Saturday, January 21, 2023

Finding hotels to spend just the day time

View from the room, Seattle
Hotels are making ridiculous check-in and check-out times, making the check-in as late as 5 pm and check-out as early as 10 am. Many hotels then allow late check-out and early check-in, often for an hour. While this works for a good sleep and leaving for the day, it does not work when you arrive past midnight or want to relax during the daytime, just one day. You are forced to pay for the whole day in those cases. Upon our arrival in Fairbanks at 1:40 am, we had difficulty finding hotels on booking.com. Because apps such as booking.com do not allow same-day check-in and check-out. In this case, we are looking for check-in for yesterday's date and check-out for today. After some clear explanations over the phone, we found a hotel to sleep in from 5 am - 1 pm (same day), paying the whole night fare as expected. But as far as the hotel is concerned, this is like we checked in yesterday (just a very late check-in that it is the following day's morning!) and check-out today.

 

Many hotels abroad allow hourly rates too. That is when we decided to look for day-use hotels when we landed in Seattle in the early morning after a red-eye flight. We just had a day in Seattle before our next flight in the night. Even if we use a regular hotel as we did in Fairbanks, that is not ideal as we have to check out by 1 pm the latest. Luckily, we found the Dayuse app, which let us find hotels, allowing check-in as early as 8 am and check-out at 6 pm. We did not have to pay anything to the app beforehand. No need to provide the credit card details even! The hotel let us check-in immediately when we arrived, even an hour earlier than the expected time, at 7 am. Therefore, we had 11 hours to relax, explore the city, come back, freshen up a bit, and then leave for our next flight. These day-use hotels are going to be very useful in similar situations.


Airport Memories

Leaving Fairbanks
Airports bring us the strongest memories. A list of my top 10 favorite airports:

10. IST. It got nice shops to get things at last minute. Istanbul made me get addicted to Salep. So when I was leaving the city, I was having my last few doses of that (and many desserts too!)

9. ANC. The hub of Alaska. Wherever I went to AK in 2021, I went through this airport. It's quite big and got some decent food. When you touch the airport, you feel like you are in a totally new country, although you are still in the US. Great views of mountains in the distance.

 8. ARN. I sometimes feel guilty that I did not give enough attention to Stockholm and Sweden, despite spending a semester there and visiting it in 3 different years. Nevertheless, it is all beautiful memories. The fast train to the city center is an integrated travel experience.

7. DOH. My first time here was bad. It was under renovation. But I gave it a second chance, and it impressed me (much more than DXB.) After that, it became my usual connecting point between the west (EU or US) and the east (Asia). Beautiful metro connection to downtown Doha too!

6. BRU. During my time in Belgium, I spent many nights here (and in the ugly CRL). I like the Belgian embassies. They were very friendly, always answered my emails, and were generally helpful. So Belgium's main airport worked as my entry point to the EU after leaving Europe too.   

Fairbanks Airport

5. LAX. My first time here was in December 2019, for the first conference visit of my postdoc life. This one has many happy and sad memories of the pandemic. But at last, it was still the airport where we reunited after the deadly pandemic kept us 13,450 km apart for 2.5 years.
 
4. ATL. People here ask me, "So, you always talk about Lisboa. Do you like Atlanta? What do you like most about Atlanta?" My default answer is, "It is@ATLairport!" Yes, it is a busy one, not really fancy or anything. But gets the job done and takes you wherever without trouble.
 
3. BRW. This is the ONLY airport where I arrive just 30 mins before the departure time. It's tiny and can be messy. Just one terminal. You sit tight until the plane lands. The flight may not land if it gets too foggy, cloudy, icy, or outright deadly. So, you will never know.
 
2. LIS. Bom dia. This airport makes me feel at home. Memories of friendships, romance, love, happiness, sadness, saudade, and everything in between. It took the central stage of my life between 2012 - 2019. I always hope we will return someday and relive those youthful memories.
 
1. FAI. Cold breeze soothes you as you walk out. Very friendly TSA agents here. This year, the sky looked magnificent during my return flight, with mild northern lights dancing in the sky. This airport was brutal with blowing snow during the Interior AK Blizzard 2021 December.  
 
I probably should have added some of my photos from each of these memorable/remarkable airports into this thread. But that will need a larger time investment, and I cannot bother.  

Saturday, December 31, 2022

A few things that made my 2022 interesting..

A walk on the frozen Arctic, Utqiagvik
2022 was a good year, although often it felt like a single blob of 2020 - 2022. 2022 was still better than 2020 and 2021. As expected, 2022 had its negative moments, But this post focuses on the happy moments.

 1. New year in Utqiaġvik with Northern lights in the dark Arctic skies

Watching the fireworks over the frozen lake.

2. A walk on the frozen Arctic Ocean with icy white eyebrows in a -40 temperature.

That magical moment made me realize I had fallen in love with Alaska and I must return more often.

Northern lights on the New Years day
3. Friendly and diverse people in Birmingham, AL.

I did not expect Alabama to be this cool.

4. A night in Providence, RI

and a pleasant train ride from Boston.

5. A night walk around Harvard and MIT

Loved the vibe of Boston's academic circles.

6. The Hindu Temple of Atlanta

It reminded me of my times in the Hindu temple of Lisboa.


7. The decade, the two decades, and the three decades.

I reached 35. It is a decade since I left Sri Lanka for my grad school in Lisboa, two decades since my school memories in O/L, and three decades since I remember anything.

The Atlantic Ocean, Boston

8. Accepted journal papers

CONTROL-CORE at IEEE Access and Niffler at IEEE Computer Magazine.

9. Dark alleys and urban decay of Detroit, MI

Detroit made me feel like I am back in the early days in Lisboa. Energetic and excited for a long journey ahead.

10. A trip of trips by train

A spring train trip from Detroit, MI to Albuquerque, NM with a diversion to Milwaukee, WI. Staying in different towns/cities each night of the trip.  

11. Chicago Chinatown

I love Chinatowns, and Chicago has a good one.

12. The walkable town, Fort Madison, IA, with a paved trail along the Mississippi river.

Stayed in a cute hotel. The town and its riverside paved trail reminded me of Vila Franca de Xira in Portugal.

The Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica

13, Michigan lake in Hammond, IN

Hammond was much cheaper than Atlanta.

14. Crossing state borders and a long walk in Kansas City (MO to KS).

It also had a beautiful Amtrak train station.

15. Random walking the streets of Milwaukee, WI

and enjoying some soul food.

16. The unique homes of New Mexico.

Albuquerque and its Sunport were nice. It was also an overnight train ride to ABQ.

17. Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean

Although second time in Santa Monica, this was my first time stepping into the water.

Train to Albuquerque

18. Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

This cute little neighborhood never disappoints.

19. Reuniting with family

This brings an end to my home alone life throughout the pandemic.

20. A Portuguese restaurant in Atlanta.

Reconnecting with the Portuguese cuisine after leaving the country. 

21. Hybrid conferences

Presented virtually at MoNeTec and SDS. I miss attending conferences physically though.

22. Views from Stone Mountain.

It is a panoramic view of Atlanta from the top.  

23. A Christmas filled with powdery snow in St Paul, MN

Always comfy to walk on the snow when it is still fresh and powdery.

24. Rapid changes of travel plans.

Amtrak messed up a planned train trip from St Paul to Seattle. Had to make alternative plans quickly.

25. Booking direct

I was already booking the flights directly from the airlines for a few years now. This year, I ditched booking.com and booked directly with the hotels as much as possible.

26. Stuck in the twin cities.

Canceled trains, extending what was supposed to be a 2-night stay into a 7-night stay in MN. But we enjoyed the food scene in the twin cities.

Frozen Chena River, Fairbanks

27. Much calmer winter in
Fairbanks.

A repeat visit to Fairbanks in December. But this time, no blizzards. Fairbanks felt mild compared to last December, with clearer starry skies and some northern lights.

28. Slow return to "normal?"

I worked from the lab one day this December, almost after 3 years since March 2020. The pandemic is still on though.

29. Atlantic Ocean and seagulls in Boston.

Oceans connect us.

30. Cooking in the hotel studio in Utqiagvik

As I was able to cook my own (proper) food in the hotel for my 3 days in total darkness in Utqiagvik, Utqiagvik felt more like home during this second visit.

Every year, I have one new year's resolution - to outperform my previous years. :) I wish you a happy new year. Thanks for reading my list until the end. You may read the blog posts of all the previous years as well.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Amtrak and a series of cancellations

White Sun in the twin cities, MN
 We had a triangle trip planned, with ATL -> MSP by flight, with a train trip from St Paul (SPM) to Seattle, and another flight back home from SEA -> ATL. However, Amtrak kept cancelling the train from SPM -> SEA continuously, for 4 days, (as in 2 days, 1 day, and another day), citing adverse weather, manpower issues, and adverse weather again. At this point, the planned train trip was ruined although we tried our best to protect it by postponing it for up to 4 days, giving Amtrak a chance. But as Amtrak kept canceling like this, we had to activate alternative plans. One option was to fly from MSP to SEA, to end the trip in Seattle as planned. But then I checked the flight prices, and it turned out, we could fly from MSP to FAI (via SEA) with a minimal difference in flight prices. I love Fairbanks, and a second visit to Fairbanks would be great after all. This is how Amtrak's unpredictable day-by-day train cancellations led us to Fairbanks, making my third time to Alaska.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Google Summer of Code (GSoC) 2023

For 2023, GSoC is opening up to allowing anyone (18+) to participate up to two times as a contributor. That means, you can participate as a contributor in 2023 if you have been a contributor once before or never before. But if you have already been a contributor twice, you cannot participate in 2023.
 
Here is an introductory presentation I made for GSoC 2023, updating my previous presentations on GSoC.