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Master Thread Of Trip Reports I figured I'd gather together some of the random trip reports and other useful threads on this board.
If anyone has any suggestions for how to better organize them I'm all ears!
Also if I missed any other useful threads from this board please post those as well.

Here is a link to the Trip Notes Tab where you can read numerous Trip Reports with helpful tips and pictures.

Trip Tips:

Free Offbeat Travel Guides from SPG by aussiebochur

Helpful websites for basic info when traveling by steve2

Packing tips & tricks by SuperFlyer

Trip Guides & Tour Books Recommendations by Avid Reader

What Do You Do For Kosher Food While Traveling by Dan

Trip Reports:

Ashkelon $30 Holiday Inn Report by Chaikel

Amsterdam, Zurich, And Paris on United and Hyatt's tab by eliteflyer

Around the world by moish

Around the world using aa miles tlv-bkk-hkg-pek-nrt-hnl-lax-jfk Trip Report by momo

Europe May 2010 Trip Planning Thread by Dan

Help planning trip to europe by steve cohen

Hong Kong, Macau, Beijing, Tokyo, Honolulu and Maui Trip Report by Eli

Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London Trip Report by Eli
Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel and Towers Reports by Deal Guy

TLV-IST-HKG on the new Turkish Airlines 77W in First Trip Report by damaxer91

Trip Planning And Trip Report: Shanghai, Beijing, Macau, Hong Kong, Istanbul by chuchem

Trip with Train Through Southern Europe will be continued whenever...) by SuperFlyer

UMAN ROSH HASHANA Trip Report by Eli

July 13, 2010, 10:25:04 PM
Writing a trip report? Here's how to add pictures. Updated 7/10/17:
- Sizes now work differently
- Photobucket no longer works as a host
- Flickr screenshots are updated to the current interface
- The process of embedding a private photo is now (somewhat) simplified

I can't even count the amount of times I've answered this question in one form or another, both on the forums and by PM. I figured I'll write up some detailed instructions and hope people will find this useful.

This tutorial has five sections:
  • Understanding the basics
  • Adding pictures
  • Sharing private pictures
  • Additional methods
  • Summary

Note that nothing in this post will show up properly in Tapatalk; use a regular browser to follow along.

Understanding the basics:

Hosting: The pictures have to live somewhere. They are not stored on DDF; the forum system follows a couple of codes which tells it where the picture is stored, and it "pulls" the picture from there and displays it in your post. What this means is that for any picture to be displayed on DDF it first has to be uploaded to an image hosting service.

There are many hosting services out there, including ImageShack, tinypic, and imgur. All work on the same principle: you upload your pictures, the site provides the necessary code and links, and will display your picture when called upon to do so by DDF.

My personal host of preference is Flickr, for a multitude of reasons:
  • They're part of Yahoo, so I know that it's not going anywhere soon. Many hosts have come and gone, and with it, your pictures and links. That's not something I'm worried about with Flickr.
  • They give you an entire terabyte of space for free, with no limits on the amount of uploads or views per day (like some others do).
  • You could organize your pictures in many different ways, such as by type, trip, etc.
  • You could name and describe your pictures (and have that show up on DDF too, should you choose to), and people could leave comments, etc.
  • You could keep your pictures private, making them only accessible if it's clicked through from DDF, should you choose to.
  • If someone wants to know more about the picture they could click on it and see the exposure info, tags, even a map of where the picture was taken from (considering the file has location information included).

The examples we'll examine below will all be from Flickr, but the steps generally apply to all other hosting sites.

BBCode: The forum runs on something called BBCode (BBC for short). Without this code all that could be displayed is plain text; adding BBC tags however will let you format your post in many different ways. You do not have to know any coding to use this; generally you could click on one of the icons while posting and the code will automatically be entered for you. However, understanding how the codes in question work, what each part means, and so on are all very useful to know and will be explained here.

Once your pictures are online on a hosting site, you will use the [img] tag to tell the forum where your picture is stored, what size to display it at, and what happens if the picture is clicked on.

Adding pictures:

Let's have a look at the different options and controls, and how they would show up on the forum.

Step 1: Uploaded your pictures. Sign in or create an account on your hosting site of choice, and follow the prompts to upload your pictures. 

Step 2: From your host, navigate to the picture in question and choose to "share", "get link", or whatever that particular website calls it. On Flickr this is designated by an arrow on the lower right-hand corner of the image:

Step 3: There may be many different sharing options. Here the choices are Share, Embed, Email, and BBCode. Click on BBCode (top box), and the correct code will be generated (bottom box):

Note that BBC can also be referred to as "Forum" or "Forum Code" on different sites.

This will generate the required [img] code needed, but don't copy and paste just yet.

Step 4: Choose a size; I find that Large 1024 seems to work best - it displays at a nice size in the thread, while not slowing everything down:

If the size you picked is too large, DDF will automatically resize it to fit the width of the page. That means that you're getting basically the same view as Large 1024, but it will run slowly due to all the resizing happening. And if you choose a smaller size, your picture will not be resized - it'll just show up smaller.

For comparison, here's what the picture would look appear like in Large 1024, Small 240, and Original, in that order:

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Note that the size options you get will vary slightly depending on the particular picture in question; however it'll be close enough to the options here.

Step 5: Copy and paste. Once you've chosen a size, copy and paste the resulting code into your post. While editing it'll look like so...

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

...and display like so once previewed or posted:

Haleakala Sunrise by Morris Hersko, on Flickr

Let's take a detailed look at what we have, and how it happened:
  • We have the picture displayed at the size we chose.
  • If you click on the picture it takes you to Flickr where you could see more details, different sizes, and move around my pages to see other pictures.
  • We have the image name as a caption, which itself is also a clickable link to the above-mentioned page.
  • We have a photo credit, which links to my Flickr profile page.

How did all this happen, and how could we manipulate the code to change which of these actually happen?

Let's break the code down piece by piece:

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

Red is the most important part - the [img] and [/img] tags notify the system that a picture should be inserted here, while the URL in between tells the system where to find said picture. This is static: all it does is show the picture - no links, credits, etc. If this is what you want, keep only this part of the code and erase the rest (see example 1 below).

Green is a [url] tag. This is what makes the picture clickable. Since this tag surrounds the [img] tag, it means that the entire picture is clickable, not text, as is typical. This is how I personally post my pictures, since I'm not a fan of the caption and credit parts. By only using the red and green parts of the code, it shows the picture only, but clickable. See example 2 below.

Blue Is the caption; the [url] tag makes the "Haleakala Sunrise" clickable.

Purple is the link and text to my profile page. You could eliminate either the profile link or the caption by deleting the applicable parts of the code (personally I delete both, like I said above). See example 3 below where I kept the caption but got rid of my profile link.

Brown is pure text and is there to turn the caption into a coherent sentence.

Example 1 - Static, non-clickable picture. The code used shown first, then the result:


Example 2 - my personal preference. Clickable picture, no caption:


Example 3 - As above, but with the caption and no profile link:

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url]

Haleakala Sunrise

Sharing private pictures:

The above steps only works if the picture is public. What if you want them private, but viewable (and clickable) only through DDF? For this we use something Flickr calls a Guest Pass. It generates a special link for your private photos, and only someone with that link (and in this case, DDF) could view the picture.

This adds two more steps to the process:

Step 6: After step 5 above, jump back to Flickr's sharing menu, and choose Share. A special link will be generated:

Step 7:Replace the red part of the original code below with the new link, and everything will work as if it was a public photo:

[url=][img][/img][url=]Haleakala Sunrise[/url] by [url=]Morris Hersko[/url], on Flickr

Flickr has a couple of options for the Guest Passes, such as setting expiration dates. See this page for more info.

Additional methods:

DDF hosted: The forum actually does have a built-in image hosting feature, but that is only for extremely small file sizes (meaning the pictures will be very low quality). Additionally, the pictures only show up at the bottom of the post, and as thumbnails only. All this means that it's is generally not a good option for trip reports. To use this feature, click the "Attachments and other options" link below the text field.

Tapatalk hosted: If you have your pictures on your phone you could click on the camera icon to upload a picture. This works in a similar way to Flickr - the picture will be uploaded to Tapatalk's servers, and it will automatically generate the code and insert into your post. The disadvantage of this method is that you have no control on the size of the picture - it will be displayed like the Original sample above.

Other websites: If the picture is hosted on any other website, you could copy the image link (generally this will not be the page link) and paste the address between [img] and [/img] tags. As with Tapatalk, you will have no control on the size of the image.

  • Upload your pictures to an image hosting site.
  • From their "share" or "link" dialog choose BBCode or Forum, and select a size.
  • Paste the resulting code into your DDF thread.
  • Tweak the code if desired to change some settings
  • If your picture is private, use a Flickr Guest Pass

October 25, 2014, 11:11:43 PM
Aurora, Storms, and Snowpants: An Icelandic Saga by Something Fishy, whYME, and ChAiM'l
August 01, 2015, 11:57:21 PM
Nescafe Italy/London Honeymoon I wanted to start my report by thanking all DDFíers for helping me plan this trip. I couldnít have done it without you! 

This was our first trip and therefore the first report that I am writing, so pardon my lack of experience in writing a TR!

Ever since we got married almost a year ago we had wanted to go to Italy, but we werenít sure how to go about doing it. That was until I bumped into DDF which gave me all the information I needed and a big push to start planning our trip. After reading through various threads on Italy, I was ready to go ahead and book tickets.
While searching for tickets, I saw that the best prices would be with BA to Milan since tickets to Venice were $500 more per ticket. I figured we would take the train from Milan to Venice, where we planned to start out trip. Since we were flying through LHR we decided to stay in London for a few days at the end of our trip. I therefore booked tickets JFK-LHR-LIN and LHR-JFK for $828.79 pp (using AARP-Cardofferu). I then booked tickets with Ryanair Business Plus from CIA-STN for $85 pp.

About a week after booking, I noticed that the price from JFK-VCE (via LHR) dropped to about $900 pp. which made me call up BA and ask if there was a possibility to change our reservation. To make a long story short: after 12 hours of continuous calling, and finally speaking to a supervisor, my reservation was switched to JFK-LGW-VCE for the price difference of $57 pp and a $25 processing fee. This was much cheaper and more convenient than taking the train from Milan to Venice.   (Of the 100 times I called, one of the agents felt bad for me and credited me 3,500 Avios to my account. So I got that too)

Ill skip the planning and write about the trip as you can read through the same hundreds of pages and get the same information I got 

The trip:
Our flight (JFK-LGW) was scheduled for Wednesday night at 9:55PM but was delayed by almost an hour. Our connection time in LGW was about 1:30 which was just enough time for me to daven (it was Rosh Chodesh and that took longer) and head to our gate.
We arrived in VCE after 3PM exhausted after not sleeping a whole night on the flight. In the arrival terminal, after stopping at an ATM for Euro (not foreign exchange fees for CPC) we headed to the information desk to buy tickets for the Alilaguna Boat which was Ä15 pp for a 1 way ticket. The agent at the desk was not well informed on which stop to get off by until we showed him on the map where we have to go. You can get this information by checking the hotel website.  We also bought a map for Ä3 which was unnecessary as the hotel provided maps for free.
We took a 10 minute walk through the white underpass/tunnel and followed the signs to the vaparetto/water taxi and boarded the Boat. We took the orange line (there are also red and blue lines) to the Guglie stop (as per our hotels website) (Pronounced Goo-Lee). The ride was about 45 minutes and the walk from the stop to the hotel was about 5 minutes with luggage. We arrived at our hotel 5:30.
We stayed at the Carnival Palace Hotel as it is the nicest hotel in the Jewish Ghetto area and we planned to eat there Shabbos. After settling into our hotel room, (and changing into comfortable sneakers) we headed out to explore the Ghetto neighborhood. We first stopped into Gam Gam to make a reservation for supper. We then strolled around and found the Chabad Shul, said hi to Rami and got all davening times. We then headed back to Gam Gam for supper. We ordered an entrťe of Humus and meat (Ä9), Tagliatelle with meat sauce (like sloppy joes) (Ä9.5) and Shwarma (Ä15). Water is not for free. It has to be purchased with every meal unless youíre a cheapskake and bring your own (not sure if its Ďlegalí) water costed Ä3. (pictures of food to follow). I liked the food, but my wife didnít love it since she doesnít like Isreali spices (zatar ect) that are used there.
After supper, I went to daven Mincha & Maariv in the Chabad Shul. (9:30ish)
After mincha/maariv, we took a vaparetto down the Grand Canal. Since it was so late at night, we had to buy vaparetto tickets at St. Lucia train station, which was about a 10-15 minute walk away from our hotel. The English option on our ACTV (24 hour ticket machines) didnít work of course, so we stood there for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. Some kind lady finally helped us (she spoke Spanish) buy a 1 day pass (Ä20 pp), as we planned to use it the whole next day. We found out afterwards that we couldíve bought a student 3 day pass, which is only available at the airport, to save money (Ä35 pp)
We got back to our hotel room at about 12:00 really tired as we still didnít sleep since Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. (it was Thursday night).
Friday: Murano, Burano.......... to be continued

August 15, 2016, 11:01:25 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting video thread...

August 26, 2016, 12:17:08 PM
Re: Argentina - Buenos Aires, El Calafate & Ushuaia

Will get some pictures up for sure - on my phone in Patagonia at the moment but I'll see what I can do.

Yes I'm a UK citizen; no Visa charge for us.
Oh, didn't realize you're still there. Enjoy!

I confused the UK with Canada and Australia that still pay the reciprocity fee.

August 30, 2016, 08:20:56 AM
CS91's Bar trip to Asia (ICN, CNX, USM & HKG) Here goes part 1! Gonna do my best to actually finish this one but it may be a bit slow because haven't written up anything yet and I'll be quite busy over the next month between moving and starting work but I'll try my best!


A few months after I was done booking my MLE trip, I started thinking about what to book for my Bar trip in August. For those of you who donít know what that is, most law students, after graduating and taking the Bar, book a big trip as a way of celebrating and getting away and enjoying life one last time before starting work. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere far because once I start working, even when I do take vacation, I wouldnít really have enough days to blow two days travelling.

We were aiming for about a 12-15 day trip, and originally we were thinking about going to Hawaii and splitting our time there between two different islands. But then I realized that Iíd have about a week and a half off between my last exam and my graduation in May, so we decided to go to Hawaii then for 6 days (Hawaii TR, yes, I know, I never finished it) and choose a different destination for my Bar trip.

So it was back to the planning board. I read through some TRs and asked on the Next Vacation Ė Ideas thread, and MarcoPolo suggested Thailand as a great place to take a kid who will be one at the time of travel, and to add a country or two on the way there and back. I went to Thailand (Phuket and Phi Phi Island) and Hong Kong as a kid with my parents and remember it being beautiful, and thought it would be cool to take my wife and kid, and see other parts of Thailand.

We originally thought of doing Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore, but after seeing SQís unfavorable lap infant policies (10% of revenue fair) and realizing that I didnít have enough points for 3 seats on SQ F/R, we decided on South Korea instead (KE charges 10% of award fair for a lap infant). Now that we decided on the cities that weíd be visiting, it was time to book. Iíve read about people encountering headaches and issues when booking award travel, but I was not prepared for the curveballs that I was about to be thrownÖ If you're not interested, feel free to skip the flight portion as it's pretty lengthy.


Flights: Before looking for flight availability, I did a quick search for the hotels that I wanted to stay at to see if there was availability for the dates that I was targeting. Thankfully, availability seemed wide open so I started working on the flights.

The plan was to fly on KE for the JFK-ICN-CNX flights, PG for the CNX-USM-HKG flights, and CX for the HKG-JFK flight. I started with CX because I know that was the hardest to find availability on. I was lucky enough to find 3 J seats available (as expected, there was no F availability) for the dates that I needed, so I called AA to put the flights on hold. The plan was to book my seat under my account (I had enough points for the one seat), and my wife and daughterís seats under DWís account (she was about 20k points short, but had just hit the bonus on her Citi AA Plat. card and the statement was closing two days later so I thought I was good). More on this later. Once the CX flight was on hold, I looked at KE availability, and found two F seats (Kosmo Suites 2.0) available for the dates that I needed, and called them up to put that reservation on hold. Side note Ė every airline should strive to provide customer service like KE. Their reps are extremely pleasant to deal with. After just a couple of minutes on the phone, the reservation was on hold so I got to work on the PG flights. Thatís where I encountered my first curveball.

I looked on EF and found availability that would be bookable through FB for the two PG flights. After being reminded by D93 (this is going to be the first of many times that he gets thanked in this TR; to say that he came in the clutch for me while booking this trip is an understatement) that MR to FB transfers are instant, I decided to wait until FB confirmed that they could book the flights before transferring. I picked up the phone, called FB, and was told that two days ago FB got a notice from PG that they were terminating their relationship and therefore they couldnít book the flights. Bummer. But I decided to so some of my own research. I googled and googled and found nothing about this apparent termination. I then looked on FBís website and it said that they are affiliated with PG. Time to HUCA! So I called back, landed on a representative who saw the availability and put the reservation on hold for me and told me to go ahead with the transfer. Score, right? I saw the reservation on my end under my login, and the rep told me that he had to put me on hold for a minute but that I should go ahead and transfer in 40k points to my FB account. I logged on to Amex, input 40k, was about to click transfer, and for some reason, and I have no idea why, I didnít click. I decided to wait for the rep to come back on the line so that I can confirm that everything is set one more time. After a few minutes, the rep came back and the first thing that he said was ďplease tell me you havenít transferred the points yet!!!Ē I told him that I hadnít, and he said that while I was on hold, the system didnít allow him to go to the next step of booking it and when he inquired why, he was told that the relationship had been terminated and the flights werenít bookable. I dodged a bullet, but now I had to figure out how else to get this booked.

So I did some research, bothered D93 a bit more :), and learned that AB, CX, EY and JAL were my other options of booking PG flights. I had a lot of MR points and not that many extra SPG points, so I started with the first three choices. AB couldnít find availability (canít search for the type of fair that these airlines need to be able to book on EF), CX was impossible to get a hold of and partner award bookings need to be done by submitting a form and waiting 7-10 days for an answer Ė no thanks. Before trying EY, I decided to give JAL a call and see how many points it would be and if they could find availability. I landed on an extremely nice rep named Erica who was able to find availability on the flights that I needed. She told me that because of the current promotion, both flights combined would be 10k JAL miles per person (they use a distance based award chart), but that unfortunately she wouldnít be able to hold the flights for me. So I decided to transfer 20k SPG points to JAL and keep my fingers crossed that there would still be availability once the points showed up in my JAL account.

While waiting for the JAL transfer to go through, I went back to ticketing my CX flight. Problem was, the 5 day hold was expiring on Shabbos afternoon (the day after New Years), and while DWís Citi AA statement had closed and it showed that she earned the points, the points had not posted to her AA account within the standard 24-48 hours. I called Citi on Thursday night (New Years Eve) and they said it could take up to two weeks, so I called AA and they said that they were experiencing delays because of the Holidays. So I thought about what to do and then I remembered that somewhere deep in the Citi AA thread, someone had reported that AA allowed them to book a flight and have a negative point balance because they conferenced in Citi who confirmed that the points were en route. So I called back AA, landed on a rep who knew about that process but informed me that in order to do that, they needed the help of AA Customer Service who was closed until Monday morning because of the Holidays. I tried getting them to extend the hold, HUCAíd countless times, but kept getting the same answer Ė they can only do such things on AA flights, not partner airlines. So I had two options: A) release the hold before Shabbos and hope that it goes right back into inventory, or B) let the hold expire on Shabbos afternoon and then log on right after Shabbos and hopefully the seats went back into inventory and havenít been scooped up yet. I didnít like my chances with either, so I went back to my savior, D93, and Whatsappíd him on Friday morning (15 minutes before Shabbos for him) and asked him if heíd be so kind to log on to my wifeís AA account after Shabbos was over for him, and if the points posted to have it ticketed (I gave him my cc number), and if the points didnít show up, to release them and see if it went back into revenue. He said that heíd be happy to help me out and that heíd let me know what happened after Shabbos. Needless to say, I was sitting on pins and needles all Shabbos, and right after Maariv, ran to my phone, opened Whatsapp and saw a text from D93 saying that the points hadnít showed up, butÖhe released the hold and the tickets went back into revenue!!! New 5 day hold to work with. Phew! So I waited until Monday when customer service would be open and called and asked to have me account in the negative once Citi confirmed the points were on the way. I HUCAíd and HUCAíd (at least 15 times) but nobody knew what I was talking about and I was ready to throw in the towel. I decided as a last attempt, Iíd call Citi to see if there was anything that could be done. I called Citi, told them the situation, and they looped in AA CS. AA CS told me that they didnít see the points anywhere but that theyíd make a ďspecialĒ exception and let me ticket the reservation anyways and go into the negative because Citi confirmed that the points were earned. Finally!!!! In order to do that, they looped in Advantage reservations, who looped in a supervisor (at this point there were 5 of us on the call) and after about an hour and a half, the tickets were on request! I honestly thought about making a Kiddush ;D.

The next morning, I woke up, checked my JAL account and the points had shown up! I picked up the phone, called JAL, landed on Erica again (!), and booked the PG flights. All that was left was to contact PG directly to add the lap infant to the reservation. PG isnít reachable by phone unless you speak Thai so I sent them an email and took care of it all that way. (About a month later, once I had recuperated from the AA fiasco, I finished the KE booking that I had on hold.) Finally, thanks to a little luck, a lot of persistence, and D93 being my savior, the flights were taken care of!

Hotels: Once the flights were taken care of, I took care of the hotels. I called SPG and booked the LM Chaing Mai for 6 nights (base room), and then called the Sheraton Samui and booked a base room there for 5 nights.

Then I called Hyatt to book the Hyatt TST in HKG, and of course, the hotel was booked and there was no more award availability. I flaunted my Diamond Status, told them that because there were base rooms available for revenue bookings that they had to let me reserve it on points according to the T&Cs, and after pushing them a little, I got a supervisor to book me into the room and confirm my reservation.

For our hotel in ICN, it took me a couple of weeks to decide whether we should stay at the new Hyatt in Incheon which is supposed to be beautiful, or at the Grand Hyatt in Seoul. Pro of staying in Incheon would be being able to take advantage of the free tours that KE offers, and pro of staying in Seoul would be the better location. After talking it over with a friend whoís been to Seoul many times, we decided on the Grand Hyatt Seoul for a few reasons. 1) better location if we just wanted to walk around at night, 2) if we stayed in Incheon and wanted to actually see a decent amount of Seoul, we wouldíve had to do two of KEís Seoul tours which would have been a lot of bus rides back and forth between Seoul and Incheon, 3) doing two of KEís Seoul tours wouldnít have left enough time to see the DMZ, and 4) most DMZ tours provide pick up from your hotel in Seoul which is convenient.

A couple of days after I finished booking the Thailand hotels, the bonuses for our Citi Hilton Signature cards (75k each) posted, and I decided to look and see if the Conrad Koh Samui was available for the dates that Iíd be there. It was, so I quickly applied for the Citi Hilton Reserve card (we were booked to be in USM for Shabbos) and kept my fingers crossed that it would still be available when the certificates posted to my account. Why not go for gold, right? Fast-forward a month and a half. Free night certificates from Hilton Reserve card posted to my account so I called up and booked us at the Conrad Koh Samui for 5 nights and cancelled the Sheraton Samui. Once I got the points back for the Sheraton Samui, I called back SPG and upgraded to the Executive Suite at LM Chiang Mai. NOW we were set!!

Total Cost
JFK-ICN on KE F (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): 199,500 KE Miles + $501.59 YQ
Grand Hyatt Seoul (1 Night): 1 Anniversary Night
ICN-CNX on KE J (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): Included in above mileage and YQ
Le Meridian Chiang Mai (6 NightsĖExecutive Suite): 44,000 SPG Points
CNX-USM on PG Y (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): 20,000 JAL Miles + $247.50 YQ
Conrad Koh Samui (5 Nights): 2 Free Weekend Nights Certificates + 228,000 Hilton Points
USM-HKG on PG Y (2 Adults + 1 Lap Infant): Included in above mileage and YQ
Hyatt Regency TST (2 Nights): 1 Anniversary Night + 15,000 Hyatt Points
HKG-JFK on CX J (3 seats): 165,000 AA Miles + $167.28 YQ

Total Dollar Value of Flights and Hotels: $50,783.93

August 31, 2016, 10:20:23 AM
Family of 5, 3 day 2 night trip within driving distance of NYC for under $200! I am going to try my hand at a mini trip report. We were looking for a vacation within driving distance from NYC and that wouldn't break the bank for 3 day 2 night vacation. Much to my own surprise we needed actually fuguring out and doing a great trip that met that criteria. So here goes:
Besides needing to be within driving distance of NYC it needed to be appropriate for young family with 5 and 3 year old boy and a 12 month old baby.
I didn't really have a starting point until someone my wife works with told her about Edaville USA. Since we saw a total of 0 frum jews there on a major vacation weekend I am assuming the word has not gotten out about this place yet. It was an old small amusement park that they have rebranded into a Thomas (the train) themed park. Since my boys love Thomas we decided to try to center the trip around that especially bc we assumed my 5 year old will grown out of it soon.
Edaville USA is located in Carver, MA. Looking at a map I saw that it was pretty close to a number of options to base around. I could choose from Boston providence and newport. I nixed Boston right away because as it is Carver was really farther then I wanted to drive for such a short trip and I liked the idea of cutting some time out of the drive back by basing out of Rhode Island. A look on ddf and TripAdvisor pretty much ruled out Newport for a trip with my kids so I started looking at providence.
I had 2 free marriot nights from the Marriott CC (1 extended from last year and  from this year). I was nervous that I would have availability issues labor day weekend but that was not an issue at all. I found good reviews for the residence Inn providence-coventry and they had availability. I called them and there 2 bedroom suites were wide open so I had a very good chance of getting the upgrade but I would have to wait until the day of to know for sure.  I was taking some what of a risk bc if I didn't get the upgrade it wasn't going to be much of a vacation.... but I took the gamble.
Next I looked for things to do there.  I found on trip advisor good reviews for the providence children's museum and realized I may have free access with my LI. Children's museum membership a drop of research and confirmed free day 2! ( I did have to pay $9 for one kids bec they only give 3 passes through the reciprocity program... so basically free). While researched I discovered that there are a number of good beaches near providence and i figured our 3rd day was Tuesday after Labor day when all public schools start the beaches will be empty. So our plan was fitting into place perfectly. Sunday edaville usa (only day they were opened) Monday the museum and Tuesday beach.
In terms of food it seemed that there was no reliable kosher places and we had a full kitchen so we just brought a large cooler filled with cheese yogurt pasta tuna etc... and so we made do with that.
More to follow...

September 08, 2016, 07:54:24 PM
A little different Maldives TR I'm sitting right now in the Conrad Rangali Island and while I can't quite manage a live TR I wanted to open this so that I won't be lazy when I get back and make sure to write it.

We're watching some football, about to head out snorkeling as soon as the game is finished but for now GO Broncos, from the Maldives!

September 08, 2016, 11:19:19 PM
Savannah TR on JetBlue promo Here we go, my first large trip report (Iíve done a few small things here and there, but this is my first full trip recap effort). There's next to nothing about Savannah on DDF, and we really enjoyed our trip, so I figured I'd put as much detail (and photos) as I could.

NOTE: I obviously set up the pictures and captions on my desktop, and I'm reasonably certain some of my formatting won't work well on a phone or tapa, and possibly even on some desktop's depending on screen size. I'd love to hear feedback from people as to whether the layout worked well from whatever device they viewed it from.

Having enrolled myself and my wife in the JetBlue Points Match promo (not enough SPG points to do the kids too), we had to decide where to go and for how long. Last resort would be the in-and-outs that many DDFíers seem to have done, to wherever the cheapest option would be, but we much preferred an actual trip where we could visit a city. But, since we were leaving our other 2 children with my in-laws, we couldn't be away for too long. We actually booked Charleston first, but quickly decided to switch to Savannah for a number of reasons. As far as timing, we would fly flew in Tuesday morning and out Wednesday evening Ė basically giving us 2 days and 1 night. I booked window and aisle for both flights, hoping to bring the infant car seat on the plane. Our flights were as follows:

8/23 7:05AM JFK-SAV
8/24 5:50PM SAV-JFK

Flight and Arrival in Savannah
Tuesday morning we were up and out nice and early for our 7:05 AM flight, taking an Uber to JFK for free with a referral credit I discovered I still had. Unfortunately, we forgot the cooler bag with what was supposed to be that dayís lunch at home. Instead, we picked up a sandwich and a salad from Fresko at the CIBO in T5 right after security. Iím curious if they might have had other choices at the other CIBOís, because I did not like the selection. It was a rip-off, but I guess thatís what happens when you have to buy food at the airport.

The flight was full, so no extra seat for baby, but bĒh he was extremely well behaved. After a short flight, we arrived at SAV. Itís a nice little airport with some local character. All the rental companies have the cars on-site, so we proceeded to the Dollar desk, where I had reserved the cheapest option - under $40 for 2 days. The woman at the desk was trying to get everyone to upgrade, and not to a level above, but to the biggest thing she could sell you on. She said ďthereís no trunk in the car youíre getting, how about a Jeep instead.Ē That sounded bad enough to upgrade, but we figured, letís go out and see what it is, and come back if we canít squeeze in. Lo and behold itís a Chevy Cruze (thatís a compact, the category of the Civic, Corolla, etc. Ė not even Chevyís smallest car), with plenty of room in the trunk for all our stuff. It was also extremely well equipped for such a budget car (and such a budget rental price!).

Forsyth Park
We had some time to kill before the first real item on our itinerary, so we stopped at Publix by the airport for some snacks and headed into Savannah to squeeze in Forsyth Park. Itís a nice little park, and you immediately get a sense of the type of city youíre in. This is not NYC, it's got a very southern feel and an air of history about it. Especially striking are the colorful houses facing the park, something that can be found all over the historic parts of Savannah. Having said that, thereís not much to do or see there, and the trolley tours (more on that later) usually cover it too. It was nice to stop by given our schedule, but not a must see attraction. The northern half of the park is covered with live oaks (the state tree), with paths surrounding a very pretty fountain. The southern half is mostly open fields, with a really tall confederate memorial smack in the middle, and a memorial for the Spanish-American War at the southern tip. In between, there's a playground, a 'fragrant garden' and a cafe. After 15-20 minutes, weíd seen the sight and moved on to the next attraction.

(L)Plaque commemorating the naming of the park, right in front of (R)the big fountain featured in the northern portion of the park.


(L)Crepe myrtle with a few flowers, dwarfed by live oak, covered in Spanish moss (which seemed to cover nearly every tree). (R)Walled 'fragrant' garden


(L)Little bird pond/fountain in the middle of the fragrant garden. Not much there in the heat of summer's end, but I did find this one (R)rose.


(L)Confederate memorial. (R)Spanish-American war memorial.


Just to give you a sense of the very different vibe of the area, here are some of the houses lining the park:


Dolphin Boat Tour

Our next stop was a dolphin boat tour. Savannah is situated on the Savannah River, but fairly close to the mouth where it flows into the Atlantic. As a result, there are Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that hang out downriver of the city. I had first seen a company that operates out of Savannah proper, but it was twice the price of all the other companies I eventually found, which launch from Tybee Island. If Hilton Head is Savannah's nearby resort town, Tybee is its nearby beach town - no fancy chain hotels, no fancy vacation communities. We were planning on visiting Tybee anyway, so it was a no-brainer to drive out that way for the dolphin tour as well. We booked an 11:30 tour with Captain Derek's Dolphin Adventure - $16/person after tax for a 60-90 minute ride. They let us bring the stroller on without a problem, though I had to carry it to where we sat as the boat is not quite big enough for maneuvering the stroller.

They operate with a captain piloting the boat, and another guy who basically attempts to entertain with jokes, and points out the dolphins when they start appearing. We saw a good number of dolphins at a distance, until finally a pair of them decided to come right up to the boat and say hi. They also speed the boat up at one point to make waves, hoping to have the dolphins 'surf' in the wake, but they were unsuccessful getting the dolphins to do that on our tour. It's a nice ride providing some relief from the heat and humidity, and it was definitely cool to see the dolphins up close. If I were to do something like this again though, I'd make sure to bring something faster than my point and shoot, as you have to be quick to catch the dolphins in frame.

As we were boarding the tour, we saw (L)this dredging vessel coming upriver, followed by (R)a container ship. The guide later told us that they're doing dredging work to deepen the channel for even bigger container ships, and when there's a storm coming, they bring all the ships into the relative come of the river a day or two before.


(L)Our first dolphin sighting! After getting a bunch of not too great shots from distance, (R)eventually they decided to come hang out near the boat for a few minutes.


Fort Pulaski, built after the War of 1812 as part of the US coastal defense system, saw significant fighting in the civil war (that's why the walls are so scarred, you can zoom in to see).

(L)Cockpur Island Lighthouse, the smallest lighthouse in Georgia. At low tide you can walk from the fort, but as you can see it's covered by water in the middle of the day. (R)Tybee Island Lighthouse, the largest lighthouse in Georgia, and one of seven colonial era lighthouses still standing today.


(L)Just a nice shot from the marina looking back over the marshes at a storm that thankfully never hit us. (R)Someone on the boat pointed out a rainbow in the cloud and this was the best shot I was able to get.


Tybee Island

After the tour, we continued on to the rest of Tybee Island. We stopped at the North Beach parking lot, where my wife went to check on the conditions on the beach. It was too hot for the baby, and too not-deserted for me, but she did see a sign that made us realize we'd seen Tybee Island in nature shows, as it's a significant nesting site for sea turtles. The lighthouse is right by that lot, as is a museum in an old fort (Fort Scriven), but neither were open, so we moved on. I had seen something about a pier and pavilion at Tybee's South Beach, so we headed that way to check it out. Parking is $2/hour, but we didn't have quarters, so I ended up paying the $4 cc minimum. We thought we'd get our money's worth by also visiting the marine science center, which is right next to the pavilion, but we ended up deciding to skip it in the interest of time. The pier and pavilion were worthwhile in their own right.

(L)Food court under the pavilion. (R)Fishing pier past the pavilion, stretching out into the ocean.


Semi-panoramic view from the fishing pier of the pavilion, the beach, and the resorts in the background.


We took in the views and sea breeze for a half hour or so before heading back to the car and back into Savannah.

Congregation Mickve Israel
Next stop was Congregation Mickve Israel, the 3rd oldest Jewish congregation in America (after Spanish and Portuguese in NY, and Touro in RI). They have tours that last around 30-45 minutes, with a $7/person suggested donation (they made it seem mandatory though, which was fine by me as I was planning to pay that amount anyway). The tour takes you into the shul and then to a single room museum they made in a relatively modern part of the building that also houses the office, gift shop, meeting rooms, etc. I did not realize this beforehand, but it may be halachically problematic to enter the shul itself (my Rov told me after that I shouldn't have gone in), so AYLOR beforehand if you plan to go. They seat you in the shul while the tour guide talks about the history of Jews in Savannah and the congregation itself. Then you go up by the aron and where they open it to show the sifrei torah. Finally they bring you up to the museum room to see all the historical artifacts they have curated for tourists.

The history is remarkable, as the Jewish presence in Georgia dates back nearly to the founding of the colony. This congregation didn't officially become reform until 1904, though it seems like it was fairly progressive as time went on, and very integrated into it's surroundings. The building itself highlights this with its Gothic style, more reminiscent of a church than a shul, and artifacts in the museum that show the role of congregants in Savannah, and more generally American, society.

Not my photo, but I wanted to highlight just how church-like the building is from the outside (you can click through to see the photographer's flickr page).


(L)Sefer torah which was brought over by the first Jews to come to Georgia in 1733. (R)Note from Robert E. Lee to one of the congregants.


(L)Front of the shul, including aron and bimah. (C)Looking back from near the aron on the rest of the shul. Note the organ above the doors in the back. (R) One of the 8 large stained glass windows covering the sides of the building.


(L)Shofar, havdalah set, haggadah, shabbos lamp, siddurim, and megillah. (C)Ceremonial helmet of Rabbi George Solomon, who was the Rabbi of Mickve Israel from 1903-1945, and served as a chaplain in both world wars. (R)Menorah at middle right and mohel's set (which was brought over on the boat with the Torah above) at bottom left.


It was now late enough to check-in, so we headed to the hotel to get settled before mincha/maariv and dinner.

Part 2 will cover the hotel, kosher food and minyan, trolley tour and City Market.

September 12, 2016, 04:49:11 PM
Chasing Lava in Hawaii: Warning - May Induce Happiness, by PBaruch (2016) Our love for Hawaii Island (commonly known as the Big Island) is well known and some of you may have read my past two trip reports, which can be found here:

Our story began years ago while I was reading a photography magazine containing an article about shooting lava on Hawaii Island.  I was absolutely mesmerized by the photographs and immediately began planning our first trip.  Although DW had been bugging me to go to Hawaii before that time, I had never been interested until reading about the lava.  Since that time, we have visited the Big Island several times and we have been very fortunate to befriend some truly wonderful individuals.

Earlier this summer, we heard reports that the lava was again flowing towards the ocean.  The last time that there was ocean entry was in 2013 and although I had seen ocean entry on two prior visits, DW and the kids had not previously seen ocean entry from land.  Also, my little guy wasn't even born yet when the lava was last flowing into the ocean in 2013.  As soon as the lava flow hit the ocean, DW told me she wanted to go back to the Big Island and I wasn't arguing with her.  Also, since I had recently become self employed, taking time off was not really an issue.  I asked my boss for two weeks off and his response was take all the time that you need.

Flight to Hawaii:

ewr-hnl-koa map by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160824-WA0007 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the flight to Hawaii we received Regal kosher meals which weren't bad and they were edible.

For this trip, we decided to stay eleven nights at the Sheraton in Kona and two nights in Volcano.  Although DW and I much prefer Volcano over Kona (the kids prefer Kona due to the swimming pool and nearby beaches), it made more sense for us to stay in Kona rather than Volcano for the bulk of this trip.  DW didn't want to spend Shabbos in Volcano and the cost of staying at the Sheraton was minuscule (using SPG points) compared to Volcano (where I had to pay for the hotel with cash).

We arrived in Kona on Wednesday afternoon, picked up our rental car, stopped by Walmart for some drinks and supplies, and then headed to the Sheraton.  Once again, we were treated well and upgraded to a large ocean front room containing three beds (only such room in the entire hotel).  On the following day, we did some more shopping including buying a jogging stroller for our lava adventure.  We stopped by Target and bought this stroller, which served us very well:

We also stopped by Greenwell Farms, one of our favorite spots in Kona.  We took a farm tour and tasted delicious Kona Coffee.

Taking a tour of the farm:

DSC_7272 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Holding a coffee bean:

DSC_7257 by P Bryan, on Flickr

I love Kona coffee!

DSC_7283 by P Bryan, on Flickr

There is a resident chameleon but we couldn't find it this time.

DSC_7315 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.  We awoke at about 12:00 a.m. and headed out at about 12:30 a.m. for the drive to Kalapana for our trip to the ocean entry.  At the present time, there are three ways to access the area where lava is flowing into the ocean: (i) walk the approximately 10 miles round trip over the county emergency access road from Kalapana (you can also walk over the road from the National Park side as well); (ii) rent a bicycle from one of several companies and ride to the ocean entry; or (iii) pay for Kalapana Cultural Tours to drive you most of the way and then hike or bike the remaining approximately 1.8 miles each way.  We chose the shuttle tour as it is very important for us to do as much as we can as a family and expose our kids to these wonders.  I was lucky to be introduced to the owner of Kalapana Cultural Tours, who graciously arranged a private tour for my family.  We were shuttled in a 4WD van and we then hiked the remainder of the way to the lava flow.  Unfortunately my buddy, photographer Bruce Omori, was unavailable to join us at that time.  I was able to go out to shoot lava with Bruce later in our trip, more about which is discussed below.

The county emergency access road:

DSC_8005 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken at the ocean entry:

DSC_7772 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_3239 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7454 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7854 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7910 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs of the lava from past trips:

Lava ocean entry on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2011. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2013. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2013 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After being out most of the night and into the morning hours, we returned back to the hotel for much needed naps.  We relaxed and prepared for Shabbos at the Sheraton.

On Sunday we visited Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park.  Although we had driven past Punalu'u on prior trips, we had never previously visited this particular park.  Punalu'u is famous for having sea turtles on the beach but none were there during our visit.  I didn't find Punalu'u to be particularly attractive but it is relatively easy to access this park and the black sand beach.

DSC_8020 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lilly pond behind the beach:

DSC_8024 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Punalu'u, we visited South Point where we watched some local kids jump off the cliff into the ocean below.  Also, I went hunting for the South Point marker, which denominates South Point as the southernmost point in the United States.  After an unsuccessful attempt on my own, I asked one of the locals who was fishing in the area about the marker.  He directed me to an area behind a large rock.  Once again, I went off in search of the marker but found nothing.  I went back to the local and he explained that the marker was nothing more than the remains of a plastic rod cemented in the rock:

DSC_8031 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After speaking to the local for a few minutes, he told me that his cousin owned Kalapana Cultural Tours and he asked me to send his regards.  After South Point, we headed back to the hotel to pick up frozen meat that we had brought from home for a BBQ with friends.  On the way to the BBQ, we stopped off at Walmart to buy a grill and supplies.

We met our friends and their families for a BBQ at a beach near Costco:

DJI_0006 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8070 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8075 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We grilled hotdogs, salami, burgers, and vegetables.  Our friends brought lilikoi (otherwise known as passion fruit) and breadfruit (which we grilled as well).

DSC_8045 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The lilikoi was delicious and we couldn't get enough.  The breadfruit was...something to taste once.  The fruits in Hawaii taste amazing and you can immediately tell the difference between Hawaii grown fruit and the stuff we get back home.

The following day we took a snorkel trip to Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.  Although we had snorkeled there once before, it was worthwhile to return.  Once again, the kids had an amazing time.  On the way there we saw a school of flying fish and on the way back we saw a pod of dolphins.

DSC_8101 by P Bryan, on Flickr

P1020600 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the snorkeling trip, we visited the beach by the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa (near the Hilton), where we stayed for sunset.  We had wanted to photograph sunset from behind the fish pond by 'Anaeho'omalu Beach, but it was closed for construction.  Turtles can often be found on this beach but none were there when we visited.  (Noticed a pattern yet?)

DSC_8244 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8251 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Tuesday we visited Waimea and the Parker Ranch.

Driveway leading to the Parker Ranch:

DSC_8265 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8274 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside the main house:

DSC_8292 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Room inside another house at the ranch:

DSC_8318 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Parker Ranch we visited Umauma Falls, which is considered by some to be the most beautiful waterfalls on the Big Island.  We received free admission as it was raining when we pulled up.  However, when we arrived at the falls, the rain stopped and we had a perfect view.

DSC_8344 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8376 by P Bryan, on Flickr

My little guy took this picture of me:

IMG_4349 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Wednesday we visited the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm near the airport in Kona, information about which can be found here:

At the seahorse farm, our kids were able to feed and hold seahorses and it was one of their favorite activities.  We found out about the seahorse farm thanks to my buddy Mitch and his wife, who also happened to be on the Big Island at the same time.

DSC_8384 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8408 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8402 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8436 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Feeding some fish:

DSC_8460 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The touch tank:

DSC_8498 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8510 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8489 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the seahorse farm, we went to the Hilton at Waikoloa, which has a saltwater lagoon that is open to the ocean but contains grates to prevent anything dangerous from getting in.  At the lagoon, you can rent hydro-bike, kayaks, or paddleboats and see colorful reef fish and green sea turtles.  Due to the expected Hurricane Madeline, boat and equipment rentals were ended early.  Luckily for us, neither of the two expected hurricanes affected us at all.  The weather in Kona and Volcano was perfect for the days that we were in each place.

Information about the lagoon can be found here:

While at the lagoon, the kids fed a sea turtle:

DSC_8665 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8689 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since we were so close, we went back to the beach by the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa for sunset.  Once again, there were no sea turtles to be seen.

DSC_8707 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Thursday we went to Pololu Valley, a short but steep hike to a black sand beach.  Although it was pretty, Waipio is still my favorite valley and black sand beach on the Big Island.

DSC_8758 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8723 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8746 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Pololu, we visited Kiholo Bay where we stayed until sunset.  Kiholo is another beach know for sea turtles but once again none were to be found.

DSC_8759 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8766 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8773 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Friday, DW and the girls visited Mauna Loa Observatory while I stayed with the little guy at the Sheraton.  Principally NOAA is based there, with a few other agencies also conducting experiments.  A NOAA technician conducted the tour.

Road to the observatory:

IMG_5045 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ozone detecting equipment is inside this telescope-like structure.  The technician was happy to rotate the dome and open it for them.

IMG_5071 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Touring the observatory:

IMG_5094 by P Bryan, on Flickr

List of famous astronauts who visited the observatory:

IMG_5135 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW requests that I give you the following to ponder: is there more carbon dioxide in the air in the summer or winter and why?

After DW and the girls returned to the hotel, we prepared for Shabbos.  I made a fried potato kugel:

DSC_8792 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW made chicken in a crock pot, which was transferred out right before Shabbos, and replaced with cholent:

12369 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Sunday, DW and the kids went swimming and used the water slide while I helped pack out for our transfer to Volcano.  Along the way to Volcano we stopped off again at Greenwell Farms for delicious Kona coffee.  One of the employees, Chai, recognized us and came running over asking me if I was Mr. PBaruch.  When I responded that I was, she thanked me warmly for our return visit with an Asian greeting.

After Greenwell Farms we stopped off at two roadside fruit stands on the way to Volcano.

Cooks Bounty Fruit Stand:

DSC_8795 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8798 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Basket of lilikoi (DSC_8799) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Judy's Fruit Stand:

DSC_8818 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8811 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8808 by P Bryan, on Flickr

That evening, Bruce and I arranged to shoot the lava flowing into the ocean.  After we arrived in Volcano I did my best to get some rest but the noise from the kids jumping about coupled with my excitement precluded any sleep.  I was scheduled to meet up with Bruce at 1:30 a.m. at a gas station along the way to Kalapana.  I arrived at the gas station at about 12:40 a.m. and went into the gas station convenience store.  Afterwards, I sat in the car for a bit but became restless.  I then decided to linger outside the car for a while.  Several minutes later, four police cars showed up, which I though was due to the strange lurker hanging around.  Luckily I wasn't tackled or tasered that evening.  Bruce arrived at about 1:40 a.m. and we both went into the convenience store (right past the police officers) to stock up on drinks for the trip.  After we exited the store, the police asked us if we were coming or going.  I responded that it was "lava time" and asked if the police officers wanted to join, to which they all had a good laugh.

Bruce was able to drive his truck to the second gate down the county emergency access road (the farthest that anyone can drive), from which point we rode bicycles the rest of the way.  I rented a bicycle from Kaimu Rentals (808-333-4392), which is owned by my friend Junior (same person who guided me and my friend Alex to the lava in 2011).  I could not rent a bicycle from Kalapana Cultural Tours as they did not have anyone available to provide me with a bicycle in the middle of the night.

I mounted the bicycle wearing my heavy camera backpack and tripod, rode forward for a short distance, and promptly fell over sideways.  I hadn't been on a bicycle in years and was off balance with the backpack and tripod (that was hanging off to one side).  What happened next was quite comical.  I got back on the bicycle but must have looked like a drunk as I weaved back and forth.  Once I did get the hang of it, I realized how uncomfortable it was to sit on a narrow hard seat with a heavy load on my back.  My tuchus ached for quite a while but we managed to arrive at the lava at about 3:30 a.m.

Shooting lava is incredibly challenging and the magic light is only there for a very brief period of time.  Despite not always being able to properly capture the lava during the darkness of the night, Bruce and I both enjoyed the show.  At times the lava flowed like a river into the ocean while at other times it dripped as if from a leaky faucet.  We also saw lava exploding like a firecracker and lava balls rolling in the surf.

Pictures taken of the ocean entry:

DSC_8930 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8958 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9272 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9302 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9392 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9686 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Videos taken of the ocean entry:

I returned back to the hotel in Volcano at about 9:00 a.m. and took a much needed nap for a few hours.  We ran a few errands in the afternoon and then visited Volcanoes National Park, where we saw the endangered nene.  We received a free one year family National Park Pass due to the following program for fourth graders:

Pictures of the nene:

DSC_9778 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9768 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9730 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9737 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flowers at Volcanoes National Park:

DSC_9702 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9749 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9748 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we stopped off at Jagger Museum to observe Halemaumau Crater.  The lava level in the crater was quite high and, for the first time, we were able to see lava spattering from the overlook.  I did not, however, take any photographs at that time as I had previously seen better.

The following day we returned home:

ito-hnl-ewr map by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9781 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On our flight home, we received Regal kosher meals which were absolutely horrible and barely edible.   On our return flight this past February we received kosher meals from Oahu Kosher that were quite delicious.  We were looking forward to receiving meals again from Oahu kosher and were very disappointed with the Regal meals.  I'm not sure of the reason for the change but I hope UA continues to use Oahu Kosher in the future.

In summary, we didn't have the opportunity to do everything we would have liked due to time constraints and the two threatened hurricanes.  Nevertheless, we had an extremely restful two-weeks on the Big Island which is unlike many of our other trips.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this trip report.

September 12, 2016, 08:51:58 PM
Re: So I got my drivers license IME getting to know an agent behind the counter is a lot better then any status you can have..
October 05, 2016, 08:40:44 PM
Re: Lakewood NJ Master Thread
Any reason 107.9 is off air
if you give a reason why the were ever on air then maybe someone will feel a need to explain why they are off air

October 09, 2016, 07:44:46 PM
Re: Making Aliya Mazal Tov! Hatzlacha Rabbah!
October 27, 2016, 04:51:18 PM
Re: Making Aliya
Proud to say that this November 7th I will be making aliya!! Moving a little out of the box to Haifa. Would love to know if anyone is from around there and if there are any must knows abut the area.
Even before we'll know who our next president will be :)

I wish you much Hatzlacha!!!

October 27, 2016, 04:58:07 PM
Re: Making Aliya Hatzlacha Raba!
October 27, 2016, 04:58:15 PM
Re: Making Aliya
Proud to say that this November 7th I will be making aliya!! Moving a little out of the box to Haifa. Would love to know if anyone is from around there and if there are any must knows abut the area.
ur username says it all!  Lots of Luck! :)

October 27, 2016, 05:12:39 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting video thread...

September 15, 2017, 02:10:40 PM
Honeymoon: Cape Town, SA - Safari - Mauritius This is my first trip report and it took me around 10 months to finally write it upÖ
The Honeymoon of a lifetime was actually planned from even before we got engaged. We were deciding between South Africa & Australia and as you can guess, South Africa won! I did a ton of research for this trip, from other friendsí who went to SA on their honeymoon, from DDF and from well, the internet. This is my first trip report but hopefully you will enjoy it.
For Flights we booked the following:

JFK Ė JNB Ė Booked on South African Airways with United Points 80,000 roundtrip pp economy
JNB Ė JFK - Booked on South African Airways with United Points 80,000 roundtrip pp economy

For hotels we booked the following:

6 Nights in Cape Town at the Cape Royale Hotel (4th Night Free Ė Citi Prestige)
5 Nights in a Safari lodge called Kings Camp in the Timbavati Reserve (4th Night Free Ė Citi Prestige)(5th Night Free from the safari Resort. Stay 5 Pay 4 Special) (the 4th Night credit from using the prestige card reimbursed me $1,500 for one night!!!!)
1 Night in Johannesburg at the Palazzo at Monte Casino
5 Nights in the Westin Mauritius turtle Bay Resort Ė 10k SPG per night
2 Night in the St. Regis Mauritius Ė 20k SPG per Night

Wednesday, December 28th/29th, JFK-JNB with a 2 hour stopover and then JNB Ė CPT

We got to JFK with plenty of time for our flight which was scheduled to depart at approx. 10:40AM. After check-in I was told from the TSA agent in the Pre-check line that South African Airways doesnít not patriciate with TSA pre-check, which was kind of disappointing. Although somehow we were able to make our way to a different Pre-check line and did not have to take out my laptop or remove my shoes. After security we proceeded to the Wingtips Lounge in Terminal 4 at JFK. Our flight was delayed about 40 minutes so after doing some emails and getting a bite to eat, we then made our way to the gate and awaited our 15 hour flight to JNB. With about an hour left in the flight I asked a stewardess if I would make my next flight to Cape Town and he assured me that I had nothing to worry about. He said they have flights leaving every hour and if I missed my flight scheduled for 10:10AM local time there was an 11AM one and I would make that one. Sure enough we landed at around 9:30AM but the Customs line much long and by the time we got through was exactly 10AM. We still had to go to the check-in counter and check our bags to Cape Town. So at the Domestic counter in JNB they put us on the 11AM flight and we were at the gate with plenty of time to spare. (We would have made our 10:10AM flight if we were delayed in JFK for 45 minutes). After a 2 hour flight we finally made it to Cape Town and after getting a SIM card in the airport and calling an Uber we finally arrived at our Hotel at around 3PM.
6 Nights in Cape Town
After checking into the hotel and getting freshened up we heading to the V & A Waterfront to walk around. With it being Hanukkah we saw the stage set up for later on that evening they were having a candle lighting ceremony and have complimentary latkes and sufganiyot.
For Dinner we headed straight to Avrons and little did we know we would go back 3 more times after that. Avronís had a Friday night dinner option in the restaurant and so before even trying the food on Friday we signed up and paid for the Friday night dinner. The total for Friday night dinner was approx. $15 per person, and trust me we did not leave hungry. Below are some pictures from our meal on Thursday night.

The next day, Friday we woke up at 3:30AM (YES, 3:30AM) and we were picked up at our hotel by 4AM on our way to swim in cages with Great White Sharks. This was so surreal. One of the coolest things we ever did in our lives. The weather was beautiful and the drive was gorgeous (although the wife fell asleep for 2 hours so she missed out). The water temperature was pretty cold but with the wet suits and masks and equipment you didnít feel the cold water too much. After a long day we finally headed back to Cape Town to shower and change and head to Avrons for dinner.
Saturday we walked around the V & A Waterfront again and stayed there pretty much all day. Saturday night we headed straight back to the waterfront as it was New Year ís Eve. The waterfront was packed and they had so many cute and fun events and it all topped off with a nice fireworks celebration.

Sunday we hired a private driver and vehicle to drive us around the entire cape peninsula. We headed straight to Cafť Riteve to pick up breakfast and lunch for the road. The food was really good and the staff was pretty nice. I can go into detail about the tour but pretty much these are the main points of interest that were very cool. This was an awesome day, we saw some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and had a chance to take a boat ride to Seal Island, take a swim with Penguins and saw the exact point the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Clifton & Camps Bay
Hout Bay Ė Seal Island boat ride
Chapmans Peak Drive
Ostrich viewing drive by
Cape of good hope
Cape point
Simons Town Ė Penguins Colony
Kirstenbosch botanical gardens (although by this point we wanted to get back to the hotel badly that we saw a few flowers, put a NY Giants hat on Nelson Mandela and left)
Monday we made our way to Table Mountain. We took the cable car up and probably waited about 30 minutes. Once we got up we headed straight for Abseiling. This was insane!!! The pictures do not do justice but this was the highest and longest commercial abseiling company in the world. After repelling down we had to make our way back to the top which took about 35 minutes. This was no easy task for the wife who is in very good shape so thankfully she altered our plans initially which was to climb up the whole mountain from the bottom.
Our afternoon activity got cancelled due to the strong winds which was kind of unfortunate because we were looking forward to paragliding off Lions Head. Instead we headed back to the waterfront and was looking forward to taking a short ferry ride to Robben Island. Unfortunately due to it being a very busy time of the year in Cape Town they were fully booked for the next 8 days so we couldnít go. Instead we took a sunset cruise around the cape.
Tuesday we had to make some alternative plans as well as we had Skydiving booked for the morning but once again due to the strong winds in Cape Town they cancelled our scheduled dive and being that we were leaving Cape Town the next day we couldnít do it there. My wife, believe it or not was the one that was most disappointed. We took our time packing up our things in the hotel and went for a nice breakfast and then we got picked up for our next activity, Sandboarding. The sandboarding driver picked us up and drove us to the Atlantic Dunes where we proceed to go sand boarding. The only problem was it was a very windy day (obviously though since skydiving was cancelled) and they did not provide goggles. This activity had a ton of potential but it was absolutely miserable. I had sand in places on my body for the next few days, not to mention my eyes. This could have been easily avoided if our driver told us we should buy goggles because we stopped at a gas station and easily could have purchased a pair. In middle of the activity I went back to the car and just stayed there, my wife finished the hour or hour and a half and then came back to the car. I recommend this activity as it was very cool and a lot of fun, but it was torture for me. So I recommend bringing goggles or buying goggles or making sure the place provides them for you. After the sandboarding we wet Quad Biking (ATVs). This activity was very cool as well. We were supposed to go on the beach but instead went Quad biking on an insane closed course that was very cool. We loved it and had a great time. We both have went ATVing in Israel before but this was a lot cooler as the course was an intense course and not just an open road. We then made our way back to the hotel, finished packing and got an early night sleep.

5 Nights in Kings Camp Ė Timbavati Reserve Ė Kruger National Park

We woke up early Wednesday for our 9AM 3 hour flight on SAA from Cape Town direct to Hoedspruit. When speaking to a friend of mine who booked his trip with a travel agent, the travel agent told him there are no commercial flights, and the charter flight could only carry approx. 22 pounds of luggage. He spent over $700 to ship his luggage to JNB because he was not made aware of that and paid over $1,500 per person for this flight. He was in fact, wrong. We flew direct and was to bring onto the plane a luggage that weighed 50 pounds each. With about an hour left on the flight the Pilot got on the loudspeaker and said a flight that took off from JNB and was flying into HDS as well was scheduled to land an hour before us had to get rerouted back to JNB because of the strong winds. For us this would have been terrible. The pilot assured us that they would try and do everything they could to get us in, and so after 30 minutes of flying with our landing gear down and flying in a circle waiting for the clouds and wind to open up, we made our decent down and landed the most terrifying landing I have ever witnessed. Thankfully we landed safely and got off the plane because we ended up finding out that we were the only flight to land that day.


We got our luggage and were met by the managers of the camp, Warren & Lisha Moore. They picked us up from the airport and then drove the 45 minutes to our camp. I am not going to go into detail on the next 5 days but I am going to give you a little idea of what we did.

My wife and I are both strictly kosher so making the decision to come to Kings Camp was a no-brainier. Kings Camp was able to provide us with a Mashgiach from Johannesburg, a totally separate and kosher kitchen, a private chef who prepared three meals for us daily (not to mention the best food we ever had), meats, cheeses, kosher wines and anything else you can think of for our stay. The level of service and the accommodations at Kings Camp was unparalleled to anything I have seen or anywhere I have stayed before. Below are some pictures of our stay and the food and our daily schedule at the camp.

We had a private dinner on our veranda


On every game drive, whether it was in the morning or the afternoon we stopped off and unloaded the food and set up a coffee station in the morning or tea/wine station in the afternoon


We even had breakfast in the middle of the African bush and they were able to bring a portable kitchen and cook fresh breakfast in the middle of god knows where.



My wife was able to light Friday Night candles even, although the clean up from all the wax was a huge hassle and I did feel bad for the housekeeper.


Our Daily Schedule:
5:00AM Wake up
5:30AM Ė 9:00AM First Drive
9:00AM Breakfast
1:00PM Lunch
3:00PM Ė 3:30PM Snack time
3:30PM Ė 7:00PM Ė Second Drive
8:00PM Ė Dinner, Sleep and repeat
Here are some pictures of the animals.


Our stay at Kings Camp was something we both could not have imagined. We enjoyed every single minute and couldnít have asked for a more insane adventure. I am strongly recommending a Safari to everyone, whether you love animals or donít. In addition, for anyone looking for the kosher experience, or even if you are not requiring the kosher experience I implore you to reach out to Kings Camp in the Timbavati Reserve as your destination. I am now their unofficial spokesman, although they donít know it yet. I came back ranting and raving and telling everyone from my brother to the stranger sitting next to me on the subway that they have to go on a safari and must stay at Kings Camp.
Monday, January 9th we went on our last drive in the safari and then made our way to the airport for our 12 PM flight to Johannesburg.
1 Night in Johannesburg

 The flight was only an hour long and we landed in Johannesburg airport to a little bit of a surprise.  Our luggage in Hoedspruit (airport in the safari) checked in our luggage directly to our next destination, Mauritius. Only 1 of the 3 luggageís we had checked in made it to the luggage carousel and even that was a mistake, the luggage tags all said Mauritius, so in fact we were a little lucky. Normally this is not an issue, we are in Johannesburg for only one night and why would we need the other two pieces of luggage. However before we left on our trip we reached out to two different kosher catering companies in Johannesburg and ordered over 70 pounds of food our stay in Mauritius. So now our two luggageís that were checked in and somewhere in the airport were both half empty and the one luggage we had, and the two carry on suitcases we had were probably ĺ of the way full. Now came the fund stuff.
We went to the hotel where the food was in the freezer waiting for us and had to just wait it out until the next morning to see how we were going to fit the food. To make a really long and unforgettable story short, we fit everything into the one luggage and two carry-ons we had and ended up with two carry ons weighing approx. 50 pounds each and a suitcase which weighed at least 90 pounds.
We got to the airport and tried to play dumb but when the agent at the counter saw over 40 kilograms she started to panic. When smooth talking her didn't really i took out i took out the only currency i had in my pocket, a $50 bill USD and handed it over to her. If i tell you her reaction you would never believe it. She proceeded to tear up and say thank you a million times. she blessed me with all her heart for the next 10 minutes and even came around the counter to hug me and thank me. So while a $20 bill might have done the job the $50 made the experience that much better. we checked the big luggage and a carry on and made our way to Mauritius. 
5 Nights in Mauritius Ė Westin Turtle Bay Resort
We arrived in Mauritius and got into a car that was waiting for us and that was arranged by the hotel. the drive took about an hour, maybe even a little more. For the first 20 minutes or so of the drive it was pouring rain. my wife was nervous about the rain in Mauritius and the first experience on the island was a bit upsetting. she started to go on about how it's going to rain the whole time and it won't be hot and sunny, and i said let's see what happens.
It turns out it didn't rain one more minute on the island after that first half hour. the weather was sunny and beautiful every single day. the water temperature of the ocean was perfect and the hotel was great. the hotel has a bunch of activities to do for free and a few that can be purchased as well. we stayed at the Westin for 5 nights and the staff was great. They heated up our Lunch and Dinner for us when we asked and only charged us $10 per person per meal. (considering what they could have charged us this was nothing to complain about). the lounge at the westin was great as well and everything about the resort was perfect. after 5 days on the island and the end of the trip coming to a close we ended our trip with 2 nights at the St. Regis resort.



2 Nights in Mauritius Ė St. Regis Resort 

Our hotel arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the Westin in the morning after breakfast and drove us another hour to the south Western tip of Mauritius, a little area on the island called Le Morne where we checked into the St. Regis. This hotel was insanely gorgeous.


Everything about it was perfect, the staff, the service, the accommodations, everything was perfect. We got upgraded to the Manor house suite which is the nicest room in the hotel. The hotel heated up our lunch and dinner for us as well and didn't charge us anything. it took until the second to last day of our stay in Mauritius to finally come across Americans. I guess with it being close to 21 hours away many Americans don't get the chance to go there. These Americans were traveling for close to 2 months and the stop before Mauritius they were in Seychelles. They confirmed with me that Mauritius was a much better island and resort than Seychelles. I can't vouch for that, just sharing what they said. Mauritius, while really far away was a beautiful island with lovely staff and if you're ever in the area i would certainly recommend it. We checked into the airport with enough time to spare and the agent at the check in counter was able to send our luggage from Mauritius straight to JFK so it was an awesome sigh of relief when we didn't have to get our bags again.

Our flight from Mauritius to Johannesburg was a little delayed but we landed in JNB with about 2 hours to spare before our flight back home was scheduled to take off. we went straight to the International Transfer line and waited close to half an hour without moving three feet. We then called up Nandos Kosher and ordered food for them to deliver to the airport. We got off the line and went back to the regular customs line and after 15 minutes we made it back to the departures terminal where an order of fresh chicken and burger sandwiches from Nandos kosher was waiting for us. We quickly got back onto the security line. got through customs again and went straight to one of the airport lounges. I took a nice hot shower in the lounge while my wife relaxed a little. we then ate our food and proceeded to the gate for check in. we boarded, took off and 16 hours later we landed in JFK.
I probably could have kept this TR going for another 10 pages but i left out a lot of the boring stuff. South Africa and Mauritius were amazing places to visit and my wife and i talk about going back one of these days. Or maybe for our 20th anniversary with our children. If anyone has any recommendations for editing the TR or adding to it. or if anyone has any questions about SA or Mauritius please reach out to me.

November 03, 2017, 01:15:36 PM
MAZEL TOV DAN ON BABY #3! It's A Girl! Mazel Tov @Dan!!!

Very Auspicious day for a baby!

May you raise her to torah chuppah and maasim tovim!


December 07, 2017, 12:53:22 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting/random pictures thread
January 12, 2018, 02:44:31 PM
Re: Chasing the Aurora - Aaaron on a mission I'm going to skip shabbos and go straight to Saturday night.  Shabbos isn't easy, so make sure to consult your LOR.  Originally I was thinking about being farther north, but everyone I spoke to said it's too complicated if there's no sunrise/sunset.  It's complicated where I was too, because sunrise and sunset both take a really long time.  But I digress.

I had made a pretty last minute booking to take a dogsled trip out to hunt for the aurora.  There are loads of companies that run these tours, as well as snowmobile tours, and they all seem to be well-rated.  I chose the first one I called that had availability, and they picked me up promptly from my hotel and drove me out to their kennel.

They treat their dogs like family, and I was able to help get them harnessed, etc.  They use Alaskan Huskies, which are much smaller than their Siberian cousins.

IT WAS COLD.  They provided a warm jumpsuit, balaclava, mittens, boots, etc., and I was already REALLY layered up, but you still feel it.  You eyes tear and when you blink they freeze shut.  Quite the experience. 


We got out to a pitch black frozen lake, where the guides lit a fire in their teepee, and made tea/coffee and these little pastry things.  It was foggy when we arrived, so low hopes of seeing any activity.  I was sitting inside chatting with one of the guides since everyone else on the tour only spoke Chinese, when the other guide came in and asked if anyone had a decent camera.  My phone had froze, literally, but I had my mirrorless and tripod and we went out.  The fog had cleared and there was a faint glow in the shape of an edge of a sphere, as if the particles were hitting the atmosphere and illuminating.  It was gorgeous, and started to get brighter and brighter, moving and changing as it brightened.  It was much brighter than my first night, and I was legitimately in awe again.  I cannot believe that seeing the lights will ever get old.


January 15, 2018, 06:37:24 PM
A Short Trip to Cabo A Trip to Cabo

Trip planning:
This trip was one of the most last minute trips I planned. I planned it so late mainly because I wasnít sure Iíd be able to go until about 3 weeks before. The good news was Iíd been monitoring the flights and they were still very cheap. The trip was planned for Sun-Thu.

I ended up booking the flights with Southwest at around $230 each using Chase UR.  I went with SW because they offer free bags and changes, something that ended up being rather helpful, plus they werenít any more expensive than any other airline that flies there non-stop from LAX. The reason I used Chase instead of SW points is simply because I didnít have any SW points, since I forgot to apply for their very generous credit card offer this past November. Once I wasnít using SW points, I just booked with UR because it was just a few hundred points more than booking with SW points that I would transfer from Chase, but Iíd be able to earn miles on the flight and not have to pay the ~$130 in taxes that go along with a RR award ticket.

For the hotel, I booked the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar (the best value with SPG) for 6k+$110 per night.

I also rented a car for the grand total price of $9 for the time weíd be there from Europcar through Advantage. There was a National there, but they wanted a lot more, even with the corporate codes. Oh, and for that price I got a Mercedes SUV or similar. I figured renting a car was easier than trying to take 2 kids in a taxi with car seats. What they didnít tell you, but I knew anyway, is that the price doesnít include the mandatory insurance you must get to drive in Mexico. Itís not CDW, that was taken care of by my credit card, but rather liability insurance that all drivers in Mexico must have. It ended up costing around $180 for the 4 days, but thatís not too bad for a Mercedes SUV IMO.

The car

For activities, we didnít really plan much. Since this was our first trip as a family of 4, taking our 2 daughters along with us, we wanted to see what it would be like, and as such didnít plan anything. Sure, I wanted to see the famous sea arch, but besides for that, nothing besides relaxing by the pool.

So, after Iíd booked everything and gotten all packed to go, Motzei Shabbos before we were to leave my youngest daughter was dehydrated and the Dr. didnít recommend going with her like that. Sheíd had a small cold, but the Dr. had told us that some time in the sun and warm weather would be helpful for that, but not for dehydration.

Thatís where booking with Southwest comes in handy. I called Southwest right away and asked them how much itíd cost to change the flights to Monday. Their answer: $2 total. Awesome! I changed the flight to Monday morning, switched the hotel and called and notified the car rental agency.

Sunday turned out to be a better day for our youngest, so we decided to go for it and leave on Monday morning. After all, 4 days are better than no days in Cabo.

Monday, January 22, 2018
Our flight Monday morning was at 8:10am. Itís funny how SW works with international flights right now at LAX. SW operates out of T-1, but because of construction, their international flights leave from TBIT, but check-in and security are still in T-1.

Southwest international check-in

There was a bit of a wait to check in due to many computers not printing bag tags, but it took less than 15 minutes anyway. Security was a breeze, and we found the area to wait for the shuttle bus to the international terminal pretty easily. It was there that we were informed that our flight only had 15 passengers on it, so it would be a fairly empty flight. Score!

Our empty flight

We took the bus to the international terminal where we boarded our flight in less than 2 minutes. We took 2 rows: my wife and our youngest in one row and me and our oldest in the other.

The flight was uneventful and was shorter than planned by a good half an hour. We landed in Cabo, got through customs and immigration (we were lucky enough to get the green light), and rented our car in no time at all. We then drove the 45 minutes to the Sheraton.

Landing in Cabo

The hotel was beautiful, if not more so on the outside and from a distance. Up close and personal, the guest room we stayed in was on the tired side. There was nothing wrong with it directly: there were no stains on the sheets or towels, the furniture was new and not fraying/chipping, etc. and the room was well maintained for the most part, but there were some things that just seemed old and worn. Maybe it was the old hooks in the closet where an iron and ironing board once were, maybe it was that one of the hangers (you know, the fancy ones with the satin and foam around them) had the foam coming through, or maybe it was just the slightly cloudy glass on the shower door that was clear once upon a time but was no longer, but it was just a bit tired feeling.

Iíll let the pictures speak for themselves:

View from our balcony

While this was only a minor complaint, the rest of the hotel was gorgeous. After we arrived and settled in to our room for a few minutes, we had some lunch and headed down to the pools. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool before heading back to the room at around 5:00 to get ready for dinner.

We showered, bathed and I davened mincha before leaving for the restaurant around 6:15pm. It was a bit tricky to find the correct parking lot, as Google said to turn into a space with two parking garages (the correct one is the one on the right). As an aside, I found our later that thereís a parking garage in the mall next door that is only 20 pesos for 4 hours. The restaurantís lot is 5 pesos the first hour with validation, but a lot more than 20 pesos after that.

The kosher restaurant, Baja Kosher, which just opened in December 2017, was the only kosher place in town, but it was quite good. The food was all made from scratch (minus the hamburger buns it seems), and was quite tasty. The portions were generous while not being too big, and the staff was friendly. The owner, Benny, was nice and made sure to talk to all the guests. Sure, there were some things that either got lost in translation or were just not worked out 100% because itís so new, but overall, a great place to eat.

The restaurant

Our food:

Catch of the day


A burger, I forgot the name

Churros with chocolate and raspberry sauces

We left the restaurant around 1:20 after we arrived and headed back to the hotel for the night with a quick stop at Walmart on the way. Benny had recommended that we stop there for fruits and vegetables (as well as other food), since they were quite cheap (which they were). Theyíre right off Highway 1 a short 5-minute drive from the restaurant. We got what we needed and continued back to the hotel.

Since there is only a 1 hour time difference between Cabo and LA, it made sense just to keep everyone on an LA schedule as opposed to trying to change it for just 4 days. Even so, by this time it was well past their bedtimes even in LA, so everyone slept quite well (once we got to the hotel).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tuesday started out slowly. By the time we finished eating breakfast it was almost 11:00am (late by my standards). I decided to take a walk around the property with my older daughter while my wife stayed back while the younger one slept.

We went to the kids club area and saw the kids pool. We also went to the kids play area and the room that has babysitters who will watch your kid for you (not ours, they were too young). My daughter played with many of the toys in the room and just outside of it for about hour.

We headed back to the hotel room where we had lunch before heading to the beach and pool for the afternoon. We first went to the beach to relax. We let our oldest play in the sand and put her feet in the water. After a few minutes, it was time to go to the pool up above.

It was there that we had a quite uncomfortable experience with some very drunk women in their mid to late 50s.

Somehow one of them, who was not at all drunk, asked where we were visiting from and I said LA. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, the drunkest of all of them was a huge Eagles fan (a Philly football team) and was at an important game for them before she came to Cabo. When she found out my wife was from PHL, she spent the next 20 minutes talking to her (mostly without cursing) and making me quite uncomfortable.

We left as soon as we could, got ready to go to eat dinner at the restaurant again, and did just that. We were done a bit quicker this evening, and were back at the hotel by 7:45pm. The kids went straight to bed, and we were not far behind them.

More food at the restaurant:

Schnitzel again

Salad with grilled pineapple

Green salad

Random: Mexican night was happening at the hotel this night, so they set up the whole courtyard accordingly

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
I didnít really want to just sit at the pool for another day, so on Wednesday we went on a short, 45-minute glass-bottom boat ride to the famous sea arch.

We left the hotel at around 11:00am, and headed back to the same marina the restaurant is located near. We parked in the mallís parking lot which costs just 20 pesos for 4 hours. We walked to Dock A where weíd catch the boat. We ended up getting to the dock a minute or so before noon, so we caught the 12:20 boat (they leave every 20 minutes).

The boat ride was fun. My older daughter slept the whole way, while the younger one just drank a bottle in her car seat. I am normally one to avoid boat rides as I get sea sick quite easily, but I was determined to see the sea arch. As it turns out, I was totally fine on the whole ride. It was DW that fed the fish more than just the bread the guide gave us. While she didnít feel good for part of the ride, after throwing up she felt a lot better and enjoyed the rest of the ride.

Pictures from the boat ride:

Pelican on a rock

Some fish we were feeding

Loverís Beach

Cool rock formation that is supposed to be like an upside-down Baja California

An opening in the rocks: weíre on the Sea of Cortes side, looking out to the Pacific Ocean on the other side

El Arco, The Arch

Divorce Beach

Southern-most land in Baja, next land due south: Antarctica

An old pirate ship replica

By 1:00pm we were done and decided to head over to the restaurant for lunch instead of dinner. We had a nice lunch once again, and were quite full by the time we left. Since weíd parked right next door in the mall, we just headed back to our car and went back to the hotel.


Grilled Tuna, just caught and filleted

Burger, again I forgot which one

Home-made fish nuggets

Pelican eating a fish, as seen near on the marina

For the rest of the afternoon we headed back to the pool for one last time. We thankfully didnít run into the rowdy women the day before at the pool. DD wasnít too interested in being at the pool yet again, so after an hour or so we were done and headed back to our room for a quick dinner.

After dinner and when the kids were asleep, DW went out for a few hours with some of her friends who were also in Cabo, while I stayed back at the hotel with the sleeping little ones. It was a relatively boring time, as the girls slept most of the time, and I turned in a few hours later.

Thursday, January 25, 2018
As this was our last day in Cabo, we had to head to the airport at around 9:15 for our 12:30 pm flight. We woke up earlier than we had previously, got packed up, ate breakfast and were out of the hotel by 9:15am.

We headed back to the airport where we filled up the rental car at a gas station along the way (no one said anything to me or asked to see a receipt of where I filled up, unlike in South Africa). The one thing I will mention is the fact that they double charged me. While the entire conversation happened in Spanish, he basically told me the Visa card I gave him originally didnít work. I then gave him an AmEx, which worked fine. I got charged on both and disputed the Chase Visa one because it was more. We took a shuttle back to the airport, check in with no line, and headed up to security (again no line).

We were surprised how lax security was though. I had a fill 1.18L Hydroflask with me, as well as a 1L bottle of almond milk. They let all the liquids though no questions asked, but had to scan my wallet again because there were bobby pins in it. Go figure.

We waited at the Priority Pass lounge, which was a nice place to wait. While the first floor was quite crowded and unappealing, the majority of the lounge was upstairs and was basically empty.

The VIP Lounge:

The crowded downstairs part of the lounge

Before long it was time to head to our flight home (it had 40 people on it, so quite full by comparison). We had the same 2 rows just a few rows back as we did on the way to Cabo, and landed in LAX a good half an hour early. We were through customs in a matter of minutes.

While short and a lot less action-packed than some of our other winter break trips, it was still a lot of fun and definitely doable with 2 little kids.

January 28, 2018, 01:15:06 AM
Seattle Aviation Trip + Amazon GO 1st opening week w/video My son and I are aviation enthusiasts, so for the yeshiva off week I used my AA miles to book R/T BWI-SEA on Alaska's direct flight. We spent hours at the Museum of Flight, the Boeing plant and several other aviation related museums in the area. We also visited the Amazon GO store as it opened to the public that Monday.

We stayed in an Airbnb in Seward Park a block from Ezra Bessorth, used a combination of Lyft/Uber/Car2Go/ReachNow/Lightrail during the week, and rented a car for the weekend trip to Everett.(If you never drove a Mercedes or BMW, here is your chance!)

The website contains a wealth of information regarding shuls, kosher establishments (no meat restaurants), hospitality and other topics of interest.

Museum of Flight is FANTASTIC, some highlights:

737 Frame #1

The very first jet powered "Air Force One"/VC-137

And you can walk THROUGH it too!

The very first 747:

You can explore the inside too....

787 frame #3

A BA Concorde you can walk THROUGH and UNDER/AROUND

and MAGNIFICENT aviation galleries:

This P-51 Mustang donated by Israeli Air Force, it's exact history is unknown as the serial numbers and other identifiers were removed from the aircraft before it was shipped to Israel during the War of Independence. It has been repainted into WWII colors

At Paine field, we saw the next 2 EL-AL 787's on the flightline - 4X-EDC and 4X-EDD - EDD had just come off the production line the day before.(You will need to zoom in to see the tails, sorry) EDD is the farther one facing the camera, EDC is now in the paint shop in Pertland

Dreamlifter unloading

Norwegian test flight #1

Amazon GO store videos are still processing on YouTube, I'll post then as soon as I get notified they are done

February 01, 2018, 03:39:38 PM
Re: Chilul hashem on AF Yup, can't sit down next to a woman, but you can sit down in a stolen J seat. Cool story.
April 23, 2018, 01:07:47 AM
Re: Panama with 6 kids incl San blas islands day 2

We got up quite early for a vacation day, but Soray didn't want to leave to late. We made up for 09:00, but it ended up being 09:30 until we made it downstairs. We ate breakfast in the room and packed some snacks and sandwiches. She waited for us in the lobby and welcomed us with such a smile. She has a comfortable van, that fit the 8 of us with no problem. A cooler with cold drinks and even some kosher snacks were prepared by her in advance. She went to the kosher shop to get some goodies for the day and we didn't even ask for it. The second my kids got into the car, she started playing some Jewish music and disco lights went on. Just fun and the kids liked her right away. The drive was a little more than a hour and we got a lot of Infos about Panama, the city and also the emberas. She also made sure to talk to the kids in the back. It was important to her, that the kids also participate and she had a great way of dealing with them throughout the entire trip.

The closer we got, the roads got quite bumpy. Finally we arrived at a small port, were our Indian guides for the day were waiting. They didn't speak a lot of english but we were able to communicate with hands and feet and Soray led the way.


Our entire family boarded wooden canoes, that the Indians produce themselves and we drove down the river.





It was quite unreal, here we are in middle of a rainforest, a Canoo driven by Indians. The scenery around us was unreal. After about 15 minutes we arrived at their village and had a huge reception by the entire village with singing and dancing. They showed us around the entire village and also made a dance for us, at the end most of us participated as well :-) Soray told them in advance, that a family with 6 boys is coming and set up a soccer game against the village kids. She bought a ball along that we gave as a gift for them to keep. This was just a unreal moment: a few Jewish kids, zizis and yarmulkes flying, playing football against barefoot Indian kids in middle of a rainforest. The swiss did win 5-4 and made some new friends. They showed us their school and prepared us a huge fruit platter of unknown fruits for lunch. We ate our sandwiches and sorays cooler provided cold drinks throughout the day. After lunch, the plan was to ride down further the river and swim in a natural pool under a waterfall in middle of the jungle. Some of the Indian kids joined us, as they really liked us. A short boat ride and hike through the jungle and we reached the place. Wow, unreal. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Just stunning. We spend almost 2 hours there, swimming, relaxing and taking pictures.






We then made it back to the car after dropping of the Indians at their village. We hit some traffic on the way back, but it wasn't to bad. Back at the hotel, I checked the pool and saw it was empty, so we went for a swim.

My wife got us some sushi from the lobby, that we ate by the pool. We were all quite tired, but went pita plus for dinner. It was ok, but nothing special... after a long day we didnt want a fancy sit down that takes ages, so it did the job, but not a must do

What an amazing day.

Tomorrow: San Anton valley

June 11, 2018, 05:13:50 AM
Around the World in 23 days, A Honeymoon TR by Wizmanison Although this trip was not 'technically' a RTW trip or a honeymoon (as we have been on several 'honeymoon' trips before and after this trip) the title seemed fitting. Like most people a trip to the Maldives or Bora Bora was always high on my bucket list. Having recently getting married and with the sale that was going on, I thought what better excuse to make a trip to the Maldives! When beginning to plan I noticed that most of the TRís I read were lacking some information either intentionally or not. Therefore, I will try to make this TR as transparent and detailed filled as I can! I will try to include prices for everything I remember as well as any information I uncovered from my countless pages of reading. Thank you to all those who contributed, whether I read your TR or not it really does help others a when planning.

I apologize in advance if I make any grammar mistakes, input any unreliable or false information, bad photos or anything else that might offend you. No intentions to do any of the above but if it happens SORRY!

Breakdown of Costs:

LAX-JFK = $572 ($286 each paid for with B6 Travel Credit)
JFK-AUH w/ Cai RT = 208k MR (104k ANA each) + $205 YQ               
CAI-MLE = 50,066 UR 
MLE-SR MLE= 64k Arrival + points + $735
MLE-SIN= 37k UR (18.5k SIN each) +$100 YQ
SIN-DPS=15k (7.5k SIN each) +$50 YQ
DPS-USM= 25k (12.5k SIN each) +$40 YQ
USM-URT-DMK= $138 ($69 each)
BKK-HKT=$104 ($52 each)
HKT-CNX= $228 ($114 each)
CNX-BKK= 26k UR (13k each)
BKK-AUH= 36,000 AA (18k each) +$50 YQ
JFK-LAX= $408( $204 each paid in AA travel credit)

Le Meridian Egypt: 3k spg
SR MLE: 234k spg (5 nights @ 46.8k)
Andaz Singapore: Free Night Cert
GH Bali: 36k (3 nights @ 12k) - 20k (for complaining)= 16k
Conrad Koh Samui: 190k (2 nights @ 95k)  (Received Be My Guest Cert for complaint)
Bangkok Thong Ta Resort Suvarnabhumi: $22
Le Meridian Chiang Mai: 24k (3 nights @ 8k)
Hyatt Regency Dubai: 8k
Park Hyatt Dubai: Free Night Cert

Breakdown by Currency:

TOTAL UR: 177,066
TOTAL AA: 36,000
TOTAL MR: 208,000
TOTAL SPG: 261,000
TOTAL Arrival +: 64,000
TOTAL CASH: 1,672 (Most of which were paid with CSR/Ritz travel credits and Arrival + points)
VOUCHERS/CREDITS USED: 2 Hyatt Free nights (50k Hyatt), AA GC ($408), B6 Credit ($572)...




For those that just want a summary of what and how I booked and not the super detailed trip report that will follow, here you go:

I happened to book 5 nights at the SR MLE in May of 2017, around the time when all the bloggers were writing about the reduced price for the SR MLE. Since I was able to cancel until December I thought why not just hold the dates just incase. So for 234,000 SPG points I booked the 5 nights in the Maldives. I was busy at the time planning my Summer trip and pushed off the idea of planning the MLE trip.
It was only till about late October - Mid November that I started getting realistic about making a trip out of this booking. I seriously thought of just cancelling the 5 nights but after speaking to several people about how amazing their trip was I had to at least try to plan a trip. So I started reading and slowly kept on adding a list of possible stops to this trip to the other side of the globe. My thought process was more or less if I am already flying all the way out there I might as well make the most of it.

We used travel credit from price matching our flights as well as family members flights and other credits we got from complaints to book LAX-JFK for $286 each.
After looking at several options it seemed most feasible to make AUH the hub and use ANA to book the roundtrip from JFK-AUH.  I planned to book side by side Etihad Apartment suites for our longest flights and EY was showing availability for 149k MRó> ANA eacH. So I transferred hoping to book. But, when it came too booking ANA was not able too see availability :(. So we booked just Business class. Since these RT flights offer a free stopover, I chose Egypt. Mostly because other places were either to far, not interesting enough, or we had to little time to explore that destination.

We then used 50k Merrill points for two flights from CAI-MLE. But, for reasons youíll read later we actually ended up using 50k UR.

MLE-SIN (Singapore) costed us 18.5 URó> SIN plus $50 YQ each (CSR credit).

I then waitlisted a bunch of SIN-DPS (Bali) flights on SIN. A couple weeks before departure they cleared up and I booked it for 7,500 URó> SIN and like $25 YQ each (CSR credit).
It was pretty hard finding a DPS-USM (Koh Samui, Thailand) flight for our dates but we finally found the option to book DPS-USM with a stopover in SIN. How it would work is we would fly DPS-SIN on Singapore airlines and then SIN-USM on silk air. It cost 12.5 URó> SIN and $20 in taxes each (CSR credit). This flight had us getting into Singapore at like 1:30 AM and the next flight to Koh Samui was only leaving at 8:30 am. I chose this flight because I wanted to get into Koh Samui and enjoy the Conrad the most I could for the short time we were there (2 nights). So we went into one of the PP lounges and slept there.

For the next flights, besides AUH-JFK, I booked them all days before travel as I started to get really busy the weeks before the trip and even during the trip. It was really hard to find flights from USM to anywhere else in Thailand that didnít leave early morning. And, like I said I wanted to enjoy my time at the Conrad KS. I looked at every option to literally every airport in Thailand and even other routings out of Thailand and back in but could not find anything. And for the flights I did find they either had no availability or only 1 seat available, or were ridiculously expensive. Thinking I struck gold, I booked a flight from USM to BKK on Expedia only to see after paying that it was for dates 3 months out! This was because when I translated google flights to Expedia, it inverted the month and day with the google translation. I immediately called in and with enough HUCA they refunded me. They claimed that these flights were non refundable because flight was within a week and these carriers donít offer 24 hour refund. I escalated to manager and they gave me a ďone time exceptionĒ refund. So, with all other options exhausted we ended up taking a ferry from USM-DonSak Pier for $9 each. And then transportation to URT, other known as Surat Thani Airport in Thailand, for $8 each. I then took a flight from URT-DMK for $52 each person (CSR credit) on Air Asia.

We spent like less then 12 hours in Bangkok, pretty much just in the markets as my wife wanted some purses and stuff and we got a massage. Stayed at a $20 hotel found on Orbitz since we were only in the room for like 2 hours and it offered a shuttle to the airport. Our flight was at 6:20 am. We flew from BKK-HKT for $52 each person (CSR credit) on Bangkok Airways.
We arrived in Phuket at 7:45am and went to do the Phi Phi Island tour. Came back to airport at around 6:30 for our 7:20 flight to Chiang Mai. We flew AirAsia HKT-CNX, booked a day or two before, for $114 each (CSR/Ritz Credit) and arrived at 9:15pm Thursday night.
Stayed in CNX for 3 nights before heading back to BKK for a flight to AUH. We flew Thai Airways CNX-BKK from 3:20pm-4:35pm for 13k UR or $98 each.

With a unforeseen SUPER tight connection it was only by a matter of pure YMMV that I made it to the next flight: BKK-AUH 6:05pm-10:05pm. We flew business for this route as it was a longer flight at around 7 hours and I had been driving my wife crazy with all the intra Thailand flights. It was also a great price! Since I have so many AA points it was easy to spend 40k miles, each, for biz class. With the Citi 10% bonus it ended up being 36k and $25 in taxes each (CSR/Ritz Credit).

After taking forever in customs in AUH for reasons that I never found out (I was like the only one in line and the man left with my passport for like 30 minutes somewhere) and going through a whole ordeal with the rental car we got to Dubai and spent 2 nights there before returning for our flight back to AUH-JFK with Etihad to complete our RT. We left at 10:15 and arrived in JFK at 3:50.

Purposely giving us like a 5 hour layover, our flight from JFK-LAX with AA for $204 each, booked with AA gift cards, courtesy of plat and biz plat travel credit, was from 9:15-1:06am. We did this so we could land, see some friends & family briefly and finally eat  freshly made food!

So all in all we took about 16 flights and a ferry ride over a 3 week 2 day period. We spent approx. 60-66 hours in flights and visited about 3 Continents, 7 Countries, 8 States/Cities, and 11 Islands.

Detailed Trip Report in the works. Have written some of it, but adding pictures on DDF is relatively new to me and seemingly time consuming. Will be posting Egypt TR in the coming days as soon as I finish figuring out the pics.

June 11, 2018, 06:09:35 PM
A Long Weekend in Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta Introduction
Delta SkyClub JFK
AeroMexico JFK-MEX
Hyatt Regency and Mexico City
MEX Airport and Volaris MEX-PVR
Puerto Vallarta
PVR Airport and Volaris PVR-MEX
Overnight in Mexico City Airport
AeroMexico MEX-JFK

Welcome to my next trip report covering AeroMexico Business Class, Volaris, Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta.

Back in March there were some great priced Business Class AeroMexico tickets to Mexico City, so my good friend and popular DDF contributor, @Yaalili, asked me if I wanted to go with him. After giving it some thought (about 60 seconds) I agreed, and we booked a round trip from JFK to MEX. The pictures in this review are a combination of both of ours, and the full review will be posted in 9 segments as outlined above.

There are 4 daily flights operated by AeroMexico between JFK and MEX, but only 1 is flown by a 787-9 which features reverse-herringbone in business class; whereas the other 3 are 737-800's with a basic business class (like a domestic business class). When booking, we ensured we booked the flights with the 789.


AeroMexico 787-9

Being we were going over the weekend, we were deciding where to spend shabbos. We could of course, have spent it in Mexico City, but what fun would that have been!? So, we looked at one of the coastal resort cities and narrowed our search down to: Cancun, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. We eventually settled on Puerto Vallarta.

Flight's between Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta are not too expensive so we booked a round trip on the Mexican low cost carrier, Volaris.

Volaris A321 (Stock Image)
For accommodation, we booked the Hyatt Regency, Mexico City (using a Hyatt anniversary night) for the one night we were there, and an Airbnb for the 2 nights in Puerto Vallarta.


Hyatt Regency Mexico City

Airbnb Puerto Vallarta

In the end our itinerary looked like this:


AeroMexico - AM409
Boeing 787-9

Hyatt Regency
Mexico City

Volaris - Y4784
Airbus A321

Puerto Vallarta

Volaris Y4787
Airbus A321

AeroMexico - AM408
Boeing 787-9

As always, any questions, comments and feedback are always welcome!

June 28, 2018, 11:14:31 AM
Re: Ayubowan from Sri Lanka (with a side of Dubai) Day Two: Around Galle

Galle is a beautiful coastal town, which is steeped in history.
Once an important trading post between the east and west, Galle was the main port for the country for more than 200 years.
Today it still retains many of its military features, narrow streets and Dutch-colonial buildings, but with a tropical climate that you wouldnít otherwise encounter in Europe, which makes for a very interesting juxtaposition.
(Some say that Galle is the biblical Tarshish but I couldn't find anything that supported that.)

We started off by driving towards Galle Fort. On the way we passed by a bustling fish market and hopped out for a quick look.

We then continued on to the local town where we exchanged money, got a sim card (the airport Dialog booth had run out) and bought lots of water.
Point to keep in mind - the water is unsafe for drinking and it's suggested to use bottled water for everything, even brushing teeth.
We really enjoyed walking through the town, which gave us a nice feel of the culture.

Galle Fort is a walled city surrounded by thick ramparts. These were built by the Dutch merchants that controlled the city in the 17th century.
We walked on the ramparts which has beautiful views of the ocean and the lighthouse.
Inside the fort there are cute little boutique shops (though a bit overpriced) which we spent some time in.

Towards the end of our rampart walk we got stuck in a torrential downpour, so we didn't bother finishing up. We headed back to our hotel and had lunch.
The hotel is a place we could've spent hours in. We had a balcony on which you can see the tea plantations, hear monkeys chattering, and be mosquito lunch all at the same time.

Lounge area:


Infinity Pool:

We chose to do a bike tour of the surrounding villages that afternoon. We biked through the rice paddy fields, the rural villages, and the beautiful tropical surroundings. This proved to be slightly more difficult than expected being that the 'roads' were quite wet and it was very mountainous terrain. Although more of a workout than we bargained for, it was great fun and we enjoyed immensely!
As we biked we passed the locals, who greeted us enthusiastically, small houses nestled in the rainforest, steep hills that we had to share with tuk tuks, cars, and buses. It's each man for himself out there so we had to be aware of our surroundings at all times lest we get plowed over. 
Throughout our stay in Sri Lanka, whenever we encountered locals, we got beaming smiles and giggles from the kids. They were thrilled to see us, and everyone was genuinely nice and looking to please.
We were literally an attraction. Mothers called to their kids to quickly come to the doors to see the white people on bikes!

Views from the bike ride:

We got back to the hotel, washed up (we were completely covered in mud from our bike ride), and ate dinner by the pool.
The mosquitoes are everywhere and boy do they bite. I think I asphyxiated about half the hotel staff with OFF, but it didn't seem to do anything and we all got very bitten up anyway.

We were wiped out by then and headed to bed early. Thanks to the extreme jet lag, none of us actually slept much (over the entire trip) but enough that we were able to function throughout the day.

Day Three: Balpitiya / Bentota

We spent our second day on the island on the west coast.
We started out going to Balpitiya, which is under an hour from Galle, for the Madu Ganga River Safari.
This was a really nice boat ride which was a great way of seeing some of the hundreds of species of plants and animals; monkeys in trees, water monitor lizards etc. It was a speed boat so it went pretty fast, though it did stall at times. They were chilled and let us sit on the bow and do our thing. 
The area surrounding the river are all swampy marshlands covered in mangrove forests. There are numerous small islands, and the boat makes several stops.

Fishermen in the river:

There's a small island with a temple, which we did not get off at.  We then made our way through the mangroves, and eventually making a stop at 'Cinnamon Island'.
We met a young girl that lives there, and got to see how they get the cinnamon from the bark, along with how they weave the roofs for their huts using coconut fronds. It was really fascinating and at the end we were able to purchase cinnamon oil and some cinnamon sticks to take home.

We continued our beautiful boat ride, stopping at a floating shop to purchase a coconut (word to the wise- it looks better than it tastes).

Next stop was the fish 'spa'.  We got onto the floating stage from the boat and sat down to put our feet in. Hundreds of fish swarmed over and gently nibbled the dead skin off our legs.
I can't say it was pleasant, but definitely an experience!

We had beautiful weather, which definitely contributed, but this was a really enjoyable way to experience some of the nature and animal life in Sri Lanka.

We then made our way to Ahungalla Turtle Hatchery. They look after the turtle eggs to protect them from animals and poachers. Once they hatch, they keep them for a couple of days, at which point they are released to the sea.
The baby turtles are unbearably cute and we had a great time playing with them, and then releasing the 3 day old turtles to the sea (one of us may or may not have yelled out encouraging words to the turtles as they battled the waves).
They also keep maimed or 'handicapped' turtles there for good, which is interesting to see.

We then headed to Bentota Beach where we ate a late lunch.
Bentota has various water sports, like jet skiing, banana boats etc. At that point we were tired and thinking of heading back to the hotel, but we ended up deciding to do a quick spin on the 'Sofa' ride. This was exactly what it sounded like - we sat ourselves down on an inflatable couch and got pulled by a boat, which was awesome.

After that, we went back to Niyagama House where we ate dinner, and enjoyed Ayurvedic therapeutic/methodical massage, which is designed to heal the body and create a balance between mind, body, and spirit. Or something to that effect.

August 21, 2018, 10:43:25 PM
Re: Nicknames For Devalued Mileage Programs
Read this and then decide. I was unaware for most of my life, until someone made me aware. (similar issue with "touch wood")

April 06, 2019, 11:25:49 PM
Re: Nicknames For Devalued Mileage Programs
Lol. Like clockwork.
Don't LOL my post! I can't feed my kids with LOL's or +1's. Press the 'Like' button!

April 06, 2019, 11:33:03 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting video thread...

April 10, 2019, 02:38:45 PM
Re: Fin Del Mundo - the unofficial DDF Exclusive TR Dec 10 - Day 1 - Departure from Ushuaia
We walked up the gangway to Deck 5 and entered the ship. We settled in the lounge while groups of 5-10 were called to the reception to check-in. Coffee & tea were setup on one side and on the other side there was a table with a “Kosher” plaque (but was empty ;-0.)

After a few minutes we were called & headed to the reception desk to do the check-in formalities. They scanned our passports (and then kept it for the duration of the cruise [in case of abandoning ship a crew member has the responsibility to grab the box with everyone’s passport]), took our pictures and gave us a cruise card (on the big ships the card serves as a room key, charge card & embarkation/disembarkation card, but as this was a small ship it was only used to go on & off the ship. For any charges such as the bar you just gave your room number). When I got the cards I asked “is this my room key?” and was then told the “open door policy” (which I mentioned above) but was offered physical keys which I took but never actually used them. No credit card was requested or a hold charged. We then went to our cabin to unpack (our luggage was already there).

About 1550, (from here forward I will write in 24hr time format as the ship was like that), the captain made an announcement on the PA, that in 10 minutes he will sound the "general alarm". It iis 7 short rings followed by 1 long one. And at that time everyone needs to grab their life-vests from the cabins and head to their “muster stations”. Everyone’s muster station is listed on the cruise card & on the room door map. The "muster drill" which is required under international maritime law. Since it was my first time on a cruise, this did give me a small shiver, more than watching the safety spiel about seat belts on an airplane. 10 minutes later the alarm sounded and we put on our life-vests, made some scary looking selfies and headed to our muster station. We settled comfortably, which was the forward library on deck 7 (2 flights up) and settled down on the couches there.

Image Credit Jason Ransom/One Ocean Expeditions

After a few minutes the cruise director stood up in middle of the room and started his safety drusha and explained the safety protocol, the muster plan and alarms etc. He told us when we take a shower the door has to be closed as the sensors are very sensitive and the vapor from the shower can activate the silent alarm and the fire crew will come for a visit ”ladies please don’t do it too often…”. Then we put on the life-vests ”I promise you by the excursions we have more comfortable & glamorous vests”. We then headed out in single file - hand on the person in front - to the lifeboats ”hopefully the only time you will get to see these boats”.

The photographer was there to take pictures and then we were all dismissed, returned the vests to our cabin and headed to the bar for the welcome briefing.

Around 1630 everyone gathered in the bar lounge and the stewards were serving Champagne. For a few minutes all we can do was envy them, but it didn’t take long for the Kosher Wine to appear. Corks popped and the “L’chaim” kicked off.

At 1700 the lines were let go and the ship was on its way.

Gangway retrieved

Lines removed - Image Credit @moish

At this time the welcome briefing started by the “Hotel Manager” Romana Calvetti welcoming everyone.

She introduced the Captain who came down from the Bridge. He welcomed everyone with a glass of champagne in his hands saying “it’s not my glass, I’m on duty now so I just borrowed it from someone…no worries”, after he finished he gave back the microphone and returned the champagne from whoever he took it from and he went back to the Bridge.

Image Credit Jason Ransom/One Ocean Expeditions

Next up was the “Cruise Director” Boris Wise who introduced himself & the rest of the “staff”.

Image Credit Jason Ransom/One Ocean Expeditions

His briefing was on safety, rules & guidelines for the cruise in general, and then the “daily briefing” (which followed everyday “tomorrow’s news - today”) which is about program planned for the next 24 hours. Given the antarctic environment & conditions, they have many plans, but rarely execute “Plan A or B”, but rather “Plan E or F”. He gave us a heads up about the drake “it’s coming” & now is the time to “put on the patch, take the pill, eat the brownie ;-)”.

We were shown a weather map forecasting the weather for the following day and the tomorrow’s schedule, and with that over we headed to dinner.

Ship's position around dinner time

Ship's position around dinner time

Dinner was served everyday both in the Bistro (Deck 6) buffet style, & in the dining room (Deck 4) restaurant style. We had our meals in the dining room with the starboard side tables reserved for us. For dinner this night was only a Main Course & Desert. Throughout the cruise the Kosher Group had complementary wine & soft drinks (vs the non-Kosher people had to pay for it).

After Dinner we headed down to the Presentation Room on Deck 2 where @Something Fishy & @Dan welcomed everyone onboard, briefed us on what our own program will be.

We had had a “meet & greet” where everyone introduced themselves to the other travelers.

We then davened Mincha &  Mariv, followed by the never ending debate when we should daven Sharcris (as one said “2 jews 4 opinions”).

note the “mechitza” on the right

Then I lounged around till I ended up on Deck 8 (which is the forward observation deck) and just took in the beautiful views of the ship exiting the Beagle Channel. 

Ship’s position (UTC 0300 11DEC19): 55į03'01.4"S, 65į35'34.9"W
Distance sailed (10DEC): 180 Miles
Times @Something Fishy bumped his head: at least 4 times

Timelapse from Day 1

April 19, 2019, 12:07:24 PM
Re: All flights into and out of HKG today cancelled due to protests


August 12, 2019, 11:15:23 AM
Stopover in Tokyo, Japan
I was going to china on a business trip and decided that it might be beneficial to extend my trip a few days. Unfortunately no flights were opening. Finally after weeks of checking a flight opened up with a stop in Narita, Japan. I hesitated at first but after realizing this was the only way I would be able to extend my trip I took the flight and adjusted my ticket. I arrived in NRT at around 8pm and I would suggest skipping the trains. Transferring and having to buy a new ticket at every transfer was annoying. Difficult and confusing. And if you do delay in buying your ticket the next train doesnít follow right after it could be 5 mins or 30 mins after!!!

Japan at first glance is a stale and boring city, but when you spend more time here you come to appreciate their cleanliness, culture, technological advances and simple way of life.

They are polite and friendly and will walk out of their way showing you directions.

I would recommend a map and paper. Google maps and a huge power bank.
Lay out before you go where you want to go.

I ended up transferring twice or three times and got tired and upset the first night I landed. I got out of the station and decided Iím ubering or walking the rest. Looking down at my phone I hear someone raise their voice and say HEY!!! In my direction. I look up and itís a friendly face I never met before. His name was David Leibowitz. And he was the high light of my night. Just another yud happy to see another. We chatted for a little and he briefed me on how heís in the Japanese Tuna Business!! How cool! Great video about his Japanese tuna I watched over dinner.
He tells me the sushi I ordered from the Chabad was surely his Tuna. And the Tuna was superb. I only wish I had bigger slabs of tuna like sashimi. He goes on to tell me thereís a lovely park on the corner, Happo-en. I proceed to go to the park but to my dismay it was closed. A girl comes over to explain to me I have to leave and come back tomorrow. I sadly explain to her how I came from America and cane all the way to Japan to see Happo-en Park and shortly after the gates open for my own private viewing of the park. Letís see any park in the whole USA open after they close!!!

I uber to the hotel Sheraton Miyako maybe under 2 mins!! I shouldíve walked!!
I check in and at first glance the hotel seems dark and outdated. I arrive at my room and was pleasantly surprised with my suite. It had a lovely Japanese feel without over doing it.

Sliding doors. Straight lines and circles and no angled lines. Lava tea set. Japanese toilet. Japanese soaking tub with bath tea salt. Mikimoto products and a Lovely seating area by the window.
I settled in and my food was waiting for me.
The food from Chabad was delicious. I only wish they had Kobe beef. And Japanese food not Israeli food. 

The next morning I prayed had a espresso and tea in my room and headed on the shuttle and then a train to Ginza but not before asking for a complimentary umbrella from hotel (with permission not to return it). I made my way to the Peninsula Hotel. Something about hotels. They ground me and set my barrings. I went to go see the 2 restaurants take some photos and take in the views of the imperial palace and surrounding most. Did some shopping and ended up buying some stuff from Uniqlo. Big disappointment it was made in china. Walked to the kimbuzo theatre which was a waste if your not going inside.

Headed back to Ginza station and made my way to Asakusa station, Nakamise Dori.  This place was a winner. Touristy yes. But thatís what weíre looking for!

Tea, chopsticks, spices, knifes, masks and kimono robe shops. They even have a umbrella with a samurai holder. Bought some stuff and Japanese Whisky and headed to Narita airport terminal 2.

Luckily I stocked up on Japanese whisky at a big department store a block away from Asakusa station. To my eyes disbelief there was 3 Yarden Kosher wines!!! 3!! The airport is on the sober side with a Limited selection of under 5 Japanese whiskies for under $100
And 5 above 2k. I headed to JAL lounge and booked my shower. To note: Massage service has been canceled And massage chairs were booked up in the main lounge. But the old massage rooms have chairs you can book they the shower lady and weíre empty! I think people donít know about them.

Whisky in the lounge had a few only memorable ones were bowmore 18 and balvenie 17 and no Japanese whisky!! Really! Shame on you JAL!

The shower was great with overhead and 6 directional sprays, Japanese Toilet and lovely shampoo and body wash.  Well done JAL.

Things I didnít get to see that I really wanted to but do to Day/Month may not work out.
1.   Sumo Wrestling (or morning practice matches)
2.   Fish Market
3.   Cherry Blossoms
4.   Kobe Beef
5.   Seeing Mt. Fuji
6.   Tea Ceremony
7.   Knife Lesson

Tokyo & other Japanese set movies
Tokyo Drift
Walk Donít Run
The last samurai
Karate kid 2
Kill Bill
You Only Live Twice
Lost in Translation
Black Rain
The Last Samurai

More Images

January 29, 2020, 03:52:23 PM
Re: COVID-19 (Wuhan Novel Coronavirus) Pandemic Master Thread
But why are you looking at total cases and not by decided cases, meaning either death or recovery?
Recovery always lags deaths, that number is even less accurate. If you look at the closed cases graph here you can see how much it went down over time.

June 15, 2020, 09:25:32 AM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting/random pictures thread
June 23, 2020, 10:54:42 PM
Re: Tweets, Pictures, And Videos That Are Coronavirus Related

(And for those who can't see the whole picture, I attached it as well...)

July 09, 2020, 11:53:34 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting/random pictures thread

August 03, 2020, 06:07:44 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting video thread...

Looks like someone's gonna be broke in year...

September 11, 2020, 03:33:18 PM
Re: COVIDiots I was davening outside next to a window over Yom Tov since we were exposed to someone who was at our house and then tested positive. I had people trying to convince me to come inside "Nobody cares anyhow". I answered that if they don't care it is more of a reason to stay outside since they would go spread it around if they actually catch it.
October 05, 2020, 10:04:57 PM
Re: The funny/strange/interesting video thread...

October 28, 2020, 11:43:11 AM
Re: ***Biden wins presidency-Boy are we toast*** I honestly don't think "we", as in the citizens of the US, are toast.

Thank G-d Trump has nominated 3 very fine Supreme Court justices (and many other judicial nominations down the line). That should hold off on any drastic change of direction of this country domestically.

However, in areas where the POTUS doesn't really have much influence, there are some serious challenges. I honestly think that we're in for a MAJOR stock market crash and (separately) a major financial reset. There are also global geopolitical challenges that are really scary, G-d help us all.

November 08, 2020, 09:34:33 AM
Re: Tweets, Pictures, And Videos That Are Coronavirus Related

November 19, 2020, 10:06:30 PM
Re: The current state of COVID-19 in Israel
I keep reading of people that come into their Kuppah and get a vaccine even though they are not 60+. Any idea how I can do that? I have a high risk person at home but we cant seem to get an appointment.
Many people are trying their luck one hour before closing, just in case there are doses that were about to get thrown away.

From all the reading I've done, success has been mixed. Because the minute it works people tell all their friends and the excess doses disappear very quickly. There is a dedicated facebook group but I didn't find it very helpful.

However many people have been successful in places like Yeruham, Netivot etc, where there aren't has many older people booked and the staff is very friendly.

December 31, 2020, 01:01:47 PM
Re: Where is Jack Ma?
I can think of very few ways that you can know that. One option is that you murdered him. Or that he's living in your basement. Or that you are him.
Or working for the CIA, this how he has best knowledge of everything. (And we knew ever since that the intel community hates Trump)

January 05, 2021, 01:22:23 AM
Re: The current state of COVID-19 in Israel Israel leads the world in vaccinations per capita, but also in essential workers per capita
January 05, 2021, 02:11:38 AM
Re: The Funny/strange/interesting/random Tweets Thread
February 05, 2021, 12:59:43 AM