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6/25/16 Magura, Romania (Day #4)

We left Stei for Magura late this morning. Magura is a small farm town way out in the sticks in Romania. These small towns are vibrant with life and have so much hospitality. It’s farmland, though. So the people are out tending to their crops. It was beautiful and hot. Real hot.

The night before I had indulged a little with Uncle Traian. We drank two or three Romania beers apiece and with the combination of that, the strong coffee and the heat, I wasn’t feeling very well. We got to the farm and my stomach was in knots. And the first thing Alex’s family offered us was this delicious cheese bread meal that I was addicted to. Alex’s Mom makes it too, and I never, ever pass it up. I knew that if I ate some, I’d be having some serious issues and Alex had warned me before we came out to Romania that one place we’d be staying didn’t exactly have a modern bathroom. I didn’t care. I wanted to experience Romania and all that it had to offer. Including using a non-modern day bathroom.

After the cheese bread, I felt worse. But so far I felt as though it was worth it. I decided to lay down and drink some water to help lower my core body temperature. But what I really needed to do was use the bathroom. I layed down for an hour or so and it was time to go. You know, Mother Nature and gravity isn’t going to wait. I ventured out to the outhouse and opened the rustic wooden door. There was a long brick hallway that led to another smaller door. The sun was shining in like a beam of hope. Beyond that was the bathroom. I could hear the sounds of the flies. I looked back to where I came from and I was sort of panicked. Could I do this? I had my doubts. I thought back on my tour in Iraq and realized I had used the bathroom is far worse circumstances and made it through that just fine. I approached and saw a spider web with a pretty good sized spider scurrying back behind the toilet paper roll. My stomach lurched. It’s happening. I started to sweat and had to just go for it. There was no turning back now. I loosened my belt buckle and looked to my feet. It was time.

I closed my eyes and dreamt of white unicorns prancing over shiny, bright rainbows. White fluffy kittens danced around and mewed gently as they bounced around on white, cotton candy-like clouds. The air smelled of a strawberry/mango mixture. It was delightful. I dreamt of snow bunnies running around in fluffy snow at the bottom of the mountain. I could feel all my worries and stresses leaving my mind. It was peaceful now.

After I made my way back to the bedroom to lay down for a little while longer, Alex checked on me. I felt better and I sipped on water slowly. She thanked me for being a super-star and putting up with things like the outhouse. It seriously wasn’t an issue for me. I just wished I didn’t have to rush in there like I had to because it is sort of a culture shock. Anyone who enters an area like that would appreciate being able to take their time. My body was not cooperating like that. I got to experience such a thing and I will always remember something like that. I didn’t want to come off as one of those snobby, uptight individuals who was afraid to try new things the “old way” so I toughed it out. I think I made a point to myself to use the outhouse more often then I really needed to. And it was nice to be able to take my time in there and not be rushed by Mother Nature.

I think one thing that really helped me get through the day was this little guy…

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..this is Bobee. He’s the resident farm dog and he’s absolutely the most cutest dog I’ve ever met. Seeing him made me miss my dog back home (who was in good hands with my parents, and I couldn’t thank them enough for them helping me out and watching her for two weeks), and he was so curious of me and was so loveable. If you petted his ears or petted his head, he was your friend for life. He hobbled along after us everywhere we went. And if you didn’t pet him right away he would latch onto your leg and beg for attention. How cute is that? He works hard, though and follows Alex’s Aunt everywhere she goes including out to the farm land. It’s really amazing the amount of loyalty these dogs have for their owners. Even though Romania has a stray dog problem, the dogs they do own are the most loveable and loyal dogs ever. And they eat very well, too. They get to eat all the left overs that we don’t eat.

For the better part of the day, I sat on the steps outside the bedroom underneath some honeysuckle vines and watched Alex’s Aunt peel peas from their pods. I offered to help but as their guest we were kind of forbidden to do any of the work on the farm. She sat there for a little over four or five hours peeling a huge bucket of peas and at the end of the day we all got to indulge in the fruits of her labor. We had this dish of peas in some kind of gravy or batter and it was absolutely delicious. All the food I’ve experienced in Romania has been awesome so far. I have yet to have one bad meal. And I think that’s why I passed on the Cow Stomach soup because I didn’t want to risk eating something I didn’t like.

We left the farm before dusk and I kind of regret not spending a full night there. We ended up spending the night at Alex and Ana’s house (Alex is the son of Alex’s Aunt who lives on the farm) and they live in this gorgeous home that they’ve been renovating for a while. Here’s the entry way:

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It was a beautiful house and Alex did all the work himself. All their furniture was hand made and bought locally and it was absolutely stunning. We hooked them up with Netflix because they have a Smart Tv and it had the app on there for them to use. They just needed a paid subscription and since Netflix allows multiple accounts on one subscription, we thought it would be a great gift idea. Alex and Ana were thrilled to have it and we watched a few shows that night before bed.

This is where we slept. The couch kind of fold out into a bed:

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The house was comfortable but this unusual heat in Romania had everyone sweating like crazy. The locals seemed to not mind it but stated that it was a little unusual to be this hot. Alex’s home seemed to be just right. As soon as the sun went down, we opened the windows and felt a nice, cool breeze come in and cool us off. And with Netflix, we were set for the night.

6/23/2016 Sighisoara, Romania (Day #2)

I called the airport first thing this morning to get an update on the luggage situation. The lady on the phone said she sent a message to the Amsterdam aiport and they are not responding. So she said she’d keep trying. There are only three or four flights out of Amsterdam to Romania a day. The problem is this: we were leaving for the country this morning so last night we were struggling to make a decision to either A). Wait one more day to see if the bag would arrive to Bucharest or 2). Leave for the country anyway. The other problem we were facing was Alex’s uncle, Uncle Traian had driven nearly 600km to Bucharest from a small town called Stei and was staying in a hotel the night before and we were scheduled to leave for Stei this morning. So waiting on the bag one more day would really set things back.

We decided to leave and forget about the bag.

Mr. Nic dropped Alex and I off at the hotel where Uncle Traian was staying, we got into his car and off we went towards Stei. Our first stop was Castle Peles in a tourist town called Sinaia. It was absolutely stunning and this was my very first castle I’ve ever visited. I was stationed in Germany for a number of years while in the Army but never made it out to any castles. So it was pretty exciting to see an official European castle.

Here’s a picture when we first walked up:

Castle first one

It cost 20 Lei (which translates to about $5 USD) to get in plus an additional 15 Lei for pictures. Alex had already seen this castle and had paid to take pictures about four years ago so she talked me out of paying to be able to pay for pictures. I could’ve easily snuck a few pictures here and there but I didn’t want to be that guy getting caught and ruining the chance of seeing the castle. It was a guided tour and took approximately 25 minutes to see the bottom and 1st floor of the castle. There were lots of interesting facts and tidbits of information by the tour guide but the sheer beauty is about all I wanted to see. I did sneak a castle selfie at the end…

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…but that picture doesn’t do the castle any justice. It was gorgeous inside and I almost regret not paying extra to take pictures. There was a giant mirror inside the castle that was transported by train and then by horse and buggy and it didn’t break. We also saw a painting that was painted by a man who only used his feet. We also saw a real-life bookshelf trap door in the library but it was out of service due to renovations.

Our route towards Stei was through the country. So this was a common occurrence and the Romanians joke and say, “Ambuteiaj” which means “traffic jam”:

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The country was beautiful. The small towns were so unique and rustic with old world charm. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I sat in the front seat of the car next to Uncle Traian and at first when I arrived to Romania and met Alex’s friends and family, I thought the language barrier would be a huge problem. I spoke very little Romanian and most Romanians who knew very little English were embarrassed to speak because they were worried they’d get words wrong. It turns out that the language is pretty easy to understand and learn. So the language barrier was not an issue. Plus, Alex was fluent in both languages and could easily translate.

Growing up in America I was always taught that communism was a terrible, terrible thing. As I grew older I learned to formulate my own opinion, research and learn about things on my own. Naturally. Anyone with half of a brain should be doing so. I was interested in learning about the different political governments. America is heavily capitialisitic and other countries have more socialistic outlooks and being that Romania was under heavy communistic rule, I was eager to talk to people about it. But I was nervous about bringing up the topic because like I said, I learned that communism was all bad.

The road trip we were taking would take nearly two days because of all the stopping we would be doing. So I had a lot of time to talk to Alex’s uncle about communism since he lived through that era. He told me that even though they were under strict rules and laws, the government was always there to take care of everyone. Rarely did anyone suffer. In fact, no one suffered. If you were out loitering the government officials would stop you, ask you what you were doing and if you didn’t have a good reason they’d take you in and give you a job right there. Everyone had to work. Roads were maintained, everyone had jobs and nearly everything was paid for: healthcare, child care, vacations, retreats for wellness, and free apartments. The downside to communism (and there is always a downside to every government system) was there was absolutely no room for anyone to be creative or create their own idea. It just wasn’t allowed. The government provided everything for everyone.

Communism also made sure everyone was equal. No one became more independent than anyone else. The government audited people’s bank accounts to ensure no one was accepting money from outside the country if they had reasonable suspicion. The farmers who grew crops generally sold their produce to the government and received the same amount of money like everyone else did. Meat, bread, sugar, cheese, and oil (among other things) were rationed to make sure everyone got an equal share. So therefore it was very hard to come by. But people didn’t suffer. There wasn’t any homelessness and everyone had a piece of the pie. If you’re caught getting extra rationed produce because you were close friends to a farmer, you were sent to jail. Since Communism ended, some Romania’s say, “now we have everything we want but no money to buy it”.

Communism ended in December of 1989. The people wanted it gone because of the major influence from the United States of America during the Reagan era. Romania wanted to copy America but some have the opinion that now they’ve experienced how America is, communism may not have been all that bad. Alex’s uncle seemed like it wasn’t terrible because he didn’t have to worry too much about things. He told me that since communism ended, the Romanian politicians have become very corrupt. They line their pockets with dirty money, they make laws that favor their own interests and they’re lying, dirty, corrupt people. I told him America is much the same way and he said while laughing, “A trebuit sa invatam de la cineva”. Romanians have a great sense of humor.

The thing I learned about communism is that things worked. Things functioned. Roads were repaired in a timely manner. While we drove around Romania, there was a lot of road construction. The road workers were just standing around, sleeping in tractors and drinking in the shade. No work was being done. Under communism, the roads would be fixed in a month, Uncle Traian stated, “Now? It takes them 10 years.” He wasn’t even exaggerating. Alex had visited this same area in 2012 and the roads were still being worked on. If you could see the condition of some of these roads, you’d be appalled. Some are so bad you can barely drive on them from all the potholes and road work.

Serbia actually had a better communistic program that worked a lot better than Romania. The reason why communism didn’t work in Romania is because it was overly strict. They didn’t allow Romanians to take vacation outside of the country like Serbia did. People were happier in Serbia under communism. Romanians didn’t worry about tomorrow like they do today. Back then, their money was strong. The country was in surplus by 7 billion dollars. They could buy what they needed. Today, it’s a lot harder because the Lei isn’t as strong. Ultimately, communism fell because of a revolutionary spark that started in Timisoara, Romania in 1989. Few remember the original cause but hardships with food rationing combined with growing animosity towards the government led to a full scale revolution. The most violent of all communism revolutions across Europe.

What a history lesson.

We arrived at a small restaurant in the country and I almost ordered cow stomach soup. I just couldn’t build up the courage to eat it. A lot of people seem to like it but I was told that if I saw how it was prepared I’d never want to eat it. Ever.

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We finally arrived at our second castle. Bran Castle (where Dracula lived for many years) located in Sighisoara. Dracula was a real person back in the 1600’s but his real name was Vlad Tepes  (also known as Vlad the Impaler). He received this name from stabbing criminals in the chest with a stake and letting them die in the streets in front of the public. It was a great crime deterrent. Bram Stoker created Dracula based on some of Vlad the Impaler’s history and background and being that the castle was located in Transylvania it gave it a nice ring. Transylvania is a region in Romania.

Here’s a few more pictures of the castle:

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Sighisoara is a nice tourist town and we ended up staying in a hotel there. I learned something about hotels in Romania, too. On most of the hotel signs they use a star rating. Five stars are obvious the best. But three stars are more practical. We still got all the creature comforts that a five star hotel had but for a lower price. So it was worth it. We ate dinner at a local restaurant and the food was exceptional. Nothing compares to home cooking in Romania, though.

 

6/22/2016 Bucharest, Romania (Day #1)

I left Seattle, Washington at 1:46pm Tuesday afternoon. I arrived at the Bucharest airport in Romania at 3:30pm the same day. Funny how when flying half way across the world a person can land in another country almost the same time they left 8 hours ago. Unfortunately, just like the Cayman Island vacation, my luggage was delayed coming in. How these things happen, I have yet to figure out. It’s one bag and as long as it follows the bag in front off it, it shouldn’t have a problem getting to the next destination, right? One would think so. My worst fear was finding out that my bag was left in Seattle because when I checked in I had to go to a customer service desk because my passport wasn’t scanning. That’s sort of what happened last year when I went to the Cayman Islands. But I won’t continue to bore you with lost luggage stories.

I met my girlfriend, Alex and her Aunt at the front gate and this was my reaction:

(Picture to come later. Check back soon…)

As you can see, I wasn’t too happy. After flying nine hours from Seattle to Amsterdam and sitting on the tarmac in Amsterdam for an additional 40 minutes and then a three hour flight from there to Romania, then finding out my luggage was lost. Yeah.

We arrived at my girlfriend’s Aunt’s friends house, Mr. Nic to spend the night and an extra day or two before we headed out into the country. They live in this beautiful house that costed them roughly $20,000 U.S dollars. It was absolutely stunning. They have this huge vineyard out front with a few fruit trees and this mean Belgian Malinois dog locked in a kennel for protection. The dog, (named Max) was let out at night to guard the home. Romanians typically have dogs to help them with things around the house or farm like guarding property, herding animals, and there is a stray dog problem in the country but over the years it has been getting better. Romanians typically don’t feel too emotional about dogs because most have them as farm dogs and they aren’t as connected to them as Americans are to their dogs. Americans typically have them as pets and consider them part of the family. I’m not saying Romanians are mean to dogs or hate them, but it’s just a different relationship. So the stray dog population had grown out of control because there wasn’t much control over breeding. But like I said, they are taking action now and things are a lot better.

After getting home, we had a huge pan full of meat for dinner…

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…and let me tell you. This meat is 100% organic, straight from the farm to the butcher to the house to our stomachs. There is no heavy processing or added chemicals or fillers. Its pure meat and it was very tasty.

The next day we headed into the city of Bucharest. Romania used to be under heavy communistic rule and a lot of the landscape still shows the remanence of that era. It’s extremely interesting and depressing at the same time because Romania, after communism ended, a lot of things changed and not necessarily for the better, (but we will get into that later).

Communism ended in December of 1989. If you’re a history buff, you’d know that communism was forced upon a lot of these smaller countries in Europe by Russia. Romania had originally backed Germany during World War one but switched sides to back Russia part way through. During the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (the German/Soviet non-aggression pact) kicked Romania leaders out of the meeting and thus forced communism on the country. Basically, Germany and the Soviet Union said, “these smaller countries can’t beat us in war so let’s just split them all up”. It was more than just Romania effected by this. There’s a lot to read on this and it’s pretty interesting.

Things like the trolley system and apartment buildings are still occupied by Romanian’s today. We used the trolley to go from the place we were staying to the modern era mall:

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You can see the old apartments in the background behind the trolley. They look horrible on the outside but they are very nice and clean on the inside. The trolley’s have no air-conditioning so during the summer time it’s extremely hot and muggy when it’s 90 degrees or more. And during the winter time, there is no heat. So it’s very, very cold. Romania may give the appearance that it’s a poor country but it’s actually a very healthy and beautiful country.

That evening we drove to Cismigiu Park where I proposed to my girlfriend of almost five years. It was the most stunning, most wonderful part of the trip so far:

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I wanted to make it a once-in-a-life-time thing. My girlfriend, Alex, (now fiancé) was born in Romania and her mother took her to this park many times when she was a child. They moved to the United States when she was five for a better life. So coming back with her to meet her family was very important for the both of us and asking her to marry me in her home country was equally important.

After our memorable moment in the park, we walked to the Monte Carlo restaurant. The dinner was a celebration of the marriage proposal by one of Alex’s family members;  Aunt Lilly. There was a lot to eat…

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…and drink:

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Plus a stunning view of the nearby lake…

Lake view

…and then, of course desert:

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On our way home, we stopped at a statue in Bucharest. The statue was of Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) on the back of a horse…

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…and he was one of Romanian’s greatest heroes dating back to the 1500’s.

After visiting one of the most iconic statues in Bucharest, we bummed around the mall and bought a bunch of new clothing for me since the airline had left my bag in Amsterdam. The U.S dollar is very strong in Romania so a $100.00 goes a long way. We bought four shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of shoes, four pair of socks, three underwear, one toothbrush, one toothpaste, one thing of deodorant, one pajamas set and shaving cream with a razor all for about $300 Lei. Which translates to about $75 dollars. Pretty amazing. So if you ever plan to travel to Romania, it’s fairly cheap with U.S dollars.

Here’s a picture of me riding back on the trolley:

 

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Noapte buna!

5/28/2016 Safeco Field

During batting practice, it was all Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. In fact, Nelson Cruz hit a ball completely OUT of Safeco Field. Click this link to watch the video highlights.

Lots of baseballs were tossed up into the stands and due to it being “Salute to Kids” night at the ballpark, the majority of them were tossed to kids and most were either dropped or bobbled around. The ones were dropped were easily glove-tricked out from behind the walls…

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….I easily secured two balls during batting practice:

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One kid used a blanket tied to his glove but he forgot the most important element of his glove-trick: the rubber band. I literally watched this kid for 10 minutes trying to dangle his glove over a baseball but it wouldn’t secure into his glove because there was nothing to hold onto the ball. Ultimately, a security guard went down behind the wall and picked up the baseball for him.

I sat with my Twins rooting girlfriend, Alex in the outfield hoping to snag a home run ball during the game:

She isn’t really a Twins fan. I bring both visiting and home team hats for autograph opportunities. Lately, I’ve been striking out when it comes to autographs. I usually get my ticket signed by someone before the game. And for the last three games I’ve attended I’ve been trying to get a picture with former Mariners Dave Valle but he hasn’t been showing up to the Root Sports broadcast booth for some reason. Today was no exception. Again, a no-show.

The game was pretty entertaining. The Twins beat the Mariners in the end by a score of 6-5 and we left towards the top of the ninth to beat traffic. Aoki smacked a home run in the first inning to give the Mariners the lead but the Twins managed to rally back and hold the lead.

Next month I fly out to Romania so I’ll be busy trying to keep up every day with daily blog entries on the trip.

Total Lifetime Games Attended: 121

Total Baseballs Snagged This Season: 9

Total Lifetime Baseballs Snagged: 343

Total Lifetime Foul Balls Snagged: 1

Total Lifetime Home Run Balls Snagged: 0

 

 

Seattle Mariners Fanfest 2016

The main goal was to attend this fan fest and get Jay Buhner’s autograph on a baseball bat. I had purchased a nice wooden bat from a sports retailer the night before, packed up the camera and headed into Seattle.

The last time I attended a fan fest was a few years ago and I really had a good experience. I wasn’t trying to mirror this experience to last times but I was imagining some quality time with Buhner. After all, it’s fan fest!

When I got to Safeco, the lines were already wrapped around the stadium:

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The rules for autographs were pretty simple: the first 200 people in line that claimed vouchers upon entry would get that players autograph of their choice and so on and so forth until there were no more vouchers for that player. The players were staggered at various times so all you had to do was enter the ballpark, walk to the banner with the players name on it that you wanted, grab the voucher from the staff member and beat feet up to wherever the autograph session was taking place. Make senses? Okay, good.

Jay Buhner was signing autographs right at 10:30am so as soon as I got inside, I grabbed the voucher with his name on it and I just followed the signs that led me up to this hallway:

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There were all kinds of cool things to look at waiting in line but all I really wanted to do was meet Jay Buhner.

I have been a Mariners fan since 1989 when my Mom took me to my very first Mariners game in the Kingdome. We sat up in the 300 level near the 3rd base side and the Mariners played the Baltimore Orioles. That was the first game I witnessed Cal Ripken Jr. play and all of my Mariner favorites. Since then, I’ve attended handfuls of games growing up with my Dad and we always sat where we could see Ken Griffey Jr.

Over the last few years, I’ve met a lot of players and I wanted to start meeting my childhood favorites like Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson. I met Edgar Martinez a few seasons ago by being in the right place at the right time.

Anyway. When Buhner finally arrived I had a question in mind that I wanted to ask him. And when I got up to the table to have my memorabilia signed, the staff member who was with Buhner was handing him so much stuff so fast for him to sign, I think Buhner was a little flustered. He even made a comment to the guy, something along the lines of “you’re handing me stuff and I don’t even have time to sign it!” Something like that.

When I handed my bat to the staff member, I stood in front of Buhner…

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… and asked him, “Jay, when do you think Ichiro will hit his 3,000th hit?” He immediately replied with. “How many hits does he got?” I think at the time Ichiro had 2,919 or something like that. I was soon cut-off by more fans walking in front of me to get their picture taken with Buhner and the staff member kept piling on the memorabilia for him to sign. So I just picked up my bat and sort of walked away. I turned back once or twice more to watch but I was soon greeted with, “Have a nice day!” from another staff member which sort of meant, “please exit this way”.

Wow. I stood outside of the doors and just watched Buhner scurrying to sign balls and bobble heads and cards and all sorts of stuff. He had his head down and was just signing away.

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Occasionally he would look up and laugh or whatever and shake a hand or two, but it was all business getting everything signed in front of him. I felt bad for him and I felt bad for the fans. Buhner had 200 autographs to sign in an hour and a half and I guess the point of the whole thing was to just get something signed and move on. But I wanted to at least talk to him for a minute or two like I got to talk to Edgar Martinez. I got to tell Edgar how I went to games as a little kid, and cheered for him and chanted, “Ed-GAR! Ed-GAR!” with my Dad and we drove home that night smiling after a M’s win. I shook hands with Martinez and took a picture and all was right in the world.

All wasn’t right in the world on this day. Buhner was a mad man signing autographs. I don’t blame him, though. It’s all about making the fans happy, I suppose. And if it’s just spending two quick seconds getting something signed from a baseball player and not having much interaction, then I guess that’s what makes people happy.

I feel fortunate as a baseball fan, though. I have a decent sized collection of signed baseball memorabilia from some of the greatest baseball players who’ve ever played the game. I’ve met and took pictures with many of my favorite players, I’ve traveled to 14 different MLB stadiums, I’ve seen MLB games in both Japan and Australia, I’ve caught a foul ball and I’ve shook hands with Nelson Cruz in Macy’s in down town Seattle. So over the years it’s been fun.

I walked away from Safeco today feeling happy that I got Buhner’s autograph on a baseball bat that’ll forever be in my collection but at the same time, I felt a little frustrated. I sort of put myself in Buhner’s shoes for a moment, too. He gives a lot of his own time to the fans. He raised the 12th man flag at the Seahawks game and he seems to be pretty involved in the community around the area, plus he goes to these fan fests just about every year. My only wish is during these autograph sessions, the process could just go a little slower.

 

6/28/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #6)

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I took this picture as we headed to the hotel lobby to get our cab and head to the airport. This is 4:30am and the sun was just starting to come up. It was absolutely gorgeous.

I don’t normally blog about a “travel day” because typically nothing very eventful happens while sitting in the airport for hours on end waiting on flights. Since we had such a miserable flight coming to the Grand Cayman Islands, I thought I’d share some more nightmare-ish flight adventures.

As you know, (if you’ve been reading since day one) Alaskan Airline left our luggage in Seattle on our way over to Grand Cayman. Oops. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that we needed clothing because after traveling for a day and a half we weren’t exactly feeling very fresh anymore. So on our first day on the island, we went out and spent $300 dollars on some swim stuff so we could at least enjoy the pool while we waited on our luggage. Our flight itinerary was basically this: Seattle to St. Louis, St. Louis to Miami and Miami to Grand Cayman. Every flight after arriving to St. Louis was delayed for one reason or another. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except that one delayed flight screws up the entire order of things.

American Airlines was our main flight provider, and although they were extremely helpful in helping us get our luggage, they really didn’t offer us much more than an apology over Twitter. And that seems to be the norm on their Twitter account. Endless apologies for things that have happened to other travelers.

Soooooo fast-forward to our travel day back to Seattle. Our flight from Grand Cayman to Miami was seamless. When we got to Miami, our flight was supposed to leave at 2pm. That didn’t happen. About five minutes before boarding at our gate, they changed our gate number and we had to go to our new gate which was literally on the other side of the airport. When we got there, the American Airlines guy kept saying something about interference on the field or something, we couldn’t understand what he was saying. We didn’t board our flight until around 3pm. Then we sat on the tarmac for ten minutes before finally leaving for Dallas/Fort Worth. We knew when we got to Dallas/Fort Worth airport, we’d have about ten minutes to get to our gate. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go when we arrived. Unfortunately, our seats were literally at the back of the plane.

We arrived closer to 5pm local time and I thought to myself that were still in good shape to get to our gate. I also thought that American Airlines would communicate to any connecting flights that there was a half hour delay and to hold any planes for arriving passengers. Apparently, they don’t do that anymore. We hustled to our gate with moments to spare. 5:05 PM to be exact. The plane was departing at 5:15pm. I figured since every other flight we’ve been on from American Airlines has been late, I assumed this one would be too. I expected to encounter a long line of people or a nice lady with a smile on her face welcoming us onto our flight. We received the exact opposite. It’s like a storm cloud followed us over to our gate and we got some unhappy, rude woman standing there. I said, “hold on, hold on! We are on this flight!” I attempted to hand my boarding pass to the woman and she instantly stated “No, you were on this flight” like it was our fault that we were late. “Excuse me? What do you mean “we were“?! I replied. “I already gave your seat away…”

Oh, hell no. You did what, American Airlines? You gave my seat away?! Is that what I heard correctly?! Every flight on this trip has been late by 30 minutes or more and I’m late by TWO minutes and you give my seat away?! I was floored. No apology. No sympathy, nothing. One of the rudest person I’ve ever dealt with in my life was standing in front of me and I had to do everything in my power not to literally verbally destroy this woman in the middle of the airport. I was blown away at how cold and uncaring this person could actually be. Flying domestically has become such a travesty. There isn’t any customer service anymore. The airlines (and not just American Air) nickel and dime everyone. They don’t even hand out small bags of peanuts  and most airlines won’t let you have a full can of soda. It’s shocking that stuff is even free anymore.

After getting a new flight (now departing at 6:50pm) we trekked across the airport again only to get to our new gate to get the news that our gate had been moved again. Good grief. Of course, I took my complaints and frustrations out on Twitter and started tweeting about how miserable this experience was with American Airlines. What do you know, they responded, and apologized:

The American Airlines Devil Woman at the desk who kept me on my flight that I paid for, you know, the one that gave my seat away? She wouldn’t even look at me let alone give a sympathetic apology. I had to go fishing for an apology on Twitter. That’s pretty pathetic.

I get that airlines like to run flights at near-full or full capacity to turn more of a profit. Unfortunately, they are sacrificing good customer service. The American Airlines Devil Woman made it seem like it was all our fault for being late. Like, we were nursing a hangover or out boozing it up at a local bar in the airport. No, lady. We weren’t. It was the airline that you work for that made us late. We were early for all of our flights like they say to be. Two hours before your flight you need to be at the airport and blah blah blah. Why, so I can sit at the gate and be redirected two or three times to another gate only to have our flight delayed by some mechanical error or some other issue and have to sit on the tarmac for an hour like my flight back to Seattle from Chicago earlier this month?

Our flight was supposed to depart at 6:50 PM and when we finally got to our gate the flight information read that it was delayed to 7:05 PM. Prefect. Why wouldn’t our flight be delayed. This was American Airlines after all. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We started boarding at 7:05 PM and when our group was called to board the reader board stated that all the overhead bins were now full and people were told they had to start checking their luggage. Great. American Airlines ought to put “it’s a surprise” under the departure time instead of an actual time. It was now 7:39 PM when I actually sat down in my seat on the plane. At approximately 8:01 PM, the flight took off from the runway and we were Seattle bound. Un-freaking-believable.

We arrived at Sea-tac around 10:30 PM and while we were walking passed the baggage claim area, we overheard a conversation between a customer and an American Airline staff member. Something along the lines of “it’s showing your luggage was left in Dallas and was never put on the plane”. Well, that’s no surprise.

I don’t want anything from American Airlines. I surely don’t want a travel voucher or a free flight. What I want is my time back. I want my three hours back. I should have been home at 7 PM instead of 11PM. That’s what I want. I want my time back but American Airlines cant give me back my time. Even if they offered a free flight, I would decline. I wouldn’t give it to a friend or a family member either because I wouldn’t want to put anyone I know through the kind of hell they put me and my girlfriend through. I wouldn’t wish this kind of torture on my worst enemy. The best thing American Airlines can do at this point is to tell Devil Woman to get rid of her Resting Bitch Face and start treating customers like they have some kind of value to the company. To tell someone who’s been traveling all day “you were on this flight” and “I already gave your seat away” because they were two minutes late was a pretty good slap in the face. It was rude and I should have cussed her out. But I didn’t. I’m above all of that kind of nonsense because it doesn’t solve anything.

Sorry, American Airlines, but I’m not sorry. You have offensive and ill-mannered employees. And it’s not just with Devil Woman. I’ve noticed a handful of other employees having attitudes as well. Maybe this company needs to invest in better customer service programs. The customer service industry can be a real pain and it’s not easy but that doesn’t mean your employees need to take it out on their passengers.

It’s no wonder that American Airlines had to file for bankruptcy back in 2011.

6/27/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #5)

Our last full day before we had to head back to the United States. Boo! Leaving this tropical paradise would be so hard but at the same time, it would be bittersweet. After seeing what Georgetown had to offer us yesterday, my girlfriend and I ventured off to see Seven Mile Beach.

Seven Mile Beach is the number one place on the Grand Cayman Island. The water is crystal clear, the sand is so fine and it literally feels like walking on cotton balls. It was the place to be. After arriving to the beach, we instantly regretted not coming out here sooner. But our whole premise behind the trip was to not be rushed and try to cram a bunch of stuff into our day and be exhausted at the end of our vacation. I felt a little rushed when I went to Australia last year and I certainly wanted to just enjoy my stay on the island and not be all wore out when it was time to go home.

The beach was absolutely stunning…

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…and what vacation wouldn’t be complete without a beach selfie:

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The sun felt so good on us. The sand was so pure and soft between our toes and the water was warm and it cooled us down from the hot summer sun. It was everything we wanted it to be and purely amazing to be here. For the next few hours, we sat underneath a grape tree and talked about life. We stared out into the vast Caribbean sea taking in all her beauty. It was so breath-taking. To think we would be leaving soon to go home kind of made me sad but it would be great to get home and share our memories with friends and family.

We splashed around in the sea for a while longer and then decided to head back to the hotel. Our flight was leaving early the next morning and we needed to pack and get good rest. Plus, our hotel was prime real-estate for a beautiful sunset.

Here’s a few more pictures of us having fun in the Caribbean sea:

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If you ever get the chance to visit the Grand Cayman Islands, I highly recommend the Holiday Inn and Resorts. It’s a little out of the way of everything but the hotel offers a courtesy shuttle that runs every hour on the hour from 9am to 5pm and will literally take you to all the places you’ll want to go. If you want to venture out further, you’ll have to take a cab but they are reasonably priced and the cabs are not metered . So you’ll pay a flat rate which is awesome. I’ve been ripped off by so many cab drivers in my travels thus far and quite frankly, it’s really nice to see some kind of control so people can’t get taken advantage of in foreign lands.

From day one the staff has been extremely helpful and polite. Everyone from the house keeping staff to the cab drivers are extremely friendly. People go out of their way to help others here and the Holiday Inn staff made us feel extremely special. The food was amazing wherever we went. It was a little pricey so make sure you bring plenty of money when you visit but it was so worth it. They do have some fast food places like KFC, Wendy’s and Subway, but we weren’t interested in those places so we never stopped in to see if the food quality was any different from the United States.

Aside from Alaskan Airlines leaving our luggage behind in Seattle, (which we got two days later) I would certainly come back. I’d recommend visiting all three islands, though. There’s Grand Cayman (where we stayed) and then just East of this island there is Little Cayman and then Cayman Brac. Eventually, I plan to see all three islands in another visit. Also, there’s Rum Point where you can see sting rays swimming around and a turtle farm about ten miles North of our hotel. We didn’t get to all of those things mainly because we were on “island time” and we just let our day unfold as it did. We were in no rush to do anything except what we wanted. Isn’t that the point of a vacation?

Tomorrow we’d be flying out and that made us sad. But we finished strong and ordered a huge pizza from the Blue Iguana and ate some ice cream afterwards.

6/26/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #4)

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Now THAT is a yogurt parfait! Holy smokes! Another great meal at the Blue Iguana just like yesterday, the day before and our first day on the island.

Today we’d experience Georgetown. That was the plan. Georgetown was one of those places where it’s extremely tourist-y and just about every shop sells the same little knick-knacks and trinkets. Alexandra ended up buying a shirt for her Dad and a few little hand-made turtle figurines for her cousins. I bought a much needed coffee mug that had the map of the Cayman Islands on it and a small little turtle figurine for my Mother. My Dad is rather hard to shop for so I’m keeping my eye out for something special for him.

Who knew there’d be a Hard Rock Café around here…

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…and here’s another street view picture of Georgetown just to give you an idea of what it was like:

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Do you notice the direction of travel that the cars are going? It’s looks backwards, right? Well, that’s because here on the Cayman Islands they drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel in most cars is on the opposite side of the car. Pretty crazy, right? It took a couple of cab rides to get used to it, to be honest.

We did a few more hours of shopping before we finally headed back to our hotel room…

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…and on our way back, we found this awesome home-made sign that had directional arrows pointing to different destinations around the world:

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After exploring Georgetown for most of the day, it was time to head back and get poolside to enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation…

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Some days a person just needs to kick back and relax.

6/25/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #3)

Initially, my girlfriend and I, Alexandra, were going to go to Georgetown today. But since we were so badly sunburnt from the day before we decided to stay indoors for the better part of the morning. We finally braved the sun and ended up in Camana Bay.

I don’t know about other hotels within the area, but the Holiday Inn has been exceptionally good to us on this trip. We’ve had complimentary shuttles all week so we haven’t had to take a cab anywhere. When I went to Chicago earlier this month, I used Uber and other taxi services to get to and from Wrigley Field but it was entirely too expensive.

Camana Bay was awesome. We ate at a place called The Upper Crust…

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… and Alexandra ordered the Croque Madame…

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…and I got the Fish n’ Chips:

IMG_0872I know, I know. I’m in the Cayman Islands and ordering typical American dishes at restaurants. Rest assure. When we hit up Georgetown and Seven Mile Beach, we will be eating exquisite seafood once we find a place. The shopping center was really pretty and the few shops that we did go into, the merchandise was extremely expensive. We went into a store called Sand Angels and they had swim suits in their for $80 dollars! Since Alaska Airlines had lost our luggage, we had to buy some swim wear so we could at least enjoy our first day in the Caymans and the store we went to was called Divers Supply. They had a lot of name brand stuff like Oakley and Polo Ralph Lauren, Hurley, etc. We ended up spending $313 dollars on one pair of board shorts, two pair of flip flops  and a bikini for Alexandra. $313! Wow! Good thing the airline is reimbursing me.

We ventured over to a small island that had a bridge connecting to it…

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…and once we got over there, you wouldn’t believe what we saw running in front of us in the sand:

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Yep! Another Iguana!! We think the one we saw here is one of the Blue Iguanas that are protected because they were literally going extinct ten years ago.

We took our pictures on the sandy island and caught our courtesy shuttle back to the hotel:

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On our way back, I noticed how much gas prices were…

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…and we also passed through Georgetown. What an amazing town. We were totally excited for the next day to come to spend all day in Georgetown and while we were stopped, we snapped a bunch of pictures of three giant cruise ships that were docked close by. It was amazing to see these mammoth ships up close but the people on them have got to be the most obnoxious, egotistical humans that have ever walked this earth.

While at our hotel a couple of days ago, a huge group of people passed through while we were at the pool. One guy was chugging beer and smoking cigarettes while in the pool and they left a huge mess which allowed the Ching Ching birds to come in and scavenge all the left over food. It was pretty horrific and I couldn’t even eat my lunch because the birds wouldn’t leave me alone. That group acted so entitled like, “hey look at us, we are on a cruise”. Dumb.

Time to wrap this up and get some rest for tomorrow!

6/24/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #2)

Breakfast in bed…what a luxurious treat:

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When we got to the Cayman Islands yesterday, the airline had lost our luggage. Right before breakfast we received a phone call from the airline stating that our luggage had been left behind in Seattle. What?! How does something like that even happen?! The good news was; our luggage was on the first flight out of Seattle and would be a straight flight to Miami and then, of course, another hour to the Grand Caymans. I was expecting it to arrive some time in the late evening.

After breakfast, we ventured back out to the pool area and out towards the ocean. I walked passed the bushes and this guy decided to show his face…

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…they were literally everywhere! And this was the biggest one we’ve seen so far!

Today was one of those days were we wanted to just sit in the pool or lay by the ocean and we pretty much did that for about eight hours…

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…not only did I lay by the ocean for hours on end, but I took selfies with the local wild life…

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…and took pictures of the local chickens and her baby chicks:

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Later that evening, we ate at the Blue Iguana…

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…and watched the sun set on the pier…

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When we got back to our room, the front desk had left a message on our door letting us know that our bag had made it to the hotel. We were ecstatic and relived at the same time! I rushed down to the front desk, grabbed our bag and returned to our room. What. A. Relief!

We made plans to head out to Camano Bay the following day and experience an adventure in Georgetown. Can’t wait.

 

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