Friday, December 19, 2014

Lost Gloves in Stockholm

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Flight Report: $490 to Stockholm on Norwegian... Plus, first time on a 787!

One of the new benefits of being in Oakland is that I have a new option for getting to Scandinavia: Norwegian flies to Stockholm, non-stop, from Oakland. It's a ten hour flight where you step on in California and off in Sweden. That's pretty much unheard of, since I've always had some connection, either in Europe or on the East Coast. The most convenient was always SAS, who flew to Copenhagen and then onward to Stockholm... but this is a new level of convenience.

Plus, my ticket was $490 round trip. I've paid more to get to the mid-west. For that price, you might be wondering what you get and how scandalous Norwegian will treat you once you get to the airport. After all, prices that cheap make people think of RyanAir and their shenanigans.

Turns out, you get exactly what you pay for. In my case, I opted to skip any additional services like food, drinks, checked bags, and a reserved seat (saving $140 in the process) and I got what I paid for: A spot on a plane. They did weigh my carry on (there is a 10kg limit that IS enforced), but none of the Ryan Air stuff like being forced to check in online or pony up a hundred dollars.

On the plane, there is no free drink or food service, but you can ask for a glass of water in the back for free. Otherwise, the best move is to bring it with you; Even at airport prices (and Oakland Airport does suck for food), it's still less than buying it on the plane. I didn't get a snap of their meals, but it looked like standard airline fare. Not worth the money they want for it.

The bottom line is this: I'll fly with them again. They are cut rate, but they are at least nice about it.

Another big bonus for this flight was that I finally got to fly on a 787. I've been waiting for the opportunity to take a trip on one of these aircraft and Norwegian runs them on their international routes (to the US and Thailand). Inside, it is pretty spacious. The cabin is nice and the storage pulls up pretty far to give it the feeling of having extra room. The new electrochromatic windows are alright, but they let in far too much light for my taste (see the last image). It's harder to sleep than with traditional blinds that can be pulled down. I suspect in the future they will either do both or have to dramatically improve the technology.

While the inside is nice, the real stunner is the wings. These things are amazing. They move like they are almost organic and on lift off, the bend in the wing is pretty dramatic. Most other wings are pretty stiff, but these flex in the wind and you can see them curl as the lift starts pushing the plane upwards. Check out this video of what I'm talking about.. (not mine). Pretty exciting to see them in action in person!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Food Friday: Ma'ono in West Seattle

When visiting Seattle, one area that isn't quite as frequented by tourists is West Seattle. Many people may visit Alki beach, which is where the photo above was taken, but there is a lot more to the neighborhood than just the summer beach area.

By far, the best area to explore is the California Junction. Once upon a time, this was the streetcar junction where the current commercial center is (See maps of the Streetcar Network here. It was all ripped up in 1941 to make way for buses!)

The neighborhood commercial area here is pretty good. It has a good mix of businesses, bars, and restaurants that make it a vibrant area. There is Easy Street Records (one of the few remaining places to get knowledgeable advice on music), the kid friendly Cupcake Royale, West Five (the home of interstellar mac-n-cheese), and the renown Bakery Nouveau.

This time around, I tried Ma'ono for brunch. They opened up a couple years back, but this was the first time that I had been there. The menu is hawaiian inspired (delicious, but "healthy" it is not) and features fried chicken. Reservations are recommended, both for a table AND for the friend chicken. If you don't order it ahead of time, then you may end up without it.

So, how was it? Delicious. The breading is nice and crispy, while the meat is tender and not overly oily. The sausage gravy that comes with it feels so wrong, but ends up being something you can't stop eating. By the end, you are looking at those spoons in the gravy and thinking, "What if I just thought of this as a sausage stew? No one is going to judge me for eating stew, right?"

On the menu there is also chicken nuggets and french toast. While also fantastic and seasoned well, it's just not the same as the bone-in fried chicken. The french toast is lightly sweetened and plays well with the savory ground chicken nuggets, but isn't the same show stopper at the fried chicken. It's great by itself, but having them side by side will leave you wishing you could just some of the fried chicken with your toast instead.

A meal this good, however, is not guilt free. However, the guilt is a pretty cheap price of admission for something like this.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Winter at the Pike Place Market

It's no secret that I love the Pike Place Market. It's one of the defining features of Seattle, just like Mount Rainier, The Sound, and The Space Needle. In fact, one of the downsides of living in the Bay Area now is that there really isn't anything quite like The Market down here in the Bay.

Fisherman's Wharf? Uh, no. That place is a full on tourist trap. And the chowder ain't that good (certainly not up to Pike Place Chowder standards. Or even Ivar's).

The Ferry Building? Close, but not quite. It is a very nice building, but it is small and lacks the nooks and crannies that make The Market interesting. It's also a little too haute to be in the same class as The Market. It's more akin to Chelsea Market in New York than The Market.

Where else? I don't even know. If you have a recommendation, send it to me or post a comment.

If you are looking for the iconic Seattle's Best Coffee sign, it is long gone. Now it is the RGB sign!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bird Strike! Alaska Air Flight 349 on 2014-11-14

Well, that was interesting. Last Friday, I went back up to Seattle. Or at least I tried to do. Unfortunately for me, we ended up turning around due to our plane hitting a bird. Nothing serious happened, but it still was a potentially dangerous situation. Thankfully, our pilots were able to land the plane safely and get us to Seattle -eventually. Here's the story.

From the start, the flight looked like it would be a good one: The plane was on time, we left on time, and the estimate with the winds was that were going to arrive early. It was, sadly, not to be. As we were climbing over San Francisco there was a slight drop in power from the engines and the plane leveled off. At fist, I didn't think much of it since the bay area is a crowded airspace and maybe we needed to level off to allow for other traffic.

However, then we turned east and started heading to Sacramento, I started to have my doubts. Pretty soon we were headed towards San Jose and it was pretty clear that there was something wrong. After about 10 minutes, the captain came on and told us that we hit a bird and that his controls were not working correctly...

...but that the First Officer's controls were fine (Maybe lead with that next time!). The pilots had the plane under control and set us down in Oakland with about 20-30 minutes of total time in the air. Emergency responders were out ready to great us if something went wrong, but the landing was smooth and we taxied into the gate on our own power. Everyone on board was calm about the situation, if a little annoyed at having plans abruptly changed.

What actually happened is that the bird took out the Pitot tubes, which are important for a lot of different functions on the plane, including air speed indication and supplying information to the engine controller. The Air France crash in 2009 into the Atlantic was attributed to a malfunction in the Pitot tubes. Thankfully, there was another undamaged set on our plane that kept everything running smoothly.

The truth is that Alaska did a pretty good job handling the delay. As soon as we were down, they were ready to hand out a meal voucher ($12, but sadly limited options like Chili's Too) and an apology card. The card promised to be back in touch with a discount off of a future flight. In the end, that was a $300 voucher, which isn't bad considering I only paid $186 for the ticket to Seattle. They arranged for a replacement plane, which did get us to Seattle... but at 2AM the next morning. On the other hand, they told us about the replacement plane within 15 minutes of landing and disembarking the original damaged plane. Overall, good job of handling the situation!

Friday, October 03, 2014

The View from Above: The Sky View Observatory in the Columbia Tower

The natural beauty of the Puget Sound and the surrounding mountains is undeniable. It's part of what makes Seattle, Seattle and there are some things that just never get old, like seeing Mt. Rainier in the morning light. We are also a hilly city, which means that there are many vantage points where you can see the city and the surrounding landscape. Kerry Park (below) is home to one of the most iconic images of Seattle, as one example.

More recently, man made vantage points have given a new look at the region. The most well known is, obviously, the Space Needle and the views from there are, indeed, spectacular. However, there are other options like the Smith Tower and, in particular, the newly remodeled Sky View Observatory in the Columbia Center to consider.

This observation deck provides the highest public observation deck on the west coast (and west of the Mississippi) and the new enhancements make it a much more tourist friendly visit than before. It now offers a full 360 degree view around Seattle and there is more information for people who want to know what they are seeing. The down side is that prices went up: Regular tickets are now $12.50 a person ($9 for students, military, and seniors).

Not feeling like spending the money, but you are in the area anyways? The Columbia Tower also has what is known as "skybucks": A Starbucks located on the skylobby level of the building (floor 40). The view is not the same, but it is the cheapest way to enjoy a view from above inside of the downtown core of buildings.