Tim Foolery

Minneapolis: Need Advice

I remember way back when….I use to ask for advice and recommendations when I traveled from the blogosphere. I’ve fallen out of that habit, often to my detriment. I’m going to dip my toes back into the untamed world of asking for help from complete strangers again. I will say, you all have provided some great recommendations in the past…

I’m off to Minneapolis for work in a couple weeks. I’ve got hotels all squared away, but I need help on finding the hot new places to eat and drink. Those who are regular readers know that I’m not a fan of chain restaurants…no matter how “great YOUR PF Chang’s is.”

Some basics on my trip. I’ll be traveling with a junior member of my team  so I will be very strict on our expenses…you know, setting a good example. So dinner is capped at $55/person, all included. We are staying downtown and will have a car, but will likely be Ubering around because we will want to have a drink.

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I always enjoy a fun cocktail when traveling. Where can I get a great drink and a bite to eat in Minneapolis?

I don’t care about fancy restaurants, even if Michelin did rate Minneapolis, places of that ilk aren’t really going to work on this trip. I’d love to find a great little place for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail. I want a quality restaurant that is unique to Minneapolis (or St. Paul, but not too much farther afield).

Where is your favorite place to grab a drink when you are in Minneapolis? Do you life in the Twin Cities and love pushing out-of-towners to places they’d never stumble upon by themselves? If so, I want to hear from you!

Glamorous Business Travel

Anyone who thinks regular business travel is glamorous either has never traveled for work or has one of those elusive jobs where you travel to picture perfect places and aren’t dealing with the general public… I have never met anyone with a job like that.

I spent some time in Seattle for work recently, which had consisted of long days and a few technology hiccups, all of which were pretty run of the mill. The flight back home is where things took a stomach churning turn for the worse.

I was seated in 5B on an older B757. I still love United’s B757 for transcontinental travel (not intercontinental though!) – I love turning left for the First Class Cabin. This frees up the aisle so you can get a nice pre-departure beverage and not get bumped by the 100+ people sitting behind you.

All started out well enough. We boarded, we got a drink, we had a quick roll and a flawless take off. Lunch was served and by the time they got to me, the pasta option was gone and only the Beef Provançale was left. The Stew called it the Provonckal…with a very hard “Kah” sound. It tore my Francophile ear to shreds. Fine. I’ll have the beef.

The gentlemen in 6E (across the aisle and one row behind me), began eating his pasta and through my noise cancelling headphones I heard a bit of a commotion. I turn back and I see him profusely vomitting all over his tray of food. I don’t mean he had a little air sickness or a sour stomach. He was profusely coughing, but he wasn’t choking. It was like someone turned on the vomit spigot to full blast. He was just pouring his insides out onto his tray.

The poor guy next to him (trapped in the window seat) began frantically ringing the call button (rightfully so). The Stew came back and saw the mayhem that had commenced and she turns and runs back to the galley. Within 10 seconds she had returned with gloves and a dust mask (for some reason) and a big hefty kitchen trash bag.

He continued to vomit.

She gave him a couple air sickness bags.

He continued to vomit. Not just a regular total evacuation of your insides either. He was pouring vomit from his mouth and nose. And the nose vomit was blowing big bubbles as it escaped, as if the vomit was cheering its new found freedom. It took everything for me not to become his second in a vomit duo 35,000 feet above Idaho.

The Stew grabbed his tray and dumped it into the garbage bag and he, in a muffled, vomit stoked yell, said he wasn’t finished with his meal. Yes, the meal on which he had just regurgitated at least a liter of goo. The Stew ignored him and hurried back to the galley.

The second Stew come back to help, but she’s wearing more personal protective equipment, including what appears to be an apron, but not a traditional serving apron. No, this apron looked like something from Saw or Hostel…it was like she decided the only way to remedy this situation was to dismember this passenger.

Luckily it didn’t come to that.

He had finished vomiting. The Stews did a stellar job of cleaning up all the nastiness that had befallen that seat (at least as I could tell from the relative comfort of Seat 5B).

This guy wasnt drunk. This guy didn’t appear to have issues any other time in the flight. He looked pale, but that often happens when you throw up 5% of your body weight while in transit. He didn’t look sick (like he was undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment…and I can personally attest to how awful those flights are when traveling with someone who is). I don’t know what the trigger was, but I am sure as shit happy as a mother fucking clam that I didn’t sit next to that poor bastard.

Do you think United called in a special maintenance ticket to clean the shit out of that seat…or did the just wipe it down with a Clorox wipe and move on to the next destination. The poor sap who sat in 6E on the next leg likely had no idea what awfulness his seat had just gone through.

Oh the humanity.

What’s the grossest thing you’ve seen while traveling on a plane?

The Camby, Autograph Collection (Phoenix)

We visit Arizona every summer, usually around the July 4th weekend. These trips allow us to visit family, friends and spend some much needed time relaxing in the pool with a cocktail. We always stay the first night in Phoenix because after a long day of work and travel, the last thing we want to do is drive the few hours from Phoenix to Prescott or Sedona. Plus, Phoenix in July is sweltering, so hotel room rates are low and you can get access to nice properties at a great discount. 

For the past couple of years we would stay at the Aloft Phoenix Airport, but after last year’s interaction with the strippers doing a show in the lobby and manager playing it off as normal and acceptable, we decided to branch out.  Since Marriott acquired Starwood, I’ve been a bit less loyal to Starwood. I’ll get into that some other time.

I searched for great hotels and low prices and found the Camby for only $109 per night, plus taxes and fees, which was only $30 more than the whorehouse Aloft PHX, a good deal in my book. 

After a short delay out of Chicago and a quick pickup of the rental car (Silver Car), we arrived at the Camby around 22h30. The hotel doesn’t offer a self park option, but if you want to skip the valet, you can park at the movie theater that charges and hourly and overnight rate. We opted to pay the $33 per day for the valet…the idea of saving $10 (+/-) but having to walk across the parking lot in 100F heat didn’t appeal much to me.

We were greeted by the two front desk reps with big smiles and a hearty hello the second we were in their line of sight.  I had received a push notification that our room had been upgraded and I’d just need to stop by the front desk to pick up my keys.

The woman helping us was very friendly, she thanked me for my loyalty as a Platinum Member (which I earned by staying 50+ nights with Starwood then matched status with Marriott). She confirmed we’d been upgraded to a Luxe room…which seemed to just have a better view, which wasn’t all that beneficial for our short stay, but it’s better than that awful Zero Floor Upgrade I had years ago in Texas). I chose the 750 Mariott Point welcome bonus, in lieu of $15 off breakfast per person at the hotel (I’m not really a breakfast guy and hotels have such over priced and underwhelming offerings).  I did take the $10 bar credit in lieu of the 500 additional Marriott Points offered. After a long day I needed a drink.

We went to our room to drop off our luggage then headed straight back down to the bar.  The elevator to the guest room  appeared to have some smeared shit in the floor. When we headed back down to the bar, I told the front desk folks, but it was still in the elevator when we went back to our room more than an hour later. It was gone in the morning though.

It appears someone left some feces in the elevator

Broken hand rail in the elevator.

The hallways blended contemporary styles with classic Native American textiles

Our room was a larger standard room, with a king bed, a small seating area and a mountain view.
The bathroom was really nicely upgraded, with great (both smelling and acting) bath products by Nest. The bathroom initially seemed a bit dark, but the white tile really brightened up the area, despite having just two low output lights. The hot water took more than two minutes to actually arrive in our room, which was shocking to me. The only negative thing in the bathroom was the cheap plastic shower floor. It just made it seem a bit low rent, even though everything else was quite nice.

The single vanity bathroom worked fine for us. That shark / clothesline art was pretty cool, in my book.

The shower had great Nest products and wonderful water pressure, but it took an inordinate amount of time for the hot water to kick in.

I really enjoyed the Nest products offered at the Camby.

I really enjoyed the art throughout the hotel’s public spaces and in the guest rooms. It wasn’t the standard hotel cheap you see, it had a local vibe and a modern flair with neon, cacti and clean lines.

Cow skull lighted art in the guestroom. While I don’t want one for our house, I do dig it.

Our room was of decent size, with a quite comfortable king sized bed and a small sitting area.

Our couch continued the Native American theme found in the hallway.

The quintessential coffee and beverage bar.

The bar was a dark but nicely appointed space (it was actually the restaurant and bar). We stayed with the signature craft cocktails on the menu, but interestingly enough, these bartenders had no idea how to make these drinks, they had to frantically run around trying to find the recipe cards. They had the vibe of hipster craft cocktail masters (beards, matte black/gun metal grey linen shirts, red suspemders…yeah, you know who I’m talking about), but not the immediate knowledge. The drinks are good and well balanced and the service was quick too. 
I really enjoyed my 10 hour stay at the Camby and will definitely return if the price is right and the timing works. I don’t like to spend much on these short post flight stays, that being said, if I were spending more time in the area I’d definitely stay again.

Habe you stayed at the Camby? Did you like it better as the Ritz Carlton? What was your favorite cocktail?

Air Asia Economy (RGN-DMK)

Our last shorthaul flight on our trip to Myanmar had us leaving Yangon on Air Asia to Bangkok. I had never flown Air Asia before but I usually try to stear clear of low cost carriers because you can often get stuck paying a lot more in fees (carryon, checked bags, seat assignments, etc), than you initially plan. We really didn’t have an option for this trip as the flights to Bangkok on Thai (our preference) or Myanmar National Airlines all left dramatically later than we wanted. We wanted to spend the afternoon in Bangkok and a 15h30 departure from Yangon would help us out in that regard.

We decided on Air Asia because the flight times were the best we could find, plus the air fare was very reasonable. Air Asia wasn’t flying into BKK,  but DMK (Don Mueang International Airport) instead. It looked to be a bit closer to the St. Regis anyway and our goal was to enjoy Bangkok, so we booked it.

Our driver from Yangon, earlier in the trip, picked us up at the domestic terminal and drove us to the international terminal. It was very generous and included in the price we paid for the tour, but it really wasn’t necessary the distance between the terminals wasn’t long nor was it convoluted.

We had about two hours between the time our flight from Heho landed until we left for Bangkok. Yangon has a contract lounge and with your Priority Pass you can gain access. That is of course, unless you run into the people we did at the airport. The women working the lounge wouldn’t accept our Priority Pass. She said that we weren’t welcome (that’s a quote). I figured I could just pay for access then bring it up with Citi or Chase once we get back home. No deal. We saw another passenger enter by showing some sort of pass (not a printed lounge access card, but a credit card sized pass). He was a young man of European descent. No clue what the issue was, but she kept the lounge locked up like Fort Knox.

There was a lot of empty space and not a lot of seats in Yangon, and almost no power outlets. We found seats near the gate and sat for about 90 minutes. Interestingly enough, while we waited, we met an American couple from my home state…and the woman actually went to the same college as me (20 years prior, but I went to a small school and the only other Americans we ran into having this connection with us was quite exciting).

We boarded the plane and quickly found our seats near the last row. The retired Oregonian travelers were seated in the row behind me. The man in the middle seat next to me was a very tall African man. He had two large Fosters Beers, one of which was half consumed and the other was chugged between the time we were on our take off roll but before we hit cruising altitude. As we boarded we saw a tall European (could be North American) board with a rainbow clown wig, a big red nose and a big horn that he’d honk from time to time.

Pretty tight pitch on this Air Asia flight – awful uncomfortable.

Interior shot of a moderately packed A320.

Before we reached 3,000 meters the flight attendants began service. The flight to Bangkok was less than 50 minutes, but a small snack box was served to all 180 people on board their Airbus A320. The pitch was quite tight and the African dude chugging his Fosters (and silent burping and blowing his beer stink on me) was manspreading like a motherfucker. The seat width is tight on this plane, so it really felt like he was trying to play footsie. It was a rough 50 minutes.

We landed and the Oregonians were asking where we were staying and they lost their minds when we said the St. Regis.  They were staying at an Ibis because they got a rate of 70USD per night. The St. Regis was 140USD. Big percentage difference, but an even bigger quality difference. I love the cheap luxury hotels in Bangkok.  They wanted to split a cab with us, which was probably the last thing in our list at that point. Luckily their phones weren’t working, so we told them that our hotels were in opposite directions, then once off the plane, we ran like Olympic Sprinters to ensure we didn’t have to discuss cab sharing again.

We had forgotten how tight the cabs are in Bangkok too. There would have been no way our suitcases, their backpacks and ourselves would have fit into one of those cabs. Whew.

If I had a choice between Thai and Air Asia, I’d choose Thai. For such a short flight with reasonable airfare and departure time, Air Asia was perfectly acceptable. I would definitely fly them again, if the need arose.

What do you think of Air Asia? Is it worth the hassle to save a few bucks or a few hours of vacation?

Myanmar National Airlines Economy (HEH-RGN)

Our time in Myanmar had come to a close. The final portion of our trip would have Mike and I split from John and Ryan who would continue on to Mandalay, while we headed to Bangkok for 36 hours of luxury hotels and meals.  We all were flying out of Heho (the airport that serves Inle Lake) at around the same time.

We were taking a new airline for us, Myanmar National Airlines.  This state owned and flag carrier of Myanmar has 21 planes, with six more on order and serves 31 destinations in five countries (China, India, Singapore, Thailand and of course, Myanmar).  Most of their fleet is made up of various versions of the top wing mounted ATR 72.  They have a few Boeing 737s, two Embraer E-190s and even four Cessna 208 Caravans.  Our flight to Yangon was on a new ATR 72-600

Like our other intra-Myanmar flights, we arrived at the airport and our guide wandered off with our passports and our luggage. We stood around like confused tourists, because, well  we were confused tourists. Our guide returned with our boarding passes and we walked to the gate area. Several flights were leaving around our departure time and the various gates just led out to the tarmac. It didn’t matter which gate (really, just doors) you left from, you end up on a walkway plane side.

Myanmar National Airlines Check-In Area, complete with the dry erase departures board.

Asian Wings Check-In Area.

The rest of the terminal…

I love big walls of clocks for some reason. I love seeing what time it is in different parts of the world, wondering what people are doing in that given city at that exact moment. The big board of time in Heho was a little off…

The gate area at Heho had an old world LED Clock…what’s wrong with those times?

We boarded our plane, from the rear door and took our assigned seats. Like with our trips on Air KBZ, the aircraft door closed and we were moving without us even noticing. Not sure how a small prop plane like that can be so smooth and relatively quiet, but it was.

Some pretty great plane spotting at Heho Airport.

Our chariot from Heho to Yangon. Myanmar National Airlines ATR-72 600.

The plane was pretty new and wasn’t dirty and gross like many of United’s planes, especially the small quick hop planes for flights about an hour long. The flight to Yangon was about 40 minutes and as we passed about 10,000 feet, the flight crew jumped into service.

Interior Cabin of our ATR 72-600. Clean. New. Comfortable (for a very short haul).

Pretty abysmal pitch on this flight, but for the short time aboard, we survived.

We had a breakfast box with a pain au chocolat and a type of fruit cake. The chocolate croissant was typical airline fare and the cake had an odd, super sweet flavor – I had a single bite.

Breakfast box served on our extremely short flight.

Our carb-tastic breakfast pastries. The chocolate croissant wasn’t all that bad, but I think my expectations were pretty low based on this presentation.

As we come in for a landing, the flight attendants brought around baskets of pizza candy, which I initially thought would be some funky tomato or pepperoni flavored candy (it is Asia…), alas, it was just a hard candy shaped like a slice of pizza and flavored like fruit (or even cola).

Pizza candy was our pre-arrival snack.

It just looked like pizza, but tasted like chemicals…

We landed in Yangon, right on schedule and left the plane as quickly as we boarded it. The passengers for the next flight were chomping at the bit to board and get in with their journey.  Of course, they couldn’t do that until the ground crew in Rangoon replaced a shit ton of oil in the port engine. I am no airline mechanic, but this seems like a lot of oil (they weren’t changing the oil, they were adding oil).

After landing the ground crew came with a ton of oil for the engine…that doesn’t seem right to me.

In general, unwound have absolutely no hesitation in flying Myanmar National Airlines again. The service was quick and efficient (I would have been fine with no service, it was a 40 minute flight for God’s sake). The airplane seemed safe (except for maybe the oil issue, I found upon landing).  These flights throughout Myanmar are the only real way to get around the country when you are on a short vacation – you can’t waste all that time driving or taking the train that often has inexplicable delays.