Yes, that Bigger Dance. The famous - or infamous - KJR AM contest mimicking the NCAA tournament, where the winner of the official bracket contest wins a trip for two to a sporting event anywhere in the world.
Regular readers will recall this wily blogger won the whole thing in 2005, taking a previously discussed trip to the World Swimming Championships in Montreal. And regular listeners to sports radio may know that the morning show crew of Mitch Levy and Steve Sandmeyer have in the past made sport of my choice given the proximity of Montreal to our own Emerald City. The footnote at the previous link covers my reasons for that selection. Yet, I fear Mitch and Sandmeyer are concerned I didn't get my money's worth out of the experience.
Thus, in the spirit of the good radio I have given them, allow me to detail some of the costs of the trip that my wife and I undertook, where reading to the end is key:
1) Airfare: KJR did get off easy here because of the location and because the corporate demons administering the prize had their travel agent utilize some free tickets the company had coming, with ample restrictions. Hence, our red-eye flight into Montreal...via Philadelphia (which in Latin stands for "Airport of the 5th Circle of Hell"). Even at that, the absolute cheapest I could find tickets for a similar trip as ours was about $1,300.
2) Event passes for two: These were not cheap, running approximately $1,400 in US coin for the eight days of swimming competition. However, the seats were exquisite. Front row, middle of the pool, on the same side of the facility that the medal winners paraded before the crowd during the medal ceremony. Think Club seats on the 45 yard-line at Qwest Field or front-row seats behind the dugout at Safeco. In short: close to optimal.
3) Hotel: Despite some budgetary restraints and some complex contractual obligations overseeing KJR's hotel purchasing, we ended up at a splendid choice for our extended stay of nine nights: Le Square Phillips Hotel and Suites. Our room was a Junior King Suite, whose floorplan and photos are available here (see photos 6 & 7). Note the huge sleeping area, spacious living room, and fully equipped kitchen. Final tab: about $1,500 in American currency.
4) Transportation: Here's where things get fun. KJR's travel agent offered money for a rental car and gas. That had little appeal since downtown Montreal is not car-friendly at all, plus vehicular access to the World Championship site was laborious and limited. Instead we discussed money equal to total estimated cab fare for the trip, including to and from the airport, twice-daily round trips to the event (prelims in the morning, finals in the early evening), and a daily round trip in the downtown area. Agreed upon total: $850 US, which turned out to be a bit more than the rental car + gas option.
Here's where the location of the hotel became key. Montreal's Metro system is superb. And our hotel was quite literally a block from this station. A short subway ride from there, followed by a quick transfer and an even briefer train journey, was this station. From that station's exit it was a walk of, say, 30 seconds to the entrance of the main pool facility.
Also, the hotel was in the heart of downtown and thus virtually all points of interest were either an amiable walk - Montreal in July = deliciously pleasant - or a short Metro ride away. Cab fare to and from the airport, plus two weekly Metro passes and a couple six ticket strips: about $125 Canadian.
Now, I didn't major in math, but I'm fairly certain that $850 US minus $125 Canadian left some extra spending money, especially given the more favorable exchange rate of 2005.
Thus, here are some highlights of what KJR's transportation compensation helped subsidize:
-Le Grand Comptoir: Some of the best, classic French bistro food in Montreal (which is saying something). How do you know for sure? It's p-a-c-k-e-d with business people during the weekday lunch.
-Etoile des Indes: In a city filled with ethnic food, this Indian fare was outstanding.
-Schwartz's: A line out the door, notably past lunchtime during the week, is a good sign. They sell pickles as a separate item on the menu. As splendid as the cardiologist's nightmare that is the rest of the menu actually is, you have to get a pickle. No joke. That good.
-Of course, there is Crescent Street, with watering holes and eateries galore. Tip: the European flair of the city means that when ordering food, a litre (or two!) of the house red wine almost invariably matches affordability with surprisingly good quality...this is important when you're trying to get the most for KJR's money.
-For a nicer yet unpretentious dining experience, I recommend the Fondue Mentale. A summer dinner under the hanging lanterns in the garden makes for wonderful ambiance.
-And in general, many of the dining establishments along the waterfront or near the market in Old Town are very pleasant, especially with the ubiquitous outdoor dining option available in July throughout Montreal.
Lastly, if you must fortify yourself with something nonalcoholic, Second Cup accomplishes the feat of making a Seattleite not miss the coffee houses of the great Northwest in the least.
Oh, and dear me, I almost forgot one other thing. Did I mention Montreal is known for its selection of "gentleman's clubs"?
Thus, it is with very fond memories that I must again thank Mitch in the Morning for inventing one of the greatest sports contests in the modern era. I must thank KJR for their generosity (more than they knew!). The hotel was splendid, the swimming fantastic, the food and merriment enjoyable, and as I recall one very late evening in particular was...well...just outstanding.
[Mrs. Earling nods head with a rather devious smile]
KJR, you have my thanks.
P.S. Here's tip for readers filling out a bracket: more females participate in the bracket contest than some observers would guess, and many take the time to vote in the "matches." Thus, Bigger Dance competitors who tend to earn the ire of the fairer sex (such as Stacey Keibler, for her risque professional persona) have a bit of a ceiling on how deep into the tournament they can go. Consequently, that could make the universally decreed cuteness of first-time Bigger Dance competitor Hayden Panettiere a potent force.
UPDATE: Mitch in the Morning emails to say he'll be discussing this post during the Wednesday am show. Should be fun.
UPDATE II: couple typos fixed.Posted by Eric Earling at April 15, 2008 07:31 PM | Email This