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I’m waiting for the call that officially ends my banquet career.
Since 2017, I have worked in a major casino as a banquet server. It was terrifying at first. It was SO FANCY. I went from selling ice cream and coffee to setting a ballroom full of 50 ten top tables with like eight pieces of silverware. There was so much to remember and I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it. We did all sorts of events. Car shows, basketball hall of fame, Make-A-Wish gala, American Cancer Society, baseball auctions, Miss America, epic Christmas parties... it was mostly just corporate events but even the most simple ones, like banquets for nurses and teachers, were fun. It was every type of food service you could possibly imagine — hand passed appetizers, plated meals, family style meals, and exquisite buffets like you’ve never seen. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between. Even the most basic meals were incredible. You never knew what your job was going to be, or who you were going to work with when you walked in, and that was the scariest part to me. One day, you’d be on the soup station. The next day, you’d be working with a partner to serve a six table section and walking across a giant ballroom with a tray of ten piping hot dinners while trying to remember who had the gluten allergy. Or you could be scooping gelato. Or building buffets to perfection. Or passing around trays with bacon wrapped scallops and raspberry and Brie tarts. Or clearing while 500 people have their cocktail hour. Once you got used to something, they’d throw you into something totally new. It took me about a year and a half, plus a lot of anxiety attacks and considerations of quitting, but I eventually got the hang of it. It was an on call job, so sometimes I’d work 40 hours, and then not have any work again for two weeks. That’s why it took so long to learn everything. And there were 75 other people in the department, so sometimes, it was scary to find out that you’d be working with the OG server who’d been there for fifteen years and will chew you out if you mess anything up, yet sometimes YOU would be the one to have to explain to someone new why all the coffee mug handles absolutely had to be facing the same way, and still correcting them anyways. It was hardcore teamwork. There were so many ups and downs, but it was a fantastic gig. We were paid extremely fairly. It never mattered what my job was; it could have been the hardest or the most boring task, I’d do it gleefully because I knew I’d be making a good paycheck regardless. Oh, and did I mention that 75% of the time, we got to eat the leftovers? Yeah. They’d have giant displays of shrimp over ice sculptures — and while it was disheartening how much food got wasted (or “sent to pig farms” as they told us), it was the best thing to ever happen to me. Now that I think about it, did I really love this job, or was it just the endless shrimp? Hard to say... The physical gains were powerful. Lifting a 60-pound tray on one shoulder while walking across a huge ballroom doesn’t sound fun, but holy shit, was I fit!! I would easily walk ten miles during a shift. It was painful a lot of the time, but it felt sooooo good to be active. The mental gains were astronomical as well. I made it up the seniority list. Every year I was making a little bit more money. Returning to events I had done in the past was super exciting, because being able to look back on where I was as a shy and sickeningly anxious newbie, now to someone who was helping all the newbies feel as comfortable as I wish more people had done for me... it was truly a unique and wonderful feeling. It felt like where I was meant to be. I originally wanted to move out of state, but this job kept me close. I had full intentions of staying for as long as I possibly could. I didn’t get enough hours and had to work other jobs the whole time, but at the rate I was moving up, it could have been my only job in a year or two. I could have lived an EXTREMELY comfortable life only working four days a week at a job that I absolutely loved. They had just built an 80 million dollar convention center — on top of the 5,300 people capacity ballroom — which meant there were WAY more work days on the horizon. The last time I worked was in the beginning of March. It was a summit for a large real estate company. Over 1,200 people from all over the country (and let’s be honest, probably a covid hotspot before we even knew it). Bougie ass people. I stood in one place with a tray of wine for hours, and then immediately had to serve a seven table section with a new guy who, while enthusiastic and willing to listen to me, had no idea what he was doing. It was the only event that I had cried at in the past two years I had done it. I almost cried at this one (because it just got so, so crazy) but I didn’t! And that, to me, was progress! But now, coronavirus is here to stay. Tightly packing ten people to a table, with fifty tables, and thirty servers weaving in and out of the aisles, touching plates with food, grabbing glasses to fill wine or water, trusting thousands of people to serve themselves on a buffet... none of those things are safe anymore. None of it. Most of these events were not local, they were national, so you’d have people from everywhere. They kept telling us that although all of the spring and summer events were cancelled, that come September we’d have work again... but we all know that was never going to happen. Now the casino I work for has finally come to the hardest and most heartbreaking decision... it’s time to lay everybody off. Things are never going to be the same again. No more banquets. No more cocktail hours. No more weaving through 800 people to get dirty plates out of the room all while listening to rich people’s conversations and judging their expensive outfits. No more bonding with my coworkers in the back while the group is having a speaking presentation. No more late nights and cranky mornings. No more guessing who had the most cocaine in the room. No more wine service. No more uppity contacts. No more pushing six buffet tables through a busy casino to get to the other side of the property. No more five-table dessert buffets. No more giant paella. No more shucking oysters and sliding them down an ice luge into a martini glass. No more silverware rolling quotas in the thousands. No more sweating my ass off while I constantly refilled a buffet. No more waiting for the last person to leave so we could all go home. No more linen. No more BEOs. No more polishing wine glasses. No more endless shrimp. It’s all over. That is so many people out of work now. Cooks, dishwashers, EVS, audio and visual, house men, bartenders, bar backs, and of course us servers and our captains and shift leaders. Do you know how many people it really takes to put on these events? It’s a lot. I knew this was coming, but I didn’t want to think about it yet. Now I’m waiting for the phone call. And I know that one day I’ll find my place again, but I just feel so lost now. I wish I could say I’ve spent the last six months brainstorming my new career path, but I’ve really just been sad. TL;DR: I was a banquet server at a beautiful casino for three years and after a lot of hardship, it became what I thought was going to be a lifelong career. Now I’m being laid off. Edit: If you know, you know. But please remember rule #2 of this sub! And thanks for the kind words, friends.
Hopefully this information is helpful if some people are trying to decide whether to go or not. Stayed at Excalibur (only place that comped me rooms) so most of this information is centered around that casino (I'd imagine it is pretty consistent with MGM properties though (besides the limits)) Friday night there were 4 tables going. 3 of them were regular and $15. The 4th was crapless and $10. In the mornings they would have 1 table going for $10 (crapless) then it would raise to $15 around noon. After noon they would open another table for $15. It was pretty easy to get a spot as the turnover was much faster than usual (more on this later). As far as the play itself, it was different. Only 3 people per side, so 6 total for the table, and there was plexiglass between everyone. Each time the dealers rotated they wiped down their stations. They switched dice for every new shooter. When players left the table, they did not do any sanitation of the players rail spot, a new person would just walk up. Masks were required unless you were drinking. The dealers all wore masks with face shields over the masks. In my opinion the plexiglass was the worst part of the experience. Combined with having to wear masks, it was very difficult to even talk or joke with the person next to you. Zero chance for any verbal or non verbal communication for the people on the other side of the table. Normal situations where there would be a big cheer at the table, were basically silent. The camaraderie was not there. I think this is what led to such a high turnover rate at the tables. One positive (that is also a negative) was that if you like to physically throw the dice, they come around ALOT faster. You get to throw all the time. However, since there are less people at the table and less bets for the dealers to put up and such, hands are played much more frequently. Which in many situations leads to bleeding your bankroll quicker. Which also leads to faster turnover at the tables. If you are into dice setting and throw from stick L1 (right handed), the plexiglass is an issue as you kind of have to throw around it. So you would have to stand stick R1 for no hindrance (if you throw right handed) Overall "safety" feel: There were tons of places to sanitize and wash your hands. They even had sinks set up on the gaming floor. Unlimited masks, gloves, and sanitizer available if you wanted. When I checked in they gave me a bag with masks, pocket size sanitizer, and a "clean key" (for touching elevator buttons and such). You had to do the temperature check thing before you could check into your room. (although it seemed like this was only enforced during prime check-in times). Masks were required on the gaming floor. They sort of have security guards at the entrances and elevators enforcing it. From what I saw nearly 100% of people were wearing some type of face cover, however I'd estimate that 25% either had it pulled down, or otherwise weren't wearing it correctly. Random observations: Usually you see a dog here or there on the floor, I would estimate I saw 10x the amount of people with what I assume were service dogs. Also, mobility scooters. I would estimate I saw 5x what I normally see on the floor. The amount of people walking around on the casino floor didn't seem too far off from normal. It was a hair less than usual but it def didn't see "dead" at all. Poker room was closed. All the buffets were closed and I'd say about half of the restaurants were closed or limited hours. If you wanted to get a drink you had to order food and sit down. All the bars in the casino were closed and all barstools removed. You had to either order drinks from the cocktail waitresses or buy them from the little souveniconvenience stores in the casino. The slot machines were either pushed together in triangles or only every other slot machine was turned on. Same for bubble craps, only 4 total machines turned on (5$ minimum). I don't know this for sure as I was there by myself, but I don't think it was allowed to have 2 people next to each other at the craps table between the same plexiglass, even if you were together. I didn't see anyone do it or ask about it, but I did see some couples not playing next to each other and I assume they would if they could have. Overall, I didn't feel it was as fun of an experience as usual. Probably won't go back until things are normal.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…5
Continuing “Hey, Viv!”, I say, as we’re all being shuttled onto the bus which will take us to our hotel, “Toss me one of those miniatures, if you please. Yeah. Of course, Vodka’ll do. It’s bloody dusty round these parts.” Viv chuckles and asks if anyone else wants anything. He’s a consummate scrounger and somehow sweet-talked a demure and pulchritudinous female Air China cabin attendant out of her phone number, Email address, and a case of 100 airline liquor miniatures. That he looks like a marginally graying version of Robert Mitchum in his heyday and speaks fluent Dutch, French, and Italian might explain his success. I mean, a guy with four ex-wives can’t be all wrong, right? He’s a definite outlier in this crowd. We could be characterized as a batch of aging natural geoscientists who collectively, sans Viv, add up to an approximate eight on the “Looker” scale. Besides the years, the mileage, the climatic, and industrial ravages, it’s a good thing we all have expansive personalities, as most of us are dreadful enough to make a buzzard barf. But, save for Viv, no one presently here is on the make. Oh, sure; we’ll all sweet talk some fair nubile into a free drink or a double when we really ordered a regular drink, but we’re all married, most terminally, that is, over 35 years and counting. The odd thing is that save and except for Viv, none of us married folk had ever been divorced. That is strange, considering that the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, and we are often called to be apart from kith and kin for prolonged periods. However, we are always faithful and committed to our marital units and those vows we spoke all those many long decades ago. But, hey, we’re all seriously male and not anywhere near dead; and there’s no penalty for just looking, right? Continuing. We’re all loaded on a pre-war, not certain which war, by the way, bus which stank of fish, kimchee, and diesel fuel. We really don’t care even a tiny, iotic amount. It’s free transport, we’re tired of traveling, and not keen on walking any further than we absolutely have to. Viv has been passing out boozy little liquor miniatures, and I’ve been handing out cigars since I bought a metric shitload back in Dubai Duty-Free and somehow got them all through customs. We didn’t light up, as there was neither a driver nor handler present. So, we figured we’d all just wait on the cigars, and concentrate on having a little ground-level “Welcome to Best Korea” party until the powers that be got their collective shit together and provided drivers, herders, and handlers. We sat there for 15 long minutes. Being the international ambassadors of amity and insobriety, we started making noises like “Hey! Where’s our fucking driver?” and “I am Doctor Academician! Of All State Russian Geological Survey! How dare you make me wait? ” Suddenly, a couple of characters in ill-fitting gray suits and fake Rays Bans are outside the bus having a collective meltdown. Somehow, someone fucked up and put us on a ‘regular’ bus and not the ‘VIP’ bus. In other words, we got to see what the locals really got to ride around Pyongyang on instead of our supposed to be impressed by the bus that wasn’t there; but was now just arriving. A spanking new purple-and-chrome Mercedes long-haul bus shows up. It even has our group name emblazoned above the placard that normally tells where the bus is headed or who it is for: “’국제 석유 지질 과학 연합’ [Gugje Seog-yu Jijil Gwahag Yeonhab] or ‘International Union of Petroleum Geological Sciences’”. We are brusquely ordered off our present bus and into the opulent, obviously bespoke, bright yellow faux-leather interior Mercedes-Benz Tourismo RH M. It’s so new and so obviously a ploy to get us to think that all things here are so new and opulent, it even smells of that new car, ah, bus, aroma. “Well, we’ll take care of that soon enough”, I muse, as the bus is equipped with ashtrays and we’re going on the scenic route to our hotel, which is only 25 or so kilometers from the airport. However, it was announced that it’ll take us about 2 hours to get to our hotel since we need to see the city in its best light and get a feeling for the town if we should ever find ourselves lost and alone. We all know what’s going on. They’re getting our rooms ‘ready’ for our arrival and need some extra time to make sure everything’s all wired in and transmitting properly. “Guys”, I muse to our new handlers, “I’ve been to the Soviet Union, pre-wall fall. I stayed in places where I was definitely among the first westerners ever to grace their porticos. We’re a busload of natural scientists, of eight different nationalities, covering the economic spectrum from staunch capitalism to sociable socialism to hard-core communism. You even think for a second we’re going to spill any beans about anything you’d find interesting or useful? Think again.” In fact, it would become a running joke between us all to see what sort of fake bombshells we could drop into the normal conversation what would give the listener’s the greatest case of the jibblies. But for now, our bags were all loaded into the cargo compartment of this very, very nice, I must admit, mode of conveyance. Our handlers: ‘Yuk’, ‘No’, ‘Man’, and ‘Kong’, are all seated upfront and please with their latest tally of bodies. We have a couple of shady fellow travelers with the knock-off Ray-Bans and shiny gray suits that just appeared out of the woodwork in the back, seated by the loo, watching over all of us, and we’re going on a fucking city tour, whether we like it or not. We’re all present and accounted for. Let’s keep our camera in our bags for the time being as the drinking and smoking lights had just been lit as the bus fired up its new German-engineered and machined precision diesel engine. The bus rumbled to life and after a moment or two of checking that all dials, gauges, and indicators were where they were supposed to be; without so much as a cursory glance, we pulled out into traffic. Except there was none. Not another bus, pushbike, tap-tap, scooter, car, truck, hover-board, or motorcycle in sight. Nothing. Seems we were a big deal. They shut down the main drag so we wouldn’t be encumbered by such proletariat things like traffic jams or people-things cluttering the roadway, clambering for a look at the Western scientific cadre. So, away we whizzed, sans traffic and into the very belly of the beast, and onward; eventually, towards our hotel. Our handlers were very kind to point out passing scenes of interest. “Look, look! There’s the Potong River. Notice all the lovely birds, ‘eh what? See the Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage!” “See here, look. Here’s the Taedong River. Many forms of fish in the river. Maybe we’ll see some fishermen. If you like, we can stop, and ask them about today’s catch.” We all declined, as we were certain that the fish the ‘random fisherman’ we’d talk to was flown in fresh from elsewhere earlier in the day. Besides, we were comfortable. We had our drinks, our cigars, and we were leaving the driving to someone else. After being driven around the city and seeing all the wonderful monuments, like the faux Arch of Triumph, which looks exactly unlike its namesake Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris. The Arch of Reunification, a monument to the goal of a reunified Korea, which, by necessity, is unfinished. Then there’s the Tomb of King Tongmyŏng, where people are lining up, just dying’ to get in. Finally, we all called for our hotel, the Yanggakdo, after yet another mausoleum, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. Arches or tombs. Such a stunning array of monuments and places of less than moderate interest. We were interested in Mirae Scientists street (Future Scientists street). It is a street in a newly developed area in Pyongyang to house scientific institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology and its employees. But we were told that it was too late, there was not much there to see, we needed to express written permission to visit, and we’d be going there tomorrow or next week. We wheel into the parking lot of the Yanggakdo Hotel and are immediately unimpressed by the pseudo-Baroque concrete fiasco that appears to stand, wobbly, before us. It’s a page right out of the Soviet Construction-For-The-Masses Handbook. A cold, gray concrete edifice with multitudes of seemingly little, tiny windows. A perfect metaphor for our travels thus far; look at the expansiveness of Best Korean wonders, through this pinhole. However, we judged too soon. We were told to go inside and check-in, whilst our luggage would be de-bussed for us and handled by the expertly efficient hotel staff. The lobby was opulent, tastefully laid out in earth tones of facades of veneers of marble, granite, some garnet-mica schist, if my hand lens doesn’t lie, some Prepaleozoic anatectic migmatite, displaying intricate and intense plication, xenoliths, and graphic delineation of minerals by segregation through melting points. There was a gigantic well-appointed and well kept up aquarium, complete with snuffling sharks and nuclear-submarine sized groupers. Very handsome indeed. Impressions increasing slightly. Then we see that there’s a bloody casino on the bottom floor of the hotel, several bars interspersed throughout the hotel, and karaoke, of which I’m not terribly fond, but some of my European counterparts almost swooned at the prospect. There are a large pool and weight rooms/gymnasia, saunas and places to relax outside of one’s room, but still under the watchful eye of the thousands of ill-concealed video cameras at every turn. “Covert surveillance” may be a thing in Best Korea, but it’s a practice still leaves a lot to be desired. The Eastern Siberian Russians back before the wall fell were more covert with their obvious button audio microphones woven into the fabric covering the headboard of your Intourist bed than the Best Koreans here. Their cameras were ‘disguised’ as flower arrangements, overhead lights, and speakers inexplicably placed into things like standing ashtrays, refuse bins, and randomly placed holes in the wall. The floors were all covered with exquisite what looked to be hand-woven rugs of most vibrant crimson and gold; the usual Communistic colors. Always with some sort of floral pattern or pattern that’s supposed to be reflective of nature, as I was told. Evidently, for workers to remember what nature was as they don’t get out much with 14 to 16 hours workdays here in the Worker’s Paradise. Enough of the travelogue; we all wander up to the front desk, and each with their own passport in hand, request our reserved rooms. We supposed that we would all have rooms on different floors as the reservations were made, expired, re-made, juggled, rebooked, allowed to expire, re-jiggered, and finally formalized a scant week before we left the UK. Nope. No such luck. We were all on the 39th floor. The place boasts 47 floors, of which, the top floor is a revolving restaurant. Evidently, food tastes better when you’re rotating. However, it won’t spin unless you first buy a drink. We had that thing whirling like a NASA centrifuge after its discovery the second night. Yeah, all 12 of us are bivouacked on the 39th floor. A floor with approximately 30 rooms. I guess we could have played “Room Roulette” and see who got which room and who’s luggage. Or we could switch every day or two to drive our handlers nuts. Or, we could just take our assigned rooms, which were conveniently located one empty room apart. Meaning, no one had adjoining rooms. Why? Fuck if I know. We didn’t spend much time in our rooms, and that time was either sleeping or showering. We’d all meet at the bar, casino, restaurant, karaoke, bowling alley (all three lanes) or actual meeting rooms every once in a while when we thought we should get together and compare notes. It was the most inexplicable situation. Plus, we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting on the fucking elevators to take us to our room. These elevators, and if you think you’re going to get a batch of aging senior scientists to schlep it up 39 floor’s worth of stairs, think again; are the slowest elevators in the civilized world. And that was the consensus of scientists representing not only Europe and North America, but Russia as well. 15-25 minutes added to each journey, up or down; stopping on every floor, except 5, on the way down.. Jesus Q. Fuck, dudes. If you can’t construct a bleedin’ elevator that works better than those at the Sozvezdie Medveditsy Guest House in Lesosibirsk, Eastern Siberia; then I suggest you seriously rethink your plans for world domination and new world order. Grako and Erwin once, while waiting for the fucking elevator, figured out that we were earning some US$25 each just to wait for the lift to arrive and take us to our rooms. Every day. Sometimes several times per day. With that, we all agreed to toss our “waiting time” funds into a kitty and on our last day of captivity here, blow it all in the hotel casino. Whatever became of that would be donated to the Koreans we thought most deserving of our largesse. Would it be our handlers? How about the Korean Scientists we’d be meeting? The affable and most accommodating concierge? Or that plucky little Korean charwoman who was always on our floor and kept everything spotless, right down to our freshly laundered and pressed field clothes and newly polished field boots; done without our requesting or knowledge? Only time would tell. It could be a fortune or it could be bupkiss. Just like our expectations of the Heavenly Kingdom where we were currently sequestered. As it was, with our official protestations, they kept only photocopies of our passports as we roundly refused and threatened a full-scale karaoke battle right here in the lobby if they didn’t relinquish our passports immediately. I had broken out my nastiest cigar and was primed to offend. With that, we all had our keys and trooped over to the elevators for our first, of many, inexplicable waits. We made many uncharitable and potentially nasty remarks about the Anti-Western posters that made up some of the wall décor. Once we finally made it to our floor, we all fanned out to find our rooms. Viv found his first and was quite pleased to report to the rest of us that there was a “Welcome” basket in his room. We all hoped that we would be receiving one a well. I was in room 3914; which I considered a close call, but later only wondered as there was no 3913. Upon entering, I saw it was 1980s Hotel 6 opulent, but with an excellent over-city view. True it was late, dark, and the city was only somewhat lit up; I was looking forward to the view of the town in full daylight. The room had a ‘king’ bed; that is if the king in question was Tutankhamen, the stubby, Egyptian boy king. The bed had no mattress pad and no box spring but it was hard enough for my liking. Many of my compatriots didn’t agree and complained bitterly. They eventually received thin mattress pads for all their kvetching. There was an ancient Japanese color television, which only had 2 English language channels - Al Jazeera and the BBC, which was on a dated news loop. Watching the local channel is amusing though; the ads for ‘personal enhancements’ were hilarious, even without understanding a word of the language. There were a couple of chairs and a low table, built-in dresser drawers for our clothes, a rusty and probably unusable room safe with corroded batteries, a small table built out of the wall that would serve as my travel office, and would-you-believe, a rotary telephone; how’s that for nostalgia? There was an old-model radio built into the nightstand next to the bed. I was very surprised to find it not only received AM, FM but shortwave as well. I had brought along a pair of Bose headphones and during some rainy down days, spent many fun-filled, and I mean that sincerely, hours DXing from the comfort of my ‘enormous’ king bed. Beyond that, the room was very nondescript. Like any other of the millions of rooms in hotels around the world that unlike here, aren’t claiming a 5-star rating. I mean, it was clean, if not a little long in the tooth. But didn’t smell too terrible, even after I took care of that with my Camacho offerings. It was utilitarian, everything worked, even the water pressure, which surprisingly could strip off layers of one’s skin if you weren’t careful. The bathroom, though no Jacuzzi, had a large enough bathtub for the occasional soaking period. Western accouterments in the bathroom were also welcome additions. My knees can’t handle the traditional squat-holes any longer. There were an electric teapot and several brands of tea, but no coffee. A quick “Gee! I sure wish I had some coffee!” to the four walls and damned if 30 minutes later, a porter didn’t arrive to replenish my tea and courtesy in-room coffee… There was a small Japanese brand in-room refrigerator which I thought might house a mini-bar. Oh, no! It was actually a complimentary larder stocked with all sorts of Best Korean goodies. Multiple cans of Taedonggang beer. Several bottles of Pyongyang Soju, in various flavors ranging anywhere from 16.8 to 53 percent alcohol by volume. My fridge was skewed towards the right-hand side of the bell curve; the more heavy-duty boozy side. Evidently, my reputation had preceded me again. There was a selection of German-style wheat beers from the Taedonggang Brewery and the more familiar ales, steam beers, and lagers. There were some imported beers like Heineken, Bavaria, Pils, a couple of Japanese brands: Asahi and Kirin, and something called ‘Hello Beer’ from Singapore. There were also ‘sampler’ bottles of Apricot Pit wine, and a couple of high-alcohol fruity liquors made from constituents such as apple or pear, and mushrooms. There were also special medicinal liquors like ‘Rason’s Seal Penis Liquor’. That is going home with me unopened. There were a couple of bottles of local sake, called Chonju. Finally, there was a couple ‘samplers’ of homemade alcohol known as Makkoli. Plus there was something called ‘Corn Grotto’, which for the life of me, looks and tastes much like a very passable Kentucky Sippin’ Bourbon. I put our concierge on instant danger money the very next day. He’s yet to source me more than a fifth of the stuff so far. I found that there is a popular drink here which mirrors the Yorsch of Mother Russia. Beer and soju can be mixed to create *somaek’; a foamy, frothy, funky drink of many flavors, depending on the soju chosen. Is ethnoimbibology at thing? The science of how different cultures drink and the effects of drinking culture on different societies. If not, now I have another Ph.D. to pursue after I endow a chair at some likely Asian university. Anyways, in everyone’s room was a “welcome” basket, just chock full of Best Korean goodies. Postcards, stamps, ads for coin sets, stamp proofs and other goodies that could be purchased at the hotel. There was a field notebook, which I thought was a very nice addition, newspapers, cookies, crackers, biscuits, candies, fruit drinks, and some fresh fruit; although tamarind chewies and durian chips aren’t on my list of personal favorites. There were a couple of tour books, just chock full of staged photos. These were very nice as well, as so far, we haven’t had much time for shopping outside of government stores or smaller family-run shops in town or out in the boonies. A few of us were hungry and decided to see what the hotel had to offer room service-wise. Bupkiss. But, they did have a selection of restaurants. There is a Chinese restaurant, a European restaurant, and a Korean restaurant on site but they all serve the same food...a Best Korean attempt at western food. And it was weird being the only ones in the restaurant even though it was fully staffed. We grazed lightly and decided to do some late-night perambulations around our hotel. Our handlers admonished us to stay within the confines of the hotel, or see them if it was absolutely necessary to go walkabout. In the hotel, we were on our own. We found that there were tunnels in the hotel’s basement. The basement tunnels were a real bonus. There’s a bar with pool tables, a karaoke room, bowling, and a massage parlor, where I was beaten and pummeled into submission by tiny, diminutive, little Korean lassies fully 1/5th my size. It was wonderful. There was a hairdresser’s, who were completely befuddled by my shoulder-length silver-gray locks and full gray Grizzly Adams beard. They did provide a lovely shampoo/cranial massage though for the equivalent of US$2. There were a couple of shops selling Chinese goods rather than local stuff, which was sort of disappointing, a cold noodle bar, and another casino. No shops selling Korean Communist propaganda posters, as I wanted to augment my Soviet-era collection. Perhaps I’ll find something in-country later on. We were shocked to find that the casino had WiFi that was uncensored and we were able to access; after a fee of liquor miniatures and a cigar or two. We were supposed to have access to the global internet, not local intranet, from the universities that we would be visiting. However, all of that was under the heavily squinting eyes of handlers and guys in shiny suits wearing fake Ray-Bans. I still had my secret satellite internet lash-up available, but that was iffy, a pain in the ass to set up, and ridiculously expensive. However, it did work on the 39th floor and the times I used it instead of wandering down to the tunnels, no one appeared to be the wiser. Thus far. So typically, we’d just head to the basement casino with our laptops, iPads, and phones. Bam! Robert’s your Sister’s Husband, we could connect more-or-less free with the outside world; hence how you are reading this now. Herro! “Yes, I’d sure like another beer. This time a porter, if you please.” The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. Or the more they put into locks, the easier they are to pick. Besides, we were told we’d have access to unfettered and free internet. OK, so we just found it for ourselves. Whaddya expect? We’re scientists, motherfucker, back off. Ahem. Back to reality. The breakfast buffet the next morning had a wide choice of Asian and Western food, although the choices seemed to be the same every day. The main event was to beat the Chinese tourists to the egg station every morning. Breakfast always included fried eggs, a limited selection of pork, kippered fish, potatoes, rice, fruit, and a very Titanium-dioxide-white white bread After a while, I took to going to the small market behind the lobby, buying some imported Chinese or Japanese nibbly bits and heading to the tunnels for a few breakfast beers before the long hard day’s work. It took almost a week, but I gained the trust of some of the workers in the tunnels and they showed me the on-site microbrewery at the hotel. It produced very passable, and very, very cheap beers of several varieties. Liquid bread. Beer. Is there nothing it can’t do? After breakfast our first day at the hotel, we were told to meet in the Conference Room “Il-sung” as we were going to have a ‘Welcome foreign imperialist scientists’ introduction and indoctrination. Besides our handlers and the shiny-suit squad, there were several Korean folks we didn’t recognize. These were students, scientists, and scholars from the Kim Chaek University of Technology, Kim Il-sung University, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology; all hailing from Pyongyang, and the University of Geology from North Hwanghae Province. “Oh, marvelous”, Erlen remarked, “It’s going to be a bloody Chautauqua. We’ll be here all day.” “Well”, I replied, “It could be worse. We could be on a bus headed off on another unscheduled road trip.” As we found our seats, our Korean counterparts were busily setting up portable screens, like the ones your grandfather had for showing his 2.1 Googleplex worth of travel slides every Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together. They had a couple of ancient Chinese brand laptops that could have doubled for body armor, they were so thick and heavy. While they fiddled with running cords for the overhead projectors and 16mm film projector; yes, it was going to be movie time as well, the hotel’s restaurant folks wheeled in carts laden with scones, cupcakes, and other sweet sorts of bakery. Another cart was wheeled in with pump-pots of hot water, tea, and coffee. Usual scientific meeting fare. There was one final cart that made the day bearable. It held a pony keg of hotel micro-brewed beer on ice, with several dozen frosty mugs available for all who wanted to partake. There were instantly 12 mugs that were spoken for. I grabbed a cold beer and wandered around the conference room, sipping beer, chewing on an unlit cigar, and just trying to be pleasant to our hosts and their scientific guests. I was surprised when one North Korean professor, who spoke amazingly British-tinged English, offered me a light for my cigar. “Is smoking allowed here?” I asked. “Allowed?” he laughed heartily, “My good man, it’s practically a prerequisite.” “Here then”, I said, offering him a nice, unctuous Camacho, “Try one of mine.” Dr. P'ung Kwang-Seon of the North Korean University of Geology became my instant and lifelong friend at that moment. We had a very nice chat, much to the chagrin of the gray suit cadre, who could hear what we were talking about, but probably didn’t understand anything beyond every 8th word. After a while, we were asked to take our seats, after refreshing our drinks, and introduced to the group of Korean geoscientists we’d be interacting with during our stay here in Best Korea. I tried to record every name, but between the students, other scholars, and professors from the various universities, I decided I’d ask for a list of participants once the day had worn on. After all, they had all our names, references, and resumes if the thick folio they kept referring to was any indication. There were a couple of hours of introductions, as every one of the Korean geoscientists there introduced themselves, mostly through translators, told of their personal area of specialty, and their latest work. Most were what would be considered geoscientists, but oddly enough, not one that you would consider a petroleum geoscientist, however tangentially. There were geomorphologists, structural geologists, petrologists, mineralogists, marine geologists, engineering geologists, and seismologists. However, there were no stratigraphers, sedimentologists, paleontologists, or geochemists. We were all geoscientists, but apart from the obvious Korean:English disparity, it was as if we spoke different scientific languages as well. That would be our first hurdle to overcome. They had no oil industry here; none whatsoever, therefore why one would bother with the geosciences that fed directly into petroleum? That, in and of itself, would make it difficult to explore for oil in the country. Couple that with the fact that they’re so insular, think their version of ‘science’ is the best, at least that’s the official line, and think all other’s ‘science’ is capitalistic, substandard, and inferior doesn’t bode well for your country discovering anything either oily or gassy. We were having another conclave around the beer keg, ack, err…a ‘coffee break’ and I mentioned this fact to my scientific colleagues. “Guys”, I need input here, “We’re going to get precisely nowhere if they won’t even acknowledge that they have major problems from the start.” Ivan replies, “Very true. I’ve seen this before back home. You get a group so entrenched in their own little corner of science, they can’t even accept or acknowledge that others exist. Not only exist but actually know more about a certain problem than do you.” Dax joins the fray, “Sure, that’s very true, but who’s going to tell them this unfortunate fact? They could take that as a personal, national, and global insult. Imagine you’re at an international conference and a bunch of foreigners walk in just to tell you you’ve been doing it all wrong for the last 75 years.” I add, “Remember, though. These characters are scientists as well. I think it’ll be a good measure of seeing what sort of science and scientist we’re dealing with here. If they are truly researchers, they’ll listen to and evaluate what we say as for veracity and accuracy. If they’re just a bunch of Commie goons; no offense, Comrade Academician Ivan, they’ll get all pissed off, kick us out, and we get to go home and enjoy our triple Force Majeure pay.” Ivan walks over and deliberately steps on the toes of my newly polished field boots. “In Soviet Russia, field boots walk on YOU.” He laughs in his heavily inflected, and scary, Soviet-era speech… “Yes, I agree”, Joon adds, “But who is going to address this issue with our hosts? Perhaps one of our Russian comrades, as they are, or were, more politically aligned with our Korean friends and perhaps best understand the issue?” Ack speaks up, grinning maniacally, “No, I disagree. We should have the one person here who so encapsulates the ideologies and political leanings that they love to hate here so much. You know; the quiet, diminutive, and soft-spoken North American…” Dax recoils, “Oh, no! I’m not going out in front of this mob of ornery Orientals…” I smile wanly and tell Dax to cool out. “Relax, Dax. They’re talking about me.” “Oh, yes”, a collective group of voices replies, “Yes. Let out fearless Team Leader break the bad news to our Eastern Colleagues. That way we can gauge their reactions to being bounced around scientifically by a member of the Evil Capitalist Cartel.” “OK”, I reply, “I’ll do it. But be forewarned, my fine feathered fiends. I get stuck on a topic that’s not precisely my bailiwick, I’m going to throw your ass to the wolves. Remember, we’re all in this together.” Whoops, and catcalls were reduced to mumbles and ‘Aw, fucks.’. Chautauqua resumption was called and I asked for the floor. It was a bit off the agenda, but since they’ve been chewing the air for the last several hours, they understood it would be appropriate for us to at least try and get a word in edgewise. I downed my beer, and grabbed a fresh one as what I was going to say was going to be harsh, cut-and-dried, and rather pointed. But delivered in a pleasant manner. I hoped. This all had to be filtered through a series of translators, one for general conversational Korean and another for the more technical and scientific transliterations. I realized I was going to be up here for a while. So, I brought a cigar. One way or another, I was going to deliver our pronouncements and hell, I may as well be comfortable while doing it. . “Greetings and felicitations, my Eastern Colleagues. Let me first say how nice it is to be here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as part of the ….” I’m going to fast-forward through all the flowery bullshit and introductory happiness; I’ll going to just cut to the guts of the matter. “…Now, you do know why there has been virtually no oil, gas nor any other hydrocarbon related deposit discovered here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?” I asked by way of a rhetorical question. I sipped my beer and lit my cigar. In for a chon, in for a won. I let the buzzing subside on the side of our eastern counterparts. “Because, and please do not take this as insulting or derogatory, but as a statement of irrefutable fact, no one with the proper training nor experience has been looking. You’re historically guilty of applying the science incorrectly and letting dogma and politics guide your search, instead of the scientific method and the facts. Geology, like all natural science, is just as truth based on the facts for a capitalist as it is for a communist. Reality is not influenced by your beliefs, be they scientific or political, secular or spiritual, ‘trusted’ rather than ‘thought’; any more than by your wish that it wouldn’t rain today during a raging thunderstorm.” Little Boy over Hiroshima was dropped with less effect. Our Democratic People's Republic of Korea colleagues erupted into a chaotic mixture of stuttering, internecine yelling, accusations, and sputtering. Calling for decorum, I figured that since I was this far gone, I may as well push the plunger all the way to the bottom. “Gentlemen, I do not denigrate the science of geology as taught and practiced here in Best Korea.” I actually said that, sort of a slip of the tongue. Continuing, “However, one would not fish for Bluefin tuna from a rowboat in a pond with a fly rod. One does not hunt bear in the city with a slingshot. Just as one doesn’t search for oil and gas with mining engineers, geomorphologists, and seismologists.” I let that sink in and after the translation, they calmed a bit and wanted to hear the rest of what I had to say. I could sense a couple was less than thrilled with what I had to say, but forging onward… “One fishes for Bluefin tuna in the deep ocean with huge rods, reels and a specialist boat captained by someone with deep experience in hunting the elusive fish. One hunts bear in the proper environment, the taiga or forest, with the proper tools and guided by one with the education, learnedness, and experience to know how to make the hunt come out successful.” Hit them with some analogies they can relate to and digest. Now, go for the carotid. “Just like one does not hunt oil and gas without stratigraphers, sedimentologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists, and other oil and gas experts who have the education, experience, and knowledge to know where to look. Knowing which environment looks most conductive to hide your quarry, if you’ll pardon the pun, and how best to find them, the guys who know how to corral and de-risk them once you find them, and the engineers and technologists who know how to bring them to the surface so they can be utilized.” They had stopped being irritated and were listening in rapt attention. “My colleagues and I have spent the last few days going over, in detail the geology of your country. There is nothing we can see that would preclude the development, entrapment, and preservation of economic quantities of oil and gas. Ture, the geology is quite complex as is the structural history of the entire peninsula. That’s one other thing you will have to accept. Geology doesn’t give the tiniest shit about political boundaries. One must look at the big picture, and that doesn’t stop at some man-made borders. Ignore that fact at your peril, because if you continue to view the geology here as not existing across political boundaries, you are preadapting yourself for failure.” Drs. Ivan, Volna, and Morse make certain that everyone sees the ex-Soviets agreeing with the bushy-bearded, cigar-chomping American capitalist. “So,” I said, hoping to bring this little spit-balling session to a fortuitous close, “If we can have an agreement; scientific agreement, on these points, then I am certain we can find a way forward with not only this discussion but the program we can devise for the best Korean (notice phase shift?) geologists to take the project forward both scientifically soundly and economically successful.” My North Korean counterpart gets up from his seat in the conference room, goes to the keg, taps a couple of beers and walks up to the podium where I was standing. “Thank you, Dr. Rocknocker, for saying what needed to be said”, he spoke in perfect English as he handed me a beer. I grinned and gratefully accepted the beer. “Why, Dr. Chang Kwang-Su”, I said, as that was his name, “You old fraud. You do speak English; and very well, I must add.” “Yes, almost all of us do”, he relayed, “But, as you said, we are most reserved. We were more or less under orders of the ‘most illustrious’, to play coy, and act as if we spoke no English.” “I see.” I said, “I’ve worked in several FSU countries as well as Russia and saw that there as well. I guess old habits die hard.” “That they do, Doctor.”, he replied, “But, we must now tell you the truth. We knew exactly what you said is true, and we agree. We are not as totally insulated from the outside world as some suspect.” “Well, I was going on what your superiors related to us. Like the police that had all their toilets stolen, I had nothing else to go on.” I replied. “Ah, ha! Quite!”, he chuckled, “We had long suspected that we were lacking in certain areas of scholarship. What you said cements that fact as it was an independent conclusion. We can now present that to our superiors with the caveat that unless we bolster work and training in these areas, the hunt of hydrocarbon resources here will be for naught.” “I am relieved”, I said, truthfully. “I was slightly concerned that some might take umbrage to being told their science is not up to specifications. I tried to be the bearer of that bad news but deliver it gently. Here, I find you need that to use that as a truncheon to smack one’s boss upside the head and tell him that an upgrade is required. And fast.” “Ah, so”, he replies, “We are in total agreement. Now that is out of the way, we would appreciate it if you’d help in designing a course of study for up and coming local geoscientists. Then, we can go forward with a great plan to search for oil and gas here in…Korea. Correct?” “Absolutely”, I remarked, “You’ve got over 400 man-years of science and exploration expertise here in this room alone. Let’s shoot for the moon, so to speak. Let’s get you up to speed on scientific journals and articles that are available out there in all of academia and industry. Let’s get you communicating on a global basis. Let’s prove that you can talk science with global scientists and still not have it affect your political or nationalistic aspirations one little bit. Let’s see if we can drag you, figuratively speaking, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.” “Doctor”, Dr. Chang remarked, “You are the embodiment of what we were always told what Americans are. Brash, loud, confident, and evil. Except for evil, you are American as we were led to believe.” “Hey, I take that as a compliment”, I exclaim. “You think that’s bad, I’ve got a bunch of earnest Europeans, raucous Russians, and a couple of cagey Canadians on my side as well. Before we’re finished here, we’ll have you ordering hachee, dining on Caldo Verde, snacking on salmiakki, drinking Russkaya vodka with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, eating poutine, and rooting for the Packers.” “Doctor, I don’t know what half of that means, but I hope it comes to pass. It sounds most fascinating.” Dr. Chang chuckles. The rest of the day was spent with various groups crystallizing and breaking off from the main crowd; then reforming as different groups. This was good, as it showed an interest across not only national borders but across ideologies and scientific specialties. Most everyone here spoke English with some degree of fluency, so the translators were called in only occasionally. I made certain they were included in everything that transpired that day. I want everyone to feel ‘part of the team’. How better to show the classlessness of Western science to include everyone in on both sides of every discussion and activity? To be continued…
From The Halls of Montezuma to the Depths of Outer Space: The Long Deployment (conclusion)
From The Halls of Montezuma to the Depths of Outer Space: The Long Deployment (conclusion) The rear ramp on the gunship shut with a clang just as the torpedoes detonated. The gunship was still in a nose dive to the ground when the concussive force of the blast created a shockwave which knocked the gunship off its terminal dive angle. Warning lights and alarms screamed inside the cockpit, but the rugged little gunship held together, despite the battering she had just taken. With one last heave, Jennifer pulled up on the stick with every ounce of strength that she had left. The gunship shot up, narrowly missing the black, jagged, landscape which seemed to rise up to meet them. Jennifer pulled the stick to the left, attempting to get past the periphery of the blasted black landscape and over to where the land was alive and green and beautiful. “We’re clear of the anomaly!” Warrant Officer Nasri’s voice boomed into the intercom over the rising pitch of the thrusters. “Is everyone okay back there?” “We’re a little banged up,” said SSgt Talley into the intercom speaker, looking down and frowning at the wet spot on her armor where Seashell Killary pissed herself. “But we’re fine. The medic is handing out boo-boo band aids and lollypops.” “Okay,” chucked Nasri. “Where’s Lieutenant Gabriel?” “Oh, uh, he’s hanging around, ma’am,” said Sgt. Hernandez. “I see,” said Nasri. “Well, when he’s done farting around, let him know that we have comms with the Galveston City. They’ve got freedom of maneuver and are in orbit waiting to retrieve us. We should be docked in fifteen to twenty mikes.” Lieutenant Gabriel hung upside down six feet above the deck of the cargo bay, his mag-locks holding him in place. His arms were wrapped tightly around Pfc. Chensi and he looked down at her, surprised to see her crying. “You okay, Hitchiro?” he said. “Are you hurt?” Chensi looked up at her platoon leader, wiping a tear from her eyes. “No, sir! I lost my flame-rifle! You know how much those things cost? I’ll never be able to pay for a new one with the shit that the corps is paying me!” “You saved our asses down there,” said Gabriel. “We’ll buy you a new one!” Chensi smiled weakly. “I’d rather have a promotion. Maybe a few days to hang out with you and Warrant Officer Nasri in Vegas?” Lieutenant Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Will someone get this little turd off my hands so that I can get down from here?” The USS Galveston City remained on station for an additional 48 hours over Willow’s World as the members of 4th Platoon underwent decontamination procedures. In that time, all of the platoons vid-cam footage was sent to the Fleet to be scrutinized and examined extensively by scientists, geologists, biologists, astrophysicists, and the clergy. The opposition politicians also wanted to examine the vid-cam footage as well to see if they could find evidence in which to convict the Marines (and, by association, their Commander-in Chief) of any heinous war crimes real or imaginary. With the USS Galveston City’s sensors functioning normally now that the entity had been weakened and its ‘beam-horn’ (as the Marines called it) was destroyed, the Galveston City was able to peer down into the dead area anomaly. The entity was still alive, alive being a relative term, and still stumbling around within the dead space which it presumably was responsible for creating. Apparently, the horned entity could not leave that area of dead space to set foot on the surrounding lush, living landscape. The prevailing theory was that the entity was not originally of this planet, having arrived sometime in the past and probably buried itself into the ground where it slowly began draining the life energy of its surroundings which, over time, expanded the deadness to over one hundred twenty miles in circumference. In the meantime, the entity had used its weird beam to snag any star ship which came into range and dragged it to its doom on the blasted rock formations below where the entity again fed off the life forces of those it had ensnared, reanimating the corpses whenever they were needed to do its bidding. Basically, it was a giant parasite. Commander Travis had suggested using one of the Galveston’s tac-nukes on the creature, just in case it had the power to re-grow its beam horn again. But that was quickly shot down by the globo-corporations and their R and D departments who wanted to investigate the numerous wrecks of alien vessels which had been brought down in the dead space. They feared that a tac-nuke might damage the alien vessels which were no doubt holding advanced weapon development secrets that could benefit mankind. For his part, Lieutenant Gabriel couldn’t care less. After they leave orbit and the K-Hawk gets underway for earth, Willow’s World and everything associated with it would be the USS Ranger’s problem. He was just happy that this deployment was finally over and that he would be returning with his entire platoon safe and intact. Oh, and that the two snot nosed VIPs were also safe and sound also, he guessed. They were both tucked away in Commander Travis’s own crew cabin since the corvette didn’t have an executive VIP suite. Groaning, Gabriel looked down at his data pad. He was sitting in the galley, enjoying a moment of alone time with a nice hot mug of coffee. He hadn’t even finished his report on the Mont Caberu mission and now he had to write a report about this one. Pfc. Chensi strolled up and sat across from him, setting down a tray of cereal on the metal table. “Man, sir, these fleet guys know how to live,” she said, cutting up a fresh banana and strawberries to put in her cereal. “Maybe I joined the wrong branch?” “You most definitely did not join the wrong branch, killer,” said Gabriel. “I know,” said Chensi. “Oh, by the way, your eyebrows are growing in nicely, sir. Maybe you won’t look so hideous by the time we get back.” Gabriel rolled his eyes up at her. “Is there a reason you’re sitting here picking on my eyebrows, Private?” Chensi scooped a spoonful of fruit laden cereal into her mouth. “Yes, sir! Are you writing your report on our mission on Willow’s World?” “I could be,” said Gabriel. “Are you at the part when I dragged those two idiots… I mean, VIPs… up to the top of the wreckage and flamed all them dead things?” “As a matter of fact,” said Gabriel, “I’m just getting to that part.” “Great!” said Chensi. “Because I just wanted to make sure that you spelled the word ‘incinerate’ correctly.” … Jennifer Nasri stepped out of the shower, wrapped in one of the thick, soft, luxurious towels which made The Ultra Luxorious Hotel and Casino Complex towels the most stolen towels on the Las Vegas strip. It had been over forty days since they had successfully completed their mission to Willow’s World and three weeks after the USS Kitty Hawk docked at San Diego Orbital Naval Base before she and Samuel could finally start their three week vacation to Vegas. Yes, originally it was two weeks, but Seashell Killary had stunk up the cockpit of Jenn’s gunship again on the way back. Apparently, they only had caviar, sardines, and boiled eggs in that pantry they were trapped in for over a week. So naturally, Sam would have to cough up another week in Vegas. Secretly however, Jenn was hoping that by their third week in Vegas, Sam might get the hint that Jennifer Nasri-Gabriel had a nice ring to it. She walked from the steaming bathroom across to the Ultra Luxorious king sized bed with the thick, comfortable mattress. Sam was lying in bed, already dressed in a red polo shirt and his favorite well worn faded blue jeans, waiting for Jenn to get out of the shower so that they could partake in what was fast becoming their favorite pastime since returning from over a year out in space: attacking the dinner buffet. Sam had the 74” vid-screen turned on to Galactic News Network. The image on the screen showed Seashell Killary wearing a tight fitting light blue pant suit combination standing together with Hunter Hyding, who was wearing a sharp looking black suit. The couple was on a large stage inside a crowded arena receiving medals, accolades and praise from their party leadership while thousands of people clapped and cheered. Red, white, and blue confetti fell from the rafters as veteran GNN senior reporter Runt Wolftard, the ‘most trusted news anchor in the galaxy’, sat at a desk and gave a glowing story of Seashell Killary and Hunter Hyding’s successful mission to Willow’s World. “… and after taking a commanding position atop their crashed star cruiser,” Runt continued, “… Hunter Hyding and Seashell Killary rallied the platoon of panic stricken Marines which, ironically, were sent to rescue them. Though the Marines were wracked with fear at the sight of the unnamed danger, Hunter and Seashell used their natural born leadership gifts, undoubtedly passed to them by their parents, and led the Marines on a dangerous mission which successfully averted a tragedy on that planet. And even though the nature of the mission and the nature of the potential tragedy is considered classified,” Runt smiled knowingly into the camera, “some anonymous sources high up in government claimed that the unnamed potential tragedy was caused by none other than President Helania herself! Voters should keep this in mind when the elections roll around. I’m sure that if those thankful Marines were present here today, they would encourage all citizens in the galaxy to vote accordingly since clearly, this was all President Helania’s fault.” Hunter Hyding was joined by his father on the stage, former Vice President Bunker Hyding and Seashell Killary was joined by her father, Senator William J. Killary as they announced their intention to run as president and vice president to defeat President Helania in the next election by any means necessary. “Really, Sam?” said Jennifer, removing her towel and using it to dry her hair. “Eight thousand channels on cosmic-cable, one thousand of them porn channels, and this is what you’re watching?” “It’s on all the channels, Jenn,” shrugged Samuel. “Even the porn ones.” He sighed, as if he had stepped boot deep into a steaming pile of xeno-droppings. “Still though, none of that galactic pomp and circumstance bullshit can compare to the little ceremony we had on the deck of the K-Hawk where we got to promote Sergeant Hernandez to Staff Sergeant and Pfc. Chensi to Lance Corporal. It’s nice, really. Forty-two of us deployed. Forty-two of us returned. Banged up. Probably scared for life. But drunk and happy, just the way we Marines like it.” “Well, yeah, that’s true,” said Jenn, climbing on the bed and straddling Sam. With an aggravated groan, Jenn grabbed the remote out of Sam’s hand and pointed it at the vid-screen. “Just do me a favor,” she said, pressing the ‘off’ button. “For as long as we’re on earth, turn that GNN shit off!” Marine Corps Rank Pronunciations SSgt- Staff Sergeant (read as ‘staff sergeant’) Sgt- Sergeant (read as ‘sergeant’) Pvt- Private (read as ‘private’) Pfc- Private First Class (read as ‘PFC’) LCpl- Lance Corporal (read as ‘lance corporal’) Cpl- Corporal (read as ‘corporal’) 1LT- First Lieutenant (read as First Lieutenant or Lieutenant) 4th Platoon, Delta Company Platoon Leader- 1LT Samuel Gabriel (m) Medic- LCpl. Chapman (m) CommSpec- LCpl. Maggas (m) 1st Sqd: Sqd- Ldr-SSgt. Boyer (m) Tm Ldr- Sgt. Barlow (m) Tm Ldr- Cpl. Hatcher (f) Automatic Rifle Gunner- Pvt. Houser (m) Asst. Automatic Rifle Gunner- Pvt. Barner (f) 2nd Sqd: Sqd. Ldr- SSgt. Talley (f) Tm Ldr- Cpl. Cotto (m) Tm Ldr – Cpl. Parker (m) 3rd Sqd: Sqd. Ldr- Sgt. Hernandez (m) Flame-Rifle Gunner- Pfc. Chensi (f) Tm Ldr- Sgt. Watson (f) Tm Ldr- Cpl. Palkovic (m) Rifleman- LCpl. Mixley Pilot: Warrant Officer Nasri USS Kitty Hawk- assault carrier USS Ranger- assault carrier USS Galveston City- patrol corvette CSNS Sydney Point- colonizer ship CSNS New Castle- luxury cruiser CSNS Mont Caberu- science freighter
Last Updated: Feb 24 Map: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1L-UaowXGzmHHw35AOuZwiDn_iiUODm09&usp=sharing I put together a map of confirmed public parking near the Dome, as well as some information on pricing (though I cannot guarantee these prices, parking companies are really bad about publishing event prices). The map is color coded, with surface lots in blue, garages in purple, free parking (see below) in green, confirmed tailgates in black, and lots to avoid in red. The map also has 18 Metrolink Park & Ride Lots, all of which are free, and my top picks are in yellow (see below). Be sure to leave your comments about, getting to and from the Dome, parking, tailgating, or anything of the sort, and well be sure to add it to the map and the thread. Would love to try and get some accurate parking prices to save BattleHawks fans some green, and find out where everyone is going to be tailgating. Gates at the Dome will open 90 minutes before kickoff. Check the BattleHawks bag policy: https://www.xfl.com/tickets/xfl-clear-bag-policy Official BattleHawks Pre-Paid Parking link: https://www.stlouisparking.com/parking-reservations/ Tailgating Facebook Groups Last time I asked, this lot is SOLD OUT It looks like there's one group in particular that has organized a big tailgate. STL BattleHawks Tailgate will be having a tailgate before each home game, hosted by Missouri Bar and Grill. The tailgate will take place in the lot at Convention and N. Tucker. Their page makes it sound like they are selling 'Season Passes' to the lot for $70, and any remaining ones for $20 a game, call the bar to purchase one: 314-202-8791. The whole 'hosted by Missouri Bar and Grill' is a bit unorthodox but sounds fun, they say they'll have shots girls, a 50/50 raffle, and a brunch buffet before the tailgate. I have my pass for the home opener. Set up is very nice, all grilling is okay, there's a guy bringing kegs, it should be a fun time. If it's anything like a Chiefs tailgate, you should be able to trade a few beers or a few bucks for a brat. Official Pre-Game Tailgate Party at Ballpark Village and in Baer Plaza "Join us for a tailgate party in the Ballpark Village located right outside St. Louis Cardinals Stadium. The tailgate party begins 3 hours before kick-off and includes fun for the whole family, including drink specials, music, and convenient access to the St. Louis BattleHawks pro shop for all of your gameday gear. You must have a valid game ticket to attend." The BattleHawks will have an official Pre-Game event at Ballpark Village, starting 3 hours before kickoff and ending 1 hour before kickoff. This is a ticketed event, BPV is selling tickets for $20, which comes with drink specials, a nacho bar, parking at BPV, and a shuttle ride to and from the game. The BattleHawks site implies that you can get into this event with a normal BattleHawks ticket, but it's not very clear if this is the case. This is a +21 event during the ticketed event, but actually watching the game at BPV is all ages. Parking at BPV, without a ticket for this event, is free for 3 hours with a validation. It also looks like the team is hosting some sort of events in Baer Plaza, which is next to the Dome, between Broadway and 4th Street. I can't seem to find any info on this besides a single tweet. Taking Metrolink to the Dome Using the Metrolink to get to the game is a good option for anyone who doesn't want to struggle with parking downtown, and the ensuing traffic after the game. The Convention Center Metrolink station is only 800 feet from the closest entrance to the Dome, with escalators and elevators. The Metrolink may be a smidge crowded, especially immediately after the game, but this it the absolute safest time to use it (though I will argue crime on the Metrolink is a bit exaggerated). Be sure to double-check which train you are getting on, as the Red & Blue lines overlap Downtown, and getting on the right train the first time instead of transferring at Forest Park is definitely preferable. Tickets are $2.50 each way, be sure to validate your ticket when you get to the platform. The map has 18 Park & Ride lots at Metrolink stations, all of which are free, and I've highlighted 3 stations in yellow as the most useful.
Brentwood I-64: From 40, exit at Brentwood Blvd and go straight towards Hanley Rd, turn right on Hanley, and make the very next right. From 170, exit at Eager Rd and turn left on Eager, then turn right when you pass over the Metrolink station. Take an Eastbound train towards Fairview Heights, and get off at Convention Center. On the way back be sure enter the Convention Center station on the north side of Washington Ave, and take the Westbound Blue Line Train towards Shrewsbury I-44.
Shrewsbury Lansdowne I-44: From 44, exit at Murdoch Ave and go straight towards towards Murdoch Ave, turn left on Murdoch, turn right on Lansdowne Ave, and immediately turn left into the lot. Take an Eastbound train towards Fairview Heights, and get off at Convention Center. On the way back be sure enter the Convention Center station on the north side of Washington Ave, and take the Westbound Blue Line Train towards Shrewsbury I-44.
North Hanley: From 70, exit at Hanley Rd and turn right on Hanley, make the very next left, and then turn left again. Take an Eastbound train towards Shiloh-Scott, and get off at Convention Center. On the way back be sure enter the Convention Center station on the north side of Washington Ave, and take the Westbound Red Line Train towards Lambert Airport.
Parking for Free at the Casino Probably the best option for parking at the Dome is to park at Lumiere Casino, as Trop Advantage Cardholders can park here for free, even for events. Getting a Trop Advantage Card is very simple, just go into the casino, go to the customer service desk, and ask to get a rewards card. Take this opportunity to confirm with the staff about the parking validation situation. Last time I parked here I was told I simply had to show the attendant my card, no need to validate anything inside the casino, but this may have changed. Worst case scenario, you may have to use your card at a slot machine once to get your parking validated. To get to the Dome, there is a tunnel that takes you from inside the Casino to the other side of 44. From the tunnel exit to the closest entrance to the Dome is less than 300 feet, perfect for cold or wet game days. I can't confirm this, but I've heard that in the Rams days, the parking attendant did not seem to mind people tailgating the surface lot, but this policy may have changed since then. Lots to Avoid
The parking lot for the HoteLumiere on 1st St is for hotel guests only, not for casino parking. Don't park here, you'll get towed.
I've also come across the idea of organizing a formalized Team Fan Club, similar to ones organized in Europe for their Soccer teams. The main purpose of this club would be to lease a parking lot for game-day and use the space for tailgating. Club members would pay an annual fee, which would secure the lease on the parking lot, and in exchange would have free use of the parking lot on game-days. Any extra spots could be sold day of game. An added benefit would be the 'Private Property' nature of the parking lot, which would legally allow us to properly tailgate, with legal drinking and grilling. There are a few properties near the Dome that could likely be leased at a reasonable cost.
Here is how to make the most of a one-week Mediterranean cruise and see as much of Europe that one can possibly manage in one week. I planned our cruise to minimize any unpleasant surprises and yet leave room to be spontaneous and adventurous. This article is not about cruise ships and you do not have to be a fan of cruises as my trip was mostly on land other than the overnight cruising. I felt that at the age of 57, I had delayed Europe long enough and with my busy business schedule, the cruise was the only way to get a snapshot of three countries and six cities in 10 days total, plus two days for flying from and to Canada. My wife does not like cruises, and I was left to travel with Lucas, our seventeen-year-old! In August 2018, Lucas and I flew to Barcelona, Spain, the embarking port for the Norwegian, Epic cruise ship. It was our very first time on a cruise and our very first time to Europe except for England. I do not recommend August or July for this trip as it is high season for local tourism, and it is too hot to walk the cities (well too hot for me). However, if you have kids in school, then you understand that it must be summer, unless you choose to go without them. Our ship would mostly cruise at nighttime giving us a full day from 7 am to 6 pm in most cities. That was perfect for me because there is only so much staring at water I can enjoy, and spending time in a tiny casino or eating non-stop are not my kind of pastime. If you are a cruise fan, then Norwegian Epic is great. They have about 10 wonderful restaurants, a superbly well-organized huge buffet with great selection of international food, a nice water park on the upper deck, and even a youth club with games, music, and dance to keep your teens entertained. Every evening after our long city walk, Lucas and I enjoyed a nice meal after our shower and then watched a show or a musical performance before we hit the sack in our comfortable balcony room. I do not like closed spaces and a balcony room was well worth the small difference in price, even though we did not have much time to be on the balcony. Epic was also completely renovated in 2015, which meant it was clean and up to date on amenities. Always check the year the ship was build or was renovated before committing to a cruise. Our cruise had stops in these cities: 1- Barcelona, Spain - embarking a. visit Gothic centre, La Rambla, La Sagrada Familia church, Park Güell, 2- Naples,Italy a. Rented a car and drove to Sorrento (an hour drive) 3- Rome, Italy a. Took the train to the city centre and then the city tour-bus to Vatican City, San Angelo Castle, Piazza di Spagna – drove past Colosseum 4- Florence and Pisa tower, Italy – walking tour, site seeing 5- Cannes and Nice,France – walking tour, site seeing 6- Mallorca (Majorca), Spain - took a taxi to Palma Nova beach, swam and chilled What to pack? We traveled very light with one carryon and a backpack. The backpack was for our extra stuff and NOT for touring the city. I do not recommend walking with a backpack, even less in the summer. Other than the usual travel items, here are some essentials I had to buy. 1- Light and cool walking shoes that were comfortable for walking and cool for summer. I bought a pair of nice leather sandals with good support and solid straps for walking. Also packed a pair of dress shoes for evening dinner on the ship and exercise shoes that I never used! 2- Summer shirts. I ordered some European collared Linen shirts. They look nice, are cool, and comfortable. www.bensherman.com has a good selection of those if you live in Canada or USA. Pack lots of tees for less formal places. 3- A couple of dress pants (linen and or khaki) for the evening restaurant and shows and dress shorts for long walks. 4- Beach sandal and swimming trunk for the Beach in Mallorca which I ended up buying in Cannes 5- Your credit card, Euro currency, and travel documents of course. Leave them in the safety box in your room and only take what you need for the day. Barcelona, Spain: We arrived Barcelona three days ahead of schedule to experience one city for more than just a day. We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Violeta (http://violetaboutique.com/home/) in the centre of the city and only three blocks from the Plaza Catalunya. It was the best and most centric location in my opinion. I loved the hotel. Violeta was a small hotel that reminded me of my apartment in Buenos Aires. The hotel is in a residential apartment building where they had turned two floors into hotel rooms. The Gothic architecture offered us a giant completely renovated room with a very high ceiling. We had two queen size beds in our room, a sitting area and plenty of open space. The reception was extremely helpful with information, and being small, made check-in a breeze. Violeta Boutique also included a European coffee and pastry breakfast but if you wanted an American breakfast, there was a small cafe next door on the street level and plenty of other options within a three-block radius. Our three days in Barcelona coincided with the Fiesta de Gracia (thanksgiving!) which was a 20-minute bus ride from Plaza Catalunya. I had bought a 10-ride Metro-Bus pass (Credit card size) from the Metro (subway, underground) station at Catalunya. Fiesta de Gracia was in the Garcia neighborhood where all the streets were colourfully decorated by the residents and live bands played all night on the streets and restaurants had set outdoor patios. The music was free, the food was reasonably priced, and people were jolly. It was my second favourite part of our time in Barcelona and we went there two evenings. Barcelona Gothic city From the airport, we took a bus straight to Plaza Catalunya (Plaça de Catalunya) in 20 minutes and then walked three blocks to our hotel. I had the hotel directions Googled (searched) in advance. I am fluent in Spanish (the Argentine version) so taking public transit was natural for me. Although Barcelona is a destination for international tourism and most people in the industry seem to speak English. I bought a SIM card for my phone (which was unlocked in advance) at the airport for €30 from Vodafone (https://www.vodafone.com/) that gave me 10 Gig of mobile data covering most of Europe for up to a month. It did not include coverage on the cruise ship. La Rambla and the old Gothic city in Barcelona were 10 to 15-minute walk from our hotel or Plaza Catalunya. You want to spend half a day walking this area, watching the beautiful shops, the narrow streets of Gothic centre and try a street café or restaurant. La Sagrada Familia is a must see for its architecture alone. We took a bus there, but you must purchase tickets in advance if you plan to go inside on a specific day and skip the long lineup. This is another half-day venture unless you want to tour the outside which is fascinating enough. I found it amazing to see how much craft and detail was offered to decorate the exterior of the building. It is no wonder that the new extension brings a modern and plain contrast that just does not quite match the elegance and masterful craftsmanship of the old. https://preview.redd.it/vtg8evyjdv851.jpg?width=3024&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=777149d10c02a875134f6fab5d5ae73072cbf3b7 Park Guell is another 20-minute bus ride to the higher altitudes of Barcelona. It is a beautiful park with some very interesting structures left behind. It was a good half-day break from the city to relax and enjoy the nature. You can also see the entire city from the top. Restaurant can be pricey in the touristy Plaça de Catalunya area. I managed to venture a couple of blocks off the main streets and find some local small restaurants. We had a great satisfying meal at a fantastic price and mingled with the residents. I even found a little Italian owned pizza place! Of course, we also tried the more refined tapas restaurants. After all, we were tourists. Naples, Italy: The longest leg of our cruise was from Barcelona to Naples which took a full day at sea. That was perfect because it provided us the opportunity to navigate the ship and the amenities, learn the evening programs, browse the list of restaurants, and to start our reservations. I did not think that Naples had enough to interest me for the whole day and I hungered to see the Amalfi coast. Amalfi coast was too far for a day trip, so I decided that Sorrento and maybe Positano would be close enough. I rented a car from Hertz in advance which was a five-minute walk from the port. The car cost me about $150 Canadian, tax included! Luckily, I still remembered how to drive standard transmission (stick-shift). We made it to Sorrento on the scenic highway with no problem. Traffic did slow at some points giving the driver (me) an opportunity to enjoy the scenery. About 10 minutes before arriving, atop the hills on the narrow road that took us to Sorrento, I found a little space to park the car and breath-in the fresh view of Sorrento waterfront. We could see the sail boats floating on the Mediterranean blue water, and the colourful little houses built on the slope of the hill from the top all the way to the sea. The buildings were in so many colours as if the quaint Sorrento were architected by Michelangelo to be lived by DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Sorrento from the road top Sorrento was so beautiful that we spent the entire day there. We parked the car in an underground parking across to Gran Hotel Europa Palace (www.europapalace.com) on the hilltop. We must have spend about 45 minutes roaming the exterior of the hotel, admiring the architecture and the impressive iron gate, and then spending time on the back patio taking a closer look at the colourful buildings on the hill rolling down to the water. There were stone walking paths from the houses to the water where a giant deck with seats and shades turned the sea into a giant public pool. Sorrento Hotel The ladies in reception were extremely helpful offering us information and allowing me to charge my mobile since I had forgotten my charger! According to one of them, the German war maps were still on the lobby walks behind the giant paintings at this fortress (now hotel). I wanted to go down to the waterfront for lunch. So, the nice lady called her friend, the owner of a restaurant on the waterfront, and they sent us a car at no charge and after lunch they drove us back. The ride to the water was through narrow winding streets of Sorrento. After lunch we took a walk along the harbour and watched the sail boats rock on calm waters. I would like to spend a week or more in Southern Italy some day. I forgot to mention that my cousin lives in Naples working on his PhD. He was our translator for the day. This was our first encounter in forty years (that is a sad tale that should not ruin this travel story). On the way back, we sat in a very nice café in Naples and had an amazing coffee and pastry before heading back to our ship. Italian pastry is the best, with my apology to mom and all the Persians. Sorrento harbour Rome, Italy: The port for Rome is in Civitavecchia, an hour drive from Rome. A tour purchased from the cruise would have been around $300 CDN per person. I like to think that I am adventurous and enjoy experimenting the local ways as much as I can. However, I understand that you may think that I am just cheap. I am fine with that. My son (Lucas) and I took a five-minute bus ride to the train station and paid €10 each to take the fast train to Rome. I love trains a lot more than buses. We could have ventured Rome with local transit; however, our time was limited and we could not afford any time asking for directions. If I recall accurately, the daily hop-on-hop-off city tour was about €20 per person. To visit Rome and only spend one day should be a crime but a snapshot to calm my itching curiosity was the deal I had taken. I would say that Rome and Vatican City would require at least a week. There are many ancient Basilicas other than St. Peter’s each offering a unique history and that alone is well worth a week for me. The bus passed by the Colosseum, check mark. We were heading to the Vatican City knowing well that we may not make it inside. After all, Vatical city is a day by itself. The bus dropped us a few blocks away in front of San Angelo Castle also known as Mausoleum of Hadrianhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Sant%27Angelo. The castle was a tall cylinder-like giant stone building walled all around like a fortress. I thought we would take a quick tour of the place at €15 (it was free for minors “Lucas”). We ended up spending over two hours admiring the decorated walls and ceilings with painting that were full of stories, and the museum items there were placed in its numerous rooms. We climbed many rocky stairs all the way to the top of this tallest structure in Rome, ventured the narrow hallways and took some pictures on the roof. San Angelo Castle The entrance to Vatican City was a ten-minute walk. Before crossing the bridge over Tiber (Tevere) we sat on the patio of a river-side food booth to have a snack. We walked to Vatican City and spent an hour in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) observing the architecture, the elegantly attired Guards, the crowd lining up and the shops that lure the tourist. We took the tour bus back to Piazza di Espagna. This was the cleanest, most modern, and prettiest part of the city that our eyes had seen in the past few hours. The bus left us on the upper escalation of the Piazza where I took some pictures before descending the steep long set of steps into the centre of the shops and restaurants. We walked for about an hour window shopping and then found a restaurant patio in a pedestrian intersection. It was a touristy area but still reasonably priced. We certainly could give ourselves this one treat before heading back to the train station for our hour and twenty-minute ride back. Piazza di Espagna Total cost of our Rome venture including transportation, admissions, and food (for two) was €150. Lunch was the biggest expense. ** Picture Florence and Pisa, Italy: Another restaurant and show evening aboard the Norwegian Epic, and we arrived in Florence (port of Livorno) early morning. Getting to Florence by public transit was too complicated. A car ride from port of Livorno to Florence was about 90 minutes and to Pisa around 30 minutes. I was lucky to find a private mini-van taxi (a brand new eight-seater Mercedes) that needed two more passengers to get going. At €50 per person to take us to Florence and then Pisa and back, it was a great deal. This deal could have been booked online in advance for €40. A lesson learned here. The other people sharing our ride were a family of four from Montreal, and a mother-son pair from Los Angles. Everyone was very reserved and quiet. Lucas and I sat in the front with the driver and I spend the entire trip learning from our friendly driver. Florence is beautiful and quaint. However, I thought I had enough architecture in Rome and did not feel like lining up for an hour to see another church. We took a walking tour of Florence and had a meal at small sandwich joint run by two very funny and entertaining ladies. They offered a great selection of artisanal sandwiches, but almost two years later now, I cannot remember what I ate. Pisa was another little town walled all around. I can imagine the great length the leaders had to go to protect people from attacks and we so often take our freedom for granted. Of course, we must protect ourselves from partisan politics and corporate lawyers, but that is easily manageable. At this point of the trip, I had enough sight seeing. I would have been good with a video of Pisa on YouTube. Here is a picture of the magnificent but defected marble structure. Florence Residents sunbathing in Florence Pisa Canes and Nice, France: Canes, France was physically the most beautiful city on this trip, in my opinion. It was manicured clean and peaceful. Canes did not have a port for the cruise ships, hence we had to anchor in the sea and take the emergency boats to the shore. The emergency boats were giant, and each held about 200 people. We had a short time here and we were tired. I should have taken a tour bus, but my sense of adventure (or cheapness) had us walking up the steep and narrow winding street and then back down to the city centre for a bite. I found a small sandwich shop to share a ham and cheese baguette and a couple of drinks with Lucas. In my broken French, I asked the young lady behind the counter if she could cut the baguette in half for us and she gave me a stern “Non”. I am not certain whether that was a lack of courtesy or I had crossed some religious or cultural boundaries. It was simple enough to split the baguette with me hand. We should have continued our tour of the city and stayed in Canes as I had advised our friends from Quebec. However, a sudden urge came over me to take the train to Nice. We did, and Nice’s downtown and beach area were beautiful to walk; however, the injustice I did to my own principals of travelling is unforgivable. The whole day was just too rushed and consuming. Canes, City Market Mallorca (Majorca) Spain: The trip from Canes to Mallorca was the second longest leg of the cruise. We arrived Mallorca around 1 pm giving us roughly five hours on the Island. After seven days of walking the cities in the heat of August, even the young Lucas was exhausted. The port in Mallorca was not walking distance to any interesting place and Lucas wished to spend the day at a beach. Great idea, I thought. I Googled the most scenic beaches nearby and Palma Nova was the second choice but the only feasible option due to our limited time. We had a brief line up for a taxi right at the port. There was a family of five from Peru from our cruise in front of us in the lineup and they could not all fit into one taxi. I invited the grandpa of the family to come with us since they were heading to the same beach. Grandpa was a good companion and an opportunity for me to learn about Peru. We agreed on a time for going back together and then split to our ventures. Palma Nova was perfect to spend a day. The beach had the right amount of crowd and was decorated by some rocky hills on one side for us to take a walk in between swims. The water was perfectly tempered, calm, and clear blue. There were no high rises nor big tourist hotels on this beach and plenty of restaurants and shops. For lunch we crossed the street on the beach to a patio and I shared a nice pizza and drinks for €12. We paid €15 for the bamboo umbrella and two chairs to have our spot on the beach and about €35 total for the taxi ride back and forth. That brings our total to €62 for a beautiful relaxing day in Majorca. Palma Nova beach, Mallorca I would like to spend a week in Mallorca. There are many scenic quaint towns and beautiful beaches to enjoy. If you are interested to know more, you can search for Palma, Sóller, Valldemossa, and Pollença. All these are on the west side of the island and within an hour drive from Palma. I would stay in Palma and make day trips to each of these towns. If you are a tennis fan, then you will probably add Rafael Nadal’s academy (https://www.rafanadalacademy.com/en) to the list, which is about an hour drive east of Palma. Palma Nova beach, Majorca Our last night on the cruise was concluded by a beautiful three course meal and listening to a live band on the middle deck’s lobby. There was a talented singer among the passengers and a few great dancers on board who joined the performance. It was a great way to end the cruise. We arrived Barcelona early morning, well rested, with a fresh shower and a full tummy. We found a taxi and headed straight to the airport to catch our noon flight back to Toronto without rush. I suppose my project management trainings mixed with my entrepreneurial nature, made a perfect schedule for the trip. You can check out www.pmi.org if you are interested in formalizing your skills for time and budget management.
DURING a briefing from the Situation Room at State House, Dr. Kalumbi Shangula, the Minister of Health and Social Services introduced the new guidelines that Namibians will have to follow during Stage 3 of the State of Emergency. President Geingob at the start of the briefing announced that Stage 2 will be lifted at midnight on Monday evening. The guidelines for Stage 3 and Walvis Bay’s return to Stage 1 are set out as follows: THE NEXT LEVEL OF MIGRATION FOR NAMIBIA On Monday the 1st June 2020 at 23:59, all 14 regions, with the exception of the Walvis Bay Local Authority Area, will transition from STAGE 2 to STAGE 3, until 29 June 2020, for a period of 28 days or two Covid-19 incubation periods. Due to recent epidemiological developments, Walvis Bay Local Authority Area will revert to STAGE 1 from the 2nd June 2020 to the 8th June 2020 (7 days). The observance period will be monitored on a weekly basis and may be extended, subject to changes in the country epidemiological situation. STANDARD HEALTH AND HYGIENE GUIDELINES A relaxation in restrictions requires heightened vigilance and responsibility at a personal, community and organisational levels. The public is urged to adhere to the following guidelines: Continue Social Distancing protocols of at least 1.5 meters between persons, to minimize the potential risk of infection. Each person is required to wear a facemask, as defined in the Regulations, when using both private and public transport, shopping, outdoor group exercise, public spaces and at the workplace. Increase hygiene interventions, e.g. public hand washing utilities and consumables, including installation of sanitizer equipment within public and work places. Increase cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces including public transport and all public facilities including schools, buses, play park equipment, shared water access points, public restrooms among others. Anyone with symptoms of a dry cough, high fever and shortness of breath should avoid public places and rather call the Toll-Free Number 0800-100-100 or 911 or consult a health facility or community health worker to be advised on what to do. Businesses are required to keep a register of customers, recording the time of patronage, full name and contact details, to assist with possible contact tracing. The public is urged to cooperate with authorities in maintaining the health of the population. MEASURES UNDER STAGE 3 These measures are applicable to 14 regions with exception of the Walvis Bay Local Authority Area. EDUCATION Early Childhood Development, Primary, Secondary Schools and Vocational Training Providers to resume face-to-face medium of instruction, with daily screening of learners/students. Any learnestudent or staff displaying COVID-19 related symptoms should stay home and alert the school health authority. The school authority should immediately inform the local health authority for intervention. The School-feeding scheme to resume. The resumption of face-to-face instruction will be phased in as follows: From the 3rd of June Grade 11 and 12 learners will return to school; on the 8th of June Vocational Training Centres will re-open for students; pre-primary to Grade 3 learners will return to school on the 22nd of June; Grade 7 and 9 learners will return to school on the 6th of July while learners in Grade 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 will return to school on 20 July. The academic year for all students and learners will end on the 18th of December. POINTS OF ENTRY Closure of all points of entry and comprehensive restrictions on cross border movement of persons will remain in force, with exception of the transportation of imported goods. Repatriated Nationals to submit to mandatory, government supervised quarantine upon arrival. PUBLIC GATHERINGS Public gatherings during this period shall not exceed 50 persons. This includes weddings, funerals and religious gatherings. The Ministry of Health and Social Services has developed measures to address the risk of cross border importation and spread of COVID-19 into the country, with particular focus on truck drivers. 6.1. Truck drivers are to adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures for designated supervised points, namely, border points, truck ports and depots, fueling stations, banks and quarantine facilities, in line with regional SADC protocols. A mandatory test will be conducted by the Namibian Government each time, upon arrival. The truck driver will be permitted to proceed to final destination, pending test result outcome. Upon arrival at destination, all truck drivers, both Namibian and non-Namibians are to be subjected to mandatory, Government supervised quarantine for the duration of their stay in Namibia. All drivers arriving in Namibia will be screened, tested on arrival and quarantined for not less than 14 days. A second test will be conducted towards the end of this period. Truck Operators are to submit deviation reports from the satellite tracking systems, to law enforcement agencies, within 72 hours of occurrence. Logistic/Transport industry is encouraged to pursue Truck Driver Relay System. VULNARABILITY Employers are encouraged to allow employees in vulnerable conditions/categories as defined in the Regulations, to continue working from home as far as feasible. Vulnerable Persons are encouraged to observe specified shopping hours. Face to face visits to Old Age Homes are suspended. Caretakers to wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment. The public is encouraged to observe measures to limit exposure of persons in vulnerable conditions or categories, as far as possible. The distribution of the Old Age Social Grant to be conducted in accordance with strict Social Distancing protocols. BUSINESSES The following businesses will be permitted to resume activities under STAGE 3, subject to the Health & Hygiene Guidelines stipulated under Section 2 above, and in fulfilling the following additional requirements: Restaurants, Cafes & Kapana Traders These businesses may reopen for sit down dining, in adherence to the Directives of the Liquor Act and the Operational Guidelines as provided by Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade (MIT)), stipulating the number of persons permitted inside an establishment per square meter. Restaurants may only open for pre-booked customers, no walk-in clients permitted. This provision does not apply to informal traders. The public is reminded to avoid sharing public pens in completing Customer Registers. Food/buffets in restaurants should only be handled by service staff. Liquor Outlets, Shebeens, Bars Businesses may operate under normal working hours but limit the sale of alcohol to 12:00-18:00, Monday-Saturday as per the Directives on the Liquor Act. No sale of alcohol permitted on Sundays. The buying and selling of alcohol is only permitted for takeaway. Consumption of alcohol is only permitted in private dwelling but not in public. Only holders of a valid Liquor License will be permitted to operate. Adhere to the Operational Guidelines as provided by MIT stipulating the number of persons permitted inside an establishment per square meter. Theatres, cinemas, libraries, galleries, theatres, museums, craft centers These are permitted to reopen, subject to adherence to the Operational Guidelines as provided by Ministry of Industrialization and Trade stipulating the number of persons permitted inside an establishment per square meter. Gyms and exercise centers Permitted to reopen, subject to adherence to the Operational Guidelines as provided by Ministry of Industrialization and Trade stipulating the number of persons permitted inside an establishment per square meter. Adhere to strict hygiene measures, including cleaning and disinfecting equipment after every use. Entertainment events, Seminars, Conferences, Workshops & Summits These are permitted to resume, subject to adherence to the Public Gathering limit and the Health & Hygiene protocols. Sporting events & activities These are permitted to resume with exception of contact sports as defined in the Regulations, subject to adherence to the Public Gathering limit and the Health & Hygiene protocols. Nightclubs, Gambling houses & Casinos. These activities remain high-risk and will not be permitted to resume activity during STAGE 3. PENALTIES OF VIOLATING REGULATIONS Non-compliance with Regulations is a punishable offense. For truck operators the penalty may include suspension of the operating license. The penalty for violating Stage 3 Regulations is a spot fine of N$2,000 or arrest. MEASURES FOR WALVIS BAY LOCAL AUTHORITY AREA His Excellency the President has just announced the lockdown of Walvis Bay Local Authority Area. You may recall that Case No 21 and Case No 22 are all from Walvis Bay. These two cases have primary contacts of more than 100 between them. The extent of secondary contacts remains unknown. It is for this reason that, while the rest of the country migrates to Stage 3, out of an abundance of caution, a special dispensation is introduced for Walvis Bay Local Authority Area. As part of this special dispensation, the following interventions are instituted: Restrictive measures that were instituted for Stage 1 as per Proclamation No 9, State of Emergency – Covid-19 Regulations will apply, to the whole of Walvis Bay Local Authority Area. These include the following: • Closure of Schools and Higher Education institutions; • Prohibition of public gatherings of more than 10 people; • Prohibition relating to travel and permit requirement; • Quarantine; • Restriction on movement of persons; • Critical services; • Prohibition relating to the sale of alcohol; and • Prohibition relating to certain operations and closure of certain businesses amongst others. Niël Terblanché - Informante media
Christmas Day 2019 This is an update from last year's list which is an update of some list from a year or two ago. Outdoor Activities If the weather is good (check forecast), here's some outdoor activities:
Rangitoto Island. Take one or more of the walks there. Definitely ensure you go up to the top of the crater for the view. Some people stay a bit longer and have a picnic morning tea/lunch. You can't buy lunch there. Rangitoto. It is a pest-free island reserve and so you have to ensure you leave it as you arrived. Info about visiting pest free islands. Ferry - Fullers timetable.
Ride around in a bike (ONZO). Maps and Rides suggested by Auckland Transport and Bike Auckland. On Bike Auckland's site, if you hover your mouse over the "Maps & Rides" menu, you'll find other options like easy rides.
There are other denominations like Methodists, Baptists, AOG, Salvation Army, etc. Just search for them. I suspect the local visitor info centre and hotels have a list for their guests.
I think these lists above are services in English. I don't see the services in other languages listed there. You will be able to find services in many pacific island languages and asian languages. It is a case of whether you'll find the particular combination you are looking for in a location you can get to on Christmas day.
Hoyts https://www.hoyts.co.nz/ Hoyts Sylvia Park, Te Awa (Hamilton), Riccarton (Christchurch) and Entertainment X were open on Christmas Day 2018. Unfortunately site won't load at the moment. There's a chance a few cinemas from this group will be open on Christmas day.
Public Transport Auckland Transport's Public Transport holiday timetables from 23 December 2019 - 12 January 2020. Waiheke ferry timetable (pdf). Food and Drink Go to the supermarket on Christmas Eve to stock up on food and essentials. No supermarket and most businesses will be closed on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is one of very few mandatory public holidays in NZ, even the casino is closed 24 hours. Only places allowed to remain open are petrol stations, some fast food places and restaurants. Hospitality businesses (restaurants, cafes etc) are able to charge a public holiday surcharge if they open on public holidays. If they do so they have to state clearly (ie sign at the door, or counter or menu). This public holidays are 25 and 26 December 2018, and 1 and 2 January 2019. FYI 26 December is also known as Boxing day in NZ. Alcohol cannot be served unless with a meal. So if something that looks like a pub is open, it is highly likely they are open to serve meals and you can order an alcoholic drink with your meal. Restaurants that are open tend to be fast food places like McDs, KFC, restaurants that are part of hotels, a few ethnic restaurants and maybe a handful of others.  That particular law applies only to Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day as well as before 1pm on Anzac Day. Legislation: Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012. Despite the date of the act, the law has been around for some time. 2010 news article about it. Sale and supply on Anzac Day morning, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas Day restricted: on-licences. Without any particular order:
Dairies are open. For tourist: Dairies in NZ are a local convenience stores often found dotted around NZ, usually local to a neighbourhood. Wikipedia). They are known elsewhere with other names bodega, superettes, 7-11 or the shop attached to petrol stations.
Other essential info Alcohol and smoking in public areas Please note that there's usually an alcohol ban in many public areas like bus stops, parks, reserves etc. This means you are banned from consuming alcohol publicly unless you are in a licenced establishment (ie restaurant). Alcohol bans are either for an event, for extended periods or permanent. For more information about alcohol ban in Auckland. Auckland Smokefree policy has a list of places where smoking is not permitted. This isn't limited to indoor areas only. It also includes parks, playgrounds, bus stops. With NY celebrations coming up I won't be surprised if there's both alcohol and fire bans in popular beach areas and parks too. Fire Season
As this is summer, there's usually a fire ban in many areas in NZ.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand is updating the fire seasons for Auckland. From Monday 2 December it will declare a restricted season across greater Auckland and a prohibited fire season across all the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A prohibited season means a total fire ban, with any current fire permits for the area suspended from the date the prohibited season starts. A restricted fire season means any open-air fires will need a permit.
JUST GOT OFF the NCL Bliss - My personal impressions (long)
Of course, the first disclaimer is “we all have different interests and likes.” We were excited to sail aboard The Bliss based on many good reviews. I was a little hesitant because of the size and number of passengers. We just returned from the 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise. Weather was meltingly hot and humid in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Cabo was quainter than we expected. The good stuff - and it’s almost all good! Large ship, very clean and easy to get around (walking) and navigate. Beautiful art. Fantastic chandelier at Ocean Place atrium! Nicely appointed. We had a balcony room, which was just fine. The closet is facing the sofa and it was quite awkward to access the hangers. I mean, there was 6” between sofa and closet door. Haha, we moved the bed down just a bit so we could squeeze in. There was room for summer stuff, but it might be tight to stow jackets and heavier clothing if you went to Alaska. The bathroom was great. The glass enclosed shower was really a nice touch. There was also a little coffee maker in the room, which we used often. We had a mid ship location, slightly forward, and it was not far from elevators except.... (see cons). We did not partake of any. speciality dining. The Local is open 24/7, and great for light meals. The Korean chicken wings were fabulous. The service was very nice. You could sit “outside” the restaurant, around the atrium, watching things happen, and they would bring you your food. Taste and Savor main restaurants were very good with very good service. We usually booked a reservation to avoid any wait. After all, there are a LOT of people on this ship. It wasn’t five star dining (i.e., when the waiters come to your table and lift off all the domes covering your food at once, etc.), but we liked it. The appetizers are small, so don’t hesitate to order more than one. The Manhattan room is larger and a bit noisy. We had the misfortune to go on a busy night with not many table choices. We were sat next to a table of 12 kids (parents were at different table). They were not bad kids...but they were kids, talking and doing all the stuff we all do. I mean, any party of 12 might be a little crazy. However, it took any quiet elegance away from the experience. The Garden Cafe is their buffet and breakfast is insanely crowded. We loved the Indian food, the soft serve ice cream, the omelette station. Really, things were quite edible. There is free Iced tea, coffee, lemonade and water. Gem of the ship: The Observation Lounge. This is truly an island of tranquility amidst a lot of action. It’s a large area, with great lounge chairs, views, and ambience. The PErFECT quiet space. Also, Suzanne Jade is wonderful at the Piano!! The Bliss theater is huge. Get there at least 15 minutes early to obtain a good seat. You need reservations for “Jersey Boys” so do that prior to departing if you can. They also had a production called “Six” which was lots of fun~! They say it will be going to Broadway in the future. Casino: pretty large with a LOT of slots. Most table games were 10.00 minimum, which meant we weren’t gambling. If you like pools and slides, you have come to the right place. The kids (of all ages) loved it. There is also “Spice H20” club which is more adult, if you don’t want quite so much frenetic action. The crowd tends to be younger and livelier than on other cruise ships. However, it wasn’t “spring break” antics! Just happy people. Most were super polite and we had some good laughs - especially about the elevator waits. The hot tubs were plentiful even on busy days. Surprise! The Gym/fitness had plenty of treadmills but not much more in the way of exercise activities. I think one cardio class that was maybe held there. I do my own thing, but if you are looking for a lot of organized classes, forget it. Bring your own water to center or sip from the fountain. I didn’t try the Thermal Suite, which is a big upcharge. Based on the crowds everywhere else, I’m glad i didn’t. I have a feeling every lounge chair would be booked. That’s not tranquility to me. (Save that for the Haven Lounge, which i’m such is quite refined). “The Waterfront” was nice to walk around during the day. It wasn’t crowded at all, so we sat there, looking out on the ocean, on one of the days at sea. Peace! We found the staff to be friendly and accommodating. Our room steward, Roel, was so sweet. We aren’t demanding, but he learned our schedule so when we went out, our room was quickly made up. Thank you, Roel! Take ten steps in just about any direction in a public area and you will find a very nice bar. I had two drinks on the vacation. They were each 13.30 with the tax and auto tip. A lot of people purchase the unlimited drink package. Keep in mind, even if it is a “free at sea” perk, the gratuities and tips are NOT, and they add up to at least 200.00 dollars - maybe more. - and everyone in your room has to purchase it. I liked that the smoking area in the Casino was closed off with glass doors. If you like to be casual, you will LOVE this cruise. There really is no real dress code. People wore shorts and flip flops everywhere except, i believe, in the uber fancy ocean blue restaurant. The “Cons” I’m going to start with the very worst thing that happened on the ship. The debarkation. I know, it’s always a drag, but this one was a REAL drag. People left their rooms and hung in the stairs well before it was their turn, creating a nightmarish traffic jam everywhere. There were ZERO elevators to take. We survived, but pity anyone who is even slightly handicapped. We literally stood in a roped off line that wended all through the ship, two persons wide: through the casino, restaurants, down the hall, make a turn, etc etc. etc. It took us over 1 3/4 HOURS to debark, and we were carrying our OWN luggage. Customs was a bit slow, but NOTHING compared to (what i felt) the haphazard and thoughtless way to make guests feel like cattle as they departed their vacation. Standing for THAT long, without able to use the restroom, get something to drink, even sit for a second - the absolute PITS. The obvious solution is to pay through the nose and book “The Haven” where there is preferred treatment. We couldn’t afford that, but, really, that’s the thing to do on this ship. Disorganized entertainment listings: Using the NCL app, it said that “The Beatles” at the cavern was SOLD OUT. Not “first come, first served” - which is how it really is!!! We finally caught on, but it was very misleading and even the box office wasn’t clear. She said, “oh it’s sold out but you have a waiting line.” No, it’s first come, first served, and maybe a waiting line for people who don’t get in. I have a feeling this also applied to the Social Comedy club and that we missed out, thinking that it WAS sold out. We didn’t find that many activities to do that we liked. That is just personal. Also, many featured things like “Deal or No Deal” have to be bought into, in order to even get a chance to play. It seemed that we were being nickel and dimed all the time. Some folks would say, “Well, i just pay for what i want and don’t overpay.,” Well said, but i like a more inclusive experience, I think. Excursions: Glad we didn’t do any based on the crazy crowds that lined up. However, we walked to the marina in Cabo San Lucas, and you can easily grab a little boat trip out to Land’s End for 10.00 - that’s right, 10 bucks - per person. It was really fun and lasted about 45 minutes. TV selection. I guess this is a cruise ship problem. There were few things to watch on TV. We like to chill in our stateroom in the afternoons, so it would have been nice to grab a movie or series. We saw one only (A STar is born). Crowds crowds crowds. This wasn’t just our observation. The place can be a madhouse after the end of any show. People crowd the elevator areas and it’s very difficult to get a lift during some hours. VERY difficult. During the “next” cruise presentation, NCL said that except for one ship, future ships were going to be a tad smaller. I wouldn’t rule out a smaller NCL ship. I didn’t like that they were always pushing the sale of some lotto ticket and chance to win money for the cruise. Like, before just about every show or presentation. Shopping: o.k. Not as many high end watches (if ya care) or other souvenirs. I’ve seen more on smaller ships. Just saying... Rooms: our end tables were 6” wide - that’s right, SIX INCHES - and everything kept on falling off. There were nice USB ports on the lamps. I didn’t find myself sitting on the balcony, BUT it was very fun to have when arriving or leaving port, or to grab a wonderful sunset. In conclusion, this was a very fun cruise for us, and we enjoyed the entertainment, but didn’t find that many other activities to draw us in. (The game shows were held in the very active, noisy Atrium, so they weren’t as engaging as they would have been if held in a smaller club or bar). All in all, I enjoyed my cruise on the Bliss. I don’t think i would sail her again because the crowd size and constant “pay for this” mentality that left me feeling a little disenchanted. It’s partly our fault, because we aren’t into go-carts and laser tag, which many adored. I think we prefer more of a classic shipboard atmosphere. It was GREAT that it wasn’t stuffy, but sometimes we missed certain traditional things. Also, the disembarkation was really really awful. They need to spread it out or find ways to manage the hoards better. People totally lost their civility, getting in line 1 hour before their “color” was even called. They packed the elevators and stairwells, preventing an organized exit. This made things almost dangerously crowded and difficult. Then again, pay for the upscale “Haven” and i bet it was an entirely different animal. But one still might venture out into the huddled masses (which is how I felt) and then, ugh, very crowded. They need to explain how the smaller clubs work on the ship (first come, first served) and not say “This is sold out” on the activities app. That was really annoying! I loved ditching the “formal nights” and that nonsense. I like “freestyle dining” although it is still wise to book a table if you also have other evening plans. If you can afford it, “The Haven” is the way to go. It will give you a respite from the crowds as well as a lot of priority perks (including disembarkation). I personally would book a smaller, more upscale ship if i were going to spend that money, BUT if I had teens and pre-teens, might consider this ship because of the water features, laser tag, and track. This is especially good for young adults and families, as there are singles cabins and plenty of music venues as well as that super water park and scary slides!
What Returning to Work Will Look Like in Offices, Cafes and Factories Around the World
Expect lots of temperature checks and one-way routes. ‘As we experienced in China, this will be a journey.’ Wearable social-distancing buzzers. Masked blackjack dealers. Drive-thru electronics purchases. From cubicles to factory floors, cafes to clothing boutiques, businesses around the world are dreaming up creative ways to reopen, attempting to start revenue flowing again while minimizing the risk to customers and employees. The global economy is riding on their ability to pull off that delicate balance. A new flareup of Covid-19 cases could shutter offices, stores, restaurants and manufacturing plants once again, further choking off the flow of goods and services and threatening more jobs. Some governments, such as China, are providing rigorous oversight of the process. Others, including President Donald Trump’s administration, have offered looser guidance and are entrusting businesses to monitor their facilities. Scientists are still studying how the virus is spread, and whether keeping people six feet apart is enough, adding to the risks. The companies’ plans rely on a steady supply of masks, gloves, thermometers and tests that is likely to strain budgets and manufacturers’ ability to keep up. Social distancing will be built in, with people divided by barriers and kept apart from colleagues and customers, a U-turn after years of movement toward open floor plans. Some companies will monitor employees more closely than ever before, while others will let workers choose how much protection they need. The way we work, shop, travel and eat in 2020 – and probably beyond – is being plotted out in boardrooms around the world. Here are the changes companies are contemplating for their workplaces in the coming weeks.
Seats on the shuttle bus to Unilever’s Shanghai offices can be reserved using a chat group. Employees must be masked to board, and they sit on alternating sides, one person to each four-seat row. Upon arrival, each worker scans a QR code and fills out a health status report to get a daily pass to enter. Then comes the temperature check and the hand sanitizer. Inside the office, movement is tightly regulated. Employees keep their masks on and are encouraged to use the stairs instead of the elevator, with spritzes of hand sanitizer before and after touching the regularly disinfected handrail. In the canteen, a single person is allowed at each four-seat table. Such measures might seem predictable in a centrally controlled society like China, but some version of them is starting to appear in the West. At Britain’s former state phone monopoly, BT Group Plc, call center workers sit two meters apart, and walkways are designated as one-way to keep people from brushing past each other. Temperature checks are becoming routine at Sistema, the Russian conglomerate, which also says it’s developed its own two-hour test for Covid-19. Employees who come to the office have been tested in the past couple of weeks, though as many as half of the call center workers at MTS, the mobile network controlled by Sistema, are operating out of their homes.
Flexible space operator Knotel, which runs offices for corporations including Uber and Netflix, says workplace design has to change. Offices will likely be less densely populated, and altered to make them “antiviral,” according to Amol Sarva, Knotel’s chief executive officer. “Things like ventilation, UV light, density screening, video monitoring, and temperature monitoring, cleaning protocols — those are all going to have to change,” he said. “Certainly there’ll be more space.” In China, Cushman & Wakefield has helped move nearly a million workers back into 800 million square feet (74 million square meters) of office space. The company is creating a Recovery Readiness manual for landlords and tenants, based in part on its experience in China, that includes colored carpets to create visual boundaries around desks, plexiglass shields between desks that face each other and signs that direct walking traffic in a single direction.
Even when people do come back to the office, meetings will be limited, and large gatherings are out of the question. This week, Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg canceled all physical events of 50 or more people through June 2021. The vast majority of employees are required to work from home through May, and those who need to carry on doing so will be able to work at home through the summer. The road to normalcy may be much longer than that. At Abcam Plc, a British protein research company, 40 out of 300 China-based employees started returning to work in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong on Feb. 14. Two months later, the company is running split shifts to maintain distancing for the roughly 50% of employees based in manufacturing, logistics and essential lab work.
On Feb. 10, Winly Automotive (Wuhan) Ltd. was assigned a checklist from the government. To reopen, the company would be required to have a one-month stash of masks and sanitizer, take a photo of the supplies, and send it to officials before submitting to a detailed inspection. “The policy has been constantly changing,” said Wang Xuepan, one of the plant’s managers. “It’s very difficult for us to handle.” In the Seattle area, Boeing Co. has worked with the Washington state labor department on a plan to reopen its factories. It will be doling out cloth masks to most workers, saving the gold-standard N95 masks for a select few in more hazardous conditions. Unlike office drones, factory workers have to show up in person to get the job done. Figuring out what basic protections they’ll need is part of the challenge. At Boeing, industrial engineers are analyzing the sequence of work on its assembly lines to find ways to spread apart workers.
Taking the Temperature
Airbus SE has divided employees at its plants into red and blue teams, who don’t see each other because they use different routes to enter and exit buildings. Volkswagen AG is allotting more time between shifts and reducing expectations for production because it takes longer for people to move around each other at a safe distance. Ford Motor Co. is experimenting with wearable devices that would buzz workers if they get too close together. While the virus can be transmitted by people with no symptoms, many manufacturers are doing temperature checks, whether with thermometers, thermal imaging cameras or — in the case of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in the U.S. — reusable forehead strips. Fiat Chrysler, whose CEO Mike Manley is one of the executives talking with Trump about reopening the economy, is requiring workers to fill out a health questionnaire two hours before reporting to work each day. They must bring either a hard copy, or scan a QR code with their phone, to prove they aren’t displaying signs of illness or exposure to the virus, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg. Workers can’t enter the plant without it. Some companies are closing cafeterias in favor of vending machines. Dongfeng PSA in Wuhan is handing out prepared lunchboxes to employees, who must eat at least 1.5 meters apart with their backs to each other. Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. said Chairman Li Shufu wrote a song to keep workers motivated through such dreariness. “A world full of expectations/Turned to dust of yesterday,” the lyrics go. “Their sorrow flowing into the sea/But the flower of love is quietly blooming.”
When air travel resumes in earnest, it’s likely that hand sanitizers, face masks and thermometers will become standard at most major airports, said David Powell, medical adviser for the International Air Transport Association, a trade group. All three have shortcomings, but can also reassure passengers, he said. The International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets global flying standards, wants to establish a “public health corridor concept.” Under such a plan, major airlines, airports, public authorities and other parties would adopt common protocols for screening, boarding, in-flight procedures, arrivals, customs and baggage. “We cannot all just stop flying,” Ansa Jordaan, the group’s chief of aviation medicine, said during an April 15 webcast. Emirates Airline said this week it was the first to conduct rapid Covid-19 blood tests, with results available in 10 minutes for passengers flying Wednesday from Dubai to Tunisia. It plans to extend the procedure to other flights, according to Chief Operating Officer Adel Al Redha. Other carriers are attempting less invasive measures. Etihad Airways, another major airline in the United Arab Emirates, plans to deploy touchless self-service devices at its hub airport in Abu Dhabi to identify travelers with medical conditions, including the early stages of coronavirus. In the U.S., American Airlines Group Inc. plans to continue spacing customers apart during boarding and flights, conducting extensive cleanings of aircraft and reducing food and beverage service to limit contact, CEO Doug Parker said in an April 15 video message. “When you do fly, aircraft cleanliness and social distancing matter greatly,” he said.
In China, it’s become standard to have your temperature taken any time you want to go shopping. Visitors to the Wuhan International Plaza luxury mall are checked for a fever at the door, before they queue up to be served one at a time at Louis Vuitton. Levi Strauss & Co. disinfects its Chinese stores three times a day and requires temperature checks for customers, who are expected to wear masks before entering the store. Fitting rooms and products that have been tried on are disinfected each time they’re used. It’s unclear whether practices implemented in China will make their way to other parts of the world, though several companies said they’ll learn from their experience in Asia.
Another technique is to keep shoppers out of the store altogether. Dixons Carphone Plc, the electronics retailer, is considering plans for contact-free “drive-thru” style stores to limit the risk of coronavirus for staff and customers. Shoppers would park outside, call the store to select items to buy, use a contactless system to pay and then open their trunks so staff could deliver the products. Salespeople at luxury retailers in China were already using social media to engage with customers before the outbreak, but they’ve stepped up the effort since, adding clients on WeChat and sending them information about the latest trends. Louis Vuitton tried showcasing its summer product line in a livestream show on March 26 featuring a social-media star, but was ridiculed for the quality of the video. Sometimes there’s no substitute for personal contact.
Buffets and salad bars will be re-thought, and self-serve drink stations may be “a thing of the past,” said Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel, who added that other changes are afoot at the 387-store chain. Taco John’s popular salsa bar — around for the past 15 years — may be removed. “We hope we don’t have to take them out — that we’ll be able to figure out a way to make them still work — but I’m afraid the fear factor our there will force us to go to a pre-packaged option.” A test of self-ordering kiosks may also get pulled back. “It was a good idea three months ago, but not so good today,” Creel said.
In China, restaurants and even bars have opened back up in Shanghai, with varying limits on seating arrangements – some allow six to a table, others only one. In Beijing, restaurants are doing temperature checks. In Wuhan, most places are still delivery-only. “In the short run, as dining rooms open back up again, you’ll probably see many restaurants space their tables a little bit further apart,” said Jack Li, CEO of menu researcher Datassential. “You’ll see more restaurants try to adopt phone pay. So not having to hand your money or card to anyone. You’re certainly going to see more places continue to do things like contactless delivery.” Starbucks Corp. is taking a store-by-store approach to resuming business activities in the U.S., with services limited to drive-thru, delivery and takeout via mobile orders and contactless pickup. “As we experienced in China, this will be a journey,” CEO Kevin Johnson wrote in a memo to staff on Thursday.
Chains are cutting back menus, focusing on products that sell best and are easy to make. Romano’s Macaroni Grill has pared down its menu to 70% of what it used to be, saying goodbye to pizzas and calzones recently. McDonald’s all-day breakfast menu is gone. Fazoli’s Italian restaurant chain is trying to secure Purell sanitizing stations – four for each store — along with “millions” of alcohol-based wipes for re-opening the dining rooms of its 216 locations. The company is also re-thinking bathrooms and looking into touch-less soap dispensers. It’s an investment, but a worthwhile one, says CEO Carl Howard. “I want to let the consumer know I’m doing everything I can to keep them as safe as possible,” Howard said in an interview.
Large public gatherings aren’t top of mind yet in China, but Trump and the people who run the U.S.’s biggest sports leagues appear aligned in their thinking that live games, at least in some form, are a critical part of helping the country recover. “The progression needs to be open outdoor sports first, golf, tennis, swimming so that we can start to test the waters — that I’m fine with,” said billionaire Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. One obstacle may be local politicians. When UFC floated plans to host an event this weekend on tribal land in California without spectators, it was pressure from politicians, including Governor Gavin Newsom, that led to its cancellation. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has reportedly discussed the possibility of prohibiting large gatherings like concerts and sporting events in the city for another year.
That said, there’s billions on the line for sports leagues, sponsors and media networks if the games don’t resume soon. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, has said that that the only way to do that this summer is to close venues to fans and keep all the players, coaches and referees isolated from society. Cinema owners are also waiting to see when health officials give them clearance to open up. Cinemark Holdings Inc., the third-largest U.S. movie chain, has been in discussions with major film studios about when to release blockbusters again. The chain’s management thinks they could begin bringing back staff starting in late June, then build up a marketing campaign for a broader re-opening on July 1. The experience won’t be like it was before coronavirus hit. The chain will either have to limit the available tickets for each showing, leaving about half its seats open. Or it may eliminate reserved seating, so customers can voluntarily spread themselves out when they arrive. Cleaning will have to be ramped up, and opening hours may be limited to accommodate the changes. “How long that will take? We’re not completely certain,” said Mark Zoradi, Cinemark’s CEO, on a call with analysts and investors on Wednesday. “But we’re planning on anywhere from one to three months to light up that engine again and then to begin with higher profile, new product.”
Las Vegas casino executives have discussed opening with as little as one-third of their rooms available, with limited entrances where guests’ temperatures could be checked. Casino employees would wear masks and gloves, and gamblers would sit at least a chair apart at blackjack tables. The moves are similar to what is already occurring in Macau, the world’s largest gambling market, where casinos closed for 15 days in February and reopened under tight restrictions. The companies are also discussing enhanced cleaning techniques, something unions have requested.
The $19.3 billion U.S. theme park industry is also making plans, though no one knows when gates will reopen. When they do, employees may be wearing masks and temperatures may be checked not only at the entrances but inside as well, said Dennis Speigel, a theme park consultant in Cincinnati. Operators may also institute virtual queues, where guests snag a place in line through an app and come to ride when it’s their turn. “The theme park of the future is going to have to take a much different turn, from distancing to wanding to cleaning,” Speigel said. “I’ve never heard the fear in the voices that I’ve heard. Nobody knows what they’re going to be doing.” Bloomberg News - With assistance from Thomas Buckley, Thomas Seal, Dana Hull, Natalie Wong, Julie Johnsson, Charlotte Ryan, Christoph Rauwald, Kyunghee Park, Gabrielle Coppola, Shiho Takezawa, Tian Ying, Chunying Zhang, Keith Naughton, Mary Schlangenstein, Justin Bachman, Layan Odeh, Jordyn Holman, Deirdre Hipwell, Robert Williams, Kim Bhasin, Jinshan Hong, Claire Che, Leslie Patton, Kelly Gilblom and Christopher Palmeri.
Trip Report: Honeymoon to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Seoul (875k pt spend)
My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon to Japan and Korea. We booked all travel accommodations using points to book a luxury vacation to Japan and Korea! Overall, we used a total of 875,000 points. I would have loved to make it a "million point vacation", but I couldn't find a way to spend our AA or MR points to add extra value :). Since this is the AwardTravel subreddit, most of this trip report will focus on the travel accommodations booked with points, but I'll still include a short description of other activities we enjoyed since I know there's a lot of other travelers looking for an opportunity to visit Japan and Korea.
The Flight - Korean Air First Class
Our travel began with a first-class flight on Korean Air leaving from IAD. Normally, KAL first-class passengers would be allowed access to the AirFrance/KLM lounge. Unfortunately, this lounge is currently closed for renovation so we were instead directed to the Virgin Atlantic lounge (although it looks like AirFrance and KLM passengers get to use the Etihad lounge). This lounge was nothing exciting. We were there for breakfast, and although they did have some hot options, the food was pretty bad. I tried a small bite of everything, but the only food there that I enjoyed was an apple. On the bright side, they did have cold beer, wine, and a small selection of hard liquor as well as a nice view of the tarmac and plenty of comfortable seating. This was our first time travelling anything other than coach/economy, so both of us were very excited to see if first class was everything it's chocked up to be. Compared to every other flight I've had, this flight was unbelievably enjoyable. I was worried that 14 hours of flight time would be uncomfortable regardless of which class we were flying, but by the end of the flight I was disappointed we had to deplane. Korean Air uses the Boeing 777-300ER for the IAD-ICN flight, which features the new-ish Kosmo Suites 2.0. These first-class suites are huge. They have plenty of storage compartments, a USB charging port in the in-flight entertainment console, and an international-compatible AC outlet on the floor. As most reviews of Korean Air flights say, the in-flight entertainment is pretty lacking. Luckily I had the first 7 seasons of Game of Thrones downloaded to my laptop which I happily watched with the noise-cancelling Bose headphones they provide. I think what I was most surprised with was how many flight attendants they seemed to have devoted completely to first-class guests. It seemed like they had 1 flight attendant for every two passengers, but maybe some of them sneaked away to serve business/coach when I wasn't looking. Regardless, I was very impressed with how briskly I was tended to each time I pressed the call button. The food service was great considering we were eating 40,000 ft in the sky. As soon as we left the ground, our flight attendant showed us the drink menu and took both meal orders ("dinner" as the first meal, and "lunch" as the second). Nether my wife nor I drink, but my uncultured palette thought the champagne tasted great. The meal service started with an amuse bouche of cream-cheese stuffed tomato and mushroom, followed by a serving of caviar with traditional accompaniments. For my first meal I chose Korean Air's famous Bibimbap served with soup, banchan, and a side of bulgogi. For how simple this meal looks, it was excellent - especially the bulgogi. For dessert, they served very good fresh fruit, cheese, and crackers followed by an unremarkable chocolate pound cake. After watching a few more episodes of Game of Thrones, my flight attendant asked if I would like my bed made. She grabbed a mattress topper and a nice comfy blanket, fully reclined my seat, and made my bed into what felt like a normal twin-size bed. I changed into the pajamas they provided and slept very well for a few hours. As a midnight snack I decided to try a bowl of spicy ramen, which lived up to its namsake of "spicy" by being a little too hot for my enjoyment. Luckily they also had cookies and milk on the menu, which I was very delighted to hear from the flight attendant when she said "I'm sorry, it will take about 8 minutes for me to bake them fresh for you". No worries - I have never been disappointed to wait for freshly baked cookies, and they certainly did not disappoint this time. After sleeping for a few more hours, my wife woke me up to let me know I only had a couple more hours until we landed. For lunch, they offered a nice "build your own salad" station with a blend of greens, veggies, and anchovy. It was nice to have something crisp and refreshing since I was feeling groggy after waking up. For my second meal I chose the Chilean Sea Bass with veggies. I really enjoyed it, but my wife wasn't too impressed. For dessert they served fruit and cheese again. Upon landing, we weren't able to enjoy any of the lounges at the ICN airport since we only had 45 minutes to catch our connecting flight. After spending about 10 minutes looking for a lounge with a shower, we decided that we didn't have time and proceeded to our gate. The ~2.5 hour flight from ICN to NRT was on an Airbus A300-330. The first-class seating on this flight actually looked identical to the business class. The seats were still lie-flat, but it was about two-thirds the size. Again, I got the Bibimbap for my meal, even though it didn't come with the side of bulgogi this time. The flight was over before I knew it, and again the customer service we received was excellent.
Tokyo - Ritz Carlton
After getting our bags and going through customs and immigration, I had to figure out how to get to our first destination: The Ritz Carlton Tokyo. There's normally a "limousine bus" that leaves from the Narita airport that stops at our hotel, but because we weren't ready to depart from the airport until about 9:30pm there were no more buses for the day that stopped at The Ritz. There's also a train that goes directly to Tokyo Station, the "Narita Express (NEX)", but we also missed the last train for that. A quick Google search showed that it would cost about $300 to take a cab from the airport, we instead took a bus from the airport to a hotel about 2 miles from our hotel and took a cab from there. This was especially daunting considering my cellular data only worked for about 10 seconds every 10 minutes, it was getting late, and there was an obvious language barrier that made me wonder if we were headed in the right direction. But luckily, we made it to our hotel without too much effort. As expected, the customer service at The Ritz was great. Our bags were immediately taken for us when we stepped out of the cab and we were escorted to the main lobby on the 45th floor. When we stepped out of the elevator we were met by the live music of smooth jazz saxophone and a vocalist that made me think "god damn this is a swanky hotel". It got even better when we got to our room and were met with this view. They must clean the windows every day, because when you walk into the room you can't even tell there's a pane of glass there. It almost looks like an optical illusion. Having this great view was one of the highlights of the trip, and one of the biggest reasons to choose the Ritz Carlton when staying in Tokyo. Again, I cannot believe how excellent the service was at this hotel. The concierge was great (for the most part - more on that later), turn-down service twice daily, spotlessly clean room and bathroom, etc. What really made them surpass my expectations were the little things. On Day 1 we used up all the complementary espresso pods, so during turn-down service the housekeeper left an extra box of espresso with a note (picture taken after we used some). Similarly, after a day when we used both complimentary bottles of water, after turn-down service we found two extra bottles of water with another endearing note. And one day when we mentioned to the concierge that we were celebrating my birthday and our honeymoon, we found this nice gift of chocolates in our room when we returned for the night (the heart and sphere were filled with chocolate covered almonds). Somehow I forgot to take pictures of our room. It was standard size as far as hotel rooms go, but the bathroom was exceptionally large. There was a bathtub, shower, two sinks, and a separate small room with the toilet. Speaking of the toilet, it seems like many toilets in Japan have built-in bidet systems with warm water and heated seats. This one was especially nice and had a "power deodorizer" that seemed to vacuum up the fumes directly from the bowl. Wouldn't be a deal-breaker if they didn't have it, but we enjoyed having a high-tech toilet for the first time in our lives :). Like I said, the concierges were great with most of their recommendations. All of them were fluent in English and we enjoyed every activity/restaurant that was recommended, with one exception. For my birthday dinner we wanted to try some Japanese fine dining. We told the concierge our price limit of ~250/pp, and were recommended to try a traditional Japanese kaiseki at the Ritz Carlton's restaurant Hinokizaka. As expected, the view from our seats was excellent, and we were very happy to have some origami to take home with us as souvenirs. Unfortunately, those were the only things that we were impressed with. We've had the pleasure of dining at a handful of fine-dining restaurants and have never regretted splurging a few hundred dollars on a meal - until now. We were presented with two menu choices - one for $180 and the other $240. Without really looking too closely at the difference between the two menus we decided to get one of each. I still don't understand why the $240 menu was more expensive. Most dishes were nearly identical, but the $240 menu had one less course and there were no "ultra-luxury" items that would normally expect an upcharge like truffles, caviar, foie gras, etc. Without diving into detail on why each dish was disappointing, I'll just say that most dishes seemed poorly balanced - either too salty or too bitter. There was an herbal lemon jelly that several of the dishes used that completely overpowered the dish with a sour, bitter flavor that was, bluntly, disgusting. Maybe it's just that I don't like Japanese fine dining, because the restaurant seems to be well-reviewed elsewhere, but I will certainly not be going back for a ~$500 dinner. At least the presentation of the food was pretty.
Tokyo - Sightseeing Highlights
Tokyo was our favorite destination. Everything was surprisingly easy to navigate once we figured out that there are actually several distinct rail companies that share some of the same stations. At each of the rail stations we used, there was always staff that spoke English well enough to help us, and we were always made to feel welcome to the country. Every time we asked for help we were politely greeted and treated respectfully. Overall, it seems like Japan strongly encourages foreigners by having multi-language maps, easy to decipher pictures, and multi-lingual customer service to answer questions. The one really annoying thing that surprised me was the lack of trash cans. There were several times where we wanted to throw something away but instead just tossed it in our backpack because we walked for blocks without seeing a garbage can. The same thing goes for buying snacks in marketplaces - eat it and give your trash to the vendor you bought it from, otherwise be prepared to carry the trash with you all day. Somehow, the city seems pretty clean regardless. While we were in Tokyo, we saw beautiful gardens and temples, and ate amazing food. Most of our time here was spent browsing for souvenirs around the various shopping districts (such as the famous Shibuya crossing area), falling in love with dogs at "puppy cafes", and playing wacky Japanese arcade games. We also spent half a day at DisneySea because my Wife is a Disney fanatic and she originally wanted to do DisneyWorld for our honeymoon.
Kyoto - Hyatt Regency
Compared to the Ritz Carlton, there's not really much to say about this hotel. Compared to most hotels, this was a very nice hotel. Compared to the Ritz Carlton, it was exceptionally normal. The service was pleasant and the concierge was able to recommend how to make the most of our time in Kyoto. From our second story window, we had absolutely no view - we could only see the wall of the building next door. Instead of a 65" top-of-the-line Sony Bravia, we instead had to watch Game of Thrones on a plebeian 42" display. We did not get gourmet chocolates left for us in our room, nor were any thoughtful handwritten notes left by the housekeeper. I know it's not fair to compare this Hyatt to the Ritz Carlton, so to be fair, this hotel was very nice. It was clean, comfortable, and conveniently located. Although I wouldn't recommend it at its cash price of ~$564/nt, I was happy to pay 20k Hyatt points to stay there.
Kyoto/Osaka - Sightseeing Highlights
We purchased the 7-day JR RailPass since I knew we'd use it for a round-trip to Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka and a trip from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport. At ~$260 each, it more than paid for itself. You need to purchase the JR RailPass voucher while you're still in the United States, then bring the voucher with you to Japan. Exchanging the voucher at Tokyo Station was straightforward, and we were able to reserve a seat on the Shinkansen "Hikari" to Kyoto. After just under 3 hours, we arrived at Kyoto Station and took a complimentary taxi to our hotel. Again, we saw some beautiful temples and ate lots of food. We took a day trip to Osaka using our JR RailPass. We decided not to get reserved seats and just hopped on the next available train, but unfortunately had to stand for the entire 45 minute journey. Osaka was an awesome city and probably deserved more than just a day trip. My wife loved the shopping areas there, and we also took a trip to Osaka Temple at night. While we were there they had an event going on called "Sakuya Lumina" where you stroll along the path to the temple and follow along with a short story of a girl from the future who's trying to get home. Along the way there are beautiful light shows and short movies, and a great photo spot where one of the employees offers to take photos with your phone. At the top, you get a great view of Osaka Temple close-up, where we also found some adorable and friendly stray cats. Back in Kyoto, we had our most enjoyable day of the vacation. We took the subway to Arashiyama - most well known for its beautiful bamboo forest, temples, and most of all - the Iwatayama monkey park. It's a small hike and about $10 to get to the monkey park, but it's well worth it. When you reach the summit, there are dozens of Macaque monkeys just running around. There are a lot of employees around to stop tourists from touching the monkeys, but you can get pretty much as close as you want. The monkeys here are completely desensitized to humans are will walk right past you, even with their babies. There is a small hut with a fence for a wall where you can feed the monkeys potatoes and peanuts for $1/bag. We happened to be there during "feeding time" where one of the employees walks around and throws chestnuts and seeds on the ground which the monkeys go crazy for. I don't think there's anywhere else in the world where you can experience this, and it's a must-do during a visit to Kyoto. While we were in Kyoto, we decided we had to try "real" Kobe Wagyu beef. I've had A5 wagyu once before at Cut in Beverly Hills, but I was excited to compare it to what Japan has to offer. And since my steak-loving wife has never tried it, I was especially excited to see her reaction to biting into the best steak shes ever had. The restaurant we chose, Premium Pound Gion, absolutely killed it. Each course was excellent, the ambiance was great (the whole restaurant is just a "chef's table" style seating), and steak was just as good as I remembered. If you've never had Kobe beef (note: the term "Kobe beef" has no significance in the USA, but "A5 wagyu" does; if you want to experience this type of steak in the USA, look for that designator) and aren't a vegetarian, you need to try it. It's worth it. Here are some pictures of the dinner.
Flight - Tokyo to Seoul
After taking the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and going back to the Ritz Carlton to pick some luggage we left there while we were in Kyoto, we spent the remainder of the day at DisneySea Tokyo then headed to our hotel airport to prepare for a 10:30am flight. The Hilton hotel we stayed at did have a very good breakfast buffet that included both Japanese and Western cuisine. For us it was complimentary thanks to the automatic HHonors Gold status provided by the Amex Hilton Ascend. The Korean Air lounge at NRT was pretty unremarkable - similar to the Virgin Atlantic lounge we used at IAD. They did have an area sectioned off for first-class only, which was pretty unnecessary since there was plenty of seating elsewhere. However, it was nice to be able to walk past the "first-class only" sign to let all the other lounge members know just how baller we are. Just like the ICN-NRT flight, we were served a nice lunch followed be cheese and fruit. The same aircraft, A330-300, was used as well.
Seoul - Hilton Millennium
Unfortunately, with the exception of the Marriott Courtyard we stayed at in Dulles, this was the most disappointing stay of the trip. There wasn't anything awful about it, but this hotel just didn't have the same level of service as the others. When we arrived to the hotel, the doorman unloaded our bags for us but did not take them to our room. The concierge spoke English, but not very well. There was a doorman who assisted with taxis, but several times there were communication problems due to translation. Overall, the hotel staff seemed a little indifferent. In comparison to all the hotels I've ever stayed at, this probably still ranks in the top 50%, but is in a completely different category than the other hotels we stayed at for this trip. On the plus side, they give out free $10 vouchers per person per day to the casino attached to the hotel, which we were always sure to cash out before we left for the day. We also got free breakfast and "cocktail hour" snacks which were always mediocre. We had breakfast most days because it was provided for free, but I would not suggest paying for it if you're not an HHonors Gold member.
Seoul - Sightseeing Highlights
While we were in Seoul, we took a cab pretty much everywhere that wasn't within walking distance. The prices were cabs in Seoul are cheaper than any other city I've taken cabs (DC, NYC, Tokyo, Kyoto), and are barely more expensive than taking the metro. Most fares were less than $10, the most expensive being a ~22 minute cab to Gangnam costing about $13. Again, we love to try exotic food, so we made sure to experience as much of the local cuisine and street food that we could try. The highlights were the freshly fried sweet "Korean pancake" filled with honey and walnuts and the muskmelon bingsu with ice cream that was surprisingly delicious considering how pretty it looked. We also had Korean BBQ from a restaurant called "The Marbling" that we went to twice because we enjoyed it so much. We really enjoyed walking through the markets and buying junky souvenirs. We also took a guided tour that I would not recommend since it ended with a trip to a "ginseng museum" where they locked us in a sales room for 30 minutes where we were relentlessly pitched to by salespeople to get us to buy hundreds of dollars worth of "cancer-preventing, life-lengthening, energizing ginseng".
Flight - Seoul to Dulles
The check-in for KAL first class flyers is pretty unique at ICN. There's a "first class check-in lounge" prior to security where you're served beverages while your bags are checked. I thought this was a nice touch compared to the normal check-in experience, even though we only stayed for a few minutes before going through security. From what I understand, there's several different Korean Air lounges at ICN. There's the "normal" KAL lounge that anyone can access, the miler lounge that can only be accessed by million milers, and then there's the first-class only lounge. We spent all of our time in the first class lounge, which was the nicest lounge of the trip. We had an early flight home so they were serving breakfast - an assortment of Korean and Western options as well as ice cream, beer, wine, and a small assortment of hard liquor. They also had table service where you could order eggs or a couple other traditional Korean breakfast options. They also had a massage chair, but I couldn't figure out how to work it because all of the controls were in Korean. The flight was the same as the original IAD-ICN leg with some slightly different but equally delicious food options. After 14 hours of eating, sleeping, watching Game of Thrones, eating, and sleeping, we were back to real life in Dulles where we had a 3 hour drive home.
Award Redemption and Cost Analysis
Avg cash rate
Marriott Courtyard (Dulles)
Hyatt Regency (Kyoto)
Hyatt Regency (Kyoto)
Hyatt Regency (Kyoto)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
Hilton Millennium (Seoul)
First class on Korean Air: 320,000 + $800 in taxes/fees (total for two passengers). Cash "value" is $39,541 (~12cpp). Total points used:
Hyatt (UR transfer)
Skypass (UR transfer)
Annual fees paid to accumulate these points:
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Approximate spending during travel (note: these are rough approximations that I made by taking our total amount spent, $3336.39, and estimating the proportion spent toward each category other than food, then assuming that the rest was on food):
Transportation (taxi, subway, bus)
Cash spend (travel accommodations, including fees paid to accrue points): $2,270 Cash spend (expenses during travel): ~$3,900
Total cost of vacation: $6170
The many hours of accumulating points, learning from /churning and /awardtravel, and planning our itinerary were well worth it. I can't wait to build up our points bank in preparation for our next big redemption. Even though I'm glad we flew first class once, I don't think we'll splurge on it again. Business class seems adequate, even though the seats are a fair bit smaller. At least first class seats had plenty of availability so planning around our schedules and only flying non-peak season was not an issue. The Ritz Carlton Tokyo was amazing and well worth the points, but unfortunately due to Marriott award redemption change this hotel will now cost 85k points instead of 60k. It may still be worth it if you have the points to get the 5th night free. The Hyatt Regency was nice, but definitely not worth the cash rate. The Hilton Millennium was probably not worth the amount of points we blew on it, but Hilton points are pretty worthless anyway. The Conrad in Seoul may have been a better option - it's hard to say, they have similar reviews. If you go to Japan, go to Arashiyama and the Iwatayama Monkey Park! Also, early May turned out to be a great time of the year to travel to Japan/Korea. Every day was in the low 70s and mostly sunny - perfect weather!
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