Monday, October 21, 2019

San Diego October 4-6, 2019

I swear to you that I have spent the last four years of my life travelling all over the state of California (and even a bit outside of California) touring colleges. Dang, I've been to Berkeley, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Orinda (twice), Santa Clara (twice), San Jose, and even to Pittsburgh PA.  Yeah, these places all have one thing in common.  They are places that I might want to go to visit!! Luckily, my first child decided to go to school in a fabulous area, San Diego!  When it's time to go to "visit Natalya,"  it really is time for the whole family, my student included, to get to see all the fun this sunny city has to offer, and to take a mini vacay, all planned out to the last minute of course by yours truly.
San Diego is a huge city spanning just over 456 square miles, which makes it the second largest city in California by area, falling behind Los Angeles. Travelling within the city itself can take a long time, and city attractions can be widespread.  Travelling from Cabrillo National Monument on the south tip of the Point Loma peninsula to swanky La Jolla takes 35 minutes, all within the city of San Diego.  Just to put some college reference upon it, it takes 21 minutes to get from SDSU to UCSD.
Your trip is going to take some planning to prevent you from ping ponging back and forth across the city.  First, decide what you want to do, then where you are going to stay, then based on both those things, find yourself some great places to eat!


We made it to the top!!
San Diego has wonderful weather, so I say if you can, GET ACTIVE!  We have opted twice now for a quick sprint up Cowles Mountain, trailhead located at the corner of Golfcrest and Navajo Drives in the eastern part of San Diego about 10 minutes from SDSU.  This 2.9 out and back hike must be the most heavily trafficked in the area.  On a Saturday morning, the biggest problem was parking, as at 8:15 am the lot of about 20 spaces and all immediate street parking was completely full.  We still had to park on the street even when we went Friday morning at 11am.  The hike is a steady stream of people.  Frequently we found the need to step around slower hikers and even a few times the need to step aside while hikers RAN past.  No thank you.  The popularity if the trail is easy to understand.  Not only is it a really quick way to get your exercise (we cranked this out at a wicked pace in just about an hour) but the views at the top are beyond measure.  A clear day will allow you to see all the way to downtown and beyond to the harbor.  That's more than 13 miles.
Another great area to hike is the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, located in the northern part of the city between Del Mar and La Jolla, adjacent to the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course and Country Club. It costs something to park there, but my brother in law had it all figured out where to park without paying.  The hiking there will not wind you as did Cowles Mountain, except maybe as you descent the ridge to the beach.  The beach is lovely and not spoiled by industry.  No dogs.  No food on the trail.
Another option for getting active is to rent a bike and ride around the popular Mission Bay.  We were able to rent cruisers through Groupon in the Pacific Beach area last year with the intention of riding around the entire bay.  There really is no path that goes all the way around.  But we wove our way through picnic areas, parking lots, some city streets and beach paths to manage to circle the bay.  We were out about 2 hours and the ride was about 13 miles, plus some extra for going the wrong way.
There are lots of options on Mission Bay-kayaking, paddleboarding, jetskiing--we have a lot yet to try!
Enjoying the 2 Hour Harbor Cruise
This weekend we opted for the 2 hour Harbor Cruise tour run by Flagship Cruises.  Once again through Groupon, we took the 2 hour cruise for an adult fare of $15, which was less than half the normal adult price of $33.  Discounts are also available by booking ahead online through the Flagship Cruises website or even through, likely only if you booked your hotel through them.
This was a great way to spend a sunny San Diego afternoon on the water of the harbor.  The tour is well narrated.  I learned a LOT about San Diego and its layout.  The 1 hour southbound cruise heads past the USS Midway under the Coronado Bridge to views of Imperial Beach and the Silver Strand.  The boat then returns to port and after a change of a few passengers who could only tolerate an hour, the boat heads out via the northern waters of the bay, past Harbor Island and Point Loma. Bar on board.
There are a lot of other great options near downtown-Balboa Park, Mission San Diego, Old Town, the USS Midway, San Diego Zoo, Seaport Village, the Gas Lamp much more we have to see.


On all of the four occasions that we chose to visit San Diego, we had business at SDSU, which is significantly inland (about 20 minutes) from what might be considered the more touristy part of San Diego. Twice we chose to stay in a house about one mile from campus which offered us the ability to cook, to make our own drinks, and read and relax in the darling back yard.  If coming to campus as a family, we will never stay anywhere else. But literally there is no limit to the places you can stay in every price range.  If you want to stay downtown, get ready to pay top dollar and expect a steep parking and possibly resort fee.  The Hotel Circle area has a great selection of chain type hotels at a more reasonable price not far from the center of the action.  The most famous and historic hotel in San Diego is actually on Coronado Island, the Hotel del Coronado, or just simply "the Del."  This fancy hotel will set you back over $300 per night, likely a lot more in peak seasons.  The Fairmont actually costs more, at prices up to $650 a night.

The Hangover Burger!!
Well during this trip we knew that we were headed to the harbor so all I had to do was check out Yelp or Trip Advisor for the "Best Breakfasts Downtown."  We chose Breakfast Republic in the Gaslamp District but were sorely disappointed to find the wait was 45 minutes! (Incidentally, I'm not positive,but I seem to remember leaving this same restaurant in Irvine for the same reason!)  So back to the phone for "breakfasts near me" and taking its advice we walked just a block and a half to a delightful sports pub/restaurant, The Morning After.  The restaurant was neither crowded nor loud and the service was warm and unhurried.  The breakfast menu is full of both sweet and savory offerings of the type of comfort food you might seek on your own "morning after." Try the Buttermilk Biscuits and Gravy or the Meat Lover Omelette, or if that sugar bug is calling you, try the Oreo Cookie Waffle.  Or just quit beating around the bush and go for the Hangover Burger like my son and husband.  Moderate prices in gastropub-like surroundings.  Casual.  No wait at 11 on Saturday morning.
Looks like a Truckstop Pile-Up!
The last time we came we were meeting my brother in law in the Pacific Beach/Mission Beach area,Truckstop, also per the recommendation of  "best breakfasts near Pacific Beach."  What did we do before Google?? The menu has a wide variety of pancakes, waffles, skillets, benedicts, and "pile-ups."  I think I went for the Carne Asada Benedict but don't those Lemon Ricotta Pancakes sound good!  All meals playfully served on a metal tray.  Full bar. Parking available, no wait at 10 am Saturday morning. Good service. Casual.
also for breakfast.  This time we visited
Hey listen I could talk about food forever. Closer to State I have to throw a shout out to the sweet and reasonably priced Cucina Basilico, where I have been twice.  It has a good variety of simple Italian inspired dishes.  Service is attentive and thorough.  Another fun place close to the airport is Corvette Diner,  a kitschy 50's themed restaurant.  Half the fun here is the sassy service of the waitstaff decked in poodle skirts and beehives.  Food is fries, burgers, shakes--all the stuff you might expect to see.

Thank you for reading this post!  Now for some more pictures!
 Last fall at the top of Cowles Mountain

 Ready to leave the San Diego Harbor

 Right next door is the USS Midway

 Last year on the beach at Torrey Pines State Reserve

Bar on Board!!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Planning your trip to London

Well, a few months after out last trip to Hawaii it was time to start thinking about what we wanted to do the following summer.  It is always difficult to decide where to go in the "off Hawaii" year.  Since 2011 or so we have taken many wonderful trips within the United States and Canada.  The trip in the off year also requires a lot more planning than the Hawaii year, so starting to plan the fall before has never been a bad idea.  I pulled books from the public library on Croatia and Costa Rica.  Croatia, though lovely, had a strong reputation for nudism and I decided quickly that this was not how I wanted my 15 year old son to get an education.  Costa Rica looked great but the travel was complicated and expensive.  During the fall we spent a lot of time watching Masterpiece on PBS, stuff like Downton Abbey and Victoria, and we started to think it might be fun to go to England.  We soon figured out that British airways flew non stop to London for less than it would cost us to go to Costa Rica or Hawaii for that matter.  Though we had little hope of running into Prince Albert or Ross Poldark, by Christmastime we had decided we were going to the UK.
We had a very successful trip, but it took painstaking planning.  Here I'm just going to throw out a whole bunch of information I found to be useful and hopefully it will be of benefit when planning your own UK vacation.

1)  Planning needs to start early and needs to be thorough.
The busiest time for tourism in London is mid July, when school gets out, through the month of August.  London literally is wall to wall people during this time, people from all over the world.  The person who doesn't plan is going to spend a lot of time in lines waiting for entry, and may be denied entry altogether.  People who don't plan whilst (UK term there) still in the US can also spend a lot of their precious time in London trying to decide "what to do" and then trying to arrange how to do it.  Better to have a streamlined plan.
Saint Paul's Cathedral
The first step is to procure all the books you can from your local library and write down ALL the things you might possibly want to do. You're going to have to prioritize and decide what is essential and what is impractical. Then depending on how many days you will be there, start piecing together an itinerary.  I had nearly 30 items on my list-but some things never made it to the plan (Highclere Castle, Selfridge's Department Store) and some things fell off even after the itinerary was made whilst already in London (afternoon tea, full English Breakfast, Evensong at Westminster Abbey).  I say the absolute minimum for seeing London and it's environs is five days and this could easily be expanded to seven at a slightly slower pace.  Our pace was grueling, but all told we managed to fit in about 18 things in 5 days.  I recommend purchasing a detailed street map of London, or making a copy of one out of a book. With a good way of seeing how attractions are laid out within the city, your days will be far more efficient.  It makes far more sense to see the London Eye and the Imperial War museum the same afternoon than to run from Westminster Abbey to Tower Bridge and back to the London Eye.
Once you know what you want to do and on what days, it is time to purchase tickets.  The popular attractions have time slots and fill fast. I recommend speedy booking for Churchill War Rooms, the Warner Bros Studios (the Making of Harry Potter), the State rooms at Buckingham Palace (if they are open) and for any popular theatre shows.  For Hamilton and BBC Proms it is critical to purchase tickets the minute they go on sale.  There are many other attractions that do not have time slots but allow you to use tickets anytime during the day.  These include St Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London, and Windsor Castle.  I still recommend the purchase of tickets in advance as these typically offer discounts and entry is quite a bit faster.  Basically, all the time standing in a ticket line is time WASTED!
There is an opportunity called the London Pass which basically allows you entrance to a long list of London attractions for a flat fee over a given number of consecutive days.  Though I could see how this might be beneficial if you had a very limited number of consecutive days and were travelling with kids under 11, it did not work for us.  It did not include the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace or the London Eye or Harry Potter, so we would have paid extra.  Even with the included admissions, which we did not accomplish on consecutive days, the cost did not add up to the price of the London Pass.  We also got to pick our times, not sure how this works with the London Pass.

2)  Decide where you are going to stay.
In order to not be travelling long distances into the city every day, it is best to stay in Central London and that is expensive.  Hotels for families are limited, in fact, I did not find one hotel in a decent area that could accommodate our family of five in one room.  I highly recommend looking at VRBO and Airbnb for a flat that allows you spread out a bit and make a little food and do some laundry.  Flats in desired neighborhoods like Knightsbridge and Mayfair are very expensive, but just staying one tube stop down the street can greatly drop your prices.  I'd say with taxes and cleaning fees and charges, we wound up paying about $350 a night for our two bedroom one bath apartment near Gloucester Road--and that was a steal.  When choosing a place you want access to a nearby Tube station.  This is critical, because the Tube is going to be a daily part of your life.

3)  Getting around
Forget renting a car. That would be ridiculous.  London and the surrounding areas have the finest in public transportation.  In fact, Central London has a congestion charge zone during business hours Monday through Friday.  If you operate a car in this area, you are charged 11.50 (roughly 14$) per day!  So no car.
It is very easy and safe to walk the streets of Central London to get from place to place.  We found Google maps walking feature to be a little tricky and somewhat delayed, so many times we found ourselves walking in the wrong direction or having missed a turn, so here's where that street map comes in handy again.
The London Underground is cheap, expansive, quick, and because everyone knows this, it's crowded all the time.  The tube is safe and gets you to wherever you want to go in London.  When using the Underground, you can pay as you go, which will run you about 4.9 pounds per ride, or about $6.50.  Multiply this by your family of five and the Tube is not really looking like such a good option.  The way to go is the Oyster Card, which is a preloaded card.  The kicker about the Oyster Card is that the fare reduced from the card is about 50% of the pay as you go fare.  The Oyster card also gets you discounts on the bus as well.  Anyway, for being in London 6 full days plus two half days, the only choice for us was the 7 day Travel Card in Zones 1-2.  The Travel card gave us unlimited tube and bus fare for about 50 pounds per adult (my son was cheaper).  To make this worth it (vs just buying the preloaded Oyster card) we had to take about 20
Our Local Tube Station
tube rides during the course of our 7 day stay.  I'm pretty darn sure we achieved this, but at any rate, to not have to quibble about riding the Tube when your feet were going to fall off because you didn't want to spend the money was quite liberating.  The money has already been spent.  Ride the tube as much as you darn well please, and we did.  I have heard this is ideal if you are staying 7 or more days, otherwise just get the Oyster card.
London has Uber and a lot of taxis, but these are neither fast nor cheap.
There are EXCELLENT websites and apps that will plan any route for you from point A to point B using a variety of means of transport, calculating costs and time it will take to get there.  Knowing how long it will take to get somewhere by foot, taxi, bus or tube is critical in planning your days.  Refer here back to those timed entries into those heavily visited attractions.  I like Transport for London's app and website,( and
Also available are Santander Cycles which are kind of all the rage but didn't go so well for me and my husband.  Think trying to cycle through London while trying to navigate holding your phone.

4) Data and Phones
It is pretty essential that at least one person in your party has access to data and calling at all times.
Data separate from wifi (which is in a lot of places but not everywhere) comes in pretty handy, mostly to access mobile tickets embedded in email and of course to navigate yourself around the UK and the streets of London, which can be tricky.  All plans and phones are different.  Iphones will work in the UK on a pay per use basis, but you are pretty much going to pay some really hefty fees.
For a short stay such as ours, AT&T offers an international day pass for 10 dollars a day per device, which is only billed if you use data (which I did every day) or make a call. I put the plan only on my phone.  The rest stayed in airplane mode.
It was indeed liberating for the kids to not have the ability to be plugged in all day.
One thing to be aware of is that when only one person in the group has data, the group needs to stay together and not get accidentally separated, because there is no way to text each other and find out where anyone is.  We found this out the hard way when my daughter (who should have known better) wandered ahead of us until we had no idea where she was.  We lost about 90 minutes trying to find her.  This could have been avoided obviously if she had had a data plan, or if she had just been smarter!
Some parents might think it's worth it to pay for international data on 5 phones for 10 days.  We did not.

5)  Theatre
London has an incredibly vibrant theatre scene which offers just about any show you could possibly want to see.  It is true that you can go to the Kiosk in Leicester Square and procure half priced tickets for shows the same evening.  This is fine if you really don't' care what you see.  The pickin's by this time are slim and some are not even offered at a discount.
If you have your heart set on seeing something special in London-get your tickets far in advance.  Look up the theatre's seating map and pricing and choose which seats you want and pay full price.  Make it a gift to yourself.
The hottest ticket in London is of course Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre. On April 1 at 4 in
the morning (12:00 London time), I bought 5 tickets for August 1, but let me tell you, it was not all that easy.  Though most productions offer tickets far more than four months in advance, Hamilton does not.  They release tickets about a month at a time and give you about three days notice as to when they will be released.  I signed up for a twitter notification to find out when this day would be, then I went on multiple blogs and the theatre website to pick the best possible tickets in my price range.  Assuming you get tickets, you are required to pick them up at the theatre the day of the show with your photo ID, credit card, and email confirmation.  Then you walk right into the theatre.  This is all to avoid the selling of these tickets on the secondary market.
It was all worth it.  It's fantastic.

6)  More
-I would like to say quite quickly before you get tired of me that tipping is not expected.  If you order drinks and food at a bar, no tip is expected. If you like your service and food, 12% tip is the norm.  Watch that the 12.5% service charge is not included in the bill and double tip.  I heard that Americans are loved because they are such good tippers--well, we are used to much more expected gratuity and also tipping all the time.  Another fact is that there is no tax on food in restaurants. So from a budgetary standpoint, you can plan on spending up to 25% less on dining out, than you would here.
AND two things that are hard to come by are tap water/drinking fountains and free rest rooms.  We found really early on not to wait until the last minute and to have change on your person to access the public potties.  Even the private potties sometime require an access code.  One time we bought a banana just to get it.
This predicament can leave you quite sick, you don't drink because you don't want to get stuck and it's hot so you get how this can become problematic.
If you want tap water in a restaurant your have to ask for it--and don't ask for still water because then it's coming in a bottle.

Okay here is my list of must sees in London and the UK.  Some are more like experiences and they are in no particular order....
1)  the London Eye
2)  St Paul's Cathedral (make sure you take the 528 stairs to the top of the dome!)
3)  Churchill War Rooms and the Churchill Museum
4)  the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace
5) Westminster Abbey
6)  the Imperial War Museum
7)  Stonehenge  (ok, not really London)
8)  Pubs and pub food
9)  London Theatre
10)  The Tower of London

Honorable mention to Windsor Castle, Borough Market, the Hard Rock Cafe and the London Underground.  What missed my list were the museums, which I know are fabulous but just made us tired.  Also skipped the whole afternoon tea thing.  A friend of our put it best.."I am more interested in afternoon beers than afternoon tea."

This was long but I hope you enjoyed reading! Here are some more pictures!
 View from the London Eye

Buck House, please!

View from St. Paul's Cathedral

Westminster Abbey

Overlooking the Thames and the London Eye

Queen Victoria and Windsor Castle

London Calling!!

Can I please get some service??

Tower of London 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Winter Wonderland Sun Valley, ID February 15-20

Sun Valley Resort and Mount "Baldy"
Well, life has been moving pretty quickly in our household.  We went to Disneyland, then my daughter returned to school, then it rained an awful lot but we still managed to get to Fan Fest, then it was my birthday, then my dad had heart surgery, then it was February/Winter break/Ski week.  A month and a half of the new year had flown by.

When you are in college, you don't get a February break, so we were going to have one less kid to pay for if we wanted to go somewhere.  Another issue that reared its ugly head was that the baseball season had started and it was generally frowned upon to leave town.  We got on this right away, and our answer was that it was better to go earlier than later, so we decided to leave Friday February 15 and be back by the middle of the following week.  We thought this was a great shot at some destination skiing.

We looked at all the usual spots.  Mount Bachelor in Bend is by far the least expensive, but our time was limited so we did not have much interest in spending 9 hours in the car each way.  We also considered Whistler but to keep the air prices down we would haveto fly to Seattle and drive four hours.  Also not so fun after a school day.  Utah offered a lot of options, but the idea of staying in Salt Lake City and the limitations on alcohol in that state were less than appealing.  Sun Valley Idaho required a flight to Boise followed by a two hour drive north.  We could leave after school on Friday and be there by 10:30 pm, so Sun Valley, ID it was.

Staying in Sun Valley-

For a town of only like 3200 people, there sure are an awful lot of places you can stay.  A LOT of people own vacation rentals in the area and there are plenty to chose from.  The last time we were here my husband booked us in some crappy downtown motel and after one morning of a single once in a lifetime attempt at snowboarding which left me feeling like I had been run over by a truck AND beaten with a baseball bat, I insisted that we get out the flea bag roach coach and we moved to the Sun Valley Lodge.  At over $300 per night for a standard room with 2 queen beds, staying there was not practical this time, so we needed to look for a condo.
You can stay in lots of different areas, Elkhorn, River Run, downtown Ketchum, Warm Springs, etc.  They are all within 5 minutes drive of both ski areas and are all serviced by the free shuttle bus service.
We did not know too much about the area so after night after night of pouring over VRBO trying to decide on a place to stay we came upon the crown jewel of Sun Valley accomodations, a 2BR 2 bath Snowcreek condo.
This is the link to the VRBO listing.  but the pictures are not accurate--if this is even the same condo, it has been completely updated.  Regardless, it's the same owner. Ask to be put in his nicer condo.
Snow Creek is a good location anyway.  We walked to the SunValley Lodge in about 12 minutes.  If you want to ski at Dollar Mountain, which caters to less advanced skiers (and is a lot cheaper), all you have to do is carry your skis out the back door and there lies the lodge.  If you want to ski on the much larger Bald Mountain , lovingly referred to locally as "Baldy", you can either wait for the bus or hop in your car and drive 5 minutes.  Parking at the mountain is a piece of cake, so we drove all three days and never used the bus.
But listen, I cannot say enough about this condo.  It was not luxury so the price was reasonable, at what turned out to be about 275$ a night, but dang it had everything you needed!  The kitchen and the bathrooms had been remodeled.  All the appliances are brand new and there is a lovely foam mat which protects your feet from the cold tile.  The floors in the master bath are, wait for it, heated!  OMG!  Such comfort.  There is a washer and a dryer.  The kitchen is well stocked.  Oh, and speaking of stocked--I LOVED that the dry supplies from the last renters were not completely cleaned out.  We were happy to have some necessities, like flour, sugar, coffee, oil, bread crumbs, sandwich bags, aluminum foil, and also some NOT necessities like half a bottle of vodka, brownie mix, oatmeal packets and hot cocoa.  We made use of it all!
Another fabulous benefit of the unit was the HOT TUB.  More on the cold later but dang, the hot tub was absolutely essential or you would never emerge from the skiing induced ice block.  We went to the hot tub, about a 75 yard run in your swim suit and UGG boots in 18 degree weather, every evening.  About 15 feet from the hot tub was a heated changing room, which avoided the need to put on all your clothes in the freezing cold and give yourself a heart attack running back to the condo.
Anyway, we would stay again in a second.


Unlike Mount Bachelor, there is absolutely nothing budget about skiing in Sun Valley. When we got there during the peak President's day weekend, it did appear that a 3 of 5 day pass on Bald Mountain was about 466$.  466!  Even with a multiday pass that is more than 150$ per day.  Remember that at Bend our 3 of 5 day in 2014 worked out to less than 60$ per day!  We did get a significant discount using the website, through which we purchased our tickets at about $353 for the same 3 of 5 pass, but we had to buy the non-refundable adult tickets for the four of us about 90 days in advance.  Did anyone say trip insurance!  We sure did!
Renting ski equipment also costs a pretty penny.  Renting at Sturtevants of Sun Valley in downtown Ketchum costs a rather steep 140$ for 4 days (we rented an extra day to allow us to get the skis in the middle of the day before).  We chose them because they did offer an online discount once again if we purchased the package 3 months in advance.  The total was 420$ instead of 560$, which brought down the price to like 26.25 a day, instead of 35$.  But then they tried to charge us the balance, and then gave us some line about that we were lucky because we got a 20% discount twice, and then another line about the discount not including the tax.  Whatever!!!  No matter what they were saying, the numbers didn't add up at all.  The guys were nice and the equipment was good but the business practices lame.  It would be our choice to not rent from them again.
Anyway, let's talk about that glorious ski area.  Yes, expensive.  Yes, cold.  But WHAT a glorious mountain and what a swank ski resort.
First lets talk about that mountain!  Baldy is a 3400 ft mountain from top to bottom with 2054 acres of skiable area.  There are 14 lifts, including one 8 person gondola and seven high speed quad chairs.  There is a fair division of green, blue and black runs.  We may have been lucky with regards to the weather, but the entire mountain from top to bottom has good snow, no icy faces, no windy ridges blasting your nuggies off.  A run the length of the mountain (including lift time) can take near 30 minutes.  Even on President's day and the week following, no lift lines-NONE, ZERO.  Three days, no waiting..just skiing.
And the ski resort itself...Yeah, you pay for it, but it has some serious amenities I have never seen anywhere.  All the bathrooms everywhere are spotless--no water on the floor, no mud tracked it.  Each stall is individual and fully enclosed, with room to put all your stuff.  The lodges, even on the top of the mountain, have roaring fireplaces, enormous flat screen TV's, and nice furniture.  There is kleenex and water everywhere.  The lockers are first come, first served and are FREE.  There is no banishing of those who bring their own lunches to outdoor picnic tables.  They are just as welcome as those who bought their food at the cafeteria (we brought our lunch every day).  A waitress comes by occasionally and asks if you need anything from the bar.  The cafeteria has a full salad buffet and lots of variety of sandwiches and entrees (but expensive, we passed).  The resort is connected to the bus line servicing the entire area.  My favorite amenity?  The WAGONS available to haul your stuff to and from your car or to the bus stop (which really isn't that far!).
Pretty much we all confessed--this is our new favorite place to ski!
 On Bald Mountain with Ketchum in the background

 Better stay bundled up!

Snow fo' days

Day of Rest:

Well, we got in really late on Friday night, and we still hadn't picked up our skis, so we decided our "day off" was going to be the first day we were there.
Besides getting our lift tickets, picking up our skis and picking up a few groceries at the charming downtown Atkinson Market, there is plenty to keep you occupied on a day off.  Honestly, you could just go to a base ski lodge and sit by the fire and drink beer and listen to music all day, but we decided to walk on over to Sun Valley Lodge and Village, about a 12 minute walk from our condo.
The Sun Valley Lodge is a large and comfortable hotel, with a restaurant and a bar in the lobby. The lobby overlooks a large outdoor ice rink.  Craig and I skated here 20 years ago.  Today in 2019, it was nearly 80$ for the four of us to skate--that's expensive.  The customer service was pretty paltry and the rink music was terrible, but heck, when do you to skate when it's actually snowing and 25 degrees?  It was fun and good exercise, so we skated the better part of two hours.
Sun Valley Village is home to cute shops and restaurants.  Ski wear, mountain resort wear, furniture, candy, jewelry--you can find it all down there.  Lots of parking available--handy when we chose to eat dinner here a few nights later.  We wandered into the little cafe Konditorei, which was packed at the lunch hour, to oooo and aaaah over the delicious looking pastries.
Slowly we made our way back to the condo and headed for that hot tub while making use of that leftover vodka!

 Outside iconic Sun Valley Lodge

Ice Skating at the Lodge

The mouth watering pastries at Konditorei!


OK.  For everything that was absolutely wonderful about this place, these were the lowest temperatures I ever endured in my entire life.  The lowest temperature we saw while there was minus 2 (Fahrenheit everyone) and that was at 845 in the morning putting boots on at the car in the morning in the parking lot of the ski area.  By 10 in the morning on the ski slopes it was 3 degrees. 3.  I was wearing 8 layers--a sports bra, a camisole, thermal underwear, a T shirt, a cotton turtleneck, a fleece half zip top and a fully lined ski jacket, double gloved and double socked up to the knee.  It was absolutely necessary to cover every portion of your face with scarf and goggles, or die, and FORGET taking a glove off to text or some other ridiculousness.  One thing I do have to say is that there was no wind and it did not seem to be horribly colder at the top of the mountain, what a relief.  Really, and I never thought I would do this-we went in once or twice just to literally thaw out--but of course I said it was to go to the bathroom.
In contrast to the outdoors, a lot of the indoor areas are overheated-making me and my eight layers almost sick.
The nightly run to and from the hot tub in about 16 degrees was interesting, but necessary, and walking to dinner in jeans and a sweater and no helmet or ski socks when it was approaching 10 degrees was also interesting.
Summary, it was CRAZY cold.  Watch the weather forecast and do not come here unprepared!  California it ain't!

Okay, well let's look at some pictures!!

 We had to poke Nicky to make sure he was breathing.
That sofa sure is nice!

Uh, yeah...that's cold

Snowy downtown Ketchum in the morning..

Thank you for reading this post!  Next trip is a college tour in April!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Pretty close to Cloud Nine. KNBR SF Giants Fan Fest February 9, 2019

KNBR SF Giants Fan Fest is one of those things that happens every year but every year something happens that prevents me from going.  Since the Giants started winning World Series in 2010, I either had to work a school play, someone needed a ride somewhere, or some other social obligation came up. My daughter got to go with some friends one year and Sergio Romo (now of the Tampa Bay Rays) signed her Sergio Romo jersey.  She called me hyperventilating as if she had met the Queen of England herself, but I guess at that time having Sergio Romo sign your shirt was better than meeting Queen Elizabeth.

I had two daughters out of town so it was determined we were going to do something February 9th, which incidentally is the day before my birthday.  There were three events to choose from, and we couldn't decide so we left it up to chance and the lot fell upon Fan Fest.  Early in the week it was determined that there would be no baseball practice for freshman on Saturdays, so I loaded my car with 15 year old boys and 10 of us headed up to Oracle Park in San Francisco to mingle with our favorite players.

KNBR Fan Fest is a free annual event held at the ballpark scheduled just a few days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.  Fans can wander the field and have access to some very cool areas usually off limits to the run of the mill audience, such as a the dugout and the press box.  As one of those that never has seats that allowed me to visit the club level, it was cool to go up there and see all the memorabilia displayed and see how those club level seats are accessed.  We had hoped the Clubhouse would be open, but it was not.

Our bunch in the Giants Dugout

Make the call to the bullpen!

How long before we pull him, Bruce?

We were given two strong warnings.  One was to take public transportation and the other was to get there early.  One story relayed stated that a few years ago they stopped letting people in at 9:45 am!
We ran into no such problems.  We parked in an offsite lot at 470 Brannan for 15$ and lined up at the Willie Mays gate at about 9:20.  The gates opened precisely at 10 am and every one made it in without incident.
Our crew is ready to go!

There are a lot of sponsors there giving away free stuff, drink cuzzies and paper placards and the same backpack I got last year on a giveaway day.  There is lots of stuff to buy.  A lot of last years merchandise was marked down for quick clearance.  Especially tempting was the twenty dollar "mystery bag," which made it's way home with just about everyone in our party.  Once the first one was opened and the contents were discovered to not be so bad, others followed suit, particularly in the last hour of the event, when the bags were marked to two for twenty dollars.  Members of our group starting gifting them to one another.  I walked away with an Andrew McCutchen Tshirt, a rally rag, a water bottle and a Will Clark Autism Awareness Bobblehead--all likely leftover giveaways from last year.  I was pretty lucky-one of our poor boys came home with TWO Crazy Crab scarfs--the same ones we chucked out the minute we came home with them last year.

Anyway, throughout most of the day, KNBR personalities conducted interviews with players down on the field.  Despite the occasional standing in the rain, it was actually quite nice to get close and watch the discussions.  Out by "the garden", there was also a sponsored question and answer area, but we never ventured out that way.

A lot of the concessions were available and alcohol was available, though in our desire to be good examples, we did not buy any.

While all this is fine and dandy, no one comes out to the ballpark for this stuff, and neither did we.  People come out to get autographs and to meet players. From what I could ascertain,there were two autograph stations, one kids 16 and under autograph station (which came in very handy for our 15 year olds) and one selfie station.  The autograph stations were on opposite ends of the ball park, one at the top of the Willie Mays ramp and the other in the Alaska Airlines Loft at the right field wall.  The kids station was on the club level, quite appealing as it was indoors.  The selfie station was also up in the nosebleeds and the endless line in the downpour kept us away.

The lines for autographs were like waiting for Space Mountain, fully equipped with the "wait time is 45 minutes from this point" signs posted strategically. Another tricky thing is that the players/VIP's in the autograph booth once you finally get there rotate every 50 minutes, which leaves you with the very real possibility that after waiting for Brandon Belt for one hour, you could be five minutes away from having him sign your #9 jersey before he is whisked away to be replaced by Pat Venditte (actually he was really nice), so disappointment can really be a thing, but all the players/VIP's are so nice that it really didn't matter who you meet.  During the rotation the line abruptly stops moving for about 10 minutes while the VIPs change.  Another thing we noticed is that you might see the same player rotated to another autograph station--yes we actually have one autograph twice, but for the most part we did not fall into this predicament.  There are three to six VIPs at every station, so even if you are repeating one meet and greet experience, there are three others you haven't met.  There are some rules for the autograph stations.  No posed pictures are allowed, though you can take pictures of the players themselves as they sign your gear.  Also only one autograph is allowed per person, so don't even think about having both your baseball and your jersey signed.  There is no hurry once you get there. The players and VIPs, who are for the most part phenomenally well dressed and good looking--sigh, are polite, make eye contact and are up for a little conversation.

Dear fan, I love you.  Signed Austin Slater

 Kickin' it a little with Austin Slater and Drew Pomeranz

The boys stop by the "kids only" autograph station

We got there with plenty of time, and made a beeline for the top of the Willie Mays ramp.  The adults
went here to wait for Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, and Austin Slater, but due to the 50 minute rule wound up meeting Shawon Dunston, Pat Venditte (who just beamed over from the kids section) and Drew Ferguson.  The 15 year olds ran off with another adult where they met Brandon Crawford, Aramis Garcia, Pat Venditte, and Jeff Samardzija.  One of the guys that came with us had the Brandon Crawford jersey he was wearing signed.  Now that's pretty cool. Then the boys found their way back to us and sneaked into line with us and got the signatures we were waiting for.
Brandon Crawford signs Nicky's baseball
The kids line became very crowded as the day went on.  I believe largely because it was indoors.  One of our party decided on the strategy of just getting back in the kids line over and over throughout the day, betting on the 50 minute rotation rule.
Eventually we made our way across the stadium to the Alaska Airlines Loft.  By now it was raining steadily, making part of the wait time rather uncomfortable.  We did wait a fair amount of time in this line.  Our scouts told us that Mike Krukow, Amy G., and Dave Fleming were in the loft but by the time we got there it was Mark Melancon ( "you were supposed to save the games, not destroy them!"), pitching coach Curt Young and hitting coach Bam Bam Muellens.  Yeah, missing out on the first three was a bummer, oh well.
After visiting the press box we had time to stand in one more line. The adults headed back to the top of the Willie Mays ramp to meet with Aramis Garcia, Austin Slater and Drew Pomeranz, the kids went back to the kids line, which we heard was closed since 1:30pm, and pulled off the biggest VIP coup of the day.  The line was closed but they just hung out at the back and sad faced their ways into being allowed into the end of the line.  Who was signing autographs? Serious, BUSTER POSEY, THE BUSTER POSEY.  Buster, 2012 NL MVP, 2012 NL batting champion, 2012 Comeback Player of the Year, 6 time All Star catcher, 3 time World Series Champion, Golden Glover, Silver Slugger 2010 Rookie of the Year, Posey.
The autograph was plenty to be envious of.  I told my son to send me a picture and he sends me this.

I texted this to my daughter in San Diego and she could only respond with one word...."AHHHH!!"

I asked one of the boys what he said when he met Buster.  He said he just blathered like a dumbstruck idiot.

After that, there was nothing to top it.  We took the boys to Amici's for some fabulous pizza and drove home.

What an amazing day.  Now for some pictures!

Thank you Sir Hensley Meulens for letting m photograph your WS ring!

Future sports writers visit the press box

Now officially the coolest jersey ever!

Thank you for reading this post!  I just got back from the winter wonderland of Sun Vallley, ID.  Hoping to get to post about that mighty soon!

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