Year in Review (Part 2)

Over the holidays, I received feedback from my father that he was upset at my first attempt at a "year in review" column. So, in my continued attempt to satiate my father's hunger for my writing - I'll write more.

Best Dinner of 2007: This happened before I moved to Washington. I was with my mother in Philadelphia - we tried a new Spanish restaurant near my apartment called Tinto. What a place! Amazing wine, amazing service, amazing food. My mother and I started the meal off with some Spanish cheese and honey. A combination that obviously affected my mother - during Christmas she had various cheeses and honey for appetizers two different nights. It's a restaurant that I'd recommend to EVERYONE that has time for dinner in Philadelphia.

Best Book of 2007: This is an easy one for me. I read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point over a couple days in June. I had just moved to Washington and had about 10 days before my new job started. Each day I'd hang out at my pool and read Malcom's book. Really great stuff. Very easy to absorb, and totally applicable to everyone's everyday life - much like Tinto, it's something I'd recommend reading to EVERYONE.

Worst Airport: This is a very hard category. I've been to so many awful airports this year....I think I'll break this into a couple different categories.

Worst Airport Late at Night: This is a no-brainer. New Orleans International Airport. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina a tornado hit the airport just a couple weeks later. It hasn't recovered from either. It's a HUGE airport - with the capability of processing thousands of people a day. After the flood, flights were slashed into MSY and after the tornado, the infrastructure was in trouble. Even at peak times during the day, the airport feels empty, vacant, and kinda creepy. Late at night all of those feelings are multiplied. You walk into an airport designed to compete against the largest, busiest in the country, and you find yourself alone, a stranger in a quiet superstructure.

Worst Airport Overall: This is a tie. It goes to RNO & BNA (Reno, NV & Nashville, TN). I hate both airports. Reno is under so much construction/renovation that you feel like you're walking down Chestnut St. in Philadelphia while a new building is being built alongside you. Uncomfortable, crowded, and unnecessarily glitzy - I pine to figure out what the airport's GM thinks on his drive to work each morning. Nashville's airport is different. It's being redesigned as well and I just hope it's for the better. BNA is a skelton of what it used to be. American Airlines used to have significant operations here, but after they pulled out, the airport found itself with about 30 more gates than it needed. Much like New Orleans, it's empty, quiet, docile, and annoying. Security lines are long for no reason, there are hardly any food options once inside security, and the highways around BNA aren't easy to navigate.

Best Domestic Airport: Of the airports I visited this year, this is a hotly contested category. Here's my Top 5:
1. Washingon - National
2. Tri-Cities (TN)
3. Denver, CO
4. Ft. Smith, AR
5. Rapid City, SD
Besides Denver, these airports are all small, efficient, and friendly. After growing up in Philadelphia, the idea of breezing through both check-in and security still gets me excited. At TRI, FSM, RAP, & DCA this is a reality of everyday travel. It's also nice to be offered free wi-fi at these airports (at DCA I access free wi-fi at the Delta Crown Room Club) - it's great to be able to do work prior to getting onto the plane.

Favorite Destination of 2007: Chicago. I'd never really spent time there before November 1st. I had to go there for a conference and despite only being there for one day, really enjoyed everything about the city. The airport (ORD) isn't too fun - but it's an easy cab ride to downtown - and once I was checked into the Westin Michigan Ave, I felt very much at home. Great restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and living opportunities were all close by - hopefully, I'll get the chance to spend more time there and learn more about the Second City.

One last thing - the picture at the top of this column is from Salt Lake City. Taken on my return trip to Washington this past week, it made me really want to hit the slopes....ideally, in Little Cottonwood Canyon.


2007 Travel Year in Review

I wanted to put together a year in review column to document the highs and lows of the past year I've had on the road. Below is the first installment:

Favorite Airline: Delta Airlines - began flying them for the first time this year and have never had a bad experience with them. I was sitting next to a Delta frequent flyer on a flight from CVG-ORD a couple months ago and he characterized the airline in the following way. "With United, Continental, and almost all other domestic airlines", he said, "you have lots of good experiences and lots of bad experiences. But with Delta you just have a continuation of average experiences without all of the drama of the bad ones. It's this consistantcy that I value." Well put.

Favorite Hotel: Westin Memphis Beale Street - Been at this property three times over the course of the year and always love it. It's a brand new property so all of the rooms are fresh and clean. I usually get upgraded there to large suites which is always a plus. I was at the Daily Grill last week and a server stopped by and we began talking about a conversation we'd had the last time I was there a couple weeks before - it was nice being recognized. The one thing that threw me off was their in-room food offerings. On the tv stand is a mini-bar along with a small little container of goodies. If you're like me and like to see what your options are, you may pick up, say, the canister of cashews to see what exactly is inside. Well, even the act of picking up the food out of its resting spot results in your bill automatically being charged. A very sneaky practice.


What's New?

There's something different about walking off a plane in Memphis. It's the smell.

No other airport I've been to comes close to comparing to what faces the millions of passengers that transit through Memphis. It hits you as soon as you leave the plane, the smell of barbeque. It's shocking just how strong the smell is, but it's quite possibly the best welcoming a weary passenger can receive after being on a plane.

The Memphis airport is filled with BBQ shops. Most notably are Corky's and Interstate BBQ. Everytime I'm there, I go to at least one of them. Earlier this week, I stopped by Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ - had a glorious meal of pulled pork and baked beans. Despite not really loving Memphis, it's always nice to get off a plane there because I know a great meal is just yards away.

I've also been surrounded by obnoxious drunk people this week. On my flight from Memphis to New Orleans a 40 year old woman locked herself in the bathroom during taxi - which resulted in us stopping while the flight attendants and her male companion tried to coax her out of the bathroom. It was actually pretty funny - and I had a nice laugh while sipping a gin and tonic up front! Next was my flight from New Orleans to Chicago. In the boarding area, 5 guys showed up completely intoxicated - to the point that they were stumbling around the terminal, yelling and carrying newly purchased Corona's with them. I was almost positive they'd be kicked off the flight or not allowed to board at all - but I failed to remember that I was in New Orleans, and this stuff happens all the time. As people were boarding the plane, about half of them complained to the flight attendant about them - and warned them that, "the drunk college guys are about to get on board!". Oh well, they weren't booted off, and we took off ahead of schedule.

I had the fortune of flying through O'Hare during a snowstorm. Always fun. I sat a terminal bar, having a glass of beer - staring out the window at the deepening snow and thought that my night may just end here, in Chicago. We had 3 gate changes, 3 hours worth of delays, and about 3 inches of snow on the runway during takeoff - all of which contributed to a FUN night at O'Hare. In retrospect, I wish I had just stayed at my cozy terminal bar and enjoyed a couple more Goose Island beers. I'll know better next time.

I'm heading back to Washington tomorrow - a short flight from Knoxville, TN to Washington Dulles. Next week, I'm going to Arkansas - A FULL WEEK THERE. Hitting up the cities of Paragould, Harrison, Ft. Smith (possibly) and of course, Little Rock.

Remember, all those that wander aren't necessarily lost.