Sunday Morning 12/1/2019: Back in Portland

Our Thanksgiving travel day turned out to be not so bad, although it was still a very l-o-n-g day and very, very tiring. However, we are back in Portland, rested (somewhat), and ready to turn our efforts toward getting ready for Christmas and the girls’ arrivals.

One last sunrise over the countryside as we left the Cotswolds.

Our travel day did not start well though. When we got on to the platform at Moreton-in-Marsh there was an announcement that our train had been canceled! This was not good, but we got on the next train (which was late) with our heavy bags, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We changed at Oxford and got on another train which ended up arriving 10 minutes late into Reading. We had to literally run through the station there to catch the train to Gatwick, climbing on board less than 30 seconds before the doors closed. If we had missed that train our travel day would have turned out very differently than it did.

We arrived at Gatwick with less than two hours to check our bags, go through security and get to the gate, and there was a very, very long line at check-in (there were other flights besides ours going out). While we were waiting though we saw a sign announcing that upgrades for our flight were available. Brett and I made a quick command decision and a few minutes and a few hundred dollars later we had premium seats (Norwegian Air premium class is a sort of a blend between first class and premium economy). The upgrade meant we didn’t have to pay extra for our overweight luggage and also allowed us to go quickly through the premium security check line. We had just enough time to grab some coffee and food at Pret A Manger before heading to our gate. We had been warned we might not get any meals on board because of our last-minute upgrade (and apparently Norwegian won’t bring meals from economy up to premier) so we bought enough at Pret for two meals, just in case. The plane was boarding when we got down to the gate and the next thing we knew we were buckled in our seats and on our way.

Our comfortable seats were in the last row of the premium cabin, which meant we could fully recline without bothering anyone behind us. I used the blanket for additional lumbar support.

Upgrading to Premium was the right decision and worth every penny, especially since if we hadn’t done it we would have most likely missed our flight and spent a LOT more for tickets on another flight. We had bigger seats with footrests, increased recline, and lots of legroom and along with a very smooth flight our 11-hour trip to San Francisco was very comfortable. We both slept for a long stretch in the middle of the flight which made the time onboard speed by, and while we didn’t arrive in San Francisco feeling refreshed and perky, we weren’t dragging either. They did have a meal for us – a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving (!!) – and we ate a couple of our Pret A Manger sandwiches for a later snack. The layover in San Francisco didn’t drag as much as we thought it would (we ate a third Pret sandwich there so didn’t buy anything in SF other than some coffee) and before we knew it we were on our way to Portland. Things got weird again though once we got to the car rental agency because there was no car for us in spite of having a reservation (there were no cars at all)! We were initially offered a pick-up truck instead – NO THANK YOU – but we stood our ground and ended up with a seven-passenger minivan at no extra cost. All’s well that ends well.

It’s December 1 and time to announce the winner of the Afternoon Tea giveaway as promised! Chosen out of 87 entries using a random name selector, the winner is:

HELEN! Come on down!

Congratulations! I will email you in the next day or so to get your mailing address and plan to have your package on its way by the middle of the week. I again want to thank everyone for all the fantastic travel tips you sent – I will be pulling them all together for a post later this month! I was very happy to learn a few new things I can use going forward!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Because of the packing we had to do, and a general case of pre-travel nerves toward the end of our stay in England, I found I couldn’t concentrate on all the names and places in The Guns of August, so I downloaded Stephen King’s The Shining because I knew it would keep my attention. I finished it last night because once again I was scared enough that I couldn’t put it down (I read it when it first came out and stayed up all night to finish because I was so scared). I’ll get back to The Guns of August later today, after we’re settled in our long-term rental.
  • Listening to: Brett’s getting his breakfast ready in the kitchen, and the heater is blowing overhead but otherwise, it’s very, very quiet here. The heater has been on constantly since we checked in on Thursday night because it is COLD outside, below freezing last night. This rental has been very quiet and comfortable overall as we have worked through the jet lag and a crazy sleeping schedule, but we’re looking forward to getting into our long-term rental later today.
  • Watching: We haven’t been watching anything the past few days because there’s no TV here! I didn’t watch anything on the plane either, a first for me; the flight was smooth enough that I could read instead. We’ll get reacquainted with American television once we get to our new place.
    We did a quick shop at the nearby Trader Joe’s to get us through the first couple of days in Portland. I love their food but so expensive compared to the UK! The chili relleno was good enough that we’re going to get more to have this coming week.
  • Cooking: For now all I’m planning to fix this week is Thai red curry chicken with sweet-sour coleslaw; chili rellenos with avocado; tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches; and breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, and fruit). We picked up a few things from Trader Joe’s on Friday and are going back again this morning to do a bigger shop before we move over to the rental, but it’s a little hard to know what to get because I don’t know yet what cookware or utensils there will be in the kitchen there (Are there baking pans? Casserole dishes?). Brett and I will be sticking with low/no-carb eating once again during our Portland stay (it’s back to cauliflower rice for me!). Shopping trips to Costco and Winco will be next week to get ready for the girls and their appetites, and then we’ll hit the Asian markets with them when they’re all here.
  • Happy I accomplished: A successful travel day is always an accomplishment, but with trains being canceled or late, making it in time to catch our flight felt like a miracle because of so many things going wrong when we started out.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We came out ahead getting the minivan for our car rental – we now have more than enough room to carry everyone around and Meiling’s boyfriend as well when he’s with us for a couple of days. I can be very assertive when I need to be – Brett says I scared him a bit at the rental agency because I wouldn’t back down LOL.
    We shared two Pret A Manger sandwiches for a snack on the plane – tuna salad with cucumbers and smoked salmon with cream cheese. We ate our other sandwich during our layover in San Francisco (a yummy roast hoisin duck wrap) which saved us from having to buy food there.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had a fairly low-cost travel day as those things go, spending only $71 for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffees (which is pretty low for airport spending, all things considered – everything in an airport is expensive, no matter where you are in the world). We still had two pieces of cake leftover when we arrived in Portland which Brett ate for breakfast on Friday morning before we could get to the store (I ate the free Kind bar we got on the Alaska flight up to Portland). Paying for upgraded seats cost extra but still less than we expected, and the upgrade covered our overweight luggage. We also ended the month under our daily spending average!
  • Grateful for: Brett and I were especially thankful to make our flight because if not we would have had to book with another airline at the last minute which would have been beyond expensive in so many ways. We are grateful we had the funds to cover the upgraded seats, although our travel fund is now practically at zero. All of our upcoming flights are covered until the end of next May though, which gives us a few months to build up the fund again.
  • Bonus shoutout: I want to give Norwegian Air a huge shoutout for their service. First, flying Norwegian almost always costs half or less than half of what legacy airlines charge for the same route. This was the second time we’ve flown with them back from London Gatwick and once again we had a very good travel experience for a very reasonable price. The service is superb and the cabin crew top-notch (they hire from throughout Europe). If you’re taking a long-haul flight to Europe and back I can’t recommend Norwegian enough for both price and service. They are a low-cost carrier (LCC), so have tough weight limits for baggage, but if you’re traveling with only a carry-on the low fare ticket prices are amazingly low (they charge for everything extra though). The Low-Fare Flex option in coach is the way to go if there’s a bag to check, and with this fare, upgrades are sometimes possible for exit row seating (more legroom), and meals are included in the price of the ticket. However, based on last week’s experience, paying a bit more for Premium seats for longer (7+ hour) flights is well worth it. Norwegian Air only operates out of a few airports in the U.S. on a somewhat limited schedule, but most of these flights use the 787 Dreamliner. The 787 is quieter, the air is humidified, the lighting more subtle, there are bigger windows with dimmers instead of a shade, more bathrooms, and more overhead luggage space too, all of which make for a much more comfortable flight.
Some much needed blue skies and sunshine greeted us in Portland!

The past couple of days in Portland have been cold but clear and sunny, a much-needed respite from the gloom we experienced our last three weeks in England. Those weeks were a very hard time for me, and I could feel myself slipping deeper and deeper into seasonal depression, not wanting to get dressed or do much of anything. I actually had a few days in a row where I stayed in my pajamas on the sofa and wasn’t able to muster the enthusiasm to do much of anything, not a good sign. Thank goodness we had the packing and such to do, but I’m not sure how things might have turned out otherwise as much as I loved our little village and being in England. Weather is going to be a key factor whenever and wherever we end up settling down. I can take the gloom for short periods of time, but extended periods of gray skies and incessant rain have a very negative effect on my well-being these days.

It’s a cliche to say so, but I honestly can’t believe 2019 is almost finished. It’s been another great year for us, and we have much to look forward to next year as well. In the meantime, we still have plenty to do before the year ends and our girls will be here before we know it. So, here’s to a great week and a great month coming up!

29 thoughts on “Sunday Morning 12/1/2019: Back in Portland

  1. My last four rentals- there have been “no cars”. We waited almost five hours in Salt Lake for anything. I ended up with a mini van in Hawaii! Phoenix wanted me to take a gas guzzler once and a standard size the next time. I just don’t understand. I think they hate Costco rental and give left overs?
    I am glad for the Norwegian Air recommend. I am looking at a trip in May and thought about going to New York to catch a flight.
    Enjoy your time in Oregon!

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    1. This was our first-ever bad car rental experience, and I think much of it had to do with our flight arriving so late at night – they were ready to close down, and had probably rented the car we reserved to a drop-in. Still, it ended up OK, and we’re happy with the minivan, especially when we have to haul the girls around (we did rent through Costco, BTW).

      I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Norwegian again for a long-haul flight over to Europe. But, I will stick to flying on 787s – I heard flights on other aircraft weren’t as nice. The premier seating really is worth it too (although you’ll still get your meal in a cardboard box LOL). On some flights, you can upgrade after purchase, but on others you have to “bid” for a seat. Still, you can end up paying less than full cost. We also learned that by doing the upgrade at the airport we saved quite a bit versus doing it through other routes. There were two premier seats left after we boarded and they upgraded two people from the economy section but they paid more than we had.

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    2. I had a bizarre experience at the Salt Lake City airport car rental place back in 2013. They would not take a debit card, even if you ran it as a credit. Since everyone in my party was a follower of Dave Ramsey, NONE of us had credit cards! Lesson learned: I now have a credit card. However, the train now runs to Salt Lake downtown, is only $1.50 and the city has an excellent bus system.

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      1. That’s something that’s good to know! Our credit card covers our collision insurance when we use it for the rental so we don’t have to pay extra for that (we also carry non-owner car insurance that covers rentals). Public transportation is the way to go though if it’s available.

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  2. Wow, that was quite an adventure! Glad you made it through all. As a rigorous planner, unpredictability is one thing that I am always concerned when traveling.Thank you for the Norwegian tips, I will most likely look into booking with them.Hopefully you’ll be over the jet lag soon.

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    1. We have had very good luck up to now with things coming and going on schedule. There was nothing we could do Thursday morning but try our best to make our flight on time, and have a Plan B just in case we didn’t. Thankfully it all worked out!

      I don’t think I would fly any airline but Norwegian now for a flight over to Europe. They really do a good job – we’ve been on other low cost carriers and the Norwegian experience is so much better.

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  3. I just finished reading aloud your post to my DH while he was driving. First your travel issues from cancelled to late trains mirrors a lot of our recent experiences. I feel your pain and am so thrilled it all worked out in spite of the nail biting delays.

    We generally try to travel a day ahead to the closest point we need to be for those very issues. We have learned even the best time cushions we build in are no match for train cancellations or strikes. Even so there is no way to control all variables though we may try.
    And your split second decision for an upgrade was wise.

    Your comprehensive review of your Norwegian experience is excellent! Thank you!!

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    1. We had thought about stay out the night before at Gatwick but hotel were expensive and none of them were all that near to the terminals and/or offered free transportation over to the terminal – we would have had to hire an (expensive) taxi to take us there. So we decided to stay in Moreton-in-Marsh, but booked a train for nearly 6 hours before our flight. One cancellation though and we nearly didn’t make it! The upgrade was worth every penny and saved us some time. It was also very comfortable – I’ve never been able to sleep so long on a plane in my life!

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  4. Seriously?? Am I the “Helen” who won?? Hoping there is only one Helen…..I am beside myself! What a joy it has been to follow you on your travels.

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    1. Yes, you’re that Helen. I’ll email you tomorrow to get your address and hope to have the package in the mail no later than Wednesday (I have to find a box for it though). Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks, Sandi! I hope this is the Portland visit where we can finally connect. I hope both you and Scott are doing OK and looking forward to the holidays.

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  5. I had a similar rent a car experience in Boston I think it was Christmas 1990 0145 hours. I had arrived late from LAX to Logan and I was one of four customers at Avis picking up a car to find that they had none left despite confirmation numbers. I traveled a lot a that time renting 4-8 cars per month on a corporate account. I noticed a van in the lot and was told it was down due to an inoperable sliding door. I didn’t care and convinced the attendant to let me take it. The drive to Maine is two hours and upon arrival at 0400 my mother was still up doing Christmas preparations. When I left, my father opened the sliding door, it fell off. We got it back on and tied it off with rope and I turned it back in with the rope no charge.

    Sadly my folks are no longer with us and the family home is home to a young family making their own memories.

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    1. I honesty don’t think they believe that someone could actually come in late and want the car they reserved – I’m pretty sure all the cars at our lot (and probably the same with yours) were given out to walk-ins.

      really had to stand my ground at the agency – the guy really wanted me to take a pickup truck (and then bring it back the next day and exchange for a car). I told him there was NO WAY I was coming back to the airport the next day – I had a reservation for a CAR, not a truck, and they had to provide something comparable. He finally went to get the manager who came out and told the guy, “give these people the minivan, NOW!”

      I love what you said about a new family now making memories in your old – that’s what we should all hope for as life moves on.

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  6. Oh dear! I hate the stress of worrying about delayed transport to flights. I am stressed out enough just worrying about it. And then if something happens. Don’t they let you push ahead in the queue if your flight is near closing for checkin?

    I do like premium economy seats. We hit the double win for one leg of are flights to and from Germany. Bought premium economy and got emergency exit extra leg room for no cost. Not doing it to the US as Mr S will only go Qantas (yes, kind of Rainman, normally I have to buy tickets by giving him no choice or options). Qantas premium economy is too expensive and their flights are always booked out. We did get extra leg room to San Fran but are not together.

    My mother says she used to get SAD in Germany in winter. I’ve never experienced weeks of grey weather. Wonder if I’d like it because It would be novel for me.

    I am still not used to your lumberjack hipster!

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    1. Premium economy is my favorite upgrade (versus first or business class) and after that I like exit row seats. But, you have to watch for the right price – upgrades can expensive now (except for Norwegian) and many airlines won’t let you upgrade online any more. The trick I’ve found is to book at the airport the day of the flight – ask at check-in if there are any upgrades available. I once got first class for just $150 more than my economy seat (the online price had been something like $700 more or something ridiculous like that). I found some good deals for next year’s flights and will be flying first class or premium economy on all legs of our trips (which are all long-haul flights) for not much more than regular economy.

      SAD was the primary reason we moved to Hawai’i. I loved Portland but just could not deal with month after month after month of rain and gloom it got worse every year. So, wherever we settle there is going to have to be a lot of sunshine!

      Mr. Lumberjack Hipster is getting his hair cut and his beard trimmed this week (thank goodness) and will revert back to looking like Mr. Wise Cat.

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  7. Welcome Back!

    The trip from MiM sounds incredibly stressful. So happy that you made the flight, paid the upgrade, and got a van! I have a good friend who always tells me, “it’s being done FOR me and not TO me.” Sometimes very hard to have perspective in the heat of the moment.

    Snowing here in New England but the past few days have been outstanding. Everyone does droop a little when there are several gray days in a row.

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    1. Until we got on that train to Gatwick I was a wreck – I did not think we were going to make it on time. And, it didn’t help much when I saw the Norwegian check-in line either. We are both very happy though with how things turned out because we know it could have been lots worse.

      I can handle a few gray days and love being indoors on a rainy day, but just seem to spiral down when it’s day after day after day of it (more than a week). We went through a long stretch of rain one year in Hawaii and even there I could feel myself sinking into that familiar depression although it wasn’t cold.

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  8. Welcome back to the US, and just to make you feel a bit better – we’re cold here in S. California as well. Temps have been in the high 40’s at night this past week, brrr! The sunsets and sunrises have been spectacular though. I’ve been decorating, cooking and cleaning all day, with Christmas music playing in the background, in anticipation of company arriving tonight. It’s cozy, and the house smells good!

    Really pleased to read your positive review of Norwegian. We’ve purchased tickets from them for our summer trip to Spain, and I opted for the Low Fare Flex option for just the reasons you mention. We should be at the airport good and early per our usual routine, so I’ll definitely check on the upgrade option you and Brett purchased.

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    1. It’s very cold here in Portland! No pretty sunsets or sunrises either (the one you posted to IG was gorgeous!). Our Airbnb is lovely though, and in a great location in the city so that is going to make it easier to deal with the gloomy weather here. We were so grateful too for the first two days of glorious sunshine we got when we arrived because we’re back to rain and clouds again.

      You can check online with Norwegian and see if you can upgrade prior to your flight – I think the Flex option may allow that, while regular Low Fare and Low Fare+ won’t let you upgrade until you’re at the airport. On our first flight with Norwegian we could bid for an upgraded seat (we did but didn’t get one).

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  9. Wow! That’s a made scramble on travel day. I was stressed just reading it. And the rental car! Laughing at Brett saying you scared him but you did get what you needed and then some. Kudos!

    It’s been gray here, but the snow really brightens things up. I think the gray/rain combo would really get to me after a while.

    Did you ever watch the Up Series by Michael Apted? My DD and I just rewatched the entire thing this weekend in anticipation of seeing 63 UP which just came out. It’s not playing here yet, but I am eagerly anticipating the latest installment, which it appears may be the last. 😢
    Interesting article in the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/27/magazine/63-up-michael-apted.html

    I wish Norwegian Air flew out of an airport near me. That whole setup sounds great.

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    1. Looking back, I almost can’t believe what a crazy day that was. We just kept moving forward though but we definitely had a Plan B in place. Basically there was nothing we could do about anything until we made the decision to upgrade, and that turned out to be the right decision at the right time, thank goodness.

      I will cut people some slack up to a certain point but then it’s like a switch gets flipped up. I stay very polite but my tone changes. It happened once with a traffic cop in Japan – the paperwork for our rental car confused him – but apparently even he could hear the change in my tone and he waved us on. Brett thought we were going to go to jail though LOL.

      Thanks for the recommendation – I haven’t seen any of the Up series although I’ve heard lots about it. I’m looking for something good to watch so will check it out.

      Your snow pictures have been beautiful. I can deal with cold as long as the sun shines every few days. Three weeks of gloom though is too much though.

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    1. We miss Blockley but are glad to be back. Our apartment is also an “upgrade” and well worth it – so comfortable! That travel day was one for the books though – we’re glad it’s behind us.

      I am so excited about having the girls here. Two more weeks to go though . . . .

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