Cockpit Chronicles: A farewell to Boston

April was my last month flying from Boston. It was also the month that our company chose to eliminate the last remaining non-stop flights from Santo Domingo and San Juan to New England. These were markets where we’d flown for decades.

Fittingly, on the 2nd and 4th of April, I flew the very last flights from SDQ and SJU-not exactly something worthy of a celebration, but noteworthy, nevertheless.

I made sure to take a group shot of the pilots I worked with on both flights.

The final Santo Domingo to Boston pilots:

And the last San Juan to Boston flight:

We’ve been shrinking the Boston base for the past few years, and while many of my friends took the plunge and went south to New York, I had always planned to be the last one to leave. But facing a commute to Germany for a year, I knew JFK flying would be far more convenient. Lufthansa, Air Berlin, and even Singapore Airlines offer non-stop flights to Germany.

But before leaving Boston, I planned to enjoy two Paris trips and revisit my two most memorable restaurant experiences from the city of lights, and catch one major tourist attraction that I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen.
After ten years of flying to Paris, I knew I needed to look around the inside of the Louvre. I’ve avoided it because I’m really not an art museum aficionado, but I suppose everyone should see the Louvre at some point. To be honest, I was more interested in the building that I’d been photographing for years than in the art to be found inside.

After a quick picnic of cheese and wine next to the Louvre Pyramid, the captain, Pete, and a flight attendant, Michelle and I went inside.

So I suppose a brief review of the Louvre is in order:

There are paintings inside.

And a rather large number of sculptures.

Most of the artwork is huge, except, surprisingly, the Mona Lisa. Perhaps that’s why this painting is so popular. People really love smaller artwork apparently. The 50-foot painting opposite the Da Vinci work was largely ignored, I noted.

Afterward, reservations were made for my favorite restaurant in Paris.

Le Hide” is ‘hidden’ just off of the Arc de Triumph in a little residential neighborhood. It’s full of typical French cuisine such as escargot and pan-seared fois gras appetizers and a main course of salmon and scallops that flake off with a fork. It’s the most flavorful food I’ve found in Paris, and yet it’s reasonably priced at €22 ($32) for a two-course meal and 29 ($42) for three courses. Reasonable, at least, by Paris standards.

The same flight attendant, Michelle, was on another Paris trip with me the next week. I sheepishly suggested we eat at Dans Le Noir, which is the most unusual restaurant in Paris. She immediately knew what I was talking about and said she was thinking about suggesting the same place.

In the past, I had been rather unsuccessful in getting others to join me for what is truly a dining adventure.

When you walk into Dans Le Noir, facing you is a small pub where you place your dinner and drink order. After removing any cell phones, watches and purses and placing them in one of the provided lockers on the right, you’re guided into a pitch black dining room by one of the waiters, who happen to be blind.

The idea is to experience food as a blind person would, to take in the senses and try to identify what you’re eating without any visual cues.

I had been to the restaurant with two pilots when it first opened years earlier. Today there are versions of this same restaurant in New York, London and Barcelona.

There was so much laughing during the first visit, especially when a pilot’s foot became stuck in the table as the blind waitress was guiding us out of the place, which left him alone in the dark wondering just how he was going to find his way out.

The second visit was just as amusing. As I was guided to my seat, I felt what I thought was a wall next to me, and my hand landed directly on ‘the softest part’ of the lady sitting to the left of me. I felt relieved when the flight attendant sitting across from me also put her hand right on the gentleman to her right, who was with the French lady I had inadvertently accosted. Many apologies and giggles later and we were ready to explore our meal.

You don’t really choose your meal, since this would ruin the surprise, so part of the dining experience is to try and determine what exactly you’re eating. The three other flight attendants and two other pilots with me described what was on their plates, which may or may not have been different than our own. We just couldn’t tell for sure.

After an appetizer of cheese and fruit, we were served a steak with potatoes, and vegetables. Pretty safe food, for sure, but it did take some touching and feeling to understand what was on our plates.

On the last trip of the month, we had a spectacular view of the Northern Lights. It was a fitting sendoff that I won’t forget.

I’m going to miss my friends in Boston, but I’ll enjoy seeing the ones who have already gone south to NY, and who have jokingly referred to JFK as “South Boston” since half of Boston is now commuting to the larger base.

I’ll especially enjoy seeing the captain and relief pilot that were ‘featured’ in my 2004 ‘Vertigo’ video that depicted a typical Paris trip from Boston to New York. Both of them are now flying out of NY as well.

Maybe I’ll discover a few other ‘hidden’ spots in Rome, Zurich, Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Manchester, Madrid, Milan or even Rio de Janeiro, to talk about in an upcoming Chronicles.

Just thinking about the options has given me a renewed enthusiasm that’s sure to make the commute from Germany to New York a bit more palatable. Stay tuned.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Five outstandingly delicious places to eat in Alaska

In the spirit of journeying during periods less traveled, I’ve embarked to Alaska this winter. Follow the adventures here, and prepare to have your preconceived notions destroyed along the way.

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Particularly in the winter, it’s pretty crucial that you stay warm and well fed while in Alaska. We can’t make any promises about the ease of the former, but we’ve got the latter completely under control. Believe it or not, The Last Frontier is a foodie’s paradise, with a vast number of outstanding local eateries to choose from. During my stay in Anchorage, I was told that there were some 16,000 restaurant permits floating around the greater ANC area, which likely means that you’ve more food options than lodging choices. I was also interested to find that a great many of Alaska’s best eateries are tucked into what we Lower 48ers would call “strip malls.” I’ll admit — prior to visiting AK, I’d visited all 49 of the other states, and strip mall food was rarely a hit. Not so in Alaska. Read on to find out five totally delectable places to eat in the Anchorage and Fairbanks areas; who knows, your favorite hole-in-the-wall might be in there!

%Gallery-118372%1) Silver Gulch

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This place didn’t even serve food three years ago, but after being a dedicated brewery for a decade, the owners decided to try their hand at something new. Good thing they did. Located in the tiny town of Fox, Alaska (around 20 minutes outside of Fairbanks), this restaurant and brewery makes its own grub and beer, and it’s easily one of the best meals you’ll find in the greater FAI area. The design of the place is refreshing as well, and the public is welcome to take a tour of the connected brewery at no charge. Looking for a recommendation? The Pub Pommes to get things going, the Halibut Tacos to stuff you and a walk around the brewery to make you feel a little better for overeating.

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2) Seven Glaciers

Perched high atop Alyeska Hotel, this AAA Four Diamond restaurant is a serious treat — from both a visual and deliciousness standpoint. I’ve never been to a place with a more astonishing entrance. In order to get here, you’ll need to step foot into a scenic tram that lifts you up the mountainside in a matter of minutes. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges in Girdwood (~45 miles outside of Anchorage) are downright breathtaking, and the food inside may be even more so. Reserve a table with a windowside view, and feel free to opt for any of the (seriously amazing) fish dishes. You’re in Alaska, after all!

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3) Moose’s Tooth

If you’ve heard of one restaurant in Alaska through the so-called grapevine, chances are it’s Moose’s Tooth. Situated in Anchorage, this place is widely known for having the best pizza in the state, maybe even the country. That’s a pretty tall claim, and after trying it for myself, I’d say the place mostly lives up to the hype. The vibe is laid back, the staff is warm and welcoming, and the service is top-notch. The food is truly world class; the only pizzas that I’ve had to rival this one in taste come from (the now defunct) Giordano’s in Chicago and Mellow Mushroom in North Carolina. Make no mistake — the sheer quantity of wild topping options is worth making a trip for, and I can guarantee you won’t leave disappointed.

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4) Lemongrass

Thai food… in Fairbanks? It’s true! In fact, Fairbanks is fairly well known for having a staggering array of Thai food options, and Lemongrass is a particularly delectable choice. As I alluded to earlier, this one’s tucked slyly within a strip mall of sorts, so it’s fairly easy to overlook. You’d be smart to look it up, though, as everything at the table I sat at drew wide smiles from those eating. Naturally, the Pad Thai was remarkable, so even if you aren’t feeling too adventurous, you can still snag a great Thai meal in Alaska.

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5) Crow’s Nest at the Captain Cook Hotel

I’ll be honest with you; this one’s worth stopping at just for the view. The food is delicious, mind you, but it’s a bit pricey and not quite as on-point as the grub at Seven Glaciers. But if you’re looking for the most impressive view of Anchorage from an eatery in the city, this is it. It’s located on the 20th (i.e. top) floor of The Captain Cook Hotel, and the overlook of the city (shown above) is simply astonishing. Be prepared to pay said view, though, and make absolutely sure you and your partner save room for the Bananas Foster dessert. That alone is worth making a reservation for.

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Obviously, there are a lot more than five great places to eat in the state of Alaska. Southside Bistro, Bear Tooth Theater Pub and Middle Way Cafe all come highly recommended in the Anchorage area, while Big Daddy’s BBQ in Fairbanks calls itself the most northerly place to get southern barbecue. Got any other great recommendations for food in Alaska? Shout ’em out in the comments section below!

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

My trip was sponsored by Alaska Travel Industry Association, but I was free to report as I saw fit. The opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

When in Philly, do as everyone does: eat your way through the Terminal Market

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The sights and sounds of Pennsylvania’s largest city are also some of this country’s oldest and most revered: the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Franklin Institute, and America’s very first zoo. It is also a city of 1.5 million people, with an old and overburdened roadway system and legendary rush hour traffic.

In order to escape the cacophony that is the streets of midtown Philadelphia, you can step into the cacophony that is the Reading Terminal Market.

The Reading Terminal Market is everything under one roof, but it’s not like anything you’ve ever experienced. There are great markets across the country: Seattle’s Pike Place, Cleveland’s West Side Market, D.C.’s Eastern Market and Union Square in New York City. But Reading is a food hall/shopping experience with the feel of a small village. It has straight-line aisles that accommodate more than one person at a time, places to sit and enjoy your food, and as for the choices of food: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Greek, mezze, cheesesteaks, salumeria, baked goods, fresh produce, ice cream, beer, wine, deli and vegetarian, Plus prime meats, poultry, seafood, flowers, chocolates, books, crafts and groceries to take home. It is possible to shop only here for all your food needs, and never go inside a supermarket. A dedicated food lover may want to consider living here.

It is amazing to realize that the Market almost died several years ago. Down on its luck throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, thanks to suburban growth and the decline of the railroads that supplied its goods, the market nearly went out of business. Now every space is rented out, and the market is not merely a tourist attraction, it is a place where office workers order pizza next to construction crews feasting on roast pork sandwiches, and an Amish farmer deals in dairy alongside a stall known for its specialty of Peking duck. It’s a United Nations of food and diners, except that everyone gets along and no one leaves dissatisfied.

[Photo: Flickr/Uberzombie]

Smoking ban takes effect in Spain today

Spain, spain, smoking, smoking laws, smoking banStarting today in Spain, it is illegal to smoke in any enclosed space where the public gathers. This includes bars, cafes, and restaurants. It will also be illegal to smoke in school playgrounds and near hospitals. Smoking will even be banned from TV shows.

Spain joins a host of countries that have recently toughened up anti-smoking laws, including Finland, Egypt, and Syria. Countries with national health care systems are looking for ways to reduce costs, and getting people to give up an unhealthy habit is one way to do that. In the U.S., health insurance companies have been among the biggest proponents of anti-smoking legislation.

Living in Spain, it’s seems inconceivable to me to spend a night out on a juerga (pub crawl) and not come home smelling like an ashtray. Then again, I had a hard time believing British pubs would enforce the UK smoking ban a few years back, and they did.

Spanish bar and cafe owners aren’t happy, though. With the economic crisis some have already gone under, and others fear that customers will keep away. A Spanish law in 2006 seemed to have solved the problem by allowing smaller places to choose whether to be smoking or nonsmoking, while larger venues had to provide no smoking areas. Most smaller places chose to allow smoking, but a few did well by becoming bastions of clean air. Now everyone has to ban smoking, and those larger places that built special nonsmoking sections ended up wasting their money.

Terrorist threat goes after veggies in hotels

Terrorist threat targets vegetables in hotelsShould you really eat your vegetables? It’s a fair question, according to the latest from CBS News. The latest terrorist threat, it seems, is to poison food in hotels and restaurants at several locations in a coordinated, single-weekend attack. The threat has been called “credible,” according to CBS News’ sources, and the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and the FDA have been talking to hotels and restaurants about it.

The people involved are believed to be involved with the same guys who tried to bomb cargo planes back in October – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Ricin and cyanide are said to have been the poisons of choice.

CBS News continues:

On Monday Dept. of Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said, “We are not going to comment on reports of specific terrorist planning. However, the counterterrorism and homeland security communities have engaged in extensive efforts for many years to guard against all types of terrorist attacks, including unconventional attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. Indeed, Al-Qa’ida has publicly stated its intention to try to carry out unconventional attacks for well over a decade, and AQAP propaganda in the past year has made similar reference.

So, there appear to be two alternatives: (1) eat steak and stay safe and (2) eat vegetables or the terrorists win. Frankly, I think broccoli rocks, and I’m not giving it up.

CBS notes: “The fact remains the government and hospitality industries are on alert.”

[photo by ilovebutter via Flickr]