Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday at Snoqualmie Falls

We haven't dropped by Snoqualmie Falls since our children weren't much older than our grandchildren are now and we stopped for a memorable breakfast at Snoqualmie Falls Lodge, remodeled and known since 1986 as Salish Lodge. Has this area developed from rural to suburban, as we drove by blocks of new housing on our way to the Falls from the I-5 exit! With the rain holding off, it turned out to be a great day for Avery, Lily, Peyton and their dad to take us for a steep one-mile walk right down to the bottom.

Brian lost a gentleman's bet with Dave, who claimed correctly that Snoqualmie Falls are 1.5 times as high as Niagara Falls. Quite an impressive sight, and almost as impressive to see two three-year-olds walk all the way down and almost all the way back up. For our six-year-old gymnast Avery, it was a trail to scamper up and down and cover, well, 1.5 times as much ground as the rest of us.

After the Falls, we drove into the town and enjoyed the Mexican food at La Fogata, a place we'd return to anytime we're in the neighborhood.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Here and There and Here

We're currently matching our energy levels with our three-year-old twin granddaughters and their big sister.

After a pleasant few days serving as guides to our visiting Aussie friends, Ross and Jenny, complete with a day trip to Vancouver, lots of walks, visits to Thai restaurants and a crash course for them in Washington State and other wines, we find ourselves suddenly back here to help out while daughter-in-law Dana looks after an ill parent.

Tentatively next on our travel agenda are back-to-back trips to Quebec and Hong Kong, another packing challenge to allow for one locale in the mid-40s and the other in the mid-80s (Farenheit).

In the meantime, we're enjoying spending some time with Avery, Lily and Peyton.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Family, Food, and Fun

Our travel during the past few days hasn't taken us far in miles, but included overnight stays in Issaquah, Seattle, and Bellevue, along with two trips to SEA to pick up family company from Alabama and Colorado.

A lifetime highlight was two birthday parties for our now three-year-old twin grandaughters attended by all seven of our grandchildren. The first was an elaborate birthday dinner for 18 featuring cooking by son David and Kathy's chef-brother Tom from Colorado (who'd brought Idaho Wagyu beef along in his suitcase) and the second was at a "bounce place" in Sumner. Very special to slide down those inflatable slides with our grandkids!

We'd earlier enjoyed Legally Blonde in Seattle with Tom, Ellyn, and Haley and are now back in Birch Bay with six family guests in residence and planning a quick trip up to see more family in British Columbia tomorrow.

So far, we've eaten our way through the Wild Ginger in Seattle (so-so), the cute little Chada Thai restaurant in Blaine (excellent), and the Pad Thai in Bellingham (also good but quirky service).

Tomorrow evening it's dinner at the Capital in Chilliwack, one of our all-time favorites.

It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Memorable Taxi Ride in Buenos Aires

We'd decided to leave around 6:00 p.m. for the airport, allowing us plenty of time to check in for our 10:00 p.m. flight. The Hilton doorman kindly arranged for a taxi that would hold all four of us for 100 pesos, probably our best deal yet and equivalent to about $30. It took awhile for the taxi to arrive but eventually he did and then the fun began.

The driver started to get on the motorway (the four-lane toll route to the airport) but pointed out that traffic was at a standstill. Since all he spoke was rapid-fire Spanish we had to draw our own conclusions but it was quite clear that the highway was stopped up.

He drove us as rapidly as he could along surface streets on a route parallel to the highway and we saw quite a bit of Buenos Aires over the next half hour. Every so often he'd check out the overpasses from an intersection and it was clear the highway was still a parking lot, whether because of an accident or simply rush-hour congestion.

He was one skillful driver and Kathy had to reprimand Brian, a back-seat driver at the best of times, for shutting his eyes and bracing himself against the front seat. In Argentina, at least, a stop sign, Pare, is considered a suggestion rather than a direction, and drivers play chicken at every intersection.

He eventually found an on-ramp and we entered the highway past the worst of the congestion, although it was still very slow going for awhile. Despite the terrible traffic, our driver delivered us to the airport more than an hour after we'd left the hotel but still with plenty of time to spare. Greg broke with local custom on behalf of all of us and tipped the driver handsomely. He in turn was very appreciative and shook hands with each of us.

While taxi travel in places like Vienna and Stockholm is quite sedate, we're definitely adding Argentina to our list of places (Shanghai, Istanbul, New York City) in which a taxi trip is a thrill ride.

Lunch at Carletto in Buenos Aires

We've eaten at this Italian restaurant three or four times during our visits to Buenos Aires, an easy choice since it's located right next to Hilton Hotel. Carletto Ristorantino e Caffetino features a variety of dry and fresh pasta dishes. It's a popular spot for businessmen in suits, but we've always felt comfortable in our tourist attire.

We enjoyed their self-serve antipasto buffet as an appetizer course the other day. The waiter also advised us that two plates, rather than four, would be adequate for the four of us to share, which was a nice touch. We all enjoyed our pasta courses as well, and we'll definitely drop in for lunch again on any future stay at the Buenos Aires Hilton.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Birch Bay - Hurray!

It's been a busy 48 hours or so. We disembarked from Insignia at Valparaiso Sunday morning, took the Oceania bus to a Santiago hotel for part of the day, followed by a delayed flight on Air Canada to Buenos Aires.

After a final lovely lunch Monday in Buenos Aires (details to follow) we caught the United flight to IAD (Washington-Dulles), complete with a case of wine. After a relatively great sleep on that overnight flight, we arrived in good time at Dulles, sped through Immigration and Customs without a hitch - or any duty on our wine - and caught our flight to LAX (Los Angeles).

That flight landed early and we enjoyed the 10-minute walk from the United terminal to the Alaska terminal rather than waiting for a shuttle bus. Here our only hitch of the day occurred. After trying to check in at a machine without success a couple of times, we realized we had booked the Alaska flight for Wednesday instead of Tuesday. D'oh!

Luckily for us, there was room on today's flights and for a relatively modest change fee (okay, it hurt a little bit) we flew the rest of the way today.

The planes have gotten progressively smaller as we journeyed from Santiago to Bellingham, from the AC 777 to the UA 767s EZE-IAD-LAX, to the Alaska 737-400 LAX-SEA, followed by the 92-mile hop on a Bombardier twin-prop to Bellingham.

We picked up our rental car (fortunately available a day early as well at no extra charge), and are now getting ready for what we hope will be a good night's sleep at home!

Since there's not a sign of red fluid on the outside of our wine box, we'll unpack that, along with a pile of dirty clothes, in the morning.

As always, it's nice to be home...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Homeward Bound

After an easy navigation of the Santiago Airport, followed unfortunately by a completely incompetent local Air Canada bunch of employees who seemed to be enjoying their own little office party rather than serving customers, we flew back to Buenos Aires about an hour behind schedule in Executive Class on one of AC´s new configuration 777s.

It´s quite a space-age kind of design, with blue lights giving it something of the ambiance of a Disney ride, but it was pleasant.

We caught a Remise to the hotel, enjoyed a late breakfast this morning, and eagerly awaited the delivery of enough bottles of Malbec to fill our shipping box. We´ll keep our fingers crossed that our wine travels safely as we fly EZE-IAD-LAX-SEA-BLI on a combination of United and Alaska.

We fly out of here around 10:00 p.m. local time, two hours ahead of Eastern Standard and are due to arrive in IAD Dulles around 6:00 a.m. Yes, it will be nice to be back home in Birch Bay after all of the travel and excitement of the past few weeks.

We´re especially looking forward to seeing all of our grandkids and find out if their postcards arrived.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Santiago Lunch at La Piccola Italio

Greg sniffed out an Italian restaurant on a quiet Santiago Sunday no more than a block from the hotel at which we're relaxing.

La Piccola Italio proved to be a very pleasant place to while away a couple of hours. We only find out later that it's, alas, a chain, but we do see why they're successful. We had a couple of family-style dishes, a pasta and a mixed meat dish. The latter was served in a metal chafing dish powered by a charcoal - lucky the ventilation was so good.

We tried out a couple of Chilean wines, a modest white followed by a Concho Y Toro Carménère, a label we're more than familar with back home. Carménère, of course, is as classic a wine in Chile as Malbec is in Argentina.

We drove by some of the Concho Y Toro vineyards earlier today on our drive from Valparaiso to Santiago. They're a big winery by most world standards. Their wine is nonetheless good and that Casillero del Diablo label is downright tasty.

Yes, this has been much more pleasant than sitting in a tent at SCL but we'll have a turn at that shortly. Next stop Buenos Aires...

Oceania Comes Through Splendidly

We're sitting in our own reserved lounge area along with other passengers in the Santiago Park Lane Hotel, a lovely facility, after a smooth disembarkation and a quite pleasant bus ride to Santiago from the port. An Oceania vice-president got on board our bus to apprise us of the situation. He and a team from Oceania has been on the ground here for several days, flying down quite soon after the earthquake. Amazing service!

We're here until 3:30 p.m., after which a bus will take us to the airport. We've been warned to be patient since departures and arrivals are taking place in tents that were erected due to the damage to the terminal.

Other than one crack in a road, we've seen no signs of damage here and one would never know that a horrible earthquake had caused so much devastation throughout the country.

We may go for bite of lunch or we may just take advantage of the free sandwiches provided by Oceania. Since we're "independent" travelers who have made our own arrangements, we're particularly impressed by the company's service.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Embarrassing Moment at the TSA Checkpoint

The best stories are the ones we tell on ourselves, because we know we aren't hurting anybody's feelings.

In all of our rush leaving the Disney Magic and making our way to the Orlando Airport with five family members, we did forget one or two details.

After seeing them off in their minivan we stride confidently to the nearest TSA checkpoint, looking forward to some time in United's Red Carpet Club at MCO. After x-raying our bag, they inform us we're not allowed to take liquids. Oh, we reply loftily, we carry empty water bottles to refill. The carry-on is nonetheless opened for search.

When the woman pulls out the first long-neck bottle of Corona, Kathy quickly realizes that the leftover adult beverages that she'd been planning to pass along to David never got passed along in the rush. We hastily explain and apologize as the TSA agent pulls out five bottles of Corona and two half-filled mickeys, one each of gin and vodka. It doesn't help when she drops one, and it's at that moment we feel as if all the eyes in the airport were upon us.

We escape without a fine, and it's left to Brian to relay the sad news to son David that he'll have to acquire his own Coronas, since the TSA now has our collective liquid assets.

On Our Way to Santiago With Fingers Crossed

We're sitting in an Internet cafe in Puerto Montt Chile, our final port before disembarking at Valparaiso Sunday morning. And here we thought this cruise on Insignia would be calm and quiet after a week on Disney, with its unpleasant disembarkation followed on by our hasty between-cruise trip from Port Orlando to Seattle to Birch Bay to Buenos Aires.

We've been cruising along in our own comfortable cocoon on Insignia but well aware of the terrible tragedy that unfolded in Chile after we boarded. Other than donations, there's little we can do and our selfish interest was in seeing whether we could actually fly from Santiago back to Buenos Aires. We'd considered the possibility of being somewhat stranded in Santiago and that wasn't pleasing at all.

Thanks to the information we've gotten along the way from relatives and a travel agent, we now think that we'll be able to fly from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Air Canada Sunday evening instead of Sunday afternoon. We'd arrive in Buenos Aires around 10:00 p.m. and still have time to get a good night's sleep in our hotel. We already had a late checkout arranged before catching our United flight to Washington-Dulles Monday night. This is all subject to change.

We canceled our original transfer (and were happy to see a reply from the owner wishing us well and telling us he's fine) and signed up for the Oceania transfer. Since the airport terminal facilities consist of a couple of tents, they plan to bus us to a downtown hotel, and apparently we'll have the use of the lobby or whatever before taking a second round of transportation to the airport. That appears to be planned very well and it confirms that it was a good time to utilize Oceania for the transfer.

As far as the cruise itself, it's been pleasant and relaxing. Brian spent a lot of time for much of the cruise coughing and dealing with some kind of bronchitis, but he's finally feeling better and, best of all, doesn't seem to have passed the bug along to June, Greg, or Kathy.

We got a good view of the Amelia Glacier and have sailed through some magnificent scenery. The Chilean fjords are reminiscent both of the Norwegian fjords and British Columbia and Alaska. Further south the hills were somewhat bleak and as we've sailed north they became greener. At times the view was similar to the BC Ferries Tsawassen-Swartz Bay trip, and it was beautiful and magnificent throughout.

It's an odd little coincidence to be reminded on these back-to-back cruises that nature can quickly frustrate the best-laid plans. Considering the news we've been watching about one cruise ship being stuck in ice and another being hit by a rogue wave, we still consider ourselves very fortunate. Still, there will be a certain relief in being back in our own little house in Birch Bay for a few days.