Friday Randomness 7-25-14

  • We’ve been getting lots of work done around the house!  I’ll talk more in depth about the projects in future posts, but we ordered some new hardwood floors for our living room (still waiting for the floors to get delivered!), we’re tinkering with some new lighting fixtures, including sconces and recessed lighting in the basement, and we ordered new interior doors.

 

  • On the more annoying end of home improvements, we’ve had some plumbing issues.  Here goes:

1) I was doing laundry a few weeks ago and somehow our entire cheapo utility sink completely collapsed.  It was a super cheap plastic kit we bought from Home Depot nearly five years ago, and the legs didn’t even screw into the sink.  Somehow the legs fell out from under the sink, and we ended up with a watery mess in our laundry room.  (Although it could’ve been a lot worse).  After looking for, and hating, nearly every laundry sink / utility sink we found in stores like Home Depot and Lowes, we opted for this commercial grade sink.  It’s so sturdy and we love it!  Here’s the aftermath of the plastic sink once we took it outside to wait for garbage day!

2) Our basement toilet has had a very slow drip leak.  The plumber looked at it and said, “You don’t even have any bolts on this toilet!”  Apparently we had been using a toilet that had not been bolted to the floor.  We were really lucky to have averted disaster all these years.  There were some other things wrong with the toilet, so we ended up just buying a new one (meaning the plumber had to come back!).  Did you know you can get a toilet for 88 bucks?  That’s what we bought.  I can’t imagine a $200 toilet is that much better than an $88 one.

 

3) I was working from home one day, and I noticed something weird on our kitchen ceiling, right next to an upper kitchen cabinet.  I sent Ken this picture.

He freaked out and drove home, thinking the entire kitchen ceiling was about to collapse.  He cut a big hole in the drywall, and we couldn’t figure out if the leak was from heavy condensation on our HVAC ducts, or from the bathroom tub.  Long story short, even after the plumber looked at it, we still don’t have a good answer.  Ugh!

  • Thanks to various circumstances, Ken and I hosted three dinner parties within ten days!  I love to cook and to have friends and family over, but wow, that was crazy intense.  On the upside, the house has never stayed cleaner for a longer period of time!

 

  • We’ve been considering a vacation to Alaska sometime in 2015.  Specifically, a cruise and a few extra days (or week) in Alaska.  The options all seem very overwhelming!  Does anybody have recommendations?

 

  • I got a whopping 8 inches of hair cut off!  My hair had reached a point of “inconveniently long.”  It was halfway down my butt, so I was always sitting on my hair accidentally, and wearing it down became of of a chore than fun.

That’s about it!  Happy Friday!

Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow (Hotel Review)

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse, Washington Dulles Airport 

Part 3: Turkish Airlines Business Class: Washington Dulles to Istanbul (IAD-IST)

Part 4: Istanbul Airport, the Turkish Airlines Lounge Fail, TAV Hotel, and Flight to Sochi

Part 5: Our Crazy Sochi Accommodations Story

Part 6 Women’s Halfpipe and First Day in Sochi

Part 7: Luge

Part 8: Olympic Park (covering two days)

Part 9: Speed Skating and Ski Jumping

Part 10: Sochi – The Ugly

I was pretty excited for our stay at the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow!

I booked three nights using 66,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to my Hyatt Gold Passport account (this was pre-Hyatt devaluation). This hotel goes for up to $750/night, even for a basic room, so this was a great points value redemption!

Before getting to the Hyatt, let’s start with our last night in Sochi.

After the speed skating event, we went back to our ship hotel. Our flight from Sochi to Moscow on S7 airlines was leaving at 5:55AM, so we were going to try and get some sleep. But, by the time we ate, backed up our photos from the day, packed our things, and we STILL weren’t adjusted to the time difference thanks to the crazy Olympic game schedules, we weren’t even tired by 1:00AM. And the ship had arranged for an airport transfer to Sochi airport that was leaving at 3:30AM. Oy.

Our flight from Sochi to Moscow was relatively uneventful. We flew economy on S7 airlines, which is a OneWorld partner. They even served a full and pretty tasty breakfast for the two hour, very early flight! There was some sort of medical emergency onboard, and the flight attendants started giving a man oxygen. I guess he was okay, because we didn’t have to make an emergency landing or anything!

We barely slept on the plane thanks to the excitement of the medical emergency, and we were actually dreading the private tour of Moscow we had arranged for 10AM that day because we were so exhausted. As soon as we landed, I contacted the tour company to reschedule, and they had no problem with that.

Before our trip, we had arranged for an airport transfer through the Ararat Park Hyatt. We landed at Moscow Domodedovo (DME) airport, which is quite far from the city. After checking prices with multiple companies, we were so shocked that airport transfers routinely exceeded $150. So, the airport transfer booked directly through the hotel was not that much more expensive, and we figured they’d know exactly where to take us.

At DME, the driver was holding a sign with the Park Hyatt logo after we picked up our luggage, so he was very easy to find. He walked us to the car, which was just outside the door. The car was a Mercedez Benz E-class. It was a nice looking car, but there was some trash in the back seat, like empty water bottles, which I was pretty disappointed with. As soon as Ken and I got in the car, with both passed out asleep.

When we arrived at the hotel we were hoping so so much that they would let us check in even though it wasn’t even 9AM, and check in time wasn’t until 3PM. We figured we’d offer to redeem more points for another “night” just to be able to check in. But luckily they had a room for us!

We went up, I snapped some pictures, and we slept for probably nearly six hours before heading out to do some touring of our own of Moscow!

Our room was a Park King. As soon as you entered the room, there were two closets and the door to the bathroom on the left. This is the view looking down the hallway.

The bedroom area was small but lovely.

There was a small desk and easily accessible power outlets in the corner. My only complaint was that the chair, which swiveled so you could use it at either the small table or the desk, was so insanely heavy, making it difficult to move it closer to the desk.

There was a small nook next to the bed housing coffee and tea supplies.

I thoroughly enjoyed the room’s automation features. Next to each side of the bed was a small control panel.

From this control panel unit, you were able to control the temperature in the room, adjust the shades or blackout curtains, turn on or off lights, and, perhaps the most fun, set your room to “do not disturb.” None of those pedestrian “do not disturb” door hangars at the Ararat Park Hyatt!

I didn’t get a picture of it, but there was a similar unit in the room’s hallway, which also allowed you to control the radiant floor heating in the bathroom.

The view certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but the Ararat Park Hyatt was on a pretty narrow street, so I don’t think there would have been any amazing views of anything anyway.

Looking down the hallway from the bedroom area.

The bathroom was AMAZING. So, so incredible. For one, there was radiant heating on the granite floors. Being in Moscow in FREAKIN’ WINTER, the radiant floor heating was such a luxury! The decor was beautiful and there were many mirror and glass finishes, like on the sink area. The sink area also had plenty of counter space and storage to the left and right of the sink.

I also used this huge tub twice during our three day stay.

There was a glass enclosed, standalone shower in the bathroom. I did have one minor complaint about the shower. Whatever texture they put on the floor to make it nonslip really kind of hurt my feet. They looked like very thick grout lines or something, and there were about five of them, so they were hard to avoid while standing in the shower.

The toilet was not separated from the rest of the bathroom, but that’s not a major complaint.

While taking pictures of the hotel lobby, I was promptly interrupted by a hotel employee. He stretched out his arm, panning the room and said, “Please. The children.” Nevermind that there was not a single child in sight. I just said that I was a guest, and continued to take photographs. He looked annoyed, but did not object any further. If he had, I probably would’ve stopped.

I also took some photos from our floor. I believe we were on the 7th or 8th floor.

We did eat breakfast at the hotel one morning, and it was very tasty, but unfortunately it was incredibly expensive ($30 for a plate of pancakes anybody? $45 for the buffet?). Sorry, I didn’t get any photographs of it.

Luckily we found a nearby pastry shop that served as our breakfast location for our remaining days in Moscow!

I’d definitely recommend the Ararat Park Hyatt to anybody planning a trip to Moscow. The service was impeccable. The concierge staff even booked and picked up train tickets for us, and left them in our room while we were out touring. It was also incredibly easy to arrange for our visa support letters prior to our departure, which is a requirement when getting a Russian tourist visa.

I’m definitely excited to try other Park Hyatt properties in the near future!

Atlanta – 2008 Road Trip (Blast from the Past)

This is a “Blast from the Past” post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!

In 2008, Ken and I took our first big road trip together. We drove from DC > Atlanta > New Orleans > San Antonio > Memphis > DC.

This post covers our visit to Atlanta, GA!

World of Coca Cola

Our sightseeing in Atlanta started with the World of Coca Cola. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city, so we drove into the city and parked in a garage near the World of Coca Cola.

To be honest, I kind of had low expectations for this place, but the exhibits inside were really great!

Like this room filled with Coca Cola memorabilia.

And they had a room dedicated to international versions of Coca Cola

I focused on the Middle Eastern and Arabic language stuff! (I used to live in Egypt! More on that in future “Blast from the Past” posts!)

And all the old Coca Cola “vending machines” and coolers, as well as a display of dozens of Coca Cola products.

There was also a Coca Cola “bottling” area, but, much to Ken’s disappointment, it was just for show and not actually for Coca Cola that was bottled and sold.

We posed for a quick photograph with the Coca Cola bear!

(p.s., in my enduring commitment to fashion, I still wear those same shoes, every day of every summer. They’re six years old and still going strong! Thanks Mephisto Helen!)

Looking out the windows near the Coca Cola bear, you could see a courtyard filled with broken Coca Cola glass!

Another very cool exhibit was the Coke Pop Culture Room

And then perhaps Ken’s favorite, the tasting room! Each tasting station contained fountain Coke products from a particular geographic region, like Europe or North America.

And then, before exiting through the gift shop, we were able to take a complimentary bottle of Coca Cola!

After the World of Coca Cola, we grabbed lunch. I still remember the drama that went with finding lunch nearby. The World of Coca Cola was downtown, and it was a weekend afternoon, so pretty much everything was closed. We must have walked for 30 minutes trying to find an open restaurant. We finally did find one, and it was going to be an hour wait! Luckily we found a nearby pizza joint that was open and empty!

Atlanta Botanical Gardens

After we scarfed down our lunch, we drove to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. It was an early October day, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

I’ll let the photos do the talking here!

CNN Studios Tour

The next day, we started our day with a tour of the CNN Studios in Atlanta.

We learned when we purchased the tickets that photography would not be permitted on the actual tour of the facilities. Booo! But, it really was a great tour.

And the gift shop after the tour had really cute stuff, like this “Cub” reporter.

Centennial Olympic Park

It was just a short walk from the CNN Studios to Centennial Olympic Park, which was really stunning. And, I might add, a much more reasonable size than the gigantic Sochi Olympic Park.

Centennial Olympic Park also had this statue of Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic movement.

And I thought the statue created some cool shadows!

Georgia Aquarium

So, I have to be honest, I’m always a bit underwhelmed by aquariums since I’ve been to the aquarium in Monterey Bay, California. The aquarium in Monterey is just so amazing and stunning, that any other aquarium pales in comparison. I will say that Georgia’s aquarium was certainly better than say, Baltimore’s (which everyone says is amazing and I have no idea why), or Pittsburgh’s, but I was still a tad disappointed, especially considering the admission cost. The kids we saw running around at the aquarium seemed to be having an absolute blast, so I guess my grown up opinion shouldn’t matter much as long as kids are engaged and having fun!

One of the more fascinating features were these HUGE aquarium fronts.

I’m pretty sure I had a screensaver like this in 1998:

We walked around a bit more in the aquarium, and then we were done for the day! We were beat!

Sochi – the ugly

This is Part 10 of my Russia 2014 Trip Report

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse, Washington Dulles Airport 

Part 3: Turkish Airlines Business Class: Washington Dulles to Istanbul (IAD-IST)

Part 4: Istanbul Airport, the Turkish Airlines Lounge Fail, TAV Hotel, and Flight to Sochi

Part 5: Our Crazy Sochi Accommodations Story

Part 6 Women’s Halfpipe and First Day in Sochi

Part 7: Luge

Part 8: Olympic Park (covering two days)

Part 9: Speed Skating and Ski Jumping

When we tell people that we went to the Olympics in Sochi, the response is almost always universally the same. “Wow, did you have fun?” followed quickly by “Was it as bad as they said it was?”

Our answer is always no, it was not as bad as they (meaning as reported on the news and Twitter) said it was. We thought it was amazingly well organized, efficient, and above all, very safe, which we were so thankful for considering all the fear mongering leading up to the Olympics. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, the transportation was amazingly easy to figure out, and everything was clean and sparkling new. I think the only two complaints you’ve seen me mention on here so far have been the dreadful food selection at Olympic Park and the venues, and the three hour line just to enter the souvenir store.

But, since everyone always seems to be so interested in what was “bad” at the Sochi Olympics, I thought I would dedicate a post to it. So, while we had no complaints about anything overall, there were a few things that made me scratch my head and say, “Wow, for $50 billion, I don’t think this should’ve been an issue.”

So, these things I am pointing out are, admittedly, very petty and did not detract from our enjoyment at all. This was also our first Olympics, so these types of things might be normal in all Olympic host cities! But since folks seem so interested, here you go …

Access for the physically disabled and building safety issues

I don’t claim to be an expert on how things should be constructed in order to accommodate the physically disabled. But, considering that Sochi would be hosting the Paralympics just a few weeks later, I was shocked to see things like sidewalk ledges that were way too tall, and no visible sidewalk ramps anywhere.

I’m not sure how tall this ledge was right outside of the Olympic Park entrance, the you can see that it is nearly up to the knees of the woman walking ahead of us. And we didn’t see a ramp anywhere.

 

There were no handrails on this main staircase inside the Adler Arena, where we saw the speed skating event. But, in their defense, there was an elevator right next to the stairs, but I did find it a little disconcerting as I climbed the steps, especially considering I’m such a klutz!

 

This ductwork in the hallway to get to our seats at the speed skating arena was so low, that we had to duck to walk under it. No caution tape, no padding, nothing. Seemed a bit dangerous for anyone distracted while walking.

Oh the Scaffolding and Fences

EVERYWHERE. Fences to cover unfinished stuff. Even scaffolding standing in for what looked like should have been the location of a permanent structure.

For instance, this elevated pathway looked like it should have been home to a permanent structure that was never finished. This is right by the Adler Arena and directly behind the medals stage.

And there was a lot of fences surrounding the venue that hosted the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

And these fences with bright orange feet around what appeared to be some sort of media building.

Fences hiding what should have been landscaped areas but instead were housing some sort of equipment.

And I was really surprised at all of the ugly equipment and fencing just off to the side of the Olympic flame.

Unfinished landscaping

All of the grassy areas did not look healthy and you could still see the sod seams. But others were just completely unfinished. Here was an area right by the Samsung exhibit inside Olympic Park. There is a single row of sod (bottom of photo), and the rest is just dirt and no trees or shrubs.

Other areas had some trees and shrubs, but still no grass.

The Parking / Taxi Drop Off Situation

Our primary form of transportation from our cruise ship hotel was taxi. There was no organized drop off point for taxis to drop off their passengers. Instead, the taxi drivers would pull into this insanely disorganized parking lot-type area and drop off passengers there. Then we’d have to maneuver through parked cars (and moving cars) to get to the Olympic Park entrance or to the train station. There’s a ton of empty space in Sochi, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t have had a better situation figured out for this.

And there you have it. Those were my primary “complaints.” And even then, they’re not really complaints as much as just shock that those things should certainly not have occurred considering the $50 billion price tag of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And you can see in my previous posts about the Olympics that everything else was so beautiful and amazing!

Did you go to the Sochi Olympics? Did you see any of the same issues?

Friday Randomness 6-27-14

  • I’ve now had my standing workstation at work for a month, and I really like it.  I stand for about half to three quarters of the day.  The remaining time is spent sitting.  I like it so much I’m considering a standing desk for home!  But …
  • Earlier this week, I broke my second toe on my left foot!  It hurts!  So I haven’t spent much time standing this week.
  • How did I break my toe, you might ask?  I was at WWE Monday Night Raw at the Verizon Center (see the next bullet for that whole story!).  Our row was crowded, so I decided to climb up to our row by standing on a seat in the less crowded row in front of our row.  I stepped in the wrong part of the folding seat, and the seat folded back up, and both my feet slipped vertically.  My toes, pointed down, jammed right into the concrete floor.  Ouch!  Right now it’s a lovely dark purple.

 

broken toe

  • My 8 year old nephew is a huge WWE fan.  It is all the rage amongst his elementary school friends.  Last month, when we asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted some more WWE action figures.  I hate how junky those things are, and that got me thinking about other WWE related things.  And wouldn’t you know it, Monday Night Raw would be here at the Verizon Center in DC on June 23, less than a month after his birthday party!  So, he flew down here by himself the other day (now his third time flying by himself!  He’s a pro!), and we went to Monday Night Raw.  To be honest, I thought the in person event was even sillier and faker looking than watching it on TV.  But, my nephew had a great time, so that’s all that mattered to us!

IMG_9498

  • Do you share covers with your spouse?  Ken and I have always used separate covers — two twin size duvets.  When we travel, we always request a second blanket so we don’t have to share covers at the hotel.  A lot of people seem to think this is weird, but we both think it’s fantastic!
  • Speaking of beds, do you make your bed every day?  With the exception of my college dorm, most of my adult life has not involved making the bed.  In college, since the room was so small, I liked making my bed because it made the dorm room feel neater and more homey.  But now that bedrooms are separate spaces, the bed remains unmade!
  • My first experience using the smoker last week was AMAZING.  The ribs and corn on the cob were delish!

 

bbq in smoker

 

  • I’m always pretty behind the curve when it comes to reading popular books.  Twilight? Just read those books in 2012.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series?  2011.  Right now I’m just getting started with Divergent.  To be honest, I thought it was starting pretty slow.  But now that I’m about 55% of the way through (thanks Kindle for your precise measure!), I’m finally getting into it.  Oh, but the one series I was ahead of the curve on was the Hunger Games series!  I read that pretty early on!