Photos: The Seaplanes of Vancouver, BC

As someone who calls myself “The Flying Photog” I couldn’t very well go to Vancouver and not snap some photos of these interesting nautical aircraft. I do regret that on my trip to TBEX 2011 that I was never able to ride on one of these fascinating planes.

While visiting Vancouver a few years ago before an Alaskan cruise, I noticed these planes buzzing around the harbour. But, I was never able to get up close to them. It was this beautiful photo on Melanie Renzulli’s Instagram feed that brought my attention to these planes again on this trip. I sought her out, and she kindly directed me to where I could find the planes.

In case you’re wondering who had the cojones to fly the world’s first powered seaplane, Wikipedia tells us it was French engineer Henri Fabre, in 1910.

Now, on to the photos!

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TBEX 2012 – Why Key$tone?

Sure, Keystone is a probably beautiful place – but WHY the distant, expensive locations, TBEX??

Keystone is 98 miles (driving) West of Denver, Colorado and they definitely don’t have a light rail system (such as NYC subways and Vancouver’s SkyTrain) that’s going to take you there from the airport. The closest airport to Keystone with commercial airline service is Vail, Colorado – 51 miles away.

First, let’s take a look at a sampling of some current airfares from airline hub cities to Denver. New York to Denver: A Kayak.com search shows fares currently about $400 round trip, and that’s out of Newark. Nobody likes Newark. It’s $413 from LaGuardia and $523 from JFK. Los Angeles to Denver: $192 round trip. Atlanta to Denver: $269 round trip. Chicago to Denver:$219 round trip.

Now, let’s check out current fares from those same cities to Vail, Colorado.  New York to Vail: $560 from EWR, $829 from LGA and an incredible $1162 from JFK! Los Angeles to Vail: $809. Atlanta to Vail: $696. Chicago to Vail: $573. Of course, as we all know air fares are very volatile – so these prices will surely be different. They could be lower, or staggeringly higher. My bet is on higher prices, as fares have been trending upward due to the price of jet fuel. And don’t forget those pesky bag fees! If Candice Walsh drove to Keystone from Halifax in a car that got 20 miles per gallon of gas, she’d spend $479.50 (US) on gas at $3.50 a gallon.

Okay, so you ponied-up for your plane ticket and you opted to fly to Denver because it was cheaper. But wait… how to you get to Keystone? The first option would be to take a shuttle service. Keystone Resort offers one… for $142 round trip from the Denver Airport, and no shuttle from Vail is mentioned on their website. There is also the car rental option. A 4-day rental for an economy car at the Denver Airport currently starts at $113.99, but you’ll probably find a 4-cylinder engine severely lacks the gusto you’d want on mountain roads. A full size sedan will run you $129.10. Your best option would probably be to grab some friends and divide up the cost on a full-size SUV – the cheapest of which is currently about $390 for 4 days. Plus gas, of course! Perhaps Keystone will offer a free TBEX attendee shuttle (*party bus) to/from the Denver Airport.

Accommodations

An Expedia Search found 26 hotels in and near Keystone, with prices-per-night starting at $85.  I’m not a big hostel person, but I met several people who do prefer the cheap sleeps. I did a Google search for “Hostels in Keystone, Colorado” and was unsuccessful in finding a viable option. So if you’re a solo-traveler who usually stays on the cheap in hostels, I’ve got two words for you: SLUMBER PARTY. There are also no major brand hotels in Keystone, so you won’t be staying in town for free on loyalty program points. I predict a beer and Nutella-fueled, hippie-style blogger commune at a nearby campground in Dillon, CO. But the drawback there would be a lack or shortage of power outlets for our phones and iWhatevers. Does anyone have a portable generator, or bear repellant?

Attractions

The Vail Resorts TBEX 2012 press release mentions golf, horseback riding, fly fishing, whitewater rafting and the like – but how many of us can afford excursions like that? Okay, many of those things will likely be discounted, but how about the time investment? Did anyone find a gap in this year’s itinerary to squeeze in a round of golf? Only those who have the extra time to arrive a couple of days early or stay late have that kind of time. I managed to spend a couple of hours in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, but only because I decided to skip the Sunday afternoon sessions of the conference.

Suggestion for 2013

Why not Las Vegas? It holds no shortage of cheap rooms, hundreds of flights, convention space and places to party side-networking locations. Most of us who have gone to TBEX never slept more than what would qualify as a nap anyway.  Or may I suggest Austin, Texas? They’re quite familiar with the large convention scene there (see: SXSW), as well as being highly tech-savvy. Other centrally-located places that come to mind are Nashville and Chicago.

I love Colorado. I have been there several times, to several parts of the state. I hope to live there someday and it is one of my favorite places on earth. Denver would have been a great choice for TBEX 2012, and local enough for the Keystone and Vail Resort sponsors to really convey their message. I have never been to Keystone or any of the Vail Resorts properties, and I’d sure love to one day. One thing we all love about TBEX is the sense of community, but I’m afraid the conference location itself might make TBEX 2012 inaccessible for some.

Note: At the time of this blog’s publication, very few details were provided such as what kind of lodging discounts and transportation assistance may be provided for TBEX 2012. Hotel discounts were offered for TBEX 2011 in Vancouver, but mainly at 4+ star hotels, and still kept the price per night well above $100. Ironically, the Stanley Cup Finals were happening in Vancouver at the same time as TBEX 2011. I couldn’t help but wonder if the best hotels in town weren’t kicking themselves for slashing their rates for us, when they could likely be getting full price from hockey fans.

Photo Essay: My Ten Hours at OshKosh 2010

07:14 – Depart Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) under gloomy dark clouds and light rain.

08:00 – Touchdown at Wittman Regional Airport (OSH), home of EAA Airventure 2010. Taxi and towed to Aeroshell Square. Park nose-to-tail with a C5-C cargo plane.

08:00-18:00 – Drool over vintage and modern aircraft on display and watch aerial performances.

18:06 – Depart OSH

19:04 – Land at MDW

19:14 – Park at SWA Maintenance Hangar, shuttle to the airport. From there we caught a separate shuttle to our hotel.

Choosing a Window Seat, Wisely

As mentioned previously, I have flown my whole life. And for as long as I can remember, I have always loved sitting in a window seat.  I have never worried about how many people I would have to climb over, in the event I need to use the lav during the flight, though I sometimes try to temper my liquid intake beforehand. Too much information there?

You may be wondering why I enjoy the window seat instead of the coveted, roomier aisle seat? There are a few reasons for this. First, it makes the flight seem shorter when you have a view of constantly-changing scenery. Second, I have never been able to sleep well on planes, but having the wall to lean on with the white noise of the engines and air rushing by at Mach .085 does have a calming effect on me. Finally, a window seat view provides the chance to see landmarks that you may never otherwise see – or at least not from this unique perspective.

I do use some strategy in my seat selection when boarding the plane. The first choice to make is my row. I usually like to sit behind the wing because I think the wing provides an interesting element in the photo, along with some sense of scale. I usually fly Southwest Airlines on Boeing 737s and I like row 18 because not only does it have a great wing view, it is also one of the first rows to receive drinks in that section of the plane. My other criteria for selecting a seat is which side to sit on. Some people may never give this a thought. Others may just go with what feels right at the moment, perhaps next to an attractive stranger, or as far as possible from the screaming baby. Here is my Pro Tip: I like to choose my side of the plane based on the direction of our route at cruising altitude, and what side of the plane the sun will be on. For my photos, I like to have the sun on the other side of the plane, versus shining into my window – unless I’m shooting right at sunrise or sunset like in the top photo. Having the sun behind me means that the wing will be lit nicely and there will be little to know glare or sun flare into my camera. So for example, if I am flying North in the morning, I want to sit on the left side of the plane (when seated) because the sun will be on the other side.

Due to the nature of our flight privileges I don’t always get to choose the window seat on or near Row 18, but any window seat can provide an good opportunity for an interesting photo. No matter where I sit, I still try to get some part of the wing or engine into the frame.

Hopefully my seating strategy makes sense to all but the most directionally-challenged. Any camera can take good photos from the window seat. I also like to play with my iPhone camera in flight, using apps such as Hipstamatic and Instagram. Wherever you happen to sit, take the opportunity to shoot a few photos and be creative with it. You might surprise yourself with what you or your viewers end up liking.

The one about the Beer Festival in Colorado

Saturday July 10th, 2010 brought together two of my favorite things: Colorado and beer. My high school buddy Shannon had called me the weekend before and invited my wife and I to join him and his wife Whitney at a beer festival which was to be held in the small, mountain town of Salida,  Colorado. I had visited this town almost exactly three years ago when they got married, and I served as a groomsman and photographer.

The festival was held on the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida, CO

Our goal was to spend as little money as possible. First, I reserved a rental car through CarRentals.com. For the weekend we drove a Kia Optima for the grand total of $47 (plus gas). I was thankful to have locked in the rate on Monday (7/5), because by Friday (7/9) the rate had jumped to $112. I usually go with whichever car rental company is cheapest, and this time it happened to be Thrifty. From Monday to Thursday, we spent each day seeking sleeping arrangements that ranged from two different hotels (using free nights and/or program points) to camping out at Shannon’s in-laws’ property in Salida. We ended up choosing to stay with my wife’s step-sister at her condo in Denver’s “Tech Center” area.

Friday afternoon, (7/9) we flew from Dallas Love Field to Denver, via Tulsa on Southwest Airlines. We landed on-time at 6:00pm, picked up our rental car and were at the condo within an hour from landing.

Saturday morning (7/10), we drove South on I-25 and met Shannon and his wife in Monument, CO. The morning air was invigorating – cooler than anything we had felt in Dallas since April, and enhanced by a refreshing, pine forest scent. The clear sky was a glorious blue, highlighted by perfectly puffy clouds like you would see in a cartoon. Our three hour trek to Salida took us past (what claims to be) the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair.” But the best part of the drive was the final hour, speeding along the winding the Arkansas River.

We arrived in Salida at noon, and went directly to Amica’s – home of the best wood-fired pizza I’ve ever put to my lips. We were expecting a long wait due to the festival crowd, but only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. My wife and I shared the “Montenotte” pizza, which satisfied us both for $10.50. Amica’s also makes some delicious beer right in the store: most famously, their Green Chile Ale.

The Montenotte Pizza from Amica's, Salida CO

After lunch we walked a few blocks to Riverside Park for the 14th Annual Colorado Brewers Rendezvous, located on the banks of the Arkansas River. We were greeted by a long, but smoothly-flowing line of beer fans. After having our IDs checked and paying the $25 entrance fee (THANKS Shannon & Whitney!), we made our way into the festival. We were given a commemorative pint glass, in which we would receive all of our beer samples that afternoon. I estimated the attendance at about 3,000 people and roughly 40 Colorado breweries were represented. We did our best to visit each brewery’s tent and sample each variety of beer, but after about the 15th sample they all began to taste unappealing. Below is a list of most of the beers we sampled. I wish I could provide a connoisseur’s review for each sample, but it was hard enough just keeping a list in the 4-hour window of the festival.

Asher Brewing Co – “Greenade” Double IPA

Upslope Brewing Co – Mexican Lager

Ska Brewing Co – True Blonde Dubbel

New Belgium Brewing – Dark Heather Saison

Great Divide – Yeti Imperial Stout

Avery – Pilsner

Phantom Canyon – Zebulon’s Peated Porter

Rocky Mountain Brewewing Co – Stout (topped with vanilla ice cream)  *no website?

Second Street – Amber Ale

C&B Potts – Witbier

Left Hand Brewing Co – Rail Yard Amber Ale

Gordon Biersch – Hefeweisen

Odell – St Lupulin Extra Pale Ale

Shamrock Brewing – Rock Llama Sour Beer (and “sour” is an understatement!)

Black Fox Brewing Co – Summer Saison

Bristol Beer Factory – Compass IPA & Pilsner

Oskar Blues – Old Chub & Dale’s Pale Ale

Boulder Beer Co – Hazed & Infused

About 40 Colorado breweries offered samples at the festival.

The weekend was the perfect recipe of air travel, driving, mountains, weather, friends and beer! I would love to go back to Salida again next year. I had spent the three years between my visits to Salida telling my wife how beautiful Colorado is and how we should move to the state. It only took about 24 hours for her to agree that we should live there… someday.

Review: City Club Hotel in NYC

Hotel: City Club — 55 West 44th Street  New York NY 10036  (212)921-5500

Stay: June 25-28, 2010

Average nightly rate: $373.39

Confession: To this point in my life when I have traveled, I usually like to stick with what I know in terms of hotels. Familiar brands like Hilton & Sheraton usually bring a consistent product one can count on and know what to expect. But traveling to New York City last week, I was at the mercy of an Administrative Assistant whose mission it was to find a deal that is good for the company.

When my travel confirmation reached my Inbox, I went straight to Google with a raised eyebrow. “City Club Hotel” Enter. The minimalist design of their website is highlighted by a slide show of images in the center and links about the hotel on the left. My decisions had already been made for me, but I wanted a sneak peek of what the place looked like. I must say the online presentation of the property matched very well with the hotel once I arrived.

After a cab ride from LaGuardia Airport, I checked in at about 5:30pm. I was greeted by two very friendly employees at the front desk which couldn’t have fit a third person. The lobby had a capacity for about 10 people, including luggage. I asked about Wi-Fi and was told it was complimentary, and was given 2 codes (one for my laptop, one for my iPhone).  I headed up to room 704, designated as a “Queen Luxe” room.

I would definitely describe the room as “Luxe.” The first thing to catch my attention was the 42-inch flat screen TV hanging from the ceiling at the foot of the bed. The TV was in front of the room’s only window. I pulled the vinyl roller-blind to see what kind of view I had. No view whatsoever, just the alley between buildings. I pulled the blind back down and it remained there for the rest of the weekend.

I dropped my iPhone into the iHome clock radio at the bedside to let it juice up. Next I plopped my suitcase on the bed and noticed how it sank a good 4 inches into the downy softness of the all-white duvet. I began hanging my clothes in the tiny, 3-foot wide closet. It was stocked with about 12 wooden hangers and at the bottom was a mini-bar with soft drinks, booze and snacks. I chose an outfit to wear out for the evening and took the iron and ironing board out of the closet. Of all the luxury in the room, they got cheap with the ironing board. Its surface area wasn’t much larger than a skateboard, and the tiny collapsible legs gave it about the same ground elevation. The act of ironing was my biggest struggle and disappointment within this hotel room.

Shower time. I was really impressed to see that the bathroom consumed about a third of the room’s overall footprint. Two fuzzy white bathrobes, plenty of towels, a sewing kit, lavender-peppermint bathing products by C.O. Bigelow, a toilet and something rarely seen in Texas… a bidet. The shower was a wide walk-in and could have easily fit 3-4 people, if you’re into that kind of thing. It had all black marble and a nozzle that let you adjust the spray pressure. I was invigorated by the Bigelow shampoo and soap. The shower area had a clear, full-length curtain that faced a floor-to-ceiling mirror on the other side of the bathroom.

While getting ready to go out, I was pleasantly surprised when a housekeeper knocked to offer turn-down service. I declined, but accepted the two freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies she brought.

Returning from my three nights on the town, I climbed into that luxurious downy duvet-covered bed and crashed. After walking block after block each of three days in NYC, it was heaven.

I’m not a hotel connoisseur (yet) but I’d stay here again, especially if the company were paying for it. The sticker price is about 4 times what I like to typically spend, so I was glad this was not on my dime. Though I do understand this is NYC we’re talking about, and I was a 5-minute walk from Times Square to the West and 5th Avenue to the East.

In review: Great, friendly staff. Luxurious , comfortable room. Tiny ironing board.

The one about the travel blog conference.

After thirteen hours and four flights including a mechanical delay and an unplanned diversion to Austin, I’m finally home. Home from where? The Travel Blog Exchange, otherwise known as TBEX.

TBEX 2010 was a convention for over 250 travel writers, held at NYU’s Cantor Film Center in New York City. My company was a sponsor for the event, and I was asked to attend as the sole representative. I must admit this was an honor I relished greatly! As an airline insider, I was excited to meet some of the folks with whom I had previously communicated on Twitter, such as Sara and Bobby from the Crew Lounge podcast and Heather from Gadling’s “Galley Gossip.” I was also eager to learn more about travel writing, which has always been a “dream job” of mine. Who am I kidding, wouldn’t everyone like to travel for a living? Even as a grade-school student, I would hammer out vacation stories on the family typewriter (yes, an actual typewriter!) when we returned from places like England, Scotland and the Bahamas. Thanks to my Father, who worked for Southwest Airlines in my youth, it was at an early age that my love for travel was cultivated – and it became the air I breathe.

Flying Co-Pilot with my Dad at age 2 in his Cessna 172

During the two-day conference, I learned that travel writing is about so much more than going somewhere and reporting what you did. Your writing should tell a story, complete with an arc and characters. The best travel stories are from when things don’t go according to plan. The story should be verbose. For example rather than saying “It was a sunny day at the beach” you should say “I napped beneath a towering palm tree with a salty breeze cooling my skin, listening to gentle waves  lick the sugary sand.” It involves all of the senses and gives your reader the feeling of being there. Photography is an integral tool in conveying a place to your readers.

Icy Straight Point, Alaska

I learned about different types of travel bloggers. Some are the type who are invited by hotels, resorts and restaurants to review their product. Others like Sara, Bobby and Heather (above) blog about their jobs within the travel industry, and the travelers they meet, offering tips on how to make your travel experience better. Finally, there is the type who call themselves nomads. Nomads are independent travelers who roam the world, immersing themselves in a place and its culture. Some nomads live life one day at a time in hostels, hitchhiking or “couch surfing.”  Other nomads live in a city or region for weeks or months at a time. I chatted with a fascinating woman who left her job as a lawyer in New York, and she has been traveling since 2008! Her experiences have been incredible to read. Travel like this takes a huge leap of faith, and extreme personal confidence. It is not for everyone, but I find it so appealing. I also met so many others whose blogs I have yet to dive into, but that is my plan in the coming days. Above all else I learned at TBEX, I learned a more personal lesson of self realization: I want to write about travel too.