Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

If you have traveled in Europe and stayed in hotels, you are probably familiar with the power interlock for hotel keys. It works this way: Inside your hotel room, near your door, there is a slot, which fits the door key card. The hotel only gives each guest one key. As you enter the room, you insert your key card into the slot, and all power in the room is enabled. Without the card in that slot, there are no lights in the room.

Then, when you leave the room, you need to bring your key, and it turns off all lights automatically. While this seems odd and inconvenient, it works quite well and I am sure it reduces unneeded power consumption in hotel rooms.

Some American hotels are now trying this concept, and it is failing ludicrously.

I am currently staying at a Hilton Garden Inn in Olympia, Washington. This hotel has such a system. You can see the slot, with a hotel business card inserted at the red arrow in the photograph above.

Since Americans are likely to never have seen such a system, the desk clerk is spending extra time with every guest explaining in advance how the system works. I am sure too many guests call down and complain that there is no power in the room. Here is the solution applied in this Hilton Garden Inn:

  1. The hotel desk clerk spends an extra minute or two with each guest explaining this feature. Guests are baffled, as I observed as I stood in line. Guests could not figure out what this was all about.
  2. The desk clerk gives every guest a hotel business card to insert into the slot so he doesn’t have to use the key.
  3. I noticed that the housekeeping service plays right along with this. When I came back to my room at night, the room had been cleaned, the business card was in the slot, and all the lights were on.

Clearly, there is a serious disconnect between this hotel’s management and its power-saving initiative, and the hotel staff that sabotages the effort.

Here in America we like our lights on – bright.

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I recently rented a brand-new Toyota Corolla. It had 1 mile on the odometer when I drove it out of the lot.

Since I have Southern California driving habits, which results in 80 mph speeds, I usually apply the cruise control in other states to avoid running into speed traps. New York State Troopers do no look kindly upon California speeders on their roads. So while going down the New York Thruway, I turned it on cruise control and set the speed to 72 mph.

I quickly noticed that it automatically adjusted down its speed when the car in front of me was going slower, and then sped up again when things cleared up. It also warned me with a gentle beep when I got too near the left or right lane markers, unless I indicated a lane change using my turn signal ahead of time. The slowing down went all the way to a full brake and stop when I was on a one lane road and the car in front of me had stopped for a left turn.

What surprised me was how quickly I adjusted my own driving habits to this feature. I would drive with the cruise control on and let the car do its driving. I simply took care of the steering.

Then I remembered that this was a rental car, and in a few days I’d be back to driving my 2011 Prius, which does not have these features. I thought I’d better not get used to the car slowing down automatically, lest I have some surprises rear-ending other cars.

I liked these advancements in this car, and I was surprised that I found them in a lowly car like the Toyota Corolla. I have to admit, though, as much as I liked the driver-assist features, I did not like its steering. The wheel seemed loose and not responsive. It drove a bit like a boat, albeit a small one, and as a result, I would not want to buy this car.

The driver-assist features were great, though.



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I am staying at the Embassy Suites in Syracuse.

Check out the paint job on the bathroom door! All the doors in this room looked like this.

This is how much this hotel pays attention to detail!

It made me wonder how clean my sheets are.

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New York City [click to enlarge]

The tip of Manhattan from a ferry. The Statue of Liberty is right in front of the World Trade Center One tower. The Empire State Building is faintly visible on the left side of the picture.

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photo credit: Imgur

Not only does this make me want to ride this road,
but it reminds me of this climb.

Good Times!

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Today, as many times before, I got a notice that one of my flights was delayed, and I realized that I’d need to rebook my connection. I carry my American Airlines Platinum Card with me, which contains the phone number to call for service.

It’s on the back of a light gray card in light gray TINY font. The photograph above is actually a magnification to double the size of the card, and I can actually read the number.

In the “real world” with the card in my hand, that is impossible. My 60-year-old eyes, with bifocals, cannot possibly read anything on the back of this card. The font is too small, and then it’s gray on gray, with very little contrast.

What is American Airlines thinking?

There is so much white space on this card. They could easily double the font size. They could make it bold, dark black on white, so you can read it with ease in a poorly lit airline gate area, the card on your knee while you’re fiddling with your phone.

This is not limited to American Airlines. I just checked a few other cards, like my Hilton Hotels card, and it’s got the same problem.

American Airlines – not all your customers are young eagles or owls with night vision eyesight.

We can’t read your cards!

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Oh, No, They Gave me a Hearse!

Ford Flex

When I picked up my rental car yesterday, I was in shock. It looked like a hearse! It was black! Since I had never seen one of these before, I had to look it up. It was a Ford Flex.

As ugly as it looked, it felt really good driving it. What is more important about a car, whether it feels good, or whether it looks good?

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Seattle from the Air

Seattle from the Air – click to enlarge

Downtown Seattle from the air. You can see the (tiny) Space Needle right  above the engine.

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[click to enlarge]

For decades, when you drove north on I-5 from San Diego in the spring, you could see the colorful bands of the Carlsbad Flower Fields on the right as you passed Palomar Airport Road. I remember pulling off at that exit, parking by the side of the road, and walking in awe among the endless rows of flowers.

After not stopping for many years, I did last week, and learned that the entire area is now fenced in, and very difficult to see from the road. The picture above I snuck from a parking lot nearby, zooming between two trees and over the fence. Also, the condos in the back weren’t there in the olden days.

What’s worse, to get in, you now have to pay a $14 entry fee at a ticket booth. It’s like at the zoo. There are discounts for seniors and children. Then there are turnstiles to get in, and really, there is no good way to see what’s in there without buying that ticket.

I didn’t buy one.

But I thought I should show you a glimpse of the famous Carlsbad Flower Fields.

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Ohio State House

…with a drug prevention rally taking place in front of it.

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[click for picture credit: Reddit]

I have recommended that people stop flying United. It’s not good for the morale. There are plenty of other airlines that beat their prices, not their customers.

But if you bought your tickets months or even weeks ago, and you can’t get a refund, I recommend that you bring a boxing helmet on board with you. Here is what it looks like on United flights these days.

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The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, now blames the customer. He said he was belligerent and raised his voice.

No shit!

If the airline had not bumped a paying customer off a flight, I can guarantee you the customer would not have been belligerent.

So, folks, be aware, you can book a flight with United Airlines, and if for any reason they don’t want you on the plane, you’re on your own. If you insist, they have you beaten bloody by airport security. Then it’s your fault. They make you the “bad guy.”

Go ahead, book your travels on United!

Makes for exciting travels!

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United Airlines overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville by four seats. When nobody volunteered to vacate the seats, they announced they needed them for four airline employees for a flight in the morning and they would randomly select four passengers to leave the flight.

Three left. One remaining, a doctor, needed to be in Louisville and refused. They beat him up and dragged him off the plane. Eventually, they let him back on. The flight ended up two hours late.

I might remind you, this is not a criminal or a terrorist. This is a passenger like you and I who paid for a ticket on an airline and just didn’t have the flexibility to arrive at his destination any later than booked.

This is a person like I am every time I fly. It’s not my problem that the airline can’t figure out how to get its employees to their destination. I paid for a ticket. It’s also not my problem that the airline overbooks its flights. I don’t mind paying enough for my ticket to cover the airline’s costs. I never bought into its games. I just bought my tickets.

Watch this video and you’ll see what United Airlines thinks of you as a passenger. I hardly ever fly on United, and now I am reminded why that is.

You have a choice in air travel.

Choose wisely!

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I always considered myself a seasoned traveler, one who is not fazed by minor mishaps.

Today I traveled to Montréal from Albany, New York. My flight, get this, went from Albany to Philadelphia, like several hundred miles south, just so I could catch another flight north again, fly right over Albany on my way to Montréal. After waiting around at the airport for a few hours, my first flight was canceled. I was stranded in Albany at 6:00pm, with no way to get there. Since I know it’s “only” 220 miles north, I went over to Avis and rented a car, one way, at a cost similar to what the airline ticket was.

Rather than dozing in cozy airline seats, I found myself on I-87 North driving through the dark Adirondacks in heavy rain. It was not a scenic or relaxing trip.

Americans crossing into Quebec, with limited French skills, are at a disadvantage, and in the age of Trump, I felt that I was interrogated much more vehemently than I remember it being when crossing into Canada in the past. But my story held, and I made it through.

When you drive over that border, there is some level of culture shock. All the signs look strange, and the street names and road numbers are unrecognizable. Distances are now in kilometers. In the dark, in heavy rain, with street markings being alien and the roads pretty crappy, it is outright scary driving into Montréal.

After about 20 kilometers I thought I’d better start figuring out where I needed to go, so I popped out my iPhone and went to Google Maps, as I always do. I asked for the Dorval Airport and it found it. Meanwhile, my phone was texting me like crazy that now I was roaming and it would charge me $2.05 per megabyte unless I answered “Yes” to some text and then it would just be $2 a day. I managed to pull over and do that.

As I got back on the road, I think I waited too long for the proper turnoff, because as I looked down, my map showed this, which had me freeze in panic:

Check this out! There is obviously no left ramp from route 132 onto route 10 outside of Montréal. I got lost, as I progressed following the Google Map directions, pronouncing all the French names, and not finding the turnoffs. It took me some time to figure out what Canadian exit markers looked like, because I kept missing them, making my plight even worse.

Eventually, getting lost at least five times, and getting close to death that many more times, I found the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. The rain came down in sheets. I found a parking spot. I pulled in. I let out a huge sigh of relief. I stepped out of the car and realized too late that I had parked the car in 6 inches of standing rainwater.

By the time I got to the door of the hotel, my jeans were wet up to the knees and my sneakers were squish-soaked in 38 degree water.

They are now drying on the heater in my room.

Oh, Montréal!

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The crane that lasted 400 years! I came across a 9-year-old post about the crane on the Cologne cathedral. Check this out and marvel about the crane. That crane was on top of the cathedral for longer than the United States has existed as a nation, for much longer….

Norbert Haupt

In 1977 I lived in Cologne for about a year. I was a 21 year old soldier. Many a Saturday afternoon I would walk from my apartment, across the river, into downtown, and on my way I would walk past the awe-inspiring cathedral.


Yes, I looked up. Yes, I was awed, but what I was looking at didn’t really faze my youthful mind much.

After reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, I studied up on cathedral construction, and I was fascinated with what I found out.

Check this link for a nice snapshot.

I didn’t know that for some time, the building was the highest building in the world, until the Washington Monument was constructed.

Construction began in 1248, but by 1560, political changes had taken place, and funds dried up. So all construction stopped until 1842.

There was a massive wooden crane on top of the south tower…

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