Posted by: Michelle | January 4, 2014

Happy New Year, 2013


No, it isn’t a typo. This is a blog I wrote and never finished last year. You see, I have a tendancy to get distracted. I mean to finish what I start but… you know those pesky squirrels. They run by and all of a sudden I’m sucked into something new and shiny (at least for a few minutes until the next squirrel runs by but that is a whole other topic). My wonderfully talented writer friend made a “Mighty List” a while ago which inspired me to do the same. Last night she re-published said list with a few modifications. And once again, I thought “wow, this is something I totally need to do.” But then I couldn’t find it. But as I was looking, I ran into this blog and was reminded again of how often I get distracted. As I read it, I realized not much has changed in the last year and I find myself in almost the same position as I did at the end of last year. Professionally, this isn’t a good sign. So I need to use this as motivation to make some changes in the upcoming year because I cannot waste another year ending up in the same place. For me it’s all about personal growth, which includes my professional growth. And although I’ve been on “vacation” the past two weeks, work has, as usual, intruded on my time off. That whole “work-life” balance thing is a real struggle for me and something I’ve sworn to change. Problem is no one else seems to understand that I actually want “real” time off (meaning no “just answer that one email” or “just take that one call”). I’ve trained them to expect it so I suppose it’s going to take some time to untrain them. Wish me luck, because I’m going to need it!

It’s that time of year. The “let’s look back on the year” and the “what do we want to do different next year?” I, for one, do not buy into the whole “New Year’s Resolution” premise. I believe – if you want to change, why do you have to wait for January 1? Or Monday? Or tomorrow? What’s wrong with the here and now? If not now, when?

As human beings, we all tend to put off the things we don’t like to do. At least this human being does. Yet I strive to become a better person most days (I would say every day but who would I be kidding?), not just once a year when January 1st rolls around. This is why I do not make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I would say they are more of a demotivator because of higher expectations associated with success and failure of such proclamations. So the only resolution I make is not to make any. That way I know I can succeed.

However… when it comes to my professional life, I have little choice but to reflect on the previous year before moving into the next. Raises and promotions tend to be effective as of January 1 so one cannot avoid the “what now?” (or at least I can’t).

I’ve never been satisfied with status quo. It goes against everything I believe. Maybe it is the ADHD brain – I become bored easily so once I master something, I’m always looking for something new to challenge me. So as I prepare procrastinate in preparing for a meeting with my boss later this week, I decided maybe I need to work on a better work-life balance in 2013. For starters, I decided I need to take all of my vacation days (all 35 of them [not including holidays]). For the past three years, I have lost between 7-10 days of PTO (paid time off) annually because at my employer if you don’t use it, you lose it. So essentially, I’m lowering my own salary by not taking my paid time off. Even when I do take time off, 80% of the time I’m still checking email, taking calls, etc. And I’m convinced that I’m not doing myself (or my employer) any favors. At the end of the day, not taking off means I am not performing at my peak and my attitude goes down the drain. I become cranky and burnt out. At one point this summer, I actually stood in the bathroom and looked in the mirror and asked myself if it was worth it. Then I started practicing for my next line of work “Welcome to Wal-Mart,” picturing myself in a blue vest greeting the customers as they entered the store. Surely that was less stressful than what I was currently doing. Work habits die hard and this will be a tough one for me to break, not to mention, I’ve trained my boss and colleagues to expect this. Now is the time to set the record straight and realign expectations for the future. So I have been practicing…

These past 10 days, I’ve actually unplugged from work (with only two exceptions where I was specifically looking for emails associated with scheduling travel) and for probably the first time in my life, had NO guilt associated with it. In fact, I’m still not ready to head back to work the day after tomorrow when I head to the airport at 4 AM. Funny, I thought I had all the time in the world because I was home and “off” to take care of things I have put off (oil change, new tires, unpacking boxes, donating stuff to Goodwill, deep clean, etc.) As far as preparing for my upcoming meeting Wednesday, I had several of those Scarlett O’Hara moments… “I won’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow.” (You see, I knew I had to reflect on my year and make some decisions on the direction I’m headed career wise so I could build goals for next year). But here I am, New Year’s Eve and I haven’t accomplished anything. Oh, I started a few projects, jotted down some notes but nothing worthwhile and whilst some would say “but at least you got some time off” being lazy will hurt me later as I being a month of travel and too few days home to do all the stuff I should have done when I was home for two weeks.

Then again, there is always tomorrow and the day after. I have roughly 8 hours of travel Wednesday (including airport/layover time) – plenty of time to throw together a career plan. As for the rest, there is always the next time I have two weeks of unscheduled travel (famous last words). Sigh.

For now, I won’t go to bed with any regrets. Work will always be there. There is never enough hours to do everything so prioritizing rest and relaxation over and above anything else will (hopefully) prove beneficial as I get ready to hit the road.

If only the pesky neighbors would stop shooting off fireworks, I could enjoy what’s left of this evening and my last day of vacation.

So I did have that meeting and the new year started off with a bang… chuck full of lofty goals and aspirations. Of course, things never go as planned and between crazy travel and oodles of competing projects, I spent a lot of time with my hair on fire and wasn’t able to get my vacation time in. I won’t even mention how many days I lost (not to mention the number of Sundays I traveled, the holidays I worked or the weekends I lost to work) but know that I vow to do better in 2014. Of course, I should mention that the vacations I did take were amazing… one week in the Philippines and 12 days in Russia. But hey, I am actually getting ready to hit the “Publish” button so maybe there is hope for me yet. Now on to my “Mighty List” of 2014.

Posted by: Michelle | August 24, 2013

Get In, Sit Down, Hold on and Don’t Scream…


As I mentioned before, I am a bit behind on blogging. This one was started back in March after visiting a friend in the Philippines… Some day I’ll get to my return to Oz and more on Russia. But first things first...

Every place has a slogan – in the Philippines it is “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Well, I can’t say what “it” is, but I can say the traffic was the most “fun” I’ve ever experienced.

A friend and former co-worker is from the Philippines. We spent almost 8 eight years working together and although it broke my heart when I learned she and her family were moving back home, part of me was already thinking ahead for a future visit (imagine that!). Kaye had said she would welcome visitors and I warned her I was probably the one person who would actually show up knocking on her door. [Warning to all: if you extend any sort of invitation, implied or actual, chances are extremely high that I will show up.]

We exchanged emails on a regular basis and in February I was lamenting the cold, winter weather and was ready for some heat. I sent her a note saying I was ready for a tropical vacation “hint, hint” and she replied she was ready whenever I was. In the words of Jim Carey “Alrighty, then!” so I immediately looked at the calendar and picked some dates early April. Almost right away, a business trip slated for March to Australia was getting pushed into April so that wasn’t going to work (and as luck would have it, it is now was rescheduled for May – go figure). Because I could afford to be somewhat flexible, I looked for some dates in March where I could use my global upgrades and a voucher. Long story, short I was able to book the flight one month out.

As per usual, I had travel every week so the time flew by and the next thing I knew I was frantically looking for summer clothes (after a year, I still have a lot of belongings in boxes, again “go figure”). Four flights later (Portland to San Francisco to Honolulu to Guam to Manila), I had arrived. As with any long flights, you feel a bit disoriented arriving in a new country and whilst finding immigration and my bag was easy enough, I was confused on exactly where I needed to to to actually meet up with Kaye. A hotel driver asked me where I was going and I told him I was meeting a friend. He kept asking my name which I thought was strange. Finally, I realized that you met your party in designated areas by your surname. It was all making sense now! Once I crossed the road, went through a tunnel and rounded the corner I was where I needed to be. (If it sounds confusing, it was… especially after 24 hours of travel!) There was a wall of people yelling and waiving behind a fence. Because it was dark, it was hard to distinguish faces as I scanned the crowd. A man next to me tapped my on the shoulder and pointed to my friend who was one of many waving her arms over her head. Now my vacation could begin in earnest.

She had told me she would hire a driver to drive her car so she could pick me up and I quickly figured out why. Before we were even out of the parking lot I could see why a sane person wouldn’t want to drive in Manilla. There didn’t seem to be parking spaces per se; it appeared you just stopped where you were and parked. In addition to the cars parked willy nilly (that is my best word for traffic in general) so just backing up and getting out of the lot seemed challenging enough but I soon realized that it was only just beginning. The roads are packed with cars, scooters, motorcycles, tricycles (motorized) and jeepneys. Throw in pedestrians and you have a free for all. Lines designated four lanes but it is merely a suggestion. There may be one vehicle driving down the center blocking both lanes or more often than not, there was at least three or as many as five driving side by side jockeying for position. Motorcycles come at you from all sides; they are there one second then gone the next but you must be aware they can come out of the smallest hole, from any side, at any time. And then there are the horns. I thought New Yorkers used their horns a lot. But Filipinos take it to a whole new level. They honk so much I’m not even sure why they bother as you can’t really distinguish where they are coming from and from what I observed, no one really pays attention anyway.

It was late when I arrived however you wouldn’t know it by the number of people still out bustling about. Bless Kaye’s heart for taking pity on me for my long travel and stopping at Starbucks. Yes, even at midnight I can drink coffee with extra shots (the ADHD brain isn’t affected by caffeine – if anyone tells you differently, they are wrong. ADHD is treated by stimulants, which have the opposite effect on an active brain. Oh, look! I digressed again…) I didn’t have any Pisos yet so she had to buy but after my journey and being assaulted by the heat and humidity, it was the best drink I’d had in a long, long time. She was also kind enough to stay up with me for as I winded down once we got to her house. Of course, I didn’t really get to sleep the first night (nothing new there).

The next day was about getting oriented with the Philippines. But as usual, first things first (meaning Starbucks). Like most international stores, Starbucks doesn’t open early (our stores typically open 4:30 or 5 whereas most of the world doesn’t open before 7 or even later). Even in the light of day, the traffic is crazy, chaotic and kinda fun… if you are the passenger. I watched Kaye expertly navigate the various obstacles in her way whether it was a car, scooter, jeepney, bike or pedestrian. I was impressed. Even more so at the words that came out of her mouth. There aren’t many sweeter than Kaye, but she can swear like a trucker when behind the wheel. That’s my kinda gal! It was easy to see why she had trouble driving in the US. As bad as we think our traffic is, it has nothing… and I mean NOTHING… on the Philippines. And I’ve been to many countries that would make you think twice about driving (London, New York, Bangkok, Beijing) but there wasn’t anything that would convince me that actually driving would be “more fun” in the Philippines. Not even when Kaye offered to let drive to Starbucks Sunday morning. No way, no how. Not even for coffee. I could just imagine her car all crumbled up in the middle of the road. I couldn’t handle that kind of responsibility. But it certainly elevated my respect for Kaye’s ability to deal with stressful situations.

And then there was the parking. I’d never been any place where you parked two or three cars deep. It was like the world was one big rental car lot with cars lined up one behind the other. If you happened to be the unlucky one parked up front, it’s up to business to have someone to untangle the mess when you decide to leave. Imagine this at Starbucks where people come and go. They had a young security guard who stood at the door and kept a watchful eye on who drove what vehicle in order for people to leave. He was often in the middle of the road stopping the oncoming traffic so someone could back up into the street. Trust me when I say this was not an easy feat. Not by a long shot… people may or may not stop. Often, they just drove around him and kept on their merry way. Sometimes, cars would be making a u-turn or pulling into the same lot as someone was attempting to leave (left, right or straight – forward or reverse, it was a free for all).

Ever the gracious host, Kaye ensured I had my daily fix (actually my twice a day fix in the oppressive heat) even though she loathed driving. And on the last night, she took me to Shakey’s Pizza (Our second time… such a blast from the past! Remember Shakey’s mojo potatoes? So, so good!). This was after spending most of the day at a water park so we were famished. Easy enough to pull in the parking lot but when after we ordered we realized there was a birthday party in the private dining room. As we ate, we watched more and more people arrive for the party. When it came time to leave, it was a nightmare. It wasn’t as simple as a car double parked behind her – it was three layers deep with an additional car parked sideways. It took no less than six people moving their cars for her to back out – and even then, it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. There was a busy bus terminal virtually next door which meant there was a constant stream of buses and people to further complicate things. Not only did she get help from the patrons of the pizza parlor but several guys sitting on their tricycles. You would think once we got out of that mess, we were home free. But this is never the case. There was still the getting home part amid all the various vehicles that inhabit the roadways. Just another commute for the Filipino driver, but a world of entertainment for the American passenger. One thing for sure, is driving isn’t for the faint of heart!

Posted by: Michelle | August 3, 2013

Never Give Up! Unless…


Wow! Can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve blogged. Oh trust me, I’ve had many blog worthy moments and trips… just not a lot of time to actually sit down and write for two reasons… first I’ve been going like gangbusters since January 2nd (didn’t get a full week at home until the end of June) and ADHD. What can I say? I’ve started a few but never finished them… oh look! A squirrel! So after starting this two weeks ago whilst I was still in Moscow, I’ve managed to finish one. Now if only I could go back and finish the three I’ve started and share my awesome trip to the former Soviet Union that would be something!

There’s not a lot nothing that will come between me and my Starbucks. Some would call it an addiction. I prefer “unwavering loyalty to my personal economic stimulus package” (ensuring that baristas can keep meaningful employment) but whatever. As part of my research for any trip, I always scout out the Starbucks locations to prepare myself – is it going to be easy access, a long walk/train ride or God forbid, just how many VIA packets will I have to bring on said trip to ensure my sanity caffeine level stays where it needs to be.

Once I determined there were Starbucks in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, I relaxed and assumed (especially in Moscow) that I would have decent access to my dealer Starbucks to ensure I received my [at least once a day] fix coffee.

After 24 hours of exhausting travel (albeit in first class and can I just say “wow”?! It was well worth the miles spent!), we finally arrived in Moscow. And no, we did not see Snowden nor our driver who was supposed to meet us in the arrivals hall with a sign. After finding and calling the tour company, we were informed he was “stuck in traffic” so take a taxi and you will be reimbursed. So an hour plus and $200 lighter in the wallet, we arrived at the Marriott. I was enthused and decidedly more alert after passing the Kremlin. It hit me – I’m actually in Moscow. Suddenly I was awake and anxious to get out of the car and stretch my legs. My sister was a little less enthusiastic than me but I lured her out with the promise of Starbucks. As I suspected, there was one within close proximity of Red Square which was a mere 10 minutes away by foot.

Of course we needed to shower off the plane funk before heading out. Once we reached the outskirts of the Red Square, I consulted Google Maps to ensure we were headed in the right direction. And might I add, how did we live without GPS before? Nothing is more reassuring (in another country where the language barrier is challenging to say the least) than to know you are on course. We turned left and my sister pointed out some TV trucks. I really wasn’t interested – my mind was set on its goal – so we continued ahead until we hit a literal wall of people. What the..?! Well, I wasn’t to be deterred despite the gathering crowd. I grabbed my sister and said, let’s cross the street and approach from the other side. As I turn around, I realize the crowd had swallowed us up and there was no easy way out. Still, with Starbucks on the brain (after all, it had been more than 24 hours since I last had my dose any), I was not going to give up so easily. Despite my sister’s wariness (she is a worry wart), I was going to get my coffee come hell or high water. We maneuvered through the swelling crowd and headed back in the same direction we came. I scanned up and down the street looking for a crosswalk with no luck. It dawned on me that there were pedestrian tunnels that ran underneath but those were blocked off and guarded by the police. Because the traffic was at a standstill, I persuaded my sister to cross the street – not an easy feat (Flashback to Paris 1993 when we crossed the Champs-Élysées trying to get to the Arc de Triomphe by dashing between the cars only to discover you were supposed to use the underground tunnels for access. She still hasn’t forgiven me for putting her in mortal danger but hey, YOLO!) – only to find that the entire Red Square was also barricaded and guarded by armed guards. I headed towards the Starbucks walking alongside the frustrated drivers and watchful policemen. Despite all her grumbling, my sister stuck by my side as I navigated my way to Starbucks. Imagine how pissed I was my frustration when I hit another wall of people.

My sister said it was hopeless but nevertheless I wasn’t about to give up. Like a dog with a bone, I could practically taste my drink. As I stood in the street surrounded by chanting Russians and horns blaring it dawned on me that I was in a foreign country surrounded by a swelling crowd, and the vibe was definitely getting more hostile. As tasteless as it was (get it, “tasteless” as in I wasn’t going to be tasting Starbucks anytime in the next few hours), I knew it was time to admit defeat and turnaround and head back towards the hotel. Instead, I had to settle for a coke at McDonald’s because their coffee is no substitute for the real stuff. But don’t you worry, I made up for it the next day (and the next)!

English version of The Moscow Times

English version of The Moscow Times

Thousands of protesters block off Tverskaya (across from Red Square)

Thousands of protesters block off Tverskaya (across from Red Square)

Moscow Starbucks

Moscow Starbucks

Success!

Success!

Posted by: Michelle | February 19, 2013

What comes after last?!


Last week, I thought I had experienced a less than desirable travel day. My mistake. Wednesday I experienced a bad travel day. So I take it all back. And I profusely apologize and won’t mention a bad travel day again. (Hoping that appeases Murphy and the other travel deities that seem bent on sending me life lessons on patience.)

Again, keeping it all in perspective, for the amount of travel I do and the fact that we landed right side up, there isn’t much to complain about. Yet (or in other words BUT), a 6.5 hour delay is feels ridiculous excessive, especially up when you factor in the weather was clear (not just in Denver; essentially the entire country and airports were trending on time per flightstats.com) and virtually every other flight (and there were hundreds) was on time. Lets just rub salt in the wound, shall we?

Granted, I got to the airport sooner than I needed. But you never know with traffic (40ish mile drive), getting gas at the one gas station by the airport (which, if you haven’t been to DIA, is out in BFE), returning the car, getting on the shuttle, checking I. Your bag, going through security, getting in the train and the possibility that your gate could be the furtherest away…. You should allow sufficient time. Lord knows, I ended up with enough time to drive home (not really but it felt THAT long.

Of course, traffic was light, gas station not busy (that is unusual), returning the car was easy peasy and with curbside checkin (that I didn’t know existed) and TSA Pre Check, bada bing, bada bang… I was headed up the escalator at Terminal B in no time flat. Plenty of tome to walk to (gasp) Starbucks and all the way back to the west side United Club. I had just under two hours to burn. This was okay because as per the norm, I had a long list of stuff to do. After circling the drain club, I gave up finding a window seat with an outlet (outlets are a commodity at this particular club) I settled in my chair and powered up my laptop. When I went to grab some water, I happened to notice the words “delayed” and my heart sank before I even looked to see the flight’s destination. Oh please, please, please don’t let it be mine. Balls, it was mine, really? Hundreds of flights and really, literally the one and only delayed flight? What are the chances? Well, now that you’ve asked, pretty darn good if you’re me. The reason: crew delay. I already knew our plane was at the gate… I was just above where it waited for its next passengers. So it was slated to be an hour late. This always makes me suspicious, because if I’m delayed it is almost always twice the time the first say (in other words, if its 30 it ends up 60) so I assumed two hours. This was not what I wanted to hear, but what can I do? I went back to work and sure enough, here comes the text saying 9 PM. Uh oh. Definitely another ominous sign of impending doom. Trying to remain positive, I continue used working talking on the phone about my plight. In the middle of a conversation, I hear an announcement at the club. “Ssshhh” I hissed into the phone (and I hate being ssshhhed but this was important) “for those of you on delayed flight…” Come to find out, our crew was still sitting in Chicago, a good 2.5 hours away once they are in the air. Quickly counting in my mind, I knew the 9 PM wasn’t realistic. In fact, when I pulled up the status of the Chicago inbound flight with my crew, I discovered it was a mechanical issue that has already been delaying that flight for 4 hours. YIKES! This is where I became frustrated. They were in Chicago so why not replace the darn plane and send them on their way? After all, it is United’s headquarters so it seemed logical that would be an option if a plane isn’t easily fixed.

It took 5.5 hours but finally, someone figured out they should swap out the plane and we all cheered when it was announced it was in the air on its way to Denver. About !@#$%! time, I’d say. This put our departure somewhere close to midnight. Around 9:30 I really thought I wouldn’t make it. I was so tired (from lack of sleep the past couple of nights) and travel in general, I was convinced that I was going to die at DIA. Fortunately, a friend took pity on my plight and stayed up with me (she was in Chicago, ironically) and kept me sane company up until we departed. Then came the dilemna, do I sleep or do I enjoy the wonderful dinner provided in first class? I opted to stay awake but the meal was not worth it. Even the warm chocolate chip cookie was cool so there was little to enjoy other then the fact I was finally in the air and on my way home.

Ten hours after I arrived at DIA, I finally landed at PDX. The only fortunate thing was we were the only plane arriving at 2 AM so it didn’t take anytime to get my bag and head for my car. Only I didn’t remember which floor I parked it on. Oh, I thought I did. I got off on 4 and it wasn’t there. Crap. It must have been 5. Nope. Six? Not even close. Back down to level 3 and there it was. Well, that was fun. Killing an additional 10 minutes before heading home. Thanks for kicking me whilst I was down (again), Murphy. Why do you have to be such an a$$?!

Fingers, toes, legs, arms, even my brain is crossed hoping travel to Florida is smooth this upcoming week. Surely it is my turn after the past two weeks. And I’m pretty sure all my co-workers who join my flight in Denver would appreciate it as well. Just remember, it is NOT my turn and I promise to keep my big mouth shut.

Terminal B at DIA. I've never it seen it so empty!

Terminal B at DIA. I’ve never it seen it so empty!

United Club DIA West

Enjoying Starbucks at the United Club before my evening took a dive.

I think I'll sit here

I think I’ll sit… here. In the middle. People are strange!

Flight 465

And there it sits.

Posted by: Michelle | February 11, 2013

From First to Worst…


I should know better. We all should know better. When you have a run of good luck, you never… ever acknowledge it out loud. It’s akin to bragging and nothing angers the travel gods more than bragging. So they sicked Murphy on me. My long lost buddy showed up in true form first thing Monday morning. As smooth as last month’s travel was, February was going to prove she was no pushover like her older sister, January.

Monday morning began like many others… Getting up at (gasp) 3:30 AM to head to the airport. Traffic, light. Parking, easy. Checkin, okay (prefer curbside but not open at 4 AM). Security, normal wait (TSA Pre Check not open that early). I opted to go to the Starbucks in the C Terminal since it was another 20 minutes before my usual Starbucks haunt in D would be open for business. I pick up my drink and paused as it looked different. I took a sip and sure enough, it was wrong. I let the barista know she made mocha and not caramel. Oops. She made another one and believe it or not, it was mocha again. Seriously? It’s not like there was a lot of people beating down the door that early. She apologizes, laughs and tries for a third time. I was beginning to suspect that she might be a Washington resident who liked to induldge in a little pot smoking but then again, maybe she was just not quite awake. But three times seems a little excessive, does it not? Next time, I will stick with the people who know me and my drink well.

After boarding a 737-900 series aircraft, I noticed the Directv monitor was “searching for a signal” which is not all that uncommon whilst you are on the ground. It wasn’t until the safety video started that I realized that the problem was isolated to the row I was in. What the?! Naturally, I was looking forward to watching the recap of the Super Bowl since I was working on some files for Australia after the game. I let the flight attendant know and she huffed and puffed because I didn’t tell her sooner so they could reset the system. “Now I have to give you a verbal safety demonstration” she said in her most sarcastic “helpful” voice. I would have told her not to bother but I knew it was her obligation even for us who travel more often than they do and could recite the safety information in our sleep. I patiently watch her give her demo with attitude and then asked if they would fix it before taking off. she said she would but after we took off I was informed that it wasn’t possible. This I know not to be true because I’ve been on many a Directv flight where they reboot the system because a screen or two is not working. Whatever. It was only an hour and 21 minutes I would survive. I needed to work anyway so I would catch up on the commentary later (which never happened, by the way).

After landing in San Francisco early and waiting for the gate personnel to arrive, I disembarked and headed to the dreaded Terminal 3 where the regional jets have moved. I really, really dislike this for many reasons. The least of which is that I have to get on a shuttle bus. I would prefer to walk but it’s too far and would involve going through security again and at SFO, this is not something you want to put yourself through, especially on a Monday morning. Because I had about an hour, I headed over to the one of three options for transferring. After watching a passenger berate the driver because he had only 15 minutes until his plane takes off (he was eating breakfast and lost track of time, like how stupid are you to admit it is your own fault?!) and the driver just said “sorry, buddy” but I have to wait 5 more minutes. Ha! I would have done the same thing to the jerk. Being nice will likely get what you want/need. Being an ass will get you no where when others are in control such as a shuttle driver.

It was (insert shocked expression here) overcast in San Francisco. Like this is out of the ordinary. And despite the fact we were early (therefore “on time”) I soon found out that ATC (Air Traffic Control) was messing with the schedule and alas, my flight to Reno was… delayed. In fact, the plane was sitting in Palm Springs, loaded and ready to fly as soon as it was released by ATC. So it was 30 minutes, then 45, then an hour, and then two. Nuts! I wish I knew this earlier so I could have stayed over in Terminal 1 where there was a United Club. As it turns out, the regional jet area is a tight fit. If you can find a seat, you certainly won’t find on near an outlet. I walked over to Southwest’s area. It was just as crowded. Then over to US Air and Alaska. No luck there. I managed to find an outlet at least in the hallway but it wasn’t very conducive for working purposes. This delay was putting me woefully behind in my to-do list.

So there you have it. If you do have good luck, do not acknowledge it and do not share it with others lest you might suffer the consequences. I finally arrived in Reno but the day was pretty much over (original arrival time was 11:12 AM). I had some visiting time with co-workers and then it was off to dinner with a friend and the hotel. After a brief workout (limited by the annoyed trainer who informed me I had “roughly” a half hour to workout), I decided I was better off getting some shut eye rather than trying to work. “After all, tomorrow is another day…” (My all time favorite move line, thank you very much Scarlett O’Hara.)

Here’s hoping for a better Monday travel day tomorrow… (insert picture of me with the hands glasped looking towards the heavens.) At least I’ll know early with another 5:30 AM departure. Maybe Murphy will sleep in and catch a later flight.

Posted by: Michelle | February 3, 2013

The month that was… January


Wow. Where did this month go?

I’ve always hated January. Even when I was a wee child, I couldn’t wait for January to be over. It is the let down after the holidays and the short, winter days that are cold. I’ve always counted down the 31 long (in how they pass, short in the amount of light) days until we hit February. Ah, February! It’s a much friendlier month if you ask me; short and sweet and spring is just around the corner. At least that is the message I’m getting from the frogs croaking outside my window. All. Night. Long. The one thing that is most annoying about the warmer weather. Noisy little buggers!

Yet, this month flew by. And I mean literally. At just under 25,000 miles, I was here, there and back again. It was cold, colder than cold, are you friggin’ kidding me cold, warm, drizzle, rain, freezing rain, sleet, flurries, snow and I even saw the sun a time or two. I didn’t get to experience hot, but that is okay. Hot is just around the corner (another subject for another day).

I hit the ground running on January 2nd at o’dark thirty on my way to New Orleans via Houston and haven’t looked back. Most of my travel – although too frequent for some people – was good. I was upgraded 17 out of 18 flights (how about those stats?), all but one flight was on time (I consider “on time” any time I land within 30 minutes of the scheduled time), I had good seatmates, easy connections, access to Starbucks, etc. There was this one time where we had an issue with the nose gear (it wouldn’t come down so they had to do it manually and the indicator light said it wasn’t locked – no biggie) followed by a few tense moments of “will we or won’t we have an emergency evacuation” when we finally landed, escorted by the flashing lights of fire trucks. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Did make me stop and think I take “safe travels” for granted. Just a reminder that we aren’t always in control. I really wasn’t paniced or stressed but more impatient. It took around 50 minutes from the time we aborted the landing until all 5 wheels hit the runway. We circled over the water for a long time and I was convinced it was because it would be easier to clean the mess if we did crash. Oh, and I was upset that I only had gummy fruit for lunch (I passed on the snack they served in first. Not sure what it was but it wasn’t appealing to my picky palate). It would be only fitting that my last meal should include Starbucks. In fact, my ashes should be scattered at various Starbucks around the world, not in the ocean next to Boston’s Logan airport. Oops, this is starting to sound a litle morbid. I guess I should move on to a lighter subject…

February looks to be no different, other than it is a shorter by a few days. I can only hope the travel gods continue to smile down upon me and Murphy is busy bothering some other unsuspecting, poor soul. I just booked my first international trip (already had one booked for July) and waiting on confirmation for two others. Looking forward to some new destinations, for work and play (after all, you can’t have one without the other unless win the lottery)!

So here’s to a new year, a fresh (albeit rushed) start to great things professionally and personally. I’ve got some pretty lofty goals and I look forward to making it happen. Last year was not a banner year in many ways but it’s a waste of time to look back and wish I made different choices. One learns more from their mistakes than from their successes (or at least I know I do).

Rain, sleet, snow... nothing will keep my from my coffee!

Rain, sleet, snow… nothing will keep my from my coffee!

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Watching the sunrise somewhere over Idaho…

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Watching the sunset from the lounge at Denver International Airport.

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Music calms the savage beast (or traveler in this case) at O’Hare. Portland has live music as well… it’s a great idea.

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My dealer at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

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Hotel lobby. Usually pass through these without so much as a glance. This one was pretty cool though.

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Boston

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The view from a conference room at our Littleton office.

Posted by: Michelle | January 5, 2013

Joyriding in an Elevator


The first business trip of 2013 is in the books. And what an adventure it turned out to be! All started out well but went downhill quickly once I arrived at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. It’s not exactly the end of the world to wait for your luggage. I know many would beg to differ (that would be those who carry on) however it doesn’t bother me. Once I’m where I need to be, waiting an additional 15 minutes is something I will put up for the convenience of not being inconvenienced lugging around a bag, lifting it into the overhead bin or dealing with the liquid restrictions. Now some will argue about lost luggage, however, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. In all my travels, this has never happened to me (knocking on wood right now). But every once in a blue moon, I regret not carrying on and this would be one of those rare times. It took 45 minutes for the first bag to appear, and when they did the priority bags were not the first ones out. Next, came a 30 minute wait for a taxi (there were a whooping 5 people in front of me). I’ll spare you all the grisly details but will share a few highlights below on my brief 48 hour trip…

Highlight #1 – Gus

Gus was my taxi driver and a character. A veteran, white male who spoke perfect Southern English. After asking where I was headed, he asked me where I’d come from. As soon as he knew I hailed from Washington (state), he exclaimed “I think the Seahawks will win the Superbowl.” Then I knew he was no ordinary cab driver. As we chatted about football, he advised he would avoid the interstate because of the Sugar Bowl so he would take surface streets instead (the fare is a flat rate so it didn’t really matter which route he took). Soon I found myself in a neighborhood where they proudly displayed “Thou shalt not kill” signs.” Things that make you go hmm…

Highlight #2 – Beignets

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Okay, if you haven’t been to New Orleans you may not know of a little place called Cafe du Monde. You may not know what a beignet is. It is a french donut – fried dough dowsed in powered sugar. Safe to say once you’ve had them, you can’t miss out on future visits. I was excited to head there bright and early one morning. I ordered three beignets (smallest order) and a water, paid my $2.65 and dived in to my first one. Then I was full. Dang, this wasn’t good. I’ve been wanting beignets forever. I forced another half one down before giving up and heading back to the hotel. Of course, now I wish I had the ones I left behind.

Highlight #3 – Joyriding in an elevator

Friday morning we worked from the small office my boss rents in the CBD. She had to head to her condo to meet a service man and I decided to stay and work a bit longer before heading back to the airport. As she was headed out the door, I realized my bag was still in her car. We headed back downstairs to the parking garage. She reminded me I had to go back up to the 14th floor and switch to another elevator bank to reach her office. Yep, no problem. Or so I thought. Oh, I remembered to get out on 14 and go to the left and around the corner to catch another ride up to the 24th floor. The doors open and yes, you guessed it, I knew immediately it was not the right place. It was then I realized I wasn’t paying close attention and couldn’t remember exactly what floor we were on. But how hard could it be? There was only a few possibilities… pick a number between 14 and 39. So after playing the lottery and getting off on several floors (when I was alone in the lift, I would stick my head out). When others joined me, I would get off at whatever floor I hit so I wouldn’t look stupid. Finally, I realized at the rate I was going, I would miss my flight so I headed back downstairs to the information desk. That’s when I also realized I had no idea the name of the company. Stammering and stuttering, I was able to provide enough information that she could confirm I wanted floor 25. Lesson learned – do not assume you know where you are going and always, always, always – take your mobile phone with you (it was safely sitting on the desk).

Highlight #4 – Dispatch

Remember the movie “Airplane” and the two bickering announcers proclaiming that the white zone was for loading and unloading only? I got to hear something similar yesterday as I rode to the airport. Comments like “do you know you are rude?” “You’re girlfriend is ugly, no wonder you’re in such a bad mood!” “How dare you interrupt me when I giving out orders! What is your damn problem?” “Are you really not going to answer me after interrupting me?” “This better be an emergency! (No answer.) Either it is or it isn’t. You’d better be dead if you aren’t answering me!” Hard to imagine this was a professional car company and not some soap opera playing out over the radio. It did make me smile and was quite entertaining.

There were a lot of little things – given a city view instead of a river view (gone are the days were I would just accept this and made them move me), slow elevators (again, had to ride one up to the 11th floor lobby then switch to another bank for room floors), renovations (starting at the ungodly hour of 6:30), internet outage, closed fitness center – that made this two days more than a little challenging for an impatient person like me. But as usual, even a day removed, I find it more humorous than frustrating.

Last lesson learned is traveling on the Friday before the end of the winter break. The airport was a nightmare, filled with families who travel once or twice a year and don’t know the first thing about travel dos and don’ts, and those who should know better. The lounge was the worst. It felt more like a daycare center than a place for a business person to relax and get caught up. I left 5 minutes after arriving. What made this worse was the acknowledgement from the staff that there were several complaints from others as my hasty departure was noted. Really? Then shouldn’t you actually do something about it?

Let the joys of traveling begin for another year… can’t wait to see how things shake up next week as I head East once again to Philadelphia.

Andrew Jackson rides again!

Andrew Jackson rides again!

Early morning on Bourbon Street

Early morning on Bourbon Street

St Louis Cathedral in Jackson SquareSt Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Sunrise over the Mississippi River

Sunrise over the Mississippi River

Posted by: Michelle | January 1, 2013

Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be


It’s that time of year. The “let’s look back on the year” and the “what do we want to do different next year?” I, for one, do not buy into the whole “New Year’s Resolution” premise. I believe – if you want to change, why do you have to wait for January 1? Or Monday? Or tomorrow? What’s wrong with the here and now? If not now, when?

As human beings, we all tend to put off the things we don’t like to do. At least this human being does. Yet I strive to become a better person most days (I would say every day but who would I be kidding?), not just once a year when January 1st rolls around. This is why I do not make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I would say they are more of a demotivator because of higher expectations associated with success and failure of such proclamations. So the only resolution I make is not to make any. That way I know I can succeed.

However… when it comes to my professional life, I have little choice but to reflect on the previous year before moving into the next. Raises and promotions tend to be effective as of January 1 so one cannot avoid the “what now?” (or at least I can’t).

I’ve never been satisfied with status quo. It goes against everything I believe. Maybe it is the ADHD brain – I become bored easily so once I master something, I’m always looking for something new to challenge me. So as I prepare procrastinate in preparing for a meeting with my boss later this week, I decided maybe I need to work on a better work-life balance in 2013. For starters, I decided I need to take all of my vacation days (all 35 of them [not including holidays]). For the past three years, I have lost over a week’s worth of PTO (paid time off) because at my employer if you don’t use it, you lose it. So essentially, I’m lowering my own salary by not taking my paid time off. Even when I do take time off, 80% of the time I’m still checking email. And I’m convinced that I’m not doing myself (or my employer) any favors. At the end of the day, not taking off means I am not performing at my peak and my attitude goes down the drain. I become cranky butt and burnt out. At one point this summer, I actually stood in the bathroom and looked in the mirror and asked myself if it was worth it. Then I started practicing for my next line of work “Welcome to Wal-Mart,” picturing myself in a blue vest greeting the customers as they entered the store. Surely that was less stressful than what I was currently doing… Seriously, I was THAT stressed out! A lifetime of work habits die hard and this will be a tough one for me to break, not to mention, I’ve trained my boss and colleagues to expect this. Now is the time to set the record straight and realign expectations for the future. So I have been practicing…

These past 10 days, I’ve actually unplugged from work (with only two exceptions where I was specifically looking for emails associated with scheduling travel) and for probably the first time in my life, had NO guilt associated with it. In fact, I’m still not ready to head back to work the day after tomorrow when I head to the airport at 4 AM. Funny, I thought I had all the time in the world because I was home and “off” to take care of things I have put off (oil change, new tires, unpacking boxes, donating stuff to Goodwill, deep clean, etc.) As far as preparing for my upcoming meeting Wednesday, I had several of those Scarlett O’Hara moments… “I won’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow.” (You see, I knew I had to reflect on my year and make some decisions on the direction I’m headed career wise so I could build goals for next year). But here I am, New Year’s Eve and I haven’t accomplished anything. Oh, I started a few projects, jotted down some notes but nothing worth while and whilst some would say “but at least you got some time off” being lazy will hurt me later as I being a month of travel and too few days home to do all the stuff I should have done when I was home for two weeks.

Then again, there is always tomorrow and the day after. I have roughly 8 hours of travel Wednesday (including airport/layover time) – plenty of time to throw together a career plan. As for the rest, there is always the next time I have two weeks of unscheduled travel (famous last words). Sigh.

For now, I won’t go to bed with any regrets. Work will always be there. There is never enough hours to do everything so prioritizing rest and relaxation over and above anything else will (hopefully) prove beneficial as I get ready to hit the road.

If only the pesky neighbors would stop shooting off fireworks, I could enjoy what’s left of this evening heading into my last day of vacation.

Posted by: Michelle | December 21, 2012

Would you like some cheese with your whine?


Photo courtesy of Google Images

Reno-Tahoe International (Photo courtesy of Google)

No one likes a whiner or complainer. No matter how bad you have it, someone has it worse. I get it. I actually believe it. However (you knew a “but” was coming, right?), today is my turn to snivel. Maybe it was the accumulation of a lot of “stuff” that has occurred the past month or so (details I will not go into) but suffice it to say, I deserve this brief moment in time to bemoan what life has thrown at me so I can pick up and move on. Now that I’ve probably sufficiently scared a few readers off, I’ll dive in to my morning.

In the grand scheme of things (not talking “in life” but rather my “travel life”), this was a minor blip but for whatever reason, it has spurred me to blog about my oh so favorite subject – travel etiquette – with one of my least favorites – patience. Pretty sure one has to do with the other but I’ll leave that up to the individual reader to ponder.

So my morning began as any other with a quick cardio workout, shower, throwing a few last minute items into my bag, and Starbucks. As I was approaching the reception at the hotel, an older gentleman jumped in front of me to ask the lone woman a “few questions” (important stuff like “how do I get help with my luggage when I check out in three days?”). After about 5 minutes of similar questions, I was starting to lose my patience. Finally, the woman took pity on me (or more likely, she was also tiring of the endless questions) and told him she needed to assist the other guest. Took her less than a minute to confirm and charge my credit card before handing me my receipt so I could grab a taxi.

All was well for about an hour. Checked in curb-side (one of my favorites – avoiding the line at the check-in counter), navigated security pretty handily since there was only one person in front of me (even though she didn’t know she was supposed to push her crap belongings through before going through the scanner). Checked the monitor. Flight on time, check. Inbound plane on its way, check. (I’m never satisfied by just checking airport monitors. I always check to see where my plane is coming from and that it’s actually on its way.) Now Reno-Tahoe International (ha, ha) Airport isn’t a great airport to spend any amount of time at (unless you like to play slots) as there aren’t many options for things to do/eat. I like to walk, pursue shops, grab a bite to eat (or at least have coffee) or sit in a lounge if I have work to do. Even though I did grab my Starbucks at the hotel, I wasn’t hungry so I skipped the food part. Big mistake on my part. Unless you like muffins and other pastries that are big enough to feed a small country, there really isn’t any healthy options. Oh, you can buy a protein bar in the gift shop but it will set you back $5.99 and it isn’t even the healthy kind. There’s always the free peanuts so I decided that was as good as anything I could purchase so I’d wait. (And wait I did!)

After a few laps around the small terminal, I happened to look at the monitor and saw my departure time had move from 8:45 AM to 9:05 AM. What the?? I close my eyes and look again. In my mind, I’m telling myself it’s not my flight. My flight is on time. Damn, it is my flight! Even more time to wallow away at RNO. Yippee! I walked to the farthest end of the terminal where there are no flights scheduled thinking I’d have some peace and quiet. Buuutttt… of course that is not possible. I kid you not – a bald guy with a gray ponytail (picture that!) and a skateboard (no judgement here) – comes and sits right next to me. He proceeds to eat with his mouth full and wipe his hands on his shirt. I decided it was time to move on just in time to realize there is an incoming plane. Oh, boy it’s mine, I know it’s mine! I’m giddy knowing I’m going to get out of here. I stood at the window and watched it approach and turn into gate B5. Wait, what? NO! B3, you’re supposed to be B3! Damn. It’s 8:33 and my flight was due at 8:35 so I figure it was 2 minutes “early” (yes, this would be sarcasm). But no, it’s the other 9:05 flight to Orange County. So I started playing the game I used to play when I was a child and was waiting for my dad to pick me up after swimming, the “he’ll be the next car” game. So the next plane will be mine. Okay, the next one. The next one. The… yeah, didn’t work any better than when I was a kid.

Once the plane finally arrived and pulled up to the gate, I took my designated spot in line. As did a robust gentleman with a duffle bag and large backpack. He dropped his duffle on my foot (pretty sure he was carrying rocks) and then proceeded to turn and hit me with his backpack at least five times. Then there was the usual contingency of wheelchair and disabled people that needed to preboard (I fly pretty much every week, usually United or an affiliated carrier, and never EVER see as many “disabled” preboard people as I do on Southwest. Just say’n…) before the cattle call began. I was A23 and with only 2 Business Select people, I was one of the “first” people to board yet still had to wait for people to stow their luggage and take off their coats and fiddle with whatever they felt they couldn’t live without for the next 90 minutes. Patiently I waited before taking my seat in row 2 (get the irony?).

Then comes the most maddening part. The plane was only half-full so there was no one in the middle seat. My row companion decided that he would shove his stuff in and around the middle seat. No worries, the flight attendant will catch this grievous error (after all, it COULD be a matter of life and death for me should we need to evacuate in the event of an emergency). But, as what is becoming all to familiar, it was not caught. Nor was the lady reading her Kindle. Perhaps if the crew spent less time chatting with each other they might catch the little things that are drilled into our brain – those three to four minutes they ask from us, the passengers, to give them our full and undivided attention. But the worst part is watching the flight attendant text as we taxi out for take-off. I’m pretty sure that the rules apply to them (not that I agree with this particular FAA regulation, but I do happen to be one of the minority who actually turns off all electronics).

And here we are, buckled up and luggage stowed (sort of), ready to head north. And so we sit. Being an observant, savvy traveler, I see the jet bridge is still resting comfortably against the plane. Yep, this is not a good sign. After several minutes, the pilot finally came on to give this explanation “well, folks you may have noticed that we are still sitting here [no duh!]. On the flight down from Portland, someone left a water value open so we had to make sure that it didn’t cause any damage. Everything is fine, we will have water but have to wait for the paperwork. It won’t be more than 5 or 10 minutes.” 20 minutes later, we are still sitting and the jet bridge is still leaning against the plane (mind you the door was closed). 25 minutes later, they finally moved the jet bridge back and we were on our way. Or so I thought. We taxi over and park. And sit. A few minutes later, the engines begin to roar, causing the plane to shake. Okay, that was fun. Now what? We sit a few more minutes before slowly taxing to the runway. (Found out later they were “blowing out the engines”  whatever that means. A little heads up might have been nice.)

One hour and 5 minutes later, we are landing in Portland. I could have kissed the ground. If only we didn’t taxi over and stop short of the terminal. You’ve got to be kidding me. Once again, 5 minutes later the pilot is letting us know that our gate is occupied so it will be another 5 minutes. Wanna guess how long that 5 minutes was? Yes, it was 20. I don’t know what clock Southwest runs on but it runs a bit slower than mine.  So 30 minutes after we landed, I am finally on the jet bridge… behind 4 of the wheel chair people who are walking off the plane. (I’m always mystified at the miracle of flight where people need a chair to board but are perfectly capable at getting off without one. This phenomenon happens often on Southwest.) But the worst part, was the woman who cut me off as I was headed into Starbucks tucked in-between the escalators by baggage. Really, woman? Don’t.Mess.With.A.Starbucks.Addict.

Here are a few friendly reminders of travel etiquette (probably too much to expect when flying Southwest but will give it a try anyway):

  • Have your ID out when you approach the TSA agent. Looking for it in your purse while standing in front of the podium is not cool.
  • Be efficient – if there is a line, you can use this time to get your ducks in a row (for example, take off your coat, unzip the pocket where your laptop resides, etc. You don’t have to wait until you get to the bins to start getting ready.
  • Push your own crap personal items through the scanner before you go through the x-ray or metal detector.
  • For God’s sake, don’t get redressed on the other side where multiple people are trying to grab their own stuff. Every airport has benches, tables, chairs, etc. Grab your crap stuff and move out of the way.
  • Before you board, get organized. Remove your coat (if you are not inclined to keep it on), grab whatever book, etc. so you can efficiently and effectively board without keeping all the other passengers waiting. Oh, and it you don’t have enough arms to manage this – you have too much stuff!
  • Remember that the overhead bin space isn’t just for you. When the plane is crowed, be courteous and stow that smaller, personal item under your seat.UNDER YOUR SEAT – not between your knees, behind your feet, etc. We all hope the need for an emergency evacuation is nill, but it can happen. And if I get caught up in your stuff, I promise I will haunt you until the end of time. Just say’n…
  • If you are going to move at the speed of slow while deplaning, either hang out and wait or move to the side so people can pass. This is particularly frustrating when you have a tight connection but cannot get around people who have all the time in the world.
  • The loading zone is just that. For loading – for those who might be challenged – this means actively loading/unloading bags and/or people. This does not mean park and wait for your party to come out of the baggage area. I had the pleasure of watching a car towed because someone was not only stupid enough to park in the loading zone, but left their vehicle unattended. HA!

Let me reiterate – this was not my worst travel day and in the grand scheme of things, this was a minor inconvenience but it was just one of those days where it was harder to just let things slide. But now that I’m home, I can laugh it all off. Until the next time I travel and people start to annoy me. You know the ones… those who believe that the rules don’t apply to them. Well, I have news for you… THE RULES DO APPLY TO YOU! I have yet to find a sign that says “the following individuals do not have to follow this rule…” so until I do, you will continue to hear from me.

(And if you haven’t figured it out yet, this was Tuesday and it is now Friday. I have the attention span of a gnat and even when I’m fired up, I rarely can get through a post in one sitting.)


Okay, back to Stockholm… You’re keeping up with me, right?

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I hate winter. I know, I know. You aren’t supposed to hate anything. But I really do hate winter and everything about it. I hate everything about winter; being cold, snow, bitter wind that cuts through the warmest of clothing, short days. None of it is appealing to me. Oh, it’s pretty for a minute, but it inevitably ends up dirty and messy. So color me surprised, when I went against common sense and booked a trip to Stockholm at the end of November. But I was up for the adventure; after all I booked this during the summer. You know… when it was warm and sunny. Far removed from winter where the days were cold and oh so short. But once again, a harried travel schedule put me behind the eight ball and I was spending my Thanksgiving running up and down stairs, trying to fit in family time in-between laundry and packing. To say I was distracted would be nothing new however it turned out to be a costly mistake (see previous Stockholm blog entry).

On the heels of a business trip to Copenhagen, I headed north to Stockholm for a few down days. It is such a long journey to get from the Pacific Northwest to Europe, I cannot fathom going all that way for a few days of work and trying around and making the trek back. Fortunately for me, I’ve always managed to tack on a few personal days to extend my trip just long enough to adjust to European time and give me the kind of jet lag that makes me lethargic for a week.

To be fair, I did my homework before I left. I knew the days would be short and the temperatures on the cold side. I brought layers, a [what I thought was a warm enough] coat, gloves and scarf. The 10 day forecast didn’t look too shabby so I was overly optimistic that I would experience the kind of “winter” I had the previous year in Copenhagen. No such luck. Even as I making my way to Denmark, Murphy was preparing what I’m sure he felt was a suitable welcome for such a fair-weather person. The sunny days in the mid 40’s gave way to rain, no make that snow, in the low 20’s. This. Will. Be. Fun.

I landed in darkness and it took a good hour to get from the airport into the city. Of course, I could have taken the train but I wasn’t about to maneuver my bag, heavy backpack and tired self through a train station in the dark, cold, wind and rain. Call me crazy. So an expensive cab ride was the only viable option. It was during this ride as I sat back listening to the radio station that I wished I could understand Swedish. I tried to imagine what they were saying and after a while, I realized I could [understand Swedish]. Wow, it really isn’t that difficult! Shortly thereafter I realized it was English. So there went that theory. Apparently, I couldn’t understand it after all.

One of the many fun things about traveling to another country is the hotel room. One never quite knows what to expect when you open the door. This one was no different. In fact, just opening the door was unique. It opened to the outside (hallway), rather than in. The door was larger than the frame and the knob was tiny. Inside, the room was tiny with two beds pushed together, a desk the size of a tray table, two funky chairs (one padded, one wooden – neither comfortable) and a wooden floor that was uneven. Surprisingly, there were three channels that had English speaking shows. Typically, you can find BBC and CNN and a 50-50 chance at a UK sports channel. Now the bathroom was an experience. It had your standard equipment but with a curved glass wall that you opened to block the toilet and [hopefully] keep your towel dry. It sort of worked. The bathmat was pretty useless though. And no washcloth. I don’t get why most of Europe don’t seem to use them. The hotel was nice enough. My only complaint comes from the lack of response when I called down to reception to report a party – yes, a party – in the room next to me that spilled into the hallway. I have a low tolerance for noise on any given day but this would have sent the most tolerant person over the edge. I called down three times before it was taken care of (this was after midnight). I’m not sure what finally spurred the appropriate reaction but it might have been my threat to call down every 2 minutes until it stopped. Like I said, I don’t like noise.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, my first day was spent in the rain, replacing my umbrella and finding warmer attire. In hindsight, I could have left all my jeans at home. The long underwear I wore underneath and the wet snow only caused them to fall off me so I ended up wearing leggings. Once it turned to snow, it was easier in most ways (less wet, easy to take pictures, etc.) except for walking. Trudging through the wet snow was like walking on a sandy beach but much more slippery. The cobblestone streets were quickly iced over and provided no traction. Yet, I persevered. Going in and out of extremely warm buildings and back into the cold made it challenging to maintain the ideal body temperature. By the afternoon, I had no choice but to head back to the hotel for a couple of hours to warm up and add additional layers. By dinner time, I would head out again looking for food and an opportunity to see the city in the snow at night. The reflection of the lights made it seem bright for being so dark. (Yes, I know what I did there.)

Despite the weather and the short days, I did enjoy a boat cruise around the harbor and walking around Gamla Stan (Old Town). The Vasa Museum had the coolest Viking ship, made entirely out of Oak that sunk in the harbor in 1628, less than a nautical mile from its origin. I was ready to head home by Saturday, dreaming of warmer weather and sleeping in my own bed.

Because it was a long ride from the airport and there was significant snow and ice on the roads, I asked the guy working reception for some advice on when to head to the airport for a 9 AM flight, assuming I would need to arrange for a taxi for an early departure. He said it would normally take 45 minutes and I should allow twice that amount of time due to the road conditions. Wow, really? So that put me around 5:30 AM for a departure. I hemmed and hawed and opted to go with his advice. After all, he lives there and better safe than sorry (I always allow at least 2 hours for international departures). In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he was getting even with me for my calls the previous evening. First of all, the taxi wasn’t there on time so I waited an additional 15 minutes in the lobby. Then it took all of about 30 minutes door to door, so I was at the airport by 6:15. I’m pretty sure I was the first person to check in for my flight to Newark and sped through security like a pro. Immigration would wait until I actually went to the gate. I headed to Starbucks which was in another terminal (as always). It really didn’t matter as I had plenty of time and a nice, long walk sounded good (I loathe sitting for extended periods of time and lord knows, I was going to get plenty of opportunity to sit with three flights). Another pleasant surprise awaited me once I got there. There was no line (the airport was a ghost town) and the barista was from the UK and familiar with affogato style so I knew my drink would be made correctly the first time. Both girls were chatty and I enjoyed visiting with them about my travels, the many Starbucks I have visited and drinking cold coffee on a wintery day. I then proceeded to get into a rather lengthy chat via text with my sister and before I knew it, I had an hour until my departure. Where did the time go? I didn’t even get to visit the lounge. I decided I’d better make my way to the other terminal (it was about a 10 minute walk) and I still had a lot of Swedish currency to dispose of. I passed several shops but thought it would be better to shop closer to my gate just in case. Bad choice as I discovered there were no where near as many options. That’s what happens when you make assumptions. Not one to buy tacky souvenirs, the choices were poor and I was running out of time because I still had to go through immigration. Guess my souvenirs would be a whole lot of change and I would be visiting a currency kiosk sometime in the near future. Immigration was no fuss, no muss and with priority boarding I was soon settling in my seat. Once again, I didn’t think through the implications of seat selection and as it turns out, 1A kind of sucked (757-200 for those in the know). If the curtain to the galley was closed I had no issues but unfortunately, they rarely keep it closed so I enjoyed the bright light through most of the flight. Not that I wanted to sleep, but it did seem to be shining in my eyes which was annoying.

We arrived 20 minutes early in Newark. I don’t know how to explain it but there is something about landing in the US after being overseas. I don’t care if it’s been a week or months. There is this feeling of being “home” where you don’t have to worry about currency, adapters or anything remotely foreign. It never fails, no matter where I’ve been or how much fun I’ve had, I love that feeling of touching down in my own country.

Crazy as this may sound, I chose the long way home just so I could hitch a ride aboard the Dreamliner, Boeing’s latest. United is the first US carrier to get the 787 and they are flying them domestically to break them in before they become international planes, on routes such as Denver to Tokyo or Houston to Laos. This was going to add several hours but at the time, it sounded like a great opportunity. Now several other routes that had scheduled the Dreamliner had an equipment swap so I held my breath I was actually going to get to ride. It was great to get to my gate and see it ready and waiting. Did I mention I was first class, too boot? Other than the obnoxious complainer next to me, it was a fun ride, made extra special by the crew. We land in Houston and I said goodbye to comfort, knowing the last leg would be the hardest (even in First since the seats are no where near as good as BusinessFirst). Spoiled, yes. Travel diva, maybe. Okay, yes. I think I’m just about there. Don’t judge, however. I was perfectly content in economy (okay, that’s not exactly true) but until you experience Business/First class travel you live in a state of ignorance and don’t understand what you are missing. Once you go up front, it’s awfully hard to go back. I’m fortunate that my business travel allows for comfort and I’m able to collect enough miles to upgrade myself for personal travel. Trust me, if I had to shell out big bucks, I ‘d be sucking it up in the back with everyone else. I may be a diva, but I’m a cheap one at that.

Already have some new destinations lined up next year as well as some old favorites. Until then, peace and joy to you and yours.

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