian.

And the view isn’t bad…

And it’s a two-bedroom, two-bath….

With a deck!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Feb '19

Trip Report: Austin For Sun!

After 10 days of mileage runs to Raleigh, including an inadvertent stop in Vegas – it’s time so stay someplace for a couple of nights…and get warmed up.

Because of the weather, my original non-stop flight is now a two hop, through San Jose. Fortunately, I got upgraded on both legs, and the first one came with a turkey burger:

Sadly, I wondered why it was a little dry. It was a Turkey Burger, the Flight Attendant said, “Burger” and I assumed beef. The next leg was the “Protein Platter” since I was full from the two previous flights. Did I mention that I flew from Vegas to Seattle to catch my now connecting flight to Austin?

Because I was on two different tickets, they couldn’t just send me from Vegas to Austin (and they would have had to move me to American).

The flight cancellations (and Vegas) meant I didn’t get into Austin and to the condo until midnight – basically wasting an entire day of my holiday. But the condo was nice:

Made myself a cocktail and went to bed.

Here is the view from the balcony:

The WorldMark Austin is in the middle of the city, two blocks off the 6th Avenue Entertainment District…which means good food!

Those would be the fish tacos and a Manhattan at Ranch 616, one of my favorite spots in Austin. It’s the curved roof over my shoulder…

Next up is a random Austin building – as they say, “Keep Austin Weird.”

After my lunch (and a little shopping, and a nap), it was pool time, even though it was 65 degrees out with a slight wind:

The evening meal was at a place I hadn’t tried before, Sophias, which is an Italian place in the basement on 6th. I’d seen the menu earlier and knew exactly what I wanted – Grilled Octopus! But first, a Barrel-aged Manhattan:

Followed by a Barrel-Aged Negroni!

Had to try it as it was on the Happy Hour menu. Think I’ll be coming back to this place.

More supplies needed – a little trip to Royal Blue Grocery is in order. Larger than a convenience store (with custom sandwich bar), but smaller than a real grocery store:

The morning found me back (from previous trips) to Walton Fancy and Staple (reportedly owned by Sandra Bullock) for my mid-day meal…which, rather than the Rueben, was the Biscuits and Gravy with a Burnt Orange Cocktail (whiskey and orange juice with other things):

Then, more pool time – instead of yesterday’s 65 degrees, it was 75, but the breeze was still there….

And a couple of more photos from the balcony of the unit:

And beautiful sunrise shots….

Followed by take out Nashville-style hot chicken from Tumble 22 where I got a double order, which in one case turned into a three stack:

With this for my final morning “breakfast”:

I had to check out at noon – but I stored the bag, and returned to the roof for an 85-degree day…I got pink:

Made me miss my first day, when I was delayed getting into the city.

Picked up my bags at the desk and headed to the lounge at the airport for my flight home:

It was only a hundred more to book First Class on the way home, and it being a Friday, I knew upgrades would be tough it being an Airbus with less First Class seats, and it meant I could book my favorite, 1C. This is old Virgin America metal.

And it includes inflight entertainment, which will be going away this year as Alaska upgrades the Airbus metal to Alaska seating, but with the new First Class seats:

I had the cod (again, for the 5th or 6th time this week).

I had carryon so I landed, hailed a Lyft, and headed home.

Mileage runs done for the year, at least until the fall.


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Feb '19

Trip Report: Accidental Trip To Las Vegas

For those of you who read yesterdays’ post, sorry for the repeat of graphics, but for the rest of you, this was my Monday/Tuesday flight pattern:

Vegas here I come because they diverted my flight back from Raleigh. Twenty minutes and $25 dollars in cab fare from the strip – basically in the middle of the dessert. Alaska got me a coupon for The South Point Casino (where they still smoke) and two $12.00 food vouchers. South Point has a shuttle, which I could pick up one terminal (and a bus ride) over…only to find that the last bus left half an hour ago. Hence the cab, which I now need to work with Alaska Customer Service to get reimbursed, along with the Hotel room in Seattle that I’d booked because I knew weather would be dicey. More paperwork! I still haven’t filled the paperwork to get reimbursed from American for the suitcase they mangled.

But back to Vegas. To get those coupons, I had to leave security and head to the ticket counter. This is where Elite Status helps. The line for the non-elite counter was a hundred long. I had a couple of couples in front of me.

And the “lovely” South Point

And a line at check-in:

Which was longer than the ticket counter line…most everyone else had coupons as well – was surprised when they didn’t have me put a credit card down like they did for the guy in front of me.

I asked for the nicest, highest room with a king. The clerk said the nicer, higher be had two beds – I’ll Take It! It’s not bad…but, it being Vegas, it doesn’t have an alarm clock in the room.

And yes, I had a couple of minis with me to start my forced stay in Vegas…

The dining coupons coupons weren’t valid for room service, which they wouldn’t have gone very far…

Instead, I headed downstairs into the casino to the seafood restaurant…

Starting off with the Chowder, with they may or may not take my casino book coupon for, but I’ve a hankering for it…

And it turned out that the Manhattan was $5!

I opted for the mussels for dinner as I’d been eating all day – they were a little chewy, but it was the end of their day (and mine), and it came with bed to sop up the broth (which could have used some lemongrass or something):

Used both Alaska coupons – and still owed a bit – but it looked better than the 24-hour “café” across the aisle in the casino.

Pulled another coupon at the Crown Royal Bar to get a free cocktail – which I left a tip for:

And stopped at the gift shop and picked up some more supplies…where they had a system to recycle your Crown Royal bags:

And, no, I didn’t buy Crown Royal:

Nope, didn’t gamble – didn’t see a coupon for free play, but they did have one for Buy 3 Bowling Games, Get 3 Free. I figure my wrist would be gone after one, and it really is more fun to bowl with friends.

Here are a couple of daylight outside shots of The South Point:

Took that shuttle back to the airport on the 8AM run for an 11AM flight. Figured it would take me a while to check in, which it did, because I wanted them to check my bag all the way through to Austin, which they couldn’t. Might have had something to do with my Flight Number, which was in the 9000 range:

Vegas Terminal Three is actually a nice airport…

Luckily, there were no oversized liquids, and I had TSA-Pre, so, off it went with me to The Club at LAS (same folks who run The Club in Cabo San Lucas).

Which had a nice compliment of food, and a full bar:

Not pictured, the scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon.

Not a bad place to kill an hour to two, and they had showers as well.

Flight to Seattle was a little delayed, but it came with food for First, be they hadn’t re-catered either First or Coach for beverages, so I had to drink my Jack (I’d drank then out of Woodford yesterday) with bubbly water. A side point is that I barely made it back up into first class which seemed weird because it was the same plane and the same passengers – why wouldn’t everyone get their old seats?

At the end of the flight, walked off one flight and onto my next adventure, but they’d already started loading so it was too late to gate check my bag…guess it’s coming along with me.

More on that in the next post.

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Feb '19

Trip Report: Winter Mileage Runs

Mileage Run definition courtesy of Wikipedia: “A ‘mileage run’ is an airline trip designed and taken solely to gain maximum frequent-flyer miles, points, or elite status. If a traveler has already achieved some sort of elite status, then that traveler will earn bonus award miles or points on top of his or her actual flight miles or points.”

Most of the people who play “The Game” do their mileage runs at the end of the year when they realize that they are going to come up short of the miles/points they need to get to the next level of their airline/hotel program. I choose to frontload my miles at the beginning of the year when cares are cheaper, and I have more flexibility.

This year’s mileage run city (cheapest in terms of dollars spent versus flight miles earned) was Raleigh/Durham, also last year’s city. 2017 was Boston. I miss my Boston runs where I could have lunch with friends. I booked my flights in late November when they were on sale post-Thanksgiving. Had to rebook of a couple of them when I found lower prices…still more than last year.

So, here is what my mileage runs look like on a map (times 5 in ONE WEEK):

The round trip is 4,708 flight miles. Average cost of the round trips was $257.50. Total miles earned is 23,540, which is more than enough for Alaska MVP Silver:

  • Silver        20,000 flight miles on Alaska (25,000 if you are combining with partner miles)
  • Gold        40,000 flight miles on Alaska (50,000 if you are combining with partner miles)
  • Gold 75K    75,000 flight miles on Alaska (90,000 if you are combining with partner miles)

I hit Silver on February 6th. I’ll hit Gold on February 15th when those miles post. The Points Guy (an online service) values the elite levels at:

  • Silver        $765        I spent $ 1,345.84 total
  • Gold        $2965        I spent $ 2,639.81 total (for both Silver and Gold, which includes one Paid First Class leg)
  • Gold 75K    $6775        Numbers aren’t in yet….cause I ain’t there yet

To me, I think the values that TPG (The Points Guy) assigns to the levels is a little on the conservative side by the time you hit Gold 75K where you can book yourself into Premium Class (the free booze extra legroom section) for free no matter what the price you paid. One the long-haul flights, Premium Class is an extra $69 to $99, and I’ll use $89 as the median since most of mine are longer. I got Premium on 8 of the flights to Silver ($712), and by the time I hit Gold, it will be 15 ($1335). Neither of those counts the times I’ve gotten upgraded to First, which was 12 flights (out of 15 where there was actually First Class seating, 3 were in turbo-props).

The other thing about Gold 75K are the bonus miles.

  • Silver        50% bonus miles
  • Gold        100% bonus miles
  • Gold 75K    125% bonus miles (plus an extra 50,000 when you hit 75K during the year)

This is in addition to MORE miles if you actually PAY for First Class. I’ll know in a week if the “class of service” bonus translates into lifetime flight miles as well as elite qualifying miles.

This post was originally planned for a brief overview, and random pictures of airports and meals. It turned into a math post. Here are the numbers for that weeks’ worth of mileage runs to Raleigh:

So, in a week of flights (10 legs), I earned 52,970 miles. Enough for a roundtrip in First to Florida, or, with a few more, a one-way in Business to Australia.

My mileage runs didn’t end with that week, I started the next week after working part of the weekend (one snow day, thanks Jim for covering).

This is the cautionary tale of mileage runs…sometimes they blow up. My Monday flight of the first week of runs was on the ground for 3.5 hours getting deiced, etc. to get off the ground ($75 future flight certificate from Alaska because of the delay, which was generous since it was really weather related).

The following Monday, with my last mileage run before a couple of nights in Austin as my reward for enduring being in an airplane for 10 hours a day for five days – the second storm rolled into Seattle. Got to Raleigh, but most of the way back from Raleigh, we diverted…to Las Vegas. I was running Flight24 which is a real-time phone app for planes. This is what our flight plan turned into:

Yes, I got an unwanted Vegas vacation out of this…

Yes, I’m going to fight for the flight miles from Vegas to Seattle, and yes, I have to apply for reimbursement for my Seattle hotel I had booked for the night so I could get to Austin in the morning, which they cancelled the direct flight and are now sending me through San Jose (which, sadly, I know the way to). This is what my Monday and Tuesday turned into:


If I was travelling as a family unit, I might have gone ballistic. But it’s just me, who has access to lounges, got upgraded to First on all the legs (though one at the last minute). And I met other travelers, some who were doing the same thing, mileage runs – a couple from Snohomish, he is on oxygen, who were with me on three turns to Raleigh (Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday):

And a woman I sat next to on my original flight out the first Monday, we were in the back, but in Premium, who ended up next to me in First on the diverted flight the following Monday:

So, here’s to Cheryl, Ken, and Debra.

Expect reports on Vegas and Austin soon.

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Feb '19

Trip Report: Return From Chile

The length of my overseas trips are determined by two factors:

  1. The ability to only take one weekend in a row off from the wine shop
  2. The longest amount of days that I can business class flights on all segments

The upshot is that I’d have liked to leave on the red-eye a day before (or better yet gone through Dallas and saved 16 hours of layover in Miami) and returned a couple of days later. Not to be. When you are using miles to get a business class seat on a partner carrier you take the routing and the days available.

Bit of a clusterfuck getting back to the airport – should have put into Uber than I wanted to go to the Holiday Inn rather than the airport (and get yelled at in Spanish by the Uber driver). Ended up having the hotel book me a car, which, oddly, was cheaper than the Uber would have been. It was a tourist car, not a cab, is my guess.

Bit of a zoo at check-in, fortunately the Business Class lines were shorter:

And beyond customs, there was even an American Admirals Club (which will be handy for Rache since he has access now that he’s an Alaska Lounge member).

In what seems like no time (with free food/drink, time morphs), we had loaded. Today’s plane is a 787-800, but it has the same seating at the 777-200 that I flew down on. Don’t I look happy?

Even happier after takeoff when goodies started appearing…

Followed by dinner…thankfully, served in two courses:

I must say that I was impressed by the Business Class bathroom on this leg:

And soon it was time for bed…

Global Entry was quick, sadly, luggage was not. The problem with South America flights is that it seems that EVERYONE has two LARGE checked bags.

Eventually made it to the lounge – and a shower:

It really doesn’t suck to travel Business Class.

Sadly, I wasn’t hungry, but they even had an Avocado Toast station:

I knew I’d be getting breakfast (again) on the flight to Seattle:

So, that brings to a close my South American adventure.

Next week is all mileage runs.


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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:


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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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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Feb '19

Trip Report: Santiago, Chile

Welcome to Santiago! Here is the view from our room – we are directly across from the major cross-country bus terminal. We are at the Ibis Estacion Central.

Not sure why I didn’t take shots of our room – which was dormitory like in nature, with two small twin beds. Great location, a little small, a little short on towels, but clean. At least its well-stocked now!

We poked around the neighborhood a bit, and finally settled on the restaurant – the hotel restaurant. Turns out it was the best place around – and in the middle of the afternoon, it was packed. When in Chile, gotta start with Pisco Sours!

We opted for burgers…

Nap time for both of us and then a little wandering around the city… his shot shows damage still around from the earthquake ten years ago.

Dinner found us BACK at the hotel restaurant (Ibis Kitchen) realizing that even though we went further afield, still no sit-down restaurants with table service.

Rache got the rolled roast….

I opted for the chicken breast, which comes with a fried egg on the fries (think I should have gone for the mashed potatoes):

Our next day was filled with getting transportation sorted – like our subway pass and our bus tickets to Santa Cruz, our next destination, and wandering around the city after I grabbed a quick dog across the street at the train station…

And then into the city trying (and failing) to find a funicular up the hill to a big Jesus statue (though not as big as Rios)

There is train service in Chile – it just doesn’t run to many places are at many times.

This is the shot that I took….

Seconds later, Rache took this one….

He accidentally caught a cop doing a perp walk!

Rache looked up restaurants and found a possibility via Uber. Car came quickly, and off we went – and when we arrived, the restaurant looked sketchy – as did the neighborhood. The driver said to not be here after dark, and we agreed, and started walking away from the people towards larger streets, and stumbled upon El Toro, which turned out to be GREAT!

Another good meal that put us to bed early!

Tomorrow morning, we are off to Santa Cruz!

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