Friday 19th February 2016

I awoke this morning on the final day of this adventure. I had slept pretty damn well so was thoroughly impressed by the Residence Inn. The hotel while not the flashiest I have stayed in hit the mark on all levels (apart from the gym, it just needed more equipment). The hotel was clean, comfortable, the staff were all great (especially the lady at breakfast). The rooms were large, spacious and had everything you could need and more (hello full kitchen!).

I had breakfast before heading off on the road again and decided to indulge a little this morning. A waffle with cream… why yes! The breakfast was tasty and with plenty of options it was so much better than just a bagel or cereal. It hit the spot and the coffee was good as well and made the start of my day really easy. Today’s drive was the easiest as well and if all went to plan, I could have some time to see a thing or two in Omaha before heading to the airport. I hit the road as the sun was rising spectacularly and managed to skirt the edge of downtown so didn’t have to deal with traffic.

I was on the I29 heading north to Iowa pretty easily and once I cleared the airport area the speed limit went up and I was fully enjoying cruise mode. Cruising along listening to my ipod (since SiriusXM decided to update the subscription yesterday and remove itself just miles from Kansas City). It was miles and miles of I29 this morning but it wasn’t boring at all. It was a lot of straight road but the scenery was very pretty in some places. Plus the signs kept me interested pretty much the whole way.

Time seemed to go past pretty fast, and before I knew it I was at the Iowa border, about an hour from Council Bluffs (which is just on the other side of the river to Omaha). I managed to get the Missouri sign (over my left shoulder) and the Iowa sign and then it was onwards into Iowa fully. Funnily enough the first town over the border into Iowa is called Hamburg, so that kept me chuckling for a little while (in a very bad german accent too). The only issue was the first rest stop in Iowa was over 35 miles into the state and since the last one was well over 100 miles previously, I needed to stop. Badly!

While at the rest stop I consolidated a bit of stuff and tried to figure out what to do as I was going to get into Omaha a bit early. I decided to go check out the Union Pacific Railway Museum (it was free) and it was in Council Bluffs, about 20 minutes away. I ended up sticking around for about an hour and had a bit of a tour from an old lady who volunteered. It was a bit creepy yet very endearing. After the museum I headed into town to grab some lunch. I found a place that looked ok online and was an old school looking diner. The food was pretty good and I finished off the trip with the same meal I started it with, Chicken Fried steak.

With lunch done, I headed off to fill up the car and drop Horseman off at the rental return. By the time I got back to the airport it had been a long trip, but totally worth it. Time to head home!!!

Current Location: Omaha Airport, Nebraska
Total States Visited: 12
New States Visited: 4 – Iowa, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kentucky
Miles Driven: 1715
Cheapest Gas Purchased – Kwik Stop Omaha – $1.49pg
Cheapest Gas Seen – Random Gas Station in Kansas City – $1.29pg

Tuesday 16th February 2016

After my bag finally showed up I headed out to where the Rental Car shuttles pick up from and I had to sprint for the shuttle as there was one pulling in right then. Not easy to run with a suitcase. camera bag and backpack. After one other person got on the shuttle we headed off to the National lot. I was meant to pick up my vehicle over 5 hours before and I was hopeful there would still be something good left. My coworker was adamant I needed something with 4WD/AWD for the drive since you know, snow. But only chance would tell me if I was going to get it.

Things did not look likely when we rolled up to the Emerald Aisle/Executive Aisle areas and it was minivan central. Need a minivan… they got it! There were no sedans at all! There were a couple of Challengers, a number of trucks and that was it. So I asked, and what was on the line was it. I explained the situation about the one way rental and he suggested to head up to the counter and ask as they often have a “Hot Line” for stuff that they reserve for one way rentals (ie stuff they want to get rid of). As I went over to the Emerald desk I spoke t the lady who went in and checked for me and then while I was waiting I was chatting to the original guy there and saw a Hemi Charger sitting on a line of cars. When the lady came back she said all the hot stuff had gone and all that was left was a row of upgrades. I asked about the Upgrade on the Hemi Charger and was told that had already been rented? Wierd. I went back to the line and the original guy tried to help me find the best I could get. He walked up to a Challenger with 4 miles on the clock. Yes that is right…. 4! SOLD!

I quickly threw my gear in the car and jumped in before someone else tried to steal it on me. Screw the AWD part. I took what I could 😉 I headed out of the airport towards a grocery store around the corner from the hotel and from there onto the hotel. By the time I got to the hotel it was approaching 11:30pm at night so my one night stay at the Millennium Durham was now becoming just a handful of hours. The hotel looked good from the outside, but the inside was pitiful. I thought that my stay at the hotel in Oklahoma was the worst I have had. This was borderline as bad, if not worse. It was pitiful! Thankfully the hotel is undergoing renovations (not soon enough) it is a disgrace to the Millennium brand! It would do for the night.

Wednesday 17th February 2016

I woke up after barely any sleep and skipped the gym for an extra bit of sleep. I packed up what stuff I had pulled out and got myself ready to get on the road. I had 530 miles to go today and it was not going to be easy. I had a quick breakfast (not the best, not the worst hotel breakfast) and hit the road just after 730am. My day was going to be lots and lots of road.

The plan was to go from Durham, North Carolina to Louisville, Kentucky. This would take me across North Carolina, into Virginia then West Virginia, clearing out my afternoon in Kentucky. It started off cold but not horribly so (around 32-34F) compared to what I expected. It was a little bit sunny as I left with the sun rising behind me for the first part of the morning. As I got through Virginia climbing over first the Blue Ridge Mountains and then into the Appalachians the snow started to fall. I was worried about it, but the Challenger (henceforth referred to as Horseman, because it was the best I could come up with that kind of referred to 4) handled it pretty well. I crossed into West Virginia mid morning and kept on pushing. I was aiming to get through the state after lunch and end up in Kentucky around 4:30-5:00pm. By the time i got past Charleston, WV I was starving! So I gave it a bit longer and stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel (first time visiting, wasn’t bad).

Horseman was getting pretty good gas mileage with the average of around 27mpg so I only had to fill up once and that was about 100 or so miles outside of Louisville. Rest stops were my go to place for stopping for a quick bathroom break and they were well signed (thankfully). I got into the habit of going in along the way and taking a photo of the “You are here” signs in each state. Fun! I also managed to get the “Welcome to ” signs to every state I visited.

I got into Louisville around 5:30pm right in the middle of peak hour traffic. 10 hours after leaving I was safe and sound at my hotel. I ended up hitting the gym straight away, because traffic was horrible, so get it out of the way then and there. The hotel was much better than last night and this time even though it was also under refurbishment it was almost complete. My room was I would say barely finished and it was immaculate. If this is what all the Country Inn and Suites are going to look like, I love it!

I finished off the night by heading over to Skyline Chilli, a mile or two from the hotel. Originally durning the planning of this trip I was heading to Cincinatti which is famous for its Chilli. It isn’t Chilli like most people think of it, it doesn’t have heat, it has spice that comes from Cinnamon and the likes. It is served on top of spaghetti and covered in cheese. I mean COVERED in cheese. It was pretty good, I ended up having it “5 Ways” which is a 3 Way (aka Basic Spaghetti, Chilli & Cheese) with both Onions and Beans. It was pretty good but could do with some heat to really set it off.

By the time I chatted with Heidi when she got home from work, I was out like a light! It had been a long day and I had to do it all over again the next.

Thursday 18th February 2016

Woke up and snuck into the gym about 15 minutes before it was meant to open. It was good to get a morning workout in before being stuck inside a car all day. Breakfast was quick (hello Hotel waffle) and then it was off to the car again. As I walked past reception they had cookies out already (evil bastards!). My coffee would have to do! I had to scrape down the windshield to get rid of all the ice. Thank god for hotel loyalty cards because without one I would have to resort to using my own credit card…. ugh no thanks!

Back on the road and this time the temperature was pretty cold, around 25F but it warmed up slowly as I moved on. The road was pretty busy as I crawled through Louisville morning traffic. At one point I was at a complete standstill just a mile or two from the border… UGH! The accident that was holding everything up got cleared and it was out and away. While yesterday’s drive was full of turns and mountain climbs hence pushing my 8 hour drive to 10 hours with stops. Today was going to be a lot of high speed open interstate over rolling plains. Average speed today was a good 70+.

Passed through Indiana and Illinois, managing to get the Welcome to signs at both as I came through. The Missouri sign though, well that I missed. I was originally going to head into Downtown St Louis for lunch but by the time I passed through at 10:30am (I gained an hour thanks to Central time), it was raining and too early, so I pushed on. I missed the Missouri sign thanks to being on a new piece of road that my GPS didn’t recognise but the signage clearly was correct. I was tempted to circle back around but thought better of it.

I took a quick lunch break in a waffle house about 45 minutes outside of St Louis. Refueled by some waffley goodness for the 2nd time today I was back on the road, headed west. Passing through Missouri was pretty uneventful apart from the wind. It picked up like crazy and at times I really had to hold onto Horseman as he slipped all over the place. The further I went west the further that temperature rised though topping out at 73F. Pretty good to almost triple the morning temperature!

The further west I went as well, the more the gas price dropped. I filled up about half way between lunch and my end destination and it was pretty cheap or so I thought. It kept getting cheaper the closer I got to Kansas City. I rolled into town past all the stadiums and into a very poor neighborhood. I wasn’t particularly impressed but it could be worse right? After 9 hours on the road, I was all set and in my hotel at the Residence Inn Kansas City Downtown by 3:45pm!

I took the afternoon off to sit on the couch of my room and enjoy some relaxation after concentrating for the last two days. Tomorrow’s drive into Omaha would not be as taxing with about 3-4 hours of driving. I would cross another 2 more states tomorrow that I needed off my list and then by dinner I would be home to see my wife. However dinner tonight I was looking around to find some good BBQ. I could walk down to one BBQ place or I could drive a mile or two over to what some people say is the best bbq in town. O it is in Kansas not Missouri? SOLD!

The restaurant was actually only about a 10 minute drive through suburban streets and really easy to find. It is still an active Gas Station and one part is the gas station, the other the BBQ restaurant. I had to line up and wait (as expected) but only had to wait 10-15 minutes at most to order. I ordered a lot (like usual) and it was all pretty good. I went with the brisket & pulled pork with some beans and some spicy slaw. The sausage was good too after a small taste so grabbed some of that as well. The main thing with Kansas City BBQ is it is all about the sauce and the sauce was gooooooood. It went down nicely with Diet Mountain Dew (it’s so rare to find at places out west why can’t we have it everywhere!!!!).

I returned to the hotel to finish off some stuff and get another good nights rest. One last stretch in the car in the morning and maybe, just maybe i can get in a little sightseeing in Omaha. Who knows!

Current Location: Residence Inn Kansas City Downtown/Union
Total States Visited: 10
New States Visited – 2/4 – West Virginia, Kentucky
Miles Driven: 1522
Cheapest Gas Purchased (Plus/Premium): $1.71pg – Pilot Boonsvile, MO
Cheapest Gas Seen (Regular): $1.29pg – Random Gas Station in Kansas City, MO

Friday 12th February 2016

After getting my nice shiny new Nissan Maxima and hitting the 405 north towards LAX I was starting to get hungry. I wanted to head to a place that had come recommended to me by a friend. It was an old school restaurant, with the old neon style signs. But it was also a replica of the restaurant that was used for Pulp Fiction. They had all the same booths etc from the old Hawthorne Grill which has since closed. I am not sure if they are the same or both owned by the same people at one time, but Pann’s was pretty amazing on the inside.

I had my breakfast (which was really my lunch) and then found out that a friend was stuck at LAX for several hours. By the time we finally connected, she couldn’t leave the terminal, but if only I had of known! After a tasty filling meal, I was ready to get into the sun and get some spotting done. I was just going to hit up Imperial Hill for a little while and get some photos before I had to head out to Ontario. It was fun texting back and forth with my friend who was on the opposite side of the airport, showing her the planes on my side. After getting heaps of photos of stuff I wanted, there was an o shit moment. My camera batteries started to die.

This was expected because I had two batteries that had been heavily abused lately, so I knew they would be ending soon enough. But with two others spare I didn’t want to charge the ones in the camera up. So I left the battery charger in Seattle thinking I wouldn’t need it. Sadly I did not check the spare batteries status as for some reason they were dead too. Sigh. So now I had 4 dead batteries and no charger. I through in the towel for the day and headed towards Ontario (with a brief stop for some fresh donuts… what don’t judge me!).

Traffic in LA is notoriously bad, and today was no different. I left the LAX area around 1pm ish and hit the freeway towards Ontario around 1:45pm. I managed to reach Ontario at 4:15pm, around 2.5 hours after I left… sigh! I don’t mind spending 2.5 hours driving somewhere, but not doing 5mph stuck in traffic like that. It was horrific! It was only 60 miles, how could it be so hard! Ugh! Either way by the time I got there I was spent! I decided I needed to catch up on a few things and just chill out for a while.

I looked around online for a good hotel deal when we were planning this trip and about the best deal I could find was for the Aloft Hotel Rancho Cucamonga, it wasn’t a bad hotel. Basic rooms, yet still nice and trendy. Not bad to be honest for the price compared to what the other hotels were asking. The room was large enough and looked clean. The hotel had a decent gym, a pool and free parking. About all you could ask for right? I had some stuff I needed to do online (which I did) and headed out to grab some food. I found a place that I heard on the radio earlier that day, and it fit the bill. I had my first visit to Souplantation. It wasn’t bad but a little confusing, but it was tasty!

I headed back briefly to the hotel with some supplies I had picked up to set up a little gift display for Heidi, and then headed off to get her dinner and pick her up. She asked me to get her a specific order and since it was around the corner from the airport, it was a given. It was ready right as she landed and then by the time I got to the airport, she was standing on the curb. Easy as pie and minutes later we were back at the hotel to sleep!

Saturday 13th February 2016

Today was not going to be a thoroughly eventful day. After a morning run, Heidi and I headed off to her friends place to hang out and chill for the day. Today wasn’t about doing anything other than relaxing and catching up. Heidi was excited to see her best friend and her two children. I was surprised when the oldest daughter actually didn’t try to hide from me so much and that was pretty good. At one point I was walking holding her hand, so that was pretty good!

We had to go to the mall to get some new swimwear (since I had left mine at home, again) and then we all came back to the hotel (well I had a nap before the others got there) and headed to the pool for a bit. By the time the sun went down and we hopped out, it was starting to get a bit chilly, so we warmed up and headed out for some all you can eat sushi!

The place was one that I found last time in Ontario and it was still there. It had a huge line and it was amazing! We may have waited a little while, but totally worth it! By the end of the day we were rested, relaxed and thoroughly full. Pretty awesome day if you ask me.

Sunday 14th February 2016

Waking up on my normal schedule this morning and off to the gym, then a quick breakfast before hitting the road with Heidi. We were off to Palm Desert today to catch up with Heidi’s grandparents who move down to the city for a couple of months a year during winter. It was my first time in the area and it was such a new experience for me. I was excited to go and visit the city that I had heard so much about, and finally give in to Heidi, who had wanted to go so much.

It is only about an hour or so drive out to Palm Desert and this was going to give us a good test of Russell, the Maxima (named of course after Russell Crowe’s character from Gladiator). The car handled it well, and easy as hell, comfortable drive! Pretty soon we were in Palm Desert meeting up with the Grandparents and getting shown around. We hit up the markets, Babes for some BBQ and then out to the Date Farm for a shake. We also got to see where the grandparents were staying, and if they stay there again next year, we might ourselves head down for a weekend to check it out!

We left Palm Desert mid afternoon, waving goodbye to the grandparents and still really relaxed. We headed back to Ontario to head to the movies on what was Valentine’s Day. We wanted to see Deadpool, since it’s a “Valentine’s Day movie”. HAH! Not really but it is a good justification right? Really loved the movie in a full theatre. Movie theatres in the USA feel so different. Way more people, more cinemas (this one had 22, the AMC next door had 30) and way crappier seats. Ehhh, whatever.

We finished off the night with some Sonic for dinner and some ice cream. Nice and relaxed!

Monday 15th February 2016

Today was the day Heidi was heading home and after another run and then packing everything up, we headed out to grab some breakfast. We went to a little dive place that had some good food, and it wasn’t far from the hotel. One thing I have a problem with though is choosing foods that I won’t be able to finish, like pancakes at dive places. I said I wanted a full stack, to which Heidi knowing something I didn’t somehow, asked me if i was sure. I said yes, but really I should have listened to the wife. They were HUGE!

I finished a good portion (with some help from Heidi) and took the rest with me. I dropped Heidi at the airport and soon had to head off towards Orange County. I wanted to get down there without hitting traffic. It was an easy drive following the freeways and I only had to leave the freeway once, but that was because the Sat Nav in the car locked up and I had to get off, park the car and turn it off. 3 minutes after leaving the freeway I was back on it. No big deal. Sadly though I was in Orange County super early without a camera to go spotting as originally planned. I headed to the hotel, but they didn’t have any rooms for me yet, so I just headed out to find something to do.

I did a dry run of dropping off the car so I knew what I was doing the next day, and then headed back to try and see if Best Buy had a charger. No dice on that, then I ended up heading out to have coffee with a friend from twitter. By the time I got back to the hotel, they had a room for me and I spent the afternoon doing some laundry and getting ready for my big road trip starting the next day!

I gassed the car up in the late afternoon when crowds would have died down at the local costco (just around the corner from the hotel) and then parked the car for the evening. Russell had been a good drive, good fuel economy, great looking, all the good bells and whistles. Heidi and I both agreed the car needed one or two things. 1. a Sunroof to really make it a good weather luxury car and 2. Memory Seat settings for the drivers. If only that could have worked, it would have been fantastic! But I was really happy with it either way!

I was planning on staying around the hotel that night for dinner, since It was going to be an early start for my morning flight to Dallas and on to Raleigh. The one kicker for flying east is you lose so much time that you just have to suck it up and take what you end up with. My 6:45am departure meant a 5pm arrival into Raleigh. Eh what can you do. That Hooters next door to the hotel looks ok enough, plus I haven’t eaten there in forever! Tomorrow the real adventure begins.

Current Location: La Quinta John Wayne Airport – Costa Mesa, CA.
States Visited: 1
Miles Driven: 424
Cheapest Gas – Costco Costa Mesa – $2.18pg

Introduction
Seattle to Frankfurt
Frankfurt Fun Times
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Frankfurt to Newark
Newark to Seattle
Conclusion
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lufthansa – LH402
Frankfurt to Newark (FRA-EWR)
1320-1545
Boeing 747-8i (D-ABYA)
First Class – Seat 1K

Boarding: 1248 (Door 4/Gate Z69)
Push Back: 1338
Take off Roll: 1348 (Runway 25C)
Top of Descent: 1525
Touch Down: 1614 (Runway 22L)
Shut Down: 1622 (Gate 62)

After hopping into the Mini Van to be taken to the gate, myself and the other two passengers in the van enjoyed our quick little drive towards A/Z69. Technically my gate was door 4, however I am not quite sure exactly if it was A or Z that the plane actually arrived from. All I know is that when I arrived at the gate, I was standing on the ramp just outside the circle of safety. From the mini van I stopped to take more photos (was already taking them inside the plane and had missed out on seeing the Retro 748) of the plane we were flying. This was my first time onboard a 747-8i as a passenger, and I was about to step foot on the first commercially delivered 747-8i to an airline.

As we got in the lift that took us up to the boarding jetbridges, we stepped off into a maze of people. However the driver who was our escort just pushed his way through, and ran interference for us. We essentially pushed our way through the entire crowd of people and the next thing I know, I am standing at door L1 and turning left into First Class. I was now here. This was not my first time making that turn. The last time was back in 2007 on my first solo trip to the USA. I had paid to upgrade to Business on Air New Zealand and although I couldn’t get the nose for the main part of the journey from LAX to AKL, I did manage it from AKL to home. This time though I was going to be in Row 1 and there was going to be a lot less people up there. Score!

I took a number of photos and tried not to bump into anyone while I was doing it. When I did sit down a glass of sparkling water and macadamia nuts were placed at my seat. I wasn’t sure if they were meant for me, because I had not spoken to anyone by that stage, so I was astounded at the fact that they had read my mind. That is what I was going to ask for, the crew had the best mind reading skills (or so I thought). I was shown where my personal locker was and I took the time to get myself sorted, dropping the camera bag at the back of the cabin. I took my seat and stashed the rest of my gear and got myself situated.

The crew introduced themselves to me and I relaxed as best as I could. I was excited and that meant I didn’t need caffeine or anything as I was already buzzing. We waited a while once the doors closed for the cargo doors to be shut and then we had to wait for another aircraft to clear the taxiway before we could push. When we finally did, it meant that my journey was about to truly begin. It was around this time that the safety video played and unlike on Condor, this one plays part of the way through in German then repeated it in English. By then we were on the taxiway heading for departure. The crew got us situated correctly with the seatbelts in place (the sash belts had to go on as well) and we waited our turn to depart behind another Lufthansa 747. Behind us were two more 747s as well. Score!

It was around that time that the battery in my camera finally died after 2 days (was waiting for that) and since I was strapped in, I couldn’t reach my other one. From then it was just time to enjoy the view as we climbed out. The ride out was pretty bumpy and I wasn’t sure if that was just because you could feel it more in the nose. I can tell you that sitting about the nose wheel gear set up means that you hear extra noises that just truly do not sound normal. We climbed out and once the dings went off to signal the seatbelt sign had been turned off there was a mad dash in F to the bathrooms. I managed to squeeze my way past someone else discussing pyjamas and relieve myself quickly. I returned to my seat and got myself sorted for the upcoming meal. I was going to enjoy this!

Before the meal service started we got all the good stuff brought to us. Amenity kits (no rimowa… *sad face*), pyjamas, slippers, menus. All the stuff that I would be stashing away later (including the safety card). I took it all in while perusing the menu. I could see caviar would be on the menu and this was going to be my first time trying it for real. There was a total of 8 courses on offer with an Amuse Bouche, Caviar, Starter, Salad, Soup, Main, Cheese and then Dessert. If you count cofffee and chocolates that is 9. A LOT of food. But there was one thing on that menu I was really hoping would be there. Aspargus. The famous german white aspargus. I was going to have that no matter what.

The service for drinks etc was kind of slow, but it turned out to be a pretty full cabin, 7 of 8 people. The sad thing is that as people were not really eating and getting ready to sleep, I was just going to be enjoying this flight. This flight really isn’t a busienss flight as you arrive into Newark at the end of the work day. It is a daylight flight going over as well, so I was determined to soak it all in and stay up. Why sleep and miss something when I can soak it all in, then sleep on my connection (though being United, that was doubtful).

When the menu orders were taken, I put in my preference for the aspargus and said that I would be awake for the 2nd service (though doubtful I would have space to try anything). Once everything started it was a slow affair for the first couple of courses but then it hit the right pace. I saw a few people just have cheese, one person didn’t eat at all, me I just soaked it up. The best part of this flight was going to be the indulge, because they don’t come along all that often. I have flown Qantas, Emirates and Cathay first, this would just add another experience to them all.

The meal came out with caviar after the amuse bouche (you can find a copy of the menu in the AR report, but I will update that when I get a chance so there is one here too). This was my first time really trying it and it was presented so nicely. I screwed up the photo of the cart service so that was just dumb, but I did try it with everything. I have to say I am not a fan, maybe I didn’t do it right, but it just didn’t do anything for me. The rest of the meal was amazing. The salad and starters were tasty and then the main was what I was waiting for. I didn’t really want the whole thing by that stage as I was slowly filling up but I downed that asparagus, with a little bit of the ham and hollandaise, not much. I didn’t have much cheese and I gave a little break so I could stretch and use that bathroom before dessert. When dessert rolled around, Kira (the english speaking crew member working first) asked me which one I wanted. I wasn’t sure and said “whichever you think”. She replied with “How about both?” Who am I to say no to that!

I had both desserts with coffee and by this time my movie had finished (Ex Machina) and I was watching a tv show to fill the gap. With Lunch out of the way (is lunch the right meal… I don’t know) I settled in with some more coffee to work and get some of the trip report out of the way. A couple of coffees later I was up to date and decided to settle in to a few movies on a nicely outstretched bed. YAY!

I let the ladies in charge of first change my seat into a bed and I ducked out to the bathroom, when I came back it had all been fixed and I settled down in a slightly modified bed mode (head elevated). I didn’t want to sleep on this daylight flight as if I stayed awake I could keep myself going and crash out when I finally reached Seattle around my bed time. The bumpy flight helped to ensure I didn’t really try and sleep all that much. The flight had been bumpy from the start and with so much bumping, lying down to sleep was not really going to happen.

While I watched my movie, I ended up with another coffee (somehow) and I also wondered if they had any cookies (hey… you know my weaknesses… stop judging). It seemed to be the one thing the FCT was missing and I was hoping they had something with some crunch. The flight attendant on duty (it was Kira at the time) said she would see what she could find as I don’t think it was a standard F item. I sipped on my coffee and low and behold a few minutes later a plate of wrapped cookies arrived at my seat. I am not sure where she got them, but damn they were delicious. I will deny any knowledge of half the supplied cookies landing up in my suitcase.

By the time my movie was finishing up, the cabin was starting to wake up from all their sleeping. I think I was the only one up front who did not go to sleep at all. This was something that confused the hell out of me as if I was heading just to EWR, I wouldn’t want to be waking up around 2pm local and then getting in at 4pm local to then head to bed a few hours later. That doesn’t make any sense to me. As the cabin slowly started to strip down their bedding and the crew put it all away, people started getting ready for the 2nd meal service. I was really not at all that hungry at this stage and thankfully Lufthansa probably knows this. The 2nd meal service is more of a light meal service with a salad cart buffet followed with a piece of cake or fruit for dessert. For me this was perfect but since I just wasn’t hungry at all, I got just a small amount of vegies (I was dreaming more vegies I swear). The salad was fresh and tasty and hit the spot for something that just should top me off.

We started a very long gradual descent over New England and it was still bumpy. I don’t think there was a moment on this flight where there was not a whole lot of bumps for anything more than say 10 minutes. Crazy! We descended with fantastic views of New York City on the wrong side of the plane to me. That was just not fair. The touch down at Newark was a sad moment, it meant that this dream flight was over and now I had to contend with US Immigration and the worst part. Transiting Newark.

This flight of just 8 hours in length had been something I had dreamt of for quite some time. I wanted to ensure that this flight was everything that I could want and more. If it could have continued on forever I would have loved that. The crew looking after F (insert name & Kira) were two fantastic ladies who could not do more to look after me. Even though we had an almost full cabin, they were fantastic and helpful and amazingly kind. They were the epitome of their job imo. As we pulled up to the gate and the seat belt sign came off, I grabbed my stuff and lined up to get off the plane. I said my final goodbyes to the ladies and resounded to make sure that they would get the credit that they deserve for being such an amazing crew.

I stepped off the flight into the terminal at Newark and knew that this part of the adventure was going to be interesting.

It is that time of the year, and that means that it is time to start prepping the Christmas Treats. This time there is more fun to it since I have Heidi’s family to add into the mix. But of course it means plenty of good stuff. Like Rocky Road:

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

White Christmas

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

and Rum Balls

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

The best part is making things like cookies, shortbread or fudge, just for the hell of it. This years treats took a solid 2 half days worth of work and it should make so many people happy. Double batches of Short Bread and Rum Balls means that everyone can enjoy a little bit.

I have loved that this year I can share out my favourite Christmas treats to so many more people, yet I have so much fun just making it and being able to share a little piece of myself to so many other people.

One of the things that I decided with our wedding was to continue a tradition (well kind of) that my father did when he got married. Some of you know that my father cooks a lot. One of his most known food items, is “the cake”. He makes the best fruit cake (or as some people call it, rum cake). When he got engaged he had made his usual cake and had transported it to Sydney where he was visiting my mother. When they got engaged, they decided to keep that piece of fruit cake and use it as the Top tier of their wedding cake. So what did I do with our cake? Rather than make one tier… how about the whole cake! It would save us money, we could have EXACTLY what we wanted and I could be happy with what we achieved.

We wanted at least 2 tiers, but wanted to have a cake that we could freeze the top tier (per that tradition) till our first anniversary. So that meant a multiple tier cake. I wasn’t sure if an 8″ cake and a 6″ cake would be enough, so we ended up with 3 tiers, just to make sure we had enough cake. We were only having a small “reception” (more on that in the next installment) but I wanted to make sure everyone had some cake, and some to take home as well. It may have caused many, many “discussions” with Heidi, but in the end we both were happy.

The cake was decided on a Lemon Buttermilk cake (we found the recipe online actually) and with a filling of Lemon Curd. The frosting was the part that we always went backwards and forwards over. Unfortunately Heidi doesn’t like fondant, so it meant that we had to have a soft frosted cake. I wanted to make sure I had a frosting that wasn’t to heavy with the cake, but Heidi wanted full buttercream, something that could be quite heavy.

We tested it several times over to find the right one. In the end with the wedding cake, there was a total of 10 cakes made…. that’s right, 10 sponges. 2 double layer test cakes (so that is 4 cakes right there) plus the actual cake itself. It was a lot of cake! Each cake had almost a half dozen eggs, so much flour, butter, sugar. O lordy just thinking about it scares me!

But let’s look at some of the pictures:

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

That’s what my kitchen looked like after the first set of 8 sponges being made that day!

From Life in Seattle 2014

Thankfully I have a nice high powered stand mixer!

From Life in Seattle 2014

8 Sponges, 6 for the wedding cake and 2 for the final test cake

From Life in Seattle 2014

The Final test cake, testing 2 different kinds of frosting, mere days before the wedding

From Life in Seattle 2014

Starting assembly

From Life in Seattle 2014

First Tier Complete

From Life in Seattle 2014

Lots of Frosting!

From Life in Seattle 2014

2nd tier ready to go up

From Life in Seattle 2014

Starting the frosting process

From Life in Seattle 2014

Final Tier Up

From Life in Seattle 2014

The Final Cake!

So the day of the wedding came around, I had already spent two full days stressing over the cake (don’t even start me on almost covering the kitchen in frosting due to the mixer almost overflowing with Swiss Meringue Frosting) and I had one last thing to do. I had hoped that it would be an easy day, just drive the cake from Renton to Columbia City to the restaurant and it would all be ok…. Nope! I got the cake ready to travel and since I spent the night alone (again, more in the next piece) I had to get it over to the restaurant alone and as easily as possible.

From Life in Seattle 2014

It rained unfortunately that morning so here I am stressing to make sure the cake has no marks, or any problems while I transport it down 4 floors to the car park, then on wet, crappy Seattle roads drive it across town. Joy of Joys! I had barely gotten the cake into the car when this:

From Life in Seattle 2014

The seatbelt slipped out of my hands and caught the top of the cake. I was swearing, cussing, all kinds of bad things, but thankfully I still had frosting and had it in a container in the freezer. I ran upstairs and grabbed it, along with a pallette knife and off to the restaurant. Once I got there I fixed it, and I also left the extra frosting there, just in case. In the end I did have to make a few touch ups to the cake right when they bought the cake out of the kitchen as unfortunately the staff didn’t treat it that kindly.

But the cake was a success, everyone liked it and it was a good choice. We still have the top tier in our freezer and it will sit there for a solid year. I don’t regret making the cake, but to anyone contemplating making a wedding cake…. DON’T DO IT!

On Friday, I got a message from the lovely Heidi suggesting we go to Ocean Shores with her family on Sunday. Ocean Shores is down on the Olympic Peninsula, a part of the state that I have not been to. So I agreed to it, and so plans were made. Being that we wanted to explore a little more there was decisions as to who was going to drive. Of course Heidi knows where she is going and has a car that doesn’t eat gas like the Ram does, so i mean that would be the obvious choice right? Well in Ocean Shores your allowed to drive on the nice big wide beaches… and if you find somewhere that has a bit of open space…. well, that was the deciding factor. Ram it is!!

So Sunday rolls around and we head on down to Ocean Shores. We make good time and spend some time relaxing by the water. Of course my first time driving on Sand was a bit wierd and thankfully there was a 25 mph speed limit so I wasn’t watching as people were doing 100mph or more on the beach. What I wanted to find though was a nice big empty piece of sand. I found it and my first attempt at a bit of circle work was really disappointing. It was just so… boring. Something wasn’t right.

After a break off the sand to pick up a few drinks and some snackage (since Heidi’s family had actually thought ahead and brought most of the food), I had a good thought… Traction control off…. well that made all the difference

So as you can see, I finally got to do some donuts on the sand in the end I had quite the amount of fun…

From Life in Seattle 2014

But it wasn’t all about the truck and the sand, it was about spending time with Heidi & her family… something I really enjoyed.

From Life in Seattle 2014

Getting to know them a bit better was worth the day and Ocean Shores was a great day out. The weather was fantastic (even if the wind picked up a little) and I got to see some of Heidi’s family history from around that area as well. I even got to see a house one of her relatives grew up in (I think it was Great Grandmother… I forget). Then to top off a pretty awesome day… I got to try Yak for the first time:

From Life in Seattle 2014

That is a Yak Patty Melt and it was pretty tasty. Like Buffalo but a tiny bit more gamey, a good dinner. Though I would of liked to finish it off with one of these

From Life in Seattle 2014

I am sure I will be heading back to Ocean Shores again soon, maybe a weekend out of it this time. Some sunset shots by the beach though… o and more circle work!

Heidi & I have two things in common, we both love a good breakfast and we both love a good bargain (although Heidi’s bargain love is more towards clothes than anything else) so if you can combine the two, well that is a sure fire win. There had been many Groupon etc deals floating around for a restaurant on Capitol Hill called Manhattan but after further investigation, you could get a pretty awesome deal without the need of the Groupon. On Saturdays & Sundays for the first hour of their Brunch service (10-11am) it’s classed as “Happy Hour” and they give you half off your Brunch meal. So as long as you order by 11am your main entree portion (sides and drinks don’t count) are half price… Freaking Win! So off we went to check it out.

From Life in Seattle 2014

The restaurant was a little bit tough to find at first as it was fairly non descript on the outside, but on the inside it is definately fairly eclectic. A steakhouse for lunch and dinner, and a unique one at that, the decor was unique alright including the lovely Ram’s Head decoration above the bar.

From Life in Seattle 2014

I forget the name of the Rams Head (bar tender told me) but they refer to it as the “12th Ram” (damn Seahawks fans are everywhere) and yes, those are AR-15s on the horns (not an M-16 as i reffered to it as and got corrected but they are essentially the same thing, don’t get me started). The Menu was all southern inspired and I was in a sweet mood (as usual) & Heidi just could not overlook anything with the words “Sausage Gravy”. So I ended up with the Chocolate Chip Pancakes

From Life in Seattle 2014

Heidi had the Country Fried Steak

From Life in Seattle 2014

And we shared a side of Jalapeno Corn Bread and some White Cheddar Grits

From Life in Seattle 2014

Service was pretty good and relatively quick, although I didn’t get a 3rd refill of coffee (yeah I really shouldn’t complain about that i know, but i <3 my coffee so kill me) that was about the worst complaint. The food was REALLY good and the grits were delicious. The pancakes were not really huge and giant like I expected but a good mix of both thin & fluffy at the same time, plenty of chocolate. The steak that Heidi ordered was HUGE for a breakfast portion and extremely tasty (it was apparently only 5oz... but I don't believe that at all). The breading on it was crunchy and spicy at the same time and the gravy was pretty darn good. Mixing the Grits with the Cornbread made for some really good flavor combinations and i felt that if the Sausage gravy had been replaced by Grits on that steak, I would of inhaled Heidi's plate for her. Some ladies at the table next to us gave us one of their Beignets and they were pretty good (would of been better warm no doubt) and they were as impressed by the food as we were. All in all my pancakes cost $5 and Heidi's steak was $7 thanks to the happy hour pricing and if we had not of had sides or a cocktail/liqueur coffee it would of been a pretty cheap morning! So if you up for a good breakfast that has an amazing deal... well I would definitely go for Manhattan. While it may not be the Best Breakfast in Seattle, it is definitely the best Breakfast DEAL in Seattle

Well since I have a new Breakfast partner in crime, a number of these reviews will pop up in the future. Again as before I don’t want to make this a breakfast review site, but hell, it’s always a little bit fun to show others how awesome some places are.

First off the Rank is The Commons in Woodinville. Run by the Heavy Restaurant Group who also run Barrio (Where I had my birthday brunch last year) it is their newest outpost and is luckily only 10 minutes or so from my house. Loved being able to be at a new breakfast option without having to go downtown. Thankfully I had made a reservation with the HRG twitter team earlier in the week as when we arrived there was a lovely long line waiting for a table #win.

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

It had a very old school country kitchen feel to it and I kinda liked it. The dominating point to me was the big table of baked goods just inside the door. Covered in Baked goodies like scones, muffins, cookies & other such awesomeness, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into one of these:

From Life in Seattle 2014

We were sat within 5 minutes or so and the first thing on both our minds was coffee which was promptly brought out by the lovely waitress who we shortly ordered with and after asking for the cinnamon roll to share with extra frosting, we got approving looks. That soon landed on our table, all warm and gooey and yummy, we attempted to cut it but failed when the cream cheese frosting went everywhere. Instead we just started to get stuck into it when our meals arrived.

From Life in Seattle 2014

Heidi ordered the Pork Belly Biscuit & I went with the Granola (I was wanting something fairly crunchy for once) and both were good. The Granola was to die for and the berries that came with it were devine. Heidi’s biscuit was good but even better with the addition of some of the Barrio Hot Sauce they provide.

From Life in Seattle 2014

We both agreed the place was the bomb and definately good value. Add on the service which was fantastic (even when they forgot about our potatoes) I can’t fault the place! Definately want to go back!

Yesterday was a pretty good day for me. It was a day full of fun and adventure, sunlight and good food, albeit really cold for part of the morning.

Started off the day in a fog filled Auburn where my friend Heidi had decided to take me to the best banana bread in Seattle. I was up for that, I do like banana bread (haven’t made any in ages and I needed a good bit to enjoy). What I was really looking forward to was a good brunch as it had been a while. We were having breakfast at the Sunbreak Cafe. A Fitting name considering there was no sun out down that way (up my end of town there was).

From Life in Seattle 2014

Portions were huge but the Banana bread was the star of the show. Soft & pillowy, delciously sweet yet not overpowering. The best part of it though was the fact that it was warmed and they cut a little slot down the middle and dumped in a nice little knob of butter, good delicious salted butter. So when you hit that middle portion as it melted into it, it was warm, and soft and buttery and bannanery (yes I am making up words).

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

Add in good coffee (small cups though… come on!) and it is obvious why they had such a line up on a Sunday morning. We didn’t wait that long so I can’t give them bad marks for that. The company was good and I enjoyed it (even though the view out the window was all fog). After breakfast we hit the road to enjoy some of the sunshine that was out. While driving north on the 405 and contemplating plans, somehow it came up that I had not been out to Snoqualmie Falls. I had always told myself I would go up there, but it just never happened. The sun was out, the sky was blue, I had good company, why not go up there. So off we went.

From Life in Seattle 2014

The falls were really nice and I enjoyed seeing it for the first time. The falls apparently were not at their peak (At least from what I was told today) but it looked pretty good and powerful to me. Plenty of photos taken and time to do some more exploring. On numerous times I had to stop Heidi from venturing off to explore places we shouldn’t (maybe i should of let her loose?) and there was plenty of places where you could of walked off the track to find some small animals to hunt (but you can’t hunt up there can you?). By the time we headed off, it was warming up a little so we had to get rid of the jackets and wave bye bye to the falls as coffee was calling out!

From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014
From Life in Seattle 2014

It was a great day and I had a blast spending time with Heidi. I see some more Breakfast/brunch adventures coming my way soon so I can’t wait to get that back rolling again, especially since I need new brunch buddy.