Every time we think we're going to slow down, another bargain catches our eye. That's the story of 2018 and why we ended the year with enough flight miles to re-qualify for top-tier MVP Gold 75K status on Alaska Airlines, and with enough hotel stays for top-tier Diamond status with Hilton.
We started in January with a trip to Lima, the fifth biggest city in Latin America, via Mexico City (the biggest) on Aeroméxico, just before its partnership sadly ended with Alaska.
February featured a trip to Chongqing, China, thanks to a bargain fare on Alaska partner Hainan Airlines. There we got our closest look at pandas since visiting Chengdu, and fascinating exposure to another huge Chinese city, complete with a growing middle class who enjoy their time off.
On March we embarked at Miami's cruise port on yet one more transatlantic cruise on Oceania's Riviera, sharing the enjoyment with friends from previous cruises as well as with Bentley and Brenda, Kathy's older brother and sister-in-law. A fine time was had by all along the way before we disembarked on a rainy Barcelona day. In April we flew to Milwaukee on a bargain Alaska fare and made a pilgrimage to the best sausage store in the world. Our annual trip to Oz Fest, the gathering sponsored by Australian members of Flyertalk, involved another creative (weird?) routing via Europe, and a stopover in Hong Kong, before arriving at Noosa Heads, near Brisbane. There we visited the late Steve Irwin's zoo.
We spent June, July, and August at home, one of our longest (if not the longest) stretches of time Chez Warner since retirement without a flight or even a hotel stay. Staying home, we still managed to spend money on our boat (don't ask) and a new roof for our house.
It also marked a big year for Australian visitors, three different sets of them that enabled us to return a little of the hospitality we always find in Oz, and to discover and share sights and attractions in our own part of the world.
We haven't visited Washington wine country in years, and made it up for it in September with a road trip that covered a lot of wineries, including several in Red Mountain, the newest "hot" region.
At the end of October we flew back to Montreal to embark on our 20th Oceania cruise, sailing from there all the way down to Miami on Insignia, one of the 684-passenger ships.
The significance of the number 20 is the fact that Oceania's loyalty program designates the 20th cruise as "free," and free it was, including air transportation from YVR to YUL (Air Canada) and MIA-IAH-YVR (United), so we even picked up a few scraps of miles for our United accounts. The weather was lousy but the entire trip was still highly pleasurable, including being members of the winning trivia team. We were barely home from that cruise before making our first flight on Alaska partner Condor Airlines from Seattle to Frankfurt, on our way to a bargain Christmas market river cruise with Gate 1 Travel. We're favorably impressed by Condor's bargain business class product. Lucky us, since we've already scheduled two more return flights in 2019. As for the cruise on the Gate 1's Monarch Queen, subbed for the Monarch Empress due to the low water that has plagued Europe since summer, it was a lot of fun. We boarded in Regensburg, and traversed the rather amazing Main-Danube Canal, before sailing on the Main to Frankfurt am Main, where we disembarked.
We visited numerous Christkindl markets along the way, enjoyed our guided tours (all included), and collected an impressive number of Glühwein mugs. We applaud Gate 1 for the way they dealt with the boat substitution. We snapped up a bargain fare of $800 each for this cruise, and the company promptly refunded us $200 each, making it almost as cheap as staying home (with an old 28-foot Bayliner in the driveway, we exaggerate only a little). We visited no new countries this year, seemingly stuck on 76 sovereign nations, but we still covered a lot of ground (and air and water) in South America, North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. We'll be starting early - very early - New Year's Day 2019, on a new adventure that will take us to the Land of Smiles, and the home of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, (we won't be staying there), before returning later in January in business class on the world's longest commercial flight on another bargain fare. Safe and happy travels to all in 2019 with happy Christmas memories!
Okay, the pre-landing light meal was a bit odd, especially the sliced wieners in a tomatoey sauce with a packet of curry to add as desired, no doubt their version of the popular German Currywurst, but the intent was good...
Gate 1 served us an elegant farewell dinner aboard the Monarch Queen last night, starting with the captain’s closing remarks and a “champagne” toast in the lounge, followed by a menu that included a prawn appetizer, filet mignon (or halibut) and Baked Alaska for dessert in the dining room.
We went bed early, wondering if our sleep would be disturbed by all the early risers, some transferring to the airport as early as 4:15 AM. Fortunately, our fellow passengers were considerate in the main (on the Main?) and we slept well.
After a leisurely breakfast, we left the ship a little after 8:00 AM, walking two blocks to a Strassenbahn stop, route 11 to the Hauptbahnhof where we could transfer to an S-Bahn to the airport.
First hitch: the fancy fare machine at the stop wasn’t working so we took a chance on the advice of a local and rode the streetcar without a ticket. No ticket inspectors aboard today - whew!
We did buy a ticket at the train station, although we don’t know whether we added a second ticket for Brian or an extra zone for Kathy.
Second hitch: We walked down to the platform and a train was sitting there with doors closed. We figured a security check but eventually it left, leaving a crowd on the platform.
An employee appeared and said another train would arrive at some point in perhaps 40 minutes, or perhaps later, but one arrived almost immediately. That Schnell Bahn (fast train) was running three hours late due to construction.
The actual ride to the airport is fairly quick, but we learned again today that not even German technology or train schedules are infallible.
Check-in with Condor was a breeze and our now-checked rollaboards are flagged with red priority tags, although we don’t think they’ll impress the SeaTac baggage handlers.
Condor assigned us to a quite pleasant Lufthansa Business Lounge just across from our boarding gate B45 in Terminal 1.
We’ll be here for about three hours and have lots of time to watch planes.
It’s also our last chance to savor some German specialties, including the Kugelhupf that Kathy’s Viennese Hausfrau served as a Sunday morning treat.
Brian picked up a piece of apple cake too, just to balance the plate.
And wouldn’t you know the sun is - finally - shining brightly through the dirty lounge window, just as we’re about to leave for Seattle? Oh well - it’s been a fine trip, with better weather than we’d been expecting.
Our cabin is on the bottom deck. It’s easy to hear the water lapping against the hull, and the floor seems a bit damp, but otherwise it’s been fine.
Then it’s along the corridor and up the spiral stairs to the next deck.
From there it’s down about six steps to the restaurant, already set for tonight’s grand finale dinner.
One climbs about six steps to find the reception desk, and beyond that the forward lounge, stacked over the restaurant.
At the stern is a very small lounge and an even smaller exercise room. We got a fair amount exercise by walking ashore two to four miles daily and only visited it once to have a look. The sun deck wasn’t too inviting either this trip.
All in all, it’s been a perfectly comfortable boat with a friendly and attentive crew, as well as friendly fellow travelers.
We docked in Frankfurt’s Osthaven (East Harbor) this morning.
The Monarch Queen was subbed for a superior boat that couldn’t get to Regensberg due to low water, but it’s been quite comfortable and we’ve enjoyed the cruise.
After breakfast we rode a bus past the grand Osthaven headquarters of the European Central Bank toward the central part of the city. It looks in its majestic isolation even taller than its 48-story 607-feet height.
There are other high rises in Frankfurt, unlike in most German cities.
There we met our young guide and took a leisurely walking tour of the old town.
She stopped us in one small square containing buildings that were completed as part of a huge government project as recently as 2016, st a total cost of 2 billion Euros - good grief!
There were other sights to see, more Glühwein mugs and Lebkuchen to buy for grandchildren, and a pizza for a change of lunch.
Pizza with a view...
And the Lebkuchen stand to complete our modest purchases...
We’re back aboard and packing up. We’ve already scouted out a tram stop no more than a five-minute walked from the boat. We can take that to the Hauptbahnhof and transfer to an S-Bahn that will whisk us to the airport, all for about 5 Euros each.
With our Condor FRA-SEA flight not leaving until 2:05 PM (and scheduled to land st 3:55 PM), we’re hoping for a leisurely day.