Archive for Travel

Leaving Barcelona

Well, my time in Barcelona is drawing to a close. “Time in Barcelona?!”, you may be thinking. And you should be! Because I have done a lousy, unreliable job of keeping my public up to date on what’s going on.

Well, since going back to work at the end of October, things have been pretty level. But then BAM all of a sudden I’m in Barcelona presenting at the IT Forum TechEd conference for a week. Not entirely unexpected (I’d bought my ticket back in September), but it still came up quite fast. So now I’ve spent nearly the week out of the country and away from J and the boy. It’ll be good to be back!

Sessions all went well, and I was able to do quite a bit of touring later in the week. Barcelona is a great city, and I’m really excited to bring J back here at some point!

Here are a couple of photos of things I saw, and the whole Barcelona 2007 Flickr set is public visibility so feel free to have a look at the rest of the photos as well.

 PB130024 PB140073 PB140068 PB140002

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MIL safely back in SC

Well, we’ve ended up our 2 weeks of Jodi’s mom being out here in Seattle to help us with the new baby as of this morning. Now it’s all on Jodi and I for a while — a little bit daunting, but I think we’ll do ok.

This turnover is particularly blog-worthy now that M.I.L. is back in Columbia, SC — after the crazy travel day she had yesterday. You occasionally hear about wacko behavior on planes and bomb-scares, etc… but almost never is it in your city, and even more rarely does it have any direct effect on you personally.

Well, no more! Yesterday, Jodi’s mom was on the Northwest flight 980 to Memphis that got turned around and returned to Seattle due to a bomb threat/scare. She (along with the 141 other passengers) spent a bunch of time sitting on the far runway surrounded by flashing-light police vehicles and news helicopters overhead, then off to the FBI/TSA/Homeland security interrogation room for interview, etc. And, finally, off to a steak dinner with Jodi, Gabriel and myself to celebrate the extra 18 hours we got to spend with her here in Seattle!

All is well, and she’s made it safely back to SC on a flight today, but what a wacky, strange, scary thing to happen! My thought is it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime sort of things, so now she’s safe to fly unimpeded (maybe she won’t even have to take her shoes off to get through security!) going forward. 🙂

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What? No Comedy Central?

I don’t get hotels that have ESPN1-ESPN7 but don’t have Comedy Central. Makes no sense at all.

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Airplane travel observations

Couple of observations about airplane travel (and some on airport dining) from our recent South Carolina trip:

  • Alaska Air has a lot of legroom in their 737s. Very comfortable flight back from Chicago -> Seattle!
  • It’s impossible to get first class upgrades. 2 legs of our trip were 100% booked in first class and the other 2 didn’t have this class of service on the plane. The good news is that Jodi and I got an entire row to ourselves on the final (long) leg of the trip, so it was pretty pleasant, even in steerage (see my above comment about leg room on the Alaska Air flight).
  • The Chili’s Too near the “H1B” gate (really, that’s the name of the gate!) at O’Hare is terrible. Avoid it like the plague. Service was awful, truly awful on the way to SC.
  • The Fox Sports grill down near the L gates was excellent though — very fast and quality service on the way back.

 

And, finally – flying on the weekends is irritating for two specific reasons:

  1. Every single person flying each weekend has NEVER FLOWN BEFORE IN THEIR LIFE, or at least so they’d have you believe. They can’t figure out how walk in an airport. They can’t figure out how to check-in with the self-service machines. They can’t figure out how to get through security without holding up the line. Ack! 🙂
  2. The airlines sincerely believe that I want them to talk to me throughout the entire flight over the loud LOUD speaker. Reassure me that they do sell drinks for only $5. That, yes, I can purchase the headphones for the movie in just a few moments. That this is the best opportunity to get 10,000 extra bonus miles by signing up for their visa card. Or… and this one is the worst of all… that I am incapable of finding one of the dozens of electronic signboards in the arrival terminal to figure out my connection gate and that therefore the best way to solve this problem is to read EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE CONNECTING GATES FOR EVERY PASSENGER ON THE FLIGHT! This deafening process generally goes on for 5-10 minutes near the end of the flight, and ends with an announcement that now we have to turn off our electronic devices (ie – I’ve been unable to concentrate on — or ever really hear — my electronic device for the whole time).

Am I the only one who finds this annoying? Thank heavens they don’t seem to regularly do this for travel during the week.

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Jodi and I go to South Carolina

May 20-26: Jodi and I used a few days of vacation to visit South Carolina. We spent some time in Greenville visiting Sharai and Laura. Then to Charleston for some trips down memory lane, to the beach, and some nice dinners out. Finally, we rounded out in Columbia (literally — for instance, we went to Shealy’s for BBQ dinner). It was hot, although I’m told it was actually quite nice.

Photos at Doddsnet: http://www.doddsnet.com/Photos/2007/2007MayVacation/Default.htm

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HHilton HHonors

I’m done with Hilton HHonors. I’m also done with Hilton hotels, any time I have a choice.

Over the years, I’ve often preferred Hilton hotels when I traveled for work or pleasure. I’ve been collecting HHonors “points” for years and years. And, of course, I’ve never “redeemed” any of them. Just what the hotel chain wants, I expect. A loyal customer who reliably collects points but never uses them.

And then the other day I tried to sign into my HHonors account to see how many points I had collected. Just to feel good about it. Let’s be honest, I have never had any real expectation that these points are redeemable for anything besides magazine subscriptions (tried to book a regular – non-premium 50,000 points – plane ticket lately using points? How’d that work out for you?)

… and the result? I couldn’t get into my account.

“What the heck”, I thought to myself. I’m sure I’m typing the right number for my account into the website. I’m looking at it on my Silver VIP HHonors card right here in front of me. Sure, I haven’t traveled as much for work since I took this new job in spring 2005, but what could be going on — that’s not even two years ago (implicitly thinking: “… and no customer-focused company would strip you of all your collected points in less than 2 years!”)

So I called up the customer support number. And they assured me that my account number was correct, but it had been “inactivated”. AFTER 12 MONTHS.

I’d be happy to reactivate your account“, the nice customer support lady reassured me. “And my points,” I asked?

Oh, they’re gone… sorry“.

Yeah, my points were gone after just 12 months of non-use. Well, then I’m gone too if they have such little respect for their customers. Fortunately there are alternatives I can use going forward who haven’t yet expired my points from >2 years ago.

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France and Smoking

The primary thing I didn’t enjoy about France when we visited two years ago was the smoking. It didn’t help that the Euro exchange rate was so awful, but it was really the smoking — EVERYWHERE — that caused me the most trouble.

Well, good news! According to this MSNBC article, smoking in public spaces (examples given: workplaces, schools, airports, hospitals, and other “closed and covered” places) around France will be banned starting today!

It’s amazing to me that prior to today you could still (at least potentially) smoke in places like schools and hospitals. I remember back to when you could still smoke in schools and hospitals in the US, and this goes back probably almost 15-20 years since this was disallowed… it just seems so long ago and distant. It’s almost unthinkable today that you’d be able to smoke at your desk at work, or bedside at the hospital, etc.

Even better for France is that in one year, the smoking ban will extend to cafes and restaurants. Now THAT’s talking!! I didn’t spend much time bothered by incessant smoking at French schools or hospitals on our trip, but I definitely came back to the hotel room each night with a scratchy throat and smelling like smoke from the cafes and restaurants. In fact, it was the smoking (and lack of even a non-smoking section) at every restaurant and cafe we tried to eat at that caused me pause about ever going back.

Setting the clock — only one more year until my ban on visiting France again can be lifted.

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Ski Trip and Sculpture Park

You might think I was actually around last week, what with the regular posts to the blog. Thank technology! I posted those before we left for a week’s vacation. Here are the details:

Ski Trip to Whistler

January 15-19: Jodi and I (plus MIL and Tim) headed up to Whistler, British Columbia for a few days of skiing on the mountain. On the way we drove through Vancouver – my first trip “to” this city. We then skiied 3 days in fantastic weather, including my trip from “Peak to Creek” during the whiteout conditions on the 3rd day! Many of these photos came from Jodi’s camera.

Sculpture Park Opening

January 20: Jodi and I went down to the new Seattle Art Museum (SAM) Olympic Sculpture Park for the opening weekend. Weather was fantastic, so it was CROWDED. Very cool park though!

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OH NO! Makeup on the airplane!

This past weekend I took a whirlwind trip out to New York City to visit my little sister Catherine as she starts Medical School at Columbia. The trip was a good bit of fun. I enjoyed seeing Catherine and the great city of New York, even for just two quick days. I posted some photos of the trip over at Doddsnet.

This next effect will hopefully be long forgotten if you’re reading this in the distant future, but at the time of this trip we were under heightened security alert for the airports (see here and here). There were signs EVERYWHERE in the airport reminding you that not only did you have to take off your shoes (yes, even flip-flops person in front of me in line and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T PUT THEM IN THE BINS, the TSA person reminded us all) but you also couldn’t bring anything liquid or gel onto the plane. Not a bottle of water, not a tiny canister of lens-cleaning solution I had overlooked in my camera bag, no liquid-or-gel-based makeup or lotion, and not even a starbucks coffee purchased across from the departure gate. See their breakdown of what’s not allowed at this link.

So, that said, I am absolutely amazed that my plane did not nose-dive into the ground on this trip. I mean, really… we totally SHOULD have crashed going one way or the other. On the way out to NYC I was sitting next to a nice woman from Spain. Much to my astonishment, as we were about 20 mins from landing, she reached into her purse and proceeded to touch up all of her makeup from the stockpile of liquid and gel-based products in her purse. Oops. Like I said, it’s amazing we didn’t crash.

Then, on the way back, even though we didn’t have anyone blatantly smuggling lipstick and mascara through in their purse as far as I could tell, we DID have this cool plane (rolled back into the Delta fleet after the dissolution of “Song” airline) where each of the seats had independently controllable audio/video setups. You could watch DishTV live, play video games, listen to music, etc. Very cool. AND VERY DANGEROUS! These units were enabled right from the start — even while we were sitting at the gate, while we taxied out for takeoff, and while we took off!!!

If the FAA is to be believed, anything more electronically nefarious than a wrist-watch used below 10,000 feet will cause the plane to lose control and crash into the ocean (even if you’re not flying over the ocean, presumably). That’s why I have to turn off my MP3 player from the time we close the airplane door until the pilot dings the bell twice at 10,000 feet. So it seems like a terrible risk to allow something as sophisticated as DishTV to not only PICK UP SIGNALS FROM A SATELLITE but to also PUSH THESE SIGNALS THROUGH A DECODER SOMEWHERE ON THE PLANE and then PUSH THE SIGNAL OUT TO DOZENS OR HUNDREDS OF LITTLE TELEVISIONS!

I’m totally kidding, of course. They probably just wrap this all in tinfoil (very thin, transparent tinfoil) to keep it from interfering with the rest of the plane’s electronics. So no harm done, and I’m totally okay with them leaving the TVs on the whole time. But no, I still can’t use my laptop or MP3 player until we hit 10,000 feet. Because it’s not wrapped in this same sort of tinfoil, I guess.

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Our Dodge Durango in Houston

This is a post that should have come after our recent trip to Houston for the graduations but it got pushed off to the “deal with later” pile since we were leaving right away for our national parks trip.

Anyway, back to the story. When we arrived in Houston, our car reservation (gotta have a car in Houston) was not ready for us. More importantly, our car wasn’t ready for us. Cue the Seinfeld episode, etc.

But, a solution was at hand. They “upgrade” us to a Dodge Durango. Now we’re strange, I suppose. We tend to always reserve the smallest car you can get. Not just because we’re cheap (which we are), but also because we want better fuel economy (which, I suppose, reinforces that we’re cheap, but also want to “save” the planet).

So, getting an upgrade to a Dodge Durango was not really what we had in mind. We ended up taking it (vs waiting 30 minutes for them to clean another car), but only after we had convinced ourselves that we were going to make it be fuel efficient.

And.. well… we kinda did! We drove it up to Huntsville for the graduation and loaded it right the heck up with people. By fully loading the Durango we were able to save two other cars from having to drive up. So that’s good.

Overall the fuel economy was pretty poor compared to our usual sippers, but at least we know we saved some other cars from making the drive.

Stats: 185 miles driven, 11.019 gals to refuel = ~16.79 mpg.

Saving two other cars the trip, these other cars would have had to have made >33 mpg each to make the swap ineffective. So perhaps we did come out ahead here.

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