Tag Archives: Sea Otter

A long way from Wiltshire

It wasn’t all just sunshine and bikes in Monterey. I went to a state comprehensive school. It was a great school, by all accounts and I would hope that my children go somewhere similar. In the countryside it meant that abilities were mixed. It was diverse, if not culturally so.

What is interesting about that school is that people are now all over the world. I know people in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Thailand, France and the USA. People who I was friendly with at school seem to be dotted all over the place. It actually makes me very proud. A lot of them have properly travelled too (unlike me – I go from country to country seeing only a snippet of what is on offer – pampered existence that I have).

In Monterey I was fortunate enough to be able to meet up with a friend from school. Literally from school. I don’t think we had seen each other since (and certainly not for any great period of time if we were in the same room). She lives near San Fran, with her husband and two (very well behaved and cute) children.

Monterey is quite famous for a couple of things. One of them is golf. That we didn’t play. The other is the Aquarium. It was, I think, the third, or fourth time that I had been to Monterey for the Sea Otter festival. I had never been to the aquarium though, so when this opportunity came up I jumped at it.

The place itself was amazing. The size of the tanks and the displays really impressive. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Afterwards we went to lunch on one of the wharfs which was once part of the massive sardine trade which Monterey was once central too (apparently one day there weren’t any fish anymore)! Looking out to sea, watching the sea lions swimming by, it struck me what a long way were both were from Wiltshire.

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Time for something about flying.

Last year, I had a mileage balance with Star Alliance (as a Lufthansa frequent flyer) of 98,000 miles.  In economy.  This wasn’t all of the flying that I did, but just the flying with Star Alliance.  There were other flights which were with different airlines, which don’t count towards this.  It is a lot for economy.  Even within the sphere of frequent flyers, doing this sort of mileage in economy commands a little respect.

The 98,000 is relevant because for Lufthansa the tiers of status within their scheme are 35,000 miles and 100,000 miles.  The next tier would have meant increased chances at upgrades and better availability to spend all of these miles.  I wrote to Lufthansa to see if they would make a exception and grant me the status.  They turned me down.  Them’s the rules.  It seemed a little harsh to me, given that I had the flights booked to make up those miles within the first two weeks of January.  For this reason, I started to look around, and decided to concentrate of BA instead.

Right now, I am sat in 19G on a Boeing 747-400 on my way from LAX to LHR before flying on to MAN and home.  I started my journey at MRY – Monterey.

Shuttle service to LAX

MRY - this is it. Tiny. Here to serve golfers visiting 17 Mile Drive, as far as I could tell.

19G is Club World, with a fully reclining seat, which turns into a bed.  I have just slept for six hours.  Why am I in Club World (the business class product)?  Well, BA have four levels of service.  World Traveler (Economy), World Traveler Plus (Premium Economy), Club World (Business) and First.  The budget that my client gives me is enough for economy, so dipping into my own funds, I can fly in Premium Economy.  This is a good product on BA.  The seats are larger than economy, they have more recline, and there are fewer seats across the cabin.  I flew to Hong Kong recently in this cabin on one of BA’s newest aircraft, and was extremely impressed.  I arrived rested and relaxed – not really something that I get flying economy on such a long flight.  For me, this is worth the difference in price, but I am flying a fair amount so the whole airport experience becomes rather tiresome.  I am also quite tall.  However, I don’t think that for once a year flyers, off on holiday that anything other than economy is necessary (unless it is your honeymoon, or you have money to burn).

What is wonderful about this cabin though, is if there is availability you can use miles to upgrade to business class.  This is how I am now sat in Club World.  I managed it on the way out as well as on the return – which required a certain amount of effort.  The images are from the seat on the upper deck on the way out.  A daytime flight, I barely slept, so enjoyed the champagne hospitality perhaps a little too much!

The Seat

Image

With British Airways, I didn’t have any status, so was back at the bottom of the pile.  I am, however, now already at tier one (bronze) with tier two (silver) within grasp.  With that comes business class lounge access, even on economy tickets and premium economy tickets.  As it is likely that not all of my long haul flights will be upgraded, this makes the experience far more pleasant.  For example, today I came directly from a hot and dusty bike festival after a day in the sunshine, to Monterey airport, then flew to LA with a short 1.5 hour connection.  The TSA (security in the USA) were living up to their reputation as being extremely slow, so that when I got to the lounge, they were already calling the flight for boarding.  Thankfully, the British Airways representative there arranged for me to be brought to the head of the queue to have a shower (there are 8 private bathrooms for the lounge) so that I could be fresh for the flight.  In and out within 10 minutes.  It is for this kind of service that lounge access and status (or even a business class boarding pass) come into their own.

For the short haul, flying from Manchester to Germany mostly, there is a choice of Lufthansa into Frankfurt, or their low cost carrier GermanWings, into Cologne.  It is the latter option that I am taking – sure, there is no lounge access, but the money saved can be used to pay towards the long haul tickets, where any discomfort lasts so much longer.  The experience isn’t quite as pleasant as Lufthansa – and Cologne Airport’s facilities are less good, but it makes sense.

So far, I am really glad of the switch and have had a very positive experience with BA.

So how did it all pan out in the end?

Right now I am on a Continental Airlines flight heading to Houston, Texas. The flight is 4 days after my planned departure, but is 4 days before the original re-schedule. The itinerary is not ideal, but the main thing is to get back to the UK and hopefully stay there for a while. From Houston I fly to Frankfurt, where I have 4 hours to wait before the next flight. I plan to get some sleep on the trans-Atlantic leg, and then shower in Frankfurt before the short hop to London.

Los Angeles: So heading from San Francisco to Los Angeles I didn’t really know what was waiting for me. I am not a huge fan of large cities, and my time living in London a few years ago has cured me of wanting to live in one. For me, though, as a Brit, the advantage of city living is the idea at least that you don’t need a car. There is public transport, and everything within a short distance. Even if this is the case in LA, you simply need a car. Not having a car is a strange thing. It is frowned upon, it would seem.

I spent the first couple of days in LA just trying to get some work done, and more importantly, trying to find out if I could get home any earlier. I was reading about jet engines, volcanic ash, trans-Atlantic routing, airline regulations, and all sorts of other things in order to try to find a way home a little sooner. It eventually worked, with the agent on the phone doing everything that she could to get me one of the seats that invariably opened up as people cancelled and took earlier standby fights themselves.

I felt trapped. The past week was not a pleasant experience. It wasn’t horrific either, and I know that I am very lucky, but it did make me think about how much I take sitting on an aeroplane for granted. I think nothing of it – until I was forced to.

I wanted to ride in LA. I wanted to take a bike and just head off somewhere. I didn’t though. The setting up of a colleague’s one size too small bike would have been less than perfect for me, but even less appealing was the sound of every other vehicle on the road having a big burbling V8 – almost highlighting the threat that they pose – as they come up behind you.

I was staying in West Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard, and Hollywood Boulevard were walking distance. As were the hills and the palaces of Beverley Hills. I chose to don the running shoes and jog up into this area. I ran for about an hour in total. I counted the £100,000 cars, and the muli-million dollar houses that appeared neither inspired nor inspiring. I liked my colleagues house, and the family neighbourhood in which he lives. The Beverly Hills mansions reminded me of Gerrards Cross just outside of London. Houses for those with more money than taste. Each one different but somehow exactly the same.

I thought about it, and decided that there must be more to the city, and yesterday I decided to give in. I hired a car and planned to drive around and get lost in LA. The wonders of Facebook saved me though, and I was able to contact a guy who I used to DJ with back when I was at school. He now works as a soccer coach (I am making the distinction here, so as not to confuse football, and football) and lives in LA with his wife, with whom I went to school. They live in a beautiful area down at the Marina, clearly trading in their landlocked life in rural Dorset, where we were brought up, for a more exciting existence near the beach in LA. He took me to some of the tourist spots, showing me Venice beach and the Muscle Beach. It was overcast and fairly deserted, but somehow this was better. It reflected my outlook more. After that we just drove around a bit. I think I saw a lot more of the city than I realise, but he and I were just talking about times gone by, when we lived in a different world, spinning records in the local nightclub. For him, being there for 7 or 8 years, the visitors that they get bring a little bit of home to them. For me, it was a connection to home that sometimes I dearly miss, and this past week, with the option to go back taken from me, was one such occasion.

The evening was spent back at my colleague’s house, with his wife, and his two children – a boy and a girl who were confident, intelligent and very well behaved 9 and 11 year olds. We had some food and drank some beer and watched Survivor together, which appeared to be a family activity. It felt like a privilege to have a small insight into their lives.

So that was it. Being stuck wasn’t all that bad at all, when it comes down to it. In fact, it was nice to be able to spend some time working with a different part of the company, although next time, I would like to plan it. Will I return to LA? I think at some point I would like to, because the less than ideal circumstance to going there meant that I was unprepared for it. I needed to be mentally there, but I wasn’t, I was mentally already back at home, with the physical me stuck somewhere else – I have spoken to a number of other people who were stranded by this volcano in the same way, and all of them have spoken of the same. I am sure many of those unaffected will wonder what the problem was though?!

——-
Actually, I wrote this on the first flight. When I got to Houston, I had a delay of 6 hours. I was invited by a fellow passenger into the lounge. What happened in there is a post in itself.

Of course, this meant that I missed my connection in Frankfurt and was re-booked on BA from Lufthansa – except BA didn’t want to know. I returned to Lufty and asked them to put me on the next available seat to London, and went to their lounge to have a shower. This was glorious – it was about 7pm by this point. I had been travelling 24 hours already.

I got back to London at 22.30. The Pretty One picked me up. I was so glad to be back.

Sunblock

As I look above my head, I can’t see a single cloud.  There are birds tweeting and chirping.  I don’t know if they are pets, or if they are wild.  They could be either.  The beautiful sky is a rich blue colour.  The sun is beating down on me, as I sit, with my computer in the back yard of a colleague’s house.

The day started with an alarm call at 7am.  I got up, packed my stuff and met with a couple of the other guys outside our hotel.  We hopped into the rental cars and drove up the famous ‘Route 1’, the coast road, from Monterey to San Francisco, passing through Santa Cruz along the way.  It was a bit of a pointless mission, of that we were all positive, however we still had to give it a go.  We checked with the United Airline’s website to see if our flights to London had been cancelled, but there was nothing to tell us if they had or not.

The drive itself is lovely.  Just so beautiful.  I have practically driven all of the coast road now between LA and San Fran, and if you have the opportunity and the time, this is the best way to move between these two cities.  It is a road, so photos don’t really do it justice, but I will post this one just to give you the idea.

Arriving at the airport, things didn’t look good as I spotted a British Airways 747 literally parked up away from the terminal.  Near it were a Lufthansa 747 and a 340-600.  All parked up and sleeping.  From the monorail (this word always has me thinking of the Simpsons!) there were Air France and a Virgin jumbos in view.  They were parked practically nose to nose – also obviously not going anywhere.

The departure board then confirmed what we already knew.  The flight was cancelled.  Let the queuing begin!  At this point I split from my colleagues.  They are heading to Germany, and I am heading to the UK, so asking what my options were, the agent told me that I would be standby for all London bound flights as of the next day, and that they would need to re-book me onto the next available departure to London.  At this time, unfortunately, this was on the 29th!

The previous day I had hatched a back-up plan.  Return to LA and stay with a colleague there, until it literally blows over.   My thinking was that I would be able to book a flight from SanFran to LA paying full fare, and therefore making it fully refundable.  This would then allow me to fly to his house and hopefully get re-scheduled to London from LA without any penalty.  I explained this to the agent, and asked the availability LAX to LHR.  The first open seat was then on the 27th.  That is progress, of sorts, so I asked her to reserve it, reticket and change the frequent flyer number (I am collecting on a different programme) to reflect my ‘one up from the great unwashed’ status, and give me a slight priority on the wait list.  With the charm turned up to ten, I then went about enquiring rather casually, how I would get to LA.  It worked a treat, and the agent gave me a free transfer, allowing me to cancel and claim the refund on the previous day’s ticket purchase.  What was even better was that at the gate, the gate agent spotted the ‘one up from the great unwashed’ card, and upgraded me to a better seat in the ‘economy plus cabin’ rather than right in the back.  The difference is mostly in the head of those having their ego’s stroked, but there is little wrong with that!

So here I am.  Back in LA and sitting in the sun.  The volcano is still erupting, and I am to check the flight status everyday to see if I get a standby seat on a different flight.  In the meantime, I will work from here.  In my job there is very little that changes because of my location.  As long as I have my pooter and email I can work.

Pass the sunblock.

Sea Otter and Volcanoes Continue

We went and picked up Team Rider Dave Weins yesterday from the airport.  Anyone who knows Dave will confirm that he is one of the nicest, gentlest and warmest people in the whole scene.  It is an honour to count him amongst my friends, and that his face genuinely lights up in friendship when he greets you.

He is leading a 100 mile ‘Grand Fondo’ today at the Otter.  It involved a 7am start for him.  I am sure that at the end of it, he will still be pretty fresh and joking around.

The show itself is pretty cool.  We were massively busy yesterday selling product and explaining it to people.  Fans of the brand were also out in force, willing to consume anything related to the brand at all.  They wanted plastic bags, jerseys, t-shirts, grips, whatever (we’re a grip company).  We didn’t have any t-shirts in the size they wanted, so I literally took the one off my back and sold it to them (it was fresh that morning, and brand new, so I didn’t feel that bad).  Funny though to to sell the shirt off my back.

The night before last we were at the premiere of ‘Ride the Divide’.  We sponsored this movie, and watching it at the IMAX was pretty good.  It sees riders taking on the great divide riding from Canada to Mexico, none stop.

On another note, I am facing up to the prospect of my flight being cancelled due to the volcano.  I am planning going to LA and staying in a hotel or at a colleagues house.  I presume that this is all a travel insurance thing, but need to check it out.  I think it may be defined as ‘an act of God’ – although given I don’t believe – I don’t know what that means for me!?

2.40am and couldn’t sleep

So I put on my running shoes, and headed out.  I have been doing a lot of running recently (within the last couple of weeks) and so, as the stars twinkled I ran along the coast and through the dunes.  The sea air was refreshing, weaving my along the beach was liberating.  Looking out to sea, the lights twinkled on the oil rigs.  It was good to kick start me again, and 40mins later, I felt less like it was 3.30am and more like it was 7.30pm.

I am in California, and the 2.14am time thing was the time my body was telling me it was.  That was london time.  A dusk run is helping me get over the jetlag.  I went for one yesterday straight off the flight too, in LA.

I am here doing some filming for the brand’s website before the Sea Otter Festival in Monterey.  I will post some pictures in the next couple of days.