Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let's Get Some Cupcakes in Beverly Hills!

Despite long standing predictions that a cupcake crash would follow the long developing (and internationally spreading) cupcake boom, cupcake shops seem like they are everywhere. Here in Seattle, we have the Cupcake Royale, Trophy Cupcake, and Yellowleaf Cupcakes, among others. In Beverly Hills, there is both Crumbs Bakeshop and Sprinkles Cupcakes within a block of each other right off Rodeo Drive. I have had Crumbs before on a previous trip and decided to try Sprinkles for a change.

Between the two, Sprinkles Cupcakes is the higher design concept shop. Everything here has been meticulously crafted by a designer, from the bamboo trays to the gift box packaging. The shop is small and is more cupcake shop than coffee shop (like the Cupcake Royale).Directly beside Sprinkles Cupcake is a Cupcake ATM (Seriously) and then Sprinkles Ice Cream, which is literally the other side of the same shop. If you walk from one to the other, the same thoroughness of design is here as well and the same song is even playing in both shops.

However, having high design with a crappy cupcake is far worse than excellent cupcakes with crappy design. In this particular case... the cupcakes were actually pretty good! The cake was nice and moist, the three flavors that I tried were all well balanced and without excessive frosting. All the cakes look like there is a ton frosting, but this is actually an illusion: The cake top is actually fairly domed, which gives the impression that there is more than there actually is.

Perfection? Not quite. Almost all of the cupcakes have a small colored marker on top that shows which flavor the cupcake actually is (again, design is everywhere) and there is even a special Beverly Hills shield cupcake, but these little discs are effectively inedible and just confusing. I am sure that they are non-toxic and safe... but they offer an unpleasant bite if you aren't aware that they are little sugar(?) stone disks.

It is a fun little shop, but my one regret? Not trying the ATM that constantly belts out a song of praise to Sprinkles. I will have to give it a try next time...

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Let's go to Beverly Hills!

About a week ago I had a super quick trip to Beverly Hills. There was a position that was open and I was invited to sit for the exam, so I took the day off and went down to throw my name in the hat. I had less than 24 hours there, but the trip ended up being good: I had a chance to reconnect with some friends and take a quick look around the famed Beverly Hills. 

My first memory of hearing about Beverly Hills comes TV, but not from what you're probably thinking of. I never saw Beverly Hillbillies and 90210 wasn't it either. The very first time I remember "Beverly Hills" being mentioned was this monstrosity:

Beverly Hills Teens. "Come live your fantasy in Beverly Hills. Come on and make your dreams come true..." Somewhere between Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Inspector Gadget there was this. The 1980s were something else and there was so many cartoons floating around. If you watch the intros to the cartoons that played on Saturday morning, I bet you'll recognize some that you've long forgotten.

But, on this trip I had a chance to take a look around the actual city of Beverly Hills. The city was established in 1914 and exhibits a rather beautiful design that takes advantage of the natural features of the area. The story is that after some oil prospectors failed to find any oil in the area, they decided to try to set up their very own city. The city was laid out by Wilbur D. Cook who was heavily influenced by the Olmsted Brothers and reflects an approach to planning called "City Beautiful". This was a movement that preferred organic shapes, placed emphasis on civic pride and monumentalism, and the need for nature near to where people lived. It was a softening of the geometric grids and the idea that cities could be better places than they were. It's a goal is still central to urban planning today, even if the terminology and ideas about how to get there have sometimes changed.

A lot of the places that we really like today came from this era and Beverly Hills is actually pretty nice. The streets north of Santa Monica Blvd curve elegantly without completely losing the efficiency that a grid system offers. The houses are mostly upscale and become nicer as you move into the actual hills. The city leaders built a very nice civic complex, starting with the city hall below. With about 35,000 people and a more geometric downtown core, it seems like they have actually done a good job at managing their growth over the past 100 years (which you can see in the image to the left). 
Of course, as beautiful as it is, with only 24 hours there's not much time to do anything... except perhaps to try some cupcakes!

Monday, December 02, 2013

250 posts!

This is the 250th post on this blog! It's been a looong time since I my first post where I set forth a modest agenda of cataloging my flights and some of my trips. It's been over three years, in fact!

Let's see where we've been!

  1. The very first post!
  2. Istanbul!
  3. Seattle!
  4. Berlin!
  5. Amsterdam! (and this post with one of my most popular pictures)
  6. Oman!
  7. Dubai!
  8. Istanbul again!
  9. Greece!
  10. Russia!
  11. Mongolia!
  12. Vegas!
  13. Portland, OR!
  14. Bainbridge Island!
  15. Los Angeles!
  16. Chicago!
  17. Rio de Janeiro!
  18. Iguacu Falls!
  19. Buenos Aires!
  20. New York!
  21. Sweden!
...and many more to come..

The 250 Dutch Gulden image is courtesy of Leftovercurrency.com

Friday, November 29, 2013

Let's Get Some Macarons in Victoria BC!

Victoria is a fairly small city, but it is always nice to see something nice. I came across the Bon Macaron on my last day there and had to give them a try. They are located right downtown at 1012 Broad St, Victoria BC V8W 2A1, if you are interested in dropping by.

 Macarons must be fairly new to the sweets scene in Victoria because as I walked in, they asked me if I had ever tried a macaron before. While I have chronically misspelled the word "macaron" in the past, I have tried them once or twice... ;)

This time around, I went for four sweet flavors: Stawberry, "Pearamel", and Dulce de Leche. All were good, but the "pearamel" stood out: strong flavors of ripe pear with a little caramel mixed in for a slightly salty addition. The pear flavor here reminds me of how pear flavored foods taste in Sweden. The other two were also excellent renditions of their classic flavors: The Dulce de Leche was a homage to the flavors I had while in South America and the strawberry was a lighter sweet version. Overall, very good.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let's Fly on a Seaplane to Victoria BC!

Victoria BC is a popular day or weekend trip from Seattle. The provincial capital (literally, the capital of British Columbia) is a beautiful city and is the gateway to Vancouver Island and Vancouver city for many travelers. It is a small, walkable city with family friendly attractions and decent transit options for getting out to the attractions that are a little further out, such as Buchart Gardens.

There are a couple different way to get to Victoria from Seattle. There is the Victoria Clipper for foot passengers, the car friendly Black Ball Line from Port Angeles, and automobile ferries from either Anacortes or Tsawwassen in BC. I have taken all of these, but there are two more options: You can fly from Seatac into Victoria airport (located to the north of the city) or... you can fly in style on a seaplane into the inner harbor itself with Kenmore Air.

If you are looking to make the journey, here are a couple helpful links to your options (All estimates are just that: estimates):

  1. Kenmore Air (Seaplanes from Lake Union in Seattle)
    • 45 minutes, ~$135 to Victoria and $159 to Seattle (~$295 round trip), passenger only.
  2. Victoria Clipper (Fast Foot Ferry from Seattle Waterfront)
    • 2.75 hours, $88 one way or $140 round trip ($107 with advance purchase, passenger only.
  3. Black Ball Line Ferry (Auto Ferry from Port Angeles)
    • 4.5 hours (2 hours, plus 2-2.5 hours by car from Seattle), ~$150 round trip ($34 round trip for a passenger, $87 round trip for a car, $13.55 for Seattle to Bainbridge Island with a car, plus gas).
  4. WSDOT Ferries (Auto Ferry from Anacortes)
    • 4.5-5 hours (2.75 hours, plus 1.5-2 hours from Seattle), $81 round trip (plus gas)
  5. BC Ferries (Auto Ferry from BC)
    • 4.5-5.5 hours (1.5 hours, plus 3 hours drive from), $125 round trap (plus gas)

I had never tried Kenmore Air and when the opportunity came up to fly this time around, I jumped on it. Kenmore Air is a small nearly seaplane only airline that flies out of Lake Union and into the Victoria Harbor. Prices right now are about $135 each way for the short 45 minute minute flight, which is just about double the fare of the Victoria Clipper. The disadvantage with Kenmore Air besides price is that you are limited to very little in the way of luggage (about 10kg). However, in many ways it's a better deal overall: Not only does it take less time (about 2 hours faster), but there is less hassle checking in and waiting for your trip to start. Oh, and the views. Flying low over the Puget Sound is amazing!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Product Review: Clever Travel Companion Underwear with Hidden Pockets

About a month ago, I found out about a company called Clever Travel Companion. They offer a variety of "pick pocket proof" clothing that is geared towards the avid traveler. Pick pockets are usually one of the top fears for travelers and some of the other options out there, like the undershirt neck pouch, can be a bit of a hassle. This seems like it would be a good mix and I am all about supporting small companies when I can. The fact that the people running it are original from Sweden as far as I can tell also doesn't hurt...


I ended up with a pair of the men's and a pair of the women's for my girlfriend. The underwear features a button fly and two pockets on either side. The pockets are large enough to be useful (for example, they fit passports perfectly), but not too large as to get in the way of anything. The fabric feels pretty good and would be durable on a longer trip.

The Good Stuff & Around Town

To try them out, I loaded up the pockets and headed out on a trip to Victoria, BC via Kenmore Air. If they were going to end up being uncomfortable, a quick flight on a seaplane and walking around with a backpack would probably do the trick. After a half of walking around with the backpack and a full day of running around Victoria, I am happy to say that overall they remained comfortable without the zipper pulls poking anywhere or the pockets clumping awkwardly (as I had feared might happen). Retrieving items from a pocket was slightly tricky, but these are security pockets. In real life, you would excuse yourself to a restroom and then get what you need out of your, yes, pick pocket proof underwear pocket.

I also have it on good authority that the women's version is equally comfortable, although I don't have direct experience with that... The purple color is a nice and the pockets are the same size as the men's. 

The Feedback

The only complaint that I had was the fit was a little bit off. It wasn't enough to make them uncomfortable, but it does feel like they could be made to be a little more snug around the waist with a little extra tailoring. On the other hand, it is equally possible that sizing down one size may have addressed my issue.

Final Say

As I mentioned, my issue may be simply that I got the wrong size. If the waist band was a little tighter, it would have been a comfortable and functional for keeping important documents safe and sound. The thicker cotton is soft and remains comfortable throughout the day. Not bad! And it's just in time for the holiday season, if you're trying to find something to give the avid traveler in your life...

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

FAA Endorses Common Sense: New Rules Pave Way for Electronics

This photo will soon be allowed to be taken under the new rules

The FAA announced today what we all knew deep down: That game boy (or camera) isn't going to down the plane. The newly adopted rules allow airlines to control how electronics are policed on their aircraft, pending the submission of proof to the FAA that everything is safe. That means that the next time a member of the cabin crew tells you that you can't take a photo or read your Kindle, it will be because of rules that the airline set and not an edict from the FAA.

I expect that airlines will be quick to jump on this since this type of amenity and opportunity to differentiate yourself doesn't come by very often and this is a pretty cheap feature to add to an airline. The caveat at the moment is that the rules still stand until the airline decides to change it, so "follow" the rules... for now. You can read the press release here and see my general reaction to the right. Finally! No more having to hide my camera or wonder if they are going to get on my case...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flight Report: SBA-SEA

After my interview, it was time to pack up and head out. I was pressed for time, but at least getting through security at the airport is trivial at SBA. The main challenge at this airport seems to be somewhat frequent cancellations. I wasn't hit by that time time, but the small connections to LAX, SFO, and BUR do run into mechanical issues and delays on these small flights can add up to missed connections if you get unlucky.

Alaska Airlines offers some attractive connections to and from SBA. They offer direct flights to PDX and SEA on slightly larger regional aircraft than you get when you are headed to a destination inside California.

The Santa Ynez valley from the air. This is where Santa Barbara county is expanding housing significantly. It's less expensive to built up here, but the jobs in the county are still centered around Santa Barbara by the coastline. It's an interesting dynamic. Santa Barbara has limited options for growth physically. The options are all slightly less than ideal. Expanding outward means changing the ecosystem of the coastline, removing agriculture, and changing the way of life for many in the community, all of which will cause people to come out and oppose it. Growing upward changes the look and feel of the city and blocks views, which means that another powerful group will also come out and oppose that. Building in the valley means inducing travel demand between the two areas of the county, which creates pollution and strains the transportation network. That prompts calls for wider roads that will never really keep up with demand, since the new easy access granted by new roads spurs yet more development further out. It's a heck of a problem.

 Crater Lake in Oregon and Mt. Rainier below.

This building above is the Weyerhaeuser Corporate Headquarters. It is designed to blend into the natural environment. From the distance, it looks like a hill.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Food Fridays: Crushcakes & Cafe in Santa Barbara

The purpose of my trip this time around was for an actual interview, which went rather well. The interviewers all seemed to really like my background, story, and experience. I left feeling really good about the interview and the opportunities that they were highlighting. That also means that I may be in California by the end of the year, which would be a huge change.

Before the interview, I stopped off to get some coffee and behold what happens to be less than three blocks from where my new office would be: Crush Cakes Cupcakery. I had to try it.

I eventually settled on the strawberry cupcake, which was pretty good. The cupcakes itself wasn't too sweet and the frosting was fairly light, but I do have to subtract some points for there being too much frosting on my particular cupcake. I was worried that I would end up with pink frosting on my fingers that would somehow transfer to my suit. In the warm weather, the frosting is also very soft which increased the risk of it being a messy cupcake. Fortunately, I managed to avoid that while also enjoying my cupcake.

And yes, a grown man in a suit, drinking a proper doppio machiatto out of a tiny cup, and eating a pink cupcake. If you gotta a problem with that, then you know what you can do...