Asia trip Jan '14

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  1. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    AC7683 BOS YUL 1050 1202 CRJ 6F
    was
    AC7681 BOS YUL 0845 1008 Q30

    My flight was cancelled, so AC put me on the next, which
    still gave me plenty of time to get lost at the
    airport before my next flight.

    I dutifully went through the empty connections lane,
    where the agent had nothing to do otherwise and jawed
    with me for an extended time about nothing in particular,
    then informing me that it was he who had to trek over to
    the door to let me out, but he couldn't do that for a
    while, so sit tight at the exit. The while turned out to
    be a quarter hour, during which time he must have checked
    every possible database for suspicious and criminal activity
    - I half expected to be accosted by swarms of surete
    accusing me of lese majeste against Trudeau or Levesque or
    somebody.

    Eventually he showed up and let me out; no big matter as
    the Maple Leaf wasn't going to be open for another two
    hours or so. I went for a wander that ended at a sign
    saying no passing beyond this point, so I stopped and
    parked at an empty gate.

    There was a wi-fi signal, and an e-mail appeared from
    lili: "oooh, sandwiches just walked by." For a little
    lady who doesn't eat, she certainly is governed by her
    stomach. She was at the domestic lounge and said that I
    should be able to conquer all obstacles and meet her there.
    So back I went to find that the no passing sign had gone,
    and there was unimpeded passage back to the domestic area,
    albeit through a construction area. lili was not hard to
    find, and the club was an okay place to sit a couple hours,
    though I arrived just as the heartier lunch offerings
    (chili, for example) were being cleared away.

    Reentry into the international area was easy. Last year
    there had been a guard checking boarding passes: this year,
    nothing.

    LX 87 YUL ZRH 1655 0620 343 5DG

    As before, boarding was more of a Quebecois scrum than a
    model of Swiss order. We had thrones in the middle, which
    lili prefers to the window-aisle combination, my choice.
    She got her preference on three of four flights.

    Lunch, a tribute to the Valais, was a salty but gamy and
    tasty Bundnerfleisch, followed by Walliser Geschnetzeltes,
    sliced veal in a mushroom cream sauce, pretty good, with
    rice that resembled Uncle Ben's, not so good. Dessert, a
    so-called Valaisian rye bread mousse, seemed to me just
    plain bizarre.

    We were kept in a pleasantly muzzy state by the same wines
    on all four flights as long as we chose to stay awake.

    Champagne Duval-Leroy nv was the usual lemony thing, but
    at one point on the first flight, being bored with it, I
    tried the Swiss white on offer:

    Les Terrasses Dorees 12 (Jean-Rene Germanier) is mostly
    Chasselas and was a bit acidy and Sauvignonish to my taste,
    so I quit after one glass and returned to the Champagne.

    The reds were

    Cornalin Montibeux 12 (Rouvinez), a lightish cherry-plum
    fruity thing that put me in mind of Pinot Noir, only not
    so nice; and

    Ch. Villa Belair 10, a Graves from J.-M. Cazes, so it ought
    to be good, only it was seriously mediocre. lili mostly
    stuck with this; in deference to the nationality of the
    flights, I drank mostly the Cornalin, killing the aftertaste
    with Remy Martin VSOP.

    Service was perhaps more attentive than one would expect
    on a redeye, but either way would have been okay.

    We landed on time.
     
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  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    We decided - after last year having had a not so great
    experience of whiling away vast hours in this airport - to
    catch a bunch of Zs at the Hilton ZRH before proceeding.
    Though the space between the terminals is undergoing some
    pretty disruptive construction, the scheduled shuttle bus
    came with Swiss precision as expected, and soon we were
    welcomed into a bustling warren of activity and checked
    in to a quite nice room for the day.

    When it came time to leave, we had the hotel store our
    winter togs and repaired to the executive lounge (on the
    ground floor), where we enjoyed some excellent chicken
    satays and some very bad red wine before hopping the
    shuttle back to the airport.

    Still a couple hours to kill, so we did so at the Senator
    lounge, where catering was ordinary but our interests
    overwhelmingly liquorous. Tardily we remembered that we
    had a tram ride to the international area; we were not the
    last to go, though we'd cut it pretty close.

    LX 178 ZRH SIN 2245 1800 343 5AB

    Boarding was almost complete when we arrived.

    The crew were more deferential than usual; I attribute this
    to our being closer to "my" perceived home turf now.

    My dinner was tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce, an
    actually okay piece of meat covered with liquid of less
    acridness than usual. lili's Valais rosti with tomatoes and
    cheese were reported palatable.

    Black Forest trifle for dessert, chocolate and cherries
    always a winning combination.

    We arrived within range of schedule but had to buy some stuff
    at the pharmacy, so even though it was still light when we
    got on the MRT, it was in the full swing of nighttime
    shopping when we got off at Orchard (we should of course have
    gotten off at Newton for a much shorter walk).

    The Sheraton Singapore doesn't have that great a reputation,
    but I find it pleasant enough, and our quarters were comfy
    in a sort of anonymous way.

    For some reason we missed snacktime at the lounge, but just
    as well, as soon it was time for the Newton hawker center
    beer and food extravaganza, so we walked over a bit after
    midnight.

    Our table ordered beef, chicken, and mutton satays, oyster
    omelet, and carrot cake to wash down our Tigers with.

    I ended up buying a round of beer, but everyone was full by
    then, and I ended up drinking most of it myself. Not feeling
    100% afterward, I abandoned lili at some point but think I
    was gentleman enough to walk her to either the taxi stand or
    the hotel. Anyhow, she was still talking to me next day.
     
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  3. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    We met up in the lobby with chchkiwi and jswong and sorted
    out the day. I convinced the girls to accompany me to Mang
    Kiko, an outside stall down between Orchard and Somerset;
    jswong was meeting other friends. It was a brisk 10-minute
    walk, and we got there a tad early for lunch. The guy was
    open, but he was still doing prep when we got there, so we
    went off to find some beers, a perennially good way to
    while away time. When we returned, he was just ready to go
    - we were the second party to be served and got pretty much
    our pick, which of course was a combination of roast chicken
    and roast pork belly, both moist, done to a turn, exemplary.
    I should have got some sisig (chopped pig head), which comes
    highly recommended ... maybe there wasn't any, I forget. On
    the side you get rice and unlimited hot-sour broth. If you
    want vegetables, there are self-serve relishes including
    carrot/onion/cucumber pickle available. Helped by Tigers
    from the nearby supermarket we ate pretty well.

    It was time to subway it to the Conrad Singapore, an annual
    treat for me, as it's a fine place to stay in general, plus
    they treat me exceptionally well. Sad to say, the rates are
    pretty high, so I can't afford to stay here all the time.
    There is now a MRT station within five minutes' stroll from
    the hotel, which is a great convenience: one does have to
    hump one's bags up and down a couple sets of stairs to get
    there, though.

    As usual, when the front desk saw my reservation, they
    declined to check us in, instead walking us to the elevator
    and using their card to access us into the lounge. This is
    of course a touching little ritual, but it wastes their and
    our time, doubling the checkin process.

    The exceedingly deferential concierge gave me the corner
    room on the lounge floor, as they usually do if it hasn't
    been spoken for by the likes of monitor. lili got next door,
    an equal but perhaps less prestigious spot.

    We returned to the executive lounge, where we found gvdIAD
    and restlessinRNO. Followed by Chris, Pete, Pete, handles
    unknown, and BundyBear. Many glasses of Australian Shiraz
    (mediocre but cheap at twice the price) and much hilarity.

    Time to wash up and head off to the big event at a new Jumbo
    that we'd not seen before.

    Chris met with us downstairs, and we took the 77 bus to
    Dempsey Hill. This might seem sensible, but the savings was
    like $5 for the three of us, and the bus lets one off at the
    base, from which it is a bit of a bumpy uphill hike to where
    the action is. Most of the crew were already here when we
    arrived, but some continued to trickle in, so, thank the
    gods, we were not last.

    We split up according to our culinary interests. At my table
    infoworks and various others had taken charge of ordering,
    relieving me of the onus, so we got no, repeat no, land
    animal dishes. What we got:

    drunken prawns - I forget who ordered this, over my demur;
    apparently, one of his friends had said that he had to try
    this once in his life. Well, we ended up figuring once was
    enough. It was strongly flavored with ginseng and other
    medicinal herbs along with the rice wine; not worth the
    price, though the prawns themselves were tender, sweet, and
    very flavorful;

    steamed garoupa - exemplary, with just a touch of that
    bitterness that fish often have but tender and flaky;

    chilli crab - the usual;

    black pepper crab - the usual, and owing to the lack of
    sweetness, I think preferable;

    fried mantou, very good; steamed mantou, I didn't try;

    kangkong two ways - garlic and sambal, the former very
    garlicky and tasty, the other salty and a little fishy but
    exceedingly umamiish. We stuffed the few empty interstices
    with seafood fried rice that I thought costly and ordinary.

    On the whole, a good meal but a little more expensive than
    I think it had to be (we had pulled out most if not all of
    the stops here).

    Taxis, a whole string of them, to the party at bschaff1's
    enormous suite at the Hyatt, where more people than myself
    were struck by the availability of Cuban rum, and various
    versions of Havana Club and others were at hand.

    It was a large, noisy, and jolly party, and it wasn't until
    the wee hours that we tottered home via taxi, the only time
    I would have liked to have stayed at the Sheraton or the
    Marriott rather than the Conrad.
     
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  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    After breakfast we could have taken a bus or the MRT to
    the airport, but we were leaving the Conrad for the Silver
    Kris, so why not live a little? So we did. The taxi was
    under $30 so not the greatest of indulgences.

    Check-in and emigration were a snap, and in no time we were
    in the lounge, where Courvoisier XO (stale-tasting and
    exceedingly mediocre) for me and red plonk (pretty ditto)
    for lili were welcome. Catering was not hugely interesting,
    the Chinese offerings a bit goofy-looking and old-tasting,
    the Western ones not that much better.

    SQ 974 SIN BKK 1310 1435 772 12AB

    Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve was nice and kept being
    offered. After my first glass, I tried the Silver Kris Sling
    just for the experience: it was a mixture of gin, Cointreau,
    orange, pineapple, and a splash of Champagne. It was
    something between a frou-frou drink and something that you'd
    feed a young inexperienced person in an effort to get lucky.
    Thereupon a return to the Heidsieck.

    Fried salmon and mango salad was unidentifiable fried fish
    with sweet chili sauce, rice, and vegetables. It was okay.
    I think lili had lamb chops.

    I passed on dessert, which was cheesecake.

    Courvoisier XO was welcome and much better than the lounge
    offering.

    The flight was short and sweet, and we were let off into
    one of the less attractive parts of this fairly attractive
    airport, where we got some kind of stamp that let us bypass
    the immigration line (and clear through Chiang Rai, a much
    less crowded station, later).

    The domestic Royal Orchid lounge offers various Coca-Cola
    and Schweppes products, no alcohol, some mass-market dim sum
    of no use except to convey sriracha sauce into one's tum,
    and quite an assortment of not-quite-ripe fruit.

    The main part of the facility is sort of low and grim and
    crowded, but you can go to the back, where an atrium-like
    room doubles the capacity and caters about the same. It's
    echoey and noisy, though, despite few people using it. On
    the whole, three hours really dragged along here.

    TG 140 BKK CEI 1825 1945 300 14AC

    Finally it was time to go. The gate area was nearby and at
    least as attractive as the lounge.

    The aircraft that we were rather unceremoniously herded into
    was old but nice enough.

    A meal was offered but not taken. I didn't even have a glass
    of wine but rather snoozed through the hour flight.

    We got through the perfunctory international arrivals, found
    a place to get a bunch of baht, and went to the taxi
    reservation stand. To the Meridien or any of the other fancy
    hotels is a 200b flat rate.

    The driver who got assigned to us, Sunthorn, was not too
    forthcoming, fine with us, but we did get his card.

    Le Meridien, right on the riverbank and looking like a city
    unto itself, is gorgeous; must have been designed by the
    same architect who did the Sheraton in Yogyakarta. We
    were greeted by slews of slim, well coiffed and dressed
    persons, who gave us in deference to our age and lili's
    status an impressive suite that could have accommodated 4
    comfortably, in what was labeled the Grand Deluxe Wing.

    Snacks upstairs in the bar were free for Starwood elites:
    peanuts, cashews, and salty fried pork rind in shreds that
    ranged from melting rich to hard and almost unchewable. We
    also got a platinum amenity, a bento-type box that had 4
    eye-opener smoothies such as you get in Meridien lobbies
    elsewhere, a vegetable maki roll, a couple skewers of rather
    tough but tasty satay, a burrito, tod mun, and a couple
    chocolate petits fours. She had red wine; I started with a
    pina colada (listed on a rather long list of specialties of
    the house), and then, my curiosity satisfied, changed to
    Singha beer. Dinner was unnecessary this night.
     
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  5. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Breakfast is in the ground floor restaurant of the main
    building; a wide variety of Thai, Muslim, and American
    dishes, of which I gladly partook of fried fish, squid
    curry with celery, and a shrimp preparation or two. Also
    every day a different noodle dish, of which I remember
    thin noodles with soy sauce and Chinese sausage. If I
    encountered such a spread in the States, I'd be a much
    more enthusiastic breakfast eater.

    Interesting and huge spread of fruit, of which the most
    notable was dried dragonfruit, whose concentration made
    it actually sort of taste like something.

    The American food was kind of dubious, and I eschewed that.

    Delicious juices. Great staff.

    The "complimentary" shuttle to town costs B50, but I think
    that's round trip. Pick up and drop off on the Phaholyothin
    Road right at the entrance to the night market.

    The first thing to see was the famous golden clock tower,
    which is indeed quite impressive; then we went off to a
    local market (signs in English saying "market") which had
    remarkable seafood, considering how far from the sea this
    city is, lots of pig parts, lots and lots of clothing, small
    electronics, household goods, bric a brac, the usual. The
    distinguishing feature of this market was its grittiness -
    it's a working persons' working market, not a tourist thing
    at all, and I doubt it had seen many white folks in its day.

    Next on the itinerary a number of small temples, the only
    one I caught the name of was Wat Chet Yot (there's a similar
    temple by this name in Chiang Mai as well), and then it was
    lunchtime.

    We were pleased to find a sort of restaurant row not far
    from the bus station; from the all similar-looking places
    with similar menus we chose the E&Z, a covered open-air
    more restaurant than bar (many of the others were more bar
    than restaurant). A big menu, from which I chose the crispy
    pork curry, which was different from what I expected. It
    turned out to be slices of pork jerky in a soy-based sauce
    with lots of basil, served with excellent rice. It was quite
    hard to chew but tasted delicious. lili had a cheeseburger,
    which was the normal meatloafy thing you get outside this
    dish's natural habitat; this came with fries out of a bag,
    indistinguishable from similar throughout the world.

    Leo (meaning lion) beer, a pale cousin of Singha (meaning
    lion) was cheap, cold, and quenching.

    The night market is very unprepossessing in the daytime; we
    took a quick tour and decided we'd come back in the evening
    and so took the shuttle back to the hotel for a shower and
    a quick nap.

    After drinks and snacks at the lounge, same as before, only
    no pina colada, we returned after dark to find a carnival
    atmosphere, the previously almost deserted streets crowded
    with shoppers, stalls, street performers, and tourists like
    us. Anticipating a somewhat brisker climate in Montreal in
    a week or two I bought a knit hat for a buck.

    There's a busy food court area with plenty of specialties of
    the region. I went for a combo platter of braised crickets
    in soy sauce and fried silkworms; they were unspectacular,
    neither particularly interesting nor disgusting, though lili
    went eww when I picked cricket legs out from between my
    teeth. The crickets were like any old soy sauced protein,
    the silkworms partway between cracklings and popcorn. There
    were also big old water bugs for sale, but you got only two
    or three for your 15 baht, and I was full anyway.

    It was time to wash the remaining crud out of my teeth, so
    we found the Sawaddee Restaurant, where we had more Leo beer
    and a glass of Mekong rum-ish substance and then chugged out
    of there to catch the last shuttle with 5 minutes to spare.
     
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  6. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Golden Triangle Tours hadn't answered our e-mails, so we
    decided to make our own tour. We called Sunthorn and hired
    him for the day: our itinerary: Wat Rong Khun the white
    temple; the big Buddha and the Hall of Opium in the Golden
    Triangle, and the two attractions of Doi Tung, the dowager
    princess's home and the temple on the facing peak.

    If we'd thought things out, we would have saved the white
    temple for the next day, as we'd have to go right past it on
    our way to Chiang Mai; but at this point I was still up for
    riding the Green Bus down. But anyhow we did this on this
    day, which meant half an hour each way lost.

    On the way Sunthorn bought us a little gift - a bag of
    mini-pineapples -; he said we were very lucky, as they had
    just come in season. They were very crunchy, somewhat sweet,
    fragrant, and interestingly served with salt.

    The temple, one of the most impressive complexes of the
    region, is more an artistic than a religious monument - it's
    the child and the obsession of Chalermchai Kositpipat, an
    artist now in I believe his 50s, so it's a modern thing, a
    complex of maybe a dozen stunningly elaborate buildings on
    just a few acres of land. It is exceedingly surreal but to
    my eye as beautiful as everyone claims it is. The guy, part
    architect, part crazy visionary, is sort of OCD king, and
    his life's work illuminates much about the relation between
    religion and the human mind.

    We spent a good hour here. Well worth the trip. Sad to
    relate, a few months after we were here, the site was
    severely damaged by an earthquake; the latest word is that
    it will be restored eventually, but the guy was initially so
    disheartened that he said he was just going to demolish it.

    --

    Though the distance is not huge and the roads generally
    good, it takes a bit of time to get to the Golden Triangle,
    largely because of local traffic that can be anything from
    animals loaded with wood to buses full of empty-faced farm
    workers to produce trucks. A fair number of motorcycles too.
    I've found that the mapping programs far underestimate the
    time needed for driving in nations with, er, nonstandard
    road conditions.

    The area itself is not particularly interesting, but it's
    one of those places you read about and have to take a bit
    of a look just to see what the fuss was about.

    You go through these agricultural lands that might as well
    have been growing rice (which I understand is what they now
    are) instead of the opium poppies that gave the region its
    historical fame and fortune, and then bang, tourist central.
    We took a look at a big Buddha that seemed a little tawdry
    compared to what we'd been accustomed to seeing - the
    locals don't have the prejudice against shiny new oversize
    things that I do; then there was the Hall of Opium, one of
    the pet projects of that dowager princess whose house and
    gardens we were later going to visit. This is a manufactured
    attraction of some elaborateness, propaganda intended I
    think to dissuade foreigners with pocketsful of cash from
    supporting the trade. It was actually quite interesting, and
    the pacing dictated by that of various recorded media made
    sure we spent more than our agreed-upon time, and Sunthorn
    was waiting for us slightly impatiently at the exit, as I
    had promised him I'd buy him lunch, and it was well into
    lunchtime.

    I'd sort of hoped we'd go to some hole in the wall where
    we could get some real indigenous cooking, but he took us
    direct to the Sriwan restaurant, a place well known to
    tourists, a pleasant open-air facility overlooking the
    triangle point, where we got food that was indistinguishable
    in taste, hygiene, and price from that of anywhere in the
    civilized world (except the US, where the Thai food is
    generally blander and more expensive).

    The clientele was predominantly tourists and their minders.

    I asked Sunthorn for his recommendation, and we agreed that
    we must have tom yum gung, and his personal favorite was
    chicken cashews. The soup was appropriately sour, packed
    with shellfish (shrimp, mussels, squid) probably out of a
    frozen bag, and highly aromatic. Chicken cashews was the
    standard Chinese-influenced thing but was distinguished by
    not stinting with the cashews. It was too spicy for lili,
    though, so she stuck with egg fried rice and Pepsi.

    Coconut juice came out of a coconut and was very refreshing.

    All in all the food was decent.

    The bill was high for Thailand, somewhat modest for the
    rest of the world.
     
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  7. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Our next destination was the Doi Tung royal villa and
    gardens, home of the King's mother, the late dowager
    princess, a nurse by trade who met her husband (the
    king's father who was never king himself, as he died
    at a young age) in Boston - a long and interesting story,
    you could look it up. The place is enchanting - idyllic
    enough for a princess and modest enough to be suitable for
    a champion of the people. A low rambling building with
    tasteful landscaping, but the real gardens down the way
    are superb and memorable. I swear we could have spent the
    entire time of our trip here. Alas, our time was limited,
    and there were other things to see. I'd heard interesting
    things about Wat Phrathat Doi Tung, a 10th century temple,
    first in the ancient Ngoenyang kingdom (predecessor to
    Lanna), built to house the Buddha's collarbone and other
    arcane relics. I brought this up with Sunthorn, who acted
    puzzled. Do you really want to go there? It wasn't top on
    the tourist list, as it's somewhat out of the way and is
    relatively small, but after being convinced we actually
    wished to visit it, he seemed to know the way pretty well -
    down one of the peaks, into the valley, and then up the
    other one, and, after crossing a recently washed-out but
    somewhat repaired hillside area, there we were, and it is
    very fine in its way, more like a temple was meant to be
    than the urban tourist attractions we are more accustomed
    to seeing. We got a half hour here; when we returned to the
    car, Sunthorn rather gleefully pointed out that the little
    devotee trinket on his dashboard was in fact a model of this
    temple - which was in fact the temple that he worships at,
    and he had just been funning us earlier.

    Back to the Meridien for beers and snacks at the bar, after
    which we decided to try the house Italian restaurant Favola,
    a short stroll outside in the pleasant warmth.

    The place, romantically lit, could be anyplace in the
    civilized world; the staff were pretty polished and with
    serviceable at least English, some better than that.

    First came an amuse of sea bass crudo with cucumber, very
    nicely done, followed by focaccia and tapenade that could
    easily have been served in New York or Rome. Rather tasty
    all, and I at least could have made my meal of these (not
    lili, though, as she eats neither fish nor olives).

    Our appetizer was foie gras with spiced pears - a couple
    impressive slabs, balsamic drizzle, the fruit done just
    al dente and best off eaten separately. I tried making a
    little open-faced sandwich with some liver and the brioche
    that came with, but the cinnamon of the pickle obtruded,
    and so we just ate the rest of the foie gras alone. Later
    I looked up on the Internet and found that most likely this
    duck had been from China.

    I had just a strand or two of lili's spaghetti carbonara,
    which was too cheesy and too scrambled eggy for my taste,
    though the bacon was fine. My linguine bolognese, with
    fresh housemade pasta was fine.

    Our bill, though extravagant for the middle of nowhere
    Thailand, was half of what it would have been in the west.
     
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  8. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    We hired Sunthorn again to drive us to Chiang Mai; he got
    us there in three hours, the standard time, but we had two
    pit stops, thank you Lasix.

    On the way we asked if he would take a detour to the most
    famous temple in the area, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, but he
    declined; I offered him enough extra money, but he wanted to
    get back, from what I could understand, for a date or
    something like that; but he was willing to stop at the hot
    springs, which were on the way (and probably would have
    given him a kickback). We ended up just going to the hotel.

    Le Meridien gave us an executive suite that was almost as
    grand as the one in Chiang Rai, with 270 degrees of view
    over a rather drab part of the city, a giant hot tub, which
    we didn't use, separate shower and toilet rooms, and sleep
    space for up to 6.

    A welcome amenity of macaroons (little froufrou things in
    many colors and no particular flavor) and mediocre fruit
    such as you'd see anyplace in the gift basket world.

    We tore ourselves from our luxury and went for a stroll, saw
    a few smaller temples, and decided that it was time for our
    afternoon snack. After poking our noses into a bunch of very
    similar taverns, we chose the Chiangmai Saloon for beers and
    the house wine, both relatively cheap, the wine Australian I
    think and almost drinkable.

    Thre was enough nosh at the executive lounge that dinner
    seemed unnecessary - quite okay pork dumplings and Vietnam-
    style shrimp paste on very fresh sugar cane went quite well
    with a Singha. Also bites passed around of prosciutto and
    melon and salmon and I think cucumber (I declined); also
    something white and frightening that looked sort of like
    curdled potato salad. This not being her kind of food, lili
    had a couple glasses of wine, and we plunged forth into the
    night market, something of which I am not at all fond,
    finding it glary, raucous, and uninteresting. But what the
    hey, it was something you're supposed to do in this town,
    and anyway it's right by the hotel.

    The food offerings didn't look any better than what the
    hotel had given us (I admit there was a big hawker area that
    we explored insufficiently), but at some point lili got the
    sudden urge for a Big Mac. There is a McDonald's down the
    street from the hotel. A Big Mac costs about $3.

    I had my choice of several beds, all comfy.
     
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  9. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The food on the breakfast buffet here was quite a bit less
    impressive than that at the one in Chiang Rai. The exception
    was a decent bak kut teh, tender boiled pork ribs with
    wolfberry and other less palatable health herbs.

    This day we saw 1.5% of the temples in Chiang Mai; first we
    walked west toward the main destination of the day, passing
    maybe five temples of lesser antiquity and interest and one
    quite old ruined one that was just beginning to undergo
    renovation; this destination was Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan,
    a truly spectacular complex with amazing carvings; next is
    the Wat Phan Tao with the reclining Buddha. Then northward
    to visit a couple more on the northwest outskirts, and then
    off to Wat Phra Singh, large and elaborate but not my
    favorite, and Wat Inthakhin Saduemuang, which has been
    turned into a museum.

    Wat Chiang Man, rather unspectacular, is the oldest in town
    and thus worth a look. Right near there is the Yes! Pub and
    hostel, which is run by a Slovak guy; it serves European as
    well as Asian food.

    We split an order of Moravian sparrow (jocular name like
    Scotch woodcock, Welsh rabbit, Bombay duck, and so on), a
    big plate of somewhat dry roast pork shoulder and belly
    that came with rather funky gravy, some of the best red
    cabbage I've had in the world, and fusionish dumplings that
    were like Chinese man tou with caraway. Beer is cheap; not
    so the excessively bad red wine that was claimed on the menu
    to be a Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa.

    Eastward to the Flower and Warorat markets. I wasn't
    thrilled, but then I don't care for markets in general,
    unless there is interesting food, and by this time, the
    culinary offerings here seemed old hat. Plus the level of
    hygiene at Warorat was pretty appalling, the smells almost
    enough to make a vegetarian out of a man.

    A couple handicrafts centers (ugh) and a few more temples,
    which were beginning to look all alike by now, and then
    back to the Saloon for a replay or three, and so to the
    hotel lounge and bed.
     
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  10. violist
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    An abbreviated American-style breakfast at the lounge; we
    stuck around long enough to snag upstairs seat assignments
    for next day, and then we hired a taxi to the Bo Sang
    umbrella factory, which my friend Annie had fond memories
    of and which I'd promised to check out. It's a few miles out
    of town, along a street lined with crafts stores; the driver
    encouraged us to stop at several of these, but we passed.

    It was a week after the Umbrella Festival, and obviously
    things had wound down a bit. The factory people were unduly
    happy to see us.

    The craftsmen (largely women) do good work, but for some
    reason, most of the wares in the gift shop are crap. I
    couldn't figure this out. There were some wind chimes that
    were available for a decent price and that looked pretty
    good, but I found that most of them were insect-infested,
    as were many of the other merchandise. Put me right off.

    The driver had said it would take an hour to go through
    the place, but he hardly looked surprised when we hailed
    him in 40, which gave us a chance to visit an interesting
    nearby temple on the way home.

    It was lunchtime when we got back, so we looked for a place
    that would satisfy us both. We found Mike Pizza with its
    dual-focused menu, and I had a Penang pork curry, only
    moderately good and less than moderately spicy. lili got
    cheese enchiladas that could have come out of a Trader Joe's
    frozen box, only maybe blander.

    Another random walk took us to the 1861 Ancient House, a
    project of the local historical society, reconstructing a
    rural clan lodge, kind of interesting, and the Anusarn
    Market, showing promise, though it was not going to really
    get going for some hours. Southward to the ferry landing,
    with the first Taoist temple we'd seen, then to the
    interestingly named museum Art in Paradise, which turns
    out to focus on trompe l'oeil and surrealism and didn't
    interest us at all.

    Plenty of time to find another refreshment zone, which
    today was Centara at the Duangtawan Hotel (across the
    street from the Meridien). Beers were a very advantageous
    B190 for a pitcher with a happy hour special of a free mug
    with a pitcher, so that was under B40 a glass. Back to the
    executive lounge, where the treats were chicken McNuggets
    and vegetable samosas. I had a couple oranges and a banana
    with a Johnnie Walker Black.

    Being unsatisfied with the offerings, we wandered around
    and found a satay lady who had incredibly terrific pork
    belly satays, which made me happy again. Then a reprise of
    the night market, hoping to determine what the charm of
    the place is. Neither food nor wares appealed, and lili
    suggested we go back for more pork satays, but alas, the
    satay lady had sold out and was just packing up; she
    seemed happy enough that we'd come back, though.

    There were a couple places selling T-bones for $6-7
    we passed nearby, but not being all that hungry and
    perhaps a little suspicious of the quality of the meat
    we didn't indulge, instead returning to Anusarn, which was
    getting going for the evening. It was kind of amusing, I
    guess, the funniest thing being a pair of dancing
    transvestites being gawked at by several western children
    and their nonplussed parents.
     
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  11. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Breakfast was notable for what might be described as
    negative umami - blander food I've not tasted out of a
    hospital, from the veal sausage to the green tea coconut
    bread that failed to live up to its promise. I ended up
    with a rather ordinary donut and a scoop of Chinese
    sausage salad, which I belatedly found off in the corner,
    perhaps being saved for the staff snack later on.

    A taxi to the airport was B150.

    Even though our flight was domestic, the CIQ program allowed
    us to exit Thailand here and avoid the lines at BKK, so we
    went to the international area to do that.

    A small but friendly Royal Orchid, offering the acrid but
    serviceable Regency brandy and a quite nice selection of
    pastries. Chinese-style steamed buns from a factory called
    CpVam; these were standard but beat the pants off what the
    hotel had offered.

    TG 103 CNX BKK 1010 1130 744 14AB

    The flight attendant took a shine to me, kind of flattering.

    Lunch consisted of an acceptable chicken ballottine en
    croute with a salad of red kidney beans, peas, potato, and
    cheese. A jiggly agar dessert was tasteless but amusing.
    No alcohol on this flight.

    We parked at C, which is in the international area and had
    to take buses to the domestic area, and then CIQ dumped us
    off between C and D, with a nearby Royal Silk Lounge, whose
    friendly attendant pointed out that we were entitled to a
    complimentary massage. lili took advantage of this, while
    I took copious advantage of the hot buffet offering, which
    was ground beef with basil and chile, quite hot spicy and
    fairly delicious.

    No wine but lots of beers, sticky liqueurs, and whisk(e)ys,
    of which I had a tot of Mekhong and numerous glasses of
    excellent orange juice.

    lili came back reinvigorated by her massage but then went
    off hoping that O'Malley's, which we'd noticed outside,
    would offer a burger; it didn't, but there was a (her words)
    "full American food court" nearby, where she enriched the
    meat monarch with the last of my baht.

    TG 409 BKK SIN 1635 1955 773 20EF
    was TG 407 BKK SIN 1350 1710 772

    They'd cancelled our flight and booked us on the next one,
    which was fine as it was newer equipment and an interesting
    and extremely spacious configuration with all window seats
    singles and the middles alternating two singles on the
    aisles and a pair in the middle like so:

    X..X
    .XX.
    X..X
    .XX.

    Lots of room.

    Rather bad entertainment, so after getting another dose of
    Helene Grimaud I listened to Hilary Hahn's encores, all of
    which were boring except for one written by this guy I used
    to know forty years ago, David Del Tredici.

    Drink snacks were cashew nuts mixed with fava beans, sort
    of interesting.

    For lunch they gave me scallop and shrimp Thermidor, the
    shellfish kind of tasteless, the preparation okay, and some
    potato preparation that tasted like perfume, broccoli on
    the side.

    I passed on dessert, which was supposed to be banana caramel
    cake but again was some agar thing.

    The flight was too short.

    We alit and took the Skytrain to T2, where the transfer desk
    dealt with us in pleasant but inefficient manner, and then
    to the Silver Kris, where I tanked up on a rather bad but
    not as bad Courvoisier XO. The food again was very
    unappetizing though abundant, a lot of bad steam table
    versions of Asian and western classics.
     
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  12. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    LX 179 SIN ZRH 2335 0610 343 5DG

    This flight boarded up in a haphazard fashion that one would
    not have expected from either the Singaporeans or the Swiss,
    but sooner or later we were in our pretty comfy bed seats.

    A salmon and crab canape, pretty good, greeted us, followed
    by a pretty okay medium tenderloin in red wine sauce.

    Dessert - a pleasant vanilla-peach mousse.

    The flight went by quickly.

    lili went into Switzerland to pick up the winter clothing
    that we had stowed at the Hilton, while I stayed at the
    Senator Lounge to take advantage of their excellent
    grapefruit juice and later generous tots of Brugal Anejo.

    The hot offering was elbow mac bolognese, surprisingly like
    the real thing.

    LX 86 ZRH YUL 1250 1515 333 5DG

    The starter was smoked perch from Raron with saffron
    mayonnaise, mixed leaves, and it was fine except for the
    bones, of which there were many.

    Walliser Geschnetzeltes with rice again, but it was quite
    different, the meat more stewed than sauteed, the sauce not
    so nice, but still it moistened the rice well.

    lili had the coq au vin; she took a couple bites and pushed
    it over to me; I took a couple bites. It was protein.

    "Valaisian rye bread mousse with spiced orange compote"
    again; it was nasty again.

    Immigration was surly but fine.

    The 747 bus is a fairly fine thing; it costs $9 to get
    downtown from the airport, but the ticket gives you all-day
    access to the metro and bus lines.

    Again we stayed with our friend Jean-Rene at Gite Ocoin, in
    the same room with the in-room shower (bathroom, private,
    across the hall).

    I have pleasant memories from decades previous of L'Express,
    which is often described as a Paris bistro entirely moved to
    Montreal; I think that's accurate enough, but the restrooms
    are nicer here and the staff less sarcastic, so I proposed
    to take lili here for our one real meal in town.

    The journey was a success, even though it's a quarter mile
    away from the Metro, and it was very very cold.

    I had an old favorite, veal kidneys in mustard sauce, which
    were excellent, with the mustard very subtle but just enough
    to counteract any of the off-flavors that might be found
    with kidneys. Boiled potatoes, which squashed nicely into
    the sauce. lili's steak frites was a little gristlier than
    she might have preferred, but still there was plenty to
    satisfy her and for me to have a few tough bites. The frites
    were excellent.

    Live dangerously, thought I, so we split an excellent but
    incredibly sweet maple syrup tart. The split was one forkful
    for her, the rest putting me into diabetic shock, almost.
    This was rather like pecan pie minus the pecans, but eggier.

    Cahors 05 Solis (Matthieu Cosse) was a semi-bargain and was
    a welcome return to the robust style I remember from my
    youth, able to handle over 8 years of bottle age.

    AC7684 YUL BOS 1350 1505 CRJ 3D

    A somewhat satisfactory ride on an unsatisfactory aircraft.
    The pleasant flight attendant helped.
     
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  13. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    [These are posted out of order and actually took place before the preceding posts
    I found them hidden away someplace ...]

    US2097 BWI CLT 1535 1704 321 4A

    I'd breakfasted on starch alone, a poor choice for a person
    with some blood sugar issues, and by the time I got to the
    airport I was craving protein. Having got there quite
    early, I went the rounds of all the restaurants looking for
    a steak, but the best I could detect were an assortment of
    really expensive hamburgers. I thought of backtracking to
    Duclaw, where I could get a big burger, but that would come
    with misfit chips and could not be eaten without a Duclaw
    beer or two, so lots of carbs. I ended up going to the
    supremely mediocre Manchu Wok, where the beef with peppers,
    no starch, seemed to be the ticket. The old lady behind the
    counter said, disapprovingly, that that would cost me
    extra, and no amount of pleading, could I just get a small
    portion, what she would have given me on rice or noodles,
    would sway her, and no amount of disapproving dissuasion
    would sway me. So for $7.49 plus tax I got a pound of food,
    mostly grayish flank in varying stages of toughness, with
    a smattering of grayish green pepper chunks and grayish
    onion bits. This was in a mixture of soy sauce, black bean
    sauce, and oyster sauce, whether deliberate or random I
    couldn't figure.

    After finishing this up, I had an hour to waste, and I
    wasted it well surfing using the McDonald's free wi-fi,
    which was faster and more stable than the airport's native
    service. I roused myself from gripping tales of what will
    happen if the government shutdown is allowed to continue
    in time to board amid the chaos of the tail end of priority
    boarding. No overhead space right there, so I put my
    briefcase down and headed to coach to deposit my bag. In
    the 10 seconds it took to do this, some guy kicked the heck
    out of my bag going by, which my seatmate subsequently
    reported to me. Inspection showed no major damage done,
    though the keyboard had popped loose from my laptop, which
    given its design can be fixed without tools.

    The flight was uneventful, quite bumpy in spots, but no
    biggie. My seatmate was a young grad now working for Choice
    Hotels, so we had a pleasant chat, in which I did not
    divulge that his chain is about #6 on my list.

    The guy in front ordered a Jack and Coke, a quintessential
    college student booze; this sounded good, so I did the same;
    adding another voice, my seatmate ordered one with Diet.
    Reminded me of forty years ago. Reminded him of last year.
    We chuckled over this.

    Landing was quite a bit early but drove around the greater
    Charlotte area for a while and pulled up to the gate right
    on time.

    I had half an hour before boarding and considered a
    Bojangles run but thought better of it.

    US 470 CLT SAN 1820 2025 321 2F

    A flight full of attractive women, and I don't know whether
    to attribute this to the flower of Southern loveliness or
    a plethora of California girls. Even the flight attendants
    were cute. I could determine this because I boarded with my
    group instead of hanging around the club until the last
    moment.

    My seatmate was grumpy; turned out he was on the tail end of
    a long stint away from home. No problem as I intended to
    sleep as much as possible.

    The Chardonnay was not so nasty as I feared, though it was
    exceedingly grapy; I had two glasses of it.

    Meal choice: mushroom ravioli or barbecue beef. Though I
    shudder at barbecue sauce, I got the latter. It was brisket,
    somehow processed to gelatinize it, in a rather unattractive
    red sauce. Broccoli and carrots, a most un-barbecuish side,
    and a pleasantly multi-cheese (though probably with some
    blue in addition to other leftover scraps) mac and cheese.

    The red wine was generic ink and quite a bit uglier than
    the white had been.

    As I no longer have a phone I wandered into the snazzy new
    United Club and asked a concierge for a phone to call for
    the hotel shuttle, which came speedily, piloted by a young
    Fijian for whom this was a second or third job.
     
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  14. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Which was to the Ramada on Rosecrans an unprepossessing
    address, but I don't need any more Hilton stays this year
    and don't crave paying extra for comfort and amenities I'm
    not going to use. I asked for a 7 am shuttle, figuring that
    would get me to the airport around quarter past, so plenty
    of time. Free wi-fi, so a quick check of my e-mail revealed
    that lili thought that American might shirty about the
    2-hour rule for international itineraries, even though the
    overseas segment was much later. I dashed back a reassuring
    note to the effect that I was sure I'd be fine, but I'd
    sacrifice an hour's sleep to her peace of mind.

    Called up the front desk, which said it couldn't change the
    shuttle reservation, as they had already told the driver not
    to show up until 7.

    The room was cubic, smallish, clean. A rather nice powder
    room area and a spartan but adequate bathroom. San Francisco
    Soap Company amenities, which are too heavily perfumed.

    The bed did the job, as did a 6 am wakeup call.

    Breakfast is included; for me it was stale Froot Loops and
    a couple hard-boiled eggs with a large quantity of Tapatio.
    Metallic orange juice to wash it down.

    Right at 7 the Fijian kid was there to drive me to the
    airport.

    AA2645 SAN LAX 0855 0940 CRJ 2D

    Check-in and security were seamless, and I met lili at the
    AC for a glass of wine before retreating to the commuter
    terminal for the cramped little plane to Los Angeles. Which
    got us in more than a tad late and gave us just an hour to
    enjoy the Flagship Lounge breakfast, which consisted of
    chicken sausage, pale hash-brown potatoes, and weird
    inedible-looking eggs. I tried a sausage, which wasn't too
    bad, but didn't partake otherwise; I might have if there
    had been any of that Tapatio around. We tore ourselves away
    to get to the gate by 1130; boarding hadn't started yet, and
    people were milling about anxiously. Eventually they loaded
    us up fairly expeditiously, and we took off not on time but
    early enough to land on time.

    AA 169 LAX NRT 1200 1550 772 9HJ

    The seats are quite uncomfy, with creases and lumps where
    you wouldn't expect them. The electronic controls are,
    however, somewhat more predictable than I expected from
    my experiences with the United equivalent.

    Starter
    Shrimp Escabeche
    With Peruvian purple potato salad

    A couple smallish shrimp, slightly sour, sided with a
    couple disks of unsightly gray-looking and gray-tasting
    vegetable. I think these guys are taking lessons from
    United in how to ensure that nobody will ever buy a
    business-class ticket.

    Salad
    Seasonal greens with fresh vegetables, hearts of palm and
    sweet and spicy pecans
    With your choice of creamy wasabi dressing or premium
    extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

    The hearts of palm could just as well have been hearts
    of potato; the greens were last season if that. The pecans,
    surprisingly, made the whole mess almost tasty.

    Assorted gourmet breads will be served with your meal

    I am reminded that the gourmets ate braised rat during the
    Siege of Paris.
     
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  15. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Entrees

    Grilled Fillet of Beef
    in ginger sake sauce with kapakahi mashed potatoes, mushrooms
    and seasonal vegetables

    Mine was gray and nasty, and I ate only a couple bites of
    it. lili's was pinkish and nasty, and she ate only a couple
    bites of it. I ate some of the pinkish inside of what she
    left behind. I've not a clue what a kapakahi is, but it
    isn't good.

    Lemongrass Chicken
    Served with achiote citrus sauce, coconut curry chayote squash
    and potato-rutabaga puree

    Grilled Salmon
    Served in ginger soy sauce, with shiso rice, sauteed
    mushrooms and a vegetable medleye

    Stuffed Shells
    With pomodoro sauce

    Steamed rice is available upon request

    Dessert
    Traditional Ice Cream Sundae
    Vanilla ice cream with your choice of hot fudge, butterscotch
    or seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream and pecans

    Best part of the meal. I had plain ice cream, which sort of
    flummoxed the flight attendant. lili made up for this by
    getting pretty much the whole shebang, aka Tina's special
    - blackberries, chocolate, walnuts, amaretto. I had a taste
    of this and found it sort of random.

    Fresh Seasonal Fruit

    Dom Venitia 11 Beames-de-Venise (Rhone)

    Sort of sour and not very flavorful: on requesting the
    Ken Chase special selection, the news was had that Ken had
    apparently gone teetotal, as there wasn't one, but a bottle
    of Arrowood Syrah 06 was requisitioned from the relatively
    empty first cabin, and it was drunk down gratefully.

    Snack
    Entrees
    Edo-style Mini Bento Box
    Vinegared rice wrapped in bean curd skin, rolled sushi
    and Japanese pickles

    Gourmet Cheese Plate
    An assortment of fine cheeses with garnishes

    I slept through this; sad, as I was looking forward to
    the inarizushi.

    Light Meal
    Entrees
    Grilled Chile Marinated Scallops
    With cucumber and onion salad

    Uno's Four Cheese and Pesto Pizza
    Served with a green salad and Caesar dresing

    The scallops were decent, two mediums; the marinade again
    was a little sour and with a screaming lack of chile. The
    salad was palatable though quite antique and soggy.

    I heard bad reports about the pizza.

    Dessert
    Glazed Peaches
    Served with sugared puff pastry

    Actually a slice of stewed fruit on a greasy dense thing
    that would have been at home at the Ramada breakfast, with
    a blob of frosting.

    What I experienced of the flight was pleasant (except for
    the food), the flight attendants jollily ragging on each
    other and on us - very American style, both corporately and
    nationally, but I wonder what foreign (say, Japanese?)
    riders would make of this attitude.

    We landed around dark, quite late. After the hike from the
    gate, immigration was pretty quick, and soon we were moneyed
    and ticketed and off on the local local to Nippori, whence
    after a short wrong turn we got a train to Ikebukuro and the
    Hotel Metropolitan (formerly an IC).

    A smallish room, the most notable feature of which was
    the Toto Washlet, which lili taught me was an installed seat
    that turned your plebeian ordinary facility into a Toto,
    with all the bells and whistles one could expect.

    There wasn't much need for food, so we just dropped by
    the 7-11 down the street and got salty snacks and a beer.
    The potato chips smelled like fish (the only discernible
    western word on the bag was "potato") but tasted like
    ordinary chips, so lili didn't starve.
     
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  16. violist
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    Heavy rain in the morning, but we decided to take our
    morning constitutional anyhow, protected by a small umbrella
    (lili) and my Ted jacket, which proved to be distressingly
    unwaterproof - it claimed resistance, but when confronted
    with a real downpour it rolled over and gave up completely.

    We ducked into a bakery with the unlikely name of Italian
    Tomato and bought maple walnut and orange marmalade muffins
    for breakfast. These tasted just like airline lounge, so we
    were right at home. Where we went to regroup, because the
    weather was truly appalling.

    We decided on lunching nearby, and I'd heard about this
    place Rikyu in the local department store that served all
    beef tongue all the time. This is a favorite food of mine,
    and lili gamely agreed to come along and watch me eat.
    were a few minutes early and found a bit of a line - a
    good sign. They opened right on time, and we were cheerfully
    given an abbreviated English menu.

    I went for the tongue set, which allows you to sample small
    portions of the most popular offerings - a salad with smoked
    tongue and the usual soy-citrus dressing; grilled tongue;
    tongue keema curry (or brown-gravy stew if you prefer); and,
    the only non-tongue dish on the menu, oxtail soup.

    There was one thing that I thought lili might like, tongue
    hamburger, but it turned out to be out, so we got a small
    portion of grilled tongue for her instead. She didn't like
    it. We agreed that the flavor was wonderful, but she
    couldn't take the almost cartilaginous crunch. I gave her
    a bite or two of my oxtail, but she didn't care for that
    either.

    So this place got one enthusiastic yea and one equally
    emphatic nay. I offered to find her something else, but
    she said she could wait for supper. She doesn't eat much
    anyhow.

    The weather was still lowery and ugly, so sightseeing
    didn't seem like quite so much fun, so we just went to the
    Yebisu beer museum in Ebisu, which had been closed for a
    function when we tried to visit last year. An easy 15-minute
    trip, and we were there. Turns out the museum isn't much,
    and it took no more than the train ride had. At the end one
    can purchase beer and snacks, the latter said to be pretty
    good in a Germanic way, but nothing appealed.

    Round about 5, mjm came bearing gifts, namely the Von Buhl
    dry Riesling 12, which he said paired perfectly with a 2 1/2
    year Comte; it did, its slightly off-dry fruitiness matching
    well with the fruity-salty cheese.

    We hopped the train to a yakitori place called Shousuke,
    down in the Shinjuku district. As we wove through the
    streets dodging touts and drunks, mjm noted that this had
    never been his favorite part of town, but the restaurant
    would be worth it.

    We were shown to a little table on the top floor, which had
    a few other little tables taken up with partiers.

    Beer and various chicken parts were the order of the day,
    parts one might not expect as well as the normal bits. As
    chicken hearts are my favorite things on a churrascaria, I
    was right at home with skewers of these, livers, skin (not
    crisp except around the edges), and meatballs that also
    incorporated ground-up bits of breastbone cartilage (which
    I actually found a bit tame, the crunchy bits not so crunchy
    or in fact very evident at all). lili was not neglected,
    with breast meat bits with or without leeks, thigh meat,
    drumstick meat, and a couple plain veggie ones. Most of
    these we had done in the salty style, rather than the
    sweet one that we get at home.

    Just in case we were still hungry after 36 skewers, mjm
    ordered these gigantic salmon doong-like things and a
    bunch of sake; he rejected the waitress's first suggestion,
    a prestigious product from the north, saying he didn't want
    to light up in the dark (so he translated for us after).

    We were only somewhat lit up when we lurched down the steep
    stairs and off into the night after saying fond goodbyes.
     
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  17. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    lili's Emeraldness got us into the JAL F lounge to sample
    its delights, of which the liquids were superior to the
    solids.

    Dry natto was interesting, though - I wondered what the
    point was. After all, natto is supposed to be this weird
    goo, and dry weird goo is a contradiction. It tasted ok.

    On the buffet: mediocre pork shumai and a downright
    unfortunate har gow; something labeled "Chinese dish -
    pork with root vegetables"; this turned out to be pork
    belly, mostly fat, with I think carrots and turnips.

    The famous JAL beef curry was as before mostly fat and
    a little gristle. This time the rice was regular and went
    much better with it.

    On the cold table were inarizushi with tobiko, rolled
    tonkatsu sandwich things with wasabi, mochi with very sweet
    red bean paste, and agar with mandarin orange, peach, and
    ginkgo nut. These were all pretty good. There were also
    other substances that didn't appeal to me.

    Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot was the red, a disappointment.

    I poured myself a big glass of Remy XO but soon got tired of
    it, plus it doesn't go well with food. Extremely aromatic,
    though. With the food I had an Asahi Extra Dry as poured by
    the miraculous beer machine.

    After a while we decided, why not try the other JAL lounge,
    in the satellite terminal near our gate. I seem to recall
    having had to take a shuttle train there in years past; now
    you walk across. The lounge (first class upstairs, Sakura
    downstairs) is a short distance into the terminal, easy to
    find. We were greeted like old friends, which was slightly
    peculiar.

    I found the place peerlessly unsightly - some young graduate
    designer trying way too hard - it just grated horribly on my
    brain, despite the comforting absence of other custom. So I
    was on the verge of recommending an exit when I discovered
    that the spirits selection was a notch better than that at
    the main lounge. Both Hibiki and Yamazaki were available, as
    well as Remy and Courvoisier XO. I tried something I'd never
    seen before, CC Black 20 year, which was very smooth but not
    very characterful, before deciding on the Courvoisier, which
    I prefer just a tad to the Remy (at VSOP level my preference
    is opposite).

    The food was exactly the same as at the main lounge.

    At boarding time we excused ourselves and were bowed out and
    back into the hot and crowded real world, where boarding was
    somewhat delayed, but please remain in the boarding area.

    AA 170 NRT LAX 1555 0950 772 12HJ

    A reasonably attentive (at first) crew that disappeared
    midflight and then came back for the end. I suppose that
    makes some kind of sense if they're encouraging you to think
    that you've spent a whole night on the plane.

    Starter
    Shrimp and Scallops
    With avocado mousse

    The shellfish were fresh enough but rather tasteless;
    the mousse was odd and sour.

    Salad
    Seasonal greens with fresh cucumber ginger and snap peas
    With your choice of creamy Asian-style dressing or premium
    extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

    Assorted gourmet breads will be served with your meal

    I ignored these things.

    Entrees

    Grilled Fillet of Beef
    complemented by Dijon mustard sauce, parsley mashed potatoes,
    sauteed broccoli, carrot and radish

    lili's beef wasn't so bad as last time, and she ate half of
    it with pleasure. I ate the other half of it with pleasure.

    Madeira Chicken
    Served with linguini in basil cream sauce, sauteed mixed
    mushrooms, green beans and carrots

    Lobster Risotto
    With tomato lobster sauce and fresh parsley

    My own main course was the same as on my last return from
    Japan, and though this wasn't mentioned on the menu this
    time, the starch again was orzo, this time bizarrely salty.
    I ate the chunks of spiny lobster meat off the top and left
    the rest.

    Whole Wheat Penne Pasta
    With puttanesca sauce and vegetable medley

    Steamed rice is available upon request

    Dessert
    Traditional Ice Cream Sundae
    Vanilla ice cream with your choice of hot fudge, butterscotch
    or seasonal berry toppings, whipped cream and pecans

    I passed this time, ice cream once per trip being enough;
    a glass of La Senhora do Convento Port was offered and
    gratefully accepted. Oddly, the other wine served with
    dessert was the Lustau Fino. Hello?

    Gourmet Cheese Plate
    An assortment of fine cheeses and garnishes

    Breakfast
    Entrees
    American Breakfast
    Gruyere cheese omelette offered with herbed pork sausage,
    asparagus and cherry tomatoes

    Continental Breakfast
    Cereal with yogurt

    I very nearly slept through this but woke, with a start,
    just in time to ask for the American American breakfast,
    which tastes just like the United American breakfast,
    except that the sausage claims to be pork (I doubt it).

    We landed a bit early, and there was plenty of time to
    check out the lunch offering at the Flagship Lounge. It
    was underwhelming, with stale-looking finger sandwiches;
    also pasta with red sauce on the steam table. There was
    Remy Martin with a date after it, 1753 or something, so I
    had that. It was pretty much like any other Remy.

    Off to the nasty little commuter terminal, where the plane
    we were put on had what purported to be first class.
     
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  18. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    AA3219 LAX SAN 1205 1355 CR7 1CD

    A nothing flight, notable only by the pilot doing a 270
    to park at the gate next to another Skywest aircraft, an
    EM2 (equipment of which I am oddly and unaccountably fond).

    The seating had adequate room, no more.

    lili treated me to a farewell lunch at Slater's 50/50,
    whose thing is that it serves a ground mix of half beef and
    half bacon. Other offerings are normal meat and a spicy mix.
    I got the Signature 50/50 minus the egg; it was a bit of a
    muchness, uncookable rare because of the bacon. I was not
    super impressed. Her regular burger was average at best.
    I'm not sure I'd bother with this place again, though the
    sports bar vibe was kind of fun.

    Then it was back to the airport, where I hung around on the
    balcony of the relatively snazzy new United Club for a
    while, getting an occasional beer from the circulating
    waitress, until time to go to my gate.

    US1836 SAN PHX 1915 2031 752 3A

    Where I was greeted with version 2 seating, with angled
    lie-almost-flat seating that was substantially more comfy
    than what I'd flown transpacific this day. A pity the
    flight was only an hour tops.

    I high-tailed it to the low-A club, the only one still
    open, and at that not for very long, I thought, but the
    bartender informed her customers that the club would stay
    open until boarding time for the last flight. Bless you,
    US Air.

    My drinking bud was a rather attractive woman who was
    retired from being banking commissioner of some Rocky
    Mountain state, I forget which. Interesting.

    US2024 PHX BWI 2335 0637 320 3A

    My seatmate was a chatty sailor-entrepreneur who engaged
    me on various topics including how some kid disproved some
    famous theorem or something. I think he was talking about
    Fermat, but I couldn't figure out why or how.

    The flight landed a bit late amid fairly dense fog and
    drizzle; this turned into a driving rain by the time I got
    back home. My favorite pair of shoes got ruined slogging
    through the puddles, which was pretty much the only
    unwonderful thing about this trip.

    UA1082 BOS EWR 1423 1559 738 21C

    My upgrades haven't been clearing as often as they used to,
    and I'm becoming familiar with the exit rows. This is one of
    the less advantageous exit rows, and the tiniest extra space
    is appreciated, so I've taken to booking the aisle, which
    I'd never do in the olden days.

    I met up with lili again for a run down to PHl, but just as
    we were about to exit, they shut the airport because of some
    imagined security breach. People milled about and milled
    about; it became clear that things were not going to resolve
    in just a few minutes. Luckily, right where we were at the
    near pier of Terminal C there's a sort of parody Grand
    Central Oyster Bar, where one can get fed and watered in
    decent fashion. I had a Sam (9.25); she got the okay but
    not stellar Hogue Cab (12). She wanted a BLT, but there
    was only a Chicken BLT; it was agreed that she order one
    of these, hold the chicken, no extra charge. I got a dozen
    cherrystones, reasonable size and very fresh. The BLT was
    somewhat ungenerous but tasty enough.

    We finished before they cleared up the mess, but while we
    were considering a second round, a happy commotion indicated
    that the crisis had passed and the world was safe for
    democracy for another day.

    2V 137 EWR ZFV 1847 1947

    The hour train ride took just under an hour, and we got the
    subway to the somewhat snazzy Doubletree Philadelphia City
    Center, where we arrived in good time. A nice relatively
    spacious room, good bathroom.

    We didn't feel that the ambience of the bar-restaurant on
    the ground floor suited us, so we did our usual random
    walk thing and found the nearby Perch Pub, where a touted
    pork cheek appetizer was big enough but not gelatinous
    enough, having cooked in a dark brown sweetish juice for
    a very long time, so the richness was all in the sauce.
    A burger was large enough and rare enough but seemed to have
    been made with filler and eggs and had an unpleasant
    processed texture; lili offered me my usual tribute of a
    quarter (half if she's particularly unhungry), which after
    one bite I refused.

    A locally made oyster stout was pleasant enough, the oyster
    presence not very there at all. Some kind of red plonk on
    the other side of the table.
     
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  19. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    I woke up rather queasy but decided to try to adhere to our
    original plan, which involved history and cheesesteaks.

    We started off at the Liberty Bell, which is much smaller
    and less impressive than it was when I was in Philadelphia
    before, around 1958. Then to Independence Hall and its
    associated buildings, and then Benjamin Franklin's printing
    office. While in like for the Bell, we struck up a brief
    conversation about music with one of the rangers (wearing a
    ranger uniform). A couple hours later, Ben Franklin's
    assistant somehow looked familiar despite his 18th century
    costume. I gave him a quizzical look, and he laughed. Are
    you everywhere, I asked? Pretty much, he said. Apparently
    they rotate positions through the day.

    That Italian neighborhood isn't so far off, just a ten
    minute bus ride and a five minute walk (took us 15, as I
    missed our turn and went deeper than I had to into a
    no doubt safe but still not attractive neighborhood).

    Pat's. When I'd had one of their cheesesteaks before, I'd
    thought it mediocre; this time just the smell of it was
    nauseating - lili got one, and the one bite I had of it
    made me want to urp; so we were put off from the plan,
    which was to get one at Geno's as well and compare them.
    I think my smeller was temporarily off; by dinnertime I
    was pretty okay.

    Owing to my not having enough tokens, we walked back to
    the hotel.

    To celebrate the Philadelphia Ballet's 50th season there
    were recastings of favorites from years past. This night
    they were offering Balanchine's Jewels, which I loved from
    its '70s version at NYCB, so we got tickets. The Academy of
    Music is a gorgeous venue, the company do terrific work,
    and of course the orchestra is excellent. We had a fine
    time that took me back to my young years (as an audience
    member; I never could stand working beneath the squeak
    squeak of the toe shoes against the stage).

    We got substantially hungry watching other people's hard
    work and asked some of the people leaving the Academy for a
    dinner recommendation, and the consensus was Estia, just
    down the block and across the side street. In fact, it was
    hopping when we arrived, but it's a big place, and there
    was room for us.

    Our drinks - Mythos beer, very cereally tasting and pretty
    typical of Mediterranean beers, and a Malbec that tasted
    somewhat familiar - likely one of the free offerings at the
    airline clubs.

    She couldn't decide between the lamb shank and the lamb
    chops; the latter won out. They were nicely charred on the
    edges and nicely blood rare inside. I'm tired of rosemary
    and mint on lamb; these (four smallish chops) had both.

    My meal was two appetizers - fried calamari, a standard, not
    done particularly well, the breading both thick and greasy,
    so I needed all the lemon supplied to lighten it up; also
    the unbelievably unGreek tuna tartare with avocado, which
    actually was very good.

    We spent way too much money.

    2V 140 ZFV EWR 1419 1522

    This is a pleasant enough hour trip, made even nicer by the
    presence of a bar car. I had a Heineken and treated lili to
    a half bottle of Cabernet from some formerly reputable but
    now apparently down-on-its-heels California winery. Next
    thing we knew, Newark Airport station. We showed our used
    tickets to the guy at the gate and off we went.

    Gallagher's is really better than the Internet reviewers say
    it is; it's perhaps my favorite airport restaurant in the
    country. I was eager to prove my point to lili, and we had
    just enough time to do so.

    Her 8 oz mini-sirloin, rare, was the bargain of the day, as
    it comes with a side (which she didn't want); I appropriated
    the right and got a dish of creamed spinach, a dish that is
    almost always (as here) mediocre and almost always tasty
    anyway (as here).

    As a result my 12 oz small sirloin was enough.

    I had a glass of Larressingle VSOP, something that is
    ordered so seldom that both times I've had it the waiter
    didn't know it was on the list at all, and I've had to
    point it out to him.

    lili's wine was apparently inoffensive - I didn't try it.

    We said our goodbyes again, and I went off to

    UA 551 EWR BOS 1715 1835 320 2F

    which was nondescript other than its not having been
    catered with Courvoisier.
     
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