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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Cocktail Hour: San Fransicso Pub Crawl


Coming off of a 5 month travel hiatus, we'll celebrate with a pub crawl through one of the United States' most interesting cities. Since it's much easier to navigate this city without a car, that makes our limitations a bit less.

Accessibility, however, puts some of those limits back on as we find no way in to our first planned stop, the Buena Vista which is the originator of the Irish Coffee. 


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It's a long trip via BART and MUNI trains from our hotel in Pleasanton, so we're thirsty. Luckily, I remember a bar from another trip far in the past nearby in Ghirardelli Square.  

At McCormick and Kuleto's (part of the McCormick and Schmick's chain), we are able to indulge in our Irish Coffee. It's much better than I remember the Buena Vista's version to be, too.



Another benefit of drinking at McCormick and Kuleto's is the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling views of the San Francisco Bay. From the Golden Gate Bridge on the left to Alcatraz on the right, the scenery is stunning.



Fifteen minutes of walking will get you to our next stop on the crawl, my favorite neighborhood bar in the city. La Rocca's Corner sits in a flatiron shaped building on the corner of Columbus and Taylor.  

It's a bit a of dive but a friendly one. I've never been here without getting into some great conversations with the locals.



Bartender Sil, who's been here for over 30 years, will be drinking with you and is happy to tell you the history of the place.

No longer owned by the La Rocca Family, who's only survivor is near 90 and suffers from dementia, the new owners are still interested in not changing a thing about this drinkers paradise.



We have a couple of shots chased by a hefeweizen for Letty and an ale for me.  The drinks are great, the company at the bar even better.

Our last stop is probably the most disappointing of the three. Gott's Roadside is a hamburger stand in Napa Valley. They's expanded to include a new location here in the city at the old Ferry Building at the end of Market Street.



The beers are good, as are the burgers, but are way overpriced at this crowded and very noisy location. Although we enjoyed the Napa location, this one is more of a mall food court atmosphere and not nearly as nice.



As a bonus, we tasted some beers at the O.co Colosseum the next day which, although a decrepit and outdated facility, has an outstanding array of beers on tap.  The better so you don't notice what a crap hole the stadium is.

Cheers!

Darryl 

Friday, April 28, 2017

CLASSIC TRIP - San Francisco, California 1998, Part 1


We're going to travel through time here, starting in 1998 and bringing you right up to 2010 with a series of reports from the San Francisco area.  Today, we go into the Wayback Machine for our first trip on a plane with Tim's power chair.  Remember the time frame when you see prices and business names...both might have disappeared since then.  The World Wide Web was in its infancy, digital cameras had yet to be invented (so the pictures below were scanned), and Tim was 10 years old.  We're off to the City by The Bay...


Give me a cheap fare to San Francisco...and I'm there!

Surfing on the 'net one day before Christmas, I noticed some cheap fares advertised on the Southwest Airlines I page. Your webmasters, being the intrepid travelers that we are, couldn't pass this opportunity by.

Burbank airport, old and small, was as good as remembered with no crowding and close in gates. They did move the long term parking out of the airport though...the old lot was given to the valet service. Now you must park a few blocks away. Thumbs up to the airport with another thumbs down to the parking.

Southwest gave us a superb flight that was right on time with great service. The seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and helpful. We were even treated to a song before takeoff by one of the flight attendants (good singer too!). Southwest gets a big thumbs up!

Oakland Airport bills itself as the shortcut to San Francisco and many travel writers have said that you will arrive quicker in San Francisco if you fly to Oakland instead of SFO. I have to agree, it is faster during busy times (beginning and end of the week) but on regular weekdays it'd probably be just as fast at SFO. The fares to Oakland to tend to be lower though.

Oakland airport is very easy to navigate around and is much smaller than SFO. Access to public transportation is very easy. Oakland airport gets a thumbs up.

Transportation to our motel was via Bayporter Express shuttle. This is your typical airport shuttle service, a la Supershuttle, and they have one wheelchair accessible van in their fleet. There is also public transportation available via AirBART bus to the local BART station, BART to downtown SF, and then MUNI bus transportation to our motel.

Not wanting to deal with a lot of transfers and also with the unknown (this was our first time flying here via the Oakland airport and with the electric wheelchair), we opted for Bayporter, even though it was a $18 premium over public transit, because we wanted to minimize the amount of surprises that would await us.

Although the wheelchair ramp was not working at first, the driver fixed it promptly and we were on our way. The ride was smooth, uneventful, and fast with only about a 15 minute wait for the van when we arrived. We give Bayporter a thumbs up.

After stowing our bags at our motel, lunch was the first order of the day. We hopped on MUNI's #19 line (Polk Street) and headed south.

One of our main objectives on vacation is to find good food.  Letty is a big fan of the cookbooks put out by the California Culinary Academy which just so happens to be located in Baghdad by the Bay! What's even better for us budget-conscious travelers is that the academy runs a gourmet restaurant (staffed by students and instructors) where a truly first class meal can be had at coffee shop prices...except on Fridays (like the day we were there).

On Fridays the CCA features the Grand Buffet. Now there are buffets and then there is the Grand Buffet. Here, the CCA puts out a spread of some of its more famous signature dishes. Roasted leg of lamb, grilled halibut, polenta with bleu cheese, chicken with cranberry bean sauce, and eggplant Parmesan are just some of the hot entrees to choose from.

To start off, you have a freshly tossed salad, fresh sushi, a large selection of hard meats and cheese and more. To end your meal there is a desert bar with such pastries as chocolate decadence, pound cake, napoleons, and cheesecake.

All this takes place in an old refurbished theater with 80 foot ceilings surrounded by the kitchens of the CCA (all have big viewing windows so you can see America's future culinary superstars at work). All in all a marvelous meal.

Now the downside to the CCA. While every other day you can get a good meal here for less than $10, on Friday's the buffet will set you back $20 per person plus drinks. While worth it for the meal you get, $70 for lunch (for three people) is a budget buster on a trip. Even with the price, though, CCA gets a thumbs up for some really great food in a unique atmosphere.

After lunch we hopped back on the 19 bus, this time going north, to Ghiradelli Square. From there it's a short walk to Fisherman's Wharf and pier 41. We'd been to Fisherman's Wharf and it's too touristy for us but you must come here to get on the boat to Alcatraz Island.

Tim has never been to Alcatraz and had his curiosity piqued after watching the movie "The Rock" so it seemed like a good time to take him. Our plan was to head up here after lunch and, if tickets were available, catch to boat over and spend the afternoon there. Unfortunately, the last boat was sold out so we bought tickets for the next day and continued on. As a side note here, we just missed the last boat on February 28 and prices were increased on March 1 so we got to pay extra too!

THE MARITIME MUSEUM

While we were in the area with nothing to do, we went to the Maritime museum which is just on the other side of Fisherman's Wharf from pier 41 (about a 3 block walk). This worthwhile stop has several historic ships on display including a couple of old schooners, tug boats and the Eureka, an old wooden railroad and car ferry.

The Eureka was the highlight of the day for Tim. We are all were fans of the Don Johnson show, Nash Bridges, which in large part is was filmed on this ferry. The set of Nash Bridges was intact on the ferry when we visited. The security guard was in his last day of employment in the production company and was in a particularly generous mood.

The guard allowed Tim to go onto the set and look around. He also provided us with many pages of script changes that were faxed to Don Johnson on the set and also gave us some official Nash Bridges yellow police tape. Check out this picture (above) of Tim taken on the set.

The ship itself is pretty remarkable with its 4 story boiler and side paddle wheels. It's amazing to think that this is how people crossed the bay before there were any bridges here.

Another very interesting vessel here is the San Francisco Ark, an old Sausalito houseboat restored for the museum. People used these houseboats (and still do) as floating weekend getaways from the city. The Maritime museum gets a thumbs up as well.

After the museum we walked back to Aquatic Park to watch the cable car turntable in action. We tried to go to the Buena Vista for an Irish coffee, but it was just too crowded to get in. After a stroll through the shops at Ghiradelli Square, we wandered back to the motel where we had still yet to see our room (we had just dropped off the bags earlier).

Lodging was at the Travelodge by the Bay and our room with 2 queen sized beds was nicely adequate and just roomy enough. We had gotten the room through Central Reservations (800-677-1500) for an unbelievable price of $59 plus tax. That's dirt cheap in SF! I was glad we did because the front desk was quoting arriving guests a price of $95 for singles.

The motel was centrally located on Lombard Street, just off the corner of Van Ness, in the Marina District. It can be noisy, thankfully we had quiet neighbors. You can hear everybody else's TV around you. There was also a very bright light just outside our door that streamed into our room. We did get a good night sleep and rate this motel well. We've had much worse here before. TL by the Bay gets a thumbs up this time, but we would like to have had a switch for the %#!$ light!

For dinner we headed down Chestnut Street (one block north of Lombard). The business district is about a 1/2 mile walk from our motel.

Tim let us know in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't eat any Chinese food on this trip except for rice (as he’s grown up, so has his tastes. Tim is no longer adverse to Chinese or just about any other ethnic food – Ed). To keep the peace, while we had hoped to get some of the city's great Chinese food this trip, we went looking for something else. We ended up at one of Village Pizzeria's branches on Steiner at Chestnut. Village Pizza is our favorite pizza in San Francisco so we knew we'd like that.

Village Pizza didn't disappoint. Letty had a very good baked rigatoni dish while Tim and I had a delicious pepperoni pizza. One thing they do here that is neat is they give the kids some raw pizza dough to play with to pass time until the food arrives like play-dough. Tim had a lot of fun trying to mold his into as many shapes as he could.

We were able to make small talk with some other diners and the staff here who were all very friendly. About halfway through dinner, the street outside became full of bicycles. Not just a few, but thousands!

For a good 20 minutes, masses of bike riders filled the street, shouting and laughing as they rode by, followed by a SFPD escort. We found out that this is Critical Mass, a demonstration conducted by bay area riders on the last Friday of each month to promote bike riding as an alternative means of commuting.

They start at the ferry building at the end of Market Street and ride to the Golden Gate Bridge filling the streets as they go. Later on the news we learned that many drivers hate this (although the bikes have as much right to use the road as the cars - but they should also obey the laws and not get in the way unecessarily) and that's why the SFPD provides escort for safety. We didn't see any hateful drivers in our area though.

With a liter of Cabernet to wash down our dinner, we had a great time here and decided to call it a night. Village Pizza gets a big thumbs up.

SATURDAY

Day Two of our trip started with breakfast. Cafe Caravan, one block north of our motel at Chestnut and Van Ness, provided the start for our day. Breakfast was good in this very small hole in the wall. I had sausage and eggs, Letty had an omelet, and Tim had some pancakes. The coffee was delicious, and everything on our plates was delicious. Cafe Caravan gets a thumbs up.

CABLE CAR BARN

We had a morning to kill before our boat to Alcatraz left (at 12:45pm) so we decided to spend it by going over to the Cable Car Barn on Washington Street. This is one area of the city that is not real well served by accessible transportation...everyone else can get there via cable car...so we ended up walking here, about 1 1/2 miles. It didn't look bad on the map but that doesn't show all the hills there.

After getting a good dose of exercise, we made it to the barn. This is where the machinery that runs the entire cable car system is located. You can watch the cables go through their various pulleys and wheels on the way to their journey underneath the streets. The cable cars operated by clamping onto these cables and being pulled along their routes.

The displays here are interesting as are some of the old historic cars located here. Any museum that can hold a kid's interest, as this one does, gets a thumbs up from us. A big thumbs down though to Muni for not providing adequate transportation to its own museum. A good gift shop sells some great souvenirs here.

After awhile here, it was time to start heading over to pier 41 to catch our boat to Alcatraz. We walked over to Columbus and Jackson (about 6 blocks from the Cable Car Barn) to catch Muni's #15 bus to Fisherman's Wharf. In between, we waded through the very crowded bustle of Chinatown where some sort of protest was going on. We never found out what it was about (all the signs and pamphlets were in Chinese).

We made it to Fisherman's Wharf at 11:30am, which gave us enough time to buy a lunch to take with us. Tim was having fast-food withdrawal pains so he had an early lunch of a cheeseburger and fries at the Burger King located in the mall at 350 Bay Street. In that mall there was also a Safeway with a deli where Letty and I picked up a couple of hoagies to go.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we end up on "The Rock"...

-Darryl
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS: Finding Deals and Saving Money on Your Trip


Our last two Travel Tips talked about money…specifically managing your money while traveling and getting enough money to take a trip. This last part is about making the most of your money. Particularly, finding deals and taking advantage of them.

When looking for a good deal it pays to be flexible. If you can travel over a range of dates instead of particular days, you can find deals. If you can stay somewhere away from the heart of the action, you can find deals.



Start with airfare. Check the big sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz to get a rough idea of what your airfare will be for your trip. Next, check the airline sites themselves as they often strive to have the lowest fares for those who use their sites. Now, unless you need to travel immediately, sit back and wait (you can also check Kayak, which has a fare predictor that can guide you to when the fares should be lowest to buy).

We find that the lowest fares are not usually offered until about 2 to 3 months before you want to go. If you are checking 6 months in advance (as you should to build your budget), the fares you’ll find are not going to be the lowest. Keep checking every couple of weeks to see it they change. The lowest fares usually need to be bought 21 days before travel, so you can keep doing this until 3 – 4 weeks before you need to go.

Also, many sites have calendars that show you how much the fare can change based on the day you travel. You might see that traveling on a Wednesday might be $250 but if you left on Monday, you could go for $99. There is usually a box asking if your dates are flexible that you can check to see this calendar.





Another way to find cheap fares is to plan your route around bargain airlines like Southwest, Virgin America, or Jet Blue.  You can generally find good fares for these airlines on their websites but you can also use them for leverage on other airlines. For instance, if Southwest is offering a 99 dollar fare from Los Angeles to Chicago, you will find other airlines like American or United matching that fare.

Hotels have myriad ways to save, let’s start with the obvious…call and ask. Call the hotel and ask for their rate. Then  just ask, “can you give me a lower rate?” You’d be surprised how often they do. Don’t feel bad, the people at the front desk are used to it and a lot of the time they quote you a high rack rate first and have a lower rate in reserve for those who ask for it.

Next, it pays to belong. Have a AAA card? That will get you a discount at most hotels. Work for the government? Most hotels have special rates for government workers and many do not care if you’re actually traveling for work or not. Costco card? American Express? Walmart customer? Not as prevalent, but still, some places will also give you a discount for that too.



How about joining a hotel’s reward program? While I don’t see them offering too many discounts just for belonging (or offering a minimal discount if they do), we do see perks just for being members. Marriott is good for getting a late checkout, upgraded rooms, and more. Best Western and Marriott let you earn free nights very fast. Hilton lets you get points not only at its hotels, but at restaurants all across the country as well.

Since it’s free to join, it certainly doesn’t hurt to sign up and you will get some good perks and freebies over time. Of course, the more you use, the more you get.

Think about a vacation rental. This works especially well if you have a large group. Check sites such as homeaway.com for rentals at your destination. Recently, we had a group of five of us and got a three bedroom, 2.5 bath flat with living room, kitchen, dining room, two terraces, satellite TV, a/c, free internet access, and two pools in Cannes for $1,000 for a week. Divide by 5 and you see that each of us only had to pay $200 for a week in luxury in the South of France.

Consider staying in a different neighborhood. In Los Angeles, for example, you can get rooms in some of the suburban areas such as Pasadena,  Arcadia, or even by the ocean in Long Beach - all perfectly nice areas - for as little as half as much as you'd pay for a premium location like Beverly Hills or Santa Monica.

For both air and hotel, sign up for websites that scour the net for deals. One of the best is Travelzoo.com. You can search the site for deals but the real sweet service is to sign up for their weekly e-mail of the Top 20 Deals. Another couple of sites we like to use for this is cheapoair.com and Airfare Watchdog.


Examples of deals we’ve seen…and been able to take advantage of…in the last year included a $99 mansion room with meals in the Silicon Valley, an $89 room at a resort in Napa Valley, $12 per night all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic, $5 baseball game tickets, and much more.

Other sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Mobissimo also let you sign up to be notified of deals.  It also helps to have a relationship with a local travel agent that can let you know when they find unadvertised offers.

If you’re taking a road trip, the big expense is fuel. Log onto a gas price comparison site like gasbuddy.com to map out the cheapest gas stations on your route. Become a Costco member to be able to buy their cheap gas and use Costco.com to map out their locations on your route. Get their Citi Visa card to receive a 4% rebate on your gas purchases.



Make sure your car is in tune and running well to maximize your mileage. Plan a route that will allow for minimum stops and traffic.

Another way to save money is to get lodging that includes a kitchen. While we love to go out to eat at local restaurants when we travel…it’s one of the biggest highlights for us…we still like a kitchen where we’ll go to a local farmer’s market and cook some of the best and cheapest breakfasts you’ll find on the road.  We’ll save the money for a nice dinner later.



Speaking of eating, street food is enjoying a renaissance these days and you can get some fantastic food at rock bottom prices if you’re willing to give the street stands, food trucks, and hole-in-the-wall dives a chance. Check with the locals to find the best of the street.

If you have some other suggestions that we’ve missed, please feel free to post it in a comment below.

-Darryl
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 24, 2017

MIDWEST BASEBALL TRIP 2010 HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS

Some of the best things we saw, along with the disappointments along the way...



BASEBALL - Since the theme of this trip was baseball, let's start with the stadiums.  All the stadiums were top notch, but here's how we rate them starting with the best.


KAUFMAN STADIUM, Kansas City, Missouri - Beautiful stadium with awesome fountains in the outfield for their signature feature.  Very little to no overhang from the upper decks means you can see everything.  Great employees and fans and some of the best pricing in baseball.  We got seats just a few rows back from home plate (in the Dugout Boxes) for only $52 including taxes.  The team is not doing well but did win the night we were there, the day after they fired their manager.  The only other knock I'd give it is that it's out in the suburbs and you need to drive there.  I wish it were downtown, but that's ok.  Great wheelchair accessible seating at all levels.  They just renovated the stadium last year and it seems brand new...I can't believe this stadium is around 40 years old!  To my home team, the Angels...this is how you renovate an old stadium and this is how you include wheelchairs in your seating plans, not the Mickey Mouse way you guys did (pun intended).



BUSCH STADIUM, St. Louis, Missouri - Another beautiful stadium.  Big, expansive.  Many different seating levels to choose from.  Many "private" clubs to sit in...we sat in the Infield Redbird Club along third base and had a food court with two full bars and gift shop that was only available to ticket holder of this section.  That meant short lines, a very comfortable indoor area to go to if the weather got bad, and great views of the field from the second club deck where we sat.  Again, accessible seating available at all levels.  Great views of the arch and an easy-to-walk-to downtown location two blocks from our hotel.  The most expensive of all of our tickets at $57 each...still a bargain.



GREAT AMERICAN BALLPARK, Cincinnati, Ohio - Situated downtown on the Ohio River, not quite as easy to walk to as St. Louis but still walkable.  Great pre-game party atmosphere across the river in Newport, Kentucky.  A small looking stadium with great seating at all levels.  Our seats were halfway to third first base from home at the top of the field level deck at $53 each.  Biggest knock was mediocre to substandard food and very little variety of it.


BALL PARK FOOD - Here, St. Louis shines with barbecue, about 10 different sausages to choose from (including bacon-wrapped hot dogs like you'd find here in LA), Asian stir-fry made as you watch, pulled pork, barbecue, dessert bar, and on and on.  Prices are the highest for food and drinks we saw on the trip and the only beer I saw on tap was Bud, Bud Light, Bud Select, which you might expect from a team owned by Anheiser Busch (or InBev now).  Craft brews were expensive and available in the bottle only.


Kaufman in Kansas City comes in second with a huge selection of different sausages and the best popcorn in the bigs from the Topsy's stands.  Their funnel cake however kinda sucks.  Other selections include barbecue (how can you not in KC?), pan-fried chicken, and cheesesteak sandwiches.  Many craft brews on tap at reasonable prices.


In Cincinnati you basically have hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza.  Pre-made grocery store sushi is available but I wouldn't touch it.  Good beer selection at good prices (great happy hour, pre-game prices across the river) and for dessert, only ice cream and candy bars.  Not the best food.



HOTELS - Drury Plaza at the Arch in St. Louis is an outstanding hotel.  A real hotel, with big marble encrusted lobby and a Lewis and Clark Diorama fountain like you'd find in the theme park.  Large and very comfortable two-room accessible suite with a roll-in shower and recliner in the living room.  GREAT service and lot's of extras included such as hot breakfast, lite dinner and three cocktails a day per person, 60 minutes free long distance each night, 15 minutes free international long distance to Mexico or Canada each night, free wifi or ethernet high speed Internet access, and free soda, coffee, and popcorn from 10 am to 10 pm each day.  There's also two reasonably priced upscale restaurants in the hotel if you get tired of the free food, swimming pool, hot tubs (indoors with a view of the river), fitness room, and guest laundry.  Wow! What a hotel at only $150 per night.


At the other end of things, the Residence Inn in Kansas City was a big disappointment.  The roll-in shower was about an inch above the bathroom floor so each time we took a shower, the bathroom flooded.  There were tears in the carpet that housekeeping tried to hide by moving the sofa (we had to move it back to make room to fold out the bed).  Air conditioner that didn't work (but they fixed it).  Pool closed and the coup de grace was the huge, open air rock concert that took place 200 yards from the hotel...make that VERY LOUD, death metal concert which also filled the hotel with its drunk and chemically alterred fans.  We checked out and went to the Drury Plaza in nearby Overland Park which was not as spectacular as the one in St. Louis but still very good and enough to be the second best hotel of the trip.


We also stayed at a very average and just adequate Comfort Suites while in Cincinnati.


Honus Wagner's Jersey and Bat in Louisville

BIGGEST SURPRISES - The Louisville Slugger factory tour and museum.  Awesome, just awesome.  If you have any interest in baseball whatsoever, you need to come here.  It's like visiting the hall of fame...they even let you hold the real bats of legendary players such as 
Mickey Mantle and David Ortiz.











The Truman Library in Independence, Missouri and the Brown vs. Board of Education historic site in Topeka, Kansas are both moving and important places to visit.









BEST FOOD - Gates Barbecue in Kansas City and the Hanover Pancake House in Topeka, Kansas were both extremely delicious.  Five Guys had great hamburgers as well.



MOST INACCESSIBLE NATIONAL PARK (that should be easily accessible) - Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park (the Gateway Arch) in St. Louis.  Chairs cannot go up the elevator (or trolley) to the top.  Debatable as to whether one of the world's top architects should have envisioned that in the 60's, so that gets a bit of a pass BUT able bodied people can walk down a short staircase to the riverfront.  Wheelchairs must make at least a 1/2 mile, unmarked detour to get to the bottom of the stair when a ramp could EASILY be installed on the adjacent hillside.



WORST AIRPORT - Kansas City International (MCI).  I thought LAX was a bad airport...it is...but this one takes the cake.  Usually, you get to an airport and go through the hassle of checking in and dealing with the ridiculous TSA security checkpoints but then you get to relax (if you have time) and have a bite to eat, get something to read, and go to the bathroom before you leave.  Not here.  Once you're through security, you find 3 or 4 small snack stands, no news stand, and a total of 8 toilets (4 for each sex) for hundreds of travelers.  Not bathrooms...toilets.  All the other stuff is outside of security so once you're in, you'll either have to go back outside or just do without.  Most people do the latter.  Awful airport (the picture above is outside the secure zone).

Of the three cities, the most fun was Cincinnati...or more accurately Newport, Kentucky across the river...with it's many restaurants, bars, and attractions including a pretty good version of a German beer garden.  I'd also like to go back and explore Kentucky more which seems like a very interesting state.

Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darry Musick

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Cocktail Hour - Amarita

This is a drink of my own invention.  Sometimes, I just like to play around with what's in by bar and see what comes out.  Sort of like a Dr. Frankenstein of alcohol.  Here's one that came out good.  The others?  Just don't look in the dungeon.


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Amarita Recipe (two drinks)
3 oz - tequila
2 oz - amaretto
1/2 oz - triple sec
1/2 oz - lime juice

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Before mixing, put two cocktail (martini) glasses in the freezer.  Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker half full of ice and shake.  Remove the glasses from the freezer, they should frost up immediately.  Strain into the glasses.

Beware...this is a strong drink!

Darryl

Friday, April 21, 2017

MIDWEST BASEBALL TOUR - LEG 2: Kansas City, Part 3


If you haven’t read Tim’s reports on preparing for this trip (this is his first time planning a trip), be sure to check out what it took to plan and prepare for this trip in a wheelchair.

In Part 1 of our time in Kansas City, we saw where President Truman lived, had a meal at the City Market, and got frustrated with the hotel and our fellow guests at the Residence Inn.  Part 2 was the Royals game at Kauffman Stadium and moving out of our hotel when it turned in Delta House.

All the baseball is now over, time to spend our last day of the trip...

Oh, what a peaceful night of blissful sleep we had at the Drury Inn.


Watch the Video!

What a difference from the last night at the Residence Inn near downtown Kansas City.

It’s getting down to the wire. We’ve seen all the baseball we’ve come to see. Been to several states and three major American cities. Our last full day on the tour and we’re ready to add one more destination to our list. Letty and Tim have never been to all but two of the states on this trip. Same for me, except I’d already been to Kansas. We slept over the state line from Kansas City but it still feels like we’re in Missouri so today, we’re going to experience The Wheat State.


It’s just an hour or so to the capitol of Topeka. After a ride on highway 10, a freeway that runs most of the way there from our hotel, we shift over to the 70 which is a toll road here. It costs all of 75 cents for that last leg into the capitol



Our first destination is Monroe Elementary School, a few blocks southeast of the capitol building. In 1954, Oliver Brown sued the board of education to allow his daughter to attend a white school. Topeka schools were segregated then. Even though Monroe by all accounts was a model school, the argument that segregation alone was enough to nullify the equal portion of the “separate but equal” policy of the day. Backed by the NAACP, Brown vs. the Board of Education went all the way to the Supreme Court who used it to overturn legal segregation.



Now a National Historic Park, the small schoolhouse…historic and interesting in itself…is broken into two main areas…a space that details what led to the case, the legal strategy involved, and the litigation; and another that documents events that have followed up since that time.

It’s a moving and important display. My wife was wracked with sadness at it all but I think we should look at it as a turning point where we started to have the self-awareness to start addressing these wrongs.



Heading over to the capitol, we drive around the being-renovated building to find a spot free of scaffolding to take a picture. About a mile away is the Bobo Drive-In that we saw on the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show but being a Sunday, it was closed. In fact, in this Bible-Belt Kansas town, not much was open so we head back to a coffee shop we saw earlier, the Hanover Pancake House.



It’s packed with after church diners but we only wait about five minutes for a table. We get pancakes, French toast, hash browns, the ever present biscuits and gravy, and Tim has chicken strips with mashed potatoes. What a revelation this place is. Some of the best comfort food I’ve had. The pancakes, perfect with just a hint of crunch on the outer skin, fluffy and light, no mealiness at all. Crunchy and delicious hash browns, some superb sausage gravy over those biscuits, and the mashed potatoes tasted like they were half cream.



Incredibly delicious.




UPDATE: One more pic of the Pancake House, as per requested in the comments below. This is the only other pic I have so this makes all the pictures we have of this wonderful restaurant.



After eating, we head a few miles west to the Kansas State Museum, which acts of a kind of Smithsonian for Kansas history. It’s another interesting stop as the expansive displays take you through history from the pre-U.S. native days, the settling of the frontier, Bloody Kansas and the Missouri Compromise, ranching, farming, railroads, and modern life. Definitely worth a stop.



I take my wife to a nearby park where she can find a rock (she collects rocks from everywhere we visit) and then it’s back to the hotel.

We break out some wine, the cheese, fruit, and bread we bought yesterday. I grab some popcorn and soda from the Drury Inn lobby, and we settle in to watch our beloved Cowboys finish second to Dan and Jordan on The Amazing Race before getting one more night of good sleep.

In the morning, we pack up, make a stop at the huge Cabela’s sporting goods store, and then have lunch at the Five Guys burger joint adjacent to the Kansas Speedway. The burgers are delicious.

I’d usually end here but one more thing…

We get to the airport in Kansas City. Go through the lines and finally get through security only to find out that all the amenities…new stand, good restaurants, most of the bathrooms…are on the outside of the secure zone. Waiting with about a thousand other travelers, we find only a couple of sparsely supplied snack bars and a total of 8 toilets…4 for the men and 4 for the ladies.

Just an incredibly outdated airport.

It was a great trip, we just had a few bobbles to overcome, but the weather cooperated for the games, we found some surprising gems, and one heck of a hotel chain. Thanks for coming along!

By the numbers:

Stadiums Visited/Games Attended: 3

Stadium total: 20 for Tim, 21 for Darryl and Letty (we went to a game at Oakland once without Tim)

States Visited: 7

New States Added: 4 for Darryl, 5 for Letty and Tim

Length: 11 days

Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TRAVEL TIPS - Hotels


Here are some tips I've learned...sometimes the hard way.

Bring your confirmation - If you get a confirmation via e-mail, print it.  If you make a phone reservation, make sure they send you a printed confirmation.  BRING IT WITH YOU.  I always do this...and end up not needing it.  That is until the one time I forgot.

Recently, I had a reservation for a suite for $90 a night, Thursday through Sunday.  With taxes and one room service charge, the bill came to just over $300, or it should have.  I was presented with a $550 bill at check out and when I complained, I was told that the special rate wast just for a regular room, the suite was more, and, on top of that, only good for midweek so the weekend rate was charge at the rack rate of $230 a night.

I didn't have my confirmation.  I didn't have a way to retrieve it (it was on my work e-mail).  I didn't have a prayer.

Luckily, when I got back to work, I fished out the confirmation from e-mail and, low and behold, it said "Luxury Suite" for $90 per night...every night.  I e-mailed the manager, sent him a copy of both my confirmaton and bill.  To his credit, he refunded the difference immediately but I would have saved a lot of hassle and heartburn if I'd just followed my own advice.


Inspect the room before accepting it - make sure you're getting what you reserved and what you need, especially if you need accessible features such as a roll-in shower.  If it does not meet your confirmed room, they should give you one that does or make sure you pay no penalty if you have to cancel.

Get a refundable rate - Some hotels...notably the Hilton chain...are starting to come up with supersaver rates like airlines.  Rates that are discounted but non-cancelable, non-refundable.  I don't like this.  Who knows if the weather will take a turn for the worse, you get sick, or some other reason you cannot make it.  I look for a rate that will let me cancel with no penalty a day or two in advance.   I have a trip coming up to northern California.  The hotel has a 48 hour cancellation policy.  I'm going to check the weather forecast just before that window, if a big storm is on the way, I'm goint to go with my alternate reservations in Arizona which allows me to cancel with no penalty up to 12:00pm the day of check in.  That's flexibility.

Also, put it on the calendar to remind you before the cancellation deadline hits so you remember to cancel, if needed, and you don't end up paying hundreds of dollars for a room you forgot you had a reservation in. Keep a printed copy of the cancellation in case the hotel still charges you.

Tip the maid...everyday!  Leave a couple of dollars on the pillow.  Don't wait until you check out.  Appreciative maids clean rooms better and leave you better toiletries.  If you can't tip...you shouldn't be staying there anyway.


Compare total cost - Paying an extra twenty dollars for a suite with a full, hot breakfast will beat a room at the Motel 6, such is the case at many destinations. 

As an example, I can get a very nice, large room for around $80 or a two-room suite for around $100 at most Drury Inns. Sounds a bit expensive until you include an expansive hot breakfast buffet for everyone in the room; a light dinner; three cocktails; unlimited popcorn and soda from afternoon to the evening; free wired or wireless Internet; free use of their Internet terminals; free long distance calls; free local calls; pool, spa, and fitness room.

How much extra would all that cost at a cheap, motel?

Are there any special events taking place when you get there? - If you want a quiet stay, you probably don't want to go during "Bike Week."


Ask ahead of time what kind of view the room has - parking lot or beach?

Any tips you want to share?

-Darryl
Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 17, 2017

MIDWEST BASEBALL TOUR - LEG 2: St. Louis, Part 2

UpTake Travel Gem




If you haven’t read Tim’s reports on preparing for this trip (this is his first time planning a trip), be sure to check out what it took to plan and prepare for this trip in a wheelchair.

In Part 1 of this report, we arrive in St. Louis to a fabulous hotel, get frustrated at a very inaccessible national park, and take a cruise on the Mighty Mississippi.  Now, it's game time.

Watch the Video!

It’s a short, two block walk to Busch Stadium from our hotel. Knowing us though, we walk to the part of the stadium furthest from our seats, so we need to walk around it back to home plate to find the Will Call booth to pick up our tickets. We do and head on inside.



Our tickets today are in the Infield Redbird Club. This is a semi-private (meaning anyone can buy tickets to it but only ticket holders have access to it) section next to the press box overlooking homeplate from the first base side to the third base side. It’s the second deck up. We sit on the third base side in the closest accessible seats to home plate. There is an overhang from the deck above but it does not block our view in any way. We have great views of the city, the arch, and our hotel just beyond center field.


The club also has an expansive indoor area with tables and booths. There is a large food court with ballpark staples like hot dogs, beer, and popcorn. There are also more specialty foods like pulled pork, barbecue, salad bar, and an Asian stir-fry bar that my wife took advantage of.
Each end of the food court area features a full bar. Unfortunately as you might expect of a team owned by InBev (and Anheiser Busch), all the tap beer is Budweiser, Bud Lite, Bud Select or some other variety of the town’s most famous product. It all tastes like water to me. They do serve a nice selection of microbrews and other brands, but only in the bottle.


Another knock on the stadium is that the food and drink prices are the highest we’ll encounter on the trip. Knocks aside, this is still a great stadium in one of the great baseball towns. Stadium toured, food and drinks purchased, it’s time to play ball as the Cardinals are hosting the Houston Astros…one of the worst teams in the league right now.





Ryan Ludwick scores in the first inning on a Matt Holliday ground out to give the Cards a quick 1-0 lead. Houston kills the no-hitter hopes in the third as Tommy Manzella gets a single but no runs are scored. Ludwick scores again as David Freese gets an RBI single.

That’s where the game stays until it all comes apart for St. Louis in the 7th. Carlos Lee of the Astros gets on first due to a throwing error. Hunter Pence doubles, sending Lee to third. Starter Brad Penny loads the bases by hitting Houston third baseman Geoff Blum. Two runs score on a Tommy Manzella sacrifice fly to right field. Pinch hitter Cory Sullivan brings Pence home on a single. Sullivan scores when center fielder Michael Bourn bunts a single.

Penny is taken out after this inning and replaced by Jason Motte. While the Cards were able to get another run in the bottom of the 7th, Motte gives up solo homers to Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence bringing the final score of the Cardinals loss to 6-2.

As any fan can tell you, a loss is tough but it’s still better than not being at the game. Being out-of-towners, we aren’t heartbroken and still have a fun time. On the walk back, we see this strange looking truck. A closer look shows there are two (clothed) strippers working a pole. It’s a moving billboard for several local strip clubs.

On a warm morning, fortified from our hotel breakfast, it’s time to explore the city. There’s a riverfront district called Lacledes Landing that looked interesting when we first got into town. We walk to the nearest Metrolink station about 3 blocks from the hotel. Metrolink is the trolley system here in St. Louis. My wife complains that it was just as far to walk to the station as it was to Lacledes Landing. Close, but I still think the trolley was closer plus I wanted to check it out for a future transit report.


Metrolink is 100% accessible. Every station has an elevator or is ramped. Each car has 4 locations where a seat can be folded up and a wheelchair put in its place.

We get day passes for my wife and I. It’s cheaper to buy each ticket separately for disabled riders ($1.10 for the trolley and $1 for the bus vs. $8 for a day pass) for the amount of rides we will take.

At Lacledes Landing, it’s a bumpy, cobblestoned area full of restaurants, bars, and just a few shops. Mostly closed restaurants, bars, and a few shops. I guess it’s more of a late night destination rather than a daytime jaunt.




Back on the trolley, we head to the end of the line at Shrewsbury on the southwest side of the city. By this time it was hot and muggy making the ½ mile walk we took excruciating. We were going to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard shop on the old Route 66.




We’ve heard about this place on many shows on the Food Network and the Travel Network as one of the icons of Route 66. This is particularly interesting to us because we live adjacent to a stretch of the Mother Road.




It’s hot and the custard is good but it’s halfway melted before we find a place to sit and eat it. By the way, Ted Drewes does not have a dining room, a dining area, or anywhere with tables or chairs. There are some bus stop benches on a nearby sidewalk, but that’s it. A bit of a disappointment after coming all the way out here.


On the way back, we stop at Union Station which used to be the massive St. Louis railroad station. It’s still massive and the old train barn is as huge as some of the stations I’ve seen in Europe such as Munich or London. Only thing is, it’s not a train station anymore. Now, it’s a mall with a small man-made lake, some restaurants, and a Marriott hotel. It’s very quiet and not bustling with life at all. It would have been nice if at least one or two platforms could have been saved. Amtrak now stops and a small platform near Busch Stadium.




I’m a bit disappointed in it.

We go back to the hotel, have dinner, and take a swim in the 8th floor pool and call it a leg.




Stay tuned as we head out to leg three of this Midwest Baseball Tour…Kansas City, Missouri.

Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved