Thursday, August 30, 2012

Throwing Fish at the Pike Place Market

At the Pike Place Market, one of the most famous attractions is the the Pike Place Fish Company. They are in a great spot in the market that is super easy to find, but what they are known for is throwing fish. Getting a picture of the fish in flight is one of the things that tourists come for, so I thought that this would be a great opportunity to test out my new point and shoot's slow motion video mode. Here are the fish!

Success! If you are visiting the market, this is an absolute must visit stall. On this visit, the salmon and the albacore both looked fantastic, and recently they have started selling only sustainable fish.  They pack for up to 48 hours if you are interested in taking this unbelievably fresh fish home for yourself and will ship anywhere.

Food Friday er.. Thursday: Poppy in Seattle

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Biking the Greenways of Portland

Portland has a reputation that precedes it and much of it centers on the bicycle culture that has sprung up in the city. On my last trip there, I left my car in Seattle, hopped on BoltBus, borrowed a bike (Thanks Alexa!), and put that reputation to the test along with a group of about 30 other community advocates from the Seattle area. We were all there on a study trip to learn more about the neighborhood greenways ("Next Generation Bike Boulevards") that have started to crisscross the neighborhoods.

If you've never heard of a neighborhood greenway, the basic idea is to create a neighborhood street that brings back the type of activities that have disappeared because of cars having absolute priority on all streets. On a neighborhood greenway, priority is given to pedestrians, bikes, and neighbors instead of cars. The basic formula is relatively simple:
  1. You start with a residential street that already has a low traffic volume.
  2. You add improvements to the street that keeps residential traffic at residential speeds andlets bicycles move along the street without having to stop every block or two. 
  3. You make the streetscape more appealing for those who live along the path.
  4. You add cost effective improvements at major arterial crossings to create a safe place to cross busy streets.
The end result is a street where people of all ages and abilities can get on their bike, perhaps for the first time or perhaps the first time in years, and feel safe. The roads remain open to cars but because of the changes, cars move slower, more safely, and make less noise. These have been highlighted as success stories in Portland and we wanted to see what it was all about. 

After the break, a look at neighborhood greenways, as well as a couple photos from Pine State Biscuits (a great brunch place) and Salt and Straw (a tasty ice cream shop right nearby).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: BoltBus in the Northwest

BoltBus is a newcomer to the Northwest and, as I wrote previously, it has been shaking up how we get around in our region. BoltBus operates buses that connect Vancouver BC, Seattle, and Portland with new buses and the promise of cheap fares. This past weekend I went down to Portland for a Neighborhood Greenways study trip and got a chance to put BoltBus to the test.

The business model for BoltBus is pretty simple: Exceed expectations, undercut the competition, and minimize expenses. To do that, BoltBus promises fares as low as a buck, new buses, and curbside pickup. In Seattle, the bus stop is next to the International District station, near Uwajimaya. In Portland, it is right downtown, while in Vancouver it is near the main train station. When I arrived, there was already a group of people waiting, although this doesn't really matter: Boarding is done in three waves and first come is not necessarily first served when each wave is called.

The bus itself is brand new with baggage storage underneath. There is room for a bike, but it is first come, first served. For a lot of my biking friends, that means that BoltBus is a lot less attractive. It is entirely possible to show up and not have room on the bus or to get stuck in another city with a bike you can't take back with you. In the future, hopefully they will create a reservation system. Passengers on BoltBus were friendly and typically on the younger side.

After the break, the interior and review of BoltBus!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Huge changes coming to Russian visas on September 9th!

A long awaited agreement between the US and Russia is about to take effect next month. On September 9th, American citizens will be eligible for a multiple entry Russian visa valid for three years with stays up to six months at a time. Details haven't percolated through the system yet to the Russian embassy webpage, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Russian Federation has already made the announcement. Straight from them (via Google Translate):
"In accordance with the Agreement provides, inter alia, the issuance of the citizens of both countries multiple entry visas for a stay of up to 6 months from the date of each entry and valid for 36 months from the date of issuance."
This is great news for anyone heading to Russia. Hopefully, the visa registration rules will be the next to go in the process of opening Russia up to tourism and trade.

[via MID]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flight Report: Milwaukee to Seattle

After visiting Milwaukee and Chicago for the weekend, it's time to head back to Seattle. This time we flew back on a direct flight with AirTran, which wasn't the most interesting flight in the world. The airline is alright... except for one thing.

Their reward program sucks.

The sooner they ditch the A+ Rewards program for Southwest's Rapid Rewards, the better. Right now, Airtran gives one point per flight and requires 8 to redeem for a round trip ticket. That might not sound so bad ("Buy four, get one free!"), but the main issue is that each point expires one year after issue. That means you need to fly five round trips per year on AirTran in order to get any value (four round trips, paid and one free). Need to hold on to those credits for an extra year? No problem, if you don't mind spending $29 per credit. The only redeeming grace is that you can also earn and spend your credits on Southwest, which recently bought AirTran for nearly a billion and a half dollars.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

24 Short Hours in Chicago

Chicago is one of those cities that I wish I had more time in. This time around I was there for one night, which actually just about doubles the amount of time that I've spent here. With such a short amount of time, I limited the trip to the central area, including the "miracle mile" and Navy Pier.

We stayed at the Fairmont Chicago which ended up being a great choice. It's very centrally located and much to my surprise, parking was included in the reservation. When we found out after parking in the garage next door, the concierge offered to refund the parking fees from the other garage and told us to just drop it off with the valet downstairs. Great service all around and the rooms were comfortable, along with nice views.

In the afternoon, we decided to try out the Signature Room at the John Hancock Tower. I am a fan of skybars in general ever since a visit Shanghai. They are expensive and often not that great, but there is something nice about being able to sit high above the city and look out over it. The Signature Room and Lounge is on the 95th and 96th floor and provides one of the best views of the city.

The Signature Room, as opposed to Lounge, is more exclusive and upper crust. You can get a table there pretty easily and lunch starts at $14 for a main (dinner starting at $30). We had just come from Frontera Grill (see below) and were only interested in checking out the view with a drink.

Drinks in the Signature Lounge, just above the Dining Room, are "Chicago standard" priced: $13-15 a drink off the signature menu. However, I ordered a maitai and it ended up being a comparatively bargain basement price of $11. The Signature Lounge is is packed with people and generally seemed to draw a tourist crowd doing exactly what we were doing: Coming up, buying a drink, taking pictures, and moving on. It's not the worst deal in the world, considering the other skyview in Chicago is $17.50. 

And these views...

More of these views and more places after the break!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Of Macaroni Pizza and Vintage Cocktails: Four Spots in Milwaukee to Try

In my flight report to Milwaukee, I mentioned that some of the stereotypes about the city are true. How else do explain a macaroni and cheese pizza pictured here? The only way this could have come about was plenty of beer and cheese, just like the classic Wisconsin dish of.. well.. beer cheese soup.

This pizza was served up at Ian's Pizza, which is a chain that started in Madison, Wisconsin. Coming from a college town and moving to the drinking town of Milwaukee, this seems like a perfect fit. This is pure, unadulterated drunk food with more than a hint of uninhibited college student experimentation. Macaroni isn't the only noodle that they put on pizzas: Chicken Penne Alfredo pizza and Lasagna Marinara are both on the menu.

Overall, the pizza is actually pretty good. Macaroni and Cheese turns out to go with pizza crust really well and all of the slices looked good. The other one pictured here was a barbeque chicken pizza with pineapple, which happens to be pretty similar to my all time favorite pizza flavor: Curry chicken with pineapple (from Sweden).

A beer helps to really appreciate Ian's and fortunately, the beer scene in Milwaukee has moved beyond Miller Time (although the Miller brewery is still there and going strong). Among the microbreweries that are popping up, I met with some friends at the Horny Hideaway, which is part of the Horny Goat Brewing Company. The location is great for a summer night and there are even volley ball nets with sand, if you feel like that. The open air restaurant and bar is pretty fun, but the beers aren't exactly the best in the world. They trade more on their "friendly" mascot and tongue in cheek names, over their actual flavor.

But so what? On a warm night, with a breeze and a plate full of loaded 'tots, the beers work just fine and it's a huge step up from the macrobrews that Milwaukee is known for. On top of that, this is one of several microbreweries that have popped up. Sprecher, Lakefront, and Big Bay are all in the area now, as well as some specialty Belgium bars.

Finally, one last stop at the brand new Glorioso's. The market has been in business for almost 60 years and has been a member of the Italian community here just as long. We dropped by for lunch and some Italian cookies, which are actually from a bakery just down the street. Sadly, while Seattle once had a thriving Italian community in the Rainier Valley (known as the "Garlic Gulch"), they just don't bake 'em like this there. Our Borracchini Bakery, which does make excellent cakes, doesn't make their cookies like this. The Sciortino bakery beats them hands down. 

At the market here, they also offer up a sandwiches and Italian dishes at their deli counter. In our case, we went with the Italian Beef (right) and the Felice Special (left).

Finally, after a long day, one great thing that you can still find in Milwaukee are classic, dimly lit cocktail bars. In particular, two bars stand out in my mind: Byrant's Cocktail Lounge and At Random. At Random is a small white nondescript house with cocktails that are best served either on fire or with ice cream. The atmosphere looks like it hasn't changed significantly since the early 1970s. There was even a black velvet clown painting on the wall when I was there, but the drinks are top notch.

Byrant's in contrast goes for the opposite end. It's not chic and trendy in there, but things are far more polished. It looks like what chic and trendy looked like 40 years ago. Inside, they serve up tropical drinks based on what flavors you tell them you like or dislike. There is no set menu to browse, although their website does have a couple standards you can order by name. Overall, it's a great place to end the night or hang out.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Flight Report: Seattle to Milwaukee

Two weekends ago, I found myself in Milwaukee for the weekend. I was there to visit my girlfriend's family, with a bonus side trip to Chicago for the night. If you've never been to Milwaukee (and unless you have family or business there, the odds are pretty low), the city itself is actually a lot better than the stereotypes you might imagine. It's not all about Miller time, the Brewers, and Fonzie.

Actually, I take that back. It is all about the Brewers, there is a bronze Fonzie statue that is one of the top rated tourist attractions, and one of the highlights of Milwaukee, for better or worse, is the bar scene. Life there is different compared with the West Coast and my native Seattle. If the dream of the '90s is alive in Portland (thank you Portlandia), then the dreams of Americana is alive in Milwaukee.

My first flight was fairly uneventful. It was a night flight, so no pictures to share, but we were upgraded to first on Delta to Minneapolis. Once on the ground there, we were welcomes by not one, but two mechanical delays involving our MD-90. The first one actually went out of service and we were given a new plane, but that one had issues as well. Personally, I don't like the McDonald-Douglas planes, at least not since I was a kid flying on the MD-80s. In those early years, I would look forward to boarding the plane via the rear stairs.

Once on board, we were finally ready to go. The first time, they actually boarded us and then had us deplane once they figured out that the plane wasn't going anywhere. Sitting there gave me plenty of time to consider the skymall catalog and wonder about the people who buy this stuff.

Carlashes?! This is a real thing that people make money on?! It's completely ridiculous, as is the Mall of America, pictured below. That's one of the largest malls in the United States, complete with indoor amusement park.

Finally on the ground in Milwaukee, a full three hours after we were supposed to be there. Because we were so late, we needed to grab a bite to eat which made Gillies our first stop for some frozen custard. Finally the trip is starting to turn around!

Next time, we'll take a look around Milwaukee's "finest" diningsome fantastic places in Chicago, and then head on back to Seattle.

Whoops... "We know about this"

Passengers on one Alaska Air flight found "We Know About This" scrawled on their wing and thanks to the internet, now we all know about this. While it might be a little unnerving to see a minor flaw pointed out so explicitly, "this" is actually an FAA-approved field repair according the folks over at FlyerTalk. No passengers were at risk, but a full and final repair must have been scheduled for later on.

It's crazy to think about, but airplanes stay in service for decades and are constantly being repaired. These are huge complex machines that enable the impossible, but sometimes you just need a little superglue or heat tape to get the job done.

[via FlightGlobal]