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Tim Foolery

Home » 2011 » August (Page 2)

Monthly Archives: August 2011

African Trip Review — Day in London with Friends

After clearing customs I head to the nearest pay phone. Since I use Verizon (and at the time of this trip was using a phone without a SIM card), I had to find a pay phone to call my friends in London to get the final plans or the day. I had already purchased my Heathrow Express (HEX) ticket online while in the US. We decided to meet at Liverpool Street Station. I guess at this point, I should remind everyone that I spent 4 weeks in London while in College, but that was 10 years ago. I know how to ride the Tube and I have a basic understanding of London streets.

The HEX is the best deal ever. for $50US you get a coach seat (which includes free wifi) from Heathrow to Paddington Station in only 15 minutes (it would take over an hour on the tube). Since my flight to CPT was leaving at 2050, spending 2 hours on the train was not acceptable.
I arrive at Paddington and spend about 10 minutes studying the transit map, trying to figure out where Liverpool Street was. For a moment, I thought Liverpool might border Paddington Station, but that didn’t make sense. I opted to take the Hammersmith Line 5 stops to Liverpool. I didn’t mention the woman I was meeting for lunch, I had never met before. AS is a woman that I worked with, electronically (email and phone) for a couple of years and just hit it off with. As I leave the Liverpool station I had a thought that I wouldn’t actually see AS, but just wander aimlessly. Surprisingly we managed to find each other without an issue at all.
We headed to lunch in the new Lloyd’s of London building, the restaurant was Lime Street (I believe). There were 5 of us, 3 from Heath Lambert and one from Dewitt Stearn. I knew all the Heath People but not the DS guy. We ordered apps (I had the prawns) and honestly I have no idea what my entree was. The prawns were tiny (but had a good count in the dish) they still had the head and legs on and had something in the legs. None of us were sure how to eat them — they were small enough, it wouldn’t surprise me to eat the whole thing head an all. Once you pulled it all apart there wasn’t much left to it. Obviously my entree wasn’t great since I remember nothing about it.
After lunch we walked around to a little pub near Paddington station again. Since I had never had an unofficial stay over in London like this, and I was heading on to CPT that night, I wanted to get to Heathrow a bit early to make sure I got everything I needed done. I decided I would take the 1711 train back to Heathrow, again, leaving from Paddington. We sat in the pub in Paddington for about 2.5 hours chatting enjoying a pint and just relaxing. Another friend, who I met through the consular crowd in Chicago also popped over to see me, which was quite lovely.
I hopped on the HEX and said a sad good bye to my friends and headed back to Heathrow. There was no one in line at the South Africa desk and no one in line at security. I was sitting in the Star Alliance Gold Lounge at 1747. I could have stayed for another pint in London…actually I seriously considered training back in to the City to meet Nina again for another pint, but I thought that might be cutting it close. Instead I stayed in the lounge had a bit of snacks (love trying the different flavored potato chips) and watched TV and just relaxed.
If you haven’t been to the International Transfer Terminal at Heathrow, they have a big holding/shopping area and once you’re flight has been assigned a departure gate (usually 15-20 minutes before boarding begins) you can walk to the gate. My gate to CPT wasn’t assigned until after we were supposed to be in the air. I was nervous thinking that maybe the flight was actually boarding and I was going to miss it (turning into my mother, I guess) but there were 3 or 4 other people in the lounge waiting for the announcement too. Once it was announced I headed on out — again not knowing exactly how far my gate was. After about 5 minutes of walking I saw the beautiful SAA plane sitting WAY OFF IN THE DISTANCE. I walked and walked and walked and finally arrived at the gate. The excitement was building — Africa is within my grasp!
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African Trip Review — Transit: ORD-LHR

We planned this trip to Africa because MS had a friend getting married in Joburg. I couldn’t take enough time off to go to the wedding so I came late. The isn’t an easy way to get to Cape Town from Chicago – definitely no direct flights, you have to transfer at least once and more often two or three times to get there. I took the shortest option: ORD-LHR-CPT. This will quickly review that flight.

Carrier: United Air Lines
Flight #: 938
Seat: 20B
Departure: March 1, 2011 – 21:01 / 21:00
Arrival: March 2, 2011 – 11:05 / 10:47
Travel Time: 8 hours 4 minutes / 7 hours 50 minutes
Flight Miles: 3,953
I worked all day on Tuesday, came home to finish packing and head off to the airport. I was flying coach, but was offered an upgrade to First Class, but only for this leg, not the long leg to Cape Town. United wanted over $900 for the upgrade. This is totally insane, even I wouldn’t do that…but if it was $900 for the whole ticket round trip to upgrade, I would have totally gone for it. I arrive at ORD in time to check in and hit the Red Carpet Club (RCC). I enjoyed a bad glass of red wine and headed off to my gate. I really love the RCC near B14 at ORD, the others are too big or too small and not as modern.
My flight looked about only 70% full, so the night before I changed my seat from an exit row with a seat mate to an aisle without a seat mate. Imagine my surprise when I sit down and another traveler sits next to me. He was part of a large group of Brits returning from a football (soccer) exhibition in the US and Canada…unfortunately not a single one of them were cute. Ugh.
The service started while on the ground, the stews were handing out a section of newspapers (Financial Times or the Globe). The Brits didn’t want either and they made it abundantly clear. I couldn’t move to another seat as there weren’t any better seats in my area. The Brit next to me, smelled like he’d been out on a bender for several months (booze, beer and cigs). He used the washroom quite a bit but wouldn’t ask me to move, he’d just crawl over me. After I told him I’m more than happy to get up, he said it wouldn’t matter and continued to crawl over me.
I had the ravioli for dinner, which I’d rate a 5 out of 10 – traditionally the ravioli is top notch — not so much today. The movie selection was acceptable, but the only film I really wanted to see was The Kings Speech. I thought it was very well done, even if it was “edited for content and length”. After dinner I closed my eyes and slept off an on for about 5 hours total — waking up as my neighbor was crawling over me, then I’d watch another snippet of The Kings Speech” then doze off again. This continued every 45 minutes for the entire flight. Less than ideal.
We landed at LHR and had a short taxi to the gate. As it was Heathrow it did took about 9 hours of walking to get to Customs/Immigration. I had a short session with the officer, who was quite confused as to why I would be spending only 8 hours in London and not just sitting at the airport until my evening departure. I can’t believe this is an uncommon practice. London is a major transfer hotel and I’m sure most people don’t just sit and wait…do they?

African Trip Review — Introduction

I’ve been wanting to do a full review of my amazing trip to Africa in March, but haven’t gotten around to any of it yet. It seemed like too daunting of a task — 10 days in Africa pushing myself to try new things and experience something that is so far from my normal life was a bit overwhelming for me.

Lately I’ve been reading a TON of travel blogs and everyone I read handles their trip reviews in small manageable chunks: Not necessarily a day by day review, but it could be an experience by experience review — you just bite off a little bit at a time and before you know it the recap is over. I will follow this model on Africa — and hopefully will have it mostly completed before I run off to Paris. Below is what I envision the review will fold out:
  1. Transit: ORD-LHR
  2. Day in London with Friends
  3. Transit: LHR:CPT
  4. Westin Cape Town
  5. Cape Town Review/Gay Pride
  6. Cape of Good Hope Drive
  7. Bike and Wine Tour
  8. Transit: CPT-JNB-VFA
  9. Matetsi Water Lodge
  10. Game Drives
  11. Victoria Falls
  12. Birders
  13. Transit: VFA-JNB-LHR
  14. LHR: Star Alliance Gold Lounge
  15. Transit: LHR-ORD
  16. Final Thoughts

Fingers crossed that this works out as I expect, eh? Based on the number of things I want to discuss I have to do more than one post a day if I want this to be completed before I go to Paris…Good luck with that!

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Hilton Toronto Review

I was surprised a couple weeks ago when I received a letter from Hilton offering me Gold Status (second tier elite) until February 2013. I have never stayed in a Hilton in my life – I was granted this status because of some sort of arrangement between United and Hilton. I had a trip planned shortly after I received this notification, so I decided to switch hotels from the Courtyard Marriott Toronto (lower class Marriott) to the Hilton (not top of the line, but higher class in the Hilton chain). I figured, I’d give it a try, and if it sucked, I’d never return. I actually kept my Marriott reservation for 2 of the three days, just in case I hated this hotel.
Before the trip, I began following Hilton and Hilton Toronto on twitter and corresponding a bit with them — they were quite responsive. Hilton allows you to check in online early (neither Marriott nor Starwood allows for this). I like the idea, and you get to choose which room you want. I opted for the Junior King Suite on the 27th floor, away from the elevators and the ice machine. I tweeted HiltonToronto and told them I loved the online check in option and asked if I had picked a good room. In just a few moments their Social Media folks had contacted me and said they had changed my room to a lower room because my selection wasn’t the best. Good to know.
I arrive around 2200 and went to the Gold Elite Check-in Counter. Check-in was easy and the front desk gave me a run down of the amenities offered by the hotel. Once I arrived in my room I found a nice note from the Social Media people, along with some cookies and a fruit bowl. The fruit was tasty but the cookies were quite stale. Being a gold member I have access to the Executive Lounge which has limited food/drinks throughout the day. We had breakfast their one morning. My room was a great size for 1 or two people traveling together. It definitely needed a full refresh though. The room seemed to have an overall “dirty” feel, but there wasn’t a single thing that jumped out as dirty in the room. One thing that did concern me was the amount of hair in my room. Short hair, long hair, straight hair, curly hair — it’s like Dr. Seuss hotel review. The bathroom as a different story though. Look at the picture in the tub below – lots of residual stains/dirt.
My colleague’s room had a nasty stink in the bathroom. We mentioned this to the Executive Lounge receptionist and she was quick to get the cleaning crew out and offered us a free restaurant breakfast for the following morning. Evidently the bathroom wasn’t dirty, per se, the shower curtain just had a severe mold/mildew issue. After the second time requesting a clean job, they fixed the issue.
Now for the food at the Hilton. The bar food was great – some amazing sliders with stone ground mustard and a tomato remoulade. Loved it. We ate breakfast one day at Tundra (gratis because of the stink in my colleague’s room), and well…it was a buffet breakfast at a hotel. If I would have paid the $26C they were charging I would have been very upset. The breakfast was subpar, but we were expecting that.
I am not sure if I would stay at this hotel again…the service was really great, but the property itself was a little off. Perhaps the staff was aware of this and were compensating by being very attentive (or perhaps all Hilton’s are that attentive….?).

Guest Room Finale

It has been an extremely long time since I’ve blogged. I was updating quite a bit earlier this summer, especially when I was so manic about doing the art and updating the world every boring step. If you remember I wanted the art finished and the guestroom finalized by mid July when I had two friends coming to stay…well that didn’t happen. I did manage to get some art on the wall before a SECOND guest game.


LT came to visit last week and I was pretty disgusted with myself that I hadn’t even put art (or worked on any of my other projects). I was pretty swamped that week before she arrived so I had to throw thing together right before she arrived — even though I had months to prep…that’s how I live my life though.
Pictures of the guest room are at the bottom of this post. As you can see, I put my home made canvas art above the bed as a pseudo head board. On the east wall I put a grouping of 5 black and white photos near the window. The photos are just printed on standard printer paper — I figured I’d want to see how the art looked before I paid for real prints (silly, I know, since prints cost about $0.03 each, but still). I took all the photos myself — and they are all taken from my neighborhood — all less than a 10 minute walk from my home.
I still haven’t decided what to do at the foot of the bed on the wall. I thought about putting a TV on the wall, but I’m not sure if I really want a TV in there or not. I did manage to hang that $5 mirror I got from Salvation Army. I opted not to paint it, because 1) it doesn’t have a wooden frame, but a metal frame and 2) I didn’t have time. I do like the bit of color on that wall.
I did keep the standard amenities available but added one small art piece to the guest dresser.
Let me know your thoughts. Do you like the lay out? What about the red hexagonal mirror? What should go on the wall at the foot of the bed? Have you done any changes to your home or guest room specifically? What project should I work on next?