Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Seattle, Denver (Part 1)

After a great weekend down at Princeton Reunions, I had to get up bright and early Monday morning to hit the road again. This week's destinations: Seattle and Denver. While it's normally no challenge for me to pack for a week in a carry-on, this combination proved to be trickier than expected: forecast for 50s and rainy in Seattle, 80s and sunny in Denver - not to mention the fact that I needed to have work clothes for Seattle and a suit for a wedding in Denver. Oh, and workout clothes. That might not sounds like that big a deal for most of you, but I'm a big guy with big feet - my clothes, and especially my shoes, take up a lot of space! At the end of the day, I made it work - but it was a pretty tight fit.

Hop in the car, and off to Newark we go...

While I'm not nearly as down on EWR as most serious travelers seem to be, I will say that it's slim pickings when it comes to breakfast. After grabbing my 50 miles for checking in on Foursquare, and making my way through the security checkpoint, it was off to the golden arches. Admittedly, I usually turn my nose up at fast food, but I have a weak spot for Egg McMuffins. Also, I don't know if it was the fact that I was heading to Seattle, but I was also really craving a coffee. Yep - I finally took the plunge on the McCafe thing. I'm not a hardcore coffee snob, but I can appreciate a decent cup, and I gotta say that my McCafe cappuccino was surprisingly good. I'll be getting that again in a year or two when I stop at a McDonald's for breakfast again.
Well done, McDonalds

Off to the gate, and boarding soon thereafter. I don't know if they boarded families with small children ahead of their boarding group, because I was on as soon as group 2 was called.

There have been mixed reviews on the United-Continental merger, but now that my travel has picked back up again, I can say with confidence that my upgrade rate has certainly declined. I think the only flight I've been upgraded on since 3/3 was a Newark-Boston hop a few months ago. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo. On this particular flight I was #15 in the upgrade queue after first class had checked in full. Not even close.

The flight was uneventful. We were on a Boeing 737-900, a legacy Continental plane that comes equipped with DirecTV. Having booked well in advance, I was able to snag an exit row / Economy Plus seat. The extra leg room is a life-saver on a flight this long, but the curvature of the plan made things real cozy shoulder-room-wise in the window seat. I had plenty of work to get done in-flight, and so didn't even bother using the DirecTV - not that I was likely to pay for daytime TV anyway.

In Seattle, I stayed at the Sheraton Seattle. Nice enough hotel, and despite booking a room with 2 double beds (all that was available when I booked), I was able to switch to a king at check-in. However, I'm pretty sure I took a room downgrade as a consequence, as my room was in the corner of the triangle-shaped hotel, and clearly smaller than most of the other rooms on the floor. No biggie though - it was plenty enough space for what I needed.

My room at the Sheraton Seattle

2nd view of my room at the Sheraton Seattle

I'm not the best at eating healthy while on the road, so I figured i'd start things off right by ordering a nice, light salad for lunch. And it was indeed nice and light - and quite tasty. However, the loaf of bread they brought along with it was neither nice, nor light - but it was pretty damn tasty. This was only the first effort the Sheraton made to ruin my attempts to eat a little better.

Damn you delicious bread

As is often the case when I'm traveling for work, I didn't have much time to check out the scenery. The dreary weather wasn't exactly helping with my motivation either. Working in your hotel room while it's raining outside, what would you order for lunch? That's right: chicken pot pie. I'll take partial responsibility for this moment of weakness (chicken pot pie isn't exactly the healthiest option available), but I wasn'tt ready for what arrived in my room shortly after placing that phone call. Literally (and I'm using that accurately) the biggest pot pie I've ever seen in real-life - it barely fit under the tray!

Franken-pot-pie
Challenge accepted, Sheraton.

Thankfully, I was able to make it to the gym a few times during my stay, so I don't feel quite as guilty about my indulgent lunches.

After checking out, and turning in my 2 "Make a Green Choice" cards (1000 Starpoints for declining maid service for a few days is a trade I'll make any day), I finally got to wander Seattle just a bit as I met up with a colleague for lunch.

Pike Place Market - wish I'd had a chance to stop by
We went to Boat Street Cafe, on his recommendation. I had the Steak au Poivre and a glass of Cote du Rhone - both quite good. The service, however, was surprisingly poor - just inattentive and indifferent. My colleague was especially surprised given that his experiences had always been so positive (granted, they had all been for dinner). Either way, I'll gladly trade crappy service for good food and good wine any day. The steak was really peppery, and the horseradish sauce it came with had a nice kick. Throw in some beets and roasted potatoes, and we've got a great little meal.

First non room service lunch of the trip
After lunch it was off to the airport to catch my flight to Denver. The new United now flies out the N satellite - which is a step down from the main terminal in my mind (where legacy Continental used to flight out of). I got there early, grabbed 50 more miles for checking in on Foursquare, and found out my flight was delayed by about 45 minutes. Free internet throughout the terminal made the time go by pretty quickly though.

I headed over to my gate, and our chariot pulled up soon thereafter:

UA A320 with an old-school paint job
Boarding commenced shortly thereafter, and then it was off to Denver!

Check out Part 2 here

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