WP_20151015_20_42_15_Rich_LISo naturally,  anytime I’m out and about, I’m drinking.

But picking what to drink can be a real pain in the ass. It’s like ordering coffee. I drink a ton of coffee but I’m picky as hell about it. I like straight espresso. But most places suck at making the actual coffee, and depend on the mixes and sugar to make it drinkable (see: Starbucks et. al)

Alcohol is much the same. I like to drink wine, but most places serve expensive, high-alcohol fruit bombs. Also wine goes best with food, and I’m not always up for a full meal. Beer is a great drink usually. If you can find something that is a local drink it’s typically light in alcohol (relatively) and you can get some really fascinating flavors depending on what the brewmaster intended. But drinking beer when you fly is not optimal, as it’s just too gassy to enjoy in a low-pressure air cabin.

Then you have mixed drinks. These can go either way. On the plane, you can never go wrong with a Bloody Mary. Good flavor balance. Hydrates. and any vodka will do in a pinch. There is usually at least one good whiskey in stock, and whiskey goes with everything. If you are on Hawaiian Air, they have Trader Vic’s Mai Tais. Last time we flew Hawaiian I emptied their stock. That was epic. I could barely walk.

Now we are in the hotel for the next two days getting ready for dance sessions and competition. That’s what I like about dance, unlike gymnastics there’s always a bar nearby.

I think I’m going to experiment with cocktails. I think an Old Fashioned sounds good as a start.

wetLAXI’m not sure if we’ve taken a winter vacation as a family. We might have, we’ve certainly taken trips for Thanksgiving several times, this year included.

When I was younger, our family really didn’t take many summer vacations, but every other year we would head out to Hawaii. This was the big family vacation, and most of our Christmas present too. I loved it. We always stayed in Lahaina, on the island of Maui. I’ve only been back once since we stopped those family vacations, but I still love the town. Despite growth and sprawl in many areas, the town of Lahaina seems to keep it’s character and a bit of “Old Hawaii” feel. We should probably go back again. Unfortunately, the cost of going to and staying in Hawaii is crazy, but I’m sure there is a deal to be had. There’s always a deal.

We are heading to Disneyland. I hear from a lot of our friends that it’s nuts to go to the same place so often, but aside from simply liking Disney a lot, we have found a lot of advantages to the Disney Resort in California. This is something we learned when we visited Disneyworld in Florida years ago.  Our friend had a timeshare in Florida so we flew out to stay there and try Disneyworld and Epcot for a change. What killed us on that trip was the spread. Everything was spread out so far, the condo was a long drive into Disney, each of the Disney parks were separate from each other, and it was a wait and a Monorail ride to the next park. The parks were bigger too, but had the same amount of rides, so basically everything was just father apart. It ended up that we walked more and did less with our time.

Disney in Anaheim is the opposite. You have two parks, Disneyland and California Adventure packed in a fairly tight spot. Between the parks is the Disney  Downtown, shops and restaurants. Most hotels are in walking distance. It makes a huge difference in our time off when we can get so much more done without driving. Of course, we are near Downtown LA, so we can rent a car and drive in if we choose to do so (and we have done that before.)

Topping off our decision this time is that the park is all done up in winter decorations, with lots of stuff from Frozen. Apparently the whole castle is frozen solid, with extra parades and everything. That should be cool.

We are also staying in a smaller local hotel, instead of one of the resort hotels. We wanted to try it out and see if it adds too much to our walking distance. We will be back in the summer and if we like it we will use it again.

Yeah, we might be kinda nuts.

Seattle was around 27 degrees when we left. It was actually pretty clear, but we were freezing our asses off. We got to the Airport early, and missed the big security lines. This gave us some extra time to get food and a few drinks before the flight would start boarding. I’ve been really surprised at how much the Airport has improved. The food is pretty good, though expensive as shit, but the drinks are always great. We had some really good wine, and a value price of $19 for a 9oz. glass.

What a deal.

We missed the chance for a first class upgrade. Apparently they have changed the process for scoring this, you used to be able to check in online and if you were early, you would get offered the upgrade. Apparently you need to use one of the kiosks or ask at the gate to do this. We didn’t know and had we checked earlier we could have scored a full upgrade. Nuts.

Takeoff was smooth and easy. We grabbed some more drinks from the Sky Waitress and found that they had movies streaming on the internal Wi-Fi for free. This was pretty cool, but the system was pretty sketchy, and it took a few tries to get it going.

About halfway down, the first turbulence hit.

The weather report for Los Angeles was showing rain and a big temperature drop. It was supposed to hit 32 degrees overnight before warming back up again to the mid 60’s. We were hitting the front of this on our flight in. It was rough enough to stop drink service for the second round, so they now had my attention. We bounced around for the final 30 minutes of our flight, and made a wet and rainy landing into LAX.  LAX is never a pretty place, but wet and cold did it no favors. We wandered about until we could find our hotel shuttle, and had a rainy drive through LA traffic to Anaheim.

The weather cleared a bit as we got closer to the hotel, and the Disneyland area itself was dry. Windy and cold, but dry. The Hotel is right across the street from California Adventure, and Yulia (as the member of several Hotel Honors programs) scored us some nice upgrades on a suite. The place is old, but recently remodeled, so you get a bit of old California flavor in the place. The restaurant in the hotel is inexpensive, with great food and wine. After dinner we walked out into the bar next to the pool to see what the place looked like.

The the wind rolled in.

We were chased off the patio by cold winds whipping the palm trees around. No rain, but it was cold and uncomfortable. We went back up to our room and hid. We could see the big Ferris Wheel and roller coaster still running across the street. We would hit the parks tomorrow. For us the rest of the evening was in the room watching TV and listening to the winds outside. Some beer and snacks from the gift shop were dessert.

Welcome to Winter in Southern California.

WP_20141201_11_22_50_ProPacking my technology whenever I travel is always a pain in the ass.

I write when I travel. I have tried using a tablet with portable keyboard, a 2-in-1 (MS Surface), but a real laptop always works the best for me. I also seem to attract drinks into my keyboard, so I’m hesitant to drop a lot of money on a travel computer. (On our trip to France I had a neat little Toshiba slim laptop, and a kid knocked my entire glass of wine into my keyboard. It was never the same)

I also like to have some kind of book, maybe a media tablet, and my phone and the bits that go with that. Then I need cables, connectors and chargers. And a bag to hold all this crap.

I have settled on a regular carry-on bag for travel, a Tommy Bahama canvas and leather duffel (I found it on sale at Ross). It isn’t a roller bag, but a true duffel bag. I’m actually a bit too tall to pull a normal roller bag, and the soft bag lets me squish it into an overhead bin that wouldn’t fit an extra roller bag. That can make a big difference on a crowded plane. I also have a regular dopp kit set up. I keep all the bath and shaving bits, a first aid kit, brush and razor packed all the time. I never have to hunt around to find stuff when I pack.

But I think I change my computer bag each time we go. I’ve saved several over the years, and nothing is really “just right.” I’m using a really nice Ogio computer travel bag on this trip, it has just the right amount of pockets, everything is organized well, I really like it. But seat dimensions have changed on the newer planes. This is great actually (at least if you fly Alaska Air, which we do almost exclusively) as the seats are slimmer and more supportive, meaning more knee and leg room. But the space under the seat is just an inch or so shorter than it used to be. So this bag won’t stand up under the seat in front of me. Nuts.  The seats now do have a power charger, both 110v and USB, so that’s really nice. I have to figure the bag situation out.

I tend to grab my Kindle, and I have an 8″ Dell Tablet. They are both slim, and charge from USB. My phone is a Windows Phone Lumia 1020, and it has a camera attachment that acts as an extra battery. It also charges from USB. So all those can share a set of cables and chargers, or now use the seat charger. Neat.

My current laptop is an older Lenovo X301. I got it used (they are really cheap). This was a top-end executive laptop when new, and is slim, light, has a 13″ screen, and an SSD drive. Since it isn’t an Ultrabook design, it actually has a full compliment of real ports, this helps a lot when you are traveling about, no need for a bunch of adapters. (Having Ethernet, VGA, 3 USB, is nice) You can get one for around $250 or so online. If it gets broken I’m not out much. I don’t really need much of a computer when I travel so speed isn’t really an issue.

My blog is on WordPress. You can edit and write online, but I can’t always count on having a solid connection when I have time to write. MS Word is good. On the PC it actually has connectors for most blogs, and is pretty good for blog work. I use Scrivener for longer writing, but I haven’t done much of that type of writing on the road. My favorite tool for blogging is Windows Live Writer. It was last updated in 2011, and only has a few features (Blog connections, formatting, picture uploading, etc. But it is fast, syncs correctly each time, and I love it. I was using a MacBook for a while, and used MarsEdit as blogging software, but it is really geared towards HTML editing as opposed to writing. I was glad to move back to a PC to use Writer again.

I have a nice set of Skullcandy folding headphones as well. I These aren’t as nice as Bose headphones, but these fold flat so they slip into the bag better.  They do have a bit of trouble overcoming the rumble of the plane, but they are pretty good. I’d like to use a set of earbuds, but my ears are just the wrong shape for those to work. I don’t really listen to music, but I like to pull down a few podcasts to listen to.

I have a mini Mobile hotspot (from FreedomPop) if I needed a connection and none was available. It uses the Sprint Network, so it isn’t any good for International travel. I didn’t need it on this trip either, but it’s there just in case.

Two travel apps that I use regularly: Tripit: the app reads the service from the Tripit website, and works as a central tracking resource for all our flight numbers, hotel, car, tours, etc. Everything is organized and I have it all in one place. We also use the Alaska Airlines app on our phones, so we can in check in advance (and try to score a First Class upgrade) and use the Eticket for security and boarding. Since I use windows phone, Cortana automatically does flight time tracking, and warns us if there is traffic on the way to the airport.

Most people don’t need as much stuff as I carry. I keep trying to strike a balance between stuff and space, and stuff seems to win. I need to check the dimensions of the seat and some of my bags at home, and will readjust my gear to match for our next trip.

Into a small wine glass, squeeze the juice of one lime wedge. Add one shot Repisado Tequila. Drink. Repeat as required.

We are now on vacation. I would normally start vacation writing early, but things were so goddamn hectic that I barely had time for a quality shit, let alone some fancy pants writing. I am now sitting on the balcony of our room, looking at the local tourist “pirate ship” take the current load of drunken tourists around the bay at Cabo San Lucas. I haven’t had internet access in well over 24 hours, and thus my writing was not happening.

This is now alleviated.WP_20130630_001

We always plan our vacations well in advance – at least six months to get good reservation pricing. But for some reason I am incapable of packing anything until I actually have checked into the online checking 24 hours before we fly. So this leads to a mad dash around the house to find all the little piles of shirts, cables, and other things that I think I will need when we travel. No matter what, I am always wrong. This time I have taken too much. Specifically, an extra computer and cabling. I don’t need to dial in for my job anymore, but I took it by habit. I can do everything on my Surface, but oh well.

We had a 6am flight on Sunday out of Seattle, so I was up at 6 on Saturday to check us in. This early bird approach gained us the option for a First Class upgrade all the way to Mexico, so I jumped on it. Flying First Class on an upgrade is always a good choice, but I make it a point to get back the cost of the upgrade in free drinks if possible. On shorted flights this can be a challenge. As this was a 6am flight, this challenge was Expert Level.

We woke up at 2:45 to catch a shuttle from our house. The night before, Sasha had her Spring Showcase for Ballroom Dance. That ended at 10:30. As expected we were not sleeping well. Yulia woke up at 1:00am. Sasha couldn’t sleep until 1:30. The drive to the airport and stumble through security were a total blur. but we were glad to have some coffee and a banana at the coffee stand inside.

Naturally, once on the plane, things were better. First class served a nice yogurt and fruit breakfast. The newlyweds in front of us had mimosas, so Yulia had the same, while I ordered Bloody Marys. After the third one, things felt more normal. We had a short layover in San Jose California, before continuing to Los Cabos. On the last flight, I just had a scotch, and a few G&T’s to get ready for the heat.

That turned out to be a good plan, as it was 93 degrees when we got off the plane, but an easy ride into Cabo to our hotel. We have all the shuttles pre-arranged so we don’t have to deal with taxis and such, and the hotel is just outside of the main strip, across the dry river. We stayed at this complex before, but this time we are at Villa Del Arco, and have the All-inclusive option. Which is nice, so our food and drink are included. Please note: I am at a place where all my booze in covered.

They will regret this.

In the meantime, we have settled into a very nice 1 bedroom suite, so we have a separate room from Sasha, with a fantastic view of the ocean. The whole place is fantastic. And the food so far has been amazing.

We walked to the marina earlier today. It is about 20 minutes to walk down the beach, and every few feet, some guy offers you a water taxi or jetski. If we moved up the surf a bit, they offer to sell you ceramic plates or silver jewelry. You think after seeing me say “no, gracias” to the first 100 dudes, the next one would at least offer something different to say no to. Hell guys, let me say no to the donkey show or something. Throw me a bone here.

We walked the malls,hit the tourist stands, and had lunch at Cabo Wabo. I have to say, the place has really fantastic food. If Sasha was older, we would take in a show there.

Back at the hotel, we rested at poolside, and Yulia ran into one of our fellow First Class travelers from the flight down. Yulia recognized him right away because he looks like The Rock, and speaks with a Scottish accent. Turns out his wife went t Newport with my sister, and he recognizd me from the plane, as the woman sitting next to him was shocked during the flight, and told him:

“Did you see that, someone ordered a glass of scotch at 9 in the morning! What kind of person does that?”

  1. I didn’t know it was only 9 am.
  2. Fuck you, welcome to México bitches.

For our last day in California, we decided to skip the wineries and spend the day in San Francisco. We were only about 50 miles away, so it was pretty easy drive into town. The Golden Gate was blanketed in fog as we rolled into town, but it cleared out as we entered the city. We drove straight along Lombard, and followed the street off the arterial so we could drive the car down the crooked section. Its fun to weave down the hill with the gaggle of tourists snapping your picture.

We parked the car for the day near the waterfront, and took a walk around town. We had plans for the evening, as Sasha had one of her friends who also happened to be in San Fran, and they were going to meet for dinner. But for the daytime we just planned to walk about and see what was up.

We started in Ghiradelli Square, since is was early enough in the day we were actually able to get into the little Malt shop they have there. usually, the line heads out the door to get in. We grabbed a couple of espressos and Sasha got a vanilla shake. The shop was very cute, with a display of traditional chocolate making in the back. It was fun to watch the machines churn chocolate while we waited for our drinks. Once done, we headed down the waterfront.

We really had no specific goal, but set our destination for Pier 1, which was the converted Ferry Terminal. Last time we were in San Francisco it had a great series of little shops and restaurants, and seemed like a smart lunch destination.

We just took our time to walk the piers, it was nice to see the various shops, fish-vendors, bakeries, etc. We checked out the marina behind the Aquarium, and I found a Carver Mariner like ours moored there. it was a newer model, and rigged for live-aboards. They had a new top on their boat that I was very jealous of. Ours is out of date and a bit trashed. We kept moving and continued our walk down the Embarcadero.

It was a longer walk than we remembered, and we were overheated and beat by the time we reached the pier. We immediately hid out in a nice cafe and had a full lunch. The place made a fantastic Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, and goat cheese. We each had a fresh fish dish, and you could appreciate how fresh everything was. We have noticed this all over California. The freshness of food in general is a big difference. I’m sure that being here at the end of summer when lots of this is picked fresh is having an impact, but it is striking when you compare it to regular food quality. I wish we could eat this fresh all the time. (We actually joined one of the CSA type vegetable delivery things, so having them deliver seasonal veggies may help us to do this more this year, we shall see.)

Once we are and rested, we checked out the shops and headed across to the end of the California street Cable Car line. we caught one as we walked up the hill, and took it to the transfer over to the Powell street line. Sasha’s friend was staying at the same hotel we stayed at on our last trip, so we walked around the hotel area for a bit, and sat in the park for some coffee and to relax before meeting up at the hotel.

Once Sasha went with her friend, Yulia and I caught the Cable Car back to Ghiradelli. It really is a cool way to travel across town. We passed the Lombard Hill on the way, and had a great view of Coit Tower. Once at the end of the line, we found a nice restaurant on the waterfront to relax at, with some live jazz playing. We just hung out until it was time to get Sasha, then we headed back across the Golden Gate.

We had a big drive home in the morning, so we didn’t want to be too late at night. Yulia managed to get a Skype call to her brother as we drove, and they exchanged video of Moscow and San Francisco sites as we headed out.

It was a fun end to a long trip. Time to head home.

We have loved the food everywhere in California. We found a little breakfast place just south of our hotel, called the Redwood cafe. It was right in the center of Cotati, and had a great selection of organic foods, juices, and some pretty darn good espresso.

Of course, like the rest of California, they keep saying “eXpresso” it’s driving me nuts. oh well.

We ordered a big breakfast, with fresh made vegetable juice, and two cups of coffee each, sitting on a little table on the sidewalk. A great start to any day.

The big plan for the day was having diner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, so we planned on spending lunch at the hotel in the pool. Or at least Yulia and Sasha did. I had plans to meet my buddy Peter Rogers.

If you know of my movie from High School, “Aerobic Boy” then you know of Peter. He was the writer/director, and I hadn’t seen him since we graduated. We managed to connect on Facebook earlier in the year, and he had apparently moved to Santa Rosa.

We met for lunch at a little diner. You would think it might take a minute to recognize someone after 20+ years. But Pete looked almost the same.

I, on the other hand, am bald as hell.

For whatever reason he was able to recognize me, and I walked up to him and said, “My hovercraft is full of eels.”

Pete looked at me for just a second, “Brushing after every meal helps prevent tooth decay!”

We hugged.

These were the code phrases from our characters in our high school film in 1987. Some things you never forget.

We were able to have a quick lunch after all this time. We were both drama nerds, with he working in Insurance now and I’m a computer geek. Pete is hoping to find his remaining copy of our film so we can convert it to digital and put up to Vimeo or something. He hopes to come to Seattle around christmas, some maybe we can connect again. Sometimes it’s great to talk about nothing at all. Even after 20 years.

Back at the hotel, we dressed up and got ready for Bouchon. We had originally thought about hitting the French Laundry while here, but the waiting list was crazy. Also, a bistro setting can be much more family friendly.

We let the GPS direct us over to the Napa side of the valley, and again we got turned onto a tiny, winding mountain road. We almost got directed onto a single lane road, but I figured out that things war mis-marked and backed down and got us back on track before things got too ugly.

Once we were out of the mountains, we took a walk through Yountville. Honestly, this is where we should have stayed. It is small, walkable, and amazing. The galleries and shops are fantastic.

Dinner at Bouchon was amazing. We were a bit early for our reservation, and had a bit of coffee from the Bouchon bakery. Once we were seated, it was an amazing diner. Great service, fantastic food, and wonderful wine. Not cheap by any measure, but worth it for a vacation meal.

Looks like I need to re-read that Thomas Keller book that my brother gave me. Amazing.