Friday, June 29, 2012

Countdown To Cruising

We put our bedroom remodeling on hold until the end of July. We worked in the yard during a couple of days when it wasn't raining and hauled five large garbage bags of weeds to the dump.

We've gotten a fairly good idea of what we're packing for this trip and we'll fine-tune that over the next couple of days.

Two more sleeps and we drive to Vancouver.

We overnight at the Westin Wall Centre July 1 and start our flying July 2 on US Airways, a first for us (and, yes, in First):

8:15 US544 YVR to PHX
3:15p US16 PHX to JFK
3:15p US16 PHX to JFK

We overnight at JFK at the Sheraton JFK Airport Hotel and fly United onward (in Business Class) July 3:

11:16 UA5712 JFK to IAD
2:49p UA950 IAD to BRU

We celebrate the Fourth of July by flying Lufthansa (in Economy Class):

2:10 LH2285 BRU to MUC
4:15 LH1912 MUC to VCE

We've already bought tickets for a boat that will take us from the Venice Airport directly to the Hilton Molino Stucky, where we have a stay booked on points.

We overlooked the fact that we can board our ship the day before we sail out of Venice, so we'll have a total of four nights in Venice. That's more than we would have planned but we'll make leisurely days out of it and should be well rested by the time we cruise.

A circuitous route, including plane transfers in Phoenix, Brussels, and Munich, but it's well worth it to snag good seats most of the way, and also worth breaking up that routing with a couple of bargain overnight stops along the way.

We're getting jet-lagged just typing this so it's time to stop.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

When The Zoo Is Too Far Away

Baby puffin, Beluga whales, or pandas anyone? You can always watch them on live cams.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pony On A Plane

Courtesy of another travel blogger we've met personally, the charming and bright Lucky, who authors One Mile At A Time, we learn more about the latest trend in service animals, miniature ponies.

What Lucky offers is the cutest darned reader-supplied photo of a pony on a plane.

That's one flight our grandchildren would really enjoy, even though there would be neigh-sayers among the other passengers.

Maybe Mac Users Won't Pay More

In which the other side of the story is told by Gary Leff, a well known travel blogger, in his View From The Wing blog...

There’s been a tremendous amount of misreporting. Orbitz is not charging users of Apple computers more money for the same hotel than they charge PC users. Their data tells them that Mac users tend to stay in more expensive properties, so when choosing which hotels to highlight they recommend more expensive properties.

You can read it all here:

Why Orbitz Charges Mac Users More for Hotels - And Why That's a Good Thing

Monday, June 25, 2012

Will Mac Users Pay More Than PC Users To Travel?

Apparently so, according to information filtering out from Orbitz and published in the Wall Street Journal.

You can read the gist of it here, without encountering the Journal's pay-to-read firewall.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Raccoons In Our Back Yard

As our guests and we are eating dinner Saturday evening, lo and behold, two raccoons appear. Doggone it, they're eating our strawberries. No wonder we don't have any strawberries to harvest so far this season!

We chase them away by making a lot of noise and running toward them, although one hopefully climbs a tree to wait us out. Five minutes later they're back in our strawberry mini-patch. This time we use a rake and make even louder noises.

When last seen, they're swimming at the other side of the lake.

If only our grandchildren were here to see them. That would make up for having few strawberries to pick.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

On Our Horizon: Oceania's Riviera

Two weeks from today in Venice we board Riviera, Oceania's brand-new cruise ship.

Our itinerary looks like this:

Jul 07-08 Venice, Italy (sailing at 4:00 p.m.)

Jul 09 Dubrovnik, Croatia 12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Jul 10 Corfu, Greece 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Jul 11 Taormina (Sicily), Italy 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Jul 12 Sorrento/Capri, Italy 8:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.

Jul 13 Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Jul 14 Florence/Pisa/Tuscany (Livorno), Italy 8:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Jul 15 Monte Carlo, Monaco 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Jul 16 Saint-Tropez, France 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Jul 17 Provence (Marseille), France 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Jul 18 Cruising the Mediterranean Sea

Jul 19 Barcelona, Spain 6:00 a.m.

The early press reports and reviews are positive.

We know Oceania well, we've traveled to many of these ports and the surrounding area previously, and we can hardly wait, at least once we've packed our stash of Meclizine.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Terrific Travel Technology Or Trash?

You set off on a big trip armed with an international SIM card for your cell phone, a notebook computer, a Kindle full of travel information, and a chip-and-pin debit card purchased in Euros. Technological disaster ensues.

Ed Perkins, a well known travel writer, traveling around the world with those four marvels of modern technology, describes his problems here:

When Your Technology Fails Overseas

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hotel Rooms Are Even Dirtier Than You Thought

There's some joyful reading - not - in a Scientific American article about the cleanliness of hotel rooms. The money quote?

"About 81 percent of hotel room surfaces sampled held at least some fecal bacteria."

And oddly enough, "What surface seems the safest to touch? The headboard."

You can read it all here. After which you'll no doubt be packing the hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes for your next trip.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When Your Flight Is Diverted to Bangor Maine

BGR isn't an airport code we're familiar with, but Bangor International is one of the airports useful for diversions in the event of a variety of problems, as Scott McCartney's Middle Seat column in the Wall Street Journal makes clear:

A Tiny Airport in Maine Takes on Global Emergencies.

Postscript: And here's a hot-off-the-presses story written after the column:

New Jersey-Denmark flight diverted to Maine after cockpit fills with smoke

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Italian Eats In Bellingham: D'Anna's Cafe Italiano

We thought we'd try a new (to us) restaurant for our wedding anniversary lunch.

D'Anna's Cafe Italiano gets good reviews on Trip Advisor, urban spoon, and Yelp.

To make a long story short we enjoyed it and we'll give it a try again one of these days.

The Wedding Wayback Machine

Repeating what we wrote two years ago... *

1969 was memorable, full of news and momentous events.

  • The New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III January 12 after Joe Namath guarantees the Jets will win.
  • Richard M. Nixon is inaugurated 37th President of the US (Jan. 20).
  • The United States, USSR, and about 100 other countries sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
  • 27-year-old Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi deposes King Idris of Libya and establishes a pro-Arabic, anti-Western, Islamic republic.
  • Kathy and Brian get married June 19.
  • Sen. Edward M. Kennedy pleads guilty to leaving scene of fatal accident at Chappaquiddick, Mass. (July 18) in which Mary Jo Kopechne was drowned—gets two-month suspended sentence.
  • Apollo 11 astronauts—Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., —take first walk on the Moon (July 20).
  • The New York Mets - the "Miracle Mets" - upset the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 in the World Series, winning their fourth game at Shea Stadium October 15.

How 43 years can fly by!

*Thanks for reminding us of the Jets and Mets wins that allow us to record some additional good news, Dennis.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's To Like About Airports?

Not too much, at least as far as we're concerned. Our first major stress is to get through the TSA security line with our dignity and property relatively intact.

After that we generally head to a United Club (formerly the Red Carpet Club), where we have access to free Internet, coffee, and modest snacks.

The one airport we "kinda like" for its features is SFO. First, both the domestic and international United Clubs are among the most visually attractive of all we've seen. SFO contains a bookstore near the United gates with a sale table of children's books and we've often picked up something for the grandkids. SFO has its own museum, organizing displays in various airport locations. In the UA domestic terminal, for example, there's a set of display cases along the large walkway flanked by moving sidewalks. We've seen memorabilia from old TV shows and a variety of other interesting exhibits during our stopovers. Finally, there are some decent options for eating, although the central food court is often crowded.

Just recently, we tried out one of several other restaurants closer to the TSA security area and found the food decent and the seating area much less crowded.

Other than that, there's not much about airports that really excites us. On the other hand, a writer for CNN has discovered "14 airport amenities that will make you long for a layover."

Well, maybe, but even though we now learn that SFO boasts a new "yoga room," we doubt we'll be taking advantage of it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A "Million-Miler" Sues United Airlines

Back in June 2011 we described here how pleased we were to become Million Mile Flyers on United Airlines. The main reason was that United promised a number of lifetime benefits to those who flew a million miles with United tickets on United planes.

Alas, the new United has (in our opinion) reneged on those promises, as we pointed out here.

A couple of weeks ago a United customer went so far as to launch a class action suit against the airline over the loss of benefits. You can read an article about it here and read through the actual complaint filed in court here.

Needless to say, we'll be interested to see whether the lawsuit goes anywhere.

Sad to say, we'll never feel the same way about United again. On the bright side, we're considering other travel options, including another Amtrak trip followed by a two-week road trip in a rental car this Fall.

We can thank United for that at least.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ron Kurki On The 2012 Enbridge Ride To Conquer Cancer

It's a rainy Saturday in this part of the world but that didn't keep Ron Kurki, our friend and former colleague (the retired principal of C.E. Barry School in Hope B.C.) and three thousand other B.C. bicyclists from taking part in the 2012 Enbridge Ride To Conquer Cancer.

Ron's personal page on that website can be found here.

Thanks to Ron's test message and phone call as he arrived at the border, we were able to drive up to Blaine Middle School and spend a few minutes with him during the first rest stop.

Before we knew it, he was off again and on his way to Seattle (with an overnight stop at Mt. Vernon tonight) but not before promising to stop by Sehome Road sometime for a real visit. We're holding you to that, Ron.

"Who was that masked man?"

As we were driving up to Blaine, we happened to hear Vancouver radio station CKNW report that "More than 3,000 riders have raised 11.2 million dollars for cancer research..." Ron raised over $4000 of that, making it a worthwhile weekend of pedaling, even in the rain.

One More Reason To Visit Thailand

The always invaluable Travel Insider has posted an article revealing that Thailand is planning to install sit-down toilets in all public facilities.

You can read the good news here, presumably while sitting down.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Birch Bay Village Views

The playground near the marina looks lonely - no grandchildren to play on it.

Mount Baker still displays a lot of snow in the middle of June.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Regional Jets: Why Most Frequent Flyers Disdain "RJs"

They're small, crowded, and their rides seem bumpier. You have to gate-check your roll-aboard. What's more, crashes in recent years highlight safety concerns, that include allegedly young, less experienced, and poorly paid flight crews.

We have to admit seeing one or two RJ pilots who didn't look old enough to shave.

Because the Brazilian company Embraer manufactures such planes (in competition with Canada's Bombardier Canadair Regional Jets), flyers have given them the less than flattering nickname of Jungle Jets.

Yet more than half of all commercial airline departures in the US are operated by regional airlines, and we've flown on our share of them on flights as long as a couple of hours or more, ORD-DSM for example.

A recent article about RJs in USA Today is well worth reading:

Regional jets crowd skies, squeeze fliers

The title gives you the flavor.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

But Which Way Is The Restroom?

If you're enjoying Dinner in the Sky?

Actually, the answer is in the FAQs... "It’s like in a normal restaurant: you ask where they are to the waiter and… you go down. It’s just a bit less discrete [sic] because the whole table goes down but it takes less than a minute..."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Airline Expenses And Profits On A Mythical Flight

We just read Scott McCartney's most recent Middle Seat column in the Wall Street Journal. With the help of US Airways, he lays out the costs and profits as a percentage of passengers on a mythical 100-passenger flight.

The bottom line is that the one-hundredth passenger is the only profitable one. It all constitutes another reminder of why we wouldn't want to be in the airline business.

You can read the entire column here: How Airlines Spend Your Airfare

Commuting To Work 1768 Feet Up

This video is already in our own archives but it makes us (especially Brian) giddy just to watch so here it is again...

A Climber's View Ascending a 1778-Foot Tower

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Home Sweet Sehome

Taegan was a great little narrator in Rumplestiltskin at Watson Elementary School. We could compare because the one-act play was performed four consecutive times to make sure every child had a role.

Driving back today revealed to us that Canadians are quite excited about the new $800 exemption after 48 hours out. We drove down to the Pacific Highway Crossing and considered ourselves lucky to use the NEXUS lane and wait only 20 minutes.

We installed our two new windows this afternoon. Our latest home renovation project is taking shape.

It's time to relax for awhile and think about upcoming trips.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Another Trip Abroad Today

We're driving up to British Columbia to watch our young Taegan in a class play.

That counts as foreign travel. Given that our bodies still aren't sure if we're in Birch Bay, London, or Canberra, it's probably good that we're remaining in the same time zone.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Home Sweet Sehome Again

We were home within three hours of getting off our enjoyable IAD-SEA flight around 3:15 p.m., despite having to drive through Seattle and Everett shortly after 4:00 p.m. Our main delay was a backup to enter the Express Lanes. We figured it would have actually been quicker to stay on I-5 itself since it was moving right along. Traffic was not bad.

The house looks good, although our yard needs some trimming and we still have a pile of mail to go through.

It's good to be home.

Virginia: Landing At The Lansdowne

We're just waking up at the Lansdowne Resort in Northern Virginia, after flying LHR-IAD on a later flight than originally planned. What happened?

After the water leak was fixed, the pilot said he was waiting for the repair to be approved by a senior inspector at United Headquarters in Chicago. That didn't happen in time, and the pilot announced that the flight crew had gone "illegal," that is they would exceed their maximum required time on duty if they flew the plane.

It was a full 767 and some passengers were unhappy since the same flight the previous day had also been canceled. Once we were off the plane, the gate agent instructed us to go through Immigration, pick up their bags, and meet outside. We were to be taken by bus to a hotel somewhere. Later in the day a UA representative would visit the hotel and tell us what had been scheduled for us. First Class and Global Services (highest revenue customers) were asked to wait for their own instructions but we weren't so off we went.

We were at the back of the crowd. As we reached a crucial intersection, we explained why we were there to one employee directing people, and she told us to re-clear security and talk to customer service.

We did that and ended up at the UA customer service counter near the Star Alliance Lounge, the spot we'd started from six hours earlier.

The agents first said we'd come to the wrong place but told us they would help us. They rebooked us on a flight leaving in a couple of hours - and still in Business! The employee couldn't help us much with the second leg. We retreated to the lounge, and Kathy got in touch with the UA Premier Line via Skype on our netbook. The first call was disconnected and she tried again. Brian left for the gate to doublecheck our seats as Kathy tried again. We met up at the gate and Kathy was able to report we were book IAD-SEA - in First! - for the following day.

We slept quite a bit during the flight and proceeded through Global Entry without a problem. We found our way to the UA ticket counter, where another friendly agent fixed us up with accommodation at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg. It's a long shuttle ride but not a bad place,and certainly not the dump we feared it might be.

Now it's back to the airport to catch our mid-day flight to Seattle. We also have a bit of compensation offered by United. We'll check the options later and accept it graciously.

We're sorry for the all of the people truly inconvenienced. Through luck rather than skill, we did all right.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Five hours and still waiting for inspector in Chicago to sign off on repairs. Oh well~

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Four hours on the ground but still hopeful. They did at least feed us breakfast.

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We're probably flying within an hour. The good news is that we may have. Only a 4 Hour layover in IAD.

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We may depart in another half hour. No other flights open on this big weekend in Britain. Fingers crossed! Turbulence predicted too he we do.

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We're still at the LHR Gate with a water leak. We suspect a misconnect at IAD. It's going to be a long day.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Another Flying Day

We woke up early, ate some breakfast in the Hilton restaurant and walked the tube to the Heathrow Express. We caught the first one of the day, which leaves at 5:55 a.m.

Despite one wrong turn, we find ourselves sitting in the Star Alliance Lounge at the airport about an hour and ten minutes after leaving the hotel.

We board our flight in about 10 minutes - it's a 5-7 minute walk from here - and hope to get the rest of a good night's sleep.

Wandering London On Diamond Jubilee Weekend

We checked out of the Kensington Hilton this morning and stored our luggage before using our Oyster Cards to hop on the Underground for a ride into central London.

We wandered over to Buckingham Palace but the crowds were immense, awaiting the start of parades and various other festivities as part of the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. Friendly Bobbies (6000 assigned for the weekend!) and other officials were conspicuous everywhere.

We quickly grew tired of the madding crowd and headed for the Thames for a surprisingly peaceful stroll.

Being London, there are statues and monuments everywhere. We took time to admire a few. Just below is one casting of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, "the public Rodin that nobody owns."

Once we neared the Parliament buildings, everywhere we looked there were reminders of British history.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, the women's suffrage campaigner...

Richard The Lion-Hearted...

King George V...

Oliver Cromwell...

Sir Winston Churchill...

We gaze at the main entrance to the Parliament Buildings before catching the Underground back to our hotel to pick up our luggage.
Once back at the Shepherd's Cross Underground stop, we stop for one last tasty British lunch that turns out to be at The Real Greek in the nearby shopping center.

We stroll past the display of British flags and now, two hours later, we're sitting in the Heathrow Hilton readying ourselves to board our flight early tomorrow morning.

It's been a good trip.

Friday, June 1, 2012


We met up with our Queen Mary II tablemates today. Eric and Jane kindly came to our hotel, and we went out for lunch together. Was it really six years ago that we lost saw them?

It was fun to catch up and to share stories of grandchildren and travel, our two favorite topics.

To Holland Park And Back

After breakfast, we stroll for 10 minutes or so from the Hilton along tree-lined avenues past beautiful town houses, spotting the Camaroon High Commission and the Greek Embassy (or Consulate) along the way. What a refuge these little avenues are from the nearby noisy and busy streets.
We arrive at an entrance to Holland Park, one of the larger parks in London at 22.5 hectares or 55 acres.
And then it's the walk back with one more photo of a distinctive tower that looks something like where Rapunzel might have lived.
We can't resist stopping in at the Hilton Executive Lounge adjacent to the lifts for one more cup of coffee.