Our final day in Punta Cana filled me with sadness. I sat on the patio to finish up a bit of work and soak up the final few hours of tropical heaven.
Jenni, Hudson and I met for a delicious breakfast at the Gabi restaurant. Hudson had a waffle as big as his head.
Jenni had the Jenni special.
I had a mimosa and coffee.
We headed back to our rooms and said goodbye to some friends along the way.
They picked up our bags and escorted us to the VIP lounge to check out. Pablo, the super helpful concierge who’d taken care of us during out entire stay, arranged for a taxi and wheeled our bags out front.
We said goodbye to our VIP status…
The taxi hadn’t arrived yet, so I snapped a few last-minute shots of paradise.
Jenni and I began making plans for our next holiday together.
When the taxi arrived, he made good time to the airport, which is about 20 minutes from our resort. I was surprised that there was a whole other wing to the palapa. It’s actually the biggest palapa I’ve ever seen! Still not sure how they manage security without a lot of actual walls, but it works for them! The food court is next to a patio area that overlooks the runway. We had a quick lunch.
There was a lot of confusion when it was time to board the plane. There were two different areas with gates, but each area was a part of a much larger room. Apparently all of the gates used the same sound system because we couldn’t understand a word they were saying and the gate agents often talked over themselves. We finally decided to go ahead and line up, but so had everyone else and I’m pretty sure we missed the Sky Zone boarding. In fact, we appeared to be stuck in a crowd of Zone 3 boarders!
After we all lined up they opened a door and we shuffled out. There were large palm awnings set up so we wouldn’t be standing around in the sun, and a trio of musicians were playing some lively songs. One of them appeared to be playing a flour shifter, but I could be mistaken about that.
They herded us over across the runway and out to the plane.
And we were off!
The first half of the trip was no problem. I even breezed through customs and back through security in under 5 minutes (thanks Global Entry)! That’s when things began to fall apart!
The flight to Baltimore was delayed when the incoming flight got in late. After a nightmarish boarding process where literally 20 people were stuck in the aisles with their roller board bags that wouldn’t fit, the plane left the gate and headed out to the runway.
It inched it’s way out there and I think we all noticed that something sounded off. After we got to the runway we sat there for thirty minutes while other planes went around us and took off. At first I thought, wow my pilot sure is nice to let those other planes go! Then he told us we had an engine that wasn’t working and he felt that was pretty important so he was going to go ask maintenance about it. We turned around and chugged slowly over to another area of the airport.
The maintenance guys there couldn’t fix it so they decided to take us back to the gate and get us a new plane. Thankfully one pulled up not long after we got off. When we boarded the new plane I overheard the flight attendant say we were waiting on new pilots. Apparently they are the only ones who know how to crank the engine, because they couldn’t start it up so the air conditioning wasn’t working and it was getting really hot!
Right before the pilots arrived, one of the flight attendants came back to my row and asked me to get my things and follow him. I panicked at first because I thought they were going to bump me and it was already getting late! But no, they wanted to rescue me! It seems some of the first class passengers hadn’t wanted to fly on a plane that was replacing another plane and I was upgraded! Winning!
Unfortunately, just because I moved up and the pilots arrived, it didn’t mean we were ready to go. Apparently catering was late. We waited around another thirty minutes and then the pilots gave up and announced we were leaving anyhow and sorry but we wouldn’t have drinks. After a three-hour delay, I don’t think anyone minded! And, because I was up in first, we got the leftovers from the last flight so I wasn’t at all thirsty!
By the time I landed, caught the shuttle to my car, drove back to Virginia, and staggered up the stairs it was nearly 2 am. Still totally worth it…
Jenni and I did have a little work to accomplish while we were together and though we tried to work on the beach, we hadn’t gotten a lot done! We decided to meet in my room. We were making great progress until a surprise visitor crashed the party by hopping over my patio wall.
Do you have any idea how loud peacocks are? Wow.
When we finished we spent a little time at the pool…
and then Jenni took Hudson over to the Adventure Park.
Afterwards we all headed back to the beach.
We walked back to the tropical side so Jenni could pay for the ride on the inner tubes yesterday and I discovered more Dominican art. Again, so much more positive than that creepy art in Prague! Plus these statues are dancing on a beach!
My favorite part of this vacation has been lying on the beach under the giant tiki umbrellas watching the ships roll by.
When Jenni and Hudson headed back to the adventure park, I wandered back to the VIP pool. I snagged a tiki bed near the bar and lounged.
We had reservations that night for the Thai restaurant. Hudson decided to ditch us and go to the Gabi for a quick bite before he went to the arcade. We were a little early for our reservation, so Pablo, our incredibly helpful concierge made arrangements for Jenni and I to have a carriage ride. He said it was Mother’s Day in the Dominican Republic and it was his way of honoring us! Sadly, the carriage was tied up at a wedding but it would pick us up after dinner for a late night ride around the property.
The Thai restaurant was packed. We were seated between two lovely American couples and since the service was very laid back, we all had a bit of time to chat! I had hot and spicy shrimp with cashews, Jenni had shrimp pad Thai. Mine was delicious. Jenni was less impressed.
We headed out and Frankie whisked us away in his horse-drawn carriage for a late night ride around the property.
Wish you were here!
Since Jenni and Hudson aren’t early risers, I decided to order The Dominican Breakfast from room service and catch up on some of my schoolwork. Turns out The Dominican was enough food to feed a large family!
The Dominican included bacon, which I found too salty, a sausage, fried banana, ham and cheese omelette, a plate full of fresh tropical fruits, and a basket with assorted rolls and pastry. The omelette and the fresh fruit were the best parts, but I tried a bit of everything.
When Jenni got up I went with her to the Gabi restaurant where she had her usual, peanut butter (with toast since they didn’t have bagels) a banana and a coke light.
We walked over to the VIP lounge to find out how to get to Bingo and Hudson finally got up, grabbed a plate of food and joined us.
Bingo was on the beach. There were about 20 of us playing. They handed us toothpicks and small strips of paper with three rows of random numbers from 1 to 99. We sat on a beach chair under a palm tree and when they called a number we had, we punched a hole in the paper with the toothpicks. The first person to get an entire row called out Bingo and got a free t-shirt. The next person had to get two rows and they also got a t-shirt. The final round involved getting all of your numbers in all three rows. Things were getting tense when the Bingo caller announced that he was out of numbers. Turns out the numbers on the cards went as high as 99, but they only had balls as high as 75. When it looked like the remaining players might riot, I made my escape and ducked into the beachside souvenir shop.
Hudson discovered that the tropical beach side pool had an inflatable climbing wall, so his afternoon plans were set. I caught a train back to my room to pick up some cash for a little souvenir shopping and Jenni planted herself on the beach with a good book.
By the time I made it back, it was lunch time. There was a lunch buffet right next to the water, so we went there. From our table we could see the local JC Pennys and they were doing a brisk trade!
After lunch, Jenni and Hudson decided to go inner tubing. This wasn’t included in the all-inclusive rate and none of us had any cash. They told Jen she could just ride then and pay later so her and Hudson hopped on the Great Big Mabel and took off. I snapped a few pictures and then headed off to find a lounge chair under an umbrella.
Few things are more relaxing than lounging on the beach listening to the wind rustle the palms while watching the pirate ships sail by off shore…
When they returned, thankfully in one piece, we caught the train back to our rooms to spend a little time in the VIP pool.
The train took the long way, past the flamingos and all the way around the property.
Hudson and I jumped in the pool. I was in it for the pool bar…
Hudson was in it to ride the inflatable alligator.
Everyone was a winner. When we tired of the fun, we went back to the Gabi for dinner. Once again, the grilled lobster tail was amazing and totally justified the upgrade!
We caught a golf cart over to the Arcade and finished up our evening with a few rounds of pool.
Hard to imagine how we’ll top today tomorrow!
As soon as we completed the check in process, our wonderful host Pablo carried our bags to our rooms. He pointed out all of the features, like the full room service menu and the handy mini bar that was not only fully stocked with beer, diet coke, and apple juice, but also had a pretty nice selection of snacks like peanuts and plantain chips!
We put on our bikinis and headed out to the beach. The worst part about staying farthest from the swamp is that we are also farthest from the beach. Given the diseases the local mosquitos are carrying, none of us minded the distance. It was easy to hop on the little train and ride all the way down there!
And it was a lovely day for a ride!
The VIP beach was pretty empty so we found some lounge chairs clustered under a very tropical umbrella. While Jenni and Hudson checked out the water, I started sipping on Pina Colada’s brought to me by the very helpful and attentive cabana men.
Eventually we tired of the balmy breezes, tropical drinks, and rolling surf and headed back to our rooms. We decided to walk so we could enjoy the beautifully maintained gardens along the way.
We also discovered that there are many peacocks roaming the grounds as well.
Peacocks, so beautiful, so noisy! Hudson wanted to visit the Cool Club and Arcade, so I stopped for a quick drink at the pool bar to fortify myself before we tried to find it.
Along the way, we found some interesting statues. Unlike Prague, where most of the statues involve men clubbing or stabbing things, the statues in the Dominican Republic all look like men having a really good time. I mean men with odd antlers, but still at least they are partying!
We left Hudson to entertain himself and walked back to the Gabi restaurant. Pablo told me there were grilled lobster tails on the menu and I really wanted to check that out! He was right and they were amazing!
Jenni liked the squid salad the best.
Since all the pools were closed when Hudson returned, we decided to call it a night. Big day planned tomorrow, wish you were here!
Time for a summer break and who better to break it with than my BFF Jenni and her 14-year-old son Hudson.
Ever been to the Dominican Republic? Me either, but they have really affordable airfare and incredibly inexpensive all-inclusive resorts. Jenni and I settled on Punta Cana for our first summer break. As soon as the plane landed the first thing I saw was a big sign proclaiming “It’s Happy Time”. Already I liked this place!
The airport is a palapa. Seriously, it’s a giant thatched roof with a few half walls. As soon as we entered we were herded into a line. I thought it must be some sort of customs process, but turns out it was the place where they collect the $10 fee to enter the country. That took much longer than customs where they didn’t really ask us any questions, just look our passports, stamped them, and then hustled us through.
Jenni had checked her bag so Hudson and I sat on one of the half walls while we waited for it to arrive. They had to bring the bags out in shifts because they had little tiny cars to drive them there from the plane so it took a little time.
When we left the airport, we looked for a cab. Lucky for us, there were about a thousand just waiting around. As soon as we stopped and said “we should get a cab” The guy next to us said “Oh yes, come this way” He led us through a sea of large passenger vans and then loaded us up in one. We took off at a very high speed zipping around other cars and mopeds along the way. It reminded me a lot of the taxis in Tijuana.
We arrived at the hotel only to discover Jenni had accidentally booked a significantly nicer room in the adults only section and it only had a king bed and a roll away. This was problematic since she’d brought her 14-year-old son! My room was not so nice, but did contain double beds. They slapped a hideous grey plastic bracelet on me to denote my lesser status. The language barrier was probably an issue and they told us to go to another desk and that they would take us and our bags to our rooms. There was a lot of confusion because Jenni’s room qualified her to be a “VIP” with a special check in area.
We insisted on going together so they allowed me to enter Jenni’s special check in area. They say us down at a table and immediately brought out their signature cocktails and a juice for Hudson.
Since Jenni doesn’t drink, I polished hers off, because that’s what friends do, right? So when they came back and gave her the beautiful wristband that identified her as a VIP, it didn’t take much to convince me to upgrade as well.
Thank God I did, since they were able to put us in the same building and I also received one of the pretty wristbands. Winning!
While it’s always fun to visit the Best Coast, I have to admit, the jet lag is killing me! I arrived home from Amsterdam a couple of hours late and by the time I got through customs, dug my adorable little car out of the snow and traveled through the treacherous roadways to my condo it was much later than I’d anticipated. I lugged my luggage up all four flights of stairs, ordered a pizza, dumped out my suitcase and repacked.
I truly enjoyed the 11 hours I had at home before my flight to Seattle! Thankfully I was upgraded to first class for the longest leg. I settled in and had planned to sleep, but realized the video on demand contained a few movies I’d been wanting to see.
I started with August: Osage County which was a bit of a disappointment since I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters. I didn’t enjoy it. At all. Next up was The Book Thief. I wasn’t really familiar with the premise or I might have chosen something else. About a quarter of the way in I was sniffling and crying and by the end I was actually sobbing. Goddamn nazis! I also felt kinda bad for the guy next to me, who kept looking at me like I was some sort of crazy person. At any rate, the movie was excellent and I highly recommend it, just bring tissues and maybe don’t watch it on a long flight when you are sitting next to some stranger who doesn’t appreciate how much you might be in touch with your emotions.
I had lots of business meetings in Seattle, and the best one was a meeting in Bremerton. I rode the ferry to get there on what turned out to be the warmest day since mid November. Also, the sun peeked through, which I’m told is unusual!
The ferry system in Washington is incredibly impressive. I drove on, parked, and headed up to the ginormous lounge area and coffee shop. They also have areas on the bow and stern where you can go outside and take pictures of the amazing scenery as you float by…
We had arranged to meet at Anthony’s in Bremerton which is right next to the ferry dock Not only gorgeous, it was also convenient. And delicious! By the time we finished our chowder I could see the 1:45 ferry approaching and had just enough time to line up for the ride back.
The rest of my trip involved back to back meetings and didn’t have any time to do any sightseeing, which is a shame since Seattle is one of my favorite places. I did get to drive along the Alaska Way Viaduct at sunset on my way to my last meeting.
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!
The day we go home is always the saddest day of any vacation. That’s particularly true when you are leaving your favorite city and flying home to a winter storm! Jenni and I met for a quick breakfast in the Executive Lounge. It would have been my last day of toast with chocolate sprinkles, except the very kind hostess brought me a few extra boxes!
We walked through the drizzle to the train station. Since we are masters of foreign public transit systems, it was no big deal to get our tickets and hop on the right platform.
The train on the next platform was leaving for Paris, which just made us sadder because, Paris, right?
At the airport, we all checked in and headed up to the Crown Lounge. It was packed, but we found a corner where we could sit and wait.
I flew home on KLM. After another security screening, I boarded and surprise! I had the entire Economy Comfort row to myself!
I settled in and watched a few movies. First up 12 Years a Slave. So incredibly moving… Totally deserved the Best Picture Oscar. The fact that I cried through most of the second half moved me to select Delivery Man next. I totally agree with Jenni, Vince Vaughn is adorable! The third movie was Ender’s Game. It was fine, but not as funny as Delivery Man. I finished my movie marathon with The Heat, which helped pass the time until we landed.
Once we touched down, we sat on the runway and waited until the snow plows could clear a path to the gate. When we got to the gate, they let us out, but we were herded into a room to wait for the snow plow to clear a path so the people movers could make it from our gate to the Customs area.
Apparently all the flights from overseas arrived at the same time, because there were more people in line for customs than I have ever seen. Compounding the problem was the fact that the Global Entry computers were down, so the couple dozen of us who were counting on skipping the long line were really starting to panic about having to get in the back of the line. Fortunately, they opened up a new line just for us and we were moved through pretty quick. I caught the bus to economy parking, found my icy little bug, and dug it out for the long ride home…
There is so much to see in Amsterdam, and today I think we did! After a quick bite involving the Dutch treat sprinkles on toast, we took a canal cruise. The small, flat canal tour boat departed across from Central Station. Jenni got a seat by the window so she took most of the pictures.
We went thru Amsterdam harbour and into one of the main canals. The prettiest part was in the Gentlemen’s Canal.
We also saw lots of beautiful bridges and interesting houseboats.
We learned that every house has a gable with a hook because they built tiny narrow staircases in all the canal houses so they use the hook and a pulley system to lift furnishings to the upper floors through the windows.
After we disembarked, we walked to the Houseboat museum, with a few stops at local shops along the way. The houseboat was very cozy.
And I even found one for sale…
Lunch was at Milan Cafe and I had a dutch sandwich. It’s a giant meatball sliced on a roll with pickle spears and mustard. Really quite tasty! Pearl had the pancake and let me try it. Chewy! We walked from there to the Van Loon House. This beautiful canal house is now a museum with period furnishings.
For some reason, there is also an exhibit of art displayed in random places throughout the house. The paintings are very large heads, mostly children, that I found creepy and off putting.
The coach house was very nice, and Jenni and I both loved the kitchen.
We walked Pearl back to the hotel through a flower market…
And a cheese shop…
and Jenni and I prepared for our bike tour. I’d made reservations at Mike’s Bikes. Sadly, the concierge sent us to the wrong place. Thanks to our incredible skill at using foreign public transportation systems and my unerring sense of direction, we still made it across town and right on time!
Jenni and I were the only ones of the tour and our guide, Aaron was a Californian who’s been living in Amsterdam for 18 years. Aaron picked out some pretty purple bikes for us. I was on Purple Rain. I was a little concerned that the bikers in Amsterdam would run over us. Aaron assured me that with my giant hot pink ear muffs and my purple bike they would totally see me coming.
The best part of the bike tour was that Aaron took us to places he loved, that we’d never have seen any other way! We went through a working class neighborhood called Jordaan and saw a former home for widows that dated back to the 1600s. and then out to Islands. We rode through the Red Light District (which totally does exist) and he pointed out the high-end cafe between the day care and the prostitutes place of business which were right across the street from one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the city.
We also rode through the Blue Light District, which I hadn’t even known existed. We trekked over to the eastern side of the city. We saw the Jewish Quarter and the University. Aaron said we saw more of the city than any other tour since there was only two of us and after I got the hang of it, we didn’t have any problem keeping up!
We ran back to the hotel to pick up Pearl and take her out to dinner. Our restaurant was Moeder’s, which is Dutch for Mother’s. Nearly every square inch of the walls were covered in pictures of mothers.
The food was fantastic, of course, just like mom used to make! Well, if she’d been Dutch. A final trip on the tram brought us back to the Double Tree where we ventured up to the Sky Lounge for one last nightcap before we packed for home.
The concierge at the Doubletree Hotel really knows how to show visitors a good time! We returned from a busy day of museum touring with a yearning for some really good Dutch food.
Our concierge recommended Haesje Claes a short tram ride away. He also told us that the Dutch usually eat hotchpotch in the winter and then suggested we walk over to Rembrandtplein and visit the Icebar afterwards. Then he showed us where the mythical red light district was located on the map and assured us we couldn’t miss it!
Haesje Claes was a brown cafe a quick tram ride away. When we arrived, Jenni helped Pearl set up Foursquare on her phone in a beautiful and touching mother-daughter moment.
We ordered some beer and they brought us some delicious brown bread while those of us who couldn’t have mashed potatoes made up our minds! We ordered the Amsterdam Pickles as an appetizer, which was an incredibly good decision.
They were amazing…
The onions were the best part!
Pearl and I ordered the Hotchpotch, which was also delicious. Jenni had chicken livers and she claimed they were delicious, but I refused to verify.
We finished up with a bit of ice cream and little waffle cookies before heading out to the Ice Bar.
It was a quick walk to Rembrandtplein so we set out on foot. My contacts were very dry and I asked Jenni and Pearl to stop at a grocery store along the way to pick up some eyedrops. Sadly all of the boxes were in dutch. Jenni found one a box that appeared to moisturize, so we asked the guys standing next to us if they spoke English. They did so we asked them if the box said eye drops. Sadly, they were French and didn’t read Dutch. We saw a group of women walking by and asked them. They also spoke English and didn’t read Dutch. Finally the manager came over to help us out. When we asked him, he laughed hysterically. Turns out it was a nose spray and I guess the visual was too much for him. He suggested we find a drug store so we continued on our way. A few blocks up we found a drug store. They did have eye drops. In fact they had contact lenses sitting on the shelf. And at half the price that we pay in the states! We’re being had, people!
After we acquired the eyedrops we walked thru Rembrandtplein and then found the Ice Bar.
The girl at the door told us we couldn’t get into the Ice Bar without reservations but we could go in and have a drink in the main bar, but once we got inside the ticket girl told us we could get tickets and join the group going in next.
They gave us some giant, blue, sticky, plastic ponchos and matching mittens. The only rules were you couldn’t use any personal electronics, which was a shame because I really wanted to get a picture of myself on the ice throne. Plus we looked like adorable Smurfs.
They did take a picture for us.
Inside the entire room was constructed of ice. The bar, stools, the throne… The ticket gets everyone two free drinks. Pearl had an ice cold beer. I ordered the shot of organ kool-aid and Jenni got a shot of the orange kool-aid as well. It was really hard to pick up the ice glass with giant plastic mittens. It was even more challenging to try to hand Jenni my empty one and exchange it for her full one so I could drink them both!
Afterwards, we walked back. The concierge had insisted we would be passing through the red light district, but we couldn’t find the map he’d given us and were forced to rely on my superlative sense of direction. While I got us there right away, we didn’t see any sign of it, and frankly I’m not sure it exists!