Learning As I Go

I see I’ve forgotten to do hotel reviews, updates, and other things I learned on my recent trip. Mea Culpa! I blame my economics class.

Patro/Matro-nymics as a Dating Tool

Probably the most fun thing I learned on this recent trip is that Icelanders have dating down to a science. I am not kidding.

In Iceland, the child traditionally takes the father’s first name plus the word ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ (dottir) as their surname. This came up recently about the girl named Blaer, and you can read all about that and link off all you want here, but it got me thinking: you could totally tell if a girl has Daddy Issues if she choses her mother’s name for her surname, and/or if a boy has Mommy Issues likewise. It’s like a window into their childhood and you don’t even have to “wink” at them on Match.com.

Also, one of the best people I’ve got on my London job has the surname Thorisson. We did ask if his dad was named Thor, and it’s pretty close — the name means “worshipper of Thor”, and hey, who isn’t?

It is Possible to Over-Assume as to What Wi-Fi Means

This being my fourth trip to Rome (wow, that sounds really pretentious, trust me when I say as much as I love my Rome team and the fabulous food it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) I was told emphatically that I would not be staying at “that sad little hotel next door”. No, this time I got myself a fancy hotel in the old city, the Valadier, and it was very lovely. They serve a nice espresso. They have wi-fi in the room!

That crashed every. fifteen. minutes. I am not exaggerating. And since my midterm exam was available only for 24 hours, of which 8 I hoped to be sleeping, 4 I had to reserve for dinner (European dinners are breathtaking both in quality and stamina), 9 for work, I really needed my wi-fi to work in my room. A panicked conversation with the front desk man assured me that HIS reception on HIS phone was great, therefore don’t worry.

Thanks to the immense resourcefulness of a lovely gal in the Rome office, I had a quiet conference room and busted out my midterm in 90 minutes right before we left for dinner. Not ideal, but, as the company is/was paying for the class I assume they’ll understand. And yes, I got an “A”.

The Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry. Just Plan For It. 

My flight into Rome was late. My flight into London was late. My flight out of London was really, really late. Jet lag hit harder than any other trip I’ve been on. I broke one of the coffee machines. I lost a meeting room. I totally meant to spend time with someone and didn’t realize I hadn’t until I was almost to Seattle. My plan to have extra room in my bag was thwarted by the fact that it’s winter and all of my clothes were heavy sweaters. Pret changed their menu.

This last trip was a constant reminder that whatever you’re counting on, make sure you’re not counting on it. Or something.

The Best Things Happen When You Take Chances

I went for a run on the Friday, my only morning in London where I’d actually be staying in London that night. Following a map saved to my phone (which got no reception, so it wasn’t a moving map but a pic), I ran about 2.5km up a road and around a park, and then trotted back… or so I thought.

I was about a mile in before I realized *nothing* looked familiar. Not a blessed thing. No buildings, no shops, etc. As most of Islington looks charmingly alike this did not engender much confidence, so I walked into the nearest gas station and asked directions to the Angel Building in Islington. No dice. Walked across the street to a shop, same question, same result.

Hm.

Now, I had no service on my phone, so I couldn’t call up Google Maps. I did not think to bring anything with me but my hotel key, so I had no cash or card to grab a cab back to the hotel. I had run a mile in the *wrong* direction, but which *wrong* was debatable. And so…

I ran back from whence I came, back to the park, and then leveraged every tube station map and bus station map I could find around that park to figure out where I had to go. And got back to my room eventually, ridiculously pleased I didn’t have to give up and get a cab with the promise of “and then wait outside the hotel whilst I go get my wallet”.

Other successful chances included: trying a new place to eat (Meat People. It’s very yum), using my static Starbucks iPhone app to purchase a latte while I had no connectivity (totally forgot Sbux has wi-fi even in London!), and, for the first time in more than 3 years, checking my bag on an international flight. Contents arrived safely both ways.

I therefore declare this trip a success not only for the original needs met, but for the additional learning items. My next trip will be much more local but no less adventurous — please send me your ideas for Portland and the Oregon Coast, with a 10-year-old. 🙂

Pig Foot

“Do you like food?”

The question was put to me, last night after work, over a glass of wine. Sebastien, bless his Teutonic sensitivity, was concerned that I hadn’t made Official Dinner Plans in Montreal. This is apparently a sin of some sort. Add to that, it was Friday, and well, he was concerned.

“What did you have for lunch?” he enquired. I answered — smoked salmon over a bed of lettuce with capers, onions, and two small blinis. “That seems awfully healthy,” he observed pityingly, “Not like Quebec at all.”

When he asked me, shortly after this, about whether or not I liked food, I laughed out loud — I am not anorexic, it’s pretty obvious I like food — but it was such a pitying, concerned way he asked it that I found it funny. I assured him I liked food — really, really liked food. And I had one real night in Montreal (the other one I had arrived into my room, straight from the airport, at midnight. Everything was closed.)

Sebastien had two recommendations: Chasse et Peche, and Aud Pied de Cochon. The first translates roughly as “Hunting and Fishing” and is a super-fancy restaurant for surf and turf. The second translates literally as the Foot of the Pig.  When we found that Chasse was sold out for the night and Sebastien just barely managed to get me room at the bar at Pied (“You can go at 7pm but you have to be out of there by 9:30, okay?”), he proceeded to sell me on it.

They serve poutine (gravy fries) with foie gras on them. “Because,” Sebastien said, “they can. It’s schweinemast.”  “Ah,” I said knowingly, “like Emeril Legasse. Pork fat rules, and all that.” “Exactly, exactly,” he said.

I did not have poutine with foie gras (the lady next to me did, and we discussed it in-depth). I did have duck tartare (and had a private little moment at the bar over it) and then had Plogue A Champlain, which is basically duck bits with foie gras over a pancake and syrup and hey, don’t judge if you haven’t tried it. This is what comes from listening to Sebastien over a glass of wine and then putting yourself utterly in the hands of the nice waiter person at the bar.

Yes I had dessert.

Yes I promptly went for a run this morning to try to ameliorate the caloric destruction of last night. Old Montreal is great for a run if you don’t mind a. taking your life in your hands at every cross walk and b. can find your way as quickly as possible to the waterfront where there are a few k’s of unbroken (or only moderately broken) running/biking paths. Montreal is a lot like the newer bits of Paris in terms of architecture (buildings 300 years old!), tons of little cafes here and there, and friendly people.

You read that. Go read it again. Friendly. People.

I had heard about Quebec — some of the kinder phrases said things like “all of the attitude of France with none of the scenery” — having been to France I can verify that the attitude was there (for I found France friendly), and it had its share of scenery. The only crappy bits were the tourists at my hotel during the manager’s reception (I went for a drink and left before having it — when you have 200 odd guests getting “free” drinks and only 3 servers and 2 barkeeps to attend, it’s a nightmare and people suck).  Even the airport was a pleasant surprise — a 2pm departure on a Saturday usually means get there 3 hours early to fight your way through security– which took all of five minutes.

And so here I sit in Cleveland — stop 1 of 2 stops on the way home (ooh, Philly is next!) having only marginal guilt about last night’s excess (it makes the not-eating of airport food easier to go by). Airports really are the least glamorous part of travel.

I Find This Lack of Internets Disturbing

[Editor’s note: written in Word while on the last leg of 3 legs to London. I was a bit ranty…]

Well, United Airlines (now with Continental!) is spending slightly over one half of one billion (yes, B, not M) dollars on improving its airline interiors, including seat upgrades and satellite Wi-Fi.

This really can’t happen soon enough.

For the business traveler, especially one going from Seattle to Europe, a transatlantic flight represents a minimum of 9 hours where if you SLEEP you’re SCREWED when it comes to jet lag; the best thing to do is tough it out and slog through it. Except if there’s no Wi-Fi, there’s only so much you can do.

For example, I just “kicked off” seven emails. These emails will sit, rotting in my outbox, until I get into my room, acquire Wi-Fi, and they get sent out. By then they will be about 7 hours old. Instead of receiving 7 hours worth of action on them (oh, who am I kidding, but call it 7 MINUTES, fine) I will have zippo on them in the ensuing time. The brain is full of ideas but they have no external avenue!

Likewise I can’t do non-work things that I have in place to keep me non-work busy. Planning the training rides for the STP? Already done for me, but I can’t send emails to discuss/’negotiate” the rides because no internets. I can’t get quotes for balloons for the science fair because no internets.  I can’t get the STOCK MARKET quotes because of no internets, and this is a sad thing.

Am I addicted? Possibly. Have I built a life around me that requires this tethering? I’ll buy that. But the technology exists, it’s not even that EXPENSIVE, we just don’t seem to have it in the places we really need it.

Silver Linings

The last 24 hours have unquestionably been a series of Silver Linings.  (Note: I’m on a plane – leg 3 of a 3 leg sojourn to Heathrow – so I finally get to blog).

My day started on Monday, March 5th at about 4:30am. That’s when the eyeballs snapped open and steadfastly refused to close. Not being able to sleep is, I think we can all agree, a bad thing; but if it happens on a Monday morning you can at least attend to the deluge of email that Europe’s and Asia’s Monday morning delivered. Silver lining number one, then: clean(ish) email inbox before I hit the office.

I got the boy to school to discover he was the recipient of a C-slip on Friday afternoon but due to the last-minute nature of it the C-slip would not be sent home until Monday (a C-slip is a “Communication slip” – if you have inferred the communication is rarely positive you are correct. Typically C-slips are to indicate behaviors the school would like to stop, now, please. For example: chasing one’s classmate with a pencil). I spent the day agonizing that I had let the boy child have TV on Sunday night because I didn’t know of the infraction, only to discover (when I finally had a chance to talk to him) that he had already ‘fessed up at his father’s house and punishment had been delivered. Silver lining number two: he didn’t attempt to hide it and instead demonstrated true remorse and honesty.

At the point I entered the office I was 3 conference calls in, with no coffee; I stepped into the office of a colleague to discover she was leaving the company (she is a wonderful asset to the company and she’s been around for years and years). She is doing this to spend more time with her family – not because of any real dissatisfaction. Fair enough: silver lining number three – she made the right choice for herself and there is no argument with Family First.

The workday was about on-par for a Monday (which is saying both a lot and very little),  and I went to retrieve the boy child so we could go hang up Science Fair posters at the school. I thought this would take a long time, but it turns out the opportunity to spend time with him NOT doing homework or study or projects was incredibly welcome, and he took great pride in his taping skills. Plus, we finished early (and hello Silver lining number four).

We got to karate where he has steadfastly opined that he dislikes all Sempais and only wishes to train with the Sensei. Sensei is travelling back home so we had a Sempai: Silver lining number five was that my son has now declared that “THAT Sempai is okay. I like him.”

Dinner cooked mercifully in short time, I actually got to spend time with my son before I left (technically after his bed time). I rolled into SeaTac feeling especially reticent to fly and discovered that my flight was delayed 3 hours, meaning I would MISS my connecting flight at Dulles. I was rebooked to a flight that left at the same time for O’Hare, which would then meet up with a second flight for Dulles, to catch my third to Heathrow. At this point, all restaurants (even the Starbucks and the bars) at the airports are closed, and I have just enough time to get through security (where I got the complete feel-up even though I went through the perv machine) and catch my new flight.

I know what you’re thinking
. Where’s the silver lining there?

It’s here: my flight to Chicago was practically empty and I didn’t share a seat with anyone; I could stretch out and sleep.

My flight to Dulles was also practically empty and I could stretch out (across 3 seats!) and sleep.

And I type this now from my flight to Heathrow. Incidentally it’s the same flight the Seattle folks were trying to make and wouldn’t have; as a result I have changed my window seat for a middle/middle
 with no one on either side of me. I have three seats to sleep in, work at, eat at, and I can watch 3 different TV programs if I was so inclined (I am not, however).

There are a lot of things of late that have me deliberately looking for silver linings: continued adventures in civil court, an overactive volunteering gland resulting in a very intricate Outlook calendar, the increasing realization that time moves much more quickly than it did when I was younger and there’s a definite crest to this hill.  I am very glad, then, that I can still find them.

Great Wolf Lodge

I spent a night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, WA.

Now, before I left, I had done much reading of reviews and perusal of their site. I knew, much like going to Disneyland, I was to hand over my wallet at the door and let them tell me how much I should be left with.

I had a fantastic time.

Great Wolf Lodge is a place for kids: an oversized, indoor water park with a hotel and multiple eateries and shops attached. The catch is that you must stay the night in the hotel, you can’t go into the water park without a room for the night. I went, not as the typical nuclear family (2 adults, 1.7 kids), but as the typical single mom: 1 adult, 1 kid. This is important to note as it impacts how you operate within a water park (for example — you stake out your table and need to go to the lockers to retrieve something?  You’re both going — there is no other parent to hold on to things.)

At a nominal average price of about $180-$200 for a night, depending on seasonality, you get:

1. Wristbands to let you in to the park. The adults get RFID wristbands that allow you to do things like open the room or charge things to your room. Ergo, your wallet stays in the room and you are not tethered to it.

2. Access to a large water park from 1pm to 9pm on day of check-in, and from 9am to 9pm on day of check out

3. Access to an arcade. (Games cost the same as everywhere else).

4. A relatively nice, standard hotel room.

For $40 more, you get a wand and an interactive game that will take you the whole day, even if you rush at it. It involves climbing a lot of stairs and running around, and I enjoyed it as much as the small child.

Taken together, your total outgo minus food is about $230 for one kid and one mom. GWL has a reputation for being hideously expensive but, I will note that same room would run you about $120 or so elsewhere. The remaining $110 then is to cover the magic game and the water park and the convenience of your RFID tag. (That convenience goes both ways — proffering your wrist to pay for something removes you from the emotional attachment you may have for your cash).

With the magic game prepriced at about $40 (there’s the cost of the wand and the cost of the game itself), you’re left with $70 for two day’s access to a water park for two people. And here’s where the “it’s overpriced” argument fails: 4 water slides, a wave pool, an activity pool, a kids pool, and an indoor-outdoor pool and sunning area, unlimited clean towels, thorough and plenty lifeguards are yours for 2 days for $35pp. That is on par with local water parks — even those without as many slides.

YES, you will pay $10/day for locker rental (you check out at 11am, so if you have things like car keys or cell phones or wallets, and you don’t have a spousal unit out of the water at all times, you’ll need a locker). YES, the food is relatively overpriced (relatively = overpriced for “normal places to eat”. Not overpriced in the context of amusement park food, theater food, etc.) and it isn’t really all that good: but your admission comes with in and out privileges, and there are plenty of local restaurants (La Tarasca, Dicks Northwest Brewhouse) to go to. There is a Starbucks inside the building and it’s priced normally, too.

More to the point, there isn’t a single place in the edifice where you are not responsible for your own child (I regard this as something worthy of kudos). If your child is in the water park, so must you be. There is no day care, kids club, babysitting service, etc. If you want to go play in the spa or the bar, better have your spousal unit watching the kids and trade-off with you — because you, parent, do not get to abscond your responsibility. This, to me, was great. Also, the entrance to each water slide is monitored, and they ask you EVERY TIME, regardless of if they remember you (and they did remember us after 5 or 6 goes) if we met the height and weight requirements. (I’m not 700 pounds yet– that’s another post).

Now, there was one down side to GWL: I blew out my knee going on the Howling Tornado. It’s six flights of stairs to the two largest water slides, and we went on them multiple times. We were both eight years old this weekend — we’d ride down the slide, tumble out of the inner tube, scream “AGAIN!”, run up the stairs, wait in a very small line, and ride down again. After a day and a half of this, my knee has started making audible cracking sounds, and it is rather swollen; I’m going back to Mme. le Docteur next Monday. At least I will have a really fun story as to why it is doing that. I expect I’ll get a bunch of physical therapy, some more exercises, more taping to do, maybe another injection.

Just in time for my next GWL visit! AGAIN!

Frankly France

My boss is French. My skip-level is French. And I think I’m becoming a closet francophile, but NOT because of them. We had an offsite.

In Lyon, France.

For those not in the know — which, until about a week ago, included yours truly — Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. I was there for 4 days and gained approximately 1 pound per day, and so we can all acknowledge that this was due to the fantastic food. I ate everything and then some, and in a country where bread is served at every meal (and contains only the classic ingredients — none of this corn syrup business or dough conditioners, thank you very much), this was no small feat. Oh, and the wine.

The Wine!

As I stated, my bosses (plural) are french. And so when it came time for wine to be decided, the menu was handed to them, and after a studied reflection of the menu and nonverbal cues between them, they’d summon the wait staff and give them the cursory order. In French. In other words, I couldn’t understand a bit, and so I can’t repeat what they ordered, but everything tasted wonderful. (In the states I eschewed French wines as “dusty” — not a speck of it in France. Not sure what is up with that!)

I see I’m babbling. Let me go at it chronologically:

After a day of travelling — Seattle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, CDG to Lyon via train — I checked into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, which has unparalleled views in Lyon and quite the nice breakfast!). It was 10pm at this time, and the short walk from the train station allowed me to see the perfect pinks and oranges of the sun as it set. Bracing myself for “French disdain of the American”, I asked the concierge downstairs for restaurant recommendations.

I was presented in a charming and friendly manner with a map, highlighted directions, and two options: did Madame want something “safe”, or did Madame want something traditionally Lyonnaise? Madam indicated Lyonnaise, because I am not about to let a little jet lag in the way of Madame’s sense of adventure. A right from the hotel, and then the next right, and then a left, down two blocks: I found myself at a not-very-distinguishable bistro on a cobblestoned lane.

I was one of 3 tables at that time: a french couple having a romantic dinner, a set of Americans doing their best to keep all sorts of boisterous clichĂ©s in place, and then, well, me. The waiter switched to nearly-flawless English (and not in a disdaining way) when he discovered my French was non. He did want to make sure I understood what I was ordering as I was picking it out of a French menu but fortunately French is a Latin-based language and I can understand it just fine, I can’t speak it. Anyway, chicken with mushrooms and a side of ratatouille, and an okay bordeaux was dinner. It was beautiful (hey Kevin — the ratatouille was WAY better than that one we did, so we may need to revisit that at one of the HP get togethers), and then there was dessert.

Oh yes I did. I’m sorry, but my weight loss programme does not extend beyond the borders of the US, and so tarte tatin it was, and it was AMAZING. That, and coffee in a little demitasse cup.

Sated, I went back to my room… and woke up promptly at 5am. With the local gym not open until 8am, and no power converter (the three that I had brought with me did not work, and the person in charge of adapters at the hotel was not in until 9), I went for a run. Lyon is an excellent place to run — the walkways are wide, it’s mostly flat, and you cannot help but look at amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, and it’s cool in the morning even on a summer day. I only did about 4km — the knee is messed up again (that is another post for another time). However, it helped me feel better about the caloric intake of the night before.

I will say nothing of the meetings in Lyon that I was there for because they are proprietary to my company, with the exception that they were incredibly productive and useful. I was surprised because usually these sorts of things are endless power point decks and stifled yawns, but by day 3 we were still active and passionate about what we were doing, and had come to a better understanding of how each wheel works in this little clock of ours. I came home with 7 pages of notes.

At any rate, each day had breakfast in the hotel — oh, the cheese! — and a prearranged luncheon. Dinners were out on the town with the bosses, and that was where the careful wine menu scrutiny/ordering took place. Dinner conversation was equally as pleasantly a surprise as the meetings themselves: our party included two from Hong Kong, one from Amsterdam, two from London, the aforementioned two French, a few Americans, an Italian Australian, an Italian Italian, a Swede, and three from India (originally). I discovered many things, including that restaurant service and gratuity expectation/practice varies widely globally, that personal space in social situations does as well, and that the US is sorely behind in languages for its children. Case in point: my colleague from Amsterdam had mandatory Dutch and English until she was 10. Then French was added in. Two years later, so was German. She took Latin and Greek for fun.

(If you’re counting that as six languages, let’s take note that she knew a handful of words in other languages including Spanish and Italian).

At any rate: Lyon was pretty, with a variety of architectural styles but mostly consisting of the beige stucco/stonework and reddish-tan roofing, most buildings not exceeding 4 or 5 stories. We visited the local cathedrals (the two biggies, anyway), if I can get them off of my iPhone I will post pictures.

In short: Lyon is a 2-hour train from Paris and worth it.

As to Paris: I spent half of one day there (by the time I got the train and metro sorted out). In that half of a day I saw the Arc de Triomphe (larger than expected, and there were people at the top, which I hadn’t realized was possible), walked down the Champs-Elysees (endless shopping possibilities, but I’m not a shopper and people were thick — in both senses of the word), walked around the Louvre (not in it, I’m afraid, time being what it was), and down to Notre Dame (did walk in, it is GORGEOUS).  If you’ve ever seen the TV Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, you will learn how they figured out how to make the heavy stone archways (and not have them pulled down by gravity and killing people, for example) or the architectural purpose of flying buttresses; and this makes the Notre Dame all the more impressive. That, and the realization that all of that lovely colored glass was done without chemicals — or not the way we think of them. For example, did you know that in order to get RED glass you need gold?

I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, as I dawdled (dawdled??) in my walking — the architecture in Paris is AMAZING. You can tell the difference in building ages just by their accoutrements — who has gargoyles, who has scrollwork, what kind of columns were in fashion. Some buildings are relatively new — say, mid-1900’s– and about twenty feet wide, having been risen between two older buildings that formerly may have had garden space between the two. Cobblestone streets abound, and the smell of everything is in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it, but I’m in love, I truly am.

My only dinner in Paris I had close to my hotel (Hotel Ampere, 17th arrondissement, absolutely beautiful in and out) and was a fixed-price with some choices. I sat outside, so as to watch the people walking by — I love people watching — and had a very leisurely dinner. The service was very friendly and attentive, I had to ask the people to my left — four older French people, two older couples — if tipping was okay or would elicit offense. I had to do this in Spanish as it was the only common language we had, their English being only fractionally better than my French. (I am not dissing them at all — at least they spoke another language! Never mind two. America, we need to catch up!) After some discussion, they agreed that the service was very good, and that leaving service (propina in spanish) was okay — in this instance. Of course she would not be offended, I just needed to realize this was only done when it was *really good*, not as a matter of course.

Morning came on my last day, with enough time for a quick breakfast and then 4 Metro lines (kinda like our subway system) to the RER train, back to my flight. In all, travel on my last day took 22 hours. I was very happy to see my bed.

I will be seeing France again though. I politely informed the male person this morning we are going back and spending some real-time there. He took it rather well.

Travelling, Light

[editor’s note: this was actually written nearly 6 days ago. I’ve been in France, and will wait until tomorrow — on my FOREVER flight schedule — to update on the sheer awesomeness that is France. No seriously: France is awesome. So awesome that I can’t be bothered to blog, tweet, check-in, etc. ]

This is actually a two-fer, because I find myself on a British Airways flight with no Wifi (this is acceptable. On a transatlantic flight I can appreciate the engineering feat that wireless internet would represent. On a 2-hour flight to San Francisco, there’s no excuse.)

I recently had the pleasure of going to Dallas. That’s right. I said “pleasure”, and I totally mean it. I went to Dallas in late June/early July, for work, and you’d think that this would be a Fate Worse Than Death, or at least a Fate Worse Than A Really Good Beating, but no, I actually enjoyed it.

I’ll wait until you retrieve your jaw from the floor.

Dallas was roughly 100 degrees and humid each day, but it was warm… and sunny… and the people were IMPOSSIBLY friendly. Example: the hotel I stayed at — to be reviewed — had complementary passes to Gold’s Gym. At Gold’s Gym I ran across a lady who was probably 3 years my senior and 30 pounds lighter, with flame-red hair down to her knees. It was gathered up in a braid but still, it was gorgeous. I couldn’t help but comment — I’m like that — and instead of the typical “Seattle Freeze” (e.g., “hey thanks!”, and then promptly go away) she chatted me up. Wanted to know where I was from, did I usually come in the morning because she didn’t remember seeing me. Dallas was like that all over — exceptionally friendly, down to the Subway guy who gave me the 2nd chocolate chip cookie because really, that’s how the meal is supposed to be. Or something.

This is not like when the Lesbian Lawyer from New York chatted me up. I was flattered, she had great shoes. That was a fun dinner.

At any rate, I stayed at the Hotel ZaZa.

If you are going to Dallas– and really, I don’t care why you are going — stay at the Hotel ZaZa. Oh! Where to begin.

Accommodations:

The room was only slightly smaller than half of my house. The bathroom had a separate tub and shower, and the tub would fit two strangers or three very well acquainted people. The toiletries were “racing fuel” — separate shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath gel — in those cool wide-open mouth containers that some of us (Hi!) use (re-use) for gym toiletries. The bed was exceedingly comfortable, it’s a shame I only slept five hours a night. I never tried the TV or the room service (hey, that’s a first!) but the restaurant attached (Dragonfly) had wonderful food and a great wine list (Malbec, represent!). The hallways are littered with funky Vogue and W magazine photo ops, all framed and they help you find your way by day two. The butler’s pantry (on the way to the elevators) is stocked with all manner of breakfast beverage to kick start your day, complete with to-go cups. The hotel staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating — I parked in the wrong place and couldn’t figure out the internet at 2am — and they were there to help.

Am I going back to Dallas? Oh, I hope so. And when I do, I’m staying at ZaZa, even if I have to pay for it myself!

Fast forward one hectic, crazy week. I spent 4th of July at my mom’s… where I ate everything, naturally … and then home to 4 days of back-to-back meetings (excellent, productive meetings — normally I eschew them but these were actually *productive*), and then 1.5 days of errands, laundry, and family fun before here I am on a British Airways flight.

My first British Airways flight.

So far they’re a decent 2nd to Air France (sorry, mate). Granted, I’m only 36 minutes in, but damn! The service is good, the flight attendants are incredibly patient, and I am overstocked with 2 blankets, 2 headsets, and 1 pillow. I’m in a 3-stack to the starboard side with no one in the middle, which is excellent. My seatmate and I established rules of engagement — she’s an American lit student from England (wait, what??) wearing a UW Rosebowl 1993 sweatshirt. I asked her, “Oh, were you there?” and she said, “No, I was at UW, but I had to buy something, I was at the student store… did you go to UW?” to which I had to say “Yes… and I was there…”. Sigh, I have aged myself.

At any rate, I’m watching “Paul” with Simon Pegg, drinking red wine from a screw-cap bottle (tempranillo garnacha, so it’s good, actually!), and enjoying a very comfortable seat. The flight seems consisted of 75% expats going home (like my seatmate) and I’m relishing the variety of accents.

Before I got on the flight, I spent a harried 20 minutes downloading data and emails from my local machine — so alas now, I must actually use said data. I leave off, going back to watching “Paul”, and playing with numbers.

Some work perks defy easy naming, but are beyond words in other ways.

I’m on a Plane… I can complain…

(written on Cinco de Mayo at 35k feet):

I have a massive issue with airlines that don’t offer wifi on all of their flights. I’m sitting here, United, on a 3 hour direct flight and couldn’t help but notice that my personal productivity has gone down the drain.

Part of the problem is I am one of these people whose brain is always on. Always. I have trouble going to bed at night sometimes because it’s on, and if I get up in the middle of the night then it’s 2:1 I won’t be able to sleep for an hour or two because the brain is on. I’m not even remotely suggesting what is running through it at any given time is useful: oftentimes it ranges from work-related (useful!) kid-related (useful!) or PTA related (useful!) to an in-depth analysis of when I last got a pedicure and if I really should go and get one in the next few days (so! not! useful!).

For me, getting to the airport early means I can leverage free-wifi and the ubiquitous Starbucks. Today’s blog post is courtesy of a work-provided venti iced caramel latte. It’s technically decaf but I think that isn’t doing much to stem the tide of angst. While I got lots done in my hour-after-security-before-last-minute-boarding, I am stuck on this plane with no access to anything useful. Cloud computing, the idea that you can access *your stuff* from anywhere, because it’s not tied to a given machine, has one fatal flaw: you need to have internets to get to it. And I have none.

Instead I have sat and watched the movie Red again (pretty good, actually funnier the second time around), paid $9 for in-flight Tapas (also surprisingly good), and seethed at all of the things I could be doing right now. Mostly work.

People often ask me what I do. My official title is: Director of Business Development & Initiatives, Americas. I can write that here because it’s on my Linked In. But that title doesn’t really tell you what I do, and really? I can’t tell you what I do. Not in a, “I’d have to kill you”/CIA sort of way; it’s more like a “I don’t want to get fired” kind of way. Easily twenty-five percent of the projects I work on either do not come to fruition (we go down the path and discover it’s an untenable or impractical one) or would have no external significance whatsoever. The other seventy-five are either corporate-specific (the travel industry is different from, say, the financial services industry) and would require you to be in the industry to get what I was driving at (or have a 2-hour primer on the topic), OR are very very shiny and I can’t talk about them. I really do mean that.

From a professional standpoint, there is a measure of tooting one’s own horn that is of value, both internally and externally to your company. Internally it’s valuable to work your way up and over (or over and up as it is sometimes done); externally it’s valuable to show a prospective new employer what you are capable of. I cannot, however, post about most of what I do.

Right now for example, I’m on a flight. I’m going to a place where I will need to discuss a business and operational plan, as well as the associated human and project management associated with that. Sounds very nebulous. Next week I have a meeting about a method of incentivizing people to do something extraneous to their job description without harming the parts of their job that are IN their description. And then there’s the process tree chasing — it’s official that X leads to Y, but unofficially we all know it routes to Z who then checks with A (or B) and if it meets condition C then it will never ever go to Y.

See? It doesn’t help the discussion along at all. Knowing that I can’t further any of it, though, because I’m on a plane, is sad.

Money Is Time

Let me start off with this statement: it is impossible to do Disneyworld/Universal Studios on the cheap. You just can’t. With park tickets for one child and one adult coming to $160 a day (for either set of parks) you are already in for it fiscally.

This does not mean you can’t be fiscally prude.

What I did:

I shopped around (full disclosure: I work for Expedia. This does not mean I didn’t shop around. On the contrary, Expedia is a great tool to START shopping, because it’s comprehensive and it gives you a lay of the land —maps, photos, links to Tripadvisor, etc.). I looked at packages because I happen to know package deals do offer savings over booking incrementally – if you don’t believe me, try it ;). I also did not leverage any employee deals). I ended up booking 6 nights, 7 days on Expedia, flying Alaska (my preferred airline) and staying at the WDW Dolphin. I booked ground transportation separately online.

We booked during hurricane season. It’s less expensive and warm rain beats oppressive sun and heat; plus the Disneyworld parks are geared for long lines – in shade, or indoors. It only rains about 30 minutes each day. We did buy rain slickers at Magic Kingdom before we figured this out, $15 not terribly well spent. If you’re really worried about moisture, go at another time or bring collapsible rain shells.

I stayed on property. My rationale was, should we choose to go to any of the Disneyworld parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood, the Water Parks, Downtown Disney) we could take the free busses to and from our hotel, and we wouldn’t have to pay for parking.

For Universal Studios, we rented a car. I had no idea how near/far it was, and so I paid for the prepaid gas option. I also got a Garman GPS because I hate getting lost. The option was between renting a car and taking a cab, and even figuring in parking at Universal ($15), it was still cheaper than the cab from our hotel (the Dolphin).  Universal was worth it for Harry Potter, but note that most of the rides are for kids over 44” if they’re at all “fast”. (The kiddo could ride all rides at Magic Kingdom. He could ride only one of the two Harry Potters).

We went to the Magic Kingdom for two days, rested one day by the pool, and went to Universal for a day. We ate mostly at our hotel (lots of dining options) and took the free bus to Downtown Disney for dinners out like the Rainforest CafĂ© and Fuller’s Crab House. We also did a little shopping there (hello, Lego Store!).

What You Should Do/What We’re Doing Next Time:

I’m booking on Expedia again, and likely for the same property or one of the other properties. The Grotto Pool is a big seller here at the Dolphin, and it was great to have someplace fun to go and relax.  I will leverage ground transportation that Disneyworld provides – they apparently have a mass transit system that includes MCO transportation. *AND* I’ll get the meal plan – we spent most of our time eating at WDW hotels/places, it’s likely going to be less expensive next time.

Go to Universal early on in your trip. Rent the car to do it, but DON’T pay for the full fill up at the end: Universal is like 10 miles away, and there’s a gas station (Hess) on the Disneyworld property that you can fill up your car before returning it. Use the car coming BACK from Universal to purchase things like sunscreen, drinks for your room (they have mini fridges), sundries, etc., because for example a bottle of sunscreen on property runs you $17. (Why didn’t I pack sunscreen? I carry on if I can help it. And yes, for a weeklong vacation with a child and my laptop for work, I carried on). Turn the car in same day – no point paying for parking on property. Oh – and don’t rent the Garman with the car. It’s absolutely useless. Rely on a map, or use your iPhone/Crackberry for GPS – more accurate and you’re used to it.

Stay on property if you can afford it.  It’s better than the hassle of driving in and out of the park. You can book close to the park with a hotel that provides a shuttle, and that will likely offer you more dining options.

If you’re staying at the Dolphin or Swan, go to the Garden CafĂ© and do the Character Buffet. Worth it, as they have characters on the floor pretty much the entire time, and the food is really quite good. If you want a night out to yourselves, note that you get two free hours of Dolphin Kids Club (movies, videogames, crafts, dinner for kids 3-12 at $10/hour) PER ENTRÉE ordered at one of the nicer restaurants on property.

If you are going to have even the slightest inclination to visit more than one park (we didn’t, but I think next year the kiddo would like to) book your park hopper tickets in advance – they’re less expensive than at the gate.  Note that Magic Kingdom has this process down more efficiently than Universal – you can get them off of a touchscreen machine, vs. Universal still has normal cashiers.

Take cash for contingencies – for example, the spray-on tattoo guy at Universal is cash only. And plan on buying more than souvenirs or food in the parks – the Pirate Adventure ($30) is well worth it (for kids and adults) but if you’re budgeting/watching expenses closely that (or the BibbidyBoppidyBoutique, which makes over your daughter/sister/wife/mother as a princess) can be an unforeseen one.  Again, that cash is well worth it – you get take home souvenirs, usually personalized, and it provides constant entertainment for something like 30 minutes (or more, depending on which kind of makeup you get).

Remember that these parks are here to be fun, and clean, and make money. Every ride at Universal ends in a gift shop; while Disney’s don’t there are many shiny baubles tempting you as you meander through the park. The layout of Universal is also like a casino (weaving through the park, nothing is really interconnected in multiple ways) and Disneyland is like a wheel and spoke (so you can get from Tomorrowland to Adventureland without having to go up through Mickey’s Toon Town, Fantasyland, and Liberty Central first). If you are travelling with small children who have this idea that Mommy/Daddy is the Ultimate Credit Card, establish expectations early as to exactly what and exactly when souvenirs are purchased (at the end is best—you don’t want to have multiple bags on rides). Many souvenir items are available online for nominal shipping – did you really want to haul four wands through Universal Studios? What about that oversized Mickey plush?

Lastly, with your carefully crafted Excel Spreadsheet budget complete, add 10%. Seriously. There will be things you can’t plan for, like floaties or lost goggles or that really cool Quiddich t-shirt or whatever. And with that budget in mind, go forth, and have fun.

Because that’s what vacation is all about.