Fun day for each of us, separately, that is…Do we go camping?…

While touring Madeira, we encountered this waterfall that landed on the car. How unusual.

Last night, we had a great time. We went out for happy hour and dinner at Pizza Luce, close to our hotel. We were surprised by how few patrons were there when we entered but figured it was due to the upcoming 4th of July holiday and people being busy preparing for the long holiday weekend or having already left town for the festivities.

We had a great dinner of their gluten-free meatballs with sugar-free pasta sauce, topped with shaved mozzarella without added pasta. I had two small glasses of red wine, and Tom had two bottles of beer, each for $5.00. Our total bill with taxes and tips was $41.79, which isn’t much more than buying groceries for one night’s dinner.

With grocery inflation, we can easily spend $280 a week if we cook every night. Thus, eating out for around $41.79 wasn’t much more. However, that was the exception, not the rule. We often spend about $70 to dine out at a mid range restaurant. Most weeks, we dine out at least two times, maybe three.

Even fast food is expensive. Tom spent $25 at McDonald’s when he stopped for a meal, only for himself. I don’t eat at Mcdonald’s or most fast food establishments, except Chipotle, or rarely at Jimmy Johns for an “unwich,” which we now avoid when the cost for two sandwiches is over $40. Unbelievable!

At this point, we still don’t have any plans for the holiday, but we’re fine staying at the hotel if that’s how it rolls out. We’re used to spending holidays on our own while traveling worldwide, often barely noticing that it’s a specific US-celebrated holiday.

In South Africa, we’ve spent Christmas and New Year with friends, but here in the US, we’ve received few invitations from family or friends to partake in their planned activities. We prefer not to invite ourselves. Often, our kids and grandkids are out of town camping or planning to watch fireworks displays.

We aren’t much for camping, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t go. Buying a tent and all the necessary equipment makes no sense when we have nowhere to store it and may never use it again. When our kids were young, we camped occasionally and had everything we needed. But not now. Plus, I don’t think we would sleep well on the ground.

Today, we’re each going out separately. Tom heads to Mary and Eugene’s house in Andover at noon to play Buck Euchre. His nephew Kevin is in town from Florida. The card game is for four players, but there will be five players there without me, requiring one to sit out every few games.

Since they have enough players without me, I am not joining them since I’d already committed to lunch at the Asia Mall with my son Greg and grandson Miles today at 12:30. I didn’t want to cancel on Greg and Miles to do something else. Plus, I enjoy getting together with them whenever possible and would never cancel unless I was sick.

Most likely, I’ll be back at the hotel by 2:30 and spend the rest of the day chatting with friends and watching a few movies. When Tom plays Buck euchre with his family, they rarely get done until 1:00 or 2:00 am. Also, I have trouble staying up that late.

In any case, it will be a good day for each of us, and we’ll be happy to see each other after a short break when we are together all the time.

That’s it for today.

Be well.

Photo from ten years ago today, July 2, 2014:

An outdoor lawn ornament store in Campanario, Madeira, Portugal. For more, please click here.

Great service by Marriott and others…Tipping in today’s world…

Billowing cloud view from the Madeira house, overlooking the sea.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a Marriott manager asking if we needed anything during our extended 70-night stay at this Residence Inn. If we think of something, we’ll let her know. She also asked why we are staying so long, requiring a lengthy explanation.

It made me realize why we like Marriott hotels so much. After all, we spent ten months in lockdown in Mumbai, India, during the pandemic and have stayed at many other Marriotts worldwide, never disappointed by the facility or the quality of the service. We are members of their rewards program, Marriott Bonvoy, and it was through that program that we got a better price for this current two-month stay.

Overall, we’ve had considerable success with quality service from all the rewards programs we use for credit cards, cars, vacation homes, and hotels. Even as Costco Premium members, we recently received a check for almost $200 for Tom’s upcoming hearing aid purchase.

Another recent example is that we used some reward points on a credit card to pay for the expensive hotel in Milwaukee this past weekend. During those times, it’s easier to digest paying premium rates using rewards points when few other options are available.

Speaking of good service, overall, we’ve found that service in the US has been excellent in most situations. That’s not to say that the service in other countries is inferior. It is not. We’ve had excellent service throughout the world from country to country, but we’ve noticed a variance in the expectation of servers receiving tips.

We have no problem tipping for good service. We consider ourselves good tippers, but we investigate what tipping customs and expectations are before heading to a new country. In Australia, for example, service people are paid a fair wage. Early on, when we embarked on numerous cruises in Australia, Tom attempted to tip the baggage handlers at the cruise terminal. In each case, they refused the tips, saying, “Sir, in our country, we make a living wage and don’t accept service tips.”

We spent two years in the South Pacific and found this true throughout Australia, including Tasmania (part of Australia) and New Zealand. In some tropical islands, the expectation for tips was comparable to the US, especially when wages were low in many island nations. We understood and complied accordingly. Then again, prices were low in many venues, whereas prices are higher overall in Australia.

In the past five months in the US, we’ve observed that tips are not only expected but often added to the bill with suggestions for the amount of tips based on the bill. But, on bills in some restaurants, we’ve also observed add-ons for the following:

  1. Credit card use fees as much as 3.5% of the total or more
  2. Health insurance and employee welfare as much as 3.5%
  3. Employee retention fees as high as 3.5%
  4. Tips are expected on the tax on top of the the basic food and drink items

We don’t calculate the tip amount on these extras. We only tip a percentage for the food and beverage amount, not these add-ons, nor do we tip on the sales tax or VAT. For instance, when dining in Minneapolis and other cities, there are city taxes, stadium taxes, and others. We don’t tip on top of these amounts. Why pay a percentage twice?

We may seem tightwads, but living on a fixed income that allows very little for cost of living increases with the current inflation rate, we must consider what works best for us. Of course, if one is wealthy and money is no object, they may never question this process.

This is not to say we don’t appreciate excellent service for food and beverage and the hard work of many servers throughout many fields of endeavor. We tip generously when the service is good, but only, as mentioned, for the service, food, and beverages provided to us.

Be well.

Photo from ten years ago today, June 18, 2014:

When we went for a walk in Campanario, Madeira, we took this photo of the back of our holiday home. It was a fantastic home. For more photos, please click here.

Loving the new place for several reasons…Booking for the future

Fresh seafood was available in a market in Madeira.

There’s no doubt we enjoyed Hyatt Place during several stays over the past years when we came to Minnesota to visit. The drawbacks were the lack of laundry facilities, the tiny bathroom, and a limited kitchen area with only a small refrigerator but no microwave. This resulted in us dining out most nights since few ready-made options suited us, adding to the cost of staying there. Management, maid service, and staff were excellent.

Also, the included breakfast at Hyatt was marginal, at best, with only processed eggs and no other options for me other than to eat a few hard-boiled eggs. Tom liked the donut holes. Plus, we liked the easy access to our streaming services with the smart TV with casting for all streaming services

Now, here at Residence Inn by Marriott, after only 48 hours, we’ve been pleased with several features that appeal to us, including:

  1. Easy-to-use laundry facility close to our room.
  2. We’ve seen an excellent breakfast with new offerings daily, which we’ve enjoyed over the past two mornings.
  3. Massive bathroom with walk-in shower.
  4. A coffee table is in front of the sofa, which is ideal for keeping our feet up, which is vital for me right now when my feet swell by the end of the day.
  5. Full kitchen with all amenities.

Drawbacks to Residence Inn: (None of which is a big issue)

  1. A queen-sized bed as opposed to a king at the Hyatt. Only king beds are located in units on the second floor, accessible only by stairs, which is unsuitable for me.
  2. There are no drawers or storage space other than a tiny closet. We’ve left our belongings in the shared large suitcase on a luggage rack for easy access.
  3. Smart TV only has Prime and Netflix, not Hulu or Paramount+. Instead, we have to hook up the other streaming services to our laptops using our HDMI cord.
  4. We must walk outdoors to the reception desk, breakfast kitchen, and laundry facilities. It’s been raining a lot lately.

Otherwise, we are happy with this facility, and only moments ago, we booked it for another 28 nights for when we return from Milwaukee after Sister Beth’s Jubilee celebrating her 70 years as a nun. The booking dates will be June 16 to July 14. While we’re here during the newly booked period, we’ll decide if we’ll stay for the final month before we head to Cleveland Clinic in August and book it accordingly.

When we booked Residence Inn months ago, we got a special rate of $84 a night. With summer here and hotel rates soaring, we had to commit to $134 a night for 28 nights, plus tax, for a total of $4092, which translates to $146 a night, with taxes. We used a credit we had an Expedia/Hotels/VRBO of $135 to get the price down a little.

This is more than we usually pay for long-term hotel stays, but there weren’t any affordable vacation homes or other hotels as nice as this in this convenient location. Also, we could book the next period for fully refundable rates if we have to leave up to three days before the commencement of the booking. That’s particularly important to us right now.

Last night, we had a good time at Billy’s Bar and Grill in Anoka and returned to the hotel in time to watch the basketball game with the Texas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves. Sadly, Minnesota lost, but it was fun to watch the game. We had a good night’s sleep and awoke refreshed and ready for a new day.

Soon, we’ll head to Cub Supermarket for groceries for the upcoming week. We’ll make our first dinner tonight since we left Apache Junction on May 1.

We’ll be back with you soon.

Be well.

Photo from ten years ago today, May 25, 2014:

Would that I could! Pastries for sale in Madeira. Oh, how we find comfort and pleasure in such treats! It’s funny that eggs are also sold in this case. For more photos, please click here.