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Last Post: Status Report: Confessions Of A Travel Addict
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Last Modified: November 22, 2014 @ 10:08 am (GMT -7)
Nov '14

Status Report: Confessions Of A Travel Addict

While my hands are quite shaking, it does feel weird that I’ll be at home for the next couple of weeks – maybe that’s why a spur of the moment trip to Leavenworth is looking so tempting. It’s not like I don’t have anything to look forward to:

The second Albuquerque is actually Dwight’s flight to meet up with me for our train ride back to Seattle in a Bedroom (rather than Roomette) on the Southwest Chief connecting to the Coast Starlight. What’s a bedroom on the train look like:

And the shower/toilet stall…

But the trip that I’m most excited about is my March trip to Japan to visit TokyoDave, faux nephew Julian who is teaching English as a second language, and see the Phallus Festival in Komaki where he lives. Of course, the journey is part of the adventure:

Yep – I’m going the long way around. Emirates from Seattle to Dubai, a 13-hour layover in the Business Class
Lounge, then onto Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Haneda is the close in airport – and Emirates is even giving me car service on both ends. It was 75,000 Alaska miles for a one-way to Japan and another 75,000 on United to fly home in Business aboard an ANA
787-8. $57.70 in taxes and fees. Not bad! I pulled the price of my itinerary on Expedia and their price was $16,269.40. WOW. That means I am getting 10.8 per mile value out of those frequent flier miles – the usual calculation is that frequent flier miles are worth 1-2 cents apiece.

POST UPDATE: Here is a great article on what points are worth. According to this article, Alaska points are valued at 2 cents per mile while Uniteds are valued at 1.5 cents per mile (down from 2 cents last year because of changes redemptions). Whole article here.

Lots of firsts (but no First Class) on this trip:

So, assuming I have the right images, this is what Business Class on Emirates 777s look like:

As opposed to the Business Class seats on ANA’s

Looking forward to experiencing both airlines. And look at the menus:

Not going to lose any weight on this trip.

Here is a great picture from WikiPedia of the Phallus Festival

So, the confession is that even when I’m in town, my mind is out of town, looking forward to the next trip – but having blown most of my stash of miles, it will be awhile before I’m back overseas.


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Nov '14

Trip Report: Quick Trip To Denver

Off to see my ex and his wife because the fare was so damn cheap… $135 and some change round-trip. No First Class on the way out, and a bad on-line seating chart left me in a middle seat, but at least it was an exit row.

Lisa met me at the airport and we stopped at Total Beverage to stock up the house on Bourbon and Boxed Wine, and to stock my suitcase with 3 bottles of bourbon (to replace the couple of bottles of Captain Rat Cinnamon Brandy that I brought.

And then there was the weather that greeted me:

Poor Winston who had to go out and do his “business”:

Yep, little booties and a sweater as its below freezing.

Dan was off this Wednesday (with Lisa working, so that was a change from the usual) so we ran a couple of more errands and engaged in unhealthy lunching. Yep, that would be Five Guys Burgers:

I do like their product – and even ate the bun.

The afternoon was filled with installing a recirculating pump on the hot water heater so that the hot water is almost instantaneous…got all done but the upstairs bit before we had to leave for BrightHeart’s Buddhist monk ordination. Fairly amazing that I just happened to have booked this trip before I got the invitation. It was a bit like an episode of Portlandia with nothing set-up when we all arrived at the church. We could blame the snow – took me pushing Dan’s Miata up the driveway to get us there. The ceremony was long and drawn out, with lots of audience recitations – clocked in at an hour.

We didn’t stay for the reception – the fear of more snow. Both starving we stopped at Old Chicago Pizza and split a cup of soup and a couple of crispy chicken salads, with me having a couple of Manhattans to wash it down. Nothing for Dan as he was driving.

Got back to the house and finished the plumbing project while working on some nice rye – and before you knew it, bedtime.

Noon flight back – Lisa was going to drive me since she was off, but Dan woke up sick and called in and ended up driving me because Lisa was apparently in worse shape.

Took a bit of time to check-in, luckily it turned out to be a delay with a good reason – a First Class upgrade to seat 1F. Window, but I’m not complaining. And my plane is here! It’s way at the end.

And it’s still snowy out:

Alaska has an agreement with American to use their Admiral’s Club in Denver. I’ve been there a bunch of time. Nice, airy, free booze and snacks…I ordered a Whiskey and Diet – and this is what I got:

Only one of those and a couple of cookies and it was time to head to the gate.

Now all we need is the flight crew which is stuck behind an accident on the way to the airport – luckily we did get out on time considering the number of folks onboard who had connections heading to Alaska (from cold to colder).

Not a bad lunch in First:

A nice Chicken Caesar.

I was home in plenty of time to make myself a nice quite evening meal and relax away from the cold and snow (well, away from the snow).


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Nov '14

Trip Report: Princess Escape To Mexico – End Of The Journey

The final day of the cruise was a “Sea Day”, which for me, meant going to duty-free and buying two liters of Stoli (that would be unflavored Vodka) for was amounted to $10.50 per liter after two 10% discounts (one for buying two bottles, one for being Elite). And when it’s the last day of the cruise, they let you take them with you – which I combined with the left over double order of Cranberry Juice to have a little “nooner”.One of the other benefits of Elite Status is that you can order “Afternoon Tea” brought to your room (on six hours’ notice – I called the day before)…man what a lot of trays this comes on:

The requisite tea (with cream and sugars) and a platter of little sandwiches, sweets, scones (hot from the oven) and I forget what else…and I ate all but the sweets. Guess it’s going to be a late dinner tonight.

Dined alone tonight…just me and my book. People are nice, but often overrated. Milking my on-board credit – it’s down to $1.61, and I want to see if I’ll get a check back for the unspent balance like I did on the September cruise. Not that I really need the $1.61, but I want to figure out how the system works. Would they send me a check for the whole $250 of on-board credit if I didn’t spend it (minus the mandatory “tip” for the staff}? Time will tell – check back. Guess I would really needed to leave $51.61 credit on the account since $50 is a shareholder benefit.

Caught a final show, but took my tablet so I could exhaust my 150 minutes of dial-up (technically it’s wi-fi, but with satellite it’s like dial-up – not sure why planes can get this technology to work for 200 passengers and a cruise ship can’t.

Don’t worry, I was in one of the boxes on the corner and no one noticed. But back came the aerialists…

I think the best show I’ve ever seen was on the Norwegian Epic where they had a two-level theatre that did a Cirque de Sola type show on a rocking boat in the Caribbean.

And then there was the ginger Brit piano player that I crushed out on…


Terrible picture of him – but off his website (what, me, a stalker?) is a better one…

Ended up having breakfast at the same table as him the morning of my departure…he’s moving to London – should you need a talented Piano Guy, you can find him here: http://www.pianovocalist.com/

Which brings us to the end of the cruise – where I had hoped to do the Long Beach On Your Own with Transfer To The Airport, but that was cancelled and I rebooked on the shuttle straight to the airport, missing my chance to see the Queen Mary at the pier in Long Beach. Another time.

Customs was ramped up and we were all off the boat in record time – I’ve been to that terminal before, never two hours early. Got to the airport with so much time that they couldn’t take my bag as checked luggage (and I had to check it since it had booze in it). As an Alaska MVP Gold they put me on standby for an earlier flight (within the 4 hour checked baggage window) so I could check my bag and head to the lounge…had a couple of drinks, some food, went down to the flight…missed it by three people (apparently all the flights to Seattle were booked solid because of a UCLA-UW game), when back to the lounge, had another couple of drinks and some lunch (love free food), and waited for the next flight at 3:20… mind you, I got to the airport at 10:30.

Here is what I was looking at:

One away from a seat, and then it was three away, and then two away…and finally I had a middle seat in the row before the exit (no recline), but I was home for dinner rather than a midnight nightcap.

I look much happier on my couch:

That’s it for this trip, sorry for the delay in posting. Too much work to deal with. Damn jobs.

[227.0] Damn cruise weight.


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Nov '14

Trip Report: Princess Escape To Mexico – San Diego to Ensenada

In the morning we were in Ensenada. Last year I was in Ensenada, but I didn’t do any of the tours…I just wandering around town to a church I saw in the distance. Those Posts Here.

This year I signed up for the Two Winery Tour with Free Bottle of Wine. First stop with L.A. Cetto winery

The joys of having T-Mobile service is that I have data and text coverage in 200 countries, not high-speed, but3G – enough to book a ticket to Kansas City in mid-January for $156.20 on Alaska Airlines Wednesday Flash Sale that runs from 11am-1pm…announcements on Twitter to remind you. And in Mexico’s wine country they have 4G…and in Amador County outside Sacramento where I was last month, there was just no cell coverage at all during Wednesday’s Flash Sale. But I digress….

So, apparently the region outside Ensenada produces 90% of the wine produced in Mexico, and Cetto’s wasn’t too bad, unlike the next winery (La Casa de Dona Lupe), an organic producer…

The wines were watery…and the food…well, I’ve never liked whole wheat as a pizza crust. But they did have a like folkloric show:

Back to the boat for me, though others got off for the “shopping opportunity”. Funny thing is that they didn’t even question my free bottle of wine I brought on – was sure that they were going to hold it until the end of the cruise.

Because today is all about wine, I had to get back to the ship for their “Grapevine Wine Tasting” which is $9.50 per person or it’s a freebie for Elite Card Holders (but not their guests). They were serving the following:

  • Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé – $48 in their dining rooms
  • Chardonnay Fetzer – $28 in their dining rooms
  • Garanacha Artadi Artazuri – $34 in their dining rooms
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Simi Reserve – $29.40 in their dining rooms (this would seem to be the deal on the menu)
  • Prosecco Villa Sandi – $34 in their dining rooms

One might suspect that they were charging people $9.50 to get them to order more wine with dinner. Looks like the mark-up is double retail, and they would be getting it at duty-free prices, so that would be buy for $10, sell for $30 – that’s a nice mark-up. Wish we could do that at the shop.

On my last boat I looked at the line of people wanting to get in and turned around… no line this time, but man these people were bored:

At least I got a souvenir glass out of it – and apparently they are prized as no one left me a second one…

Here is my sail away picture of Ensenada:

Full moon over pollution….and the Carnival Cruise Lines (parent of Princess) in town as well…

The LGBT gathering dwindled further… four tonight. But the Ohio Delta Flight Attendant was there (one of the one’s I’d met on another cruise) and we checked out the third bed in my cabin – one that comes down from the ceiling – I got my room steward (the first woman I’ve had on cruises) to drop the bed:

So, if you are ever tempted to put a third person in your cabin…this is what it will look like. And yes, there is a ladder.

For dinner I chose “potluck” seating on a whim and had nice company – nice enough to share the bottle of L.A. Cetto Red Blend (which isn’t on their website) that was my freebie from the winery (Cabernet/Merlot mix).

Tomorrow is a “sea-day”, an excuse for the ship to fleece people at the casino…

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Nov '14

Trip Report: Princess Escape To Mexico – LA to San Diego

Next stop, San Diego where I have a two-hour Harbor Cruise booked for the morning, most of the afternoon free, and drinks with Lunetta just before the boat sails.

I liked the Harbor Cruise (Hornblower Tours) and got a great “selfie” on the way to the tour (which was walking distance from the ship)…

The two-hour cruise cover both the North and the South bay – and man there is TONS of military stuff going on in the harbors, and random seals as well. Here is a small sample of my tour:

Had drinks with Lunetta at Anthony’s Seafood Grotto – definitely a throw-back to the 60′s – but it was half a block from the boat and four blocks from his office. I was so happy to see Lunetta that I totally forgot to take pictures, though I do have to include this one picture…apparently they are swapping mattresses out on the ship…

Hopefully they are recycling them!

Before you knew it I was back on the boat for drinks with the LGBT crowd (now down to half of the original members) and dinner. My parting shot from San Diego – not a bad selfie:

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Nov '14

Trip Report: Princess Escape To Mexico – Seattle to LA

As fall hits I felt it was time for a little escape to Mexico on a 4-day Pacific Coastal cruise. Here is the itinerary:

  • Monday, wake up in Seattle really early and fly to Los Angeles and get the Princess Transfer to the boat
  • Tuesday, wake up in San Diego, Mexico
  • Wednesday, wake up in Ensenada, Mexico
  • Thursday, wake up in at sea
  • Friday, wake up in Los Angeles, get the Princess Transfer and fly home

But it was an early morning, up a 4AM (after going bed at midnight):

Sleepy Uncle Markie. No upgrade to first on the way to LA, but the transfer was smooth, and before you knew it, the ship was in sight. Princess Time!

And there was another boat in – one from Norwegian Cruise Lines – in the background of my balcony shot:

Lots of food shots from lunch and dinner with I won’t bore you with – if you want to see examples, check out my FaceBook page.

Did the LGBT meet-and-greet with one of the cruise staff. 24 people showed up, equally split between Lesbians and Gay Guys. We’ll see how the rest of the cruise goes – did run into a couple of people I’d seen on other cruises.

After getting the mini-bar stocked to my configuration….

Not shown is the 10 Diet Cokes in the mini-fridge. Normal stocking is:

  • 2 vodka
  • 2 brandy
  • 2 gin
  • 2 scotch
  • 2 beers
  • 2 Perrier
  • 2 cokes
  • 2 bottles of water
  • 2 Sprite
  • 1 Ginger Ale
  • 1 Tonic Water

Oh, the perks of Princess Captain’s Circle Elite, that and the laundry, which I sent the first load of, and, of course, the free dial-up internet time.

And here is this trip’s room…

Home sweet home for the next four days. I spend a lot of time in the cabin. It’s quiet, I can read on the deck, I avoid all the folks with their buckets of beers at 9AM.

After dinner I actually took in one of the shows (a rarity for me)… Aerialists from Eastern Europe…

Tomorrow – San Diego.

[? ? ?]

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Nov '14

Activity Report: My Week At Home

This was a stay at home week for me, between last week’s trip to Santa Fe and next week’s cruise to Mexico. Did I lay around and eat all the Halloween candy? Nope, it was project week.

Project Number One: Vermouth Rack For The Shop

Madrona Wine Merchants is less than 500-square-feet, yet we have over 650 different brands that we stock, and we’d like to stock more, so we need to get creative with our shelving. In this case I had to build a shelf unit to go over a small rack of white wines that has a water pipe running through it.

The finished project, with a little bourbon and ginger spilled on it:

And installed in the shop:

Project Number Two: Behind The Counter Storage Rack

If you ever have looked behind the counter at Madrona Wine Merchants, it’s a jumble of stuff randomly packed in. My quest is that before the Holiday Rush that we get a little more organized so we can find things quickly. Hence, this odd organizer that I built to extend the cash wrap to the post where the vermouth is now hanging. The drawers are made from wood salvaged from the tops of wooden wine boxes that we occasionally get in:

And installed at the shop:

Project Number Three: Install Back Board For 1A2 Analog Phone System & KSU (Key Service Unit)

I’m upgrading my “Mad Men” style analog phone system so that all four phones will have lights and the ability to mechanically put calls on hold. This, of course, means actually putting in more infrastructure than just the KSU that I currently have which is only wired up for one phone – this one:

And here is what the infrastructure looks like:

And I still have to pull all the wires under the house before the “punch-down” can begin.

And then there is the social side of a week home…

Sunday night dinner with Bliss, Monday night dinner with Wonderful, Josh, and Jill:

Tuesday night dinner with former neighbor Emily, current neighbor Paula (who was air rescued out of the woods a couple of weeks ago after getting lost hiking with her two dogs), and Jonathan after installing the new 42″ flat screen that I picked up for $299 ($333 with tax and shipping) that fits in the same footprint as my 32″, but is half the weight.

We (Jonathan and I) also relocated the swing arm mount so that not only can I watch from the couch, but it swings so I can watch from the bedroom, and as of the relocation, I can now watch from the kitchen as well:

Thursday and Friday morning filled with helping Jonathan move from his storage locker into an apartment. Upside is that it’s right next to the Two Bells Tavern, known for its burgers (which I order two for take-out):

With a Manhattan while I waited (and their house bourbon is Evan Williams Black!)

It was amazing to me that someone who was homeless two months ago could have so much stuff in storage. Thursday afternoon he filled the 14-foot UHaul to the top, and Friday’s load was another quarter of the same UHaul – all headed into a studio apartment:

Now imagine that space filled to the top – and here is what the apartment looks like now:

Kitchen above, living room below…

And doesn’t even show the three closets and the mechanics rolling tool chest in the hallway. Whew!

It being Halloween that means its shop duty time. It takes three of us to handle the crowds. Here are the stats from 5-7PM…

  • Out of our 130 wine and champagne glasses – we had 10 clean ones at the end of the day
  • Over 200 pieces of candy handed out
  • Four bottles of tasting wine emptied

Maybe it was my outfit…

Busy week – looking forward to relaxing next week.


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Oct '14

Trip Report: Santa Fe To Visit Mom

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

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

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

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

Here is my little “Leaving Albuquerque” video:

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

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

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

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

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

Yum, yum, yum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I passed on the potatoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here is their description of what they do:

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

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

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

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

Would a Seattle Taco feature Seahawk meat?

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

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

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


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Oct '14

Trip Report: Sacramento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With a flaming table:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best $96 dollar flight I’ve ever taken.


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Oct '14

Status Report: All In A Day’s Work.

In the fall, Mondays mean Trade Tastings… and one that I never want to miss is the one by one of our smaller distributors — name withheld to not out them for putting on a great spread.

Ten tables with half a dozen bottle of wine which is much more “doable” than having a 100+ bottles open. I actually got to swallow a bit. Especially since I’m snacking on fresh shucked oysters (from Taylor Shellfish) and BBQ’d sausages (from Rain Shadow Meats):

I decided to forgo the other tasting of the afternoon – probably twice as many tables, and catered local BBQ – instead I went home to cut parts for the new Vermouth Rack for the shop – here is the finished product, though honestly, I only got the pieces cut but not assembled as company was coming for dinner. Here is the “ready-to-install” rack.

Ignore the drink that I spilled on it getting it out of the garage. Yes, there is a water or gas pipe that will be going through the shelf.

Speaking of dinner guests… a passel of 20+-year-olds….and dinner prep started at 4PM because of the menu I foolishly chose:

  • Fresh Baked Bread
  • Garden Salad
  • Osso Buco (braised veal shanks)

Braise the veal shanks…

Remove them to a plate…

Sautee the onions and celery and garlic….

Deglaze the pan with red wine, add the chopped tomatoes, the herb sachet (bamboo towelette wrapped), and cups and cups of chicken stock (homemade)

Simmer for 2.5 hours…while the bread bakes and you set the table:

And they showed up with “flower” – but it’s a lilly and looks great:

Much good conversation over dinner, and much fun play in the “wardrobe closet” after….

Seems everyone loves fur.

This is not going to help getting up in the morning for my flight to Sacramento.


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Oct '14

Status Update: New Year’s Resolutions

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

So, how am I coming on these goals?

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

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

United Million Mile status (Gold For Life!):

Princess Elite (Black Card) status:

And Alaska MVP Gold status:

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

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

As for the last three New Year’s Goals?

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

Well, there’s my year-to-date report.


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One Response to “Status Update: New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. Eric Gowins, the senior colonel Says:

    Good for you, Markie. I applaude you.

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Oct '14

Trip Report: Fico’s Birthday In Tucson

Another week, another trip. This week I used my last two Gold Guest Upgrades for 2014 to secure first class round-trip Seattle to Tucson for $300.

But first, an amusing shot from Sea-Tac, a SubPop record store in the airport concourse…

And my plane, which you can’t quite see from here, is in the Portland Timbers livery:

Not a bad fare, too bad I didn’t realize it came with a dog. A “service dog” that needs some seriously remedial training.

The guy behind me doesn’t look too pleased with the dog either… or maybe with me taking the picture. That damn dog panted all three hours to Tucson riding on the woman’s shoulder – and the woman herself smelled like a dirty ashtray. Guess it could have been worse, the dog could have had its buss a foot from my face for three hours.

Here is my exchange with Alaska’s Customer Response Team:

1:06pm Mark Stephen Souder

Can you tell me what the rules are concerning “service dogs” — the one in the picture attached I doubt is a “service dog” even with the service dog vest on. This is a picture from bulkhead first class (1A — old lady and dog, 1C myself). I discreetly inquired with the flight attendant who said there is nothing they can do…that dog rode her shoulders for the entire flight, panting in my direction the whole way, which is better than getting it’s butt 12″ away from my face for two hours. And FYI, being slightly allergic to dogs luckily I had pills on me, but hope your planes are equipped with EpiPens.

2:07pm Alaska Airlines

Hi Mark Stephen Souder, sorry about the experience you had. Regarding service animals, if the passenger provides us identification cards, other written documentations, presence of harnesses, tags or credible verbal assurances of the service animal, then we have to accept it as a service animal. -John

2:21pm Mark Stephen Souder

Are their behavior rules in the cabin? All other service animals I’ve seem are at the feet of their companion rather than crawling over seat backs and going for my food.

2:40pm Alaska Airlines

Service animals doesn’t have to sit at the feet of the companion. I have seen smaller dogs that sit on the lap and they help the companion detect low blood sugar levels. -John

2:53pm Mark Stephen Souder

Thank you for the information — is this a situation where I could ask to be reseated due to allergies?

2:58pm Alaska Airlines

yes, you can always ask a flight attendant to be moved to another seat in first class. -John

So, dogs trump allergies – and any old paperwork and harness qualifies. At least it wasn’t a German Sheppard in a bulkhead row.

And, of course, the dog went after my lunch…

But before long memories of the nasty little dog faded as I settled into Life At Ficos…a little Ensalada Caprese because the early lunch wasn’t terribly filling…

And then to the pool…

Dinner tonight was out with a friend of Fico’s at Parish – I had a couple of appetizers, the Chile Rellenos and the Frog Legs Wrapped In Bacon. But we started with the Bacon Popcorn.

Here is the “office” set up…

Wednesday we celebrated Fico’s Birthday will dinner for eight at the house…a lovely salad:

Roasted root vegetables:

And BBQ’d chicken thighs:

Definitely a group effort for dinner, but then there was the wine:

The two Mondavi’s were from the 90′s and still tasting quite good, even with the desert of Tres Leches cake:

And the birthday boy (technically on Friday)…

Work for me all day Thursday, between the usual Thursday Madrona Wine Merchants site updates, there was a proposal due for another consulting gig that is looking good. That would make three jobs to be juggled – a good thing since I need the money since I keep spending it all on travel.

Dinner Thursday night was a couple of pan-friend rib eye steaks I’d picked up at the same time as the chicken, the remaining roasted veggies and another salad, though not quite as nice as the one Sam(antha) made last night. Dessert (and drinks) was at the Coronet Café at the Coronado Hotel – featuring a Gypsy Jazz Trio with Sam on violin…

They are pretty good as you can hear in this clip — and who doesn’t love an accordian:

Before you know it, it’s Friday, time for breakfast and out the door at noon:

The standard Uncle Markie breakfast – a couple of eggs and some meat product.

No lounge at the airport – but there is a GREAT sushi bar in the concourse…

Plane is on time…and no “service dogs” on this leg…

Cocktails, then a little lunch, which I just ate the chicken out of…

And before you know it, I’m shopping at Safeway on the way home since I have company for dinner…great view of Tahoma (Mount Rainier) from the parking lot:

A bit of haze from the temperature inversion, but still pretty.

Dinner tonight is a rare one, with Dwight up from Olympia for BrickCon at Seattle Center – yes, he’s a LegoHead, and an Amtrak fan as well, so I passed on my collection of Amtrak wares…

Needless to say, it was a long evening.

Back to work tomorrow.


1 Comment »

One Response to “Trip Report: Fico’s Birthday In Tucson”

  1. Eric Gowins Says:

    Can you make me a service animal vest for Waylon? Kate says he wears a size 1. I’d be glad to cover your expenses.

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Sep '14

Trip Report: Birthday Ramble – SFO-SEA

Welcome to the Port of San Francisco’s NEW cruise terminal – it opened last Thursday (and today is Saturday):

Other than a long line customs/immigration was easy – and finding the Princess Airport Transfer bus as well. I was a tad concerned because I never got a printed voucher for the bus, but they didn’t ask for one, so who knows/who cares.

I’m excited to check out the new lounge Alaska is contracting with in the International Terminal where they relocated while their old terminal is being renovated… the lounge belongs to Cathy Pacific and I’m guessing the quality is going to be well above that of a standard Alaska Board Room which is above the standards for Delta’s Sky Club and American’s Admiral’s Lounges.

They did not disappoint:

Seems I was the second one in the lounge for the day as Cathay’s Hong Kong flight doesn’t leave until 1:45PM – so the lounge was VERY empty:

They offered a full pour-it-yourself bar, lots of snacks, and between 11 and 1 a selection of custom cooked noodle dishes:

Like a said, a notch up from the Alaska Board Room – unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the “hot dish” table.

The meal in First Class on the way home was interesting – a kale and bacon dish which didn’t sound appetizing, but turns out it was:

Of course, that wasn’t enough to fill me up for the rest of the evening, so for dinner it was a pork, green pepper, and onion stir-fry since I was out of lettuce and needed some sort of vegetable…

And with that, we end the “Birthday Ramble“.

Night all.


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Sep '14

Trip Report: Birthday Ramble – YVR-YYJ-SFO

Oh gentle readers – the morning started with a bit of a disappointment….no Princess Black Elite boarding card waiting for me a check-in.

What good is chasing privileges if the computer systems can’t keep up?

After waiting a half-an-hour or so we started boarding – and it seems that everyone else was headed for the aft portion of the ship and even though I was in the fourth row of chairs I was the first one to security on the boat, eschewing the photographer only to be confronted with a ding rather than a beef (or was it the other way around).

Off to the side I stand while they call it in…new card comes down from passenger service and low-and-behold, it is black as coal.

And this time, this is MY view – opting for the balcony cabin on my Vancouver-Victoria-San Francisco cruise. For those who care about these things, since I’m a single, it’s double the fare so it’s $558.00 plus $96.02 in taxes, fees, port charges. For this:

Dropped my bags and scampered down to the Bordeaux Dining Room (6th Floor, Center) for lunch:

A light lunch – no fries. And as the guy on the last boat said, “Sometimes you just want something simple rather than something fancy.” Even if you are eating it in a fancy restaurant.

When I got back to the room, it was time to send some shirts to be washed and pressed – a Black Elite benefit (which they said due to the volume, don’t expect until 72 hours, not good for same-day service):

Then the safety drill – seats this time, in the Princess Theatre and with that out of the way it’s time to call room service and swap out this:

For this:

And this:

For this:

Yep, took the mixed selection and my Serbian Room Service boy (well, technically he’s 21 and has only been out of Serbia for 45 days) and switched it for all VSOP and Diet – the only whiskey they had was Dewar’s Scotch and the CourvoisierVSOP was the same price – go figure.

That taken are of it’s off to the LGBT meet-up (or is that hook-up) which they have POORLY planned for the Grill Bar, one level up on the open deck from where the “Sail-Away” party is booming. When will these people learn…Wheelhouse Bar! And try not to make it during the Elite Cocktail party for Elites, Platinums, Suite passengers with free nibbles and reduced priced drinks — tonight was fresh guacamole, chips, and $5.00 el Major Margaritas – which were WAY too sweet until I cut it half with ginger ale, but I digress.

Let’s see, where was I – right, LGBT get together. Our poor (but cute) host had a cute little home-made flag the size of a sheet of paper (don’t they give these people a props budget?) sitting forlornly at the table when I finally noticed him. Well, that’s two of us. I sent him over to the bar side of the partial deck having spotted what I thought were a couple of bears drinking – and I grabbed two guys that I’d been on other short cruises with (also from Seattle) and by the time it was happening we’d collected a good dozen people including the host’s bi-sexual sister who was on the cruise too.

Our Princess “Host” is in the blue shirt (and starched white shorts) at the end of the table, his sister is standing to his left. If you can’t find him, here is a close-up:

Wait, here are better pictures of the group, including half of a Sydney, Australia couple sailing all the way to Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal…

Dale would be to the right of Stephen (isn’t that a lovely name…wait, it’s my middle name, and even with the correct spelling!) our host. And that would be a Manhattan in a tacky plastic glass. Stephens comment to a couple who had been together for 22 years… “I’m 22, so I guess I would have been in the womb.” You go girl.

Some random shots from around the ship….

And this one I especially like…it’s like a “ghost ship“:

Eight of the gay boys got to dinner the first night in the Bordeaux Dining Room – what a handsome group:

And many of stayed up wayyyyy too late….gambling….not me, but one of the boys put $300 in a penny slot machine – the Aussie was the smartest of the lot, playing poker, where you actually have a chance to beat the house.

Woke up in Victoria to gloom and doom and drizzle…luckily I’d ordered coffee and an eggy-muffin thing the night before:

If you look closely you can see the top of the WorldMark Victoria just to the right of the tallest structure in the picture below – my original plan was to walk over and say hello to Nicola who works the front desk – but the drizzle got the better of me.

Another day, another LGBT gathering – this time in the Wheelhouse at pretty much the correct time, 5:30 (so I could go snag Rob Roys at $5.00 [plus 15%] from the Elite party which also had steak tartare and cheeses). But before I did that I swing by the Explorer Lounge for a couple of $3.99 (plus 15%) Bloody Marys in commemorative glasses (hence, needing to get two of them), drink one, split the other one into two glasses (for breakfast) and pop it in the fridge, and then pop by and get a picture of Stephen calling the trivia contest…

The steak tartare…and I know Melba Toast (what it was supposed to come with), and that isn’t Melba, it’s just toast points.

And the aforementioned Roy Roys – or what was left of them…

That was before I went for two more… and some pictures of the boys at the cocktail party and at dinner for ten which followed:

I’ve actually been on other cruises with the two on the right, one from SF and the other from DC – a long-distance couple.

These two are actually on their honeymoon, while these two have a fascination with Bang Bang, one of the servers upstairs:

With the drinks from the LGBT cocktail party and the wine with dinner, we were probably annoying all those around us, luckily we didn’t sit down until 8:30PM:

And let’s not forget the tin-foil swan for a little take-home dessert…

So another night goes – out too late hanging around the casino, and yes, I’m $30 lighter – luckily all my cash short of the $50 bill secreted away. But I did see part of the “Down on the Bayou” show…didn’t realize there were that many white people in the Bayou, but I’ll go any place that has an accordion player as part of the band.

Got back to the room to find my shirts are back from the laundry:

So much for my request to have them folded and boxed – I guess you get what you pay for, in this case, nothing since it’s one of the perks.

As for my last full day at sea, Bloody Marys await the coffee and muffin thing:

Though they were delivered at 9AM, I went back to bed until 11. Uncle needs his beauty rest. And the weather outside is frightful (or at least dreary).

The ship was rocking and pitching most of the night so the extra hours in the morning calm helped.

Spent the day doing this and that. Missed a sit-down lunch in the dining room and had to settle for the slop line (oh, I mean the buffet). Did my duty-free booze shopping (liter of Jim Beam for $17.99 minus 10% for being Elite Black), and bought a couple of watches at $10 each ($9 after discount) since I’ve been wearing my dual time-zone watch for the last couple of months since all my other watches have dead batteries.

Not that I’ll be wearing both at the same time.

Headed to the wine tasting (also a freebie for the Elites, $9.50 [plus, I'm sure, the 15%] for non-elites) – I headed back to the room when I encountered this line:

Not worth in considering the boring wines they were sampling. Finishing the last pages of my book and taking a nap was a much better use of my time.

Tonight’s LGBT Hoe Down had about 10 people show up at the Wheel House Lounge on Deck 7 (directly, and conveniently directly below my stateroom 5 levels). I’ll try to not bore you with too many photos since it seems to be the same people every night…

And then some silliness at the dinner table – I brought my birthday balloons to dinner:

Speaking of dinner, some of the highlights….

Snails in butter!

Both pretty and tasty.

Another late night…woke up at 3AM still in my clothes and still unpacked. Nothing like packing at 3AM.

Uneventful morning – up at 7:30AM, out the cabin door by the mandatory 8AM exit time…even though my disembarkation isn’t until 9:30. But a lovely sunrise over the Bay Bridge…

And the view from my breakfast table on the Lido Deck…

Now it’s just the waiting game to get off the boat and onto the bus for the airport – a final “footie” for you.

[? ? ?] I hate to think what the number will be after a week of cruise boats and dinners.

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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: Birthday Ramble 2014 – SEA-YVR

I didn’t put in a time call for a cab – something I usually do, especially if I have an early flight. With a cruise where I have until 3PM to get my ass on the boat, I could wait a few minutes for a cab.

Assuming I could get them to pick up the phone. Yellow Cab … “please stay on the line for the next available agent”….5 minutes later, Orange Cab, “please stay on the line for the next available agent”… 5 minutes later. Uber. Car is ten minutes away. I’d never used Uber before but I had it on my phone with a $30 credit towards the first ride. If you aren’t already signed up for Uber – use promo code 7eo06 and get your own $30 credit (and I get a free ride too!).

Honestly is was closer to fifteen minutes, but only because the computer said I was 2 blocks further up Rose Street – but the driver has your number so it was soon fixed. When you can’t even get a taxi company to ANSWER THE PHONE no wonder Uber, Lyft and all the other services are eating cabs lunch and dinner. Cost for my ride in a private car with a former Metro Access driver?


Base Fare                     1.35

Distance                     12.98

Time                         4.90

Subtotal                    $19.23

Safe Rides Fee (?)                 $1.00

City of Seattle accessibility and admin fee     $0.20

Free trip up to $30 from James             -$20.43


Personal •••• 2459                 $0.00


Yes, I left money on the table, but the ease of setting this up was AMAZING. And I got to the terminal in time to have lunch in the dining room (rather than the buffet) which was off limits to most other travelers if they were preferred early boarders or showed up after 12:30. Many of my Princess SeaMen (a group of gay frequent cruisers on Princess) were turned away. Of course they got there later because they’d been on the cruise the day before, on the same route, and caught a shuttle back from Vancouver to catch this one.

Boarding was the SMOOTHEST that I’ve ever had…maybe showing up a little after 11AM is a good plan. Preferred Lines for security and check-in, and almost instant boarding of the Golden Princess. I’m on this cruise to get my Elite Status on Princess. Since I’m going solo, I actually get 2 cruise credits for this trip – meaning my 14th and 15th cruise by their bookkeeping (not counting the 3 that I added that weren’t in their records). Dancing Bear (DB) completed his 14th and 15th on yesterday’s cruise so we’ll have to see how quick they are at getting status levels updated. This is, of course, a concern to me because my 16th cruise where more benefits kick in is this coming Wednesday after a couple of days in Vancouver.

Since it is just an overnight cruise, I opted for an interior cabin ($173.00 total — $118 for the cruise, $55 for taxes/fees/port expenses) rather than my usual balcony cabin – DB got upgraded from inside to balcony on his, lucky bugger.

Good food at lunch, though with my 10AM breakfast I was less than hungry which didn’t stop me from the Shrimp Salad (so awesome, no photo, got eaten too quickly) and the beef tenderloin followed by a sherry trifle:

I’m not sure I’d really call a Jello-based dessert a “trifle“. Others at the table had the Salmon and the Burger:

Even the appetizers were tasty and beautiful:

Speaking of DB, met up with him after lunch….

And a tour of his cabin…nice view:

I even grabbed some little desserty things from the International Café in the atrium:

And a cocktail for myself from the minis I’d brought on board in the toiletries….DB is on the all drinks included for $49 (+15%) a day plan. They wouldn’t make a dime if Swanda were on this boat, but he does tip well.

At 3:30 was the mandatory lifeboat drill – and a twist is that you no longer have to bring your life vest if you’ve done the drill before – gone is the sea of orange vest wearing people. As for me, I brought a cocktail instead of the life jacket – and plopped on the floor rather than stood:

Sail away at 5, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, BiSexual, Transgender) Meet-up at 5:30 in the Wheelhouse Lounge. It used to be called the “Friends of Dorothy“, think Wizard of Oz, sort of like the “Friends of Bill W.” for the folks in recovery. I miss the name, but the younger generation is sort of clueless about the FOD term.

A crowd of 20+ showed up. Men, Women, mostly around my age, mostly white. A couple of out-layers, older black gentleman, youngest Eastern European boy (Anthony).

After hanging out for a couple of hours, the consensus with crowd that I’d been on other cruises with was that it was time for a swim in the Lotus Spa pool (with adjoining wet and dry saunas), followed by an 8:30 dinner. With free drink coupons and refilling from the room which now had a full bottle of Maker’s Mark in it from duty-free (a perk of being on a one-day cruise is you get your liquor the minute you purchase it), luckily there are no pictures from dinner – where I added a bottle of wine to the meal since I have a $50 room credit I need to use up and Mick picked up the cost of the Maker’s (for which I still owe him). Shared the wine with one of the others at our 9 person table. And a noisy table it was.

Lovely sunset off the railing….

One of the joys of cruising….

Up until 2AM,and need to be out of the cabin at 8AM, then breakfast on the Lido Deck, and then taking a nap until my 9:30 disembarkation time….

Customs was a snap…hand them the form…and then the hell of two 5,000 person boats being in dock at the same time. This was the cab line:

That’s about ten switchbacks – I gave up after five minutes and decided to walk the 12-15 blocks to the WorldMark at The Canadian – even in the drizzle I got there in 20 minutes at which point I would have only been a third of the way thru the cab line.

Next up, two days in Vancouver, BC.

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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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Sep '14

Trip Report: Big Easy Quickie, Part One.

What can I say… $258 round-trip to New Orleans and I’m out of here.

Here are a couple of selfies from the Board Room… in the “cone of silence” chair, which I found a little claustrophobic…

And a much more normal chair…

Even got upgraded on the way down on the Salmon Thirty Salmon II

I’m starting to get used to flying up front…

Even if I do have to have a window seat… but my office is set up once we hit 10,000 feet:

OK, the window is good for some things…

Then came the salad course…with beads! Not sure where I can sweeze the DigiPlayer onto the tray table:

Followed by the main course…

As for the DigiPlayer – guess I have to wait until dessert:

Smooth flight, lots of cocktails, wine, more cocktails…feeling no pain when I land a Louis B. Armstrong International Airport. Grabbed my checked back and headed off to grab the $2.00 bus to the city (the Jefferson County E2 Line):

Yep, it’s raining, and still manages to be humid.

E2 to Loyola, walk half a dozen blocks and catch the St. Charles Street Car Line ($1.25 – $1.50 with a transfer, which I didn’t need). Amazing that I remember how to do this from previous trips – cheap way to get from the airport to the condo, as long as you have an hour and a half. Looking a little tired at this point….

I’ve stayed at the Avenue Plaza many times – maybe that’s what makes the transit so easy. And it’s right on the St. Charles Street Car Line, which is even better.

Full discloser, I took this photo on the way BACK to the airport, as I also took this one the last day, showing off my FABULOUS view:

But the rest of the place is nice:

Nice shower, nice kitchenette – guess I should go two doors down to William’s Market, which is just past one of my favorite places (if you can stand the cigarette smoke) which is Igors Bar, Restaurant, Library and Laundromat:

Sorry that William’s Market and Deli is so plain as to not really warrant a photo, but the food is GREAT – this was the smoked sausage sandwich I had for lunch one of the days:

I was a little confused when she asked if I wanted the sandwich “dressed” – with tomato, lettuce, etc., as opposed to “naked”.

I picked up a dozen eggs and a couple of other things – I’d picked up a 12-pack of Diet Coke Caffeine Free at CVS on the transfer between the E2 and the St. Charles.

All set for the morning…and I have my itinerary all planned.


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Sep '14

Trip Report: Cabo Destruction Pictures.

Before I get started on this week’s adventure, I thought I’d do a quick additional update on Roxy and I’s Cabo San Lucas trip and the devastation that followed. Here is Terminal One, that I flew out of…

I was in that terminal on Friday afternoon, the lounge is on the second floor, to the left of this picture.

Roxy was in Terminal Two on Saturday, which now looks like this:

By Tuesday, all was a mess.

The travel gods shined brightly on us this last trip. Guess I’ll hold off scheduling Linda, Peter, and Clair’s trip next spring.


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Sep '14

Trip Report: Cabo Postscript.

When Roxy flew into Cabo San Lucas International Airport….

His plane took a more westerly approach to dodge Hurricane Norbert so he could land on Saturday afternoon. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning the airport was buffeted by winds…. Here the wikipedi description of Norbert:

The NHC began monitoring a large area of disturbed weather in association with a trough of low pressure near the south-central coast of Mexico on August 31.[111] Amid a favorable atmospheric environment, the disturbance steadily organized and was acquired sufficient organization to be declared Tropical Storm Norbert at 15:00 UTC on September 2.[112] The cyclone moved generally northwestward following formation, steered on the southwestern side of a mid-level ridge over northern Mexico.[113] With a symmetric central dense overcast and curved bands wrapping into the center, Norbert was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane at 03:00 UTC on September 4.[114] Initially steady state, the cyclone began a period of rapid deepening early on September 5, becoming a Category 2 hurricane at 00:00 UTC and a Category 3 hurricane at 06:00 UTC.[115][116] After attaining peak winds of 120 mph (195 km/h), the effects of cooler ocean temperatures began to weaken the system. Norbert weakened below major hurricane intensity at 21:00 UTC on September 6 and below hurricane intensity at 15:00 UTC on September 7.[117][118] After lacking deep, organized convection for over 12 hours, Norbert was declared post-tropical cyclone at 09:00 UTC on September 8.[119]

By the time I arrived on Monday, Norbert was a distant thought, a little beach swell, but no flooding.

For our week in Cabo, the weather was mid-80′s with some humidity, so basically I hung out here:

For FIVE DAYS… just bring me food and booze – OK, it wasn’t that bad, but close. My feet never touched the sand or any beach/pool water.

I left on Friday morning (well, from the resort, afternoon from the airport), but wen Roxy left on Saturday, the waves from the next storm were already lapping at the beaches….

Thanks Roxy for the FaceBook shot that I stole for this post.

Apparently Roxy and I both got out in time… because Hurricane Odile was a duzzy”:

On September 7, the NHC began monitoring disorganized convection in association with a trough several hundred miles south of the Mexico coastline.[120] The disturbance gradually organized within an environment of moderate northeasterly wind shear, and it acquired sufficient organization to be declared a tropical depression at 0900 UTC on September 10.[121] Six hours later, it was upgraded to Tropical Storm Odile.[122] Over the coming days, only slow intensification occurred as upper-level winds remained unfavorable; by early on September 13, however, the satellite presentation began to change quickly, with the center fully embedded within a central dense overcast. In conjunction with satellite intensity estimates, the cyclone was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane at 09:00 UTC.[123] Odile then began a period of rapid deepening, becoming a Category 2 hurricane at 00:00 UTC,[124] a Category 3 hurricane at 06:00 UTC,[125] and a Category 4 hurricane at 09:00 UTC on September 14.[126] After reaching peak winds of 135 mph (215 km/h), the start of an eyewall replacement cycle caused the system to weaken to a Category 3 hurricane.[127]

Thanks again Wikipedia.

Reports mentioned Cabo Villas where we were staying – distressed honeymooning couple, flooded Hiltons, etc.

Here is the report from the honeymoon couple….http://abcnews.go.com/us/hurricane-turns-cabo-honeymoon-nightmare-family/story?id=25513418

This would be up e beach (north) from where Roxy and I were staying…..but a short stroll….

Dodged two storms – reminds me of a trip with Jillar where we cancelled and moved our holiday to Sonoma.

And it feels weird to be making this post t 35,000 feet over the Denver Airport (according to the Captain)


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