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Topics - Ysturmwind

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1
Credit Cards / Amex Marriott Offer
« on: August 29, 2018, 11:59:07 PM »
I'm sure this was discussed elsewhere but I could not find it. Does anyone know if the Amex offer for Marriott ($60 back on $300+) works for gifts cards? i have a stay in February and want to purchase a gift card to use at that time.

Thanks

2
General Discussion / Chicago Home Purchase
« on: August 28, 2017, 10:29:14 AM »
Can anyone suggest any Chicago based services for the following:

-Property Inspector
-Mortgage specialist/bank
-General contractor


Thanks

3
Trip Reports / Italy and Paris - 2017
« on: July 09, 2017, 02:25:33 PM »
Before doing the trip report I have to give thanks to everyone who helped plan and make this trip possible especially @yehudah who helped get me started and answered countless questions. Thanks to everyone on the forums who helped us plan and execute the trip.

Our European adventure began on Wednesday afternoon when my DW flew from LGA to ORD to drop our son off by Bubbe, now the real party begins. Her flight back was supposed to leave ORD on Thursday around 3:00pm and land at JFK at 5pm, more than enough time to get our 9:00pm Delta flight to VCE. Just as she was getting ready to head to the airport we found out the flight was delayed and would land at 7:30pm, needless to say I was nervous about her making the next leg. I immediately called Delta; of course no operator was available, and was told I would have to wait 2-3 hours for a call back. The next thing we knew the fight was delayed again and she wouldn’t land until 8:30pm. Luckily, I booked all of our flights through Amex with the Biz Platinum card, I called Amex and they were able to get me through to Delta (with a 30min wait). The Delta rep got my wife on a 2:30pm flight to LGA. She arrived at LGA at 2:10 and was through security and at the gate by 2:20pm. She landed at LGA by 5:30pm and jumped into a cab headed straight for JFK. We met up in JFK dropped our bags off and went through security. 

We got through security quickly and went straight to the Delta lounge at JFK in T4, which was very underwhelming and overcrowded. We got into the lounge thanks to the previously mentioned Amex business platinum card, but it had very little (non kosher) food and beverages, very few open seats, and slow wifi. We then boarded our flight to VCE, which was a comfortable economy class paid for with 40,000 Amex MR points and landed in Venice at 11:05am on Friday.

We took the Alilaguna orange line for 15 euro each, which took over an hour of waiting, but was by far the cheapest and most direct option. As we quickly learned, a 10-minute walk in Venice with suitcases feels like an hour. We stayed at an AirBnB close to the Orto stop (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14440594). It was perfect, way more spacious than a hotel room and less than a 10-minute walk from the Jewish ghetto, and our host was really easy and honest to deal with. The AirBnB was paid for using Arrival points with the Barclays Arrival+ card. We highly recommend it. We ate a quick lunch that we had brought with us, then walked to the Rialto bridge area and explored the Rialto market. We enjoyed some refreshing juices from Frulala on our way back to the BnB to get ready for shabbas.


View from the Rialto

Friday night we davened at Chabad followed by our prepaid meals at Gam Gam. It was an off time of year and were relatively few people visiting for shabbas (compared to what we have heard the summertime is like). We opted for the highest tier option of eating in the restaurant, but based on what we heard about the Gallery option, that would have been fine as well. We just didn't want to rely on the free option for fear there would not be enough food. The food at Gam Gam was nothing spectacular but definitely good enough and large quantities. Shabbos morning we intended to daven at the Sephardic shul but accidentally slept until 11, jet-lag oops, so Chabad it was! We ate lunch at our table at Gam Gam again, same type of good-enough food.

We then used the Rick Steeves guidebook walking tour from Rialto to San Marco, then around the San Marco area and San Zaccharia. Total time including multiple sitting breaks took around 3 hours by the time we walked back to the ghetto for Mincha. Venice is a great place to go for Shabbos thanks to the Eruv- we were able to carry water, snacks and the guidebook. Following Mincha at the Sephardic shul was shaleshudis at Gam Gam, then Maariv and Havdalah. Shabbos ended around 9pm so we didn't do much on Motzei Shabbos, just explored some Venetian bars in the Cannaregio district and luckily found that Gam Gam goodies was open for pizza.

We got an early start on Sunday morning, first walking to the bakery in the Jewish ghetto for breakfast. The bakery is under kosher certification but is not acceptable according to Chabad for being open on Shabbos. Nonetheless, our croissants were delicious. We took a 9am Vaporetto (had bought the Rolling Venice pass before we arrived) to Murano Island, which was around a 10-15 minute ride. Murano was beautiful, albeit overpriced, and getting there early was great to beat the crowds that arrive around lunchtime. We spent around 3 hours walking around and going into stores. Our original plan had been to also visit Burano, but it was pretty far away and we ultimately decided it wasn't worth it for us.

We took the Vaporetto back to Orto, ate a quick lunch at our BnB and then walked to the Jewish museum in the ghetto for a 1:30 tour. The tours are hourly on the half hour, and it was very worthwhile. The guide took us into a bunch of different shuls that you can't get into without the tour. Price of the tour (around $12 per person with Rolling Venice discount) also includes admission into the museum, which is small, but worth seeing. Afterwards we walked to San Marco for the tour of Doge's Palace, which we got into with the Rolling Venice discount. We used the Rick Steeves guidebook tour of the Palace, which was great and very informative without being too draggy. After that we walked to the Accademia district and explored some interesting art galleries, then took a Vaparetto to Gam Gam for dinner.


One of the 5 shuls in Venice

Following dinner, we walked to the bus station for the first stop on Rick Steeves' audio tour (downloaded before the trip) of the Grand Canal Cruise. For the price of the Vaparetto ticket, we got a full tour of the beautiful Grand Canal. We also timed it to coincide with sunset and nightfall, which was really beautiful. We both agreed that it was a huge highlight of the entire trip. The cruise ends at San Marco, so we hung out there for a while and then took a Vaparetto back to Orto. Overall we found the Vaparettos were really easy to use and efficient, especially since our BnB was so close to one of the stops.


Grand Canal cruise at night

Monday morning started out extra early with a water taxi at 5:30am to the train station. Water taxis are extremely overpriced, but we were worried about catching a Vaparetto so early in the morning, and we couldn't walk to the train station with our giant suitcase. We took the 6:06am high-speed train to Rome; it was a very comfortable 3-hour ride. Be mindful where you book your seats in relation to the luggage racks, I thought there was one in every car but that was not true, I had to leave the bag sitting between cars hoping it would be ok. We originally looked into flying but by the time you get to the VCE airport for the flight, taking the train is cheaper and faster. We got into the Termini station in Rome at 9am, then cabbed straight to our hotel to put our bags away. We stayed at the Meridien Visconti hotel, which is newly renovated. Since it's so new, we were able to stay for only 12,000 SPG points per night for a really nice room. We were also upgraded for free to a premium room, which was pretty small but nicely decorated and modern. The hotel is in a great location- around a 25-minute walk to all of the kosher restaurants, and a 20-minute walk in the other direction to the Vatican.


Camp Di'Fiore

After getting settled, we started walking to the Jewish ghetto and stopped in the Campo di'Fiore open market for some fresh fruit. We made it to Ba'Ghetto Milky for lunch, and it was delicious! I am allergic to milk and fish and the wait staff was very good at accommodating me and ensuring I had a top-notch meal. Following lunch, we walked to the Great Synagogue to start our tour of the Jewish ghetto with a company called Jewish Roma. Our tour guide was a native Roman Jew, and the tour was excellent. It started in the Jewish museum in the Great Synagogue, and then the last hour was a walking tour of the boundaries of the ghetto. We highly recommend this tour, even though it's a bit expensive (180 euro per couple for 3 hours).

The tour ended at 5, which was a perfect time for our first (of many) Gelato experiences at the gelato store next to Ba'ghetto.


Gelato!


Jewish Ghetto


We took a quick Uber ride back to the hotel to pick up our Rick Steeves book (never leave the hotel without it!), then commenced his walking tour from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon. He gives great information about each site and interesting things to note along the walk. It started raining a little, which led to our biggest expense of the trip – 10 euro for an umbrella, but the rain was great for getting closer than usual to the tourist sites. The Trevi fountain was basically empty, so we were able to get up-close and really get a good look. When we walked past it the following day, it was packed! The whole walk, including walking to the ghetto for dinner, took around 2 hours.


Trevi Fountain

We ate dinner around 8pm at BellaCarne, which was really delicious meat. The glatt menu is a little limiting, but it's the only Glatt option in the ghetto. The other glatt restaurant, Little Tripoli, is located pretty far away and we didn't even end up trying it. Although many meat restaurants offer a Glatt menu, Bella Carne is the only one recommended by the CRC, so we stuck with that one. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and had a very comfortable night's sleep.

Tuesday morning's breakfast was oatmeal packets with hot water in our hotel room (great option to bring with you!), although we had access to free breakfast, very few foods had a label let alone were kosher. We walked to the Vatican Museum for our 9am reservation. Definitely reserve tickets in advance; the line for tickets was CRAZY even getting there before it opens at 9. We did the Rick Steeves audio guide for the Vatican museum, which again was just the right amount of information without feeling too long and draggy. We exited right before the Sistine chapel entrance, and the guards gave us a hard time until we found someone wearing a suit who signaled to the guards to let us out. We were surprised at how hard it was to exit, since everyone seems to say they had no problem. Basically if the guard doesn't let you out, find a security guard who's wearing a suit and is probably in charge. We walked back to the hotel for lunch (bagels that we had brought with us from NY) since we didn't want to walk all the way back to the ghetto for lunch. The hard part about the Rome food situation is that almost everything is in the ghetto, so you either need to constantly walk back there or just bring food with you.


Borghese Park

After lunch we walked to the Borghese Park and made our way to the Borghese Galleries for our 3pm tickets. They are very strict about tickets and seem to sell out weeks in advance. They opened the door at exactly 3pm and you have until exactly 5pm, with only 30 minutes allotted for the upstairs. We used the Rick Steeves book tour of the Galleries, but we found that he skips a lot and none of the signs are in English. If we did it again we'd probably pay the extra fee for the English audio guide from the museum to have a more full tour experience. After the Galleries, we walked around the beautiful park and rented a two-seater bike type of thing for 10 euro for an hour. It was a really fun way to explore the whole park. Afterwards, we walked to the ghetto for more gelato and hung around there until it was a respectable dinnertime, and then went to Bella Carne again. This meal was also really good; just don’t order the kebabs. It tasted terrible, but they took it off the bill and let us order something else. Being extremely exhausted from our day, we took an Uber back to the hotel.

Wednesday morning started out with more oatmeal, and then a guided tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forums. We booked it through an agency called Eyes of Rome, and it was a great 3-hour private tour. Our tour guide met us at our hotel and we took a cab to the Coliseum. We felt it was really worth having a guided tour because there's so much to see and so much historical information in these areas.


Coliseum

The tour ended in Piazza Venezia at the enormous Victor Emanuel monument. We thought it would be cool to take the elevator up for the "panoramic" views of Rome. It wasn't. It was a big waste of 14 euro, and we'd recommend skipping this. From there we walked to the ghetto for Ba'Ghetto Milky for lunch, and then more gelato (that's #3 for anyone keeping count). We made sure to order some extra food to take with us on our plane ride to Paris that night. After lunch we walked back to our hotel and detoured through Piazza Navona which has two beautiful fountains, and is in general a nice area to see. Then we finished packing up and took a taxi to the FCO airport. Thanks to late checkout with SPG, this was a super easy process at 4pm. Our 7pm flight to the ORY airport in Paris was booked through British Airways with Chase points for a couple thousand points each, but ended up being on a budget airline called Vueling. The plane was GROSS- the seats were ripped, tray tables were sticky, and legroom was nonexistent. Luckily it was only a 2-hour flight because they charge for water and we refused to pay for that. The biggest issue we had was that the bathroom didn't have any soap, just a small sliver of a soap bar. That means the whole plane was using the same tiny piece of soap, or no soap at all. Very, very gross. We both agreed that we would have spent a little more on the flights for a nicer experience.


Disgusting Veuling Tray Table

Our flight landed at ORY around 9pm and we took an Uber to our hotel. Our first two nights in Paris we stayed at the Westin Vendome using SPG points, which was beautiful if a little bit outdated. Our SPG status got us upgraded to a deluxe room, which was huge and really nice. We had planned to go out for a late dinner when we arrived in Paris but we were really tired from the day so we called it a night.

On Thursday morning, we got an extra early start to head out to Versailles. We took the RER train from near our hotel, which was a great value including the cost of a 24-hour metro pass. The Paris metro was really easy to navigate and efficient. We ordered the 2-day Museum Passes before and picked them up at the hotel concierge desk, so there was no line at Versailles at 9am and we walked straight to the security point. We used the Rick Steeves audio guide and thought it gave a great overview. The real highlight of Versailles is the beautiful gardens. We could have easily spent hours in the gardens and rented a boat on the canal, but we wanted to get back to Paris. When we left Versailles at 11:30am, the line just for security was insanely long which you need to do even with the Museum Pass, so definitely go early.


Entrance to Versailles

We took the RER back and switched to another line to go to Thai One for lunch. It was much smaller than we expected and more fast-food type, but the pad thai was absolutely delicious. Be forewarned that nobody there speaks English, which can be challenging if you're with someone with allergies. Don’t get the Green Curry Chicken unless you REALLY like curry. Following lunch we went to the Orsay museum (included with museum pass) with Rick Steeves' audio tour. The Orsay is a great museum with an unbelievable collection of modern painters including Monet, Manet, and Renoir.


The main hall at the Orsay Museum, a former train station.


 We then started on the Rick Steeves Champs-Elysee walk and got to the Arc d'Triumph around 7pm, we wanted to go up the stairs (included with museum pass), but the whole area was blocked off because the President had just been there. From there we walked to Darjeeling for dinner, which was a delicious break from all of the pizza and pasta we'd been eating. We had pre-reserved tickets for the Eiffel Tower for 10pm, so we took an Uber there after dinner. The Eiffel Tower is beautiful at night, and the views from the second story were amazing. The tower lights up every hour at night, which is really cool to see up close. Going at night also avoids the majority of crowds so the experience is even better. We were up there for almost an hour and then took an Uber back to the hotel.


Our original Friday morning plan was to wake up early and get to the Louvre right when it opens at 9am. However, after so many exhausting days of sightseeing, we decided to forgo the Louvre in favor of a more relaxing morning. We took the subway to the Le Marais district and ate breakfast at the delicious Korcaz bakery.


Breakfast at Korcarz

Then we walked around Le Marais down to the Pompidou center, which is a cool building to see from the outside. The whole neighborhood was full of interesting stores and some delicious coffee shops such as Terres de Café, which roasts beans daily. Then we walked back to the main Jewish area and stocked up on pareve chocolates and macarons from Damyel's and waited in line for lunch at L’As du Falafel. We decided to wait for a table instead of eating outside, and although the line looked long, it moved quickly and we were seated within 10-15 minutes. The falafel was amazing and a great deal at only 6.50 euro each. After lunch we took the metro to Montmartre, another really cool area to see and walk around. We took the "funicular" for the cost of a metro ride up to the Sacre-cour church for incredible views of the entire city.


Lunch at L'As Du Falafel


Sacre-Cour in Montmarte

Then we walked down around the hill to an artsy outdoor market and eventually made our way back to the subway. We took the metro back to the Westin, picked up our luggage and then walked 3 minutes to the Park Hyatt Hotel. This hotel was definitely our favorite out of the entire trip. It is unbelievably beautiful and the concierge and staff are helpful and accommodating, which was great for shabbos. We had mentioned that it was our "babymoon" trip, so we were upgraded to a brand new renovated room, and the concierge came by later with a stuffed animal with "Park Hyatt Vendome" embroidered on it. We had some extra time before shabbos so we spent some time in the beautiful spa with a steam room and whirlpool. The area is co-ed but happened to be completely empty at the time. Then we went upstairs to get ready for Shabbos in the nicest bathroom we've ever seen. The toiletries were even gorgeous, and we stashed a few in our luggage. Chabad was officially making Shabbos at 7:30 but dinner wasn't starting until 9, and Shabbos didn't actually start until 9:30. We decided to go a little late, and we subway’d there using our 24-hour pass. This was a great idea because we just threw out the pass when we got off the train. Davening and dinner at Chabad were uneventful. Since it's wasn't really the height of tourist season, the meals were all pretty small and primarily directed towards the French local community. Dinner ended around 11 and we walked back to our hotel, around, which was around a 40-minute walk. We didn't feel that the area was unsafe, but the Champs-Elyse is a bit eerie when the stores are closed late at night.

We woke up late on Shabbos morning and got to Chabad very late, which worked in our favor since davening wasn't over until 1pm. They had kiddush while lunch was set up, and the meal again was pretty small and almost everything was in French. In retrospect, we agreed that we would have gotten takeout food for at least 1 meal and eaten in our hotel room. We got back to the hotel around 3 and napped for a bit, then got ready for a long walk. Since there's no eruv in Paris, we wanted to be out for a while but weren't able to carry water or snacks. We decided to leave around 6:30 and not come back until after Shabbos, which was nicer than constantly asking the front desk to take us up the stairs and open the door. We went on a beautiful walk around the Louvre and the Tulieries garden, stopping at the bridge of locks of course. Then we walked along the water back to the Champs-Elyse and back up to the Chabad for mincha and a very awkward, separate-seating shaleshudis. We had left some money in the tallis bag for a cab after Shabbos, which worked out great because we got in a cab right after Shabbos and went back to our hotel. Shabbos was over really late, around 10:15, so we just cabbed to the Jewish area for some pizza and cabbed back to the hotel.


The Bridge of Locks

On Sunday morning we went straight to Korcaz bakery for another delicious breakfast. We also ordered sandwiches for our plane ride back, which at first they said they don't make so early in the morning, but then agreed after we looked sad. We then cabbed back to the hotel to finish packing, and cabbed to CDG. There was no traffic on the way to the airport, but we were happy that we had so much extra time. The lines in CDG are really confusing and slow, and we had to take the monorail to a different terminal after finally getting through the passport check. Our flight back to JFK departed at 1:40. Although sitting in coach is a far cry from the Park Hyatt, we thought it was a really comfortable flight. We landed in JFK around 4pm and immediately began planning our next DD trip.

Au Revoir!


4
Up In The Air / United Chicago Lounge Changes
« on: June 10, 2016, 11:03:18 AM »
United just sent out an email with some major changes to their O'Hare lounges.
   

Please be advised of the following operational updates.

Your travel experience is important to us. That’s why we’d like to let you know about a few changes to security and lounges at Chicago O'Hare before you travel.

Lounge and club updates

One-Time Passes cannot be redeemed at any club location in Terminal 1 through December 1, 2016.

The Global First Lounge will be closing June 16, 2016. We’re converting our Global FirstSM Lounge to make way for the brand-new United PolarisSM Lounge launching December 1, 2016. In the meantime, our Global First passengers will have a dedicated lounge space within the adjacent United ClubSM near gate C16. Please also note that shower facilities in this club will be closed during renovations.

The United Club near gate B6 is closed for renovations. Please visit the club near Gate B18 or C16 while we work to enhance your experience.

Select areas of the United Club near Gate C16 will be under construction beginning June 16, 2016. The club will remain open, however, shower facilities will not be available.

We appreciate your patience while we work to bring you an upgraded club and lounge experience. Please visit united.com/unitedclublocations for all up-to-date operational information for United Club.

5
Up In The Air / Baggage Fees on UA/AC Flight
« on: May 25, 2016, 02:20:48 PM »
I'm flying with UA on an AC flight in Canada. The United Explorer card will not allow for free baggage on partner carrier flights. Does anyone know of a way to get free baggage on those flights?

TIA

6
Goods For Sale/Trade / Trade Hyatt Nights for Fairmont Nights
« on: May 25, 2016, 09:09:05 AM »
I have 3 Hyatt nights to trade. 2 are SU nights and one is an anniversary night. I'm looking to trade them for 3 Fairmont nights.
The anniversary night expires 10/16 and the SU nights expire 3/17. 

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