Friday, January 30, 2009

Guten Tag München!

Since the previous post we've flown to Seattle, enjoyed a too-quick visit with three grandkids, slept for an hour in an airport hotel, and then boarded a flight to DEN at 5:40 a.m. We met K's brother Greg and sister-in-law June in Denver and flew to IAD (Washington Dulles)on a 777. We then got organized for the flight across the pond.

It was a very pleasant flight IAD-MUC, and a fortunate one for Greg and June, who were able to buy up into Business Class on a quite empty flight. While they rest, the two of us have already gone for a brisk walk - the temp is hovering around the freezing point - to work off some of the combination of airplane food and sitting that has occupied the majority of our most recent 48 hours.

We'll wander around Munich a little bit later before hopping on a plane for Naples tomorrow. We hope to try an authentic Napolitan pizza (invented in Napoli as legend has it) before boarding an overnight ferry for Catania Sicily. Blogging may be light for awhile but we should be able to post some pictures sometime in the next few days.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


So here we are in the San Francisco Red Carpet Club, just about to leave for our Seattle flight. Despite sitting on the ground at Bangkok this morning for nearly three hours while mechanics attended to something, we had a good flight to Tokyo Narita.

We'd missed our connection, along with folks heading for LAX and Washington-Dulles (IAD) but the United employees efficiently had new boarding passes ready for us and we even stayed in Business Class (Hurray!) on a flight to SFO leaving a couple of hours later.

We've slept well, look forward to having dinner with some really cute grandkids in Seattle, packing our warmer clothes for Munich, and then heading to an airport hotel before that early flight Thursday morning.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Last Night to Thai One On

We've had a great time in Bangkok and are a little sorry to leave. Last night we enjoyed the view from the top of our hotel, then ferried across the river to the little restaurant we ate in our first full day here. We were pleasantly surprised to see them featuring Thai dancers, and we enjoyed the performance along with our Tom Yum and Spring Rolls.

This morning we savored our last breakfast before doing a little souvenir shopping for the grandkids. And now, off to our airport hotel and an early morning flight to NRT, then SFO, and finally SEA.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gung Hay Fat Choy: Lunar New Year, Jan 26 2009

That cute and serious looking little boy, who can't be any older than four, was waiting his turn to be top dog on the human totem pole. I'd be serious too.

The Grand Palace

Today we rode the express ferry to the Grand Palace, and are feeling confident enough just to brush off the touts ("wily strangers" on the sign outside the Palace is a good description) who try to introduce themselves to us.

It was originally built in 1782 - and for 150 years it was the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. Successive kings kept adding to it, and one who'd visited Europe even added European-style buildings.

We entered just in time for a free tour in English with a very nice woman who was very interesting and, even more important, very easy to understand.

Yesterday we said our goodbyes to our FlyerTalk friend Brendan at the Jim Thompson House. Thompson was an American who revitalized the Thai silk industry before mysteriously disappearing during a holiday in Malaysia. He left his house to Thailand - actually a collection of several buildings brought in from various parts of the country - and it was an interesting place.

Later we walked along a canal on our way to an electronics mall to check out camera prices. We ended up walking past (through?) a lot of living areas in narrow passages, and passed people sitting eating their lunch. We can buy the camera we want through Costco for about $30 more than in Bangkok so that's what we'll do.

We closed off the day with the Hilton boat taking us up to the main terminal dock, where we boarded the Skytrain, the fairly new elevated rapid transit system, and transferred over to our restaurant of choice, Cabbages and Condoms.

The food was quite terrific, and the decor was, well, interesting. It's not mints that they give out with the check, either.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Flashback - From Our Photo Album: Egypt 2007

Here are a few pictures from our trip to Cairo awhile back.

Thai Food

Why order an omelette for breakfast when Asian food like this is available?

Any place else we'd be thrilled to eat breakfast up in the Executive Lounge, but the buffet in the restaurant downstairs is even more amazing, so we eat there. They have about six long buffets: one Asian with Japanese (sushi, sashimi, teriaki, sticky rice, Japanese pickles, and much more), Chinese (two varieties of congee, long grain rice, noodle dishes, vegetables), Thai (a meat dish, a vegetable dish, pad Thai and more), Indian (a curry or two), one is Continental (sausages, cheeses, smoked and fresh fish), one is American/British (bacon, sausages, back bacon, potatoes, eggs made to order, grilled tomatoes, baked beans), one with freshly made-to-order pancakes and the like, one with fresh fruits and freshly squeezed juices to order, and finally one with a huge variety of breads and pastries. I'm sure I left some things out, but I have been concentrating on the Asian food - and haven't gotten sick of it yet.

Cruisin' Down The River

We hired a longboat and enjoyed a 3 1/2 hour cruise on the Chao Phraya River and the canals going off from there. It was a travel highlight for us. Stops included a snake farm and small zoo, an orchid nursery, the Royal Barges Museum, and Wat Arun, the Temple of The Dawn.

The best part of the tour, however, was simply cruising past houses ranging from shacks to mansions in a variety of neighborhoods, watching people living their everyday lives along the water, much the way they've been doing for centuries, other than the addition of such modern conveniences as satellite dishes.

Bangkok is a fabulously interesting city. There aren't too many places in the world where people actually live in houses (sometimes shacks) right over the rivers and canals. Everything revolves around the water - they fish from the stoop, fetch water in buckets and wash their laundry from the porch, hang their clothes outside under the eves. The poorer homes do not have windows, but a are simple structures either on floats or up on stilts while the better homes are made of wood with concrete supports and often have nice cars on the other side of the house. Even so, they seem to use small wooden boats for transportation since the roads are so congested as to be unuseable. There are markets set up on small boats, and a number of boats are set up for cooking and serve as floating restaurants for people to paddle up and eat. We have only taken a taxi once (last night to the Chinese New Year celebrations), and other than that have travelled by foot ferry and (yesterdays tour) by private long boat. We'll definitely put Bangkok on our list of cities to return to.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wat Po and an amazing coincidence

Returning from our visit to Wat Po (we'd actually been aiming for the Palace, another starred attraction but we'll make it there another day), we met a fellow Flyer Talker at the elevator as we were heading from our room up to the lounge.

Brendan a.ka. "Restless in Reno" had just flown in from a FlyerTalk "Do" (a gathering organized by locals for FTers from around the globe). We'd met him twice previously at the two Australian gatherings we'd attended, and what a great pleasure to bump into him.

We're seated in the Hilton lounge right now and in a few moments we're all headed off on a boat tour to visit a weekend floating market and other attractions from the water.

It's a small world after all, to coin a phrase.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The first bowl of Tom Yum soup in Thailand - hopefully not the last...


A big city, as seen from the top of the Millenium Hilton...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

United's New Business Class Seats

Wow! We could have just kept flying on the upper deck of this particular 747. We alternated between the new in-flight entertainment and snoozing in comfort between NRT and BKK.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Terrific Transit at Narita

So here we are sitting in the Narita Red Carpet Club after getting off our incoming flight from SFO, taking a couple of escalators and walking through the security line in about 30 seconds, with smiling employees providing assistance and "thank-yous" along the way. We've also experienced a couple of hectic and crowded transits here over the past few years but this one was downright pleasant. We have 45 minutes before boarding even starts - we just about could have signed up to take showers in here. We're trying the sushi but best to avoid the famous Narita RCC beer machine, given our upcoming seven-hour flight.

Of course it helps to be among the first dozen or so passengers off the 777, and it also helps when there are no other planeloads of passengers to load up the lines. Ah, if travel were always so easy.

Come to think of it, what a shame to stop in here without one machine-poured beer for the road...

Sitting Pretty?

We may finally get to try out United's new flat-bed Business Class seats on the Tokyo-Bangkok leg of our outbound trip today. We've tried Lufthansa's lie-flat product twice and enjoyed it. United frequent flyers on balance think the UA "suites" are even better, but they've been a long time rolling them out. Check the starting date of this Flyertalk thread.

We'll be ready to lie flat at that point, since our three flights SEA-SFO-NRT-BKK* total 8668 miles, and our scheduled arrival is 11:45 p.m. Bangkok time tomorrow.

*Seattle-San Francisco-Tokyo (Narita Airport)-Bangkok

Scheduling Our Schedule

It's bright and early in Issaquah on our flying-to-Bangkok day and our next-door neighbor has e-mailed us about group tickets for some upcoming Bellingham performances. I e-mail Laurie to let her know we won't be back in the neighborhood until February 10.

February 19-24 we'll be in Honolulu. March 7-23 we'll be on a Transatlantic repositioning cruise on the Oceania Regatta (plus flight to Miami and flight from Barcelona), and we're in Germany April 15-27, followed by that trip to Kona into the beginning of May.

I'm hoping we can attend at least one or two of the performances Laurie mentioned (Ain't Misbehavin', Ramsey Lewis Trio, The Drowsy Chaperone) but we also have to squeeze in a trip to visit Riley in Birmingham at some point...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Global Perspective

Yesterday I showed Jake on his world globe our route when we fly from Bangkok January 28 to Narita (Tokyo) to San Francisco to Seattle, stay overnight, and then onward to Denver to Washington-Dulles to Munich, stay overnight, and then onward to Naples, arriving January 31. He’s really getting the idea.

I pointed out Russia on the globe.

“Have you been there, Gappy?” he asked. No, we haven’t yet.

“I’d like you to go everywhere.”

Me too. Plugging in our flights on the WebFlyer MileMarker tool tonight, and understanding there’s a bit of zigging and zagging, the total flying distance BKK-NRT-SFO-SEA-DEN-IAD-MUC-NAP is 15918 miles.

Since Earth is just under 25000 miles in circumference at the Equator, I think we could have found a shortcut, but it would have cost us more money and earned us fewer miles.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hawaii-Bound for $242

How do we find these deals? For a start, by spending too much time hanging around the Internet along with scanning a couple of dozen e-mail subscriptions a day from Travel Zoo, United Airlines, Smarter Travel, and a whole bunch of other places.

Sometimes it's as simple as checking out the Mileage Run Deals forum on FlyerTalk. Voila!

Kathy has already put a flight on book-and-hold, giving us a little time to examine it from all angles and make sure it doesn't conflict with something previously scheduled. The itinerary:

April 29 8:30 a.m. Vancouver to Portland to San Francisco to Kona, arriving at 6:12 p.m.
May 3 12:37 p.m. Kona to San Francisco for overnight
May 4 7:55 a.m. San Francisco to Vancouver, arriving at 10:08 a.m.

Result: more than 6000 EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) in our UA Mileage Plus accounts in the annual quest for status on UA (United) and our first visit to the Big Island.

Yet again, thank you FlyerTalk! It's our support group minus the 12-step program.

Follow up: This morning Kathy played around with flights, thought we'd lost the fare after canceling the held flight to book a better time, but retrieved some slightly better times and connections.

The final flight now looks like this:

April 29 7:50 a.m. Vancouver to Seattle to San Francisco to Kona, arriving at 6:12 p.m.
May 3 1:20 p.m. Kona to Los Angeles for overnight
May 4 9:04 a.m. Los Angeles to Vancouver, arriving at 12:00 p.m.
EQMS: 7118 Total cost (all-in) for two: $243 each

Friday, January 16, 2009

An appetizing business practice

We drive through an ethereal mix of fog and patches of sun from Birch Bay Washington up across the border to Chilliwack B.C. this morning.

A lunch date with our great friends Don and Pat is scheduled at the Capital, the best Chinese restaurant in the entire world, er, arguably the best Chinese restaurant in Chilliwack at the least, where we first tasted the Chinese taco known as Lettuce Wrap many years ago, and our benchmark standard of comparison whenever and wherever we eat Chinese and even Thai food: "How does it compare to the Capital?" Since we're flying to Bangkok four days from now, it seems only sensible and prudent to bring our taste buds up to speed.

Don and Pat are delayed by a previous appointment, so once they arrive we make up for lost time by starting with bowls of hot-and-sour soup (won-ton for Don, who hasn't yet learned in more than six decades on this earth to enjoy anything that tastes of vinegar) accompanied by spring rolls. We then proceed to the lunch specials. Delicious and a bargain price for such high quality!

Despite the late lunch, we manage to arrive at daughter Karen's house in time to greet Jake as he arrives home from school, to let Tegan guide us on a walk around the neighborhood, and to start making plans for dinner once we've said our goodbyes to Don and Pat.

Once Daddy arrives home from the salt mine, the six of us head for the Chilliwack branch of a regional chain known as Mr. Mike's, a Sizzler-style chain that began its existence as a bargain "steak" house. They've moved themselves sufficiently up the food chain (is it legal to use a figure of speech to describe something literally?) to compete in the same niche with, say, Earls.

By now it's after 6:00 p.m., the grandchildren are hungry and already showing signs of tiring, and the hostess warns us of a potential 25-minute wait as we stand in the midst of a small crowd of would-be diners.

Now suddenly comes the fun part. Employees appear with platters of complimentary appetizers and offer them around to those of us waiting for tables, complete with small plates and napkins. No fewer than four kinds of appetizers turn a drab wait into an almost festive occasion during the next 15 minutes, and we're seated in a nice corner booth almost before we know it. Decent steaks for the guys, decent kids-menu steaks for the kids, and decent stir-fry and seafood bowl presentations respectively for the ladies. A Wolf Blass shiraz washes it all down quite pleasantly.

There must be other restaurants that follow this custom of serving generous quantities of complimentary appetizers to customers waiting for a table but this is the first time in our recollection that we've ever experienced it. Did we enjoy dinner? Yes we did. Will we return to Mr. Mike's? Absolutely.

How long is yours, i.e. your list of countries visited?

You haven't visited Lower Slobbovia? No? Oh my, you've missed a gem. Okay, so there's a tiny element of tourist one-upsmanship that exists when folks compare their travel experiences.

We once ran into a couple strangely proud of having visited 130 "countries" but most travelers we encounter compare notes about the "most special" places they've visited (New Zealand and Thailand are two places on almost everybody's list) rather than the sheer quantity. Be that as it may...

If we use the list provided by the Travelers' Century Club, a group that includes a bunch of places not actually countries (319 as of January 2009) so as to assist you in reaching the magic 100 mark, then joining up and paying the dues, we'll have visited 65 (and been "in transit" at two more) by the end of March 2009, but, hey, who's counting?

Pacific Ocean
Hawaiian Islands
North America
U.S. (continental)

Central America
Costa Rica

South America


Antigua & Deps. (Barbuda, Redonda)

Cayman Islands
Dominican Republic
Leeward Islands, French (St. Martin)
Puerto Rico
St. Barts
St. Kitts
St. Lucia
St. Maarten (formerly Netherlands Antilles)
Turks and Caicos Islands
Virgin Islands, U.S. (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas)
Virgin Islands, British (Tortola, etc.)
Atlantic Ocean
Azores Islands
Cape Verde Islands

Europe and Mediterranean

Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Minorca)
Czech Republic
Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)
Vatican City
Senegal (sitting on plane during refueling)
South Africa
Middle East
Indian Ocean
China, People's Rep.
Hong Kong
Japan (in transit only)
Turkey in Asia

And that doesn't even count Saturna Island or Birch Bay Village!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The travel bug

How did Brian catch the travel bug? When I was about ten years old, I read a book by Richard Halliburton that greatly influenced me: Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels. While there existed a 19th century British explorer with the same name, the Halliburton I read was a young adventurer who made a living writing and lecturing about his adventurous travels.

Halliburton had a gift for the dramatic. He swam the Panama Canal as the S.S. Richard Halliburton, paying 36 cents in toll based on his weight, and possessed a particular gift in writing for young people. Like other successful authors (and teachers), he does not "talk down" to kids. I've reread that book as an adult and still enjoy it. Learning years later that Halliburton disappeared and presumably drowned in 1939 while sailing a Chinese junk across the Pacific Ocean to the Golden Gate Exposition in San Franciso only enhanced his allure.

How did Kathy catch the travel bug? Probably from Brian...

Better late than never

Since Fall 2001, more specifically a few weeks after celebrating our own retirements from Ed Biz while simultaneously being enraged by the terrorist attacks of September 11, we've been traveling. By most folks' standards, we've traveled quite a lot.

United Airlines tells us we've each logged about 650,000 lifetime miles with them, and we've flown enough miles on other airlines to estimate conservatively that our backsides have been in airline seats for upwards of three quarters of a million miles over the past seven years. We've qualified as United 1K, passengers who fly 100,000 miles or more annually, for several consecutive years. This enables us to earn 100% bonus miles, upgrades that result, more often than not, in Domestic First and International Business seats, and being treated by the airline in the way that all passengers would be treated in an ideal world.

We've logged close to a hundred total cruise days on Princess, Carnival, Holland America, Celebrity, Cunard (Queen Mary II) and our current favorite, Oceania.

We've lived in an apartment for a month in Menton, France, and spent another month on a Turkish gulet cruising the Mediterranean and Aegean. We've walked to the top of the Great Wall at Badaling, driven out from Cairo to view the pyramids and the Sphinx (shades of Ozymandias), and attended the opera in Vienna, Singapore, Sydney, Prague, and Cincinnati. We've been privileged to attend the weddings of two former exchange students, Hannah's in Sweden and Lene's in Denmark.

We've spent the night in a Reef Sleep on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and snorkeled ourselves silly there on one of our three trips to Oz, along with visits to Melbourne, Sydney, Hamilton Island, Broome, the Outback, Tasmania, and even a Manly (The Manly Aquarium that is -heh) shark dive for Brian.

One of our very favorite adventures was a 16-day Ikapa Vistas of South Africa bus tour of South Africa in September 2008, in the great company of Kathy's brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Ellyn. We've also enjoyed a variety of cruises and other travels with Kathy's other brothers and sisters-in-law, Greg and June, Bentley and Brenda, with Brian's brother Dennis and sister-in-law Maureen, and with Brian's stepmother Louise.

We've gathered with our three children and their spouses, Karen and Chuck, David and Dana, Kim and John, and our grandchildren (now a total of six) on three separate occasions for reunions in Puerto Vallarta, and in 2008 alone visited Australia (twice), Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Swaziland on a 16-day bus tour, Kauai, Singapore, and Prague, while making our second transatlantic cruise ship crossing from Brazil to Barcelona.

Our favorite trips? Visiting our grandchildren in Chilliwack British Columbia, Issaquah Washington, and Birmingham Alabama. Other than those, our favorite trip is always "the next one." Needless to say, there were numerous trips in 2008 to visit Jake and Tegan in B.C., Avery, Lily, and Peyton in Washington State, and Riley in Alabama. Riley already maintains her own blog, the little rascal.

We're leaving early next week for our very first trip to Bangkok, followed almost immediately by a trip to Italy after flying into Munich - a brief tour of Sicily and the Amalfi Coast in the company of Greg and June.

Thanks for visiting and drop back if you're at all interested in our efforts to live up to our mission statement: seeing the world while we can, and to our motto: You're only young once, but you can always be immature.