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Travel Report from Near and Far

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Twenty-five years, thirty-two States, thirty-three countries, six continents, and finally hotels 498, 499, and 500!


”Go big or go home”..... “They have to be Epic Hotels”...... “The Most Memorable Stays”...


I heard from my Insider buddies that the finish line had to consist of Marriott properties that were worth the lofty status of “The One”.  So...... I started to look for a place that I would really enjoy and a property that included Insider’s acclaim. Where best to find such a place but in the worldly travels of one fistuk.  Our very own explorer of fine hotels at deep discounted prices. Even erc , the originator of the “Stick it to the Man” philosophy looks up to the mighty fistuk. 


......Besides fistuk and erc, many Insiders have tipped me off to great hotels throughout the journey. Worldly travelers, pluto77, profchiara, jerrycoin, fschumpert, monisame, tker, brightlybob,  iahflyr   goalsetters… nationwide, bejacob,  the up and comers.... seatexan ,  the luxury stayers... verysuiteboy, ssindc


I've taken the blog world up through hotel number 497.  There was a delay for the last three due to verification concerns through Marriott data sources. I wanted to be sure that they could verify....more on that near the end. 


So a little stroll through 25 years of history and then the final reveal....




The First Ten Years


My first Marriott Hotel from memory was at City Line Avenue bordering Philadelphia back in the early 1980s. There may have been a few here and there over the next ten years, but nothing memorable enough to hunker down for recall. 1994 was my first year in the Marriott Rewards program......This is when my second Official Marriott Hotel would occur. 


Funny thing, I didn’t know much about hotels or chains back then. In fact, that 2nd Marriott started life as a Radisson. I was using that Radisson on Long Island New York as a sleep spot for a monthly staff meeting. In month three, that Radisson rebranded and has since been known as the Melville Marriott Long Island Hotel. Over the years, 27 times I would check into that hotel. Most stays were one to three nights. My corporate office moved to Pennsylvania around 1998, but I have revisited that hotel a handful of times throughout the last 25 years.


 There were a few early years of work travel between 1994 and 1999. Not heavy, but enough, when combined with a vacation stay or two, allowed the Marriott Loyalty program to reel me in for a binding relationship in future years.


In 2000, I recorded zero, zilch, nada official Marriott stays. I say official, because who knows? Our favorite hotel chain has never been spotless when it comes to crediting all stays and activity.. .  I wasn’t paying great attention to the quarterly mailings Marriott was sending out as a transaction history in those days. I did keep many, but didn’t really reconcile to actual activity. Rolling on to 2004, after ten years in the program, I was sitting at just 73 stays for 101 nights and 193,124 lifetime points. The big highlight of the first ten years was a redemption of 120,000 points that netted two round trip airline tickets, seven nights at the Marriott Mountain Shadows Resort and Country Club near Phoenix and a half price week for a Hertz rental car....all for that 120,000 points!


The first decade plus of Marriott  concluded with four brands,  32 Marriott’s, 10 Courtyards, 4 Fairfield Inns and a single Residence Inn. A total of 47 unique Marriott properties for the first ten years.


The Next Ten Years....2005-2014...Things are Blowing Up!


In August of 2005, I switched careers.....moved away from Big Corporate America and decided to go at it alone. That lasted about 18 months then back into Little Corporate America! These career moves acted like rocket fuel for work travel. Increased work travel created more points, more points meant more leisure travel to spend the points! 


New to me Marriott brands and new to me Marriott hotels were adding up. 2005 saw the first Renaissance, Springhill Suites and Towneplace Suites.  The Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette in August was the greatest human refrigerator on Earth! That city was as hot and humid as could be, but walking into the Pere Marquette was cooling relief on the highest level. The Springhill Edgewood Aberdeen had the first swivel TV for the living and bedroom areas.. Not good! I wanted two TVs!  The Towneplace in Bowie, Md was an early version with hallway locked doors, no breakfast to speak of with an institutional feel. The chain has come a long way since. 


2006 was my second year (1995) with more than 20 stays. A total of 25 stays for 35 nights were both personal records. The second decade of Marriott peaked in 2010 with 53 stays, 139 nights, at 9 different brands. 


This ten year period also included my first Ritz...fancy! The Ritz was big, but the single most lucrative stay was landing on Insiders and sticking around after my first posted rant. The tips that I learned allowed for points and experiences to add up at break neck speed. This place has been worth many thousands of dollars to me!


After twenty years, Lifetime program numbers at the end of 2014... 279 unique properties, 3,082,763 points earned, 448 stays, 970 nights


The Big Five... 2015-2019.... 500th Property Two Times Over.


My previous blog posts on this journey to 500 properties have covered this period pretty well. So, no need to go over the many highlights. BUT, two big things will wrap this up. Properties 498 through 500 of course, and the new math used for recording purposes. “New math you say? What’s up?”.....


Well prior to the big merge of 2018, back in 2012, I was able to get every stay that Marriott recorded for my account. I cross checked their recorded data with my info from 1994-2010. Since 2011, I “spreadsheeted” every stay, night, point, hotel, bonus, etc. There was a difference of 30 some hotels from the official Marriott record from Corporate and mine. Half of these were hotel stays that our friends forgot to record and the other half were stays while under a different rewards member’s account. My partner for example had a few stays under her name for our vacation travel.  So, near the end of this 500 journey I started having second thoughts about the real 500th. Should it be what I know to be true or what Marriott has on their official records for my account?


I decided to cover all bases. I hit 500 early in 2019 ...... and as of August 1st I have now stayed at 534 unique Marriott properties of which Marriott can search their records and find 500. 


Here are the final three for my journey..... numbers 498, 499, and 500.



Helsinki, Finland....No Marriott legacy properties but our Starwood friends came through.,


Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel

This place was like going to jail...literally..a converted prison. Very cool!!!



I’ll post some pictures of Helsinki in a separate blog post.




Domes Noruz Chania, Autograph Collection

A one night stay to acclimate prior to the 5 night stay at Elounda. This is an adults only property that sits astride the town of Chania. It's a must see waterfront village on any trip to Crete.




Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection

This was the big one!!! After fistuk posted his pictures from this resort, I knew that it would be # 500 !!! What a wonderful place. Crete is the largest island of Greece. Elounda was a great town for foodies, boaters, relaxers, daytrippers, and scenic viewers. This is the first property that I can recall that upgraded me twice. Once at check in to a million dollar view of the Mediterranean......and  2nd time to a two bedroom villa with private outdoor living space to include a pool.



The two bedroom villa had everything you would need for an exotic holiday...


And finally, what would a momentous occasion like my 500th property be without a mini Insiders meet up.  There just happened to be a California Insider and her mom at Elounda! Say hello to Pluto77!


As we make the final turn for the finish line, a "Marriott Moment" including Hotels 495-497 with all the trimmings sounds about right, eh? 


As a lifelong American sports fan, (Cubs, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks) I've attended many dozens of live events on U.S. soil. The only sporting event in another country happened in Doha, Qatar when someone in the lobby of my hotel was offering free admittance to an international indoor diving competition. But....never had I been present for an outdoor sporting event in a foreign land. This was about to change:



The Marriott Moments have been around in some form for quite a while. I peeked in from time to time but never participated. I watched nipper doing something fancy with this point redeeming option and that brought me a bit closer to entering the fray. Along came a English Premier League Football (Soccer) game. The legendary club, Manchester United, was hosting various teams and they were now up for bid. Hmmmmmm? 


Yes, let's do it!!!! My son is a huge international soccer fan and keeps tabs on the EPL. The two options for bid included a two day event and a single day event. The two day consisted of a park tour, greet the team, tickets, and the fixings. The single day was a pregame gathering in the ultra fancy Marriott Bonvoy Suite to include food and drink plus great box seats. I started bidding on both. The two day event quickly spiraled over 100,000 points and just grew higher. The single game had seven offerings and the bidding was in the 40,000 range after a fair bit of exposure. I zeroed in on the single game.


102,500 points...….That got it done. The confirming announcement via email looked like this:





Now the air travel could be booked and the hotels (already chosen) confirmed.


Unique Marriott Property # 495


I needed to get home to Philly from Chicago. The Chicago Marriott Suites O'Hare provided shelter the night before.



Unique Marriott Property # 496


The Renaissance Manchester City Centre Hotel was perfectly located for a proper pub crawl.



Unique Marriott Property # 497


AC Hotel Manchester Salford Quays (with surprise guest star, brightlybob)

That's San Francisco in the rear view mirror as we head to New York City for another monumental stay.. Get that St. Regis before the points rate explodes!!


Unique Hotel # 493.. The Maxwell New York City, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel. This hotel was formally a W. The first in the W brand. I watched the rate and boy was it low. I was backed up on this rate watch by the man among men of rate watchers.. erc!! He too saw this  anomaly and it caused us to go deep in the hotel reviews. Oh my!!!  This place may be a dump!!.  I gave it a few months and decided to take the plunge. For $94 with a 7500 bonus point kicker, it had to be worth the risk, right?  Well, it was. The young lady at check-in even waved that dreaded destination fee.


They have a long way to go...they're spending millions..but the staff was great, the location was great, the upgraded corner suite was very nice. The breakfast was just okay, but overall, if you can get that low rate, grab it. This won't stay down for long.


#494  The St. Regis New York. My first St  Regis. The price here never gets low...The date I was looking for never dropped below $685 for the cheapest room. The 60,000 points for one night was going to expire and jump soon, so it had to be done. Now, let's see if this Suite Night Awards thing can pay off. BINGO!!!! The Madison Suite was requested and...…….Yes!!!!!!!!! It was granted. What a hotel, what a room, what a breakfast, what a location!!!!  A truly outstanding experience. Missed out on the ride in the Bentley, but for my one and maybe only St Regis stay, it was grand. As far as the signature cocktail in the King Cole Bar, yes, by all means, order up a Red Snapper.

500?  What 500?  The Daytona 500? The Indianapolis 500? No, the Marriott 500!!!  The race is coming down the final straightaway. With 490 unique Marriott Branded properties in the rear view, I had just TEN to go. Let the great reveal begin.


#491    A post Christmas trip to San Francisco chalked up the first Luxury Collection Hotel of the big 500.  Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Francisco.... was royal and exquisite. Historic grandeur elevated with a massive suite upgrade landed this hotel in my all time top 20.  


#492   Still in the City by the Bay.... W San Francisco crossed off the first W of the modern era.  Nice location, a bit disappointing. The staff were great, the chic design, not so much. 

I participated in, and won, a bidding on Marriott Moments for a footy game in the U.K.  It was my first attempt at the Marriott Moments game, so I was a bit stunned that I came away with tickets to Old Trafford. The upside was the win..the downside was the short wick. I was notified April 2nd for an April 13th game!!


Needless to say, airline fares had begun the steep upclimb to $2000 by April 2nd.....I had checked back on March 15th and my carrier, American Airlines, had $850 tix....but now, Oh MY!!!!!  The long and short of my panic filled search was to find a British Airways itinerary starting at EWR (90 minutes from home) to LHR to MAN. The price was right and I'm set.  My son will join me and he's coming from a different starting point, but we both arrive at MAN near 9:00AM on the 12th. I booked his ticket with American Miles at the reduced Economy fare.  We were set for the flights!!!


Hotels... . We get in early on the 12th and have booked the Renaissance Manchester City Centre for £113 (plus a 4000 point booster). This allows for an easy train from the airport. It also puts us in a great location to see the town and do a bit of pub crawling. The game night stay is set for The AC Hotel Salford Quays on points.




I'll reblog with details of the trip and the a review of the hotels and the City once called Cottonopolis.

With the merge year of 2018 in the rear view mirror, it's time to take a relook at the order that Marriott has chosen for the 30 (yes, I'll include BVLGARI, yuk) brands. By looking at the drop down screen from "Our Brands" on the sign on page.....we see the order for Marriott moving forward. So, without further ado, I present, the NEW, IMPROVED, BRAND NUMBERS!!!


note: I had to adjust a few colors to keep the eye pleasing effect 




Prior to 2018, my overnight stays were 80% Marriott, 16% IHG, 3% Hilton, 1% Other.  Inside of other was SPG. I had exactly two stays at an SPG property in the prior eight years. One was in Toronto at a hotel that is no longer around and the other in Newark, NJ that suffered the same fate.


All of this changed in the Year of the Merge!!!!! I dipped my toe in an SPG on April Fools fitting!!!   The lucky property was a Four Points in Newark, DE.  My first taste of SPG hospitality was a good one.  I went on to stay at a Sheraton in Athlone, Ireland. A very nice in town property with a professional well trained staff. Another Four Points by the PHL airport rounded out the first half of 2018 and my SPG early life.


Then came July and POW!!!.....An Element then a Le Meridien followed by a second Le Meridien, an Aloft, two more Sheratons, a Westin, another Sheraton, another Four Points, a Sheraton, a Tribute Portfolio, and then a Design Hotel for the Thanksgiving break. Whew!! Now of course these SPG stays were not the only stays....Marriott legacy brands were still collecting plenty of cash. 


December started with two Weston and two Aloft stays. I thought that was it for the year. Eight SPG brands and nineteen stays would do it....BUT, I was wrong. My partner in crime joined me for two more. A Luxury Collection and a W. Ten, yes ten, SPG brands out of eleven bit the dust in 2018. 


Marriott was not left to feel too bad. The 21 SPG stays were still less than a third of the 66 Marriott legacy stays. Twelve Marriott brands joined the ten SPG brands to bring the 2018 total to 22 Marriott/SPG brands out of the 29. There was also a multiweek Hyatt, a couple of IHG, and a Hilton stay to complete the lodging lineup.


My Marriott mega brand stays featured 78 hotels that were new to me...bringing the lifetime total to 496 unique Marriott properties. Lifetime stays sit at 797. Nights stayed, 1735 plus 919 bonus nights for a total of 2654. Lifetime points earned sit at 5,389,984. Lifetime points burned...4,308,500.


Sixteen States and five countries other than the U.S. accounted for all of my stays. 


Marriott Reward Earnings were just over 700K, nights stayed 177.. 153 paid and 24 award, bonus/rollover nights 159. 


The 29 Brands are slowing coming into view. The last week of 2018 included the first stay at a Luxury Collection AND the first W stay since the merger. That makes for 25 Brands down and 4 to go. The last four, EDITI0N, St. Regis, Exec Apartments, and Protea may never happen....but you never know, do you platpboy4ever????????????


San Francisco is home to the Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel.  This place is nice!!  Entering on Market St., right off the Montgomery BART stop, you walk into history. The marble, lighting, high ceilings, wide foyer all represent opulence from a long gone era. The hotel was built in 1875 and was a masterpiece in it's day. The owners have managed to keep the rich feel while modernizing the facilities to today's standards. The Mayflower, in D.C., is a comparable property. 


I booked a king room, but was Upgraded to a Deluxe Suite the day before arrival. Just a gorgeous room with a wonderful view. Taking the breakfast in lieu of the points was an easy call. The restaurant was first class and the food was excellent. We did have to wait about 30 minutes for a table, but that was due to our own procrastination. 


Next up was the W San Francisco. I had stayed at a W in Chicago many years before the merge, so this was the first "Marriott" W.  These W's are grouped in the top luxury category with Ritz, Edition, St. Regis, etc.  Well, this particular W, while nice, doesn't belong with that lofty group. I overheard someone say it was close to an Aloft on steroids. Bold colors, millennium-ish themes....


The W San Francisco is undergoing guest room reno's, so the 17th floor was as high as you can stay. At check in, a very nice and professional front desk associate added a $40 credit for use in the restaurant. She also Upgraded us to a Mega Corner room. I came to learn that a Cool Corner room and a Mega Corner differ in view only. Our room did, in fact, have a great view. The breakfast instead of points choice was made again. 


The 500 Marriott properties are in sight!! Somebody call Bill Marriott and get my ultimate prize ready!!




Stay # 486... Courtyard NY Manhattan/Upper East Side. 


First time staying on the Upper East Side.


Stay # 487.... Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills, a Member of Design Hotels.


First time staying at a Design. Right in the thick of Beverly and night wonders. If there are more high priced fancy cars somewhere in the U.S., I'd like to see it.


Stay # 488.... AC Hotel Irvine


Part of the SoCal holiday stay. Very nice hotel!


Stay # 489 ….Renaissance Newport Beach Hotel


The old Duke Hotel (hey nationwide, you should see the place)….Upgraded to the Vice Presidential Suite..according to the front desk. A WOW!! room experience. 


Stay # 490.... Newport Beach Marriott Bayview


Great location, easy ride to the beach for that pacific sunset

Checking into The Wick.....Boutique Hudson Hotel - Hudson Valley Hotel | The Wick Hotel 


Grabbed a $106 breakfast rate a couple of months back.....same rate today over $200





Stay Tuned!!

The original blog post, The Long Road To 500...75 To Go! , gives you the background. This is the mid October update for 2018. 


The 2018 year to date stays are piling up. 68 hotels have received my money or points. All but seven of these were new hotels to me.....which means 61 were NEW!!!  Woo hoo!!  This edition included 18 Brands, six were from the old Starwood family. The Sheraton, Four Points, Element, Le Meridien, Aloft and Westin join the Marriott Legacy brands.   475 down, 25 to go.


The 475th stay was in Vancouver, BC. What a great town. I was able to add the Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport and the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel. The Pinnacle team sent up a cheese platter and thank you note. Nice touch!!!!!


A few years ago, while my daughter was on an assignment at Stanford University, I began my explore of the left coast. We took in San Francisco, Kings Canyon, and Big Sur. This year, I’m adding the Monterey Peninsula and San Diego. 


This blog entry will cover my time on and around Monterey Bay. Let’s start this thing off with fresh, fresh, fresh seafood!


With Santa Cruz on the north end and Carmel-By-The-Sea on the south end, the Monterey Bay has a shoreline of about  fifty miles. Almost in the middle sits Moss Landing, CA. There you will find the world renown Phil’s Fish Market. Hey brightlybob and normanp.. the BBC likes this place.  Old fashioned, bib wearing, food splashing, glorious fresh seafood. Cioppino, red snapper fish tacos, and fire roasted artichokes......Add in a local Bluegrass band and you have the perfect setting.


I would love to be sharing my Marriott experience, but Arne hasn’t expanded across the border, so the Hyatt Regency is getting my stash. 


Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is along the old Silk Road. The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that connected the East and West, connecting Asia with southern Europe. Until the break up of the USSR, it was under significant Russian “influence”. Today, it stands alone. 


I’ll add some photos and anecdotal  stories during my 28 day stay, but for now, I promised a pic of my new fancy hat.....The kalpak.


I worked two hours on Monday morning in Manchester, New the afternoon, I took in the Seacoast at Portsmouth and Kittery, ME. I worked two hours in New Hampshire on Tuesday and then headed down to Hyannis on Cape Cod. A Nor'easter was brewing and predicted to wallop the Mid-Atlantic to New England regions. Getting to Cape Cod on Tuesday, prior to the storm was important. My original plan was to use my day off on Wednesday to visit Nantucket via ferry. Unless that storm turned out to be a total dud, it wasn't going to happen. Airlines started canceling all flights throughout the northeast for Wednesday and Thursday...the Ferry suspended service to the island for Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday. Thursday was all but written off.


The weather was supposed to hit Hyannis around 1PM on Wednesday and snow hard and heavy for 12 plus hours. I felt it was best to make my way over to New Bedford, MA on Wednesday morning and get an early check in at the Fairfield Inn & Suites New Bedford.  When I arrived, the wind was already gusting over 40MPH. The snow wasn't there, but a spitting, biting, sideways rain/sleet mixture was just making it's debut. Wednesday night was a quick bite out and then early to bed.


I woke up Thursday morning to hear about the storm that peter'd out (as far as snowfall is concerned). Almost no snow, but plenty of slushy stuff and super high winds. I was scheduled for a two hour workday in Fall River that would finish up around noon. After my grueling workday, I headed back to the FFI and was looking for something to do with the rest of Thursday......then it hit me!! I wonder if the ferries are running out of Hyannis to Nantucket???? If so, what did the schedule look like? Could I get to Hyannis, then Nantucket and back sometime Thursday night? You bet I could!!


The slow speed, vehicle and people, ferry would leave Hyannis at 2:45PM and arrive at Nantucket at 5:00PM. The high speed people only ferry would leave at 3:00PM and arrive at 4:00PM. I picked the slow speed since the ship is much larger and I figured it could handle the rough seas better. The return trip had one option. High speed at 8:20PM. I never even thought that the 8:20PM wouldn't sail (that could turn out to be a major miscalculation).


I left New Bedford around 1PM and was purchasing my ticket for the Steamship ferry at 2:15PM. The big bellied ship was getting ready to accept trucks and cars that were lined up for the trip. I know many on here are aviation geeks and get really pumped up on plane travel days. I enjoy that feeling also....BUT, it doesn't even compare to the exhilaration that is firing waiting to board one of these ferries. Thirty miles out to sea to visit a historic island had my heart pumping.


Yes, it was off season....yes, it was still winter cold...yes, it was a three hour visit....but I was stoked!!!


I hinted about the miscalculation for the certainty of the return trip. That possibility hit home when listening to some of my fellow passengers. They were talking about waiting two days to get home to Nantucket. We were chatting about that inconvenience when one nice lady asked me where I was staying when I arrived. I told her I was heading back that evening. Then she said.. "I hope the weather holds up or you'll be looking for a room"... WHAT?????? I can't NOT get back, I needed to be at work in the morning. I started crossing every pair of fingers I had.


The trip out was rough. The Captain asked all folks to get and stay seated once we were out of the channel. I don't often get motion sickness, but I have my limits. I remembered a tip given by a US Air pilot many years ago...he told me to always look at the horizon and that will defeat the motion or sea sickness.  I stared at that horizon for two hours on the ride to Nantucket!! There were a couple of passengers that didn't fare too well, but I had no problems!!!


As we entered the harbor area, excitement was building. I snapped a few pictures as we were approaching the dock. Just beautiful. I hopped off the ship and walked around town for a while. I stopped in at the Charlie Noble Restaurant for a bite to eat. It was all locals in a somewhat fancy looking pub setting. I can (and have) sit with locals anywhere on Earth. The lady sitting next to me at the bar was enjoying a mouth watering codfish sandwich. I quickly ordered one for myself and washed it down with the recommended IPA. I didn't want to leave the friendly conversation, but I had more exploring to do. By that time, what local shops that were open in the off season had mostly closed up for the I strolled down cobblestone streets with gorgeous buildings.


Oh by the way, I grabbed a picture of the high speed ferry leaving Nantucket, so I felt confident it would come back to get me.


Back to the ferry terminal on Straight Wharf...and I was heading back to the mainland.


















New Hampshire, Maine, Cape New Bedford. I'm getting closer to my work assignment in Fall River (home of Emeril Lagasse). Why New Bedford, you ask? Well, a couple of years ago, I was looking to get out to Martha's Vineyard.( Martha's Vineyard..Day Trip, July, 2013 )  There is a Ferry Terminal in New Bedford that provides the transportation that I seek. When the ferry pushed away from the dock, I noticed a newer Fairfield Inn & Suites rising from the old industrial town. I made a note to try that property out the next time in the area. It took me a couple of years, but I'm back, baby!! Since the winter storm is in full tilt status today, no ferry ride for me, but I am trying out the hotel and a couple of local hot spots.


The hotel is actually 7 yrs old and is finishing up a remodel. It feels newer than 7 yrs, for sure. I used the app to message the hotel to let them know of my quest for 500 and that they were #106 FFI and #434 overall Marriott property. They were great and upgraded me to a harbor view suite! Woohoo!


The FFI is literally a two minute walk to the ferry terminal.....and less than a quarter mile to many dining spots. I chose Moby Dick Brewing Co. from the front desk recommendation. After walking the 1/4 mile in biting wind and was closed!!!! No worries, I had Rose Alley Ale House as my back up and they were ready and willing to accept my money. I know that the New Bedford/Fall River area has a long Portuguese history. What I didn’t know is that Mozambique Sauce comes from Portuguese cooking. The Rose Allay has their own version called “Rose”ambiquie. The bar man recommended the sauce on the I split 10 wings with their special sauce and traditional buffalo sauce. That Mozambique Sauce was FANTASTIC!


The storm is supposed to change from sleet to snow and reek some havoc, so I decided to wait til tomorrow and maybe, just maybe, make the ride back to Hyannis to grab that ferry to Nantucket.  I hope the Sun shows up.