Tonight, I find myself back in San Francisco. After a little re-orientation, I can find my away around almost as effectively as I have never left. And the same restaurants still are good – a decade later. The major change, however, is how upmarket Geary Street and the area around Union Square have become – compared to when I lived there. Wow! Pictures forthcoming after the end of the trip…

Another Week, Another Flight

As I previously posted, I’m doing a lot of travel for work. But it’s mostly between Ottawa and Vancouver. This qualifies me to be an unofficial expert on the best ways to traverse the Star Alliance system in North America. Some observations:

  • Vancouver has an e-Border; great for Canadian citizens returning to Canada. You avoid the lines.
  • Vancouver is the only airport I have seen that allows for checking bags between the US and Canada without having to re-check them. More time saved.
  • Toronto still has the most flight selection – though they could really use a morning departure to Seattle (again)
  • Chicago offers the most connection options – but you run the risk of weather delays/cancellations; on the flip side, you clear US customs in Canada which makes for less connecting hassles.

And that’s all for now!

The Infrequent Frequent Flyer

I am traveling for work. More so than I have done in many years. But, for the first time in a decade – without any frequent flier status. I have been at least a Premier Executive on United Airlines since 2001 – with a few 100K years.

During the last year, I flew very little – given some interesting work dynamics. So, I’m not even a Premier. And to compound it, re-earning the miles has been made more difficult, thanks to issues getting credit for Star Alliance flights on Air Canada.

The aggravating and interesting things to note:

  • You have to be very careful to make sure the right program is getting credit. If your boarding pass doesn’t say it, it’s probably an issue – no matter what the agents say. Make them change it.
  • Checking in for the first flight on one mileage plan does not guarantee that number will be propagated to the subsequent flights – another glitch of the kiosk system.
  • Air Canada has a far lower bar for getting Star Alliance Gold status than United; perhaps I’m backing the wrong horse? But without it, no Economy Plus and complementary upgrades – which make a big difference on flying UA versus the same economy treatment on AC. And with the Continental merger, even more destinations I am likely to fly at some point.

Interesting ramblings. Now, back to work – and the trip.

Barcelona 2008: Parc Guell

Parc Guell #6
Originally uploaded by rdonovan

For my second photographic expedition during the 2008 Barcelona trip, I made it to Parc Guell. Besides being an amazing vista, it is home to a considerable amount of architecture and artwork by Gaudi. I managed to capture both – at dusk.

This expedition required a significant use of flash photography, as I was far too late in the day to have enough natural light to capture Gaudi’s works. The SpeedLight 430 EX came in quite handy. As did the image stabilizing 100-400mm and 24-105mm lenses – for the panoramic photographs – as I had no tripod.

Enjoy the results at:

Barcelona 2008: Tibidabo

Tibidabo #14
Originally uploaded by rdonovan

When I first went to Barcelona in 2006, I wanted to go to Parc Wall / Tibidabo. Sadly, that did not materialize – I only made it to Tramvia Blau – and no further – as the funicular (cable car) was not running due to vandalism. This time – it was.

It is a photographer’s paradise. Beyond having a large, historical Catholic Church – there is an amusement park and the best vistas in the entire region. (Tibidabo is the absolute highest point one can get in Barcelona.) It also provides for some interesting super-zoom shots, such as the switchback roadways below – provided that one has the right lens (of which my 100-400mm works great).

Enjoy the cornucopia of shots at:

The Ill-Fated Voyage East

I decided that it would be a good idea to drive the Bentley Arnage from Seattle to Ottawa. I set out on a beautiful morning in Seattle in early October. I made it through to Missoula, Montana without incident – and saw some extremely beautiful sights along the way.

Between Missoula and Butte, record-setting snow set in. The Arnage is a rear-drive car. It does not handle snow well. It uses tires that were designed specifically for it – and there are no snow tires available that will fit. The traction control proved to be useless – all I ended up doing was losing all power – and having to turn it off.

After spending the night in Butte, I ended up flying back to Seattle, via Salt Lake City – on the sole flight per day that comes in and out of Butte. There is no ILS nor control tower, so the pilot had quite a challenge getting in and almost had to turn back. (He eventually made it, but landed with the wind versus against – given a clearer approach flying in the opposite direction.)

The car was retrieved a week later after the record-setting snow thawed out – and the roads were again passable.

Given that I live now in a city that is under snow almost half of the year, this requires some re-thinking. Hmm…in the meantime – enjoy the snapshots from earlier in the day at:


I have just completed an insane dash across North America – to get to Ottawa from Seattle as the final step in my relocation process. The journey has been:

1. Bellevue, WA to Stevens Pass
2. Continuing on via Leavenworth and connecting to I90 at George, WA (no, that is not a joke)
3. I90 to Billings, Montana
4. I94 through the rest of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois
5. Rejoining I90 through Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan to Detroit
6. Crossing into Canada at Windsor
7. Heading to Ottawa via London, Toronto, and then Ottawa

What a drive! Approximately 4,800 kilometers door-to-door!

Air Can(‘t)ada

I have been a loyal United Airlines and Star Alliance customer for many, many years. This year I am a Premier Executive/Star Alliance Gold and have already achieved that status for next year having been travelling quite a bit.

My previous experience on Star Alliance has been largely flying Lufthansa in Europe – and I’ve always been treated quite warmly by them (great seats, preferences always acknowledged) and been able to use their Senator’s Club lounges. Ditto for flying US Airways around the East Coast of the United States.

This trip I booked directly on Air Canada – which was a first. I have been re-routed due to cancellations on Air Canadal, but never booked directly. I discovered a nasty surprise – my Star Alliance Gold privileges are essentially meaningless when it comes to seating preferences – only their Aeroplan Elite/Super Elite get the good seats. I ended up in the last row of the plane – and was to have a middle seat except that the ticketing agent was kind enough to take pity upon me.

This is really unfortunate that privileges do not transcend airline boundaries within Star Alliance – at least in this case. (Apparently United is similar with issuing Economy Plus seats to other Star Alliance Gold flyers that are not on Mileage Plus.) If they were to truly get this right, the privileges would be recognized across. Period. And that’s my travel rant for this trip…