Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review that TripAdvisor refused to publish

Subject: BEST WESTERN PLUS Oceanside Palms/Camp Pendleton
Location: Oceanside, California, United States, North America
Title: Avoid if there is any chance you will have to cancel
ID#: 476819056
I would give zero stars if I could. We are in the process of moving, and needed a place to stay until our furniture arrived. Chose this one for two nights 
I did not realize they have a 24 hour notice for cancellation. When we made other arrangements and could stay at our home, I called to cancel. They refused, even for the second night, because the cancellation deadline had passed. In fact, the deadline was only a few minutes after the booking was made. 
So if there is any chance you may need to cancel, don't book here.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chapter 8 - the search concludes (we hope)

After doing nothing with respect to finding a place to live over a couple of months – with Christmas and New Year’s in there somewhere along with some medical stuff – we resumed our activity in February.  We really liked San Diego the best of the places we had been, but the prices there are really high.  We decided to give it one more try, and if we couldn’t find anything, cross it off the list. 

We booked the trip through American Airlines Vacations, this time choosing a less fancy hotel than the Rancho Bernardo Inn.  We flew out mid-afternoon on a Saturday, on an ancient Airbus A-321 that obviously was inherited from US Airways, as was the crew.  We stayed at a Marriott Courtyard in Rancho Bernardo, where we had stayed a couple of times before. The rooms have a small refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker. Only one time did they fail to replenish the regular coffee.  Our first night was tough, with noise, but I guess we got used to it.  For dinner we went to Chin’s in Rancho Bernardo.  Chin’s is a local legend, a chain in North San Diego County, with fabulous Szechuan cuisine.  We had to wait 20 minutes for a table, and I really don’t do well with that, but kept my mouth shut for once.  I had my Dad’s favorite spicy honey shrimp, and Jody got vegetarian moo-shi (sometimes called moo-shoo).  We started off the week stuffed, which became, unfortunately, a theme.

We had contacted Nancie, our San Diego realtor, and let her know our plans. She cleared the decks so she could work with us.  On our previous visit, we had stopped by a place called Ocean Hills Country Club, a 55+ development which has a lot of the same amenities that places like Robson Ranch (Denton, TX) and Pelican Preserve (Fort Myers, FL) have – golf, pool, pickle ball, clubs, etc.  Just without the heat and humidity.  On our November visit, we went there but there was nothing available.  Nancie just wanted us to see it so that if something became available we would know something about Ocean Hills.

So, our first stop this trip was at Ocean Hills.  Nancie showed us a 1400 square foot home with a one car garage, but also a space to park another car.  We really don’t want to park a car outside.  Sun ruins cars.  I still remember getting cracks in the dash from not having covered parking at work, at a place where there was covered parking available but the idiot CEO wanted to separate important people from unimportant people.  Nancie had a lot of places with one car garages in our stated price range.  There was one other home for sale in Ocean Hills with a two car garage, but it was higher in price.  We asked to see it.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close.  It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a den, and it was immaculate.  1800 square feet. Very vacant.  And, rare for San Diego – it had been on the market for a while, meaning we could probably snag it for less than the asking price.

We looked at a few more properties, some single family homes in residential areas, but nothing too impressive. We were leaning toward a 55+ setup.  Where we live now, the neighborhood has turned over, most are young families, and we are a little bit out of place.  We don’t want to replicate that. 

Sunday night we had dinner at the French Market Grille, in Rancho Bernardo, just steps away from Chin’s where we had eaten the night before.  But this time we didn’t make a wrong turn and get lost on our way to the restaurant, even with three GPS in the car.  They had a lamb shank special which was incredible.  That was one well-fed lamb. Sadly, the boss, a Frenchman, was off on Sunday, so no French practice.  We were waited on by a Mexican.  Very competent, and the service is very European in that there are not cadres of people running around.  Just the one guy for the whole (small) restaurant. 

The next day Nancie took us over to see some homes in the Oaks North area of Rancho Bernardo. We saw some condo properties in the area near where my parents lived (they bought new) in the 80’s.  None had a two car garage, though, and all were pretty tight on space. We saw a standalone single family home in Oaks North, but on the other side of Paseo del Verano Norte, closer to the golf course.  This home was an estate sale, and the house was gorgeous, with an incredible patio and view out the back.  The problem was that there was not very much house.  I kept walking around, trying to envision where things would go, and couldn’t really find a place for a television or computer.  The lady who lived there had an old CRT television in a cabinet.  It was light, airy, beautiful, and in a great location, but it was a hair south of $600,000 for 1400 square feet.  It had two bedrooms and two baths, but nothing like a study or a den.

Nancie had a few more for us to look at, but we decided to look on Tuesday at the two favorite places plus any others she might have and try to decide.

Monday night a group of friends from the former Escondido Country Club, where my Dad used to be a member until it was shut down, get together for dinner and drinks.  They go to the Marie Callender’s in Escondido.  The food is crappy, the service is awful, but it’s fun to renew friendships.

We had checked out (drive-by) some of the last few properties Nancie had found for us, and looked at some others on the web. There was one near Lake San Marcos that looked interesting.  We went there and it was really beautiful with a fabulous view, but it had eight steps leading from the garage.  We don’t like stairs.  The house looked like a model home, and the agent said the house was not staged at all, the people live like that.  Another home Nancie found was in Escondido, not far from where my parents used to live.  It was not in good condition, but was priced right.  But it had four steps, very steep, to the attached garage.

So we went back to Ocean Hills and to the place in Oaks North.  We decided on Ocean Hills and asked Nancie to start the ball rolling. 

That day was Valentine’s Day.  We had not had lunch, so we went early to one of my Dad’s favorite places, Joe’s Italian Dinners on Grand Avenue in Escondido.  It was the right move.  The food there is all made from scratch, so it takes a while. They don’t take reservations, but we beat the rush. People were waiting 45 minutes for a table.  We ate as fast as we could to try to help out.  (Not really.)

Wednesday we went to meet with some mortgage people.  We had started out thinking we would pay cash for whatever we bought, and that would have worked in Florida, or Texas, or Idaho, but it would not work in San Diego.  The prices are so high that we would have been living on franks and beans (tofu pups for Jody) after buying with no mortgage, especially because our Texas house was not yet for sale.  So we met with some guys from Pure Mortgage, who have an office off I-8 in San Diego.  It was strange sitting in a conference room. I don’t recall specifically, but I think the last time I was in a conference room would have been in 2015 in Houston.  The Dallas office where I worked towards the end was equipped with wireless headsets, and nobody used conference rooms. 

They gathered up our financial information, and then raised the question of a reverse mortgage.  I had not heard of that being used as a tool for a purchase – I thought it was a way for a senior to extract some value out of a home while living in it.  The idea is you put down a substantial down payment, and then you stop.  The interest is added on the loan, and some government insurance guarantees the mortgage.  There is even a provision where you can withdraw money from the asset as a line of credit, with no income tax impact.  Since we have no heirs, it seemed worth looking into.  But the bureaucracy involved in it is formidable.  We decided to give it a shot.

Wednesday night we tried a place we had not been before, Urge Gastropub, which is in the shopping center across from our hotel.  It was surprisingly good.  I ordered a burger called the Fahrenheit.  It was well named – very spicy, leaving my lips tingling.  The waiter said there was some habanero in the topping, although the menu didn’t say that.  Jody had a Beet and Goat Cheese salad.  Looked pretty good.  They have one of these over in Oceanside as well.

On Thursday we really had nothing to do but wait for some phone calls, so we ventured down to La Jolla.  We got very lucky and found parking right away, and walked the length of the cove. It was cool and beautiful, nearly high tide, with some pretty good surf.  We had lunch at a place called Brockton’sVilla, in an old building high on the hillside.  This had been a favorite of my parents years ago, but with the desperate parking situation at La Jolla we hadn’t tried to go there in a long time.  The meal I ordered was just OK, but the view was fabulous.

That evening we met up with Maryann Haller, an old friend from the Escondido days, at a place called Le Bistro de Louisa, a French (and Italian) place in Rancho Bernardo.  It was really nice, with a decent but not extensive selection of offerings.  I had lamb chops, a little overcooked but it was my fault for not following the recommendations.  We got to speak a little French to the lady of the house. We had dessert, so it ended up being a little over $100 with the tip. I would go back.

On Friday Jody wanted to go idea shopping at a furniture store, which turned out to be harder than you would think. Siri said there was a furniture store near us, but it turned out to be an office building in Rancho Bernardo with a tiny outlet for seconds, and wasn’t appropriate.  We did find a Jerome’s eventually and drooled on their stuff. It looks like if you pick something they have in stock they will get it to you quickly.  File that away.  For lunch we stopped at Rubio’s and I had the Coastal Trio, about 800 calories of delicious.  It was wise to postpone that until Friday! 

That afternoon a long-predicted Pacific storm hit San Diego.  It is amazingly green there right now, and you can see why when you see these storms.  The winds were very strong and it rained pretty hard.  People freak out when it rains there, so you have to be careful driving. We decided to go to the shopping center across from the Marriott for dinner, ending up in a place called The Barrel Room.  It was pretty busy, and we sat outside, but under cover and near a heater.  Later arrivals got some rain with their dinner. My TBR burger was a lot less dramatic than the Fahrenheit I had consumed at the place next door. 

We returned home Saturday, on another Airbus 321, but a newer model. The ride was very bumpy on account of the weather surrounding the west coast.  We arrived a bit early at DFW, and American had nobody to operate the jet bridge, and when they showed up, it was clear that they had not worked with this aircraft type before.  They hit the plane pretty hard with the jet bridge, but I hope it didn’t put the plane out of service.


When we came home we were, or at least I was, sort of numb.  We are not going to be living here any more – we’ll move out in a month or two (or three) depending how it all goes.  We have a variety of steps we have to take, including making sure we have enough cash in the proper account to pay the down payment.  We are working hard to fix what we can in this house, and get rid of what we can’t move. It’s going to be a lot of work.  But we don’t have much else to do, and we have help from Smilo and Trillie.  (smh)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chapter 7 - America's Finest City

Our next stop on our research for a place to live in retirement was to beautiful San Diego, which is called, by some, America’s Finest City.  The San Diego area is where my parents chose to live in retirement. The weather there is normally very pleasant, with cool nights and warm days, although there are intermittent periods of very hot weather or cold, but not freezing, weather in the brief winter.  It is described as a Mediterranean climate – but only by people who haven’t been to the Mediterranean.

Our Hundred Best Places to Retire in America book had listed Oceanside as one of the best places.  I was curious as to why that was, because Oceanside had seemed to be just another suburb in North San Diego County, only closer to the ocean.  So we would find out.

We flew out on a Saturday, on a miserable Airbus 321, a long, skinny airplane with not enough power to inspire confidence. Our flight was delayed for a minor mechanical problem.  They said it was a tray table, but I didn’t see seeing anyone in the cabin working on anything.  Who knows?

We arrived in San Diego and collected our luggage after the usual interminable wait.  Then we found out that the rental car system, which used to be very simple and efficient, had been completely redone.  Instead of a Hertz van taking us to the Hertz location, they had one giant bus which served all rental companies, and a new rental car center had been built off the Pacific Highway, a couple of miles away.  The bus we had was driven by a huge, morbidly obese man who did nothing to help anyone.  People loaded their luggage on to the bus until there was no more room for luggage or for people.  There were a lot of people standing in the aisle.  The bus lurched off into the darkness.  It took a good little while to get where it was going.

If you travel to San Diego, allow an extra 30 minutes on each end of your trip to deal with the new rental car center.  It’s awful.

We were not sure where we were upon leaving the center.  A sign pointed to I-5.  We don’t use I-5.  We eventually stumbled around and found the Pacific Highway, which is the way we know to get to Rancho Bernardo, where we were staying. 

We had a nice maroon SUV, a Kia Sorento. It was powerful and comfortable, but it got 30 mpg less than my Prius.  Okay, because we were planning on a lot of driving around.

We drove up to Rancho Bernardo and over to the Rancho Bernardo Inn.  Rancho Bernardo is a master planned community in inland north San Diego, part of the city itself.  My Mom and Dad lived there when they first moved to San Diego, back in the 80’s, and Jody and I always liked it there.  My parents later moved to Escondido, a northern suburb, a pretty good sized city in itself.  Escondido is popular with retirees in part because it has a very warm climate. Coming from Texas, we’re not impressed by very warm climates.

It turns out to be poor planning on my part to arrive at the RB Inn at 5 or 6 PM on a Saturday.  The place was teeming with cars and restaurant patrons, and people attending weddings.  There were at least three weddings, one of them Indian, with beautiful women in beautiful colorful saris.  The RB Inn offers valet parking, but I wanted to avoid the standard $5 tip for the valet since we were planning on being in and out a lot.  We parked near the entrance and checked in, and the lady indicated we could park ‘in the back’ because that would be closest to our room.  We had no idea what ‘in the back’ meant, but found a spot with some empty spaces and no sign telling us not to park there.  We later found an additional guest parking lot further in the back, and did not have a problem parking again.

Our room was probably one of the original rooms at the inn, which was first begun in the 60’s. It was in a one-story building, and the surrounding sidewalks were falling apart. There was a pool nearby. The room had a flat screen TV, a K-Cup coffee maker, and good wi-fi.  What it did not have was a toilet that would dependably flush, at least not on the first attempt, and the bathroom door would not completely shut. It had a wonderfully comfortable king-sized bed, only one comfortable chair and a desk chair.  There were no power outlets anywhere near the desk – you worked off battery power and plugged in when not using your computer. It was pretty quiet, but the grounds crew started work pretty early most days.   The room had a mini-fridge which worked well, but you had to go get ice out of an ice machine.  We were on a deal through American Airlines Vacations, which put together the airfare and the hotel.  The hotel acted like no one had ever done that before. 
Our room

One thing we really liked about the hotel was its fitness center.  The center was a bit of a hike down the hill, but it had a small selection of treadmills and elliptical trainers, and a variety of resistance equipment.  We made good use of it while we were there.  One funny thing was that the elliptical trainer had a completely different resistance level than the ones we use at home.  At Texins Activity Center, I start the elliptical at level 3, then go to 5, to 7, to 9, to 11, and then stairstep back down.  At the RB Inn, level 5 was tougher than level 11 at TI.  I was semi-crippled for days after 36 minutes of that.

On Sunday, a bright, beautiful, sunny, but very hot, day, we looked at Zillow (real estate website) and picked out four properties to inspect, all of which were open houses.  Zillow allows you to request only properties with open houses that day if you choose.  There were a dozen or more that fell in our price range and met the requirement to be on one story.  We chose two in Oceanside, one in Vista, and one in Escondido, so we could work our way back to the hotel.

The first property we saw in Oceanside was in a borderline area and the house was not all that nice.  It had tiny rooms and uneven maintenance.  A quick no.  The second house in Oceanside was in, as the Bruce Springsteen song “Johnny 99” says, “in a part of town where when you hit a red light you don’t stop’”.  We didn’t get out of the car, so Oceanside was oh for two.

The third property we visited, in Vista, was a very nice house with a sunken living room. (I always envision the sunken living room full of water, but that’s another story.)  The house was in a quiet residential area and belonged to a family with kids.  The back yard was barren.  We learned that this is common – due to the terrible ongoing drought in California, a lot of people have given up on their yards and just let them die. It is very sad. The realtor at the open house was more interested in our retirement place search than in showing us the house. It was just okay.  One point of interest was that that house did not have air conditioning.  Vista gets a sea breeze, she said.  Yes, but sometimes it gets pretty hot there, at least during the day.  So another thing to ask about, does the house have air conditioning.

The fourth house we looked at was in Escondido, and I thought it was in one part of town but it was in a different part of town, with older homes built back in the 70’s. This one had been fixed up somewhat and was pretty nice, but the neighborhood seemed to be mostly Spanish speaking and I didn’t think we were a good fit for it.  Interestingly, the house also had no A/C, which should be against the law in Escondido.

After all of that we were starving, but stopped at the supermarket, called, seriously, Major Market, where they were giving away all kinds of food.  It helped. 

We had dinner at the Veranda restaurant at the Inn, outside, with a space heater.  San Diego has warm days and cold nights, and the temperature plummets when the sun goes down.  So they have heaters at outdoor tables in the restaurants, and they are, as far as I can tell, the primary cause of global warming.  Just about set my hair on fire on multiple occasions.

We had previously contacted a realtor based in Oceanside, and filled her in on what we were looking for.  She had been sending us updates on properties available in Oceanside and Vista, and we had filled in with some others on Zillow.  We worked it out to where she would meet us on Monday at one of the properties, and she would  have us follow her to some others.  Since she wanted to meet at 11 AM, we decided to go to our favorite breakfast and lunch place in San Diego, called St Tropez Bistro and Beyond, in the coastal town of Encinitas.  They do a really good job, and the outdoor seating didn’t need heaters.  We first went there back in 1998 after spending a week in France, right near the real St Tropez.  France it isn’t, but the food is consistently good.

We met Nancie at a gated, 55+ community in Oceanside called Villa Trieste.  I was prepared to dislike it based on where it was, but when we got in there it was absolutely beautiful.  The house we saw had two bedrooms and two baths on the main floor, and everything was spotless and beautiful.  It had an incredible view.  There was a huge loft for a second floor, a game room or office or den or extra bedroom.  No bathroom up there. The price was right up at the top of our budget.  The community has a pool and a clubhouse and seemed to be extremely well kept.  But the stairs are a problem.

We also saw a manufactured home in a 55+ community, but it kind of gave me the creeps and the kitchen was smaller than the one we have now.  We saw a resale home in a non-age-restricted area which looked pretty good, but I was turned off by the dead yard. 

We also saw a nice house in Vista, and then she took us to view a condo in Encinitas, well away from the ocean, which was an absolute dump for $432,000. 

So we have an idea what is out there and what we are up against.  When we visited Mendocino County in August, our realtor, Clint, had said that in California the first $100,000 was for the weather.  San Diego has a lot better weather than Mendocino, and I think that figure is too low.

That evening (still Monday) we met up with a bunch of people from the old Escondido Country Club, where my Dad had been a member for many years, and which was the center of his life after my Mom passed away. The club went bankrupt a few years ago, and it really had a major affect on Dad.  It was pretty emotional for me, seeing Dad’s old friends, most of whom I had not seen since his funeral.  We got there early, and it was a little chilly in the restaurant (Marie Callender in Escondido) so I went back to the car to get my sweater and Jody’s jacket.  Out in the parking lot I saw my Dad’s old friend Ray, who looked at me and said “I know you” and I re-introduced myself.  Ray wondered what I was doing there.  I said I was there to have dinner with him.  He said they needed someone to buy dinner, and I offered him good luck with that.  As it turned out, everyone else was already there getting started on ordering drinks. Service at Marie Callender was glacially slow.  But Maryann Haller was there, an old friend of Dad’s who lost her husband recently, and Bobbi Zerda, a special friend of Dad’s, and Fred Bennett and Ginny, and Ray and a woman named Pat, whom I did not know.  Pat asked me if my mother’s name was Margaret.  She had been a friend of my Mom and they had done water aerobics together for a while. No one else at the dinner (except Jody of course) had known my Mom.  People say I look like my Mom, and I guess Pat saw the resemblance. The food was so-so but it was a good time. 

Tuesday we decided to do some more scouting of places to check out, this time in the immediate area around the Rancho Bernardo Inn.  We limited the Zillow search to zip code 92128.  We found a variety of homes with two or three bedrooms, on one story, with a price less than or equal to (gulp) $550,000.  We could not go into any of them but we could drive by and see what the houses looked like and whether we were interested.  We ruled one out because it has a pool (been there, done that) and others because of questionable conditions.  The area is great.  RB is a wonderful place to live.  We contacted Nancie again and told her we had a list of places we’d like to see, if she had time to come over to Rancho Bernardo.  She agreed.

Also on Tuesday we had lunch with my Dad’s good friend, Bobbi.  We went to a place called Swami’s on West Grand in Escondido.  Most of the conversation was about our efforts to find a place to live in retirement, and on Bobbi’s recent trip to Europe, but some of it was about my Dad.  We all miss him, but I think maybe Bobbi misses him a little more than others do.  Later we went over to the ocean and drove down to La Jolla, where we actually found a parking space.  The tide was way out, on account of the super moon, and we got some photos of places that are normally under water.  It was very hot, with hardly any breeze.  Lots of foreign languages were being spoken by the visitors.
Low tide

Late on Tuesday we decided to go to Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, and texted Brooke, who had been my Dad’s neighbor and had done so much to help him, and us. Brooke and her husband Brandon live in Valley Center. We agreed to meet up. But Siri put us on a road alongside some kind of a farm, no houses in sight. We managed finally to get in touch with Brooke, who navigated us, speakerphone to speakerphone, up to their house, which was on an unpaved road off a dirt road. We got to meet Annabelle, their new daughter, and see their beautiful, if somewhat chaotic, house. And a spectacular sunset.

Always wanted to go mountain climbing in the dark
Wednesday was my birthday.  No house hunting.  We had lunch at Rubio’s, which started out as a fish taco place and now is called a ‘Coastal Grill’.  They have a combo that I like, called the Coastal Trio, three tacos, one shrimp with avocado, one blackened tilapia with a zingy sauce, and one the original fish taco, deep fried with cabbage.  It makes a great combination.  I love fish tacos, and the ones I can get here in Texas at Tin Star Taco Bar are really good, but Rubio’s are just a little bit better.

We then drove down to Point Loma, which overlooks the city of San Diego, the Coronado naval base, and Lindbergh Field, the international airport, and the beautiful harbor.  When my mother passed away, she had asked for no wake, no funeral, to be cremated and to have her ashes laid in the Pacific.  She got part of what she asked for – no wake, cremated, laid in the ocean.  She did get a funeral in California and a memorial service in New York.  My father indicated at one point that he wanted the same thing she wanted.  We had a beautiful funeral in Escondido, and his ashes were laid in the ocean as close as possible to where my Mom’s were deposited.  So Point Loma is the closest we can be to ‘visit’, without renting a boat.  I didn’t try to pinpoint the location.  The ocean is the best gravesite.  We spent an hour or two wandering around and taking photos.  It was beautiful.  The hot weather was gone, never to return.  We had to start worrying about having sweaters.

Somewhere, out there, my parents' ashes were laid to rest

That evening we had dinner at French Market Grille in Rancho Bernardo.  We had eaten there once before, way back in 1998 after we had visited France with my parents.  The restaurant seemed like it should be in Europe.  There was one guy doing everything – he took your order, brought the wine, failed to notice it was a screw top until I said something, brought the meal, cleaned everything up.  He did this for every table in the restaurant, which is something you see all the time in Europe but never in the USA.  He was a Frenchman, and clearly the boss.  The food there was excellent – I had a rack of lamb that was rarer than I would cook for myself but was wonderful.  The prices were half what a French restaurant in Dallas would have been.
Rack of Lamb, French Garden Grille in RB

Thursday we visited another of Dad’s old friends, a lady named Deanna, who lives in Orange County, in San Clemente.  Deanna has had a number of health problems, but she seems to be doing okay now.  We visited for a while, and ate lunch at an IHOP nearby, which had incredibly slow service but gave us more time to talk.  San Clemente was at one time the site of the Western White House when Richard Nixon was in office. I was curious if the place still existed.  Deanna didn’t know but said it certainly wasn’t a tourist attraction.  I did some research later, and it turns out that Nixon sold the place to a rich backer, who got richer by developing the area around it.  The former Nixon residence is in private hands and is not a museum.  

Deanna wanted to hear about what happened to my Dad, so we told the story again.  It is so hard to talk about.  I explained that the personality changes he had, on account of the dementia, made it really difficult to deal with him.  She hadn’t really seen any of that.  I also explained about the sudden intestinal bleeding that he suffered from, and she had witnessed some of that on one occasion.  So it was, once again, very emotional.  But we enjoyed the visit.  She said it gave her some closure, and I think it gave me some, too.

On Friday, our last full day in San Diego, we met again with Nancie and saw some properties.  All of them were in Rancho Bernardo.  We had given her a list of four or so that we definitely wanted to see, and another five that were to be backups.  As a result of the very active market, there were only four of the nine still available, two days later.  The first house was semi-perfect.  Everything was immaculate, the rooms were good size, the colors were perfect.  It was on a moderately busy street,  kind of a secondary artery, but the limiting factor was two bedrooms and no separate seating area or den, just a living room on the open floor plan.  Where does the office go?  I guess it goes in the second bedroom.  The price was way up there, so we couldn’t pull the trigger.  The house was on my old jogging route, when my parents lived in Rancho Bernardo.

The other homes we saw were very nice as well.  One was close to a main road (Pomerado Road) but wasn’t too noisy, but it was sort of stuck in the 1970’s.  The others were nicer.  At this point, we were just looking and unable to make any kind of an offer.  We were going home the next day. 

That afternoon we had lunch at St Tropez and enjoyed a trip along the shore.  That evening we had dinner with friends at Vintana, the strangest restaurant this side of the Baltic states.  It sits on top of Lexus of Escondido.  They have live music on Friday, but it was so loud it was hopeless.  The food was pretty good but the flatbreads are really for two people, so Jody couldn’t finish hers.

The next day we packed up and went to check out. We had charged some meals to the room, so I expected some additional charges at checkout.  But they also charged us $25/day for parking.  I said I had not heard about that.  The lady said I should have been reminded at check-in.  That hadn’t happened.  I said, it is what it is, we’ll pay it and I’ll write a letter to somebody to get it refunded.  She took it off the bill.  I don’t know if I missed some fine print or what.  I did not save a copy of the voucher and you can’t print it any more. 

We got up way too early on Saturday, but it gave us a chance to go to St Tropez AGAIN and have breakfast.  We really like that place.  The rental car center was, once again, a pain.  They are supposed to have a bus every three minutes, but it was more like twenty.  We were early.  The security line at San Diego is always horrible, but with Pre-Check we avoided it.

Our flight home, on a Boeing 737, was a lot quieter and a lot more pleasant than our flight out.  The old saying, “if it isn’t Boeing, I’m not going” is pretty good advice.

We still have not decided where to settle, but I sure would like to see if we can make San Diego work.  The climate is unmatched.  We will have to study the details.



Friday, September 16, 2016

Chapter 6 - Coeur d'Alene - almost perfect

We had never been to Idaho or that part of the world. Coeur d’Alene is listed in the 100 Best Places to Retire book, and I recalled my mother talking about how beautiful it was, although I can’t recall if or when she might have gone there.  In researching the location, it seemed as though housing values were better than any of the other places we had considered, and while the climate is a bit iffy, we thought we’d give it a try.

To get to Coeur d’Alene from Dallas/Ft Worth takes a bit of doing. Coeur d’Alene has an airport, but it has no scheduled service and is for general aviation only.  The capital of Idaho, Boise, has non-stop service from DFW, but it’s four hundred sixty miles away from Coeur d’Alene.  The airport of choice is Spokane, Washington, about a forty-five minute drive from Coeur d’Alene.  So we booked flights to Spokane, through Phoenix.  This is an old US Airways or more likely America West route, not a traditional American Airlines route, and the service is reminiscent of US Airways, meaning very minimal. Our connection in Phoenix was pretty close, but I decided to risk it because the chance of bad weather in Phoenix was small. Actually, they had bad weather the day before our trip.  We had to walk a considerable distance to our Spokane gate, getting there five minutes before they started boarding.  Phoenix is very busy.
Pacific Southwest Airlines livery on an American jet - PSA was one of the companies that made up USAirways, which American merged with recently.


Spokane’s airport is pretty small, but they have five major carriers - Delta, United, Southwest, American, Alaska.   We had to walk what seemed like forever to get to the rental car location, and they do not really have Hertz #1 Club Gold service, although there was no wait at the counter. Our car was some kind of a Hyundai, but it ran well and sipped fuel.  The drive over I-90 to Coeur d’Alene was uneventful, except I noticed that no one was speeding.  Everyone drove exactly the speed limit.  When we go somewhere we’ve never been, I try to stick to the speed limit until/unless the local drivers show me I don’t have to.  This time they were showing me I had to.  Before we crossed into Idaho, we saw two motorists who had been pulled over by unmarked patrol cars, making me think not speeding was a really good idea.

We stayed at a La Quinta in Coeur d’Alene, where hotels seem to be pretty pricy. I was not expecting a lot, but was pleasantly surprised. The room was quite comfortable, and the included breakfast was pretty good, although you had to have some patience with the toaster. The hotel was ‘pet friendly’, and we saw some really big dogs. There were also families with small children, who were running up and down the halls above us, but they settled down before bedtime. Our room had a view of a defunct water part.  The weather while in Coeur d’Alene ranged from upper 30’s to 80 or so, mostly from 40’s to 60’s. We could not have asked for better weather.

Our first evening we ate at an Italian restaurant nearby, Tomato Street, which was a huge operation with lots of customers.  It was the Idaho equivalent of Olive Garden.The food was really good, but the portion sizes seemed to be designed so that you would take home leftovers.  It was just of highway US 95, which, we learned, is the road you try to avoid when driving in Coeur d’Alene.  The lights are long and the traffic can be formidable.

We had contacted a realtor, Kevin Bennett, via a web search. I sent him information about what we were doing and what kind of house we thought we might like.  He was really nice and set us up with the MLS service that most realtors use these days, so we could pick through and find what homes we would like to view.  We (meaning Jody) picked out ten or so and sent them to Kevin.  But before we got there, a bunch of them went to sale pending status.  I had rejected a few listings for no reason other than they were more expensive, so we reinstated those.

Our first full day, we identified on Zillow a few homes to look at, just from the car, as a way of learning our way around. Coeur d’Alene is a small community and it takes no time to get anywhere, We found a couple of properties that didn’t look too promising, and wondered by accident across one of the ones we were going to see with Kevin. The owners were there, taking out huge quantities of trash and recycles.  They offered to let us have a look.  The house was pretty nice but a bit tired. The owners had moved to assisted living and were looking forward to not owning a house, and were happy to show it to us.

We also wandered down to the lake, in the morning. The lady at the La Quinta had told use about the free parking available downtown, and we parked there.  The lakefront is absolutely gorgeous, no doubt about it. Hardly anyone was there, just a jogger or two and some dog walkers.  It was a bit nippy, probably in the low 50’s with a bit of a breeze.  We also wandered around the downtown area, looking at all the quaint little stores that weren’t open yet.  We went to the Visitor Center downtown and in addition to clean toilets they had tons of information about the area and nearby areas, and some blurbs from various restaurants.  I picked up a couple that looked vegetarian-friendly. 

Lake Coeur d'Alene


We ate lunch at one of those restaurants, Pita Pit, part of a local chain, which was a bit tricky to find.   It was in a strip shopping center near a mall.  They make pita sandwiches to order.  You have to be more involved in the process than I was expecting.  It had a wide variety of veggie options.  In nearly every eating place we visited in Coeur d’Alene and in all the places around it we visited, there were decent vegetarian options.  Jody was pleased.

Our first impressions of Coeur d’Alene were that it was absolutely beautiful.  There is not a speck of trash to be found anywhere; there is no graffiti; the people are friendly and impeccably polite. We had heard that there were more gun shops than gas stations in Coeur d’Alene, and while we did see gun shops, there were a lot more gas stations.  The area is booming and the housing market is very active.

Fish tacos at Seasons
We found our way back to downtown for dinner, at a place called Seasons of Coeur d’Alene, supposedly featuring whatever was seasonal. It has a very busy bar and a not so busy restaurant. 








Grilled cheese




We ate at the restaurant and were pleased. People in Coeur d’Alene are just so nice.



The next day (Saturday) we met with Kevin Bennett from the Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty.  Kevin took us to see eight different homes, plus the one we had stumbled on the day before. We liked them all, although a couple of them were too much for us to handle due to the size of the lot or a storage unit the size of an airplane hangar.  We saw homes with natural gas stoves, heated by natural gas, but with air conditioning. Lots of open floor plans and all the new stuff we are looking for. One or two of them had sickening paint jobs, but it’s just paint. Kevin explained about the different areas, about how Coeur d’Alene is booming, how the different localities cooperate on educational and development projects.  Lots of volunteer opportunities all around, and non-existent crime rate.   One home in particular, in the Hayden Lake area, north and a little east of Coeur d’Alene, appealed to us, although it was a bit distant from town.

After our tour, we had lunch in an excellent place near Kevin’s office, called Rivelle’s River Grill. I had some pulled pork sliders, unlike anything I’ve ever had.  Sloppy but good.

During the morning I had noticed that a pain I had behind my left ear was getting worse. I had this problem on and off for years and it had not been diagnosed.  I decided to go to an Urgent Care place, which was near our hotel and part of Kootenai Health, the big medical center in Kootenai County in Idaho.  They took me right away, accepted my insurance, and after a few minutes I was being examined by a doctor.  I thought I might have an ear infection, but he determined that I had an inflamed and probably infected salivary gland, back under my jaw, which could easily be taken for an ear infection.  He called in a prescription to the pharmacy across the street. I went over there and they addressed me by name before I could say anything, and I had my medication in a few minutes.  The whole medical event lasted 90 minutes from walking in the door to Urgent Care to walking out the door at Rite Aid.  I have to say, I was impressed.  And everyone was very nice.  At this point Jody was ready to move and I was not far behind.

The next day (Sunday) we had nothing planned, so on a whim we decided to add another state to our list of states visited.  Coeur d’Alene is not far from Montana, and it is 177 from Missoula, about which I knew nothing except it was mentioned in “I Miss You So Badly”, a song by Jimmy Buffett.  Off we went.  It was an amazingly scenic drive, through the woods and over the mountains.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Minimal traffic on a Sunday, but some very significant construction zones.  I am guessing that in the mountains they have to get road work done during summer.  Once we reached Montana, we found another thing we had not seen before – 80 mile an hour speed limits.  


65 for trucks was a joke.




I-90 is a road which is very winding, through valleys cut out by the Clark Fork River (after the Clark of Lewis & Clark), and the road is in bad shape at some points.  So you are driving around sharp curves, on a rutted highway, and you are going 80.  Well, not for long.  I slowed down until that road straightened out, and it wasn’t like I was holding anyone up.



Missoula is hardly a tourist attraction.  We found a place to eat lunch, walked around the riverfront a little, and left. Jody drove back, so she could experience life at 80 mph.  Our little Hyundai was not really built for it, though.

That evening we went back to Seasons for dinner, and had a completely different experience. They were short staff and we could not get anyone to seat us in the restaurant. Jody talked to someone in the bar, and they recommended we eat in the bar (same menu available) because we would be forgotten about in the restaurant. I guess this illustrates a problem about Coeur d’Alene. It is booming to the extent that there aren’t enough young people around to take the entry level jobs.  At any rate, we ate in the bar, and I stuck to a burger, figuring that was a safe choice in the bar, which it was.

The next day (Monday) we checked out of our hotel, and decided to try to look at the one house we had really liked in Hayden Lake, and to try to find Costco, and to look at some of the new housing developments that have sprung up in Hayden and in Post Falls (just west of Coeur d’Alene).  We managed all of those.  The new housing places are very nice and we liked one of the floor plans, but most of them are much larger than we would like.  Prices are cheap, about 2/3 of what they are in the DFW area.  We found Costco, and even there gas prices are 50 cents/gallon higher than Texas. Costco had some different stuff – lots of heavy flannel shirts, and gun safes.  We don’t see those here.

We had lunch in a Mediterranean restaurant in Post Falls, called White House Grill. But, unlike Dallas, in Idaho Mediterranean means Greece, not Turkey or Lebanon.  The gyro was excellent.  They have belly dancing on Thursday.  We were leaving Tuesday..

We drove to our next hotel, a Courtyard in Spokane.  We had a very early flight on Tuesday morning and didn’t want to miss it, so we got a little closer.  Spokane has a really nice park along the river, where they had some sort of an Expo in 1973 or so.  

Along the river in Spokane


It was popular with strollers, joggers, skateboarders, and, sadly, bicycle riders,  So you have to be careful.  That night we used the river walk to get part of the way to a restaurant, called Saranac Public House, on Main St.  It was busy, but service was excellent and the food was quite good. And I finally hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit for the first time in a week.  

We went to bed on the early side, and set the alarm for 5 AM, but consoled ourselves by considering it was 7 at home. We drove to the airport and took a while to find a gas station to top off the rental, and there was a back way into the airport which made returning easy. The Spokane airport has the best marked rental car return in the world.  We were really early.  We walked a considerable distance to the second terminal where American and Alaska are the only two airlines, and while there were kiosks, there were two absolutely bored looking agents at the American desk, so we went over there to give them something to do.  The agent who waited on us congratulated us on going through Phoenix instead of Seattle, which I guess is what some people do.  I just knew a connection in Phoenix would be more dependable than a connection in Seattle, due to the weather in the two locations.  Spokane does not really have TSA Pre-Check – they fake it with the standard lines.  But they did not care about my TSA compliant corkscrew.

Our flight home was uneventful, but we may need to reconsider these mid-week departures and arrivals, because we drove home from DFW Airport at the height of the evening rush hour.

The conclusion is that we liked Coeur d’Alene better than any other place we have been.  So far, we have visited:

·      Port Townsend, Washington
·      Sequim, Washington
·      Sun City, Georgetown, Texas
·      Robson Ranch, Denton, Texas
·      Port Saint Lucie, Florida
·      Fort Myers, Florida
·      Mount Dora, Florida
·      Ukiah, California
·      Fort Bragg, California
·      Mendocino, California
·      Coeur d’Alene, Idaho


The place we like best is Coeur d’Alene, but we did not go at the worst possible time, which is mid-winter.  So that is a consideration.  Other considerations about Coeur d’Alene are that it does not have an airport, and Spokane, 45 minutes away, has a nice airport, which claims to be international., but by ‘international’ they probably mean Canada.  Another is that it is far away from any of our families.  And finally, if you Google ‘Indian restaurant Coeur d’Alene’, it comes back with some in Spokane Valley (Washington) and some for that other kind of Indian.

We're not done looking, but we have a new leader in the clubhouse.