The Westin Sydney, a luxury stay using Starwood Points

On my first visit to The Westin Sydney many years ago, I got stuck in the elevator.  No, there wasn’t an electrical or mechanical problem, it was a dumb “only Sue” reason – I couldn’t get my keycard to work in the slot to press my floor.  I tried a few times as the door shut and then someone pressed the button opening the doors expecting me to get out at the lobby but I had to laugh and say “keycard issues, I was stuck” – the businessman looked at me with that “you’re an idiot” look and asked me “what floor”. When I returned to The Westin Sydney, I made sure to work the keycard and elevator to avoid feeling stupid like last time.

The Westin Sydney at Martin's Place

Welcome to The Westin Sydney at Martin’s Place

The Westin Sydney is an impressive luxury hotel converting and restoring the old General Post Office building into a 400 room hotel with 31 floors. Memories of my first visit quickly flooded back on my most recent visit.  The first visit I was loaded with lots of luggage having completed a month’s holiday in Perth and New Zealand with Sydney being the last stop as I made my way home.  This time, Sydney was sandwiched between my Australia segments of Melbourne and Tasmania on my RTW as I wanted to spend my birthday in the city (little did I know it would be Raining on my Birthday Parade)

Rainy Day Sydney views

Rainy Day Sydney view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House

Location

Martin’s Place is quite central in Sydney’s business and fashion district with Darling Harbour or Circular Quay (Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and ferries) about a 15 min. walk.  A train station is mere minutes around the corner, buses stop nearby and shopping arcades are just steps away.  For a first time visitor to the city, I think this is a great location to explore from. On the weekends though many cafes and restaurants in the area are closed as they service the central business district during the week. No worries, this is Sydney and there are fantastic options just down the road or a quick cab away.

Sydney Opera House clear blue skies Australia

The iconic Sydney Opera House – 15 min walk from The Westin Sydney

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Looking Back – Mickey Mouse Memories

Having debuted in the cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” in 1928, Mickey Mouse will turn 86 tomorrow (November 18th).  How that one cartoon character has affected each of our lives is fascinating testament to the iconic, visionary, Walt Disney.  If you ever ask who I’d like to meet dead or alive, Walt Disney is pretty high on my list.  Walt Disney World in Orlando was one massive dream that he sadly didn’t see completed. Long before a Little Mermaid, a Lion King and a myriad of Princesses with the most recent being Frozen, Disney World was about a mouse – Mortimer Mouse, now known as Mickey Mouse.  The kingdom was built for him and he continues to entertain while ceding the spotlight to a whole new group of characters for the new generations.

Cinderella's Castle Disney World

Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World

For me, looking back at my Mickey Mouse memories includes Sunday nights with my family watching “The Wonderful World of Disney”, afternoons watching reruns of the original Mickey Mouse club and new episodes of the New Mickey Mouse Club as well as the year 1983.  It wasn’t the memories of my Care Bear or Cabbage Patch Doll (both highly sought after toys I’ll have you know) in 1983, it wasn’t trying to figure out how to “moonwalk” like Michael Jackson (which I still can’t do) or that the landscape of fast food was forever changed with the introduction of the Chicken McNugget.  It wasn’t my first concert (Rick Springfield at Valley Forge Music Fair) without my parents (they dropped us off and went to dinner back when you could do things like that with kids).  All of these were pretty good memories.  But, the highlight in 1983 was the family trip to Disney World in Orlando.  We were off to see Mickey Mouse and experience all the Disney fun.  It meant that I would be flying for the first time.

USAirways view from the wing

Up in the clouds – the view from the wing of USAirways

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The New Zealand Quandary – Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound

We all want the best and when it comes to travel there are so many confusing “best of” options.  This week’s #FriFotos theme is “Best” and I keep thinking how many times I went in search of the best and found something better.  Yesterday’s post, I went in search of the best restaurant in Melbourne and ended up at The Meatball & Wine Bar. For me “the Best” is so subjective but it sure is fun trying it all and finding something more, unexpected along the way.

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

One of the more confusing “What is the best?” was on my trip to New Zealand’s South Island.  While I read that Milford Sound was the most popular, I also read that Doubtful Sound was larger, less visited and more serene.  So what was the best Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound?  What must I see and experience?  Posing this question to various travel agents, friends from New Zealand and researching online didn’t get me closer to an answer.  I would do what made the most sense to me at the time – visit both with Real Journeys and decide on my own.

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Melbourne Meatball Memories on Flinders Lane

Having just completed my four day journey from Philadelphia to Melbourne with an overnight flight from Singapore, I was hungry.  With an early check-in to the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins,  I was eager to forage for food after reading so many fantastic articles about the Melbourne restaurant/food scene. But I had a problem.  I was hungry, the kind of hungry that you shouldn’t be when you go grocery shopping.   The Sofitel was attached to an office complex with a small food court – while everything looked nice, I was interested in a uniquely Melbourne experience.

Melbourne South Bank waterfront

Melbourne South Bank waterfront of shops, restaurants, arts, casino, etc.

Walked toward the historic Flinders Lane, which houses many “Soho” type of boutiques, cafes and restaurants, I was in search of the award winning Cumulus, Inc. which was recommended for their Modern Australian cooking. Along the way, I passed a few interesting restaurants and smiled when I passed The Meatball & Wine Bar.  It looked interesting from the outside and who doesn’t like meatballs and wine?  But I was on a mission now to find a cloud.

Meatball & Wine Bar Melbourne

More than meat in Melbourne – meatballs in fish and vegetables too

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First Visit: The Alaska Airlines Lounge in Seattle

Washington State view from above

The wildfire smoke in Washington State mixed with the clouds on my first Alaska Airlines flight

Flying home from Seattle over the year, my only option was the direct USAirways flight, however, this visit, my travel agent suggested Alaska Airlines.  Alaska Airlines started flying direct between Seattle and Philly two years ago, in June 2012, and brought some welcome competition to the segment.  Despite that, I hadn’t had an opportunity to fly them until their first class flight one way was slightly more than the coach USAirways ticket.  It was a no-brainer.  I usually buy a coach seat and then hope to pay for the upgrade which runs about $250 so learning that the Alaska flight was cheaper and would provide access to the lounge was even nicer.  This is a great example of why travel agents are so beneficial.

With the flight scheduled to depart at 8:35 am, I arrived at the airport by 6:30 am and was happy that the lounge opened at 5 a.m.  I easily found the Alaska Airlines lounge near gate D1 after security on my way to have breakfast.  When I returned to the lounge and entered, I noticed the long check-in desk, nice decor and saw the elevator and stairs ahead as this is a two level lounge.  The agents warmly greeted me and I told them it was my first visit. They scanned my boarding pass and explained my options for food/drink/work in the lounge.  Of note, they do not make announcements so you need to keep track of your time.

Board Room Seattle Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines lounge in Seattle called the Board Room

Alaska Airlines Board Room Seattle

Nicely decorated lounge in Seattle

I did a quick drive by of the first level noting all of my options – the food options alone, one could easily survive with the choices available (unlike other lounges I’ve visited).

Alaska Airlines boardroom seattle coffee

Its Seattle – of course, its Starbucks coffee!

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Water Fountain Wonders Around the World #FriFotos

There’s something about a water fountain that just fascinates me, from the first time I saw the Swann Fountain in Philadelphia to the jumping water fountain at Epcot as a child, I love them all.  How they do what they do is pure science, what we see is pure magic, how they make us feel is pure wonder. The immense creativity, artistic sculptures, feats of engineering and design are astounding.    This week’s #FriFotos theme of fountains is fantastic as I get to show you some of my favorite water fountains around the world from the past few years of travel.

Fountains at Versailles

A trip to Versailles must include visiting the gardens to see the water fountains

Philadelphia – The Swann Fountain

A tradition in Philadelphia at the end of the school year is for the local Catholic girls high school to jump into the Swann fountain in their uniforms.  Now I’m not usually a fan of swimming in the fountains, but this tradition made me wish I went to that school each year.  For the rest of the year, the fountain sits in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway midway between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and City Hall, across from the Four Seasons.  It is a large, impressive display given as a gift in 1924 from a wife in memory of her husband.

Swann Fountain Philadelphia

On side of the Swann Fountain in Philadelphia

Swann Fountain Philadelphia from above

The large Swann fountain sits in the middle of the Parkway as traffic goes around the circle

 

 

Lima, Peru – The Magic Water Circuit

All I knew was that there was a water fountain park that I should see.  As my flight left after midnight, visiting the park was the last thing I would do on my South America trip – wow, what a good surprise.  This is clearly a modern water fountain park attraction with computers, colored lights, music and interactive features. It was a nice change from the ancient ruins I had seen earlier in the day.  While I took a guided tour, the park is easy to visit and great fun. For more photos visit The Magic Water Circuit post.

Magic Water Circuit Park Lima

This water fountain had multiple colors on display in Lima

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Old Fashioned Hospitality is a Piece of Cake at Rudy & Paco in Galveston

I was desperate to escape the conference hotel where for the past two days I was stranded without a car and with nowhere to walk.  The food on property was dreadful to the point where they overcooked the over easy eggs, dried out the pancakes and made frozen french fries seem like a gourmet treat.  With a suggestion for the best filet, I was in a cab (at a cost of about $22 each way!) driving toward the center of Galveston, to the Strand area of shops/restaurants to find Rudy & Paco. The restaurant, next to the Opera House, serves seafood and steaks with Central and South American influences and flavors. The cab pulled right up to the restaurant which didn’t look appealing from the outside but once I opened the steel door, I entered an entirely different world.

Thinking that 6 p.m. was early on Saturday for dinner, I was dismayed to be told that the next  bar seat wouldn’t be available for at least an hour (the wrong thing to say to a hungry person who escaped the tedium of the hotel and paid a crazy cab fare).    Mentioning my disappointment to the hostess and host, they took my name and mobile number and said they would call me as soon as they could.  In the meantime, I could wait at their sister restaurant/bar across the street.  I passed on the “sit at the bar” option as my mood would veer toward a “pity party” liquid dinner had I gone there.  Instead, I went in search of a different type of “pity party” treat – candy!

La King's Galveston candy

The candy of my childhood at La King’s

So I had an hour to wander the streets of Galveston which was easy to do as I window shopped here and there.  It was the old fashioned candy store with ice cream counter of La King’s that I was on the hunt for as I really needed a chocolate infusion.  Walking past many bars and restaurants, you can see the vibrant scene of the city in these few blocks (the other parts I walked past were office buildings, parking lots, and just blah concrete structures).  Finding La King’s, I entered candy heaven and revisited a bit of my childhood candy store memories.  While trying to decide just how many pieces of chocolate would soothe my escape, my mobile rang to let me know my bar stool was available.  It wasn’t quite an hour, probably 35 minutes at that point.  Paying for my treats, I made my way back to Rudy & Paco’s a few blocks away.

Rudy & Paco Galveston

My happy place in Galveston – Rudy & Paco

Greeted by the host Paco, one of the owners, he apologized for the wait and my hotel experience.  He said that the bartender would take good care of me.  My seat was closest to the wall of celebrity photos and quite cozy at the end of the L shaped bar.  The bartender brought me plantains to snack on as I perused the menu.  While I was told to get the filet, there were so many tempting options available.  Asking the bartender for help, she agreed the filet (Filete de Carne Presidente) was the way to go.

Plantain Chips Rudy & Paco

Plantain Chips a nice way to start my memorable meal at Rudy & Paco

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Philadelphia (PHL) USAirways Lounge – Terminal B/C

For my morning trip to Houston which was leaving from Terminal B, I thought “hey let me see what the USAirways Lounge looks like in Terminal B/C” since I had recently visited the Terminal A lounge. The B/C lounge was a bit tricky for me to find.  I knew it required an elevator and had to be immediately after security before you entered the long walk in the terminal.  I passed the bakery kiosk and stopped to look at the monitors to see what gate I needed to be at (the last gate as always).  Walking a bit further into the terminal, I realized I was away from the elevators so turned back to see a small sign on the elevators for the lounge.

USAirways Lounge PHL Terminal B/C

Meeting in the middle – the large lounge mirrors each side

While I had my free lounge pass on me (a benefit as a USAirways Barclaycard Visa holder), I didn’t need to use it as I recently qualified for British Airways Silver status which gives me Sapphire benefits with all OneWorld carriers. This means free lounge access which is awesome!   I can now access all the USAirways lounges in Philadelphia as well as the British Airways lounge in Terminal A (I bring the printout of benefits as BA staff were unsure if I could enter if not flying BA – I most definitely can!) and any American lounges we might have (I’ve not flown American to know where they are located).

USAirways Lounge PHL Terminal B/C

The USAirways Lounge at PHL Terminal B/C is a long open space

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