Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Take a Walk With Me: Getting Walked Because the Hotel Screwed Up


Stick around because this story has a happy ending...

The Great Pandemic of 2020 is winding down for us. All three of us have been fully vaccinated and it's time to stick our toes into traveling again. We've decided to take a few days in Carson City, Nevada, which is a couple of hours away from home, a very scenic drive over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

I've reserved a guaranteed, accessible suite with a king size bed, a queen size fold-out sofa, and a roll-in shower for Tim and his wheelchair.

It was a beautiful, fun, and eventful drive over the mountains to get here (which you can read in our other trip posts) and we're pulling into our hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites on the north end of Carson City.

Tim and my wife get out of the van. I park and join them in the lobby. I go to check in and then here those dreaded six words that we...as special needs travelers...hear just way too often these days: "there's been a problem with your room."

"No," I'm thinking, "not again."

"The people in your room have extended their stay," I'm told.

Why is that never an option with me? Whenever I ask if I can extend my stay, I'm always told "the room is reserved, you have to leave." It seems like everyone else can just say "screw the next suckers, I'm staying!"

"What do you have for us?" I ask.

"We know you reserved a king suite, we have a two queen room for a little less per night."

Now, I reserved this particular room because of the king bed. While we can make do with a queen, my wife and I are used to a king bed and I really didn't want to feel squeezed so I looked far and wide to get a room just like this so we wouldn't have to.

"We really wanted that king bed," I replied.

"Sir, that's all we have."

Then, for some reason, it occurred to me to ask the key question..."I guess we'll have to make do, does it have a roll-in shower?"

The heavens opened up and fate tilted to my side..."um, no...did you need one?"

"I reserved one. See that man sitting behind me in the wheelchair? I think you can see that is non-negotiable."

"Um, maybe you can  spend the night in the double queen and we can see if we can move you into a roll-in shower tomorrow."

"Hold that thought, go ahead and check in the people waiting behind me. Maybe you can book me into another equivalent room at another hotel. Let me talk to my wife and son and I'll get back to you," I said.


I quickly went to the other end of the lobby and started calling other hotels. Quickly, I connected to the Holiday Inn Express in nearby Minden and asked if they had an accessible room with a roll-in shower available. They didn't but they had a two-queen suite with a fold-out sofabed with a walk-in shower (same except for a small lip at the entrance) that had a shower bench for $10 more than the Hampton.

I took it.

I went back to the front desk, told the clerk to just cancel me without penalty and I would go to the other hotel.

I guess they felt bad because the manager told her to call the Holiday Inn Express and let them know Hilton would be paying for that room..."walking" us to another hotel in the business lingo...at no cost to us. On top of that, since they screwed the pooch so bad by not having our guaranteed room for us, they also gave me a few thousand points in my Hilton loyalty account.

A quick drive to Minden put us into the Holiday Inn Express, into a nice, large room with everything as promised. As a bonus, our hotel for the weekend was now free.

Remember that you have rights, politely insist that the property honor them, and make it right if they don't. Who knows? Your vacation might just become free like ours did.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2021 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 3, 2021

CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH TOWNS: Placerville


(
Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) Sitting 43 miles due east of Sacramento on highway 50, Placerville is the heartbeat of El Dorado County, which stretches from the eastern edge of Folsom to the state line in Lake Tahoe.

Originally called Hangtown, there is a dummy hanging from the rafters downtown and a noose on town street signs, because of the frontier justice dispensed at the hanging tree where today's ice cream parlor is. That artwork and dummy has caused no little amount of controversy in these politically charged times but the citizens will point out that it is a historical point of order in this town, not something to do with anything racial (you can make up your own mind on that).

(Note: Last week...the last week of April 2021...the city council voted to remove the image of the noose from all city signs, paperwork, seal, etc. - Ed)

It's location on a major freeway also puts it directly in the crosshairs for development and many fear that this beautiful, historic, Gold Rush era town will someday in the near future become yet another suburb of the capitol with thousands of tract homes like nearby Folsom and El Dorado Hills have become.

After a somewhat lawless start in 1849, the city started to settle down and incorporated with its current name in 1854. It was the third largest city in California. Three years later, the county seat was moved here from nearby Coloma, where James Marshall found the nuggets at John Sutter's mill that kicked off the Gold Rush.

The most obvious attachment to the past is the historic bell tower that sits on an island in the middle of Main Street, smack dab in the middle of downtown.


Like many towns of the time, fires frequently burned through the town. One of the solutions was to have an alarm to call the volunteer fire department to arms. A bell was ordered in 1860, delivered in 1865, and mounted atop a wooden tower to be rung loudly whenever a fire broke out.

A more durable steel tower replaced the wooden tower in 1898. Modern sirens enhanced the bell and somehow the tower and bell are still there, anchoring the center of town.

Find a place to park nearby and you can spend some time exploring this old, historic downtown.


Going west, you'll come across one of our favorite dive bars, the Liar's Bench, where Tim and I like to have a beer while waiting for Letty to do her shopping in the yarn shop next door, Lofty Lou's. Keep going and you'll come across one of our favorite casual restaurants, the Buttercup Pantry.

A little mystery is the remains of this fireplace in the parking lot that we've have not found the story to. What home or structure used to be here?

Inside, comfort food rules the day as you browse through the many antiques and knick knacks on display here.

Going back east on Main Street, look for the dummy hanging above the north side of the street. This marks the spot where the infamous hanging tree was. The old stump is still in the basement of the adjacent building. 

Going inside that building, you'll be inside one of Placerville's old saloons but, now, the Hangman's Tree serves ice cream instead of alcohol.

Continuing east on Main, you'll pass several restaurants, a couple more bars and pubs, antique shops, a really great surplus store, the old county courthouse...complete with cannons out front...and you'll end up at a couple of old sodaworks buildings.

Back during the Gold Rush, clean water was not always easy to get. Companies would make soda water to sell as clean drinking water to the locals. Here in Placerville, they also served as ice houses and the walls would be built two feet thick to insulate and keep the ice cold.

Of the two sodaworks building, one is a store and the other is a museum. The Fountain-Tallman Sodaworks is a nice museum of the period, showing how the water was made and displaying artifacts that were found during renovation. 


Placerville was, of course, a gold mining town and you can see some of that history a mile north of downtown at Gold Bug Mine Park and Mine. This is also one of the extremely few places where you can take a wheelchair underground and tour an actual mine shaft from the Gold Rush. Click on that link to get a full story of when we visited and toured the mine.


Just east of town is Camino, more popularly known at Apple Hill. Here, you can tour different farms, pick apples (or just eat them), get some cider, and visit a few local wineries.

We like to go at the end of August to avoid the massive crowds that come here during the peak apple season that starts on Labor Day weekend.

One of the bigger and livelier of the historic Gold Rush towns in California, Placerville is one of our favorite destinations. Good for a day or more, it makes a great base for exploring the region.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2021 - All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Placerville Brewfest


(Note: The Placerville Brewfest has changed to the Motherlode Beer and Music Festival and now takes place at the El Dorado County Fairground in mid-August - Ed)

As a retirement present, I received three VIP passes to the Placerville Brewfest. Placerville an historic Gold Rush city in California, east of Sacramento. It's also the county seat of El Dorado County. The brewfest takes place on the streets of downtown here on a Saturday late in June each year.

The VIP passes get us in an hour early, a large glass for tasting, and a bag to collect swag from the brewers on site. We get a taxi to take us from our hotel so there'll be no inhibitions here tonight...we have four hours  to drink as many samples as we can.

After checking in and getting our wristbands, we on the prowl for brew...


Watch the Video!



It's in the mid 90's today on Main Street. The buildings on either side of us date back to the Gold Rush. In fact, we can drive 30 minutes and stand on the little piece of sand where James Marshall found the nugget that started it all. Today, the gold is liquid. Well, most of it is. Some is red and some of the porters are brown.

We've got three blocks ahead of us, lined with people ready to give us free, ice cold beer.



There are a few big guys here like Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, and Gordon Biersch but the vast majority of the booths are from little, local microbreweries with names like Hangtown, Thin Line, Placerville Brewing, and Amador Brewery.

The best I tasted were the red ales from Placerville Brewing and Campbell Brewing. Hangtown had a very nice Saison and Alamador a very good Kolsch.

There were also a few cider breweries, a mead stand (a little sweet for me), and a high-alcohol kambucha stand called Booch Craft that was very interesting, sweet but dry.

The local homebrew club was also pouring a very good black porter.



Food was provided in samples by Round Table Pizza and the Farm Table Restaurant. Tim liked the bratwurst from farm table. Plus, giant pretzels to hang around your neck while you wandered through all that beer.

See the video, above, where in 12 minutes you can get a very good sense of what it was to be there plus see the gunfight erupt between rival breweries where I get caught in the crossfire.



It was a very fun fest and we just might have to make it an annual tradition here.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 30, 2021

AMADOR COUNTY RURAL COUNTRY LIVING: Our First Homecoming in Ione


One of the things that we have noticed about Amador County since we moved here a couple of years ago is that during the Spring and Summer months, there always seems to be a festival, concert or some other fun event that takes place on the weekends. One of those fun events is the Homecoming festival in Ione.

The Homecoming festival takes place in May throughout the whole town of Ione. As we were fairly new to the area we didn't really know what the festival was going to be like but we were very excited and looking forward to it.



The festival took place over a three day period during Mother's Day weekend in May. One of the biggest reasons why the Homecoming festival is a significant event in town is because anyone who has ever lived in Ione at any point is invited to come back home, so to speak, and take part in the annual celebration.  The fun begins on a Friday with a carnival and a nighttime fireworks show at Charles Howard Park. While we didn't go to the park to watch the fireworks show, we still had a pretty good view of it from the front porch of our house.

The second day of the festival began with a parade that went down Main Street, very near to our house. That meant we didn't have to go too far to see the parade.



After the parade was over the next activity on the schedule was the annual soap box derby races for kids. As was the case with the parade we didn't have to go too far to see the racers do their thing since the races went right by our house as well. While it was fun to watch the derby participants go by we were somewhat surprised to find out that there was a total of three racers during this particular running of the soap box derby. Hopefully there will be more racers for this year's Homecoming festival in May.



Now that the parade and soap box derby were finished it was time for us to get ready to head to the carnival at Charles Howard Park and see what fun activities it had to offer. Of all the different festivities that were scheduled for the Homecoming festival, the carnival at the park was probably where we had the most fun. While walking around we saw that there was a good amount of food items and games and rides available for people to have a good time with.



Of course no big event that takes place in Ione or the rest of Amador County would be complete without the presence of the Ione Tacos food truck where we got some delicious tacos to eat! There was even a section in the park that has its own dedicated beer garden where a collection of good local bands played live music throughout the afternoon.



Later on, a plane also started flying by at multiple times throughout the afternoon to drop an assortment of candies for kids to pick up off the ground in a fun free for all exercise! The combination of the tacos, live entertainment in the beer garden area and the candy delivery plane were probably our favorite things about our first Homecoming experience.



Another noteworthy item that happened during our first time at the Homecoming festival was that I got to take a picture with the members of the 2019 Homecoming royal court! Overall I would say that our  first time at the Ione Homecoming festival was a very enjoyable one. To top it all off, it was also very nice that we could walk to all of the places where the weekend festivities were happening. We can't wait to do it again later this year!

(NOTE: The Ione Homecoming dates to 1862, when the Methodist Church that stands just south of downtown was finished,  and has been a fixture just about every year since then. The 2020 Homecoming was canceled due to Covid-19. This year's slightly scaled-down 145th version will occur on the 2nd weekend of May)

Tim Musick
Copyright 2021
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Classic Trip: Brothels, Casinos, and the Basque...House Hunting in Nevada's Carson Valley


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Letty and I both grew up watching "Bonanza" in our childhood years. Who wouldn't want to live on the Ponderosa? Now, we're in the real-life location of that fictional ranch and one question bothers me...with Carson City being closer to their house, why did the Cartwright men spend so much time in farther-away Virginia City than in the closer, and bigger, state capitol.

This morning will be occupied by "business"...we're up here to investigate if it is a place we'd want to retire to. Specifically, we're looking at the area in the south end of the Carson Valley...around Gardnerville and Minden...to see if that's where we'd want to spend the rest of our lives after I retire.


Watch the Video!


The pros are good housing prices, low taxes, and country living are the draws.   We're playing house hunters, with three houses lined up to look at and see if we like what's in our price range.

House #1 on a 5 acre spread is too far back up towards Topaz Lake and has evidence of a large, recent wildfire on the hillside across the highway.

House #2 is nice, on a half-acre lot in Gardnerville near the country club but the street around it is not as nice.

House #3, across from the golf course club house looked good on paper but was pretty miserable in person.

Along with the 10-hour drive to see our families, pretty crushing traffic (due to only one main highway in the area) for a fairly rural area, a pretty desolate feel, and loss of California benefits for Tim, we decide to cross the Carson Valley off of our retirement list.

We'll pick that baton back up in a few days when we cross back over the mountains to our home state but, now, we're free agents...ready to explore the area as travelers.


Back up and around Carson City, we head over to Virginia City. Make sure you have a strong engine if you plan to take the shortest route up with a harrowing 15% grade. Easy parking is hard to find, so I relent and pay $6 to park in the Delta Saloon's (home of the "world famous suicide table") lot.


It's like Tombstone, set in the mountains. An old west town, where open-carry is a way of life (many of these costumed, and armed, men are also security guards at the local casinos so I don't know how many of these are props or real).


The hilly geography means wheelchairs are like rollercoasters on the undulating boardwalks. Tim has a few exciting moments where the wood meets the pavement.


It's chilly, so we retire to the Delta's casino with a cup of coffee an see the suicide table while feeding pennies to the slot machines.  After, we head down the street to enjoy some baked goods and the hundred mile view out behind the coffeehouse we're in.

A little window shopping later and we're heading down the hill.


Just for the heck of it, we drive through the Bunny Ranch brothel's parking lot to snap some photos and video (we're, by far, not the only ones).  I offer to drop Tim off and pick him up later but he declines...


While illegal in Vegas, brothels are legal in much of the rest of the state and several are out here east of the Capitol. Some innkeepers have told us of mild-mannered guests to their facilities who come up here just to tour these houses of ill repute.

Enough of that, after an afternoon break at the hotel, it's off to the "Biggest Little City In The World," Reno, to have some dinner.

While we could have a cheap spread at one of the local casinos, we opt instead for a delicious Basque meal in this Basque country.  The Santa Fe Hotel, an historic shepherd's boarding house that's surrounded on three sides by the massive Harrah's complex, will be the destination for tonight. We're a little early...the bar opens at 5, dinner is served at 6, and it's 4:30.


An hour is killed by going to a local pawn shop and then the Cal Neva casino at the end of the block where Tim wins $10 on the penny slots and $25 for me on the quarter machines.  Just enough to have a picon punch before dinner.

We strike up a nice, long conversation with the bartender at the Santa Fe (she's also a speech therapist so we have some common ground here and there) while waiting for the dining room to open.


The Santa Fe is a true, oldschool, Basque restaurant meaning that you don't get a table to yourself. We sit at a table made for at least eight wth a couple of gentlemen from the area joining us in a lively, talkative dinner of soup, salad, sausage, cheese, bread, wine, steaks, and fries.

It's an experience you won't get at a casino buffet and the price is not all that different.

(Note: It appears that the Santa Fe Hotel has been a victim of the pandemic and permanently closed althought their website is still live and their Facebook page still lists opening hours - Ed)

Appetites sated, we say goodbye to our dinner companions, our new friends in the bar, and the city of Reno itself as we retire to the Homewood Suites to rest up for our drive over the Donner Pass tomorrow.

Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 25, 2021

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Picon Punch


This week's cocktail is a traditional Basque drink.  While Basque restaurants are renowned for their great food...and equally awesome portions...they are also known for the bars that everybody hangs out in while waiting for meal service to begin.



Watch the Video!

Although most of them offer traditional table service these days, most Basque restaurants also set aside some meals to be served "family style."  That means everybody sits at one long table and passes the dishes of food, just like going to your Aunt Gloria's house on Thanksgiving.  It's a wonderfully social way of dining but you will be sitting with strangers.  

What to do?

That's right...a "Cocktail Hour!"  Most arrive a little early to enjoy a tipple in the bar and get to know the people a little bit before the meal is served and for many, that means the traditional but strong Picon Punch.


Picon Punch uses a liqueur called Amer Picon as a base.  This is an orange based libation that is very hard to find in our area so we substitute triple sec and bitters.  Here's the recipe:


INGREDIENTS:
2 1/2 oz. - triple sec
1 oz. - brandy
2-3 oz. soda water
1 oz. lemon juice
dash of bitters
dash of grenadine


In an old fashioned glass half filled with ice, pour in bitters, triple sec, grenadine, and lemon juice.  Fill with soda water.  Float brandy on top.


Cheers! 



-Darryl

Friday, April 23, 2021

Classic Trip: Seattle, Washington - Part 2


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) We'd saw some overpriced baseball, met some TV stars, watched big fish swimming underwater, and just missed having to be evacuated from a monorail.





The next morning, we decide to walk downtown. A bit of a mistake when we pass a rough section where drug deals are taking place out in the open and a couple of guys start to fight because one thinks the other shorted him out of a couple of rocks of crack. It’s just a short strip down the wrong street but next time we’ll get back on the bus instead.





At the ferry terminal, we buy our tickets and take a 30 minute trip across the sound to
Bainbridge Island. It’s about a half mile walk from the ferry terminal to the middle of town…there are also buses if you can’t walk that far…where we find a delightful little farmers market going on with some unusual fruit and vegetables. We buy some to make a picnic with later. Down at the waterfront, we find a boardwalk and dirt trail along the water that allows us to hike about half a mile up an inlet where we see some old ferries being mothballed, many blooming flowers, birds, and some beautiful houses.




Back in town, we buy some burgers to go with our fruit for a waterfront picnic.

After spending the morning in Bainbridge, it’s back on the boat. My wife wants some seafood, which curiously, we cannot find a whole lot of here. Some guides suggest Ivar’s, near the ferry terminal, so we head to an outdoor counter there where you can buy food to eat in a nearby dining area.


Ordering here is unique…basically there is no line, no system. Everybody crowds in and when the order taker is ready, everybody just kind of shouts their orders in at the same time. I’m told this is just the traditional way to do it here. We do eventually get our food but it is very chaotic and confusing…not really my cup of tea. The food is good, but it is heavy on the “deep fried” variety of seafood.


Earlier in the week, we walked through the Seattle Center where the Space Needle is located. We had learned that it would be $16 just to take a ride up in the elevator. That’s quite steep. I also learned there are a couple of alternatives.




The circa 1914 Smith tower (of Smith/Corona typewriter fame) near Pioneer Square is one of them. Just a bit shorter than the Space Needle (522 feet vs. 605 feet), the observation deck is actually 2 feet higher than the Space Needle, which has a deck at 520 feet. It’s only $7.50 to go up here to the famous Chinese room and to step out into the fresh air.


It’s very beautiful up there, and it’s not just the view. The owners have amassed a collection
of Chinese antiques and furnishings to enhance the surroundings. A chair up there is supposed to grant magical powers to single women that sit in it…they are to find their groom after doing so.


It is at this point where I’d usually say we went back, had another nice night in the hotel, and went back home but there is one more adventure that would await us. I called the same taxi company that brought us from the airport and reserved an accessible cab for noon the next day to take us back.


At noon, waiting in the rain in front of the hotel…nothing. At 12:20, I called the cab company and asked where the cab was. The man on the phone said, quote, “just because you reserved a cab doesn’t mean one will show up.” When I asked for an ETA, he hung up the phone somewhere between the letters T and A.



Where I come from a reservation means they will set aside the item to be reserved. Also, when a paying customer calls and…politely I might add…asks where the item to be reserved is and when it will be there, you don’t hang up on them.



We had a problem; the airport is 15 miles away on the other side of town. We had no idea when, or even if, our ride would get there. We had one slim chance to get out of town in time to make our 2:40 flight.


Grabbing our bags, we hoofed it to the busiest bus corner about two blocks away. When a bus pulled up, we ask the driver the quickest route to get to the airport. She said, “hop on.”

At Pioneer Square, she dropped us off at the Downtown Transit Tunnel and told us to catch a bus down there (the transit tunnel is like a subway, only used by buses instead). We find the bus, get on, and make it to the airport about an hour before departure. Indeed, Seattle transit workers are the nicest and most accommodating we’ve ever encountered…they really saved the day, and our vacation, by their actions.


As I’m waiting in the departure lounge, my cell phone rings. It’s the taxi driver. He’s in front of the hotel, wondering where the hell I am. I said to him “do you know what your dispatcher did to me when I called?” He said no. I pressed the disconnect button.


Darryl
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC IN A WHEELCHAIR: Riu Palace Punta Cana and Area Access Features


(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed)  Here's how we found access in the Dominican Republic in 2011...

ON ARRIVAL: Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ) does not have jetways. All passengers board and deplane via stairs. Four men carried Tim down the stairs (and back up when we left) in the plane aisle chair.  An airport chair awaited us at the bottom.

Wheelchair users are escorted though the entire arrival process, including through immigration and customs all the way through to your ground transportation. Our gate checked chair was provided to us at baggage claim.

The airport, other than the boarding stairs, is very accessible and nicely ramped throughout. The restrooms have handicapped stalls and there is also a family restroom available.


GROUND TRANSPORTATION: Since it was our first time, we decided to use a manual chair instead of the power chair.

We used Dominican Airport Transfers, where we were able to book a private van for the three of us, round trip, for less than $100.  They were on time (actually a little early), safe, courteous, and comfortable.  Since we've been to the DR, they have aquired a lift equipped van that you can book with advance notice.


AT THE HOTEL:We picked the Riu Palace Punta Cana because it was the only hotel we could find that would block an accessible room for us. Several resorts in the area purport to have accessible rooms and facilities, but we could not find any other that would guarantee it.

Watch the Video!

See the video above for a tour of the accessible features of the hotel. There are step-free rooms with roll-in showers which are very nice junior suites but they are not located in the prime area of the hotel. They are very close to the ramp which leads to the restaurants, pools, and beach.  Other step-free rooms with bathtubs are available closer to the beach.

There are six lifts...two on each side of the lobby and one in each wing closer to the pool and beach...four ramps, located at the bottom level of each lift, that will provide access to the plaza, restaurants, shops, pool, and beach.

The grounds are very nicely ramped throughout. A paved path runs along the beach starting at the Colonial Street shopping area adjacent to the pool. About 200 yards south on the path, it jogs pretty close to the water where you can transfer to lounge chairs on the sand.

-Darryl
Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 19, 2021

Classic Trip: Seattle, Washington - Part 1



(Please read our Covid 19 Statement first - Ed) The scene on TV is scary. About half a dozen firetrucks…lights flashing, ladders extended…were under the track of the monorail. Frightened passengers were climbing down waiting for the safety of solid ground under them.




That could’ve been us...


The flight to Seattle was nice. Southwest Airlines has vaulted its way to the top of domestic carriers with a simple strategy; keep it simple and keep it consistent. As “passengers with special needs”, we were able to board first and snag the bulkhead seats. One knock on Southwest is that there are no reserved seats for most passengers. It’d be nice to know ahead of time where you’ll sit but this is one time being disabled comes in handy.


The flight left from Ontario, California right on time at 9:50am. The baggage handlers deftly handled Tim’s 350-pound power chair, using a special lift right outside the jetway door. A quick stop in San Jose, and we’re arriving at SEA-TAC airport at 12:30pm.


I had called a taxi service ahead of time to reserve an accessible cab but they said just to call when we arrived. I did and we had a ride within 30 minutes. Don’t cheer too much, though, as you’ll see later.


It was half an hour and $42 dollars later that we arrived at our hotel, the Homewood Suites in the Queen Anne District, just three blocks from the space needle and across the street from the late Post-Intelligencer newspaper building with its beautiful globe on top.


I had called about two weeks earlier to make reservations and talked to an Ed at the reservations office. All the accessible rooms were taken but he assured me he’d have a bath chair put in the room if we stayed there. At $215 dollars a night, this was the cheapest decent hotel I could find so with a little trepidation, I made the reservation.


At check in, who else would be manning the counter but Ed who not only remembered our phone conversation but also told me to check out the room and let him know if the chair he put in was OK. It was and provided a nice level of access in the bathroom…all we needed, really.


The room itself was a spacious two-room suite with a separate bedroom and a queen sized sofa bed. It also had a small kitchen, walk-through closet, robes, ironing board, and just a slight view of Puget Sound out the window.


There is an evening manager’s reception…with beer, wine, and appetizers…along with a hot buffet breakfast served each morning. One notable thing is that a nice, local microbrew is poured along with the usual bud and bud light. The bar is manned by Ed who greets us and tells us what appetizers he’s serving. While Ed is pouring the beer I comment to him that he sure seems to be everywhere. He tells me that the managers take turns running the reception by picking what appetizers will be served and manning the bar. It’s a very hands-on approach and I don’t know when I’ve had better service at a major chain hotel.



That evening, at Ed’s suggestion, we walk a little over a block to Buckley’s. This is a local pub that serves great microbrews for $3 during happy hour and served one heck of a macaroni and cheese dish for $13. Bubbling with cheese and infused with bacon, it’s the best dish we’ll have this week.


We continue on to the Seattle Center…the former World’s Fair site…and try to ride the monorail into town. I say “try to,” because it is not working at the moment. The workers have no idea when it will be running.


After a delicious breakfast in the hotel’s very nice dining room…with its floor to ceiling windows giving a view out to the sound…we head downtown. There are two major bus stops near the hotel with frequent bus service. Unfortunately, we are just outside of the downtown free fare zone, so we have to pay but it’s not much and 20 minutes later, we’re downtown.


Our first stop is the Mariners Team Store to buy tickets for a game. The main reason we’re in Seattle at all is that we’re trying to add another stadium to our list. Tim’s goal is to see every major league stadium. We get tickets at first base at the top of the field level for $60 each. This is a bit steep when the same tickets at our stadium…Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California…are $24. This is also for a team that will go on to finish with the less-than-stellar record of 61 wins and 101 losses to finish in last place 39 games behind the division champion Angels.



It’s not a long walk from there to the Pike Place Market, home to the world’s first Starbucks and the flying fish guys. It’s a very touristy place and also has a lot of traffic on the street out front but there is some great produce here. We buy some fruit to take back to the hotel, watch the guys throw some fish around, visit a few shops, and head back to the hotel to rest up for the game.


A couple of blocks away, we’re able to catch a bus that will take us all the way to Safeco Field, home of the Mariners. We get there early and the Pyramid brewery and bar are right across the street having happy hour but Letty and Tim aren’t interested. We get in and, as we do with any new stadium, take a lap around to see what’s there.


We find our seats and are shocked to find they are completely blocked by a TV camera platform. I can’t believe they charged us $180 dollars to sit here! I find an usher and complain. He says I have to wait for a manager who, when he shows up, allows us to move.

Mind you, this game is far from a sell-out. Less than half of the seats will be filled tonight…this is just unforgivable that the team would sell us such lousy seats at these prices when many better locations were available.


At our new seats…about fifty feet away from our original location…we settle in for the game. I get us some of the local specialty snack…Ichi Rolls from the Sushi stand…and watch at Ichiro, Arian Beltre, and company go down in flames again.



One very nice feature to the stadium is that in rainy Seattle (yes, it rained nearly every day, even in August) there is a roof over the park to keep it out. It is still an outdoor stadium; it’s just that the retractable roof rolls over like a giant umbrella when it starts to rain. That’s what makes it funny when I see during the next season that they had a rainout in Seattle. Really?
They couldn’t put the roof on?


After the game, we go outside to catch a bus going back. We find out that one bus comes by around every twenty minutes. One…for the several thousand fans that are exiting.

Luckily, the bus driver sees us and holds everybody else back so that Tim and his chair can board first. We also find out that we have to transfer to another bus at Pioneer Square to continue on to the hotel.


Now I have to note that there is a commuter rail station right next to the stadium but it doesn’t occur to anyone here…supposedly the greenest city in America…that it would alleviate so much traffic to the game to run trains? Only on certain weekend games to they run Sounder trains…not during the week. Only that lonely, solitary bus coming by every twenty minutes.


(Note: The new Link light rail, which opened up a year later, now serves the stadium)


I have to say at this point, however, that the bus drivers in Seattle are the best and nicest transit drivers we’ve ever come across. They always strapped down the chair, were friendly, and never hesitated to give us information about the town while we were there. They would also turn out to save our bacon in a major way later.



The next day, we walk over to the Seattle Center. The monorail is still broken. Inside one of the halls, we have a very good hot dog and go outside to see the fountains. They have this cool fountain set in a large bowl that the kids can go play in. It even has a wheelchair ramp that spirals down the side. After much coaxing, Tim finally goes down and has the time of his life dodging the spray.



I notice a monorail moving along the beam. We hurry to the station, buy tickets, and we’re off on the cheesiest transit you’re likely to come across. The driver dresses like he’s on Star Trek and sings Elvis songs during the one-mile journey. The train is old and, of course, looks like what people in 1962 thought trains would look like in the future.


At the other end in downtown, we explore the area, have some coffee, visit the Nordstrom’s flagship store before hopping back on board to the Seattle Center.


Next, we get some sandwiches from a nearby deli and catch a bus to Ballard. Another bus takes us the last mile to the Ballard Locks, a Corps of Engineers project that allows vessels in from the salt-water sound to the fresh water Lake Union and on to Lake Washington by lifting them in the twin locks.



It’s an interesting process to watch…you can go right to the edge, talk to the people on the boats as they wait to be raised or lowered. Afterward, you can go across the locks to the salmon ladders on the other side.



A ramp lets wheelchairs into the underground chamber where you can watch the massive fish swim upstream. Going out to sea, large pipes act as waterslides giving the fish the ride of their lives as they shoot into the ocean.


Back on the Ballard side of things is a nice park and pretty garden where we have a picnic of our sandwiches on top of a green hill looking down on the locks.



Instead of the bus, we decided to walk back to Ballard going by way of a few shops along the way to buy some smoked salmon to take home. We also see a couple of genuine TV stars…the Wizard and the Northwestern. These two boats are featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch and are based here in Ballard, as are a few other boats from the series. Didn’t see any of the Hansen brothers though.


Back on the bus, we get stuck in a massive traffic jam but finally make it back to the hotel. Some more light rail or even a few ferries would make this city much more bearable.



At the hotel that night, I’m watching the news where a scene of multiple fire trucks have their lights on and ladders extended. It seems that the monorail broke down again…just a few hours after our ride…and the passengers were being evacuated down those ladders. I don’t really want to know how they would have had to evacuate Tim.


Stay tuned for part 2...
 
Darryl
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