Tuesday, April 30, 2013

T-Ball Skills In Mount Vernon

Our final stop of the road trip before home was to watch Riley and Blane in their first day of a T-Ball skills program at the YMCA. Riley got right into the swing of things. Three-year-old Blane? Let's just say he had more good moments than bad moments. The first good moment was posing in his brand-new shirt with his sister.
Riley sits calmly on the artificial turf. Even near the beginning of May it was still a good day for playing indoors.

Blane isn't so sure about the crab-walking exercise.
Riley's a good runner.
Truth be told, the real highlight of the day for them was helping Grandma scoop up tadpoles in a pond near their house and installing them into an aquarium on their back porch. Grandma and Grandpa enjoyed the experience too, even the extra trip back from the pond with a wagonload of pond water in buckets.

April 29: Snowy Snoqualmie Pass

Even at 11:00 a.m. it was snowing but fortunately not sticking to the ground - we'd just removed our winter tires a couple of weeks ago. Luckily the somewhat dire WSDOT warnings were outdated.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Eating And Sleeping In Yakima

We found a good deal at the Hilton Garden Inn in Yakima, a pleasant hotel in the central part of Yakima.

Looking through the various dining review sites that we frequent, nothing really exciting jump out at us. We finally settled on Russilo's Pizza and Gelato, a half mile down the street from the HGI, and enjoyed ourselves with a tasty artichoke soup followed by lasagna.

We may squeeze in a little more wine-tasting tomorrow before heading for some babysitting in Mount Vernon.

Washington Wine Wanderings

We were driving away from Spokane on I-90 West well before noon, and cut off onto #395, a beautiful four-lane highway that allowed us to drive toward one of the most significant winery regions in Washington State.It was wine-tasting time.

The first winery we stopped in at was Bookwalter. We ended up taking a couple of cases along with us, including a house wine that averages out to about $10 a bottle by the case.

Bookwalter shares tiny Tulip Lane with several other wineries, and we also tasted wines next door at Barnard Griffin, and another tiny winery at the end of the road, Tagaris. There we made our buy of the day, a case of Chateau Clonk de Plonk on sale for $5 a bottle by the case. By this point, we decided it was prudent to get some food on our stomachs, so we enjoyed a Greek Salad and Gyro combo while continuing to taste.

We just had to make a stop at Hamilton Cellars, where we tasted some wine and bought surprise presents for Kathy's brothers, the Hamilton boys.  If you're encouraged by all this to start your own winery, it's time to read about the travails of this branch of the Hamiltons as they tried to start their winery while dealing with government bureaucracies here. It would be enough to drive you to drink.

We hit one more small winery to conclude the afternoon, thanks to the recommendation of young Brendan Kelly at Bookwalter, our suave wine pourer. It was Tapteil Winery, where Brendan's mother presides over the tasting room.

We also chatted with the winemaker and owner, Larry Pearson, who was offering a fascinating barrel-tasting comparison of wine being aged in old and new oak wine barrels. He had worked in Tanzania and it was fun to talk about the wines of South Africa.
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Washington State Gymnastics Meet

It was a long evening of sitting in the bleachers bleachers but we were thoroughly proud of Avery, who competed with her Auburn Gymnastics Club.

Avery scored a personal best in this group with a total score for the four events of just a small fraction under 36, averaging nearly 9 points in each of bars, vault, beam, and floor routine. She finished in the top 10 in her age group and her club tied for first place, quite an accomplishment.

We celebrated afterwards with a (very) late dinner at Red Robin, and were both surprised how hungry one can become simply by sitting in bleachers for four or five hours.
We shot some videos but we'll wait until we get home to our grown-up computer before uploading them.

Enjoying Spokane Valley

What an enjoyable drive it was from Bellevue to Spokane this morning. We left about 6:30 a.m. and met up with Avery, Peyton, Lily and their parents at their hotel before 11:00 a.m.

After wandering around the Spokane Valley Mall for awhile we headed for lunch at the well-reviewed Max Restaurant. It was a terrific choice - especially for Daddy Dave's birthday lunch - with a large brunch / lunch menu and we all left satisfied.

We checked in at our own hotel, the quite new Hampton Inn & Suites, Spokane Valley.

During the friendly and efficient check-in, we were told we'd been upgraded to a King Suite on the fourth floor - upgrades at a Hampton Inn? Our only other upgrade was years ago in Birmingham AL when we were upgraded into a "handicapped accessible" room.

Yet, when we opened the door, this is what we found...
Not bad for a Hampton Inn, is it?

We'll soon drive over to the Hub Sports Center. The main purpose of our trip of course is to watch our Avery compete in the Washington State Level 5/6 Gymnastics competition.

We'll try to stay calm and naturally we're very proud grandparents to know that she qualified for this.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Washington Road Trip

We're on our way to Spokane tomorrow to see three grandchildren, one of whom is competing in the State Gymnastics Championships. We've checked in at the Bellevue Hilton after spending some time along the way at Boulevard Park with our other five grandchildren and their mothers.

This lovely park is near Fairhaven in the south end of Bellingham. Unfortunately, it was chilly enough that we said our farewells after a picnic and hit the road, while they all headed for an indoor "bouncy place."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Practicalities Of Space Travel

Thanks to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield for providing some fascinating and entertaining insights into some of the practical challenges of living in space:

  1. Wringing water out of a towel

  2. Making a peanut butter sandwich

  3. Sleeping

  4. How vision is affected

  5. Shaving

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wile. E. Coyote - In Our Back Yard

No, we don't have a photo to prove it but Brian looked out the kitchen windows around 7:00 a.m. just as a coyote was trotting briskly across the back yard above our path down to the lake.

The animal was a little larger than he would have thought, about the size of a medium German Shepherd, but with longer legs and a skinnier body.

There are apparently quite a few coyotes who hang around here. We've spotted them twice before but we've never seen one in our yard before.

The Birch Bay Village Manager mentioned in his most recent newsletter that a cougar had been spotted in the Village.

We'd be just as happy if the wildlife around here doesn't get any more wild than raccoons. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The World's Favorite Airports (One Surprise)

The well-known SKYTRAX website has announced the results of a survey naming the world's "10 best airports" in its World Airport Awards as follows:

1     Singapore Changi Airport
2     Incheon International Airport
3     Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
4     Hong Kong International Airport
5     Beijing Capital International Airport
6     Munich Airport
7     Zurich Airport
8     Vancouver International Airport
9     Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)
10    London Heathrow Airport

We've flown out of all but HND - Haneda - (we've transited NRT - Tokyo Narita - numerous times and flown in and out as well) and are only surprised at the inclusion of LHR on the list.

We're more accustomed to seeing Heathrow on the "worst airport" list of many frequent travelers. Our own experiences there have generally been okay, but there's a certain rundown dungeon-like quality to it that doesn't appeal to us.

It may have been squeezed in to the top-ten list because it won first place in two sub-categories: Best Airport Shopping and Best Airport Terminal.

Alternative choices?

Setting aside security screening, which we find generally more unpleasant at US airports than anywhere else, we'd quickly place San Francisco International Airport - SFO - on the list over LHR.  

The surroundings are more pleasant, there's a decent choice of food, it's easy to transit between domestic and international, and there's the convenient BART that takes you right from the terminal into downtown San Francisco.

In case that makes us look chauvinistic, we hasten to add that we'd be even more amazed to see ORD - Chicago O'Hare - or IAD - Washington Dulles - than LHR.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Video: A380 Approach And Landing At SFO

We ran across a cool professional video of  a Lufthansa Airbus A380 making an approach and landing at San Francisco.

We've seen most of the glorious views ourselves during many landings at SFO and we've also heard United Airlines pilots communicating with Air Traffic Control on "Channel 9." 

We wonder if this was the first - or one of the first - A380 landings at SFO since there are a couple of airport fire trucks waiting to ceremonially spray the plane.

The flight crew speak to each other in German but the English subtitles are easy to read. It's impressive the way they switch languages so easily and naturally.

If you want to get the feeling you're in the cockpit, click below to watch this video of LH454 Super:

Pilot's View: Airbus A380 approach and landing at San Francisco.

Water Park Weekend

Avery, Peyton, and Lily (and their parents) invited their cousins and their families to spend Saturday night at Great Wolf Lodge near Vancouver Washington for a birthday celebration.

Kathy and Brian got to go along as well.

We all started from Issaquah Saturday morning. The 90-minute drive allowed us to check in and start the fun early. A bonus was that all of our rooms were ready. We shared a spacious suite with the birthday girls and their parents. It made for a good party location Saturday evening.
Our private bedroom "in-law suite" was great.
Once we got a little unpacked, it was off to enjoy the water slides...
Let's take a closer look. Yes, there are Karen and Jake in line six stories up for the scariest ride of all the rides in the park, the Howlin' Tornado.
And here they are emerging from the red tunnel down below...
All of the excitement, coupled with the 84-degree temperature, can make a guy sleepy, and Jace enjoys a power nap on Grandma's shoulder.
Before we know it, several hours have flown by (or is that floated by?) and we're back in Party Central for beverages, Pizza, Thai take-out, and birthday presents.
The younger girls read labels and helpfully distributed the little presents we'd brought for all of them. Jake was politely appreciative of the little musical frog that was meant for Jace, but was relieved to learn that we'd actually brought him a wooden puzzle and set to work trying to solve it.

Brian suddenly notices that our bed is being put to good use by Lily, Avery, Taegan, Peyton, and Blane, to watch Toy Story on TV.
This was Riley's second visit to Great Wolf Lodge, and she enjoyed herself with all of her cousins, even though this trip she skipped the scary rides. This is the knowing smile of someone who isn't feeling dizzy and experiencing water up the nose.

In keeping with the water slide motif, Kathy's birthday cake features a swimming pool with all eight grandchildren enjoying themselves in or around the pool. If you look closely you may spot Jace covered by a "blanket."
More water sliding ensued Sunday once we accomplished checking out and packing the cars. By mid-afternoon there was consensus we'd all had enough fun for one weekend, and we headed for home, meeting at the Tacoma Old Spaghetti Factory for a farewell dinner to cap off a fantastic weekend.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Disturbing Travel Products: What Will They Think Up Next?

The Smarter Travel website produces a lot of "10 best this or that..." pieces.

Sometimes we can't help ourselves but click on them, and so we did on 10 Most Disturbing Travel Products.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Our Precious Cargo Arrives Safely

Bought yesterday morning in Munich for 16.90 Euros at a branch of Lebe Gesund - one very heavy whole loaf of bread that barely fit into our roll-aboard...

Kathy cut a few slices for Blane and Riley to try during our quick stop at their house. The rest we plan to Cryovac, freeze, and dole out to ourselves for treats over the next few months.

Blue Skies In Seattle

At least the skies are blue in between the clouds as we get a start on the day and peer out the rain-spattered window of our International Boulevard / Airport Hampton Inn.

Naturally, showers are predicted for much of the day, but the weather is certainly warmer than we've experienced for the past two weeks and is expected to be up into the low 50s - wow, heat wave!

The breakfast this morning was less than inspiring, the hot items being a chunky version of scrambled eggs in one pan and sausage gravy in the other, that same concoction that Brian's late father mistook for oatmeal some years ago.

We stuck with starchy items and will look forward to some protein at lunch.

We're going to take the shuttle to the airport in awhile and ride the 10:00 a.m. shuttle up as far as Burlington, where we stashed our car with Riley, Blane, Jace, and their parents. We hope to take them out for a high-protein lunch as a thank-you before driving home to Birch Bay and finding out what's growing in our garden.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Good Flight And Some Good Luck At ORD

Good luck for us anyway...

We enjoyed our MUC-ORD flight and Brian managed a couple of hours of sleep along the way.

What with tailwinds or whatever, the flight landed well over an hour early. We zipped through Global Entry and then saw that an earlier flight to Seattle had been considerably delayed.

We printed new boarding passes at a kiosk once we'd taken the train from international arrivals to Terminal 1 and lo and behold we were offered seats on the earlier flight. Yes! Not only that, with our new BPs we got the magical three beeps that let us proceed through the TSA pre-clearance checkpoint with our shoes on, our laptop in the bag, and our dignity intact. Technical note: The word is that if you're transiting from an international arrival to a domestic departure you will not qualify for pre-clearance, so perhaps it was by getting a brand new BP for an earlier flight that we were successful.

We'll be in the back of the bus but Kathy noticed the seat next to Brian suddenly became vacant and we'll at least be sitting next to each other in Row 10, and scheduled to land at SEA about 7:15 p.m. rather than 11:20 p.m. or so on the later flight.

We can handle that very nicely.

At MUC: One Of Our Favorite Airports

An efficient ride to the airport on No. 8 S-Bahn - albeit at 10.40 Euros each more expensive than our previous visit - a pleasant check-in, and a simple walk through a metal detector with our shoes on at the security checkpoint . Of course, we'll have to go through the more intensive U.S.-mandated screening at the gate, followed by TSA screening in Chicago when we transfer to our ORD-SEA leg.
In the meantime, we're relaxing in the LH Senator Lounge, one of our favorite places when it's neither too crowded nor too excessively hot - it's always going to be too warm for us, unless their heating system breaks down.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On Our Way

We're just about to check out of the Hilton and take the Schnellbahn to MUC.

If all goes as scheduled, we'll be landing at SEA about 24 hours from now, after a four-hour layover at ORD.

It's going to be a long - and we hope reasonably pleasant - travel day.

Munich: It's A Small World Here Too

We chat with a friendly American woman sitting near us in the City Hilton's Executive Lounge. Later we meet her husband as well.

John and Julie are retired educators. They live in Florida. And they have a summer home on Pender Island, just across Navy Channel from sunny Saturna Island, our home for several years.

Before we know it we're discussing the details of various ferries.

It really can be a small world.

Munich: Return To The Hofbräuhaus

We've been here before and we decided informally our last day in Munich should include a visit to the Hofbräuhaus.

Is it a tourist trap - or at least a magnet? Could you buy food and beer for less money? Yes and yes to both questions but still...

The Hofbräuhaus has both a history (and not all of it good) and a mystique. Besides, many locals visit it regularly, with their table reserved at certain times and their beer steins locked away in cupboards. That's something to consider for tourists who don't want to feel too embarrassed to drop by.

Basically, the beer is good (this visit we got smart and ordered the half-liters, about a pint, rather than the more impressive liter), the food is good heavy Germanic fare, and our lunch/dinner of a sausage plate and kraut for Kathy, along with a schnitzel and potato salad for Brian, totaled around 32 Euros. Not bad.
The coaster indicates that our table is reserved for this group Friday nights. Be careful where you sit.
They do a good job with the food here...
And the traditional oompah-band plays a new tune every few minutes.
We recorded a few seconds of them. Please have a look and listen here.