Grant

Grant

Food fanatic, IT professional, Cloud Computing Expert, Software Developer and Travel fan.

 

Monday, 18 December 2006 00:00

Guayaquill/Quito day 1

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Since we only had the morning in Guayaquil I wanted to get outside and walk to the waterfront so we skipped breakfast in the restaurant and headed for the street. Guayaquil looks a lot like Mexico City but without the beautiful buildings. Mostly modern (less than 50 year buildings) and not that clean either. We made it to the Malecon 2000 waterfront promenade that the locals are so proud of and it was nice but it reminded me a bit too much of Nice France for me to like it a lot. We ate lunch there which was a bunch of meats grilled with fries. It wasn't too bad and the price for 4 people with two waters was under $7.

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On the way back to the hotel we ran across an outdoor market which we just had to wade through because the experience of a Latin American market is one not to be missed. Mo got her first taste of the way these things work. She also got her first taste of heat in December as it was over 90 degrees. Back at the hotel I ask attempt to ask for a taxi and write down 1:00 on my scratch pad and she says si and motions to the front door. What arrives in 10 minutes was actually a regular car driven by a man that was probably the cousin of the receptionist! Anyway he got us back to the airport for another $5. I didn't know what to expect of the local Ecuadorian Airline TAME because I'd heard stories that made it sound like a bus company, first come first serve type of organization. We got there two hours before the plane was scheduled to leave which was what the guide books recommended of us. The lady at the counter spoke English and said she could just put us on the next flight which would be leaving at 2. But since I only had a reservation and had not paid for tickets I'd have to go to the next counter and purchase tickets. As luck would have it we got in the slow line and didn't get our tickets in time for hte 2 o'clock flight. We did however, happen upon a deal and got our tickets for $45 each instead of the $60 that the website listed.

While waiting for the plane we picked up some water, got on the internet and picked up some Chilean Empanadas. We were very excited to see the empanadas and they weren't bad but didn't measure up to Julia's in Adams-Morgan district of D.C. Security was a breeze. Apparently there is a shortage of ignorant fear in Ecuador that is so common in the States. Maybe we should pass it around a bit so we could get to the point of being able to carry more than 3 ozs of toothpaste with us on the plane. Heaven forbid we be able to brush our teach while on vacation. It's for our safety you know. Anyway the Ecuadorian security process isn't like this at all. The entire time we were in the airport there wasn't any lines and that includes the security check. We put our stuff in the bins and walk through the scanner and off we go to our gate which at this point was still unknown to us. Our boarding pass lists our gate as Puerto 0 and I ask a uniformed man and he just laughs and babbles in Spanish as if he thought I were born in Madrid. Since there was no Gate 0 I fell back to plan B. If you can't understand the language do what the locals do. I wandered through the crowd looking at other peoples tickets and found one that was the same as mine. The man spoke some English and said that they would announce the gate. Little did he know I was no longer interested in their announcements because I found someone to follow and follow we did. When they moved, we moved. As we were walking down the aisle to board the plane we heard the plane and gate announced in English. Now we know for next time.

The plane at best was 1/3 the way full which was great as we had nobody sitting next to us. It was an Airbus A320 which had more legroom than any plane I'd ever taken. It even still had that new airplane smell. Either it had just been made or the captain had picked up a “That new airplane smell” deodorizer from 7-11 on the way to work and had it hanging from the rear view mirror.

 

The in flight snacks were great too, little homemade sandwich things made from flat bread. No commercially packaged pretzels for TAME. We reached cruising altitude for about 10 minutes then started to descend again showing how small this country is. The Quito airport is even smaller than the one in Guayaquil and the signs even less clear. We followed the crowd again which appears to be a good practice to get into. At the exit there was a taxi booth which made me happy because I wouldn't have to deal with the corrupt taxi problem. We paid our $5 and loaded are gear in the taxi.
Sunday, 17 December 2006 00:00

Seattle to Guayaquil

img_6530Mo's daughter picked us up at 3:45 am to take us to the airport. We didn't get snow like was predicted and half the city was still out of power from the storm but the airport was still operating so off we went. We arrived at the airport and stood in line like everyone else. Some from Continental told came along and told us that if we didn't have any bags to check we could use a kiosk and get our boarding passes ourselves. This turned out to be a good thing because the self-check kiosk had no line at all. We were a little apprehensive about the security check because of the heightened security status in airports. We could not carry any liquids in bottles larger than 3 oz. Each passenger could have one and only one zip lock bag of quart size with 3 oz bottles in it. We worked extra hard finding bottles of sun tan lotion, bug lotion, shampoo, saline solution etc in bottles under 3 oz. The whole thing is ridiculous because I'd bet that if I had a quart bag full of 3 oz bottles of nitro glycerin I could blow a hole in the side of just about any plane. But hey, I felt safer knowing that terrorists are too dumb to think of this. It's nice to see the extra amount tacked onto passport fees going to good use. After all this work in getting the bottles Natalya's bag gets flagged and they take us into a small area divided off and asked me if there was any bottles in our bags. I of course said no very confidentially because I KNEW there were none.

Three seconds later he pulls out not one but three bottles full of liquid over 3 oz. It seems one of us (not mentioning names Natalya) decided to add stuff to the bag after they'd already been packed. They asked us if we wanted to check the bag with the liquids or throw them out and I said throw them. There goes $50 of Proactiv. We flew from Seattle to Houston with nary a bump from the clouds. It was one of the smoothest rides I'd had. When I book plane tickets I try to get layovers of about 2 to 3 hours but because we didn't get our tickets until last minute I didn't have a lot of choice and ended up with a 6 hour layover. Hmm, 6 hours in Houston, Texas. Boy that's a happening place. We ate as slow as we could, walked all over the E terminal and came to the conclusion that Continental had their own airport because we never saw anyone from any other airline. While I was waiting in line for Chinese food I asked a gentleman about this observation and he said that this terminal building was only Continental but the others served other airlines. It hadn't occurred to us that there were more terminal buildings. Let's just ignore the fact that we were in the E terminal and E isn't the first letter of the English alphabet because if we don't it would make us look pretty dumb. Armed with our newfound wisdom we searched out a way to get to the other terminals in the form of an elevated train. We love trains and have spent many hours in Dallas riding it's sky train around in circles in an attempt to kill time so we were more than anxious to hop aboard this one. It only goes in a straight line but was air conditioned and barely had anyone riding it. We went to the other terminals and walked their halls as if we were expecting to see something different from what we'd already seen. We saw a few more restaurants, more terminals, more airlines and older moldier smelling hallways. Since the train was the highlight so far we returned to it and rode it's length several more times until we decided to camp out near our gate. A year ago when I went to Mexico from Dallas I commented on the fact that our journey into the foreign country starts in the airport because the people flying the line to the foreign country was filled with people from the foreign country. This was no different as the waiting area for the plane to Guayaquil, Ecuador filled with little brown Spanish speaking people, presumably Ecuadorians. The plane Continental decided to use was a single aisle Boeing 737 which seemed quite odd as 737s are generally short haul planes. The smooth journey from Seattle to Houston would not be repeated again and we had quite a bit of turbulance over central America. I just shoved my in-ear earplugs deeper and the volume of my travel pod cast higher. An hour of the “You live where?” pod cast guy asking questions and very gratuitously providing all the accepted answers to the host got a little irritating so I turned it off and slept a bit. I awoke to a plane descending which is a strange feeling anyway. The landing was ok and we talked a bit with a petite and attractive Ecuadorian girl that sat one row ahead of us. She lived in the states but was born in Ecuador and was bringing her almost 4 year old daughter to Ecuador to see family.
Saturday, 21 October 2006 01:00

Adams Morgan and the National Mall

The Adams Morgan district is quite eclectic and nice. One of the guidebooks said you’d end up here to eat noimg_6064 matter where in D.C. you stayed so it only made sense for a gourmand like myself to just stay near the food. Don’t you agree? There is the aforementioned Mexican restaurant (Mixtec), several Ethiopian, one Ghana, one lebanese/Indian, a couple Indian, one Syrian, one Falafal fry stand, one American and a spattering of other restaurants here. Definately the place to be if you like to eat. There was even a McDonalds for those people born without taste buds.

We ate breakfast at the Inn and headed straight to the National Mall. We didn’t go to Claires to get accessories, or the Bon to pick up any sweaters or any of that in case you were wondering. The National Mall is a really wide strip of grass which is lined with museums of the Smithsonian Institute and the ends are capped by the Capitol building and Lincoln’s memorial on each end. This is where the sights are and it was going to be a beautiful day!

We started our tour of the Smithsonian Institute by going to Smithsonian Castle where we picked up our info book and got directions. The Smithsonian castle is a building that’s “castle like” that was built in the lateimg_6111 1800’s. Our first stop was the National Gallery of Art which I don’t believe is really part of the Institute but I could be wrong. We wanted to go there because people compare it to the Louvre and it had a Da Vinci painting, the only one in America actually. We later found out that the only people that compare the National Gallery of art to the Louvre are those that haven’t been to the Louvre. American pride wants us to have a museum equal to the best and I’m here to say that it probably isn’t possible so they should just move on and try to be something else.

Thursday, 19 October 2006 01:00

Washington D.C.

As I said earlier we arrived at Union Station in D.C. early in the morning. We were starving so we found food at one of the many restaurants downstairs from the tracks. The station in D.C. is really quite nice is set up like an airplort in that it has monitors for watching your train, newspaper stands, restaurants, bookstores etc.. Downstairs is the connection to the metro which reminded us of being in Europe. I just love being able to get around without relying on taxis or renting a car. We weren’t in any great hurry to get to our Bed and Breakfast because we couldn’t check in until 3:00pm and it was only 11:00am when we got done eating. Still tired from getting poor sleep on the train we longed for a bed to take a nap in. We ventured to the metro station and found our route (the red line) and purchased tickets. The Washington D.C. metro works a lot like the London Underground in that you need to enter the metro using a ticket and you can’t get out unless you still have it so it’s best not to toss the ticket until you’ve exited. This is unlike Paris, Prague and Budapest because in those cities you don’t need anything to exit. In Budapest you can even get on with nothing but you risk being nailed by the authorities which can get expensive.
Monday, 09 October 2006 01:00

Charlotte to D.C.

We decided to turn in the rental car in Charlotte and take a train to Washington DC for two reasons, it was actually cheaper (thanks to a 20% off promo code I found on the internet for Amtrak) and it’s a pain to have a car in D.C. We’re used to using the metro to get around anyway so it wasn’t much of a problem. The only problem was we needed to turn in our rental at 1pm and our train came at 1:50 am the next morning! We start off on the wrong foot by thinking we’re in Europe and started searching for left luggage facilities. In Europe you can leave your luggage places for a few euro. The man in the library recommended we try the grayhound bus station. They did have lockers but only about 10 for the 1000 or so people there so we took a taxi to the train station where we checked our bags in ahead of schedule. We then walked back to the city center and ate dinner an an Italian restaraunt which wasn’t bad. We were trying to kill time so we asked the waitress if there was a movie theatre around, there wasn’t but she gave us tips on how to get to one. So armed with a bus schedule we head for the other end of town to watch a movie. We end up watching two movies which took us to about midnight. We called a taxi to pick us up and waited the 25 minutes needed for them to get there. Then we waited another 10 minutes. We couldn’t call them again bacause the theater was now closed and the phone was inside. We had about 50 minutes left before our train left with our luggage. Since I don’t have a cell phone we headed for the main street to see if we could find a pay phone. We didn’t but we did find an all night diner and the man behind the counter let us use his phone to call again. It would only be 10 minutes this time. We wait 10 minutes and no taxi shows up. I’m getting ready to make this a really expensive night and offer a bunch of money to one of the people eating just to take us to the train station. Right before I did that the taxi showed. Thankfully it only took us 15 minutes to get to the station so we had about 20 to spare.

It’s been about 10 years since I’ve ridden an Amtrak train so it was interesting to contrast them with my more recent train experiences from Europe. I’ve ridden Englands worthless trains, the French TGV, German ICE, Italy’s Eurostar and many other eastern European trains. I have to say the Amtrak really isn’t bad other than the fact that it’s slow and only comes by once or twice a day. The seats are comfortable and spacious, the food isn’t bad and the service is pretty good. In Europe once you get on that train everything else is up to you. With Amtrak they keep an eye on you to make sure you get off at the right stop. They will wake you up too if you’re sleeping.

Anyway sleeping was about as comfortable as sleeping on an airplane but without the headrests that wrap around your head. So I didn’t get a lot of sleep but arrived anyway in D.C. at about 10:00 am.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006 01:00

Biltmore

For breakfast we went to the Waffle House which is a southern chain of breakfast cafes. It was then I realized that the south did in fact break away during the civil war and become a seperate country. The ladies that worked in the Waffle House were mostly missing their teath (the further south you go the fewer teath they grow…) and had accents so strong I could hardly understand them. At one point one said she need a billy goat or bush hog to get her going. The way she said it was hilarious so I laughed and pretended I understood her when in reality she might as well been speaking hebrew or something…

The reason we came down early before the wedding was so we could go to Asheville to see Biltmore. Iimg_5720-x planned a trip in 97 to see Biltmore but my daughter was born with medical problems and we didn’t go. I love French architecture and the Biltmore house is probably the best example of it in the U.S. It’s also an insanely large house on a very large estate. George Vanderbilt was a scholar and traveler so he wanted what he saw in Europe here in the states so he had a French Chateaux built in North Carolina. The area around Biltmore reminds me of the hills around Chinon or maybe the foot of the Austrian Alps around Neuschwanstein castle. In the end it’s a nice place to put an estate. We arrive and enter the 175,000 square foot house and immediately realize that even though it looks French on the outside this is an American house. It’s very easy to compare it to Versaille but that wouldn’t be a fair comparison because Versaille cost as much as half of the yearly income of every resident in France for one year to build. I doubt that Biltmore cost that much because the interior isn’t nearly as ornate. That’s fine because Versaille is really overdone. Who needs gold plated walls anyway? Biltmore is much easier to take than some of the French Chataeuxs but it’s also more apparent that although rich the Biltmores weren’t kings. Overall the Biltmore house was an enjoyable experience and I recommend anyone going there if they’re interested in that sort of thing. If you always wanted to go to the Loire Valley in France but just couldn’t make it this may suffice. If you do go make sure you check out the rose gardens and other parts of the estate.

We left Biltmore and ate at the Texas Roadhouse which was pretty good. We’re realizing very quickly that we should only be ordering one plate for both of us because the portions are huge. I think we carried half our food (at least) out in a to-go box. Our waiter said Statesville was only about 40 minutes away but we soon found out it was almost two hours. Maybe he just never leaves Asheville and doesn’t know…

Monday, 09 October 2006 01:00

Day 1

We flew out to Charlotte NC via Dallas. The best price ($208 plus tax) was on a plane that left at 11:58pm and got in at 10 am in the morning. This seemed like a great plane because we’d get to sleep and the journey would go faster. That would be a great plan as long as I don’t take into consideration the time zones ( I didn’t). It looked like on paper we’d be on the plane for 6 hrs to Dallas so we’d get some sleep. I should know better because I’ve flown to dallas many times. We were on the plane 3 hrs then had a layover. I think my head is really sensitive to cabin pressure because sometimes I feel sick on a plane and sometimes I don’t for no apparent reason. The one I’m sick on may be a perfectly smooth flight and the one that I’m ok on could be rough. Anyway the three hrs to Dallas ended up being three really long hours because I didn’t feel well and had to make a run for the bathroom. The second plane was perfect and I slept on it. We landed in Charlotte and got a cab to the car rental agency where we picked up a car and drove to Asheville NC, the home of the largest private residence in America. They should warn you not to drive after not sleeping for a day but they don’t. I got about halfway there and pulled off the road and slept for a few hours before driving on. We got to our motel 6 (I’m cheap) and slept some more. Stomaches were growling so we headed out to a china buffet. I really needed to get to an internet access point but since we’re in America this seems almost impossible. The Quality Inn across the street was advertising free high speed interenet so I went over and asked if I could use it. I think they thought I was one of their guests because they said yes and later asked me to come back at 6 for breakfast! Anyway the wireless on my laptop isn’t working but they had a lamp with an RJ45 port on the bottom (no joke!) which was hot so I plugged in. I left my printout of important phone numbers at home so I got into my email and got the ones I really needed. Tired I returned to the hotel and slept.

Thursday, 03 August 2006 01:00

Krakow day 5

I found a pastry shop today and bought some filled doughnut looking things. They had a strange filling in them that was fruit but there was another odd taste. We’d find out later from another baker that spoke 4 english words (which was 4 more than the first one) and she pointed to the pastries and said “alcohol” when I tried to buy them. I’m guessing that strange flavor was alcohol of some sort. Weird, beer in doughnuts.

Our plan was to take the train or bus to Wiliczka (via-leech-ka) to see the salt mines. As we were standing in the train station a man came up to us soliciting his services. I saw his accomplice near the door when I came in. You can always tell these people because their the only ones in the train station not moving. Everyone else is trying to buy a ticket or get to a platform, they just stand trying to make eye contact. Anyway his deal was he’d drive us to Wieliczka for 160 zloty ($55). This seemed a bit steep to me but the train schedules weren’t making any sense and both guidebooks were really vague about what to do once I got there so I told the man it was a deal and we followed him out of the station. He drove a early 90s Mercedes and the whole experience reminded me somewhat of Fernando in Mexico City driving us around. On the way out of town he started pointing out various places of interest and telling me history that I’d already read. We stopped at Schindlers factory and went in. Even though there isn’t much to see but a movie with Schindler in it and the stairs and office in the movie it was still neat going there and knowing it was the real factory that saved so many people. I’m sure they’ll make it into a museum some day. Back on the road for about 20 minutes and we arrived. Our driver started earning his keep fast. The line to get in was about 1 hr long and our English tour started in 30 minutes so he put us in line and took off somewhere. In about 10 minutes he came back with tickets. Apparently he does this a lot and knows the ticket sellers. He says sometimes they let him barge in line and sometimes not. Today they did. He didn’t have enough money to pay for the tickets so he had to wander around to find someone that would convert Euros to Zloty. He really went out of his way to get us in. We made our tour which started out with a 360 stair decent into the earth. Thoughs of Jules Verns “Journey to the center of the Earth” came to mind. Our guide spoke English but her accent was really strained. Polish people sound like chihauhas when speaking English. Maybe the sounds are hard to say but they sound very tense.

Wednesday, 02 August 2006 01:00

Krakow day 4

We start once again foraging for food. I find at yet another small grocery yogurt cups. I’m getting desperate so I’m willing to eat bacteria infected milk for breakfast. It was much better tasting than the yogurt we have in the states but still no replacement for a good burrito or Paris croissant.

Before the second world war there were 65,000 jews living in Krakow, after the ware there were 200. There used to be an actual second city where all the Jews lived called Kazimierz (kazsh-meer-ezsh). Krakow has grown to the point that it engulfed Kazimierz and it is now a district. I guess it was hard to figure out who should own the buildings there after the war because there just wasn’t enough jews left to claim it. It’s sort of a run down area but is starting to come alive as people move back into it. We spent the day wandering around there and didn’t see much to take pictures of. We were told by the two Polish guys on the train that we should go down there and eat at a Jewish restaurant. The idea of trying to order food that I’ve never seen before in a language that I can’t speak isn’t appealing so we eat dinner back in the city center. Many years ago there was a wall surrounding the city with the Wawel castle at one end. The wall was taken down by the Austrians when Krakow was part of the Austria-Hungary empire. The Austrians seemed to think there was no use for it and took all but one small section down. Where the wall used to be is one long park or “planty” area as they call it. It’s really nice because they’ve put benches along all the paths so if you need to get anywhere in Krakow you walk allong the planty area instead of walking next to the street. Sometimes it’s almost a block wide and other times it’s only 30 ft. You could start at Wawel castle and walk all the way around old town and back to the castle without ever leaving the planty area.

Tuesday, 01 August 2006 01:00

Krakow day 3

Our first day in Krakow started by Jade and I foraging for food. Bernadette said there was a supermarket to the right of our apartment so that’s where we went. We found a few min-mart types of places, a nice park with fountain, a tiny grocery that had croissants but no supermarket that would have cereal. On the way back we found a slightly larger grocery that has small bags of cereal and milk. A welcome suprise was the fact they give plastic bags to carry your grocery items in. We’ve gotten accustomed to bringing the day bag because most of the eastern countries don’t give you bags, they expect you to bring your own. The croissants weren’t too bad in a non-French way. I guess about the quality I’d get in America which after spending a month in Paris were unexceptable. I think I’ll starve in these countries because I don’t get my burritos for breakfast and I can’t have my second breakfast (croissants) either. Anyway after breakfast we walked toward the city center and found a Polish fast food place so we ate lunch. Piper and I had a big sausage with onions, Jade had fried chicken patty and Natalya had Pierogies. People here don’t speak English at all. The order process is a little weird. We point at the menu and tell her how much, she has us pay and gives the receipt to another lady who takes it into the next room to a food counter. When the food is done the same lady comes back, picks up the food and yells it out at which time you’re supposed to motion to her that it’s yours. You’d better be able to pronounce your food in Polish or you might not eat. The rest of the day we spent in the old center of the city.