Seven Days, Seven Cities – Ranked

mapThis year, I’ve been fortunate to travel often. Whether it was to Seattle for work, Orlando to see my dad or back home to Minnesota to visit family and friends… I spent a lot of time in the sky and even more time on the ground with people I love.

In between those routine visits, I day-tripped. Warning: If you haven’t day-tripped, it is highly addicting. Here’s how I do it:

I go to Google Flights, pick a Saturday (or sometimes a Sunday) and enter that date for both my depart and return flights, I input Chicago (all area airports) as the origin and leave the destination blank. I peruse the map for any cities that are exceptionally cheap (think $50-$90 roundtrip) and POUNCE. Of course, the schedule needs to work (e.g. it needs to be a relatively early departure time and a relatively late return).

Since my first day-trip to Atlanta on March 3, I’ve had a total of seven of these in-and-out adventures. I decided it would be a worthy project to rank them… so, here it goes!

Seven: TPA

City: Tampa, FL
Date: March 10
Airline: Southwest
Ground Transportation: Lyft
Food: Farmacy Vegan Kitchen + Bakery
Drink: N/A
Sites: Downtown, University of Tampa
Activities: Plane Spotting

Six: MSY

City: New Orleans, LA
Date: June 16
Airline: Spirit
Ground Transportation: Lyft
Food: Café Du MondeSneaky Pickle
Drink: Brieux Carré
Sites: Bourbon St.
Activities: Plane Spotting

Five: SYR

City: Syracuse, NY
Date: Sept. 30
Airline: United, Frontier
Ground Transportation: Lyft
Food: Glazed & ConfusedStrong Hearts Café
Drink: Freedom of EspressoMiddle Ages Brewing CompanySahm Brewing
Sites: Inner Harbor
Activities: Airfield Tour

Four: BWI

City: Baltimore, MD
Date: Sept. 1
Airline: Spirit
Ground Transportation: Light Rail
Food: Patisserie PouponOne World Café
Drink: Waverly Brewing
Sites: Camden Yards, Inner Harbor
Activities: Plane Spotting

Three: ATL

City: Atlanta, GA
Date: March 3
Airline: American
Ground Transportation: MARTA
Food: Sweet Hut Bakery & Cafe
Drink: N/A
Sites: Georgia Tech
Activities: Delta Flight Museum, Plane Spotting

Two: DEN
City: Denver, CO
Date: April 28
Airline: United
Ground Transportation: Light Rail
Food: Habit Doughnut DispensaryVine Street Pub & Brewery
Drink: Denver Beer Co.
Sites: LoDo
Activities: Plane Spotting

One: BOS

City: Boston, MA
Date: April 7
Airline: United, JetBlue
Ground Transportation: Silver Line
Food: Kane’s DonutsClover DTX
Drink: Cheers
Sites: Freedom Trail, Make Way for Ducklings
Activities: Bunker Hill Monument, Plane Spotting

So… why did I rank Boston number one? Because it was everything I hoped for and more.

History: Bean Town was rich with easily digestible, easily navigable history. The Freedom Trail was a magnificent learning experience and at the end, you can climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument.  All of that was FREE and easily doable on foot.

Public Transit: The public transit was spot on (did you notice that the cities I ranked lower are the ones where Lyft was my only option?). The Silver Line was cheap, easy and quick.

Food: Kane’s rocked it with killer donuts and cold brew… it was a great way to start the day. And Clover DTX was so flippin’ AMAZING. I asked for the acclaimed Bridgewater sandwich (jalapeño cream cheese spread, buttermilk-fried cremini mushrooms, honey-sriracha glaze, and a fresh kale-and-red-onion slaw) even though it was no longer on the menu and I still can taste it… it made me proud to be vegetarian.

Attractions: Let’s be real. Everyone wants to go to THE Cheers bar, and I went. It was worth it.

Plane Spotting: The views at Boston Logan are unlike any other, with runways right along the water, it was so gorgeous and so much fun.

So, there you have it! OK my friends… where should I go next?

Awake on my airplane

For whatever reason, I’ve had two songs stuck in my head over the past month or so: “Take a picture” by Filter and “Samson” by Regina Spektor. Both are songs I feel strong emotional ties to—each bringing me back to a different stage of my life.

Yesterday, I flew to Syracuse, NY, marking my seventh day trip this year in addition to being the smallest city and cheapest airfare of the septet. I nabbed a $40 basic economy fare on United Airlines for my outbound flight (an Embraer E-175 operated by SkyWest), and a $28 fare on Frontier coming home (my first time flying the Denver-based airline with an all-Airbus fleet).

A week or so ago, I reached out to the media relations team at Syracuse Hancock International Airport about a potential airfield tour. I just love being in the action, riding alongside the airplanes and learning the stories of different airports, big and small—Minneapolis to Van Nuys, Ames to Schipol, O’Hare to San Diego and now: Syracuse.

I was delighted to hear that someone on the airport operations team was more than willing to show me the ropes. Upon arrival, I was instructed to make my way down to the lower level of the airport to meet with a guy named Darren. While I was waiting, I stood with my nose and the palms of my hands pressed against the large windows (as I typically do) and just gazed lovingly at the few planes sitting idle in front of me. And then, as if on cue, I faintly started to hear music: “Awake on my airplane, awake on my airplane…” For those who know the song from the late nineties, those are the opening words to Filter’s “Take a picture”—the song I referenced above. It was eerie, exciting and perfectly fitting.

A few minutes later I saw a truck pull up outside, and a gentleman hopped out and came inside—it was Darren. I followed him out the door, hopped in the passenger seat of his truck and away we went. We drove the whole perimeter of the airfield—I saw and learned so much. I found out that Darren himself has worked at the airport for nearly 40 years, and has lived in the area his whole life. He also holds his commercial multi-engine pilot’s license, which (of course) I found to be super cool. I always love meeting others with a passion for aviation, because no matter the tie to the industry… it’s a common bond.

SYR has two active runways: 15-33 and the longer 10-28. On any given day their outbound flights (commercial and cargo) cap out around 75. In the summer, pilots and passengers on inbound flights may be able to catch a glimpse of the pink, plastic flamingos in the grass just before touchdown on 28. In the winter, you’ll see penguins in the same spot.

The terminal is in the midst of a $45 million renovation and upgrade that, if all goes according to plan, should be complete by the end of this month. It was a beautiful, charming place that I hope to return to. I had a great time chatting with Darren and exploring the airport. We wrapped up our airfield tour close to 10:30 a.m., at which time I hopped in a Lyft and headed into town.

First up, Glazed and Confused—a cute donut shop right in downtown that had stellar reviews. Though all of the donuts looked tasty, I opted for the “Pardon My French Toast” and took it to go. I strolled north to Freedom of Espresso, a local coffee shop occupying a smallish space in the lower level of a large brick building. I opened the door and stepped up to the counter, and wouldn’t you know it? “Samson” by Regina Spektor was playing. I mean COME ON… I was clearly meant to be in Syracuse. I then hunkered down with a cold brew to compliment my syrupy, doughy and frosting-laden breakfast treat.


After that, I ventured to Syracuse’s Inner Harbor where I found hundreds of birds spread across the greenest grass—most of the birds were seagulls but a few other species of water fowl were peppered in the sea of green and white.

After taking some photos, I left the area and ventured back south toward Middle Ages Brewing—the city’s longest running brewery. I was pleased to find a very industrial-style, warehouse type building and an entry way that led me into a cozy, dog-friendly hangout that serves nothing but the beer they brew right there.

Following that, I headed back toward the heart of downtown to see what was going on at Sahm Brewing. Surprisingly when I arrived, no other patrons were there… just me. I ordered an IPA at the bar and took it outside to the patio. Being out and about alone is a bit awkward in and of itself, but being the only person at a restaurant or brewery is flat out awkward. The beer, however, was stellar!

And then… it was time for more food! I meandered through the city streets to Strong Hearts Cafe, a renowned vegan eatery that I was really looking forward to visiting. While I am vegetarian and not all-out vegan, I still love me some quality food that is completely void of anything relating to an animal. I got the BBQ tempeh sandwich and a side of the macaroni salad… both were delish.

Finally, I knew it was about time to head back to the airport. I had a couple hours to spare, so I figured I would get as close as I could on foot. I made it about five miles before I had to call a Lyft to help me with the final stretch (roughly a mile).

I relaxed inside the terminal and grabbed one final brew at Middle Ages’ airport location, which also had some pretty tasty sounding grub. I then saw my plane arrive… Frontier’s “Rosie the River Otter” Airbus A320neo that I had oddly enough taken photos of earlier in the week out at O’Hare here in Chicago. Even though the plane wasn’t a Boeing, watching it being prepped for me and my fellow travelers to board made me feel something so magical. Wrapped up in the moment, I was so quickly brought back to the passion that brought me to where I am today. The icing on the cake? Being in row 16, I was part of the “rear boarding” group who got to walk out on the tarmac and board the aircraft via stairs as opposed to the jetway that the folks seated in the front several rows had been using.

I cozied up in my over-wing window seat, closed my eyes and before I knew it I was home. The Windy City welcomed me back with open arms, as she always does. I’m a very lucky girl, and I’m especially careful to make sure I don’t lose sight of that. Thank you Syracuse, for an exceptional day.

The Great T-Shirt Giveaway

I started The Great Planes on January 1, 2017, after countless conversations with my husband about how I could do something meaningful with my unwavering passion for flight.

I’ve since written nearly 50 blog posts, and posted almost 1,500 photos to Instagram. I’ve learned a lot about aviation and I’ve learned even more about the world and its people.

I’ve been put to work running flight strips at the MSP Air Traffic Control tower, been driven around many an airfield—my favorites being Schipol and O’Hare—and I’ve sat in my fair share of cockpits—the KLM 747 takes the cake.

I’ve even met in person roughly a dozen of my followers, and now consider many of them good friends.

The creation and growth of TGP has been chock-full of adventures and milestones, the most recent of which just occurred a week ago when my Instagram account surpassed FIVE THOUSAND FOLLOWERS!

This is hugely exciting and humbling, and as a “thank you” I’m doing my first ever GIVEAWAY!

You heard right. Head to my Instagram page to find out how YOU can win one of three TGP T-shirts featuring my new logo, designed by my greatly talented friend, Ashley! The contest ends Sunday, Sept. 30 at 11:59 p.m. CT.

Thanks again to my family and friends—old and new—for supporting me as I fulfill my dreams.

Fly on.

I love the planes… I just love ’em

Repost from my former Life in Scrabble Tiles blog:

I consider only one man made “thing” on this earth to be as truly remarkable and awe-inspiring as Mother Nature herself: the airplane.

I try to make it out to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at least once a week to watch my flying “friends.” I pop in my headphones to listen to the MSP tower air traffic control feed, and I sit down and just stare agape, as though I’ve never seen a plane before.

“Taxi via Whiskey to 3-0 left and line up and wait,” one of the controllers will instruct a captain and his first officer. During busier times, they’ll shoot those planes off the runways one after another with seemingly no end in site. And maybe delayed, time-crunched passengers wouldn’t be too thrilled to find out they were about to “line up and wait,” but let me tell you… when I hear that phrase, you can bet your bottom dollar this girl’s happy. Because that means the show’s just starting.

And let me clarify: I love all planes. Whether it’s a little “dink” like a Subair Beechcraft 1900, or a “Big Kahuna” like an Air France Airbus A340… I love them all and am just as excited by each and every one of them. OK, there is one exception: I am obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with the MD-11… specifically UPS and/or Fed Ex MD-11s, there’s just something about that tail engine.

On the days that I’m not lucky enough to find myself out at MSP, I’ll flip on an aviation documentary of some sort or just watch a handful of plane-related YouTube videos (my current favorites being cockpit-view takeoffs — I get chills… CHILLS when they rotate).

And don’t even get me started on my aviation-related decorations and accessories. Between the many planes that sit on my desk at work, the seaplane that hangs from our living room ceiling, the biplane mounted on our bedroom wall… I can’t even keep track anymore. Though I will say that “Big Bo,” my new plush 747, holds a very special place in my heart, as do the propeller earrings my husband Scott gave me for Christmas.

But why planes? Why?

I think it’s safe to say that aviation is in my blood. My parents met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines in the early 80s, and my dad spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force. And somehow over the years, a love that I now know was there all along, just grew and grew before evolving into this great passion of mine.

As a general rule, our minds tend to “think forward.” And by that I mean, most of us are aware (and appreciative) of all the great things we as humans have been able to do thus far during our time here on earth, making us pretty excited for the future and the possibility it holds. But somehow, every time I see a plane take off, it makes me “excited” by the past. I realize how wondrous a thing it is, even today, to be able to see something so huge, something so heavy, just lift off the ground and actually fly. It makes me excited to think of what a breathtaking moment it must have been for the Wright Brothers to see their “flying machine” live up to its namesake for the first time.

And now, more than a century after Orville and Wilbur’s invention gave rise to aviation as we know it, I’m here to say: don’t let that magic die. There are so many inventions that we take for granted nowadays, some more extraordinary than others; but the plane… I mean, of course it’s “just physics,” but to me, it’s physics in its most majestic form. The fact that lift, gravity, thrust, and drag all work together to carry a tube full of people through the sky from one place to another, is nothing to scoff at.

At any given moment, there are thousands of planes in the air, just over the U.S alone. So whether you’re a frequent flyer or someone who rarely takes to the skies, next time you’re in an airplane, or even the next time you look up at the sky and see a contrail, just take a minute to think about how truly miraculous flight really is.

-Annie

Oops, I did it again… that’s right, I’m back to daytripping

I’ve had a lot of people asking me about my “daytrips” recently, so I figured I’d share a little bit about what I do and why I do it.

Hopeless and alone in Chicago, I needed something to perk me up. Of course you all know I’m kidding about being hopeless, but indeed I was (and still am) living alone here in the Windy City as my husband finishes up school in Minnesota.

OK, back to the story.

Earlier this year, I got the incredible urge to fly (what else is new?) so I started perusing my favorite website, Google Flights, to find the cheapest flight to… anywhere. In my search, I set my departure city to Chicago (all area airports) and left my destination blank. I set my search to roundtrip, with both the departing and returning flights on the same day.

And just like that… I was a daaaaaaytripper, roundtrip ticket YEAH!

Anywho, I found a basic economy fare on American Airlines for $87 roundtrip. My destination for the day? Atlanta. Fun fact, I was actually BORN there.

My flights had me arriving into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport mid-morning, and leaving that night. First things first, you have to understand that my number one priority in booking this was to get my butt up into the clouds for a few hours, so anything above and beyond the two flights themselves I considered to be a bonus.

Going into the trip, I knew I had roughly eight hours between the time I would land and the time I needed to get back to the airport for my return flight. I had done some research on the city and found a bakery I wanted to visit, a particularly awesome-sounding museum I wanted to spend time at (THE DELTA FLIGHT MUSEUM… duh!) and last, but not least, I of course wanted to do some plane spotting.

Another priority was to keep costs low, so I took public transit (MARTA) to the bakery, which was on the Georgia Tech Campus—setting me back only a couple bucks each way. Lucky for me, everything else I wanted to do was in and around the airport itself (a perk of being an AV geek). Between transportation and snacks, I spent roughly $50 throughout the day… add that to the nearly $90 I spent on roundtrip airfare and my total trip cost was about $150.

I was amazed, proud and completely and 100 percent satisfied.

Trust me, I knew after just one of these daytrips that it wasn’t smart OR sustainable to do this often. However, Scott and I only have about a year-and-a-half of living apart to get through, so I know and accept that I won’t be doing this once we’re back together. Heck, living in the same city, much less the same apartment as him is a million times better than any daytrip could ever be anyways. These adventures serve as something for me to look forward to (and enjoy) in the interim… not just to fly, but to explore a new place and experience new things.

Following Atlanta, I visited Tampa, Boston, and Denver over the course of roughly three months.

Then, lucky for me, Scott found an internship here in Chicago for the summer, so Annie the daytripper took a little vacation from the… vacations, with one exception: as a birthday present to me, Scott agreed to tag along on one of these crazy jaunts. Our destination? The Big Easy. That trip to New Orleans marked my fifth (and most fun) daytrip. Honestly, it wasn’t my favorite city, but sharing it with my favorite person gave it a certain edge.

Sadly, just last week Scott moved back home to Minnesota for his final year of school, so I (naturally) booked my sixth daytrip two days later. This time, I was headed to Baltimore. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Maryland’s largest city… I took in everything from the Inner Harbor to Camden Yards, and even made the trek up to Roosevelt Park and Johns Hopkins University—it was historic, it was beautiful and I already want to return.

So folks… I’ll leave you with a piece of advice:

If you’re adventurous, fearless, curious and have the freedom to “pick-up-and-go,” I’d highly recommend trying one of these day trips. I am happy to answer any questions you might have, or provide any advice on destinations, airlines, when to book, etc. I’m already wondering where I’ll go next, and when. Honestly, daytripping is dangerously addictive… but don’t let that deter you. If you do it right, it’s worth the time and money. The only downside? You might need to factor in a long nap the next day.

Fly on, my friends!

And then there was one…

This past Sunday, I spent the afternoon at Wrigley field watching the Chicago Cubs sweep the Cincinnati Reds in game four of the series.

It was sweltering hot.

I’m talking 90 degrees, zero-breeze, blue-sky, about-to-die HOT.

But… when you’re enjoying the great American pastime with family and friends, a little spice in the air doesn’t matter.

To my left sat my dear friend Ahmet, who was in town visiting from Istanbul. Ahmet—as I’m sure many of you now know—was one of two lifelong friends I made last September when I unexpectedly underwent surgery for appendicitis while on assignment in Turkey for Airways Magazine.

To my right was my other half—you know… that guy who I’ve now known for a quarter of my life, been married to for a third of adulthood and who has (and always will have) my whole heart: my Scottie.

And next to him sat another pretty cool guy—someone who has been there for me for… forever. I call him DAD.

That game (and all the other fun activities the four of us partook in last weekend) was so special, just like the people I shared it with.

And then… starting that very evening, each of those men left, one by one. Ahmet flew halfway around the world Sunday night, landing at Ataturk Airport right about 3 in the afternoon Monday after a 10-hour overnight flight from O’Hare.

The next afternoon, my dad flew back to sunny Florida. I’ve been lucky to see him fairly often, both when I lived in Minneapolis and now here in Chicago. But that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.

And then, the toughest of those three farewells came just this morning. Scott—who is about to begin his final year of school at the University of Minnesota—flew back to the Twin Cities after spending the whole summer here with me in the Windy City. After living apart for the first six months of my time in Chicago (I moved here for my job with Boeing last November) I was lucky enough to have him here with me for the last three months while he interned at a local company. We both knew it would come to an end, but I had no idea how quickly June, July and August would fly by.

If ever I’ve had to be strong, it’s now. It’s scary and sad to be alone once again. However, I’m realizing that my unwavering love of airplanes is so tightly woven into this story, and that brings me comfort.

Aviation is 100 percent in my blood. My dad was a navigator in C-130s with the U.S. Air Force, and he and my mom both worked as flight attendants for Eastern Airlines (that’s how they met!). To be able to share this passion with him has been incredibly special. He flew home to Florida sporting his blue Boeing polo… I know he is so proud of me, and that makes me so happy.

My sweet husband Scott has been my rock over the past eight years. He saw me recognize my passion, encouraged me to pursue that passion and supported me when I left for Chicago to take a job with the greatest aerospace company in the world. I love him to the moon… scratch that: I love him to MARS and back.

And last but not least, my passion for aviation is what ultimately led me to Airways Magazine, and they sent me to Istanbul, and THAT’S where I first met (and was in a sense SAVED by) Ahmet. I feel so lucky to know him and am honored that he came to visit me in Chicago.

So, while pursuing my passion has brought me so much joy, it has also made life a little more difficult at times… but that’s OK.

No one said life was easy.

Love hurts.

You win some, you lose some.

Yada, yada, yada.

Like I said… if ever I’ve had to be strong, it’s now. Because first there were four, and then there was one. And lucky for me, I’m one strong girl with one heck of a support system.

Fly on, my friends… fly on.

Happy National Aviation Day from the Windy City

If ever a day was made for me, today is that day: National Aviation Day. The holiday—established in 1939 by President Roosevelt—is celebrated each year on August 19 to commemorate Orville Wright’s birthday and to promote interest in all things flight.

Some people (like me) don’t need a holiday to up our interest in aviation. Others (like the rest of the population) come out to air shows and stare up at the sky, jaws dropped and eyes wide, as though they’ve never seen an airplane before.

The 79th National Aviation Day fell on day two of the 2018 Chicago Air and Water Show—an event that draws roughly 2 million people to the Windy City over the course of two days. This year—as both a Chicagoan and an employee of The Boeing Company—was the first time I attended the event.

Now, I’ve been to airshows, but this… this took the cake.

Saturday, my husband, father-in-law, step-mother-in-law and I biked up to North Avenue Beach to take in the five-hour show. It was hot and it was crowded, but it was an absolute blast. I was completely in my element and it meant so much to me to share that time with people whom I care so deeply about.

Sunday, my husband Scott and I were fortunate enough to have “VIP” passes to the Boeing tent. Those little orange tags hanging from lanyards around our necks were our passes to free food, free beer, a set of two heavy-duty Boeing lawn chairs and (best of all) front row seats to all the action.

My heart beats fast and my mind strays each time I do so much as think of what I saw over the last two days… I know the pictures won’t do it justice, but at the very least they’ll help paint a picture of what the show is all about.

We saw military parachute teams, both the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs and the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

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We also saw a LOT of aerobatics… the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and the Firebirds Delta Team among other teams and solo acts.

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We saw crazy awesome military aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II and the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (a modified 707).

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And, aside from airplanes, we saw plenty of helicopters and boats… photos that I’m not going to spend the time sifting through and posting. Sorry, I like airplanes, and that’s what you’re going to see here.

However, I will say that this event was completely eye-opening… not because fighter jets were zipping past at 600 miles-per-hour; not because aerobatics teams were crisscrossing, zigzagging and doing anything and everything that we thought they shouldn’t be able to do; and not because parachutists were floating down from two miles above Earth while gracefully making multicolored curlicues.

No, that’s not why.

This event was eye-opening because people from literally all walks of life came out to the shores of Lake Michigan to turn their eyes to the sky and tune their ears to the buzzes, hums and sometimes downright scary roars of the planes flying overhead. It didn’t matter if you were homeless or a millionaire with a lakefront condo… every single person oohed and aahed, pointed toward the sky and had goofy grins plastered on their faces as they watched the miracle of flight unfurl before their very eyes.

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There’s nothing left to say, except thank you Boeing and thank you Chicago for one heck of a weekend.