Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Sunday, February 18, 2024
We even managed to find one of our favorite 2022 waiters, Victor Herrera, still working at Asiana. Kathy recalled he and his wife had a baby who is now an active two-year old.
The food is still good, especially the sushi.
We tried every restaurant, and found pleasing plates in all of them.
It’s a great place to spend a week eating and relaxing and eating some more. They even have a coffee bar that turns out excellent double-shot Cappuccinos.
One more day of paradise and we’ll be ready to face a gruesome 4:00AM pickup to the airport.
Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Monday, February 12, 2024
We're leaving later this morning for a stay at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, the Hilton Playa del Carmen. The two of us stayed here in January 2022, and this time Kathy's brother Tom and sister-in-law Ellyn will be joining us.
They don't leave Colorado until tomorrow, but we're flying from Bellingham to Los Angeles today and overnighting at LAX before catching a 8:18 AM flight to Cancun Tuesday morning.
In other words, it's a fairly simple trip, since we may cocoon at the resort for the entire week. Still, we always try to do some research just before a trip. What did we review for such an uncomplicated itinerary?
Like many if not
most travelers, we keep a travel checklist and review it before every
trip. We usually (occasionally?) have thought of everything, but every
so often we're surprised. We obsessively and compulsively check to make
sure we have passports, plastic cards, and cash.
Second, we look for any last-minute comments or reviews or complaints about the property on TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk. We noticed just this morning a recent TA reviewer complaining about arriving at the hotel and unable to make dinner reservations because the restaurants were full. Brian called the hotel on his cell phone's Skype app, and confirmed three dinner reservations, including a late one for our arrival tomorrow.
We also check our own blog. We've stayed here recently enough that we
can remind ourselves of various details, large and small.
We also checked
in advance a new tax for visitors imposed (rather poorly) by Quintana
Roo, the Mexican state we are visiting. We learned that the $20 fee is not
an actual scam, and also that it has not so far been enforced. We now know that if
we're requested to pay it at the airport, we can pay it without
thinking we're being ripped off.
Finally, we're constantly checking our TripIt itinerary and our airline's website (Alaska) to see if there are any flight changes, cancellations, or even (hopefully) upgrades.
Phileas Fogg, the hero of one of Brian's favorite childhood books, Around the World in Eighty Days,
written in 1873 by the great Jules Verne, said in regard to his own
travel planning to circumnavigate the globe, "The unforeseen does not
exist." While we've understood for a long time the irony of that remark,
we still continue to make the effort to foresee what we can, leaving us time and energy to deal with the unforeseen as it arises.
Monday, January 29, 2024
We were all set to make our first trip to Ecuador with a flight to Quito January 24, returning February 1. Instead, we're at home in Washington State. What happened?
Well, in case you missed it in the news, on January 8 Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared a nationwide state of emergency for a period of 60 days. This followed an upsurge of violence apparently carried out by criminal gangs that have plagued the country.
Ecuador "declared war" on gangs after a TV station was attacked and taken over while it was on the air.
According to the BBC, "President Noboa said... that an 'internal armed conflict' now existed in the country and he was mobilising the armed forces to carry out 'military operations to neutralise' what he called 'transnational organised crime, terrorist organisations and belligerent non-state actors'."
What to do? We have noticed over the decades that news organizations can paint a picture of events that appears much more dire than the actuality. Ecuador has long been considered a slightly "sketchy" destination, and perhaps it would end up being a safer environment for tourists to deal with - curfews, and the police and the military in the streets and on full alert.
Oddly enough, the US State Department did not raise its Ecuador Travel Advisory above Level Two (of four), "Exercise Increased Caution."Airlines, including our planned carrier American, were continuing to fly daily into Quito. What to do? In the end, we turned to TripAdvisor, and more specifically, the Ecuador Travel Forum, to read what a mix of locals, tour operators, and tourists were saying.
The comments of one tourist impressed us. He wrote that he was currently in Quito, that he felt reasonably safe, but that he advised anyone who wasn't already there to stay away for the time being. That made sense to us. We did cancel our trip, and managed not to lose a penny in the process. We probably would have been just fine - we're happy to see that the government is apparently getting the situation under control - but it seemed silly to voluntarily travel to a locale where things had the potential to go very sour.
We took our American Airlines flight credit and applied it to a slightly more expensive flight to Lima, Peru, in mid-April. We thoroughly enjoyed Peru on two previous visits, and we'll hope to see Ecuador another time. For now, we're looking forward to a February trip to Cancun, Mexico, and a stay at a Hilton resort in Playa del Carmen.
Friday, January 19, 2024
We started with the museum and viewed Ford Model Ts and other antique cars.
We spotted an Edison gramophone. Beside it are some of the cylinders used before discs..
Here’s a statue of Henry Ford.
And Thomas Edison in front of a Banyan tree.
At this point, we were frankly preoccupied after being notified by Alaska that our nonstop flight home Friday, RSW-SEA had been canceled.We spent a lot of time on the phone changing a three-day later rescheduling to that traveled the same day.
We had to ride the Skylink train to the next terminal for our DFW-SEA flight on Alaska. We found a friendly little AA Admirals Club in Terminal E, although it was a 10-minute walk to reach it.
We’d accepted Alaska’s invitation to volunteer for a bump, but it was sadly not to be. On this flight we were seated in the Premium section up front, but in middle seats one behind the other. We survived it.
Sunday, January 14, 2024
The terminal itself was even busier than the photo below indicates, and we had to work to find seats in the Alaska Lounge.
We were fortunate to be 1-2 on the upgrade list for this SEA-RSW flight of about 2600 miles, and even more fortunate when our upgrades cleared last night and we find ourselves seated in bulkhead Row 1 D-F in this Boeing non-MAX 737-900.
We’d seen a number of “emotional support dogs”
He or she was followed by two under-seat canines carried by their presumably husband and wife owners (not that we should presume anything in these modern times).
The dogs are already breaking the rules, as they’re supposed to remain completely inside their carriers at all times.
Our meals are tasteless.
The time is flying by, so to speak, and we’re scheduled to arrive in a little over three hours.
After we land, we check prices and can catch an Uber $5-6 cheaper than a cab. You can choose any arrival door, and within five minutes Sean is driving us to our hotel in a luxurious Honda Pilot.
Thursday, January 11, 2024
Our return trip from Larnaca, Cyprus comprises one airport fewer than our outgoing trip: Larnaca to London Heathrow, overnight at Heathrow, and onward to Vancouver the following evening. It looks downright leisurely but still proves to offer a few challenges.
Boarding at LCA is mildly chaotic, with gate lice blocking the way. We do find a path eventually and squeeze into our seats in Row 5.
Our British Airways flight LCA-LHR is on the same type of plane we'd flown outbound, an A321 with space between the seats (the pitch) of only 31 inches or less, making it impossible, for example, to cross one's legs. That's exactly the same in economy or in its European-style business class, which maintains the same pitch, and a total of six seats across the single-aisle plane, but blocks the middle seat.
Brian’s Screwdriver is short on orange juice, but the vodka makes up for it.
The meal (we both choose the chicken curry) is surprisingly tasty with some real bite in the sauce.
When Brian compliments the young flight attendant who served it, she laughs and replies, "Don't sound so surprised."
Kathy's flight, like her LHR-LCA outbound, is again marred by a young child seated behind her. Talk about an unpleasant coincidence! In between crying and complaining, and at one point slamming the window shade up and down loudly, the tyke’s little legs are long enough to kick the back of her seat from time to time throughout the flight. Fnally we land. Now it's time to navigate Heathrow, which some surveys recognize as among the best airports, while others list it among the worst. Maybe it's a little bit of each.
We deplane (another word we love to hate) after a five-hour flight in Terminal 5 at 10:30 PM, already half past Midnight in Cyprus. Getting around Heathrow involves a lot of walking, trains, escalators, and elevators to reach our destination, the Terminal 4 Heathrow Hilton.
As travel writer Rick Steves notes, "Heathrow Airport is one of the world's busiest airports. Think about it: 75 million passengers a year on 500,000 flights from 185 destinations riding 80 airlines, like some kind of global maypole dance." Steves also offers a good overview of the layout:
Heathrow's terminals are numbered T-1 through T-5. Though T-1 is now closed for arrivals and departures, it still supports other terminals with baggage, and the newly renovated T-2 ("Queen's Terminal") will likely expand into the old T-1 digs eventually. Each terminal is served by different airlines and alliances; for example, T-5 is exclusively for British Air and Iberia Air flights, while T-2 serves mostly Star Alliance flights, such as United and Lufthansa. Screens posted throughout the airport identify which terminal each airline uses; this information should also be printed on your ticket or boarding pass.
You can walk between T-2 and T-3. From this central hub (called "Heathrow Central"), T-4 and T-5 split off in opposite directions (and are not walkable). The easiest way to travel between the T-2/T-3 cluster and either T-4 or T-5 is by Heathrow Express train (free to transfer between terminals, departs every 15–20 minutes). You can also take a shuttle bus (free, serves all terminals), or the Tube (requires a ticket, serves all terminals).
We walk and walk and eventually go through the automated immigration gates without a problem. We walk some more and travel down two sets of escalators, arriving just in time to miss the automated train that runs back and forth between here and Baggage Reclaim.
We wait several minutes and take the train when it returns. We walk some more and print free tickets to ride the Heathrow Express from our terminal 5 arrival to Terminals 2-3.
We wait some more and then ride a train to the first stop at Terminal 2-3. We then have a 20-minute wait for the next "tube" to Terminal 4. As we wait for that train - eight more minutes - we realize it’s now 75 minutes since we got off our flight. Just before the train arrives, the employee makes an almost incomprehensible (to us) announcement. We do hear that “this is the last train.” Lucky us. This train deposits us at Terminal 4 82 minutes after we had "deplaned" in Terminal 5.
Once there, the only way to get upstairs is via a bank of three elevators.We watch our fellow train riders crowd into a couple before maneuvering into one ourselves.
From there, it's one last long and chilly and sometimes dark walk down the covered walkway, quite tunnel-like, to reach the Hilton.
One hour and 45 minutes after "deplaning," we reach the desk, and stand in our final queue of the day.
We manage a reasonable sleep until about 10:00 AM, and manage a late checkout from 1 PM. This allows us time to make the 45-minute trip back to Terminal 3 to engage in some lounge visits prior to our departure. Terminal 3 has one of the best collections of OneWorld lounges of any airport, and we decide to utilize our OneWorld Emerald status to visit two of them prior to boarding our flight.
Our first stop is the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge, where we drink some Champagne (the Perrier is outstanding) and dine on Dan Dan Mien, Dim Sum, and sea bass.
We walk next door to the Qantas First Lounge, drink some more wine, this time Aussie sparkling, and order their famous salt and pepper squid. Pretty good!
Their Beef and Pork Polpette is also tasty.
After all that fine dining and wine tasting, we board our BA A350, equipped with the new suites, including doors we don’t bother using, and enjoy the nine-hour flight back to Vancouver, even catching some sleep along the way.
Brian is bemused enough by the passenger in the suite behind Kathy who, an hour before landing, stares non-stop at her monitor for close to half an hour to snap a photo of him.
He looks a little like Larry David, and Brian wonders if it's a scene being filmed for Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you don’t know the show, “Episodes frequently center on Larry's ignorance of or disregard for well-established social conventions and expectations, and his insistence that others adhere to rules of which only he seems to be aware. This social ineptitude, combined with his inability to let even the most minor grievance or annoyance go unexpressed, often leads him into awkward social situations and draws the ire of his friends, family, and total strangers." Yeah, that’s about right.
We notice that the roughly one-hour drive home from there back into the U.S. on a quiet Tuesday night is significantly quicker than transferring between LHR terminals. That includes picking up our car at the Vancouver Airport Park'N Fly.
We have a few tasks to catch up on before leaving in a couple of days for our short trip to Florida.
It’s always nice to be back home for awhile.