Musings of a travel and wine geek

Yes, I know. It’s been a while since I posted and I apologize. It’s been a crazy winter of bad weather (one trip cancellation, two itinerary changes to alternate weekends) and new opportunities for me in the areas of travel management and wine social media that are keeping me busy, in addition to my community college teaching. I can’t believe it, but I believe I can officially be called a travel and a wine geek. I sense a turning point in my life and in this blog. Now if I can only keep up with it all.

I’ve participated in three Twitter Community wine tweet-ups the past few months: California Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and last night’s Washington Merlot. April 1 is the next tweet-up, wine blends, and I can’t wait. After these four events, I will have tasted and tweeted about fantastic wines from Anderson’s Conn Valley, Columbia Crest, Foris, ONEHOPE, Parducci, and Paul Dolan.

As to travel, the last three itineraries on Delta went mostly well, so I really didn’t want to write another trip report about the standard fare of being on time, upgrades, drink/meal/snack offerings, etc.  I did experience two tarmac delays, one that was two and a half hours and another an hour and a half, both due to weather and Air Traffic Control, that made me think about the new three-hour tarmac rule. You know, both times I would have been very disappointed to have returned to the gate.  I really wanted to depart, even if we did have to wait a while.  Both flight crews were great during the waits. We were given drinks, lavatory access, and were allowed to use our portable electronic devices.  And since I can’t control the weather (although some of my friends now think I influence the weather with all of the bad luck I’ve had with it lately!) or Air Traffic Control, I patiently waited with my BlackBerry keeping me occupied.

I have a busy April of flying scheduled – to Richmond, VA; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY. My Chicago trip is the first ever pointless, “mileage run” trip I’ve ever taken. I’m flying there to help my Delta Together We Fly promotion team earn bonus miles. I selected Chicago because it was the least expensive from my home airport of TRI and I’ve never been there. So please post suggestions of how I should spend one April Saturday in Chicago, please!

This weekend, I’m off to redeem a gift certificate for a one-night’s stay and breakfast at the gorgeous Hotel Roanoke before it expires. I’m calling it a girl’s weekend out, but it’ll be just this girl. I will be spending Saturday night observing Earth Hour in The Regency Room, enjoying a candlelight dinner. It should be fantastic and I’ll make sure to share photos on Facebook and Twitter. And of course, expect me to do a little shopping at my favorite department store, Macy’s at the Valley View Mall.

So that’s what’s going on in my crazy busy world. I apologize again for being tardy to post. Stay tuned for posts on a wide variety of topics from me and my travel friends.

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12 Days of Travel: Days 9-12

Day 9:

I spent day 9 driving I-81 North to I-64 East, a three-hour drive between Roanoke, VA and Richmond, VA.  It was a beautiful day for travel, very little traffic, and it was the first time I used my Garmin nüvi 265WT.  What a great little GPS device!  I especially liked that I could link it with my BlackBerry for hands-free calling using Bluetooth.

I arrived at the Omni Richmond an hour before my meeting and my key was waiting on me as I had checked in online and requested an 11:00 am check in!   If you ever travel to Richmond, I highly recommend the Omni.  It’s a beautiful, full-service hotel located in the Historic Shockoe Slip area of Richmond.  If you are a Guest Select member, you receive complimentary Internet and two free morning beverages delivered to your room at the time you specify.

I spent the next six hours in a meeting.  Afterwards, a few of us went to dinner at Peking on E. Cary St.  It’s a nice, inexpensive, and quick bite of Chinese.

Day 10:

Day 10 was another four hours of meetings, then my return drive to Roanoke.  Again it was a nice drive, but the traffic was heavier because it was later in the day and it was Good Friday.

I arrived at the Hotel Roanoke in the late afternoon and relaxed in the room until venturing down to the Pine Room Pub for a crab cake sandwich and a Blue Moon White Belgian Ale with a slice of orange.  My fiancé arrived on a late flight from New York and we turned in shortly thereafter.

Day 11:

We spent Day 11 running errands of all things!  We also went to the Pine Room Pub for their homemade dill potato chips with scallions and blue cheese and a few glasses of Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale on draft.  I highly recommend both!

For dinner we ate at Tong’s Thai Too.  I had the same dish as my visit 10 days ago, the Panang Curry Beef, but Tom Yum soup this time.  Both were very delicious.  I think Thai has become my favorite cuisine!

Day 12:

All I can say about day 12 is that I finally got to go home and pick up my cat from the kennel!  The drive down I-18 South was very pleasant and traffic-free as it was Easter morning.

12 Days of Travel: Days 4-7

April 4, 2009

Not much to write about here!  Spent a lazy day in Yonkers, NY, at my fiancé’s apartment while he had to work from home!

April 5, 2009

US 4175 LGA-ROA 1:40 PM-3:58 PM  Seat 4C Exit Dash 8 -100

We boarded and departed the gate early.  Our actual takeoff was at 2:02 pm and we landed at 3:52 pm.  We had a full in flight beverage service and I bought a Bloody Mary for $7.  I tried to buy a Power Nap Sack just to see what it looked like, but when the flight attendant went to get me one, she discovered they had not given her any to sell.  Note to US Airways:  You can’t sell them if you don’t have them to sell!

I after arriving in Roanoke, I had to pick up some items at Macy’s and fill my gar with gas before heading to the Hampton Inn.  I stayed in and ordered Domino’s.  I also had an awful case of insomnia and could not sleep.

April 6, 2009

US 4465 ROA-CLT 5:35 AM-6:37 AM Seat 11 C Exit Dash 8-300
US 307 CLT-PHX 7:30 AM-9:06 AM Seat 2C First Class A321

It took me only 20 minutes to drive five miles, reprint my boarding passes at the kiosk (as my faxed ones were messed up), and pass through security!  I had plenty of computer time in Roanoke.  We boarded quickly at 5:20 am and the door was shut at 5:29 am. We pushed back at 5:35 am and took off 5:41 am.  There was no in flight service.  We landed five minutes late at 6:42 am and arrived the gate at 6:50 am.

I made my connection to PHX, but the flight was already boarding, as I had to hike from gate E32B to B5! The aircraft was a new A321 and was completely booked in both classes (volunteers were sought). Because I arrived later in the boarding process, I had to put both of my bags under the seat because no overhead space remained. There was no offer of a pre-departure drink for me. We backed away from gate on time and took a departure delay. We took off at 7:53 am.

It was very bumpy the first 15 minutes.  I had to ask the flight attendant for a free blanket stashed over 1D/F as they were not provided in each seat as the pillows were.  When I pulled out the new tray table at my seat, I noticed it was narrower and curvier than the tray tables I was used to.  The new seats were two-tone royal blue/gray, firmer, narrower, with headrests.  Before the meal, we received a hot towel service.  Our breakfast was served on a plastic, paper-lined tray that was wider but shorter than new tray table.  I chose the omelette (lactose intolerant friends–cheese inside, be warned!) with diced green/red peppers on the top, potatoes, one link sausage (it looked more like kielbasa or italian but small), a croissant, and a bowl of grapes/strawberries on real dishes.  The funniest first class moment for me was when I discovered that the cutlery was silvertone plastic, not metal.  The food was edible, but very ordinary. US Airways is still behind Delta, Continental, etc., in both presentation and food quality.  I received a second drink, but after that, the flight attendants spent most of the time chatting in the galley as I dozed for about an hour and a half.  I was not asked if I wanted anything else until my seatmate got the flight attendant’s attention by waving at her about 35 minutes before landing, nor did the she pick up my empty cup and trash until that time.  She was quite surly and matronly and did not seem to enjoy her job.  We landed at 9:10 am, only four minutes past scheduled arrival.

In the afternoon, I had lunch with five FlyerTalk forum participants at Sam’s Café, a wonderful Southwestern grill restaurant in Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.  I had the tuna and it was incredible!  In the evening, I attended the opening session of my conference and finally got to sleep!

April 7, 2009

Today was my conference, so I was in and out of sessions all day.  I must say the food at the Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort  is wonderful, as are the hotel grounds.  Scottsdale/Phoenix are beautiful this time of year!

12 Days of Travel: Day 3

Day 3 began very uneventfully, with breakfast and the final concurrent sessions of my conference at The Hotel Roanoke.  I did win a one-night stay with breakfast for two at the closing session, which was cool. I had lunch at the hotel before departing for the airport, peanut soup and a salmon Caesar salad. Yum!

3 Apr 2009
US 4158 ROA-LGA 4:48-6:45 PM Seat 4C Exit Dash 8-100

The wind in Roanoke had become quite blustery, with wind gusts up to 60 mph, and the weather in New York quite stormy, so I was anticipating some trouble.  And I was right, unfortunately.  The flight was originally delayed until midnight, then gradually easied back to 10:30 pm, 9:10 pm, then finally 8:50 pm.  I completely understood the weather and Air Traffic Control issues before me, but what bothered me was that the original gate agent in Roanoke was very uninformative.  For about three hours, she never made a general announcement in the boarding area, and people kept having to get up and ask her what was going on.  I personally got my updates from flightstats.com, usairways.com, and friends and family who checked other sources of information for me.  Finally another agent arrived and announced that he would update us every 30 minutes and/or if there was a change in the departure time.  Finally!

During my lengthly gate wait, I was thankful I had purchased food and had my computer, because it was a long sit. The Roanoke airport does not have anything past security except restrooms, gates, and a very small café, which closed around 7:30 pm.  The guy working in the café was nice enough to shout out a last call to us before he closed!

We finally boarded around 8:25 pm and after all was said and done, the plane was about half full.  I think some had left to try again tomorrow and some had managed to find other options.  However, US Airways did not transfer any tickets to other carriers when I was there.  All I heard the agent offer were flight options on US Airways the following day.

The wind was so strong when we boarded that the little Dash 8 was rocking at the gate.  We pushed back and were airborne by 6:44 pm, and was the climb out ever rocky!  That was probably one of the most turbulent takeoffs I’ve ever experienced.  Finally we got above the weather where it smoothed out considerably.

The in flight service was surprisingly good for an Express flight.  The flight attendant served us a full, complimentary beverage service, and gave us each three packages of Biscoffs.  I thought US Airways/US Airways Express discontinued free snacks, but apparently there was a stash of Biscoffs on board.  She also gave us each the entire can of our beverage of choice.

Our approach and landing into LaGuardia was also very turbulent and it seemed like the wind was still carrying us as we landed.  But we landed at 10:27 pm, making the total flight time one hour 43 minutes.  All-in-all, not a bad experience.  A nearly four-hour delay was certainly better than what could have been.

Airport Experience/Information Provided to Customers = D
In Flight Experience = A

12 Days of Travel: Day 2

On Thursday, the day was full of sessions at the beautiful Hotel Roanoke.  The most interesting session I attended was using Camtasia screen-recording software to create tutorials about how to access and use online library databases for scholarly research.  There was also an awards luncheon, where I unexpectedly received a service award!  During the evening, we had a reception, dinner, and excellent keynote speaker, Mr. Scott Christopher, co-author of The Levity Effect, and I received a complimentary copy of the book.