Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quite Possibly The Best Airport for Pinball

Being both a frequent traveler and a fan of pinball puts me in an interesting position. Logic would dictate that I have access to a wide variety of venues in which pinball machines should be present. Unfortunately, when I travel I don't have time to explore all of the local bars and bowling alleys for pinball.

However, on travel days I do spend a lot of time walking through airports, so I'm always on the lookout for arcades and any bar that might have a pinball machine. Most of the time I come up empty, but occasionally I am pleasantly surprised by what I find.

Such was the case when I flew out of the Minneapolis airport (MSP) about a year ago. At that time I found a small arcade that had three machines. I remember being impressed at finding three machines in an airport and I wished that I had more time before my flight.

Just recently I had a connection through the MSP and as soon as I landed I remembered the three pinball machines, and I knew that I had to play a little pinball while I was there. On my way to my departure gate I found a small arcade near gate G8 which had three machines (Elvis, NASCAR and Lord of the Rings). I was pretty sure that this wasn't the arcade that I had visited previously so I decided that a little investigation was warranted.

Checking the airport map wasn't helpful as arcades were listed. I made a stop at an information booth where I met met the very helpful Nancy who informed me of the locations of all of the arcades in the airport- all three of them!

It turns out that there were also arcades at F12 and one near C1. Thanks to a 2 1/2 hour layover I had time to visit all of the arcades, so I began my tour of MSP pinball. In total, I found 7 pinball machines distributed over 3 locations. The condition of the games varied from very playable to completely non-functioning. Below is a list of the games that I found along with their locations. The links will take you to the Internet Pinball Database for the machine.

Aurora Borealis - Start of the C gates.
Indiana Jones (2008)
Wheel of Fortune (2007)

Lucky Lindy's- Near Gate F 12
Spiderman (2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2006)

Unnamed Arcade- Near Gate F 8
Elvis (2004)
Lord of The Rings (2003)
NASCAR (2005)

All in all, the games weren't in the condition that I'd like them to be in, but most of them were playable. Pinball machines are maintenance intensive devices and they can be frustrating to play if not properly maintained. If the machines were a little better maintained, MSP could become a viable pinball destination. This may sound like a bit of an overstatement, but living in Pinball starved New England has given me a new outlook on this topic. Now I get really excited when I see more than one pinball machine in a single location.

I have contacted the vendor that maintains the machines (Theisen Vending Company) to let them know about the condition of their games. When booking flights in the future, I won't cringe when I see a long layover at MSP.

If you know of any airports that also have pinball machines, please let me know. The airport in Akron, Ohio had one pinball machine the last time I was there, but beyond that I don't know of any specific "pinball airports".

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Curse of Hollow Hotels

As a frequent traveler, I have learned a few things about what I like and what I don't like in a hotel. In addition to being safe and comfortable, I must have relative quiet in order to relax and fall asleep.

I'm not exactly a light sleeper, but things like a chirping smoke detector or chatter outside my room will prevent me from falling asleep. While I do carry ear plugs with me, sometimes they don't muffle enough sound for a restful night's sleep.

Assuming that a quiet hotel is universally desired, the design of some hotels surprise me. The design that irritates me most is one in which there is a large open area with the rooms arranged around this open area. This creates a sort of tube of rooms where sound and light can freely access the external door of each room.

While such a layout creates an impressive lobby, this first impression becomes irrelevant when you try to sleep in such a hotel. This is especially true if a restaurant, or worse a bar, is on the ground floor. The quality of sleep that you can obtain in such a hotel is dependent on both the behavior of the restaurant/bar patrons and the floor on which you are staying.

A recent trip had me in a hotel with such a design, and I was placed on the second floor after having asked for a quiet room. In the lobby of the hotel was a bar and the hotel was the host to a convention. To top it off, each guest received a coupon for a 2 for 1 drink at the bar. All of these factors converged on my second night at the hotel, which happened to be the last night of the convention. Convention goers were tired after the convention and ready to relax so the coupons came out and they stayed up late. Unfortunately, I had to stay up late with them.

Fortunately, I rarely encounter such hotel designs. In my seven years of business travel, I've only seen two other examples of this type; surprisingly enough, both of those were fairly fancy hotels. If such a hotel design is desired, some sort of sound dampening threshold should be employed on all of the guest room doors.

I pose the following question to my readers. Am I being fair in my critique of this type of hotel layout or should I just buy some better earplugs? If the latter, do you have any good earplug recommendations?

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Where Would Graham Like to Travel?

In social situations, the fact that I maintain a travel blog often comes up. It's not that I'm trying to push my blog on anyone, but this blog is one of my hobbies so I bring it up. Upon learning that I'm fairly well traveled, two questions invariably pop up.

1. Where have you been?
2. Where would you like to travel to?

In answering the first question, I have plenty to say. Traveling for work for over 7 years will give you a plethora of material to talk about on this topic; I tend to dominate this part of the conversation.

When the second question comes up, I slink into the background and listen to others as they fantasize about their dream vacations. Since I travel for work, I get burnt out on being someplace else. I miss my home, family and eating well. When I explain this, I get strange looks from my conversational companions which seem to say, "You're crazy! You need a vacation."

It may be true that I do indeed need a vacation, but what is a vacation if not a break from your routine. When your routine is being on the road, then being home is a vacation. While this is a truthful response, it dances around the original question. Where would I like to travel to?

In order to have a more constructive response in such situations, I've given this topic a fair amount of thought and I've come up with two destinations that I'd like to visit.

The first is Hawaii. I've never been and I'd like to see volcanoes, some of the old Tikis and enjoy a nice cocktail while watching the sun set. Of course I'll need to do plenty of research in order to find out where to get a decent cocktail, but that's another story.

The second place I'd like to visit is Cuba. I don't smoke cigars so I wouldn't be going to smuggle some back, but I would like to visit a rum distillery or two. Unfortunately bringing rum, or anything for that matter, back from Cuba is forbidden. I think the forbidden nature of Cuba is the main reason that I want to go.

If you tell someone that they can't have something, they want it even more. Cuba is so close, yet it is also exotic and unattainable for most law abiding citizens. This makes Cuba as a destination appealing. I'd just like to spend a week wandering around and exploring Cuba: seeing pre-embargo cars, trying local rum and talking to people about how they feel about the embargo.

If the embargo ended tomorrow, I'm not sure that I'd have the same desire to go to Cuba that I have today. Sure I'd track down a couple bottles of newly available Cuban rum along with some Coke made with cane sugar in order to have a real Cuba Libre (rum and coke with lime juice), but the magical allure of the not so distant island would most likely be gone.

The inevitable influx of American tourists would cinch the removal of Cuba from my list, leaving only the more logistically attainable Hawaii. That's one trip that I'm really looking forward to.

I now turn the question to you. Where would you like to go? Please answer in the comments section below.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm Just Plain Tired

Dear Loyal Readers of Graham's Travel Blog,

This week I will not be posting an article about travel. In fact, I won't be posting much of anything at all. I could go on and make up some sort of excuse or post a half composed article, but I won't do either of those things.

Instead, you get the truth. I'm hot and I'm tired. We're in the middle of a heat wave here in the Boston area, and just staying hydrated has been a challenge. Combine that with the move and taking care of the few things that needed to get sorted right away with the house and I'm just pooped.

I hope to be back up and running soon, but for now I'm taking a nap.

Thank you,

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