Monday, June 29, 2009

Aw crap.

Just received a speeding ticket.

From Arizona.

I lie. I did not receive a speeding ticket from Arizona. I received a bill from Hertz asking me to pay them a $30 administrative fee for what it cost them to tell Arizona that I was in the rental car when the speed camera (I imagine) caught the vehicle speeding in Arizona. This suggests the ticket is on its way.

This annoys for a whole variety of reasons. First, it kills a perfect driving record. (Yeah, got my first parking ticket this year, too, but at least I was free of moving violations.) Second, I was careful in Arizona -- I really was -- because I know they have those speed cameras out. Sure, this was more than a month ago so I can't entirely remember, but if I was speeding, it very likely wasn't any more than 5 mph over the limit. I think I even put the cruise control on the car at 5 over the limit. So, y'know, damn. Third, according to this thing, I got the ticket some 14 minutes before I returned the car. (Man, I was so close.)

And, of course, the cost of the ticket annoys. And/or the issue of traffic school. Poking around the internet (which, believe me, is not my preferred way of doing legal research) suggests that: (a) Arizona and California are part of a multi-state agreement whereby they report traffic violations to each other, so I would end up with a point on my license; (b) it most likely would only be a single point, (at least in California); (c) I probably have good odds if I simply ignore the ticket (because, according to the collected wisdom of the internet, Arizona has to personally serve the ticket if I don't submit to their jurisdiction, and the odds that they'd hire a California process server to hand deliver the ticket to me is unlikely, given the expense; but (d) it would be really stupid for me, as a real live actual "officer of the court," to blow off a summons from another jurisdiction; and (e) I'm not entirely clear on if, despite the whole multi-state agreement thing, there's an online traffic school out there which would satisfy both Arizona and California -- and, if not, whose traffic school I'd have to take [I'm thinking Arizona's, actually].

This just leads to some overall annoyance because I can't contact anyone in Arizona and figure out how to best proceed until I actually have the ticket in hand -- which, with my luck, will happen when I'm out of the country, and I'll miss all sorts of deadlines for paying or signing up for traffic school or whatever.

Although, come to think of it, I wonder if I still have the email address of that former colleague of mine who is practicing law in Arizona now. I bet she'd know.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

The world. It is coming to an end.

I know this because I received my new driver's license in the mail and ...

... it's a decent picture.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Busy little bee

Didn't journal on Friday on purpose. (Usually when I don't journal, it's because I don't have time.) Didn't journal on Friday, though, 'cause it was my birthday, so I was sorta taking the day off.

Well, only taking it off from journalling. I've fallen a bit behind at work, so I've been putting in extra hours trying to get caught up. (And this despite the fact I'm not entirely sure if I'll get a paycheck next month. Yeah, I work for the Great State of California. And every time I read some idiot on an internet message board who thinks we should balance the budget by cutting pensions of State workers, I sorta want to take them aside and slap them silly. Because, really, it isn't like I'm being overpaid and sit on my ass all day long. I'm making substantially less than I'm worth in the private sector, and the fact that there is a decent pension at the end of this is one of the things that tries to make up for the vast inequity in pay. Yeah, so when I hear that I -- a graduate of one of the best Law Schools in the country and with 18 years experience -- am making less money than first-year recruits at major law firms, I console myself with the three thoughts that I: (1) have a better quality of life (2) am doing good work for the betterment of society (rather than just acting as a hired gun for my clients); and (3) yes, will have a decent pension coming to me at the end of this. So, basically, I'm chronically underpaid; I'm already looking at a further cut in pay with a one day per month court closure; and people who think they should cut my pension to balance the budget can just freakin' bite me.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah, working late on my birthday for an unknown amount of pay because I'm a responsible individual who takes pride in getting my damn job done, and done well. And I also had a show to see after work, because the part of me that's a theatre critic in my off hours is also behind schedule -- I have to see a certain amount of shows every year, and I'm about one month behind (and, if I consider my upcoming vacation, that'll put me another month behind), so I'm trying to see two shows a week, if I can swing it.

So ... work until 7:00, when I magically transformed from Lawyer to Critic. The show wasn't particularly long, but it was on the other side of town, so I didn't get home until after 10:00, at which time I crashed on the couch for a couple hours, watching TV and cuddling with the cat, to peacefully enjoy the last few hours of the anniversary of my birth.

(Didn't seem to make much sense to have a birthday party this year -- I just had the Open House last week, so it would've been a bit of party overkill. Besides, I got a bunch of gift cards which I haven't used yet, so there's still a major shopping spree in my not-too-distant future.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Michael Jackson

(My first thought, I admit, was "Way to knock Farrah Fawcett off the front page." Seriously, though, the death of a big 70s icon and a big 80s icon on the same day -- damn.)

But, y'know, when I first thought of Michael Jackson upon hearing of his death, I thought about the Michael Jackson whom we've known recently. The weird, sorta freaky one. The one who had odd relationships with children, seemed very immature himself, and, y'know, didn't entirely have a nose.

But in the car on the way home, I started to really think about the guy. (I flipped radio stations to see if anyone was playing his music. Negative on the pop stations, and the rock stations. But the "oldies" station -- the "greatest hits of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s" -- they were playing all Michael all the time.)

Here's the thing -- there are some pop stars out there who seem famous just by luck. With frequent use of Auto-Tune, recording songs other people write, some of them are just famous by being in the right place at the right time, and are totally fungible.

But Jackson, despite all the rest of it, was the real deal talent-wise. Brilliant, innoventive, trend-making -- dude could write, perform, ... and he sure could move. He pretty much single-handedly put MTV on the map, made choreography hip again, and had not one, but several, infectious sounds.

That's the Michael Jackson I'll miss.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Cat. Not a Dog.

I received, as one of my house warming gifts, a "Cat Emergency Kit." (I'd had it on my wish list for some time.) I mean, I wanted an emergency kit for myself, but the Cat one promised to include all feline necessities.

Now, here's a link to a website selling both the Dog Emergency Kit and the Cat Emergency Kit. (Mine wasn't bought from them, but it looks to be the same product.)

If you look at the website, the photo does make it look like they're exactly the same product -- which is to say, the Dog kit and the Cat kit are nearly identical. Which is my point.

When I opened the kit, I discovered exactly how identical. I took out a packet of freeze-dried food. And it was labelled "Emergency Dog Food." And I thought, "WTF? I'm gonna have to call these people and complain that they screwed up and gave me dog food instead of cat food." And then I turned the pouch over, and the back was labelled "Emergency Cat Food." Well, not entirely. There were pictures of cats on it, and it said "Cat Food" in one place, but in another, it said, "Emergency Dog Food" and the word "Dog" had been blacked out, as with a marking pen. Yeah, I'm sure my cat will eat that.

There's also supposed to be a collar and leash in there. I was innocently expecting a cat leash -- which is really a harness. Instead, I got a little rhinestone (flexible) cat collar (which is totally useless because, although it has a little buckle on it, there are no holes in it to stick the pointy part through) and the leash is, like, six feet of metal chain. Which, y'know, is perfect for attaching to your flexible rhinestone collar (with non-functioning buckle) and taking your cat for a walk.

I took a closer look at the Emergency Kit descriptions. With the exception of a cat toy (a catnip mouse with the words "Catnip Mouse" stamped on it) instead of a tennis ball, and the omission of three chew sticks, the Cat Kit is exactly the same as the Dog Kit.

Don't get me wrong, it's still useful. The pet first aid kit seems solid, the foldable bowls are a nice touch, and the water could be useful. But, with a little bit of thought and effort, they could've put in actual cat food, a real cat leash, and maybe replaced the "poop bags" with one of those disposable litter boxes, and it would have rocked.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Censored for your protection

The other night, way too late for my own good, I was watching a TV docu-thingy called "My Secret Female Body" on BBC America. It was the story of a female-to-male transgendered dude going through the process.

OK, here's what I don't get. He's going in for, well, boob-removal. He has female breasts which have, thanks to hormone treatments, shrunk down to size A, but he still has to cover them up on a daily basis and just wants them gone. OK. So he goes in to the doctor and when the doctor is checking him out, the American TV censors (I'm sure this wasn't an issue when this thing aired in the UK) blur out the breasts. Because, y'know, they're female breasts and we can't show them on TV. In fact, the guy looks at before and after pictures, and the "before" breasts are blurry but the "after" shots aren't. Because female breasts can't be shown on TV and flat male breasts can.

So he has the surgery done and there's a bit of a complication. One of his breasts is safely removed. In the other, there was a ruptured blood vessel (or something) and it was bleeding internally. Overnight, it bled internally quite a bit -- so, when he woke up the next morning, he was happy to find that one of his breasts had been removed, but quite depressed to find that the other was actually twice the size it had been before surgery.

And American TV censors did not blur it out this time.

I think the theory here is that his initial size A boob was Not Suitable For Television because it was, technically, a female boob. Whereas his substantially larger boob the following morning was Suitable For Television because it was, in fact, a male boob which had simply expanded due to a medical problem.

Regardless of what you may think of transgendered individuals surgically transforming themselves, this certainly illustrates the stupidity involved in television breast censorship.

But wait, there's more!

We start with the floor. Note how the hardwood runs all the way to the door.

We tore out that area of hardwood and put in tile instead. (Here it is in the "almost done" phase -- they hadn't yet put the little pieces on the ends.)

Then there's the kitchen nook. There was an empty nook in the kitchen -- the prior owners had put a small table and chairs in there -- y'know, for breakfast and stuff. I didn't want to do that. But I did want a place to keep my food. Thus... before:

And after:

The little bit of countertop over the trash compactor actually matches the countertop in the rest of the kitchen. The owners had a very small slab of it left, and it was just wide enough to fit that in that corner. (And the plant is from my neighbors.)

And finally, an empty family room:

This next picture isn't from the same angle, but now the room is full. With furniture. And cat!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

And the AFTER pictures

(This is fun!)

OK, here's what that bathroom looks like now.

The shower is not, in fact, a blaze of light and reflection. But it does have a pretty glass door where that wall used to be.

OK, then we move to the closet in the spare bedroom, which initially looked like this:

Not very exciting. We tore off the doors, took off the frame, pulled out the bar (and ripped a hole in it to upgrade the plumbing in the bathroom next door).

And then -- shelving!

OK, I haven't exactly unpacked the room, yet, but now, it's the "Library."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Long-Promised Construction Pictures

I'm having a little Open House tomorrow, and I've put together a little slideshow of some of the construction. It's mostly "before" pictures and a few "durings" -- I haven't got the "afters" done yet. (After all, the people who will be seeing the slideshow will actually be standing in the house.) But still... here's what it looked like when I bought it ... and when the contractors were tearing it up and putting it back together again.

Here's the bathroom when it started....

Then the contractors came, and ripped it all out, down to the studs. (And that wall there to the left of the shower door? Gone.)

Actually, I didn't quite understand why they put the toilet in the bedroom, as they knew I'd bought a new toilet to be installed in the bathroom. But they put the toilet and sink in the bedroom anyway -- I think that's some sort of rule about bathrom remodels.

And then, they put in a new shower!

And a new shower floor!

And then, I'd bought this tiny little sink cabinet thing

And I found -- actually "stumbled upon" is more accurate, as I was kinda sleep deprived at the time -- granite tiles for the floor that exactly match the top of that thing. Sweet!

And it all came together in a bathroom ... which I'll take a picture of tomorrow, when it's all nice and clean. :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Probably should have tried that first

I've hooked up my phones. (Finally.)

I have three of them -- they're those cordless phones where you only need to plug one into a phone jack -- the other two just plug into A/C outlets. Of course, I don't even plug the first one into a phone line -- I've got that magicjack thingy, so I just plug it into the magicjack, which is, itself, plugged into my computer.

I've never used cordless phones with the magicjack before -- I've only had a corded landline attached to it (even back at the condo). So putting the cordless base station there, plugging in the rest of the phones around my house, and actually getting a dial tone on the other phones was pretty darned exciting.

Odd, then, that I couldn't get a dial tone on the phone that sits on the base station. I mean, it's right freakin here, next to the computer. How come I have a signal on the other phones but not this one?

I left it on its base station for a couple days to let it charge up real good. Still, lift it off the base station and it's completely dead.

This annoys me. I s'pose I can re-arrange the phones, but I really like having the other two where I have them (kitchen and living room).

I think that perhaps there's a chance that the battery in this thing is dead. I open the phone to inspect it ... as though I'll be able to tell by looking at it if the battery is dead.

Of course, I could tell by looking at it that the battery wasn't plugged in.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are you kidding me?

I was going to post something else, but I had to change a lightbulb.

The process was supposed to require:
1. Me
2. Ladder
3. New Lightbulb

The process actually required:
1. Me
2. Ladder
3. New Lightbulb
4. Tweezers
5. Screwdriver
6. Needle-nose pliers
7. Eye-goggles
8. Vacuum


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And now, a post just for the ladies

I recently stumbled upon a secret that men have been keeping from us.

When I went to Vegas recently, it was only for a couple days, so I didn't check any baggage; I just crammed everything into my carry-on. This means that all liquids and gels had to be in little 3 ounce containers. (Yes, it's actually 100 ml, which is more than 3 ounces -- but having tried to get a 100 ml bottle past security in the past, I know not to fight this.) And, although I had a travel countainer of shaving gel, the damn thing was 3.5 ounces.

Went to the grocery store and stood in the aisle where they keep all the travel-size items. No shaving gel at all.

Shaving cream. For men. In a two-ounce countainer.

I think, "Why not?" A razor's a razor; unwanted hair is unwanted hair. I look around to make sure nobody is watching and I plop the container of Gillette Foamy in my shopping cart.

Holy freakin' cow. Best shave I've ever had. That stuff is so ... foamy. So rich, so thick -- I got an awesome shave with it.

Upon returning, I vowed to hunt down some shaving cream for women. And I did -- some stuff from Barbasol. Claims to be silky and smell like raspberry. I see no evidence of either. Sure, it's better than that shave gel they've been trying to pawn off on us for years, but it can't compete with the wonder that is Foamy.

Trust me on this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Where the hell did I ...?

Things keep running away on me.

I prefer to think of this not as forgetfulness (or, gasp, aging) but the consequence of inadequate sleep.

A few weeks ago, I lost a piece of paper. I have used that same piece of paper every two weeks for, like, years. I keep it in the same place all the time. It was not in that place.

And yesterday, I thought, "I may have put that piece of paper in the file folder with this year's taxes." So I went to check the Taxes file folder.

Except I can't find the Taxes file folder.

Also yesterday, I obtained my father's gift for Fathers' Day. I've had the card for weeks, so all I needed to do was seal up the car--

-- it isn't on my desk, where it ought to be. Now, I know I'd brought it in to work, so I checked at the office today. Not there either. Not at work; not at home. Damn. I'll have to buy a new card -- and it probably won't go out on time, either.

After I came from work today (and did one last fruitless check for the paper, file, and card), I printed out an email that I needed a hard copy of. (Of which I needed a hard copy. Whatever.) It was four pages long and stopped printing after the first three. Why? Out of paper.

Oh. No problem; I'll just reload some paper. I open the cabinet where the paper should be and ...

... I do not freakin' believe this.

New Passport!

The fine folks at the US Government turned around my passport application in 10 days -- and that includes mailing both ways!

So I now have a shiny new passport, with some sort of electronic doohickey implanted therein which apparently makes for quicker passport scanning at the airport. Oooo.

Also got my old passport back, which is kinda cool, because it's a record of all my trips in the past ten years. There are still a lot of blank pages in that thing, but I love how the immigration agents cram all the stamps on the same pages -- so I've got a 2002 London stamp right next to a 2005 Taipei stamp, with a 2006 U.S. re-entry stamp just sharing the page. And a couple pages later I've got Iceland and Fiji sharing a page -- and those two usually aren't in the same neighborhood.

AND, when I sent in the new passport application, they had me send in two copies of the new passport photo. They sent the second one back, stapled to the old passport.

The first time I renewed my passport as an adult, I had to run to three different places to get the photos done. Honestly. The first place's camera was broken and the second place was out of film. (And, no, the first place wouldn't sell me the film to take to the second place.) And I had no car at the time, so was literally running. The result was a passport photo with my hair every which way. I decided that this was actually a good thing. After all, if I had looked all polished and business-like in the photo, nobody would believe it was me, when I'm standing there in an Immigration line after having spent 12 hours in a cramped airplane.

As you can see, I've kept up the tradition of the passport photo that looks like I just got off an international flight. (I'm particularly proud of the dark circles.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Where did the evening go?

Seems it was just a few minutes ago that I sat down at the computer to be my very own Internet Travel Agent to work out my One Day in Istanbul.

It was supposed to be insanely easy. See, the cruise ship docks at around 7:00 in the morning, I fly out at around 7:00 the following morning -- so I've got 24 hours to fill. I'm told that the cruise company will put me up in the Istanbul Hilton and give me a one day tour of the city for something like $650. (The damn Single Supplement rears its ugly head again.)

And I think, hey, no problem. I can book myself into the very same Istanbul Hilton, and then book the one day tour through the cruise company.

Except, unless I'm booking the whole tour/hotel package with them, my only choice is a 4 1/2 hour tour which dumps me at the hotel around 2:00 -- which is too late to do any other tours and I really don't want to spend half my time in Istanbul cooling my heels at the freakin' Hilton.

OK, no problem. I'll find a full-day bus tour I can book myself.

Except it can't be done from the port. The full-day tours all leave from the hotels, and they leave early enough that there's no guarantee I'll get to my hotel in time to catch one.

OK, no problem. I'll find a freakin' private guide. More expensive (not as expensive as Athens), but, hey, 24 hours in the city -- this is clearly one of those "time = money" situations where I should pony up the cash to not waste the time.

Except I can't find a well-recommended private guide. And I sure as hell don't want to take someone who doesn't come recommended, because, y'know, he'll probably take me to his cousin's carpet shop for the hard sell.

OK, no problem. TripAdvisor is letting me down here, but the message boards at have lots of reviews of Istanbul-specific private guides.

Except they've got several hundred pages on Mediterranean ports, and you can't search the message boards unless you're a member.

OK, no problem. I'll join the damn message board. Joined, confirmed my membership, started searching for drivers in Istanbul and found a tour company that is very highly recommended.

Except not in Istanbul. Apparently, they're terrific around Ephesus, but the quality is questionable in Istanbul. OK, no problem. I keep searching. And searching. And I find a private guide with a good rep in Istanbul. I go to his website and see that he charges about $200 for a day tour.

Except not if you're staying outside the Old City. $200 is for a guided walking tour. (Apparently, all the good stuff in Istanbul is conveniently located all in the same area, where there are several hotels.) And guess where the Istanbul Hilton ISN'T.

OK, no problem. I'll find a hotel in the Old City. Much searching Cruisecritic and Tripadvisor, until I find a hotel everyone agrees is good. (Bonus: they have their own Turkish Bath and spa in the building.) (Bonus because TripAdvisor reviews of the big touristy Turkish Baths are pretty much unanimous that the architecture rocks but the experience blows. It took me some time to discover this.)

So (and I think I know where my evening went now) ... I've got a not-yet-confirmed reservation at the hotel, an email in to the walking tour guy ("Are you available that day? Wanna meet me at the port with a reliable taxi driver?"), and a tentative plan for an 8 hour tour of the city and a reasonably priced turkish bath/massage back at the hotel. Whew.

It only took four hours.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stupid Homeowner Tricks -- One

(First in what I'm sure will be an occasional series.)

Yesterday morning, I was operating on 5 hours of sleep, after operating the previous day on the same amount. I can do this once, but twice in a row leaves me not functioning well at all.

I get in the car and back out of the driveway. (Yes, I have the sense to open the garage door before I start backing up.) I nearly run over the flowers because I miss-time the turn (curvy driveway) -- something I haven't done since the first week that I've lived here. I straighten out and fix it, only to slam on the brakes when I see a car coming. I tell myself to look left (I look left) and look right (I look right) and continue.

As I'm driving off, I start thinking that this is one day where I'm going to have to be very careful to keep only one thought in my head at a time, because I don't have enough awake brain cells to actually hang on to two thoughts at once. One thought, finish the act, move on to the next thought. I drive to work basically thinking "drive to work," rather than letting my mind wander to the work I have to do once I'm there.

At around 1:20, my cell phone rings. It's my neighbor (who has never called before, but we've exchanged numbers).

She asks, "Did you mean to leave the garage door open?"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And ... London hotel obtained too

It's a good thing that this vacation is in about two months, as it's probably going to take me that long to get it together. Today I managed to pin down my flights (yes! only two stops on the way back from Istanbul!) and the London hotel.

The latter was extremely annoying, as my usual sources were letting me down.

Don't get me wrong, given the relatively favorable exchange rate, pretty much every hotel in London was reasonably priced. Hell, hotwire would've put me in a 5-star hotel in the West End for $200/night. Which, in the overall scheme of things, is pretty good. (I remember the last time I went to New York, I couldn't get a room in the theatre district for under $250. If I wanted to actually have a bathroom in it.) So, yeah, $200/night for a five-star hotel exactly where I wanted it would be, y'know, good.

Excepting going to London for five days is just the start of this rather massive vacation, and tossing out $1000 on the hotel in London for the, y'know, pre-vacation part of this vacation seems a bit wasteful. So, I see what Hotwire has in a four-star hotel; maybe even 3 1/2.

Here's an interesting tidbit about Hotwire -- they now tell you the TripAdvisor rating for your hotel. It'll say something like "TripAdvisor rating 4 out of 5, based on over 240 ratings."

You know what this means? It means that, with unlimited time, you can actually figure out the hotel that Hotwire is offering. "Unlimited time" being the key part of this sentence. I mean, I'm trying to find out which 4 star hotel in Regent's Park, Baker Street, or Camden Lock has a 4 out of 5 rating based on over 240 ratings. And when there happens to be more than one of them (which there does), I have to cross-check amenities (ok... the hotwire hotel has a pool... does this one on TripAdvisor have a pool?) It took hours. And the bottom line was: none of the hotels they offered me was awesome enough to be worth their price.

Off to Priceline -- to bid, basically, what I thought those hotels would be worth. (The problem, indeed, with Priceline, is that when you're bidding on, say, a four-star hotel in the Marble Arch area, you want to offer the price you'd be willing to pay for the crappiest four-star hotel in that area -- otherwise, if that's the one they happen to give you, you'll be screwed.)

Seeing as it's now after 1:00 in the morning, I'll spare you the blow-by-blow on this. Four more hours of research later (including nearly booking a room through, until I googled for reviews of, and four priceline offers later (during which time they repeatedly offered me worse deals than hotwire), I ended up with a decent room in a four-star hotel in a nice location for $120/night.

Next up: Booking one night in Istanbul.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Do these piss anyone else off?

I've been seeing these commercials lately for companies (or lawyers) that will help you get out of tax trouble with the IRS. And there's happy smiling people there saying things like, "I owed the IRS $1,000,000, and I ended up paying only $40,000!"

And we're supposed to think, "Wow, what a great company! Saved these people from having to pay the mean, nasty IRS all that money."

But instead I think, "Hey! We need that $960,000." Seriously. OK, maybe I'm a little sensitive about this because my State -- which happens to be my employer -- is itself verging on economic collapse. But, honestly, California really needs people to actually pay their back taxes just now, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if the federal government felt the same way.

So, when I see these ads, I don't think, "Wow, what a great company!" I think, "You're picking my pocket and I'm supposed to be happy about this?"

I get ballsy at 1:00 in the morning

Finding a hotel in Athens has been becoming a pain in the ass.

I mean, I'm more than happy to be my own internet travel agent, but it's only fun if I can actually find what I want for a price I want.

This does not seem possible. Everywhere I look, I can't seem to find a decent hotel room in Athens for under, say, $200/night. This annoys me. I'll find some little boutique hotel that looks good, and then I'll find unanimous reviews that it's noisy, or the beds are uncomfortable or something else deal-breaking.

In desperation, I ran it through Hotwire -- you know, one of those sites that doesn't tell you where you're staying until you've committed to it.

And it said: 4 1/2 star hotel for $116.

Really now?


I did a massive amount of research to try to pin down which hotel this would be. (Said it has a 4/5 rating on TripAdvisor, with over 100 ratings and the last rating in May. So, here's me, pawing through 48 Athens hotels rated 4 on TripAdvisor, trying to find one with over 100 ratings, last in May, with amenities matching the list on Hotwire.) Conclusion: whatever hotel it is, it's probably a good deal.

Still, this is a big thing for me. I've never actually used Hotwire for something quite so foreign. I mean, usually, I look at the Hotwire map where they divide the city into different areas, and I'll know exactly where I want to be. Here, despite spending a few nights researching hotels in Athens, I'm still not particularly clear on where the hell anything is. I'm pretty much flying blind here.

$116, eh? In "Central Athens" (whatever that means.)


*hold breath*

The InterContinental Athenaeum.

Hmmm. A brand I've heard of. Hotel looks pretty. Snooty even. (Even the "standard" rooms come with bidets. I believe this will be my first hotel experience with one. I can see the 'blog entry already.) Location not the bestest but (a) they have an hourly shuttle to the center of town; and (b) I'll be taking tours the two days I'm there so I don't entirely care.

Come to think of it, I can use the money I've saved on a hotel to pay for the tours. Yes, this'll work.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm not sure that's better

I'm calling the airline daily to see if I can't get a better flight back from Istanbul.

See, if I was actually paying for the ticket, it would be Istanbul to London; London to L.A. Easy peasy.

But I'm trying to do this for free, on miles.

I mentioned that the original offer included an overnight in Helsinki. It was, in fact:
Istanbul to Budapest
Budapest to Helsinki
Overnight in Helsinki
Helsinki to London (all of that just to get to London!)
London to Toronto
Toronto to LA.

The nice lady investigated further, and came up with:
Istanbul to Madrid
Madrid to Boston
Overnight in Boston
Boston to L.A.
Which would be pretty much perfect if I could get on a Boston to L.A. flight the same day, but that's not available (unless I pay) so this looks like about it.

I called today, and they were able to come up with an alternative with all flight on the same day, although it only left two days later.

So, I mean, right now, I've got myself leaving Istanbul on Sunday and (after the overnight in Boston) returning to L.A. on Monday, getting in around noon.

The alternative left on Tuesday, and was Istanbul to Madrid; Madrid to New York; New York to L.A., all in the same day. I'd get home just around midnight on Tuesday.

Which would make me totally useless for work on Wednesday, so the fact that all the travel is technically done in the same day doesn't really help.

... it continues. We call again tomorrow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

As a matter of fact ...

... the cruise company is just all over the idea of taking my money.

I innocently inquired about the price of a two-night pre-cruise add-on package in Athens. Two. Nights.

And the price I got was, like, half of what I'm paying for the whole cruise!

Apparently they book with the most expensive hotel in Athens. And then they put the single supplement on top of that.

(Seriously? A single supplement on a land package?)

I went to the hotel's website and found I could book a room directly for just over half of what the cruise company wants for their "hotel-only" pre-cruise package.

Looks like I get to play Internet Travel Agent again!


Conveniently, there was no problem at all in the cruise company taking my money this morning. So I appear to actually be going.

(Off to get passport photos!)

Oh, *this* might be bad

So, when I called the cruise lady this morning, she was very clear about me having to pay within 24 hours. I was gonna pay her right then, but she said, hey, wait the 24 hours to make sure you can get your airfare, which seemed totally reasonable to me.

So I went to call them now, and, of course, what with it being after midnight, they're not in.

And I look at the fine print on the email she sent me, and it says that I have to pay "no later than Wednesday June 3, 2009." Which is, y'know, today. Yesterday actually. Not at all 24 hours from when she did the reservation this morning.

If that thing got cancelled (after I'd already booked a theatre ticket) I'm going to be REALLY TICKED.

Time to drop the nice cruise lady an email. A "do not give my reservation away" email.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ack? It's a good "Ack."

Ever feel like your life is a series of hyperlinks? Where you're doing one thing and you go off on something else and keep following link after link until you're doing about 12 things at once and none of them are finished?

Yeah. That's me.

Finally figured out where my next vacation will be (and since this 'blog tends to be at its best when I'm on the road, perhaps this is of interest to y'all). I'd been thinking about Vancouver or going back to New Zealand ... and while I'd like to do both of those things, none of them seemed right for now.

And, of course, since I'm an employee of the Great but Bordering Bankrupt State of California, I don't entirely know whether (a) I'll be getting paid in July (because if the Governor and Legislature don't enact a budget by then, we'll be out of money) or (b) I'll have a mandatory furlough. Actually, I can pretty much expect a mandatory furlough -- the real question is whether it will only be one day per month, or if it'll be more than that. So, with that going on, it's hard to tell whether I should take a big vacation this year, or follow the more prudent path of doing something cheap and (relatively) local. And, of course, if I actually wait until California has a budget, all those good vacation deals will be gone by then.

And since I'm sure you've got something better to do than listen to the blow-by-blow of my poking around the internet last night, trying to find exactly the right vacation, let's just fast-forward to the amazing deal I got on a cruise in the Greek Isles in August, just as long as I pay for the damn thing within 24 hours.

Which led me spending an hour (literally an hour -- my phone kept track) on the phone with American Airlines trying to use all my miles so I could fly out there for free....

.... and tack a few nights in London on there, as there's a show I really wanted to see, and y'know, broadly speaking, I'll be in the neighborhood. In a "same continent, anyway" sense.

And she can't seem to find a way for me to fly back from Istanbul (Istanbul! Sweet!) on a free ticket without somehow overnighting in (I shit you not) Helsinki. And I think that unless I sleep in the airport, I'm gonna need a freakin' visa for Helsinki just to fly home. Which reminds me to check visa requirements for Greece and Turkey, and that's all covered, so we're good there. And then she eventually finds a way to ticket it where I'm overnighting in Boston, which isn't nearly as, y'know, "Amazing Race"y as 13 hours in Helsinki, but at least I won't need a visa.

So, with the ticket set, I can come back and pay for the cruise (safely within my 24 hours).

And I sit down at the computer to do that, but first decide to make sure I can buy a ticket for that show I wanted to see in London. And I check that show's website and it has tons of available seats. (Yay!) So before I actually ticket it, I decide to see what else is playing in the West End, so that I book this on the right date. So an hour or so goes by while I'm putting together a list of, oh, seven shows I'd like to see in the four days that I'll be there. I realize I'll have to pare this down, but, at least, I've figured out which day I want to order the first one for.

So I order the ticket. And when I'm done, I print out the ticket confirm, and stick it my Magic Drawer of Tickets and Stuff. Where I see my passport.

And all that looking at visa requirements reminded me to make sure the passport is current.

Passport expires July 18.

Which explains why my web browser is now open to pages for: London theatre listings; booking confirmation for one show; a .pdf of my passport application; a google search for the nearest passport photo place....

.... and I still have to pay for the cruise before my 24 hours are up.