Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trip 09 : Detroit

Wednesday, Sept 30 :
Tuesday night, we were just thankful to get in after our airport nightmares... so my parents picked us up at the DTW, and we just chilled at their house, and snacked. Wednesday morning we made our way around to hit the array of stores I still remember... the disorganized but wellstocked Rock of Ages record store, the diverse and adventurous pet store House of Pets. Then more memory lane - went to Dobby's Formal Wear, where I had my first job as a teen (sorry to hear Sam Dobby & wife had passed; it was nice seeing Moe again), and Franklin High School, my alma mater (hadn't been inside since college days, none of my teachers were still there). Then caught dinner with Allison, Ben and Lila, and my parents, at Mama Mia's, a fine Italian restaurant. After dinner, went & watched Glee at their house (funny show, and well done).

Thursday, Oct 1 :
Made our way to Ann Arbor, with Ron along. Ann Arbor is such a great town - so many interesting stores (mostly Encore Records, and Dawn Treader.) Caught up with Matt Sullivan from the bus stop co-op - he's now a Sociology grad student at U-M, he made the trek around with us. Then he split off to study a bit, the 3 of us made a few more blocks, then we all met up again with John Turner & son Brody for dinner at Jerusalem Garden. Thursday night, went over to Ron's place, Andy came by, and we filled the evening with music. His band "S/N" is putting together some fantastic low-down industrial metal stuff.

Friday, Oct 2 :
In the morning, we went over to the Livonia Rec Center, for a workout and to see what the cutting edge . Then hit a few museums - MOCAD, Detroit Historical Museum, and Arab American National Museum. By then, we went back to HQ, and went to our chosen dinner place, Buddy's Pizza, I was pleased with a good turnout of folks (Floyd B, Tom M, Jenny Bags, Stef, Rebecca made it, too)! After all the festivities, went over to stay at my brother Gordon's place, since he had just gotten in from his drive across-state (he's been working in Benton Harbor, about 2.5 hours drive).

Saturday, Oct 3 :
Brunch with Gordon & family. Had some drama on the drive back to my parents' : the windshield wiper broke and got stuck off to the side of the window. After getting that all sorted, got lunch from a Chinese restaurant. The evening was a planned gathering at Andy's place, but not a lot of people made it out - thx to John for making the trek from A squared! Later that night, I had reconnected with a couple guys from my high school band, and it so happened their band was playing that night at the Lager House in Detroit! So Ron, Andy & I made it down there, and had a rockin good time.

Sunday, Oct 4 :
Last day in Detroit! Got to catch up with old friend Dan Wilson, his wife Michele and their son Ethan, we went to the DIA. Very nice being able to do a destination like that, and visit with friends at the same time! Finished at DIA, just enough time to get back, load up the car, and head for the airport. Great trip, all around!
Next up : Bonnie had to get back to work the next day, but I was taking another week off. Monday morning, I drove our house guest, Leyba, up to Sebastopol, and started on my road trip to Los Angeles!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trip 09 : Niagara Falls

Monday, Sept 28 :
It was about an 1 1/2 hour drive to Niagara Falls, drove thru town and checked in at the Fallsview Marriott. They tried to put us in a 5th floor room, which had a view of the restaurant roof and a sliver of the river - we had a talk with the desk, who offered a 'partial fallsview', finally got a full view of both falls... Dropped our stuff off then went out to 'Maid of the Mist' for a boat tour. Pretty awesome - takes you right along the landings of both falls (can't see much of the Horseshoe Falls thru the mist). Then checked out some of the touristy Clifton Hill (think SF Fisherman's Wharf, complete with all the wax museums!), We went into Ripley's Believe it or Not 'museum' - outside : neat facade, makes it look like the building is sideways, with Kong hanging out on top; inside : fun exhibits, including a survey of people who have gone over the Falls! Then made a drive to see some of the actual town of Niagara - rather grim and rundown. We stopped at a bottle shop, then back to the room. We didn't like the fare at the Marriott restaurant, went to the Sheraton next door, and were given the high hat. We saw a restaurant at the Ramada hotel, menu looked OK, so we went in. The concierge at the front desk was very polite, even gave us a discount coupon. We went up to the 22nd floor, there were only 3 other couples in the restaurant, but the staff was very pleasant. Food was excellent (awesome baked brie), view was wonderful (the view of the falls, too 0:>). Lovely evening. Back to the room for some hot tub for more views...

Tuesday, Sept 29 :
Made our way down to the walkway to get a closer look at the Falls (the observation deck is about 5 ft from the drop-off of the Horseshoe! Then back to the car, and the drive over the bridge back to U.S.! Off to Buffalo Airport...

I was considering just driving to Detroit from Niagara, but it was an extra $200 for the drop, so we took our scheduled flight. Oh, hindsight is 20/20. The flight out of BUF was delayed an hour, then canceled. Meaning, we couldn't make the connecting flight out of Chicago. Thankfully, I was nosy and up at the front of the line, so we were transferred onto a direct BUF-DTW flight on Delta (apparently, there's no more Northwest Airlines anymore). Had to go out, pick up our luggage, recheck at the ticket counter, and go thru security. I forgot that I had picked up a bottle of Buffalo Hot Sauce (when in Rome...), so that was confiscated, even though I showed the TSA guard that the gift shop where I bought it was about 15 feet from the security checkpoint... Fortunately, it was only about $5.
We boarded the plane an hour or so later, THAT flight was delayed because high winds at DTW, they were metering the flights... so, all told : what couldve been a ~4 hour drive, became a 9 1/2 hour excursion waiting in airports and stressing out.
But, by 7 that night we were settling in at my parents' place in Westland. Ready to visit Michigan folks - next!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vacation Madness!

So, just finished up a whirlwind vacation period (as I write this, still have 1 more day til I go back to work, and that Sunday is packed, but I am done traveling). I took 12 days off work (18 total with wkends); flew between 3 cities (Toronto, Niagara Falls/Buffalo, Detroit); and logged over 1100 miles roadtripping to Los Angeles and back. This is the first major travel I've done in over 2 years (since June of 07; Bonnie & I have done a few extended weekend trips to San Diego, Portland, O.C. and N Carolina, but nothing more than 4 days). Overall - it was exciting, and frustrating in some regards, and exhausting & unsettling by the end (I've slept in the same bed on consecutive nights only twice in that whole time : 2 nights in Toronto, and 3 nights at my parents'), but I realized the best part about all of it was visiting with family and old friends.
So, I'll write up summaries/observations of each segment of the international tour (Toronto, Niagara Falls, Detroit, and Los Angeles), hopefully in the next few days. Here's Toronto:


DAY ONE, Saturday:: Had a direct flight from SFO to Toronto. Started with some drama, when I realized I had booked the Shuttle pickup for the wrong date... Bonnie kept a cool head in a crisis, we tracked down a cab, and made it to the airport in plenty of time. It was technically an international flight, so that added extra steps to the travel of course, but the flight went smoothly (on-demand entertainment: I watched Star Trek, Wolverine (for the first time), and Night at the Museum 2). We (OK, all Bonnie) made our way on public transit from the airport (I got cranky cos we had a long wait, and the bus was crowded, and because the subway stop took us through a shopping mall with all our luggage). We caught a cab in the rain, through especially crowded streets, but soon got to the Gladstone Hotel. Very neat place - an old boarding house that's had the rooms redecorated by local artists, along with old school manually-run elevator. We were staying on Queen Street West, in the heart of one of Toronto's several hipster BoHo districts, fun & artsy things going on, so we walked down the street to get a taste, stopped at some galleries and bakeries, got some authentic poutine (fries, with melty cheese curd, and gravy), then caught Karaoke night at our hotel. Then back to the room to strategize the rest of our weekend.

DAY TWO, Sunday:: Walked further down along Queen Street West, caught some breakfast (Canadian bacon!), stopped at the Mocca(they had a hockey-themed exhibit, go figure); and passed through Chinatown and the very gentrified but hip Kensington Market. Utlimate destination was the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Word on the Street festival. The WOSF was pretty amazing - to see that caliber of production, and that number of people showing up for a lit fest. Plus I got to meet webcomic Ryan North, originate of Dinosaur Comics! Then we walked through the gay Church-Wellseley Village neighborhood : had lunch at a cafe, a 50-ish expatriate, ex-Navy guy struck up a conversation after seeing the tourbook on the table, he had some interesting insights into how Toronto had changed. Then back on the subway & bus, to catch dinner at an Italian restaurant (we wanted to go there, based on how busy it was the previous night).

DAY THREE, Monday morning:: This was the day for us to drive over to Niagara Falls, so we took the bus & subway Downtown to see the CN Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, where you can allegedly see for 50+ miles on a clear day. Unfortunately, it was socked in with fog, but we got a a few breaks in the clouds and saw some nearby sights... Picked up our rental car a few blocks away, and then drove back to checkout of the hotel. Had a bear of a time getting back onto the freeway (no onramp near the convention center?? REALLY??) - we had to go a few km East, then turn around to get back on the Westbound freeway, ugh. But we made our 1 1/2 hour drive to Niagara Falls, which will be the next chapter in the blog!