Aeroflot 101 (JFK-SVO) – Business Class

Aside

I have flown Aeroflot 101 from JFK to Moscow twice, with polar opposite experiences.

The first time was in coach. It was a miserable experience, mostly because my seatmate was very large and took up all of her seat plus half of mine. I was looking at an entire vacant row of seats in front of me, but I could not move to that row because they were “premium” (bulk head) and I had not paid for premium. I would have gladly paid for an upgrade to be able to move, but it was not possible once the plane was boarded. If they’ll take payment onboard for Duty Free shopping, you’d think it would be possible to pay for an upgrade during flight. In any event, it was a VERY long and uncomfortable flight. I learned a good lesson about paying for an upgrade to a bulk head when given the option in the future.

This time, however, I flew in Business Class. This experience was COMPLETELY opposite of my previous jaunt with this airline. In fact, it was the best business class experience I’ve had on any flight, other than my first BC flight (the first time is always the best).

Boeing 777-300ER

Boeing 777-300ER

I boarded the 777-300ER with ease and quickly found my seat, ushered by a gentleman flight attendant, who insisted on lifting my bag into the overhead bin for me. Within just a few minutes I was offered a sparkling welcome coctail (or I could choose juice or water).

There was an amenity kit in the seat with the basic amenities. I forgot to take a photo (sorry!) and I can’t remember exactly what was in the kit, but I believe it was the same basic stuff in most BC amenity kits. I also can’t remember if they offered slippers, but I think they did. I apologize for this missing bit of information… I always enjoy getting a peek at the kits on blogs. ūüôā

Comfortable seat with ample legroom

Comfortable seat with ample legroom

Shortly before takeoff the staff delivered menus to review for dinner choices. I chose the fish option, which wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. The thing that impressed me the most regarding the service on the flight, was that the attendants didn’t wait for everyone to finish something to serve the next course. As soon as I’d finished one course my plate was whisked away and the next course was promptly delivered. This was wonderful because it allowed passengers who eat quickly to move on to the next portion of the flight: sleep!

 

The menu for Business Class SU101

The menu for Business Class SU101

Appetizer: Roast Beef Chateau fresh frisse and arugula lettuce, tomato plum eggplant puree, served with reduction balsamic vinegar

Appetizer: Roast Beef Chateau fresh frisse and arugula lettuce, tomato plum eggplant puree, served with reduction balsamic vinegar

Main course: Grilled Red Snapper with mashed pumpkin and mixed vegetables, served with Cafe de Paris sauce

Main course: Grilled Red Snapper with mashed pumpkin and mixed vegetables, served with Cafe de Paris sauce

Dessert: Chocolate and Hazelnut pudding, served with whipped cream and fresh strawberry

Dessert: Chocolate and Hazelnut pudding, served with whipped cream and fresh strawberry

I am looking forward to my next business class flight on Aeroflot 101 from JFK-SVO. And if, by chance, I can’t score BC and must ride in coach, I will be sure to upgrade to a premium seat so my options to move around to find a more comfortable seat will be much better.

A quick post about my JetBlue experience

I flew JetBlue from Charleston to JFK recently. I was expecting an average or below average product from them because I’ve always thought they were a “budget airline”, but I was pleasantly surprised with my experience. Not only did the seats have way more legroom than any other economy class seat on any airline I’ve flown, they served full sized complimentary snacks! Not the tiny pretzel or peanut packs I’m used to receiving on Delta, but full sized snacks, which you choose from their basket. The snack basket you select from is very similar to the snack baskets on a regional Delta flight in Business Class.

I’m really looking forward to flying with JetBlue again sometime, hopefully in the near future.

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Look at all this legroom (and my groovy pants)!

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In case you need even MORE legroom. But really, unless you’re 7ft tall, I think you’ll be plenty comfortable.

These are the snacks offered in the basket during flight. Yummy!

These are the snacks offered in the basket during flight. Yummy!

A Day In Barcelona

One day is not enough!

It really is not possible to experience Barcelona in just one day, but if you are okay with just getting a little taste of the highlights, you can almost do it.

We recently spent two nights and one day in this bursting city, and it was just enough to leave us wishing for more.

This stop was during a EuroTrip my husband and I took with my son and my mother, so chaos was already the name of the game. Why not throw more insanity in the pot?!?

We started our day with an early walk though Park Guell. This beautiful park is free to enter and, in addition to having beautiful artwork by Gaudi throughout the park, has spectacular views of the city. This is a must-see if you are visiting Barcelona, no matter how short your stay.

One of our favorite sights in Park Guell is the “cat and mouse” game played by the illegal street vendors and the local police. The vendors have blankets with jewelry, hats, sunglasses and other wares laid out on the ground. As soon as an officer gets close they all scoop up their blankets and scatter. We found this dance to be quite amusing.

http://www.parkguell.cat/en/

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

After leaving the park, we stopped to briefly admire the Segrada Familia, and then spent the afternoon wandering around Las Ramblas, the central boulevard in the center of the city. This seems to be the most happening place if you want to do any shopping, bar hopping or tapas tasting. You’ll also find plenty of souvenirs along this area, with artists selling paintings or charicatures, cheap gimicky toys, and all the typical wares you’ll find with the street vendors. Some of the vendors are legal, but many are the typical illegal vendors with goods on a blanket on the ground. These guys seemed to be more clever by holding strings that were tied to all 4 corners of the blankets for a faster getaway.

These guys were ready to run when the police came near

These guys were ready to run when the police approached!

About halfway down the Ramblas, there is an amazing food market, La Boqueria, for a meal or a snack while wandering around. Some of the food is raw meat and fish for cooking, but there are many booths with fruits and vegetables, as well as tons of booths to grab candy by the pound, sandwiches, smoothies, alcoholic beverages or hot meals.

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

La Boqueria – Check out the size of those prawns!

The Ramblas ends (or begins, depending on how you look at it) at Port Vell, a beautifully redone port with some impressive yachts and a pedestrian bridge (the Rambla de Mar) leading to some tourist attractions. The best tourist attraction is the Barcelona Aquarium, but I only say this from what I’ve read since I didn’t actually go there.

While in Barcelona the food you must have is Paella, and I think you can get this anywhere. I’ve read that you should get this outside of the city center if you want the best bang for your buck, but since we were limited on time we took a chance and enjoyed a nice Spanish meal of Paella and Sangria right in the middle of La Rambla. Even if we paid a little more than it was worth, we were not disappointed. In fact, I think we enjoyed it a little more because of the location, since the “people watching” there really is the best entertainment around. Dinner and a show!

Paella and Sangria, because Barcelona. Ole!

Paella and Sangria, because Barcelona. Ole!

We made the mistake of going to a Flamenco show in Barcelona. Don’t do it. We saw a fantastic Flamenco show when visiting Seville, Spain once and thought this would be fun in Barcelona. It was a much different thing here and definitely not a quality show. It was more of a diner atmosphere with dancers. Trust me, don’t do it. Even the venue smelled like a mix of urine and Pine Sol cleaner. The only other patrons in the place were relatives of the dancers and they didn’t even eat the awful looking food they were served. I should have read reviews before booking this and I would have known that this is not the place for a Flamenco show. Lesson learned!

The Barcelona version of a Flamenco show. No bueno.

The Barcelona version of a Flamenco show. No bueno.

After the show we went to a few different tapas places. We met a couple from Ohio and another couple from Ireland at the first place, then we went with them to a few other places. Such a fun night! My mom still keeps in touch with the couple from Ohio.

Isn’t it fun to make new friends in exotic places?

We may have only been there for about 36 hours, but we proved that a grand time can be had in such a short visit.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was watching my son bargain with the street vendors. Several times he tried to sell them things, like his leftover pizza or the raggedy shoes he was wearing. This kid is a trip!

One of my favorite parts of this trip was watching my son bargain with the street vendors. Several times he tried to sell them things, like his leftover pizza or the raggedy shoes he was wearing. This kid is a trip!

Rex Porter, 30 is too young to die.

Yesterday we said goodbye to a wonderful young soul whose dash was much too short.

Rex Porter was killed on Sunday, August 23rd, in a tragic vehicle accident. After enjoying the company of friends on a Sunday afternoon, the weekend of his 30th birthday, he went home to check on his dog before his shift at the Windjammer. While driving to work, too fast for this narrow 2 lane road, he lost control of his vehicle on one of the curves and struck a tree, ending his too-short life and leaving a wake of broken-hearted friends and family.

Rex Stephen Porter was born on August 20, 1985 in Canton, Ohio. A Clemson graduate and fan, he has been working at the Windjammer for 8 years, which is where we met him. To know Rex was to love him, and there were so many lives and hearts he touched.

My heart always aches the most for the families, especially the mothers, who are left behind when a young person dies. In this case, my heart aches just as much for his precious dog, Joanna, who will never understand why her person hasn’t come home to her. She is a special dog and they had a special bond. We got to know her because she would often come to work with him in the slow winter season. She would just hang out behind the bar and follow him around. She will never know why she has been abandoned.

After the memorial service at the mortuary, friends and family gathered at the Windjammer to share stories and celebrate Rex’s life. There were so many people who came from near and far to share funny tales of this unforgettable young man. My words could never do justice to the character of this guy, but anyone who met him and spent any time with him came away with at least one memorable story. I don’t think anyone could ever say anything bag about Rex. He was that kind of incredible and positive guy.

I will share here our little story of Rex that Ben told on stage at the wake. One of the first summers we knew Rex was a summer Ben worked with him at the Windjammer. Rex drank too much at the end of his day shift and needed a place to sleep it off, so we took him to our place just 4 blocks away. After making sure he was comfortable on the living room futon with a pillow, blanket and bottle of water nearby, we returned to the Windjammer to enjoy the rest of our evening. When we returned home later that night Rex was gone! We thought maybe he woke up and had someone come get him and didn’t worry too much. But when I went into the bathroom I got a big laugh… he was curled up in the fetal position, just as cute as could be, sleeping in our bathtub! Oh, Rex. One day I will find the photo I snapped and post it here for the rest of the world to adore.

Rest in peace, my sweet friend. We love you and will miss you.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/charleston/obituary.aspx?n=rex-stephen-porter&pid=175657216&fhid=23133

Ending a chapter

John Burroughs said, “Leap, and the net will appear”.

I’m putting my faith in that, as I gave my resignation letter to my employer today. After working for the City of Isle of Palms for 7 1/2 years, my last day of employment will be September 17th.

The Isle of Palms is a small, (mostly) quiet beach town. I love this city and I have loved being a part of the community. I have also loved being a part of the police and fire family, along with the other city offices. My decision to leave was not an easy one, especially since I regard so many of my coworkers with a familial respect and affection, but I feel this is the best decision for my personal growth, both personally and professionally.

My immediate plan is to take some time off and travel with Ben on his business trips. After all, someone needs to spend those miles he earns. I think I’m up to the task!

I don’t know what my next step will be. I’ll figure that out later. Life is for living. I’mma get out there and do that the best I can, while I can!

Jump! The net will appear.

Change is scary! It is so easy to stay inside your comfort zone and miss out on all kinds of exciting things that life has to offer.

In 2003 I threw all caution to the wind and with a shout to the heavens of “what the hell”, I packed up my belongings, quit my job¬†and moved to a new city where I knew no one. This may have been the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. Braver than learning to fly, even.

Actually, this sounds way more adventurous than it actually was. To tell the truth, there was a series of events that led up to this leap. I hated my job, my house finally sold after 2 years on the market, my son was out of school for the summer, I had a golden retriever and a Jeep. On top of all that, my boyfriend of two years and I broke up as I was packing up to move out of my house after it sold. I was devastated, but also primed to jump out of¬†the rut I felt I was in¬†and into the life I knew I could have. I knew there would never again be a time in my life when so many¬†cards were up in the air that screamed for a big life change. I packed up my things and drove down to Charleston without a clue about what would happen next, without knowing a soul, and without a job. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew¬†this was a leap I was going to take and that the net would appear.

That net did appear, but not before I hit rock bottom.

I struggled through several temporary jobs before hitting that bottom. From the bottom, the only place to look is up.

There was one particularly¬†cold night in February where I¬†slept in my dark living room on the floor by the fireplace, crying myself to sleep because my power had been turned off. My son had gone to live with his dad in our hometown because I could no longer provide for him, so I was all alone, with just my dog, whom I could only feed because of a generous dog food donation from a friend. I couldn’t even call anyone for help because my phone had also been turned off.

I spent almost a full year in a terrible, dark and lonely place and I realized I was doing all of this to myself. Self pity is a terrible thing. I was blaming heartbreak, but self pity was the real issue. I did a lot of deep digging in my soul that first year down here and I learned more about myself than I had ever though possible. I had been struggling with life for a very long time¬†because I was trying to live up to perceived expectations from family and society; I had never really allowed myself to just be me. After a year of soul searching with the help of a lot of alcohol, I began to get a glimpse of who I really am and I learned to trust in myself. I also remembered that part of the reason I moved to Charleston was to change my life, which also meant my career. I had been trying to find a full time “respectable” job, but I realized that what I really wanted was a break from all of that reality. I decided to wait tables for a while, which was one of the other best decisions I’ve ever made. That made for a few fun and¬†carefree years of living for the moment and making some really great friends.

I have often said that this worst year of my life was also the best year of my life. Maybe it was because of the extreme growth I experienced, or maybe it was just because I was living at the beach, but that year will always be a very important era in my life.

In October of 2005, around the time I really felt I was getting my life back together, I met my now husband, Ben. I cherish every step I took on that broken road. I became a mother while I was really still a child. Since I missed out on some major mental growth opportunities because of skipping college and growing up way too fast, those times were very necessary for me to become the person I am today. The person I am today is very happy to have been ready for the relationship that bloomed so beautifully into a wonderful marriage.

I’ve been toying with some changes in my life for the past couple of years. Recently, I decided to make a list of big scary steps to get me closer to some goals I have set (yes, I’m being vague on purpose). Step one was to find and buy a home that will require less maintenance so I can travel with my husband without worrying about our home. We just closed on our first home together, a modest condominium,¬†on July 20th! My next few steps have also been set into motion, and will be revealed in a month or two.¬† Stay tuned…

Take that leap. The net will appear, even if it looks a lot like regret in the beginning. Just trust it.

Live your dash…. Jump!

 

 

Winds of change

Leaving the island…

  

After living on Isle of Palms for almost 11 years, we have moved 1 mile across the Causeway to Mount Pleasant. While this may not seem like much of a move to most people, this was incredibly difficult for us, emotionally. We have grown accustomed to being able to walk to our favorite beach bars and to hearing the sound of the ocean from our front porch.

Another reason leaving the island hurts is that I still feel the presence of my recently deceased dog when I’m on the island. A part of me¬†feels like I’m leaving her behind, silly as that sounds.

Moving to Mount Pleasant has it’s benefits, though. We could not have afforded to own a home on the island at this point in our lives, but we have bought our own home together in Mount Pleasant. And though it is only a modest condominium, it is all ours! The location is ideal, too. We are still within walking distance of many great bars and restaurants, we have a pool right across the parking lot, the complex has a gym, and we are only a 10 minute drive to our old stomping grounds.

So, while we grieve for the loss of our previous (spoiled) life, we are trying to keep one eye on the bright side. There may be some moaning and groaning coming from me in the meantime.

Here are a few photos of my precious island.

Kite-boarding is a popular sport among the super-fit adventurous folks.

  

We have had kayaks for about 8 years, but we’ve only put them in the water a handful of times. I regret that¬†a bit now. So fun!

I will miss walking home from work on the beach Summer mornings as the sun rises. Dawn is a magical time on the beach.

Bucket List

I just found this unfinished blog in my drafts folder from a year and a half ago:

“What do you do when you’ve been told you have 8-12 months to live? If you are smart you live. Really, truly live. Dad has been pretty sad about the idea of not being around much longer. My heart breaks every time I recall him saying “I really regret that I won’t get to see Justin graduate college”. I’m sure there are lots of things he is sad he will miss that ¬†remain unsaid. There are some things he has said he wishes to do “one more time” and I hope I can help make every one of them come true.

I went to a baseball game with Dad. I took him flying, though I don’t think that was really¬†on his list. He hopes to make it to Panama City Beach to go fishing with my cousin, JW. It’s a long trip that would be even longer for him, but I really hope this can happen and I hope I can be there for it.

This may be the hardest year of my life, but I plan to make it the richest year of my life and make every second count when I’m with my father.”

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Fast forward to today:

Did I follow through with my plan and make it the richest year of my life? I think so. I continued to work and spend my weekends off burning up the highway to spend time with him and tried to be there with him for every doctor appointment. When he went into Hospice care I took advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act to assist my mother as a caregiver. Being able to spend that last summer with him was a precious gift I will forever cherish.

We never did make our planned Panama City Beach fishing trip because the beginning of the end happened when that trip was supposed to happen. Planning that trip so far out may be my one regret, but we still made the best of our time together.

Time is precious. Hug your family. Spend time with them every chance you get, because you never know how many more visits you have left.

Live your dash.

A Sad Anniversary.

A year ago today I held my dad tight as he let go of this world.

That sentence is very heavy.

That morning, exactly one year ago, I sat at the breakfast table with my mother and my niece. We talked lightheartedly about the past and the future and listened to music on our iPhones. There was one popular song we played that can be “shagged” to (a South Carolina dance), so my mother and I showed my niece how to shag while listening to Kenny Chesney sing about “American Kids”. Right there in the kitchen we danced our hearts out. I’m sure my dad, who was in the other room, was very aware of our dancing and would have smiled if he had been able to smile in his comatose state.

Shortly after our little dance I had a moment alone with Dad. I played a few songs that expressed my feelings for him. One of them was “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn, and another song was “You Can Let Go” by Crystal Shawanda. That second song ripped my heart out to listen to the lyrics while playing the song in his ear, but it was such a beautiful song and so well suited to our situation at the time. I spent the day sitting by his side, knowing in my heart that it would be my last day with him. We even told the Hospice nurse that she didn’t need to come that day. My son was driving up from Charleston that afternoon. They say when someone is holding on long after they should have passed on that they are waiting for something. We had been telling him we would be ok and he can let go, but he kept holding on. It turned out that he was waiting for the arrival of my son, because it was only about two hours after Justin walked through the door that my dad took his final breath.

The borrowed time we shared has so far been the most precious and meaningful of my life, especially that last summer.

 

Personal space 

I’ve always been super sensitive to touch. When I was a kid I would shy away from my family when we entered a gathering because I come from a family of huggers, and I’ve never been comfortable hugging. As an adult, I’ve learned to find ways to be comfortable hugging people as long as I’m prepared for it. Strangers touching me is a completely different story.

Recently, I was walking through China Town in Sydney, Australia, when someone was trying to get me to come in to the store for a massage. This lady touched my shoulders to convince me to come inside and I had an instant panic attack. I almost swung around and instinctively punched this complete stranger!

I’ve had similar experiences on trains and in lines in Europe, where personal space is not a thing that is respected or even considered. Nothing has compared to the pure panic I felt when this little Chinese woman touched my shoulders. Why on earth would someone think it is okay to put their hands on a stranger without an invitation?

I’m not sure why I felt the need to write about this little experience, other than I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. So there it is. That is all.

Have a great day!