Chicago in Paris

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As I have mentioned once or twice in past blog entries, I traveled quite a bit on company business for a period of some 6 or 7 years. In doing so I would earn lots of points with the various loyalty programs for hotels, car rentals, and air travel. In my experience, by a great measure, the hotel points were the most useful and usable.

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The wife and I planned a 4-night trip to Paris and used Starwood Points (SPG.com,) to secure a room at the fancy Prince de Galles hotel, which was and still is part of the Starwood chain’s Luxury Collection. I probably need not point out that this was a very special thing for us because working stiff’s do not generally stay at Luxury Collection properties! We are talking probably $500 a night for a room overlooking the dumpster in the courtyard! read more

James Bond in London

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I have mentioned in at least one earlier blog entry that I used to travel quite frequently for work. When I did that, I learned to join all the rewards clubs, such as Hilton, Marriott, Hertz, etc.  One of the best of all of the programs is Starwood (Starwood Preferred Guest.) That is the mother company that owns the hotel chains Four Points, Sheraton, W, Aloft, Westin, and a small collection of really fancy properties that they call The Luxury Collection. Note that airline mileage programs are similar, though in my experience it can be easy to earn airline miles but tricky to actually “spend” them due to a labyrinth of special rules and restrictions. Starwood points in contrast, are very easy to use. read more

Kismet Villa, St. John, USVI

Firstly, let me be clear that this entry is about an island rental villa that is NOT somewhere that The Working Stiff or most of his circle of friends and family would be able to stay!

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It so happens that we were renting a house down the hill from this place a few years ago. A vastly less ritzy place to be sure, though quite nice and adequate to our needs. One morning I took a walk up the hill from our rental to take some photos of the beautiful trees and flowers all over the neighborhood. I came upon a gate with a driveway beyond leading to what was clearly some sort of gorgeous and exclusive estate but was mostly hidden from my street view. I was taking a few pictures of the landscaping outside the gate when a man yelled down and invited me up the driveway to check the place out. read more

The Lizards of Oz

The wife and I were watching an episode of Penny Dreadful on HBO the other night and there was a scene with one of our favorite characters, Mr. Lyle. My wife referred to his appearance as “The Wizard of Oz,” and I initially heard it wrong as “The Lizard of Oz.” Which reminded me of a wonderful lizard experience we had a few years back on St. John, USVI. In truth I haven’t had many lizard experiences at all, which I think is pretty much OK, but this one was something to remember!

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We were sharing a rental villa with our regular vacation partners, my brother and his wife. It was a compact but very comfortable masonry house that was beautifully embellished with local stone in a style common to many homes on the island. Perhaps the greatest feature of the house was a long covered stone and tile porch that ran along one side and allowed lots of room for outdoor dining, relaxing with the morning coffee, or just admiring the view. Sort of a long sheltered gallery with several archways from which you could look out onto the small yard or the scenery beyond. There was in fact quite a view because the house sat near the edge of a craggy bluff with crashing surf below in a small bay formed by the spit of land that accommodated our neighborhood and a substantial peninsula across the water to the east. read more

The Rum Incident

Where: The Four Seasons Resort on Great Exuma, Bahamas

When: One June Afternoon, several years ago.

What: Had some very expensive rum at a ritzy resort bar.

Why: The Working Stiff and his party was thirsty, and the rum was good!

Exuma June 2008 110One June some years ago we were vacationing on the Bahama island of Great Exuma, which is the main island of the Exuma Chain, roughly southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital. The wife and I, along with my brother and his wife had rented a 2-bedroom house on the beach perhaps 10 miles north of Georgetown, the island’s largest settlement and center of activity. The house was built in a classic Bahamian style, with 2 queen bedrooms on either side, each with their own full bath. There was a fully equipped kitchen, living and dining area, and a small patio on the back with a beautiful beach as the backyard. The house sat on the east, or windward side of the island so was frequently windy with a few choppy waves, but very nice for hanging out and enjoying the occasional swim. The beach was beautiful and the water was warm, if just a bit rough for snorkeling. I enjoyed taking my coffee out onto the beach for a walk most mornings during our stay, enjoying the warm breezes and the cool sand between my toes as the sun rose a million miles away off to the east over the Atlantic but yet somehow so close. One morning I was even able to pry the wife out of bed to have coffee on the beach with me.  She resisted the idea but thanked me afterwards. read more

Escape From St. Louis !

Mrs. Working Stiff and I both love it when our travels take us past a movie location. We have never dedicated a whole trip to that pursuit but have taken a few side trips, added some extra miles here and there, to check out a place where scenes from movies were filmed. This past March I took a solo road trip out west to St. Louis to attend a retirement party for a co-worker. Knowing that St. Louis is the largest town on the old de-commissioned Rt. 66, (not counting Chicago and Los Angeles at either end,) I studied my Rt. 66 book for site-seeing opportunities. That led me to learn about the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River from Illinois into Missouri just north of the city of St. Louis. The bridge was opened in 1929 and closed to vehicular traffic in 1970. It is open to foot traffic but frankly is now so off the beaten path that you need to really want to go to it. (I did.) read more

Cape May in July

We spent this past long weekend visiting family in Cape May, NJ, and it was a great time as always, though we endured a bit of a July heat wave. Rumored rain did not appear and it was HOT! I like the summer heat but Mrs. Working Stiff is not so enthusiastic in that regard. The first picture is a view of the marsh (the back yard in effect) from the deck.

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Cape May is a beautiful town at the southern end of the Garden State Parkway and is in fact the southern tip of New Jersey. The historic center of town is frequently referred to as either the largest, or at least one of the largest – standing collections of Victorian architecture in the US. The concentration of these wonderful old buildings has to do largely with the aftermath of a huge fire that destroyed much of the town center in 1878.   One result is that in the decade or two following, the town was largely rebuilt in the popular Victorian style of that era. Many houses are very ornate and have lots of fancy gingerbread trim and porches sporting hundreds of spindles. Brilliant and sometimes gaudy color combinations are common. read more

Roadside Americana – New Jersey

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A brief post to point out some “Roadside Americana.”   I have always enjoyed those books like “Weird America,” and “Weird New Jersey” that show all kinds of crazy local stuff and report on local folklore and legends, this happened here, people have reported seeing this there, etc.

Mr. Bill, on Rt. 73 south of Berlin, NJ (top.)   Looks like the old ice cream joint is closed.  Boy – for those of us who are familiar with Mad Magazine – Doesn’t Mr. Bill look a lot like Alfred E. Neuman? read more

Island Views – Block Island, RI

Block Island 2010 133Just sharing a few representative photos of Block Island from a family trip a few years ago.  Block Island, RI, is about 12 miles south of the Rhode Island mainland.  You get there by boat, generally a ferry service from one of a handful of locations on the mainland.  (My family has always taken the ferry from Pt. Judith.)  There is also a fully functional airport that serves smaller planes only.

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My father always believed that the relative quiet and beauty of the island is due in part to the fact that the airport runway can never be made long enough for large jets and also there is no port deep enough for large cruise ships. read more

Six Degrees of St. Augustine?

Last month I was in Florida for a few days visiting my sister.  I had flown into Daytona which is about a half hour from my sister’s house so she picked me up there.  Much easier for her than if I had flown into either Jacksonville or Orlando.  What a great airport is DAB to fly into or out of if you can find a ticket that fits your needs!  Basically, SMALL is what I mean, which generally equals great in my book when it comes to airports.  Easy to get to, tucked just next to the famous speedway, parking is all on street level, and you walk right into the one terminal – easy as Florida pecan pie.  You go through security and then there is just one concourse with 6 gates, 3 on either side.  Sure, dining choices range from minimal to your stash of almonds and power bars, but I’ll take it! read more