Crons in the Capital – Day 2

The second day began with Bayley and I heading to a local Arlington “landmark”, the Apple store in Clarendon. The night before, there was a bit of a water related incident with her iPhone, with the device being terminal by the time we woke up. Fortunately she got AppleCare for it, and after she handed over a few bucks, they swapped it out for a new device and we were on our way.

Leaving Clarendon, we had one main goal for the day, to hit the National Zoo. By the time we made it over there, we were both pretty hungry, and decided to stop outside the park at a little Italian bistro just down the road, Lillies Restaurant and Bar. Ended up being a pretty solid choice. We were both pretty hungry, and started off with some garlic bread, which was pretty good. For the main course, I went with lasagna, which I really enjoyed. Good sauce, and the perfect amount of ricotta for my tastes. We’d definitely eat there again.

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Our bellies full, we headed in to the zoo. Again, it’s nice to have the option to visit something like this without an entrance fee, but we did donate $5 for the zoo map as we walked in.

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We didn’t plan to see everything, but Bayley did have a list of animals she definitely didn’t want to miss. One of those targets was the panda habitat. Most of the panda stuff was shut down, as one of the panda bears was getting close to delivering a newborn, which actually happened the day after we were at the zoo. All we managed to catch was a brief glimpse of one of them while over there, which I managed to capture in a shot I had to crop pretty tightly:

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Some of the other animal highlights included the tiger, who was out playing with a ball in his pond, which was pretty fun to watch, and the otters who were all out playing too, and were fun to watch as they showed off for the crowd.

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The only negative to the zoo trip was the terrain. Going in is fine, it’s all downhill all the way to the back of the zoo. The downside to that is you’re walking all the way back up to get out. It was a little humid, too, so we headed back to the hotel after that to rest a bit, clean up, and wait for Jen.

For dinner that night, we decided to head to Old Town Alexandria. On arrival, we walked from the metro station all the way down to the waterfront and see if anything along the way sounded good. When we got to the end, we ran across Virtue Feed and Grain, and after a quick scan of the menu, decided to give it a shot. Ended up being a good choice for the most part. They seated us at the high-tops near the bar area, which was a little too loud for our tastes, but we had a great server, and the food was excellent. We happened to be there during restaurant week, so I ate off that 3 course menu. After starting with the mac and cheese, which was outstanding (quite cheesy, and almost perfectly creamy). Being a meat and potatoes guy, I went with the NY strip steak for my entree, which was excellent, having been cooked to a perfect level of medium. For dessert, I had the icebox pie, which was just okay. For something with the word ‘icebox’ in the name, I expected it to be a lot colder than it actual was (it was almost room temperature).

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After dinner, we walked around a little more, even stopping for a couple of small cones at Pop’s Ice Cream before grabbing the King St trolley back to the metro station to catch a train back to our beds 🙂

Another fun day in the DC area in the books, with one more day on tap!

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Sleepless in Seattle

Last week I had the opportunity to hang out in downtown Seattle thanks to an internal tech convention my company holds every six months. The title of this post reflects the reality of flying from Charlotte to Seattle, as I never quite got used to the time change. I was up pretty late every night (11pm-12am), and somehow managed to wake up between 4am-5am every single morning.

Anyway, for those in the tech community, think of it like (what used to be) TechEd or the replacement conference, Ignite, but it’s internal-only for those ‘Softies in the Services division around the world. It gives us a chance to hear from our peers, the various product groups, and more importantly, a chance to network. It’s been a few years since I’ve been, and with some important releases coming up within my technology space, I figured it’d be a good time to go. I won’t bore anyone with the technical side, but it was worth it all around.

Outside of the technical sessions, what else do we do while we’re there? Well, a variety of things. I won’t bore anyone talking about the conference food, which really wasn’t all that good at any point in the week (which is true for any conference I’ve ever been to – I can’t imagine it’s easy to feed large numbers of people for 5 days), but in this post I’ll briefly discuss a few of the restaurants we ventured to over the week:

The Fisherman’s Restaurant – Pier 57

After arriving Sunday evening, three of us headed to the waterfront to get some food. We were all pretty hungry, and quickly settled on The Fisherman’s Restaurant.  I’m not a seafood guy, but this wasn’t an issue as they had a perfectly good New York steak on the menu, which came with some delicious roasted potatoes. All in all it was really good, but didn’t even come close to being the best meat I had all week.

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Mmmm, steak…

Elliot’s Oyster House

A couple days later, we ventured down to the waterfront again. Earlier in the day, I’d scouted out a place that looked awesome, Radiator Whiskey (a description of ‘Meat, Whiskey, Beer‘ will get me every time), but it wasn’t to be, as they were booked until after 9pm. Brushing our disappointment aside, we walked around a bit more until we ended up down in the same waterfront area where The Fisherman’s Restaurant is. This time, we stumbled on Elliot’s. In a word, excellent. Once again, I had the New York steak, and it was easily better than what I’d had Sunday night. This one came with some delicious garlic mashed potatoes, and as shown in the pic, I added a glass of Whistle Pig 10yr Rye, which I enjoyed as well. The place is a little pricey, but the food and service were excellent.

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Loulay

Of the restaurants we visited, this was probably my only disappointment. I ate here for lunch on Wednesday to meet up with members of one of my account teams, as we’re scattered all over the east coast, and for the most part hadn’t had the chance to meet in person before.

I had the beef burger, and while it was fine (the fries and garlic aioli were the best thing on the plate, imo), it was the overall lunch menu options that left me a bit disappointed. That’s not on the chef, that’s on me. I’m fairly hard to please, and don’t really go for the more fancy fare. I’m very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so I was glad they at least had a burger on the menu. Regardless, it was nice to meet everyone face to face for a nice relaxing lunch that didn’t involve the conference food.

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MOD Pizza

On the last day of the event, a couple of us had really had our fill of the conference food, and decided to step out and find some pizza. We’d noticed MOD while walking around over the course of the week, so we headed there, and were glad we did. I’m a fan of thin crust, and ordered a mini Mad Dog, adding black olives and mushrooms, and it was delicious. I went mini so I could order some garlic strips as well. I wasn’t a big of a fan of those, as I tend to like actual garlic bread better, but live and learn. They’re apparently opening an MOD in Charlotte, about 6mi from where I work, so I see more lunch trips to MOD in my future 🙂

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Radiator Whiskey

After seeing the menu and visiting the place in person during our failed attempt to eat here a few days earlier, a couple of us decided we weren’t leaving Seattle without trying this. I was able to get reservations on Friday prior to heading to the airport, and our persistence was rewarded. The place is pretty small, hence the difficulty getting in, but it’s a cool atmosphere with some really good food, and of course, more whiskey. I had the fried pork shank, and after spending some time studying the rather large whiskey list, decided to go with the staff recommendation, which was pretty good:

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The pork was some of the best I’ve had in a long time, being perfectly cooked and just melting in your mouth. The herb aioli sauce it sat on was an excellent compliment to it as well. On the other side of the table, the guy I was eating with ordered something off the specials menu, which was some sort of turkey dish (not the confit). I generally despise turkey, but tried his, as the sauce it was cooked in looked delicious, and looks were not deceiving. That was some really good turkey!

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That about covers it for the food. Several of us also hit YardHouse one night, but it wasn’t really for the food, so I didn’t feel like including it here. All in all, our restaurant choices proved successful, and I’ll definitely be returning to a couple of those the next time I’m in Seattle.

Next up: I’ll cover our conference event at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night!

Hotel Review – Doubletree Lower Manhattan

As mentioned in a previous post, I spent last week in NYC on business. With my client’s offices being in the financial district, I decided to stay at the same Doubletree a coworker of mine uses when he goes up. This is only my second stay at a Doubletree property, the other being the one in Blooomington, IL a few years ago. I used to travel there 3-4 times a year for business, normally staying at the local Courtyard, but was convinced to try the Doubletree on one of my last trips there based on the non-stop recommendations of others. I found that visit totally underwhelming compared to the build-up, and not worth losing out on Marriott points.

So how did they hold up on this visit? Well, things started out with a small issue, but overall it was good. After landing at LGA, I grabbed a car to the hotel, and upon arriving, was greeted by a friendly gentleman at the front desk who handed me my room keys, the warm cookie, and a bag containing two bottles of water. Check-in took all of 3min thanks to Doubletree allowing you to check-in online ahead of time, including selecting your room (nice touch, BTW). I chose 4310, a king deluxe room with a view of the Hudson river. After getting my keys, I headed up to 43 and tried to enter my room. I tried, really I did. I must have tried both keys a couple dozen times, but no go. Neither worked, so back down to the desk it was with all of my stuff in tow. The clerk apologized, set those same cards up for the room once again, and back up I went. They worked like a champ this time, so that little glitch was resolved. No harm no foul, I guess.

The room itself was fine, albeit the normal tiny NYC hotel room size (smaller than I expected for something labeled “deluxe”). The view was pretty good, looking out over Battery Park with a view of the river. Some shots of the room:

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Going in to the trip, I read the reviews on TripAdvisor and noticed one repeating issue that had me a little concerned, that some people found they had long waits for elevators in the morning. Being a business trip, the last thing I wanted to deal with was a long wait for an elevator each morning, but for the most part, it was never an issue, except for Wednesday afternoon. I’d finished the day’s meetings early, and headed back to the hotel around 3:45pm. Upon arriving, I went right up to the room to change so I could head up to Central Park. When I went to grab an elevator to head out, I encountered the wait those reviews mentioned. I waited 10 minutes until one arrived, only to find out it was being used by the staff to collect garbage from each floor, basically being used as a service elevator. No go, so I waited some more. And waited. And waited. After a total of 23 minutes, an empty elevator finally showed up, and I headed out. Was it the end of the world? No, but I’d hesitate to stay there in the future because of it. That, or stay much lower (without a view) just in case I need to take the stairs if the elevators are slow to arrive in cases where I’m strapped for time.

My only other issue, my last day there I went to lower the room temp and found that the AC unit wasn’t working. I’d lower the temp on the thermostat and the unit never kicked on. Since I was leaving the next morning and the window opened a few inches to allow for airflow, I didn’t report it until I checked out. Again, no biggie, the fresh air was cool enough. I have no doubt they’d have sent someone up to fix it had I called that night.

I can’t speak to the room service food or the attached restaurant, as I didn’t have food from either. My dinners were spent at tiny little hole in the wall places I found while I was out walking around, and lunches were spent eating with the client. I did eat breakfast over at the Andaz the last two mornings with one of my customer contacts (he’d flown in for this too), and loved their buffet. Pretty cool hotel, too, so I’ll probably give that a shot next time I go up there.

The location of this Doubletree was pretty good for my needs. The entrance is on Stone St, which isn’t too busy, and it was an easy walk to my customer’s office on Water St. There was also a subway station a very short walk from the hotel entrance, which allowed me to pick up the R train up to the midtown area the last couple of afternoons I was there. One other thing I saw in a couple reviews of this place is that since it’s on a less traveled street, people felt the need to walk over to the ferry terminal so they could get a cab upon checkout. Hogwash. Yes, the street is small and gets less traffic, but all you have to do is ask the bell staff standing there at the entrance and they’ll call you a cab. They had one for me in less than 5min Friday morning at 5:30am.

Overall it was a good stay in a clean hotel room with a view, but I still don’t get the hype around the brand. People swear by Doubletree, so maybe I just keep choosing the wrong ones. That, or the cookies are laced with something that makes you fall in love with the place :). Regardless, I’d stay there again if the situation warranted, but would like to try a couple others in the area first, including the Andaz I mentioned earlier.

Here are a few more shots from my various walks around Manhattan, including some of a protest I stumbled on near Central Park, along with a shot of the sunset from my plane on approach to LGA:

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Visiting Bermuda – Day 1

Focusing on the time we spent ashore in Bermuda brings a smile to my face. This is by far one of the coolest islands we’ve visited, and we see why so many people do the Bermuda cruise more than once. Also, because of everything I’d like to cover, I’m going to split this in to three posts, one for each day we were there.

We went in to this cruise far less prepared than we normally are thanks to a hectic schedule leading up to my daughter’s graduation. Normally we have all excursions booked with various operators a few months in advance, and for places we just want to walk around, we’ve done some scouting online. This time, the most we did was come up with a list of things we wanted to see while we were there, and drew up a rough idea of what day we wanted to do or see each thing.

Now, Bermuda’s a bit different than normal ports in that they have an outstanding public transportation system. When you get off the ship, there’s a little pink building where you can buy ferry/bus passes, and we’d decided from the start to buy 3-day passes to use while there and get around the island that way, versus using taxis or doing tour excursions. When we arrived in Bermuda, we decided not to get off right away to try and avoid lines at the ticket booth, so we waited about an hour, and ate breakfast on the balcony again.

Getting off the ship was easy, with very little wait (I love docking :)). We walked over to the transportation ticket office, and with only one person in line in front of us, got our 3-day transportation pass within a couple of minutes. Here’s a shot of the building where you buy the passes, the windows where they’re sold are on the left where the group of people is:

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One tip here: they only take cash. The 3 day pass that we bought was $35 per person (current prices and more information are available here). Once we had our passes, we hopped the ferry to Hamilton. Our initial plan for that first day was:

  • Visit Fort Hamilton
  • Hop the bus and head to St George to see the unfinished church
  • Visit Fort St Catherine
  • Head back to Hamilton for Harbor Nights

But plans don’t always work out, right?  It was really humid during our stay, and as a result, things got moved around and removed from the schedule based on how hot and tired we were at any given time.

Anyway, we got to Hamilton and walked up to Fort Hamilton. The fort itself is beautiful, and sits up on a hill, providing some great views of the island.

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You can also walk down in to the area where the moat used to be, and even into the tunnels in the outer walls at the front of the fort

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Now if you visit the fort, beware. When you walk down to the moat and into the tunnels, you do have to walk back up :). When you’re already hot, that climb seems unforgiving

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After climbing the stairs and walking around the rest of the fort, we decided to head back in to Hamilton to walk around and shop a bit on Front St. We stopped in a few stores, enjoyed some AC, and bought some shirts. Being that it was now around lunch time, we decided to head back to the ship and grab something off the buffet to avoid having to spend money on lunch. Once we ate, we checked out the shops around the dock area, including the Clocktower Mall. After spending a bit of time over there, we went back to our list to see if we could squeeze anything in before dinner. We decided to grab a bus and head to Somerset Bridge, which I’d heard about from a friend who grew up in Bermuda.

Somerset Bridge is claimed to be the smallest drawbridge in the world, and it’s on what basically seemed to be the main road from the docks to everything else. While on the bus, we weren’t sure where to get off for it, and the bus driver was more than happy to let us know when we should get off. Once our stop came, we found ourselves having to walk down the road hugging the stone wall on one side to avoid traffic, as the main road is two very tight lanes (In hindsight, I wish I’d gotten a picture). Once we got to the bridge, we quickly saw why it’s the smallest drawbridge (yes, that’s me)

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The opening is only 32 inches side to side, so I can definitely see how this is the world’s smallest.

After making our way back to the bus stop – oh, and another tip: blue poled stops take you away from Hamilton, pink take you towards it (more bus info) – we headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner. Having what more or less equated to a floating all-inclusive resort handy, my wife wanted to pay for as few meals as possible while in Bermuda, which is why we ate both lunch and dinner onboard on day 1.

After dinner, we headed back down to the ferry and took the ride over to Hamilton. During cruise season, they put on a little festival in Hamilton called Harbor Nights. We arrived a little before 8pm, and things were in full swing. There were quite a few tourists (duh), along with a line of vendors set up on Front St. In addition, there was live music, and booths selling delicious smelling food. In hindsight, I wish we’d skipped dinner on the boat and eaten at one of the booths.

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We really enjoyed our time there, and my daughter ended up buying a couple of pink sand picture frames for her and her boyfriend. One theme throughout our stay in Bermuda was that no one’s pushy in trying to sell you stuff, and Harbor Nights was no different. After we finished walking around and checking out booths, we stopped for snow cones:

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Harbor Nights doesn’t end until 10pm, but we’d pretty much walked it all and seen what we wanted by around 9:15pm, so we hopped the ferry back to the ship. I should note that the ferry is obviously more packed going to and from Harbor Nights, but the local transit authority does a good job of adding more boats as needed and getting people in and out quickly.

While we didn’t stick to the original plan, day 1 was definitely a success. The transportation system makes it very easy to change things up, and there is no shortage of stuff to see and do in Bermuda!

The Journey Begins…

I figured I’d start my blog off with a recap of our last trip, a cruise to Bermuda. The cruise was a high school graduation present to our daughter, and our way of having one last family vacation before she heads off to college. This trip was slightly different from past ones, however, we had to stop and pick up her boyfriend along the way, as he was coming with us. That’s where this post comes in, talking about the Inn we stayed at near his house in Annapolis.

We headed up the Thursday before the cruise, for a two day stay, with reservations at Gibson’s Lodgings of Annapolis. This place is right next to the Naval Academy, in a cool little part of Annapolis. It’s the first time we’ve ever stayed at anything resembling a B&B, so we were very much looking forward to it. A couple of days prior, they’d emailed us to let us know the power would be out Saturday morning from 2am until 10am at the latest. They’d gotten last minute notice from the power company of some required work in the area, and offered to let us cancel without penalty for the inconvenience. We were planning on leaving for NYC pretty Saturday morning anyway, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to us, and we chose to stay. They credited us $50 and upgraded us to a king suite.

We got to Annapolis mid-afternoon and stopped to check in and drop our bags. The place is kinda cool, and the people working there were very friendly. The woman who checked us in showed us around, pointed out the snacks, where the breakfast items would be, and pointed us to our room. The room itself was nice, and had one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. Thanks to the great location, right in the harbor area, there’s plenty to see and do, as well. After dropping our daughter off at her boyfriend’s house, my wife and I came back and walked around the shops for a bit, before heading back over to their house for dinner. Afterwards, we made our way back to the waterfront and hit up Storm Bros for some delicious ice cream. Stomachs full, we headed back to the room for a good night’s sleep.

Friday morning, we got up and went downstairs for something to eat. Note that this isn’t a traditional B&B (which they’re perfectly clear on), and as a result don’t provide a hot breakfast. They do provide plenty of other stuff though, very much like a continental breakfast at any normal hotel, which was just fine with us. After breakfast, we headed out for her boyfriend’s graduation, followed by a trip to Pusser’s on the waterfront for a post-graduation lunch. Yummy stuff. My wife and I followed that up with some more shopping in the area, and some more ice cream as well, this time at Annapolis Ice Cream Company, which was excellent. When we returned to the room, we found the staff had put flashlights on everyone’s doors for us to use in case we needed to get up while the power was out. Nice touch!

Friday night was the one part of the stay that really sucked, to put it bluntly. That power outage Gibson’s warned us about? Well, it was because 6 power poles on their street had to be replaced overnight. About 11:00pm the crews rolled in, and they weren’t quiet at all. I’d guess that between the yelling, and general work noise, I got maybe 3 hours of sleep before our alarm went off at 6am. Nice of the crews from the local power company to be as loud as possible all night.

Regardless of the power company issues, we enjoyed the Inn, and would stay there again (sans-power crews, of course :)). I’d definitely recommend it for anyone staying in the area, as it’s in a perfect spot near the waterfront.

Next up, a recap of our cruise on the Celebrity Summit. In the meantime, enjoy a few pictures from the waterfront area of Annapolis!

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