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Trip Reports / Scotland & Ireland with 2 small kids
« on: August 16, 2018, 01:35:56 AM »
Scotland and Ireland 2018 Trip Report
Trip Planning
We knew we wanted to go to Europe again this summer way back in December. The problem was that our daughter, DN, would be two years old and would need a seat. Our other daughter, NR, would not need a seat as she was just 9 months old during the trip.
After looking at fares for a while and hoping to find 3 business class seats, I realized that finding more than two seats would be impossible from LAX. Besides that, we wanted the most direct routing possible: no stops unless direct routing was not available.
As such, I decided to redeem Chase UR points and book a revenue ticket at 1.5 cents per point directly from chase. The revenue cost of the tickets was only $1018, so it ended up costing around 66k points per adult, 25% less for DN, and around $100 for NR, all paid for with UR, including the infant.
Our routing was quite simple: LAX-DUB-EDI, GLA-DUB, DUB-LAX. This would allow us to visit Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow in Scotland for a week and visit Dublin, Galway and Athlone in Ireland for another week before flying back to LA. The ticket was actually cheaper doing a multi-city ticket than flying just LAX-DUB-LAX, and Air Lingus (EI) offers special fares where you can stop in Ireland for up to a week for free. Because of that, the ticket was really LAX-EDI, GLA-LAX with a stop for a week in DUB.
For hotels on this trip, we used a variety of options. For the first two nights, we redeemed 30k Marriott points per night for The Glasshouse in Edinburgh. We then paid for an Airbnb for the next two nights to be 115 steps away from Chabad for Shabbos at the cost of about $120/night.
For Sunday night, we redeemed Chase UR points once again for the Park Inn by Radisson Aberdeen at the approximate cost of 6k UR for the night.
For Monday and Tuesday nights, we spend another 30k Marriott per night to stay in the Marriott Glasgow.
On Wednesday we flew to Dublin. We spend another 30k Marriott for The Shelbourne Hotel. While we wanted to stay there for two nights, there was no availability the second night, so instead we moved to the Intercontinental Dublin for Thursday night using a free anniversary night.
Once again for Friday night and Motzei Shabbos we went to an Airbnb in Terenure, about a mile away from shul. The cost was a bit more than the previous week, at about $150/night.
Sunday night we spend at the Clayton Hotel in Galway at around 4k Chase UR for the night. Finally, on Tuesday night, we spent the night at the Sheraton Athlone for 4k SPG for the night.
For food, we really needed to plan ahead. While we don’t have POM meals available in LA, we were lucky enough to find good caterers in Europe. In Scotland, we ordered food from Mark’s Deli in Glasgow for the week. Mark has an extensive menu to order from for travelers, which I got from him by asking via email. Plus, while he normally charges a lot to deliver to Edinburgh, he also delivered there “fortnightly,” or every other week for us Americans. Once he’s delivering anyway, we just paid him £10 for delivery to our hotel. We ordered a bunch of frozen meals for during the week, and a whole lot of dips and salads for Shabbos. We also got bread, bagels, and challah from him. We ordered enough to have food through Aberdeen, until we got to Glasgow on Monday night.
For our second night in Glasgow, we went out to L’Chaim restaurant for dinner. I emailed them in advance also, and they said they just charge £20 for a soup or salad, entrée and dessert, but that I’d need to order in advance. I ended up ordering on Sunday, via email, and we ended up having a lovely meal at their restaurant.
For Ireland, we ordered food from Melanie Stein. She’s a kosher caterer in Dublin who makes travel meals out of the shul. While we didn’t order any meat at all (I’m vegetarian), I didn’t have any kashrus concerns with her food. If you want to order meat or have kashrus concerns, AYLOR. We ordered travel meals form Melanie for during the week and Shabbos as well. She met me at the hotel in Dublin to deliver the frozen food while we had the hotels heat up each night. For Shabbos, we stopped by the shul (where her kitchen is) to pick up the fresh food, challah and wine for Shabbos. She charged us €30 for delivery initially to the Shelbourne, and I didn’t want to pay an additional €12 to have the Shabbos food delivered. We had food from her until the very end of the trip.
Additionally, we brought some tuna packets, tortillas, peanut butter and jelly from home for lunches in Ireland (in Scotland we had so much food from Mark, such as cheese and bread, that it was unnecessary), and of course bought loads of fresh produce and some dairy products in both countries for lunches.
In the end, all the planning paid off. Everything worked out just fine with the flights, hotels and the food, that we couldn’t really complain. Well, besides for one flight, which I’ll get to later.
Tuesday, July 24 and Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Our Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, in economy, was at 7:20 pm on Tuesday night. We got to the airport early, checked in without a problem, and proceeded to security. I was debating buying refundable Delta tickets so we could get Precheck to get through security (Aer Lingus leaves from the same terminal as Delta, T2, in LAX), but decided not to after seeing the non-existent lines at 6pm in T2.

I stopped off at the Priority Pass restaurant in the terminal to get some bottled water and juice. It was super crowded at dinner time, but it wasn’t that bad once I got someone to help me. The flight left on time and was quite the experience for us. It left right at bedtime for both DN and NR, so they went to sleep shortly after takeoff. About an hour after that, they both woke up and wanted to be held for the remaining of the flight while they tried to sleep. Needless to say, it didn’t make for a very comfortable flight, and we arrived in Dublin quite tired.

Breakfast on the plane:

After a few hours in the Priority Pass lounge, we headed to our turbo prop flight to Edinburgh. I’d found out that on this flight they may not allow car seats on board for DN, but they would have a safety harness available. That worked out just fine, as the flight attendant installed the harness before we left. It was a quick 1 hour flight to Edinburgh.
We took an UberXL to our hotel and arrived just around 8 pm. We were so tired from the sleepless night in economy that we all just crashed and slept.

Our hotel room at the Glasshouse, Edinburgh:

The Glasshouse, Edinburgh, public areas:

Thursday, July 26, 2018
While I’m normally a big morning person, being up for so long got to me. We all slept until 1pm Thursday afternoon. It was another 2 hours until we got out for the day to start exploring Edinburgh. We decided to talk to Edinburgh Castle. It was a short, 15 minute walk from the hotel. We arrived at around 4 pm (they close at 6) and spend the next two hours looking around. We bumped into a nice Israeli family,and they took some pictures for us. . The castle was quite nice, and even very stroller-friendly.

Edinburgh Castle

View from Edinburgh Castle

After the castle, we walked back to the hotel to have dinner. While Mark had delivered the food to our hotel before we arrived, we asked them to heat up our meals for us, which they were happy to do. We ate dinner and went back to bed.

Dinner from Mark’s Deli in Glasgow
Friday, July 27, 2018
Friday we woke up early after so much sleep over the past day. We started our morning with breakfast in the hotel, which was complementary. We just ate cereal and yogurt that were on the London Beth Din’s kosher list, but it was more than enough.
We then walked to Hollyrood Palace, the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh when she comes at the beginning of July each year. We took a self-guided tour of the palace and gardens, which was quite nice. We got there just as they opened at 9:30am, so it was quite quiet. We then walked up the royal mile (at least most of it), to our next activity: a Harry Potter tour.

Holyrood Palace:

Edinburgh city hall

We did a free Harry Potter walking tour of Edinburgh next. It met not far from the royal mile, and was a slow-moving tour. It was at noon, so both girls slept for the entire thing, one in a stroller, one in a baby carrier. The tour showed the graveyard where JK Rowling got a lot of her inspiration, as well as other inspiring points around the city. While it wasn’t an interesting tour for non-Harry Potter fans, it was excellent if you’re a fan. While the tour officially says that it’s only recommended for ages 5+, we were ready to leave at a moment’s notice if the girls didn’t behave or we couldn’t push the stroller around.

The Elephant House, “Birthplace” of Harry Potter

This building was part of the inspiration for Hogwarts

The Riddell’s graves. In the book it’s spelled Riddle so the anagram would work

The inspiration for Diagon Alley

With the tour done, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and leave to the Airbnb for Shabbos. We took another UberXL there and got in via a lock-box with the key which the owner had given me the combination to beforehand. We settled in to the apartment and got ready for Shabbos. Since there was not going to be any minyan for Friday night at Chabad, we just put the girls to bed, I davened by myself at the apartment, and we had a nice Friday night meal.

Airbnb for shabbos:

Shabbos, July 28, 2018
Shachris was at 10:00am, as per Chabad’s custom. Thank goodness for the very late Sof Zman Tefila! I walked to Chabad, which just had a minyan, davened, and had a nice Kiddush/lunch afterwards. I then walked back to our apartment where I stayed with NR while DN and my wife went to shul. There was no minyan for Mincha/Maariv on Shabbos, so we spent the rest of the rainy day either taking quick walks around the block with DN between rain showers or resting and playing in the apartment. Shabbos ended (finally) at 10:46pm.
Sunday, July 29, 2018
On Sunday we went to Aberdeen. We left the Airbnb early to catch our train at 10:50am. In the rush to get an UberXL and get to the station, we ended up forgetting our stroller at the Airbnb, which we only realized once we were already on the way to Aberdeen. I messaged the host and told him we could come get it on Tuesday once we had a car in Glasgow, so that’s what we planned.

We arrived in Aberdeen and I walked a half a mile to get our car while everyone else stayed in a hotel across the street from the train station. I picked up a car from Enterprise (I booked through National), picked everyone up and headed to the hotel.
I found a parking spot just outside that was free on Sundays. We got a room at the Park Inn that didn’t have a bathtub. I asked if we could switch rooms, and the hotel happily obliged, moving us to the room next door. While it was pouring rain once we arrived at the hotel, we just spent the remaining part of the day in the hotel relaxing and resting. We asked that the hotel heat up our meal, but they refused, saying it was against their policy. We therefore ate cool meals and went to bed early.

Park Inn Aberdeen:

Monday, July 30, 2018
Monday started a lot less rainy than Sunday was. We started the day with a very nice breakfast (of cereal) in the hotel’s restaurant after I moved the car from the free street parking which ended at 8 am. By 9 am, we were in the car on the way to Balmoral Castle, the summer home of the Royal family. After a lovely 1.5 hour drive, we arrived and went in. It was really nice to walk around the estate and see the one room in the castle which is open to the public. DN spent some time running around on a large patch of open grass, as well as exploring the rose gardens.

Breakfast at the Park Inn

Balmoral Castle:

We only spent around 2 hours there, before we headed back in the car for the same drive back to Aberdeen. We stopped briefly at Enterprise to pick up an employee who drove us to the train station. We arrived with plenty of time to take our train to Glasgow.
The train ride to Glasgow was nice. We ate a dinner of leftovers from Shabbos on the train and arrived in Glasgow on time. We took another UberXL to the Marriott, arriving there right around 8pm. We had the hotel heat up our food, which they were happy to do, had a good dinner and went to bed.

Marriott Glasgow:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Tuesday started with a nice breakfast in the hotel’s club lounge which we had access to. After breakfast, we walked the .4 miles to Enterprise/National to pick up a car to drive to Falkirk to see the famous Falkirk Wheel. When we picked up the car, it was on empty, so we had to bring it back in the same condition. This car showed now many miles until empty; we had 63. I filled it up just a bit (£15 worth of gas), before heading out. The first stop though was on the outskirts of Edinburgh to pick up the stroller.

Breakfast in the Marriott lounge

Our host was super nice about the whole thing. I mentioned we’d be in Glasgow on that day and have a car to drive to Edinburgh to pick up the stroller. He offered to meet me on the outskirts of town closer to Glasgow in a parking lot. We arrived at the parking lot at the arranged time and met his uncle who had the stroller with him. He was so nice about the whole thing, we really appreciated it.
We then continued on to Falkirk while both girls remained asleep. We arrived in the late morning, parked (you can pay for parking with a credit card at the shop instead of in cash on arrival if you want), and got tickets to go on the boat that goes up the wheel. While the tickets were for 2:40 pm, we had some time to kill. After lunch (an hour) and playing in their water play area (they also have a playground which was closed due to vandalism), it was finally our turn.

Falkirk  Wheel:

On the way to queue up for the boat ride, we met two chassidish families from London who were there on holiday. We said a quick hello, but other than that didn’t really speak to them.
The boat ride is nice and about an hour long. It’s really cool to go up on the boat lift/elevator to see how it worked. It’s amazing that it only uses the same amount of energy as 6 toaster ovens! After going on the boat ride, we bought the girls some souvenirs (a little stuffed animal for NR and some Walker’s shortbread cookies for DN) and headed back to Glasgow to go eat.
By that time it was around 4:00pm, still quite early. We figured we’d be way early for dinner at 6:15pm, so when the GPS said it found a way that was 10 minutes quicker I just ignored it. That ended up being a mistake, as we got stuck in some rush hour traffic, and only arrived at L’Chaim Restaurant at 6:14pm.
L’Chaim Restaurant, Glasgow:

Fried Zucchini appetizer (free, not included in what we ordered)

Butternut squash soup

Chopped liver

Salmon entree

Ribs entree

Chocolate mousse

We had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant. It was really nice to have some hot soup (I know that sounds weird in the middle of the summer, but it was quite chilly outside), and a fresh meal after a week of heating up meals. We bumped into some people there who knew my wife’s grandmother from when they were in school together years ago, so it was nice speaking to them.
I davened mincha/maariv at 7:30 pm in the shul, only my second tefila with a minyan in a week. Because shkia is so late, shuls always daven mincha before plag and maariv right after plag, just like we do on Fridays, so they don’t have to wait up so late for maariv.

We drove back to the hotel without any traffic and parked there. As it turned out, it was cheaper to pay for parking at the hotel for one night and pay the one way drop off fee of £15 by dropping the car off at the airport than it would have been to take a car from the city and return the car that night.
We went to bed, all ready to go to Ireland the next day.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Our flight to Dublin was schedule for 11:30 am. After another breakfast in the club lounge, we packed up the car and headed off to the airport, this time thankfully against traffic.
We returned the car and walked to the terminal which was only a few minutes’ walk away. When we returned the car, there was only 40 miles left until empty, so I’d say the amount of gas we used was spot on.
We checked in for our flight, including checking in our car seat, since we knew it wouldn’t be allowed on the prop plane this time either.
We made it through security ok (despite the UK’s notoriously strict security, they were fine with all the baby food and bottles we had), stopped by the Priority Pass lounge for a bit, and made it to our gate where we were allowed to board first (which meant going to the bus first).

Priority Pass lounge:

Flight to Dublin:

The flight was ok, sort of. While on the way to Edinburgh we had requested a safety harness for DN, on this flight the flight attendant insisted we didn’t. Despite tightening the belt all the way, there was still at least 6 inches of slack between it and her lap that we felt unsafe. We asked the FA about this, but he just replied that he’s been a flight attendant for 6 years and has never needed one on a child. We said we felt safer with one, yet he still refused. Not wanting to get thrown off the plane, we took our chances and the flight proceeded without incident.
We landed in a very cold and rainy Dublin at 12:30 pm and took a taxi to our hotel. While I generally hate paying cash for things, and only had €25 in cash on me, I didn’t know there was another option, as Uber is really expensive in Ireland. The cabbie agreed to stop at an ATM for me to get more money, and we made it to the hotel for about €36.
We checked into the amazing Shelbourne hotel and got settled. I met Melanie in the hotel lobby to pick up the food which she delivered. By this time, DN just needed to run around, so we walked across the street to St. Stephen’s Green to go to a great playground. It had stopped raining and everything had dried off pretty quickly at this point. Both girls had a great time playing at the park. We headed back to the hotel, which a quick stop at Trinity College just to look around.
We walked around the college for a bit, before heading to the Dunnes Store to pick up some produce and back to the hotel for dinner. The hotel was excellent about heating up our meals, and we had a nice hot dinner once again. Bed time came quickly after dinner, and it was once again time to go to sleep.

The Shelbourne hotel, Dublin:

Trinity College:

Stephen’s Green Shopping Centrel where the Dunnes Store was:

Dinner from Melanie: pasta and vegetables:

Thursday, August 2, 2018[/u]
Thursday morning started with a wonderful breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. We didn’t have anything better than we normally eat, just cereal and fruit, but it was in a nice setting.

Breakfast in the Saddle Room:

At breakfast we decided to do a free walking tour of Howth, a small seaside village not far (about 45 minutes door to door). As it turned out, we were the only ones on the tour, so it was a private tour, which was real nice with a baby. Normally the tour goes over parts that are not suitable for a stroller, but we just skipped those parts. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and it was nice to get a little history of the area. It really was quite a relaxing day.

Pearse train station to Howth

Piano for anyone to play in the Pearse station

DART train

After the tour, we went to a park in Howth to allow the girls to play. We were outside for quite a few hours, and while unusual for Howth, the sun was brilliantly shining, giving all of us some sun burns.

Island off the coast of Howth


Old footprints from King George IV

Howth cemetery


Fun signs from a random store in Howth

We took the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) back to the hotel area and walked to the kosher bakery, Bretzel Bakery, about a mile away for some bread and pastries. The walk was nice and the pastries and bread were even nicer. We walked back to the hotel and packed up to leave to the Intercontinental.

Bretzel Bakery

Scone from the bakery
By this point, I figured out that what most people use in Dublin is an app called MyTaxi, which is basically just like Uber. I downloaded the app, and 5 minutes later we were set to go with a driver. The best part is that since it’s just ordering you a regular taxi, if you say you have 6 people, you’ll get a larger van taxi for the same price (which comes in handy when you have loads of luggage). €18 later and we arrived at the gorgeous Intercontinental.
We got a room first that was really outdated in terms of decor. The good news was that it didn't have a bathtub, so they switched us to a newly renovated room that did. The room ended up being quite nice, though the service was a bit lacking. Getting things in and out of the freezer proved to be quite hard for them. They also took over an hour and a half to heat up our meals for 20 minutes. The shower handle ended up being broken, and the drain in the shower was clogged. Because of all of these problems, we ended up getting a free breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant buffet which worked out quite well. It was a really nice breakfast and everyone ate well.

Intercontinental Dublin:

Old room”

New room:

After arriving at the hotel, getting settled, eating and bathing the kids, it was time to go to bed.
Friday, August 3, 2018
Friday was a quiet relaxing day. After a really nice breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, we decided to take a walk to Herbert Park a few minutes away. We walked around for an hour or so while the girls were sleeping, and then we went to the play area once they woke up.

Hotel breakfast, Intercontinental Dublin:

As you may be able to tell by this point, we spent a lot of time going to parks and doing things the girls would enjoy, which is a different way to travel. While we’re not exactly used to traveling this way, it ended up working out quite nicely and everyone enjoyed.

Herbert Park

After a couple hours at the park, it was time to walk back to the hotel. We stopped very briefly at the US embassy just to see it before heading back to the hotel to pack up and go to the Airbnb for Shabbos.
We wanted to order a taxi again using MyTaxi, but we couldn’t get a van taxi this time. Instead, we just took a regular van taxi that was waiting outside the hotel at the time who also took credit card. Score!
We first stopped off at the shul in Terenure, the Jewish community area, to pick up the food for Shabbos. Melanie had made us fresh salmon and salads for Shabbos, as well as challah. We picked everything up while the cab waited (including a small bottle of wine), before heading to our Airbnb.

Airbnb, Dublin:

It took us a minute to find our Airbnb’s location, but after calling the owner who came to open it for us, we realized we were right nearby after all. We got into the Airbnb (which was awesome except for the smell of cigarette smoke), did some laundry (boy do European washing machines take a long time for not a lot of clothes), got ready for Shabbos, went to Aldi (a supermarket) nearby, put the girls to sleep, and I went to shul. It was a mile away and not very complicated. Davening was quite nice, and they had a bigger crowd than expected. I came back, we had dinner, and went to bed.
Shabbos, August 4, 2018
Shabbos was very nice in Terenuere. Davening was not too long, and it was followed by a nice Kiddush. I practically ate lunch at the Kiddush, as they had a lot of cheese, fish balls, crackers, and vegetables in addition to all the cake.
I walked home and we had a nice lunch with more of Melanie’s food as the girls napped. The afternoon itself was relaxing, and I had a chance to take a nice little walk with DN. There was no eruv just like in Edinburgh, and I was happy that she didn’t start crying or refuse to walk. We gave the girls dinner and put them to bed all before mincha at 8:45 pm.
I went back to shul for mincha/maariv and had a nice seuda shlishis there. I met an Israeli couple that knew a close family friend of ours as well as a few other visitors from Canada. All in all, it was a very nice meal, and maariv was over before 10:30pm.
Shabbos in Ireland was very nice, but it was time to go to bed after a very late havdala at 10:45pm!
Sunday, August 4, 2018
This Sunday our train was not until 11:40am. We got up and I went to daven Shachris at 8:30am. After shachris, I stopped by the Lidl supermarket (related to Aldi) to pick up some more fruit and veg, as well as some juice and formula. We ate some more oatmeal packets for breakfast before calling another MyTaxi to come get us.
I was actually worried that we wouldn’t be able to find one on a Sunday morning of a holiday weekend, but we were and did. Soon we were off to Heuston Station to catch our train to Galway.
We got to the station quickly and got on the train without too much fuss. Unlike on our trains in Scotland where there was no assigned seating due to a computer glitch, there was on the Irish trains. Not only that, but every other seat was taken and then some! People were standing and sitting all over the empty space between cars.
We got to Galway and walked to Budget to rent our car. Like some city center rental locations, this one didn’t have the cars nearby but rather they were in a garage not far away. After seeing how much stuff we had (I thought we were traveling pretty lightly), they gave us an upgrade to an Audi A4 for free. We got the car and made it to our hotel not far away.

Our Audi A4 in Galway
I’m not quite sure why, but for some reason this hotel booked us into a room with two queen size beds and one twin bed that was a nice corner room with loads of windows. It was way nicer than a standard room, but it could be nothing else was available. We spent some time in the pool before going back upstairs to eat. Again I asked the hotel if they could heat up our meals, and they said no. There’s something about these smaller, not as expensive properties that have issues with health code violations that the nicer, more expensive places don't. We heated up the food with a blow dryer until it shut off to cool down, but basically had room temperature food.

Clayton Hotel, Galway:

View from the room:

We ate early, and both girls went to sleep quite exhausted from the day of travel without a nap.
Monday, August 6, 2018
We woke up early Monday morning to go to the Cliffs of Moher. We ate breakfast in our room, checked out, and were on our way by 9:00am. We drove most of the way to the cliffs without incident.
About 15 minutes before we got there, NR started crying. We pulled over as soon as we could and noticed she’d vomited all over herself and the car seat. 15 minutes later, after changing her and cleaning the car seat the best we could, we were on our way and arrived at the cliffs a few minutes later.
The weather at the cliffs was a bad as can be for visibility: 0%. It was misty outside and slightly rainy, but really, really foggy. Undeterred, we went anyway to try to make the most of it. With visibility so bad that you couldn’t see more than 10 feet up the path from you, it was futile to see any of the cliffs. We enjoyed the visitors center and even walked around outside for an hour or so, but eventually we just gave up. We went back to the visitors center, had lunch (we had an extra set of meals from Melanie) and headed back to Galway, thankfully without anyone getting sick this time.

Cliffs of Moher in the fog

We made it back, returned the car, and got on our 3:00pm train to Athlone, about halfway back to Dublin. I purposely decided to stay in Athlone for two reasons: one is that it was close enough to Dubin airport that we could make it there within 1.5 hours by bus. The second reason was because there was a Sheraton I could use points at that was a 2 minute walk from the train and bus stations.
We arrived in Athlone and walked to the hotel. While we got an accessible room, it was nice to have the extra space even if it meant bending down to use the sink and turn off the lights. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the small mall that is under the hotel before going back to our room, having the last of Melanie’s meals, bathing the girls and putting them to bed.

Sheraton, Athlone:

I then walked to the bus station to confirm what we'd need the following day for the bus tickets. It was a good thing I did, because a week beforehand they had changed the schedule and didn’t inform me. It turns out that the bus we were booked on was not going to be the X20 express bus, but just the 20, a local bus. The good news is that you are welcome to go at any time you want all day that you have tickets for without having to let anyone know. We decided to go on the 10:10 bus instead, since I would rather be early to the airport than to have to rush.
With that information, I headed back to the hotel room, made some peanut butter sandwiches on the tortillas we’d brought, and went to bed.
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
We got up at a nice hour and went to the hotel’s restaurant for a nice and free breakfast. I had club lounge access on account of having an SPG business card, but there was no breakfast in the lounge. I asked, and they said they served breakfast to club members in the restaurant. Nice! Another breakfast of cereal and fruit is better than just oatmeal.

Sheraton, Athlone breakfast:

We packed up after breakfast and were going to walk to the bus station. A very nice hotel employee offered to walk with us all the way there (2 minutes) so we didn’t have to schlep our bags ourselves. It was so nice of her. We got to the station about 20 minutes before the bus was to leave, but it ended up being fine. We took the bus to the airport which was quite uneventful.
I will mention that the bus driver said we didn’t need seats for our daughters since they were under 5 but could put their car seats in seats anyway. NR’s car seat didn’t fit the right way on the seat, but she slept just fine most of the way, only waking up right before we go to the airport.

NR sleeping on the bus to the airport

We checked in and went through security just fine. We stopped at an empty gate to eat before going through US preclearance security. Security was interesting as they don’t x-ray you again, they just scan your bags.
Global entry was quick and easy, and before you knew it we were at our gate. The flight boarded a few minutes after we got there, and we were amongst the first on board. The flight was quite smooth, and the girls both slept for the last 3 hours or so.

Hermolis kosher meal

We landed back in LA half an hour early, waited on the plane for an hour for a WestJet plane to get out of our way so we could park at our gate, got picked up at the airport and were home a few minutes after that.
It was quite a different trip than I’m used to, but that was expected. I thought the girls did great, both with the time change and just being in a different environment and on a different schedule. It was a lot of fun, I hope we can continue to do nice trips like this for a long time to come.

Trip Reports / A Short Trip to Cabo
« on: January 28, 2018, 01:15:06 AM »
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 wasn’t sure I’d be able to go until about 3 weeks before. The good news was I’d 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 weren’t 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 didn’t have any SW points, since I forgot to apply for their very generous credit card offer this past November. Once I wasn’t 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 I’d 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 we’d 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 didn’t tell you, but I knew anyway, is that the price doesn’t include the mandatory insurance you must get to drive in Mexico. It’s 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 that’s not too bad for a Mercedes SUV IMO.

The car

For activities, we didn’t 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 didn’t plan anything. Sure, I wanted to see the famous sea arch, but besides for that, nothing besides relaxing by the pool.

So, after I’d booked everything and gotten all packed to go, Motzei Shabbos before we were to leave my youngest daughter was dehydrated and the Dr. didn’t recommend going with her like that. She’d 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.

That’s where booking with Southwest comes in handy. I called Southwest right away and asked them how much it’d 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. It’s 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.

I’ll 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 there’s a parking garage in the mall next door that is only 20 pesos for 4 hours. The restaurant’s 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 it’s 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). They’re 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 didn’t 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 mall’s parking lot which costs just 20 pesos for 4 hours. We walked to Dock A where we’d 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 didn’t 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

Lover’s Beach

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

An opening in the rocks: we’re 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 we’d 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 didn’t run into the rowdy women the day before at the pool. DD wasn’t 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 didn’t 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.

Trip Reports / Israel & Bali: around the world in 17 days
« on: July 12, 2017, 11:55:06 PM »
Part 1: Planning and trip perp

I started planning this trip in October 2016 deciding where to go. Once I decided on Israel, I originally decided on Hong Kong and Bali as well. The original plan was to go to Israel for 3 full days (Thursday through Sunday), then Bali Monday-Thursday and end the trip in Hong Kong (HKG) Thursday through Monday. I’d been to HKG before in the winter without my wife, and decided it would be a good idea to take her so she could see it as well.

I originally found routing as follows:

LAX-ZRH-TLV on Swiss business, booked with 82.5k Air Canada (AC) miles + ~$44 + CAD$75 for the baby
TLV-HKG-DPS on Cathay business, booked with 40k American (AA) miles + ~$102 + $682 for the baby
DPS-HKG on Cathay economy (I know, I know, it was a drag, but it was booked this way on purpose as I’ll explain later), booked with 12.5k Avios + ~$46 + 1.25k Avios for the baby
HKG-ICN-LAX on Korean first, 80k Korean (KE) miles + ~$172 + 8k KE miles for the baby

We were all set. Except that in March my DW decided to want to spend a little more time in Israel. Lucky for me I was checking and the exact flight I chose opened up on the outbound a week earlier. I quickly paid the CAD$180 (~$133) change fee to Aeroplan and changed to outbound to a week earlier. For the return, I needed to come back earlier since we would be leaving a week earlier, so I decided to come back on a Friday. I know, there could be Shabbos issues, but it would be ok.

I kept the DPS-HKG segment on BA and changed the HKG-ICN-LAX segment to leave about 3 hours after we got to HKG on a redeye to ICN. From there is where KE really shines: I wanted the 11:30am flight back to LA so we’d be over the date line while it was still daytime out. However, there was only 1 seat available on that flight. The helpful agent booked that for my wife. For me, she put me on a waitlist for that flight, while keeping my seat on the 3pm flight we were originally booked on. She then put my wife tentatively on the 3pm flight in case the waitlist didn’t clear. Basically, we were both tentatively booked on both flights: the 11:30 am and the 3pm.

About 3.5 weeks before our flight, on June 12, I got confirmation that I was on the 11:30 am flight if I wanted to be. I quickly called Korean to confirm everything, and all was set. As it turned out, we were the only people in first class on the flight (besides a crew member), so we had the entire cabin to ourselves!

In the end our routing looked the same, but the dates worked out much better. We’d be in Israel for 10 days and Bali for ~3 before returning home. We also had an 8 hour layover in Zurich we needed to plan, but more on that later.

As we’d be in Israel first, we just needed to pick up some food for Bali there. Israel wouldn’t be an issue, we just needed food for Bali. We bought some cup-of-soups and a few instant meals (like couscous and mashed potatoes) and brought along a lot of tuna packets from home. I also brought some oatmeal packets from home for breakfast and some Chewy bars for snacking on/dessert.

The way the trip worked out, we’d be arriving in Israel at 3am. I didn’t book a hotel that night, but rather the next night (hoping we could check in early). We spent one night at the Crown Plaza on a free night before going to family friends for the weekend (Fri & Sat nights).

For the next week, we spent:
•   1 night at the Ritz in Hertzalia (used points)
•   2 nights at the Elama Arts Complex in Zichron Yaakov (used points)
•   4 nights at the Waldorf back in Yerushalayim (used 2 free nights and 2 nights on points)

We then spent the remaining time (in Bali) in a very nice AirBNB (thanks @Emkay!) where we paid cash.

I decided to rent a car for the first week we’d be in Israel. I rented a mid-size car through Thifty/Albar (thanks @hocker!) for the week. The rest of the time we just walked around Yerushalayim and got a ride back to the airport on Sunday for cheap.

For our time in Bali we decided to hire a driver the whole time. We ended up hiring Bali Tours on recommendation from Emkay (thanks!!) for ~$120 for the entire time. He picked us up at the airport, took us around both days we were there, and then drove us back to the airport.

With everything set, we were about to embark on our trip!

Trip Reports / Yehoshua's Big Island of Hawaii TR
« on: January 31, 2017, 04:50:38 PM »
Trip Planning

Being married to a teacher is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is 2 months off in the summer to travel. The curse is no other time of the year off except a week during winter break. To maximize our trips, we try to plan a local trip during winter break. This year we decided on The Big Island of Hawaii. We went to Maui two years ago and decided to try another island this time. As with last time, we went Sun-Thur as to avoid Shabbos in HI.

For flights, we booked on UA using 17.5k SQ per person each way. Despite the fact that BA only charges 12.5k each way, there was no availability on the outbound and the return flight landed too late for us. Combine that with the fact that I had 93k SQ already sitting there for a cancelled ticket from last year’s winter break, it was the 2nd best option.

For hotels, we actually went a little unconventional and booked a really nice Airbnb in Volcano, HI for 2 nights (Sun, Mon) to explore the Hilo side of the island and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (VNP). For the 2nd two nights (Tue, Wed) we booked the Sheraton on the Kona side for 5k SPG+$75 (+tax and the $25 resort fee) per night.

For a car, we rented from National as I got the best rate with them (we ended up with a Ford Fusion Titanium hybrid).

For food, we brought a pot and pan with us from home. We also brought veggie sausages and prepared noodle dishes, as well as tuna packets, rice, pita and tortillas. We bought the rest of the food at Walmart.

Noodle dishes

Now on to the actual TR.

Trip Reports / Yehoshua's Quebec City Mini TR
« on: October 23, 2016, 02:36:03 PM »
Quebec City Mini TR

It was time for another Chol HaMoed trip, and this time we chose Quebec City. I’d always wanted to visit North America’s only fortified city, so when award seats became available on AA (I check every year, they’re almost never available) PHL-YQB I snagged 2 for 15k BA round trip each. For what it’s worth, tickets for my flights were going for $1,041 before we left, making it a relative value of 14.41cpp.

There are limited points hotels in the Quebec City area, but we ended up choosing the SPG option, Hotel Pur. I found it interesting that the hotel was not associated with any of the SPG brands, it was just its own thing. It wasn't a Design Hotel or a Luxury Collection property, but as a relatively new member to the SPG family maybe that will change. We paid 10k SPG for the 1 night we were there. I was debating staying in the Marriott Quebec City for 40k Marriott but ultimately decided that spending an extra 10k Marriott just for a free breakfast (because of Gold status) wasn’t worth it on succos. Both hotels are in good locations and are about a 10-15-minute walk from each other.

For transportation we ultimately decided not to rent a car and stick to taxis/Uber/public transit.  Renting a car would have cost over $100 (all prices discussed here are in CAD) for the 2 days we’d have needed it. By comparison a taxi to/from the airport is fixed at $34.25 while Uber charges $22-$29. The bus to the one attraction we’d need was $11.80 for 2 adults round trip, while parking at the hotel, around town and gas made not renting the clear option. The other reason we didn’t rent is because Quebec City is a great walking city (and biking apparently), so we wanted to spend time walking around, not driving short distances and worrying about parking.

As it was succos, food was another challenge we’d have to deal with. Without any kosher restaurants like Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, we’d need to bring our own no-succa-needed food or buy what we could from the regular supermarket. We decided not to rely on the supermarkets because we weren’t familiar enough with what kosher food would be available in Canada that would be good for succos, though we did buy fruits and vegetables.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016, Arriving and Old Quebec
American only operates twice-daily flights from PHL to YQB seasonally, one departing in the morning and one in the evening. We decided to maximize our time in Quebec by taking the 8:15 am flight which got us to Quebec by 10am.

We got to PHL 1:15 before our flight out of terminal F and needed to check in (you can’t check in online when traveling with a lap child to Canada). The check-in guy, Geno, was having a real hard time processing the lap child since we needed to “buy” her a ticket. After trying 3 different computers, calling a manager, and overriding the 1 hour check in cut off (we didn’t check bags), we were finally checked in by 7:45am.

We passed though “expedited” security (there’s no Pre-Check in terminal F) in no time at all and ran to our gate. We got to the gate at 7:55 and they hadn’t even started boarding our little CRJ 200.

We were the first to board thanks to American reinstating their families first policy, and took our bulkhead seats 1D and 1F (infants are not allowed on the A/C side of the plane) without too much difficulty.

The flight left on time and was completely uneventful.

After we landed we headed to immigration (which was empty) and waited for our gate-checked stroller at the oversized baggage claim.

Welcome to YQB

The reason we didn’t get our stroller at the gate was because the luggage compartment door was stuck, and it took maintenance a good 15 minutes to get it to stay open before they could get the bags out. Because the plane was visible for both immigration and baggage claim, it was fun watching them try. Two minutes after they took the stroller out it appeared inside at baggage claim.

We decided to take a taxi to the hotel instead of Uber. Officially Uber is banned in Quebec City and operates illegally. They also cannot officially pick up at the airport (the app blocks it), and because of that I didn’t want to do the drop-a-pin-near-the-airport-and-tell-the-driver-I’m-actually-at-the-airport trick. As our Uber driver told us on the return to the airport, it wouldn’t have been a problem and he picks up people from the airport all the time like that. Oh well.

Getting a cab was quite easy enough at the airport and the traffic-free drive to the hotel lasted about 25 minutes.

Hotel Pur is located in the St. Roche neighborhood, a 15-minute walk from the city walls, in the lower city. Quebec City has an upper city and a lower city with the upper city built on cliffs above the lower city. They’re connected with some roads, staircases and even a few elevators and a funicular.

Hotel Pur:

No one met us when we arrived at the hotel and the sole check in person was able to help us check in when we arrived at 11:00am. As an SPG gold member we were assigned an upgraded room on the top (18th) floor with a nice view of the upper city and the old city to the side.

Here are the pictures of our room:

After settling in and feeding our daughter, we picked up a map at the concierge and were on our way off to explore the city.

This is the map of approximately where we walked (5 miles/8km):

Our first stop was the Metro Plus supermarket to buy some fruit and veg. As we continued walking, we saw some amazing murals on the posts supporting the freeway and ramps overhead.

Pictures of murals:

We kept walking and found a nice fountain right outside the train station where we sat down and had some lunch (rice cakes, tuna and tomatoes).


Train station

Not sure what’s in this building next to the train station, but it looked cool

Our next stop was the Marche de Vieux Port (Old Port Market) which was in indoor farmers market.

We continued waking around until we came upon the mural of Quebec City:

A few feet down the road we saw a whole harvest display in a small town square:

We walked up the street towards the funicular:

We decided not to take the funicular (it’s cash only), but continue past it to finish exploring the lower town. We came upon another very autumn-themed park with swinging benches.

Right before we turned around to head up to the upper city we saw yet another mural:

There was even a sign that was almost correct, but it’s nice they tried:

Just to the right of the funicular are stairs going up. This is the view looking down:

This is a view from the upper city looking out over the St. Laurence River:

Probably the most famous building in Quebec City if the Château Frontenac which now houses the Fairmont Hotel. We walked around the public areas of the hotel which were just gorgeous.

Château Frontenac pictures:

The statue right outside the hotel:

We walked through the old city, passing through an open air art market on the way. We walked on the main streets staying inside the gates of the city.

St. (John’s) Jean’s Gate

Another gate on Rue Saint Louis

We left the old city through the aforementioned gate and walked across the street to the Quebec Parliament building. We decided to take the last English language tour of the day at 4:00pm.


The tour was free and required going through security and registering by showing ID. My wife didn’t have any ID on her, but I had a picture on my phone which was good enough.  The tour lasted about 30 minutes and included a stop in the legislative chamber where we got to see members stating their concerns of the day. While we were able to take pictures all over the building, we were not allowed to bring anything whatsoever into the chamber. All members speak in French and look just as excited as the California state assembly.

The building itself is very nice with lots of symbolic designs, including crests, all over the place.

Some pictures of the inside of the building:

(photography people: how do you take a picture of stained glass when it’s light outside?)

From parliament we headed towards the Plains of Abraham. We stopped by the Jardin Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc Gardens) where they had it all set up for Halloween.

After davening mincha in the park, we walked back to our hotel via Rue St Claire, as there was an elevator there to get back down to the lower city.

Elevator (L) and stairs (R) at the end of Rue St Claire

We got back to the hotel, put the baby to bed and had dinner, which consisted of Cup of Noodles, carrots and corn tortillas heated up using the in-room iron.


After dinner I walked next door to the hotel to the Uniprix pharmacy to purchase our bus tickets ($2.95/ride if you get an Occasionnel card) which can be purchased with a credit card. We watched the final presidential debate and went to sleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2016, Montmarcy Falls and leaving
We started the day with a gorgeous sunrise from our room:

We got ready, ate breakfast (we brought puffed rice cereal and bought milk and yogurt drinks at Metro Plus), and by 9 am we were on a bus to the Montmarcy waterfall. The bus stop for the line 800 Metrobus is 1 block from the hotel and the bus comes every 5-10 minutes.

The bus ride took just 30 minutes (it was scheduled to take about 10-15 minutes longer) and before we knew it we were right outside the park.

Top of the falls

View from the bridge above the falls of the bridge to Orleans Island
Autumn in the park

View of Quebec City in the far background

Natural Fortress

Montmarcy Falls

Stairs down to the bottom of the falls

We spent 2.5 hours walking around. Most people spend 45 minutes to an hour there, but we had a baby and kept stopping to take care of her.

There’s also a cable car that takes you to the bottom parking lot, but besides for some different views of the falls, there’s no real reason to take the cable car unless you park in the lower lot.

Right near the cable car’s upper terminus is a building with restrooms washrooms and a gift shop. We looked around at their unique, locally made items but decided not to buy anything.

We took the bus back to the hotel, ate lunch (same as yesterday), and spent the rest of the time (about 2 hours) walking around the neighborhood and checking out the hotel’s gym and pool. Unfortunately, the pool is closed during the day on weekdays and is only open in the evenings.

We checked out of the hotel at 3:15 pm, called Uber ($24.10) and arrived at the airport by 3:50 for our 6:00pm flight. I decided to arrive super early so we wouldn’t have any issues with the baby’s ticket. I’d already called AA the night before to issue her return ticket over the phone, but because we flew the outbound already the rep couldn’t finalize the ticket and said we’d have to finish at the airport and pay ~$21 in taxes.

After waiting 5 minutes for check-in to open, then 30 minutes in line (despite being 3rd in line), we finally got checked in. It was a super smooth check-in, and I wasn’t even asked to pay any taxes in the end.

We headed upstairs to an empty security checkpoint where we breezed through before finding the lone lounge in the airport which is thankfully a Priority Pass lounge.

I presented my card and all three of us were admitted. Despite the tiny airport, the lounge itself was quite nice.

Salon VIP YQB entrance

Food area

Different seating areas

Conference room

Free massage chair

Business center

The lounge had a few separate seating areas and nice tarmac, plane and runway views. There were quite a few people in the lounge during our visit, but we found an area no one was in and settled there. By this time, it was raining again, so I took advantage and made more cup of noodles we brought with us. We also took some bottles of water and Rold Gold pretzles (the only kosher snacks).

About 15 minutes before we left the lounge cleared out and we were able to each spend 5 minutes in the massage chair, which was nice.

We left the lounge at boarding time for the 20 second walk to our gate, gate 30.

Since I knew there were open seats on the flight (unlike the outbound which was sold out) I inquired if I could bring the car seat (we use a Doona) on the plane for our daughter. After calling over a few managers, making some phone calls and verifying that the Doona did say “for aircraft use”, they decided that since it didn’t have the official Transport Canada sticker/stamp on it I couldn’t bring it on the plane.

This was news to me. We’ve flown out of many countries in the past few months and have never been told that the “for aircraft use” wording was not enough to bring the car seat on board, but Canada is apparently different. Don’t mess with Transport Canada.

We again boarded first and enjoyed an on-time departure despite the rain and made it back to PHL on time at 7:45pm. Immigration was empty, though Global Entry saved us from filling out the immigration card. Customs people wanted to see my lulav, so we had to stop there for a secondary inspection. They’d apparently never heard of succos, despite the people in YQB (and YUL 2 years ago) knowing about it and not giving us any issues. After looking at it with a flash light, asking a few questions and acting quite out of it, we were allowed to go.

It was a short trip, but one of our favorite trips yet, and our favorite Canadian city by far.


Trip Reports / Yehoshua's South Africa TR
« on: July 18, 2016, 06:07:19 AM »
Planning and Routing
The planning for this trip started back in November 2015 when I decided that I wanted to go to Africa in the summer. I’d never flown any of the “Big 3” Gulf carriers, so that was the goal on this trip. I ended up booking:

For 100k AS I booked (blue on map)
7/5 LAX-DXB in EK F A380 4:45pm-7:30pm+1
7/7 DXB-JNB in EF F 777 2:20pm-8:50pm

For our domestic flight I bought cheap coach seats on Mango (orange on map):

7/13 JNB-CPT 8:10am-10:20am

For 135k AA I booked (red and brown on map)
7/17 CPT-DOH in QR J 787 1:20pm-11:50pm
7/18 DOH-AUH in QR F A320 8:25am-10:30am
7/19 AUH-JFK in EY F A380 3:35am-9:35am
7/19 JFK-LAX in AA F A321 12:30pm-3:54pm

For hotels we booked the following:

PH Dubai for 1 night for ~12k UR booked through UR
Black Rhino Game Lodge in Pilanesburg Game Reserve for ~$168 cash (redeemed for A+ credit)
Intercontinental OR Tambo (JNB airport) for 1 night for 30k IHG
Protea Sea Point hotel for 4 nights: 1 night for 15k Marriott, 3 nights for ~$67/night
Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi for 1 night for ~$87

We stayed with friends of friends in Joburg for the 3 nights we were there before going to the game reserve.

For food, we brought along some instant oatmeal for breakfast in Dubai, Joburg (before our flight to CPT) and Doha. Joburg and Cape Town both have kosher restaurants, but we needed food for Pilanesburg. We could have ordered from POM, had them ship it to LA, and schlep it around the world with us, but I found another solution. Kosher World in Joburg also has travel meals for a fraction of the price. While I only asked for dairy and pareve items, the price range was from R55-81 for a 500g portion, or about $3.75-$5.50 for just over 1 lb. of food. You can’t beat that! Like POM, the meals are frozen in advance and can be heated in the microwave or oven. To contact KosherWorld, you can email them from their website. They responded to me rather quickly and we arranged everything via email.

Now on to the trip itself.

Trip Reports / Yehoshua's New Orleans Mini-TR
« on: April 28, 2016, 04:00:11 PM »

It was fast approaching Pesach and time to start planning our biannual Chol HaMoed trip. While we’ve visited Montreal and Maine in the past, both are within 650 miles of PHL (our starting point) and until recently were only 4.5k Avios. Now that all flights under 1150 miles (in North America), it was time to maximize the distance of our next trip. At 1089 miles, PHL-MSY fit the bill perfectly as the farthest destination from PHL under 1150 miles. On top of that we really wanted to visit the city, but hearing mixed reviews decided to just spend 1 night. It took a while for availability on the flights we wanted to open up, but about 3 weeks out we got the exact flights we wanted, nonstop PHL-MSY on AA.

Figuring out where to stay took the longest. The areas we considered were the French Quarter, the Warehouse District or the CBD. Now all of these areas are less than 1 mile from one to the other, so it really wasn’t that big of a difference. There are a lot of SPG and a few Hyatt hotels, some of which are good deals (when using points) and some of which are not. I’d decided to go with either the Hyatt French Quarter or the Hyatt Regency NOLA in the CBD, both were going for 15k Hyatt.

There were two reasons I ended up going with the HR over the H-FQ: First, I’d heard staying in the FQ may not be nice and will most definitely be loud. We’re not big party people and didn’t regret this decision at all. Second, I checked the UR travel page.

On, the cheapest rate for a standard room at the HR was going for $261 (before tax, with the members only/AAA rate). UR had the exact same room for only $82, or about 6250 UR. While this may not be the best rate to cash in your UR at, I decided to use them anyway since 1) didn’t want to spend cash anyway and 2) it was way cheaper than transferring UR to Hyatt.

Another thing we needed to figure out was transportation and food. Car rentals and parking in NOLA are both really expensive, and with everything so close it didn’t make sense to rent a car. Taxis are $36 flat rate between the city (CBD, FQ area) and the airport for 2 people ($15 for each additional person). Lucky for us UberX got permission to pickup at MSY just a few days before we arrived, and their flat rate is $33 for the same area with no additional fees for extra passengers. Uber it was.

For food we just brought a few things from PHL: a box of matza, some matza rolls I’d made, some fresh fruit and vegetables and some chocolate. We meant to bring cheese but ended up forgetting it in PHL. We also bought some more vegetables while there. No, it wasn’t gourmet food, and no, we didn’t get to taste the kosher Cajun food, but it sustained us for the 24.5 hours we were there.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 First day in NOLA
Our flight landed about 30 minutes early, getting us in at 11:40am. We didn’t check any bags, so just proceeded to the Transportation Center where all ride sharing services are picked up from. The MSY airport is tiny, but there aren’t clear signs to the TC. In reality it’s just opposite the JetBlue baggage claim, so if you arrive on American just go left at the curbside (or walk inside if it’s hot) and then cross the roadway. Uber drivers wait in a lot across the street and take about 2 minutes to arrive. They actually have to park and you just walk to their car, which isn’t too bad.

It took about 20 minutes to get to the hotel with no traffic. After checking in and trekking up to our room (you need to take an escalator or elevator to the 3rd floor, then walk to another bank of elevators to get to your room) we ate a quick lunch and got ready to head out to the WWII museum, a 20 minute (leisurely) walk away.

Our room

View from our room

Hotel atrium

The WWII museum was by far the most interesting part of our trip and the main reason why we’d go back. The museum is split into a few buildings all connected with either indoor over-street walkways or on ground level within a courtyard. While we didn’t have time to see the entire museum, we did see parts. We spend most of our time in the Road to Tokyo exhibit (all about the Pacific side of the war) and the Road to Berlin (about the Allies attempts to reach Berlin). We also visited the Boeing center (not very interesting) which is just a few old planes you can look at from above on walkways with a few tiny showcases and signs. We were also told they’re going to be constructing a new building that will just focus on D-Day, though that’s still just a plan as of now.  We spent 3 full hours, from 2-5p when they closed, and felt we could have easily spent another 2 hours there.

Boeing center

Victory Garden at the WWII Museum

After the museum we took a walk through the Warehouse District to the French Quarter. We were very lucky that the weather was beautiful (78 degrees with a strong breeze, medium humidity) so all our walks were very pleasant. We walked down Decatur until we saw the Natchez river boat and decided that that would be a good place to rest for a while and eat. While we were sitting around there (there are lots of benches to sit on, some are under small trees) music started playing (it sounded like it was coming from the boat?) so we were able to relax for a bit there.

Magazine Street in the Warehouse District

Streetcar on Canal St.

Natchez river boat

We continued walking along the river walk to the French Market. Since we arrived there after 6pm, many stores were closed, but it was still cool to see. We continued walking through Jefferson Square back towards Canal Street, weaving our way in and out of the various streets on the FQ. As many have said, Royale Street was very nice and pleasant, but the one block we walked down Bourbon street was more than enough for us. Maybe it was because they blocked off the street to vehicles, but there were way too many drunk people, loud music and a general raunchy crowd. Besides for that one street, we though the FQ was very nice. We were able to see street performers and musicians on other blocks without feeling like we missed anything.

French Market

French Market

Finally someone spelled it like they pronounce it, French Market

Classic street in the FQ

Street band in the FQ

Is it just me, or is the blue building a bit crooked?

Tiny door

The one and only Bourbon St.

After a quick pit stop for a bathroom in the Hyatt FQ (I had to see what I was missing) we continued our walk up Canal Street back to our hotel. We even small marching band crossing the street that got police cars to block traffic just for them.

The walk back to the hotel wasn’t anything to special, though it does pass by a large library and one of the ugliest city hall buildings I’ve ever seen.  We got back to the hotel exhausted and had an early night.

NOLA City Hall

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 Last day in NOLA
After an early night we were up early to make the most of the few hours we had before our flight home. By 9:00am we were out the door on our way to take the St. Charles streetcar line to the Gardens District. While we paid the $1.25 fare for both trips, they do offer a $3 all day pass which is cheaper if you plan on taking more than 2 trips.

St. Charles Streetcar

The trip was very pleasant despite the higher humidity, and within 30 minutes we were at the Washington St. stop. The Gardens District is known for its classic NOLA architecture and has strict building codes on how people can remodel their homes. We walked around the residential streets looking at the houses until we came to the Lafayette Cemetery, the only cemetery in NOLA that you can access without a tour. We walked around for a few minutes, noticing that all the graves were above ground. It was quite unique.

Lafayette Cemetery

We then walked down Magazine Street where all the shops are in the neighborhood. After about 1 hour we headed back to the hotel via the same streetcar line, ordered another Uber and left for the airport.

Overall our short stay in NOLA was very nice. We’d like to go back to do a few things we didn’t have a chance to do while there this time, including the kosher restaurants, Oak Alley and the plantations, Audubon Park (described to us a Central Park without the muggers) and of course the rest of the WWII museum.  If I’d have know better, I’d say that 2-3 full days would be enough there, but 1 was certainly not enough for us.

Pre-Trip Planning Posted from the ANA F lounge in NRT

I started planning this trip quite a few months ago, 8 months ago actually, as seems to be the norm for me.  I planned the trip specifically for this time of year to coincide with my wife’s winter break. As a teacher, all of our trips either need to be during the summer or winter break.

Most of the time I’ve booked travel so far out I haven’t had any problems. This time I had 2, one big and one small.  The small problem had to do with a mistake on my part: I accidentally reserved seats for the wrong week. This problem was easily fixed however. With a bit of rearranging and $20 in fees to SQ to change our flight I got everything straightened out.

Now for the bigger problem: about 2 months after I booked the trip, while vacationing in London in July, we found out my wife was pregnant. Mazal Tov!!

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “It’s not that big of deal; people fly pregnant all the time.” Oh was I wrong.

About a month later, towards the end of August, the doctor told us that my DW would not be allowed to fly after, get this, January 20, 2016, the exact date we were supposed to depart on our trip. Yikes!

This left me with 2 choices: cancel the trip and try to plan it for the following winter with a baby (we want to avoid Hong Kong in the humid summer) or go solo.  After much deliberation I finally decided to go solo at the end of October when, thanks to a friend’s Hyatt Diamond account, I booked hotels—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

To minimize the amount of scrolling you have to do, I’ll just say that thanks to so doctors notes and some really nice CSRs at AC, AA, and SQ, I was able to cancel DW’s tickets fee-free.

This was the final routing, airline/cabin, aircraft, costs, and how I booked:

LAX-(NRT)-SIN, SQ F, A380, 91,375 SQ (from MR)+$288.65, booked with SQ online to get the 15% discount.
SIN-PEK-HKG, 30k AC (from MR)+$40.40, booked with AC online
   SIN-PEK, CA J, A333
   PEK-HKG, CA J A320 (originally B777 but was downgraded)
HKG-HND//NRT-LAX, 67.5k AA+$27.90, booked with AA over the phone
   HKG-HND, CX F, B747-400
   NRT-LAX, JL F, B777

For hotels:
SIN: 3 nights at the Grand Hyatt for 20k/night (60k total)
PEK: 1 night at the Park Hyatt for 20k
HKG: 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency TST using 2 anniversary nights, 2 night at the Sheraton for 12k/night
TYO: 1 night at the Andaz for 25k (Gasp! “You didn’t choose the Parky Hyatt Tokyo?!,” you exclaim. “No,” I answer, “I didn't chose the outdated PH over the modern and more centrally located Andaz.”

Enough chitchat, time for the TR:
Sorry, flight details will have to wait until later

Background posts:

Maybe I should do ?

PH SYD Monday Night
Tuesday to MEL
PH MEL Tuesday Night

Wednesday & Thursday Morning = GOR & Grampians

Thursday leaving MEL back to TLV


I would do either SYD or GOR, not both in the 4 days you have. Way to much travel. You can easily spend 5 days in each city. Don't plan the trip around the PHs, just the activities. If you skip the GOR and just do MEL then it's barley possible to do SYD also, though I'd just do one. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת.

Exactly, but who goes to AU for 3 days anyway?

Another valid point. The only time it makes sense to go to Australia for less than 10 7 days is if you're spending time in NZ and are just stopping in Australia for shabbos on the way.

U can't do gor and Grampians in 2 days.
U also don't need to stay in mel for a day.  Fly from syd on a early morning flight and drive straight from the airport to gor.
Do mel on your last day

Are you actually recommending he do SYD and MEL in 4 days?!?!

No, but if he really wants to do more then just syd. Theres plenty to do in sydney, it's really a beautiful city.
U can also do the blue mountains and the animal park (can pet koala and kangaroos) and the caverns (forgot what its called)
The first 2 is a full day, short drive from Sydney

Stay in Melbourne for a day and go see some of the Australian sports. They are quite amazing especially Australian football.  This time if year is mainly cricket but still the BBL (big bash league) is quite entertaining.

He's flying to AU for 3 days and he should spend 1 day watching an extended length baseball game of teams he won't care about?

BBL is the shortened version of the game. I would never suggest that a full length cricket game is entertaining. These usually start around 7 and end around 9:30-10.

Took Grampians off my itinerary.

Smart move. You can still do the GOR in one day, just turn around after the 12 Apostles.

U can turn around before the 12 apostles if u don't have time.  Unless your viewing at sunset,  their just formations of rocks in the water that they make a big deal of to create tourist hype

Quoted post:

Either do SYD or MEL or CNS.
To do more than one place in 3 nights is silly. Going all the way there for 3 nights is also silly, but I digress.

On The Road / Hyatt Diamond Status Match via Twitter
« on: November 19, 2015, 09:21:08 PM »

Must have at least 1 stay to qualify. Gary also has a post about it.

General Discussion / YouTube Red
« on: October 28, 2015, 04:34:00 PM »
YouTube just announced their new service: YouTube Red.

YouTube Red allows you to stream or download and play videos offline, ad-free, or in the background.

Will you be subscribing?

Copa has a great deal on flights from the US to Rio, Montevideo, and other cities in South America for travel Oct-Dec. TFD link.

Flights from LAX start at $391 to Rio and $397 to Montevideo.

All flights stop in PTY and are in economy.

Trip Reports / Yehoshua's Acadia National Park | Bangor, ME Mini-TR
« on: October 09, 2015, 08:38:51 PM »
As has now become a tradition on Chol HaMoed, we decided to take a mini 2 day/1 night trip from PHL. Last year we went to Montreal over Succos and Miami over Pesach (to visit relatives). This year it was time to go leaf peeping in New England.

Last year when I was looking into going to Maine US Airways had blackout dates for award travel basically nixing the idea of going to any city in New England. This year, after getting rid of black out dates, there was lots of availability (interestingly though all the Canadian cities that had lots of availability last year were completely unavailable this year).

I booked the flights at the end of July when we decided to go. I really wanted to go to Acadia National Park in Maine and see the famed fall foliage, something that Angelinos don’t see unless they travel to it.  Being only 4.5k avios away, yet over $800 for the non-stop flight, it was a pretty simple decision to go with avios.  Initially I booked a flight into Bangor (BGR) and returning from Portland (PWM), which is a 2-hour drive from BGR, given that there was no availability on the flight we wanted from BGR itself. The car rental did not charge a one-way fee, so that was good. However, about 5 weeks before the trip I checked availability again leaving BGR and found the flight I wanted available. Even though the flight left 2 hours earlier that the flight out of PWM, we wouldn't have to make the extra 2 hour drive making it worth the $11.20 change fee to cancel and rebook.  I also changed the car to return at BGR and the price was even $1 cheaper.

For a hotel, we decided to stay in the 3-week old, Category 5 Residence Inn by Marriot in Bangor using a free night certificate. Even though staying in Bar Harbor would have been way closer to the park and would have saved us 2 hours of driving time, I really wanted to be in Bangor so I could daven with a minyan on Chol HaMoed.  Alas there was no minyan, but we kept our reservation and just drove to the park twice.

Now on to the actual trip!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015, Acadia NP Day 1
Our flight from PHL got us into BGR on time at 10:50am on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately for us the weather was not cooperating, and it was raining. Heavily.  After getting our rental car keys (and failing to get a free upgrade from our tiny Chevy Spark), we suited up in rain gear, walked across the street from the airport, picked up our car from the open-air lot, and drove the 10 minutes to the hotel.

Our ride to BGR

Now that's a small airport!

Residence Inn, Bangor: Outside shots

Residence Inn, Bangor: Inside shots

Residence Inn, Bangor: Our room

Even though it was only 11:30 in the morning, we were able to check in to the hotel, and wow was it new! The hotel smelled of fresh paint, and they were still finishing up building the restaurant off the lobby. We were given a standard suite on the 4th floor (out of 5) and settled down for a few minutes before heading off to Acadia NP.

It poured the whole way there. Plus, because our car was so darn light, I had to go a good 5-10 MPH below the speed limit to keep from getting blown off the road in the strong winds or otherwise sliding on the slick roads.

Our tiny car

On the road to ACP

Acadia National Park

One thing to note about Bangor and Acadia NP: cell phone service stinks. Most of the time I had 2G or 4G service with T-Mobile in Bangor, roaming on AT&T in Bar Harbor, and absolutely no service in the park itself. Verizon wasn’t much better, with 1x Service in some areas of the park and 3G service in Bangor. Make sure you pre-load maps so you don’t get stuck without them.

Our goal was to head to the visitor’s center first, pick up park maps, and head out from there. Unfortunately the visitor’s center in Hull’s Cove was not the address we put into the GPS. We put in the Park’s address which lead us on a circuitous route to the middle of no where (we took ME-102 instead of continuing on ME-3 to Bar Harbor for what it’s worth). Fortunately the signage is very good in the park, so we just followed signs to Bar Harbor and found a small visitors center there. While not the visitor’s center for the park, it is the center in charge of the shuttle buses into the park, and they were able to sell us a park pass and provide us with maps.

As it was still raining at this point, we decided to just eat our premade from PHL sandwiches in the car and drive around the town on Bar Harbor before entering the park.  After we finished eating we started driving the Park Loop Road. We did the one-way, clockwise part first. The road is a 2 lane, one-way road, so there’s always a way to pass slow vehicles.  There are many places to turn off the main road and stop as well as great views from the road itself.  Since it was raining, we decided to skip any hikes we may have wanted to do and play it safe. On a normal, dry day it takes 1.5 hours to drive the loop without stops, or about 3 hours with stops, obviously depending on how long you want to stop.

Park Loop Road

The first place we stopped and actually got out of the car (as opposed to just driving to an overlook and looking from the car) was Thunder Hole, a blowhole right off the road.  Even though it was pouring, there were a fair number of people braving the elements to see the blowhole. The parking lot is off to the right side of the road while the blowhole is to the left down a few cement stairs.  It was extremely windy at this point, so after spending a couple minutes there, getting some lousy pictures without any waterproof cases on our camera, we got back in the car and continued to Jordan Pond.

Thunder Hole

View from the road

Jordan Pond, our next stop, is on the two-way section of the park loop road. We stopped at Jordan Pond House, a restaurant/gift shop/lookout, and went to ask them about hiking around the pond. Although at this point the rain had slightly lessened its intensity, by the time we were ready to start out it was back to raining cats and dogs so we just decided to skip it.

At this point we’d only seen a couple of cars the entire day. Most people were smart and decided to skip the park on a day like that making it a pleasant driving experience for us.

Our plan was to finish the park loop and drive back to Bangor. That didn’t happen. We had just started out from Jordan Pond House when we saw a ranger who had closed a gate blocking the road. Apparently some boulders had fallen on the road and it was impassible until they cleared it, so we were forced to take a detour. Given that the road we came in on was one-way I was curious as to how to get back to Bar Harbor. Turns out ME-3, the road you take onto Mt Desert Island (where the ANP is located) goes though the park to the towns at the bottom of the island that are not in the park itself.  While the park loop road takes a long time winding its way along the coast Route 3 is straight, direct, and a whole lot quicker.

On the way back to our hotel we decided to stop in a Shaw’s (supermarket) for some supplies for dinner. We’d brought some Wacky Mac with us, but we needed butter and milk to make it, as well as some veggies. After being bageled by a frum guy named Avraham who works there, we were on our way back to the RI for the night.


Having spent the entire day sitting either on a plane or in a car I needed a workout. The hotel as a small but equipped gym overlooking the indoor (and thankfully not in use) pool.  After a great workout, it was back to the suite to make dinner. That’s another reason we wanted to stay in a RI: They come equipped with a stovetop (as we were the first people to ever stay in our room it was yet unused), so making dinner was easy. We brought a pot with us and a few minutes later had a piping hot bowl of mac and cheese.
We spend the rest of the evening relaxing before retiring for the night and getting ready for an early start the next day.

Thursday, October 1, 2015, Acadia NP Day 2
The goal was to be out of the hotel and on the road by 9:00am. Our return flight was a 5:35p, and we wanted to take advantage of the not rainy weather to see more of ANP.  Even though it wasn’t actually raining (it was just cloudy), it was quite cold for Angelinos, with the temperature hovering around 40°F making me exempt from sitting in the succah (hey, you gotta love subjective cold).  That worked out well, since the hotel provides fee breakfasts, which had a majority kosher items.  While there were non-mezonos cereals I could have taken advantage of had it been warmer, I was able to enjoy the bagels and cream cheese instead.

Breakfast at the Residence Inn, Bangor

After a very filling breakfast we packed up our things, checked out of the hotel, left some things in their freezer, and started driving at exactly 9:00am. You gotta love it when things work out to the minute.

Seen on the road to ACP. Now that's a really small airport

This day the drive was a lot more pleasant. There was no traffic (is there ever in Bangor?), no rain, and open road. Our first stop for the day was the Bass Harbor Lighthouse.  While not the only lighthouse on Mt Desert Island, it is one of the more popular ones. We probably spent about 45 minutes there, walking the short path down to the water and the path down to the lighthouse itself.  This lighthouse is still in use, which is pretty cool.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Seen along the path down to the water at Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Next we drove to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak in the area at a whopping 1530’. While not from CO, CA does have some serious mountains making this more of a hill to us, but since it was the tallest thing around it appeared high. It’s also the first place to see sunrise in the US (not counting some random Islands in Alaska that are technically past the 180° longitude line).  There are many views on the road up the mountain as well as at the top. There were a lot more cars since it wasn’t raining, but we had no problems finding lots of parking.

View from the way up Cadillac Mountain

The peak of the mountain/hill was quite windy and cold (around 42°F), so we didn’t stay long. DW and I took some pictures at the peak before she headed back to the car to warm up and I took the very short loop walk around the summit. It offers more unobstructed views and a few informational signs. I learned the reason that the town is called Bar Harbor: there is literally an island that is shaped like a bar right off the coast of the town. Pretty cool!

Views from the peak of Cadillac Mountain

After we drove down and took lots of pictures at the views along the way, we headed back to Jordan Pond to get our hike in. The two-way section of the park loop road was opened again, so it was a quick 20-minute drive to Jordan pond and the Jordan Pond loop hike.

We didn’t have a lot of time left at this point, so we wouldn’t be able to do the entire 8-mile pond loop. Instead we just started off going clockwise and turned around when we needed to. The part of the hike we did was a lot of fun though. The hike starts off on a gravel path that eventually turns in to a boardwalk of sorts. Basically it’s just 2 think logs wide (with odd spaces between them) and runs a couple inches off the ground. It’s not totally secured, some parts wobble, but it’s not too hard or too far of a fall should you fall off.  We encountered a lot of people going the other direction, so perhaps we were doing it backwards, but it didn’t appear to be the case.

North Bubble and South Bubble at Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond hike

We continued for about 30 minute before we needed to head back to the airport. The drive back was smooth. We stopped at the hotel to pick up our frozen items (it’s right off the freeway so super easy to stop at for a minute) and headed to the airport about 1 hour before the flight.

We returned the car, got our boarding passes (no mobile boarding pass scanners at this airport) and were informed our flight would be indefinitely delayed.  There is also no TSA Pre-Check in BGR, though they do have “enhanced” security for TSA Pre-Check flyers that doesn’t require you to take off your shoes or pass though the body camera.

Our flight ended up only being delayed 1 hour, and we enjoyed some gorgeous sunset views on the way back to PHL. While the ride was quite bumpy due to us flying in a storm, we made it back safe and sound.

Sunset at BGR

So you may be wondering, for those astute readers amongst you, that I mentioned that the purpose of this trip was to go leaf peeping, or looking at the leaves that have changed color for autumn. Unfortunately we were a bit early. While some trees had started to change color, a vast majority of them were still bright green. While these types of things can never be planned, it was at least nice to see something. While I believe we saw a good portion of ANP, there is a lot we skipped and can look forward to returning one day, maybe later in October to see the leaves in all their fall glory.


Tech Talk / Google introduces a new Logo
« on: September 01, 2015, 07:26:50 PM »
Google's new logo blog page

So what do you think?

Trip Reports / Yehoshua's Spain, Gibraltar, Paris & London TR
« on: July 16, 2015, 04:37:13 PM »
Planning and flights
The flights to and from Europe on this trip were actually purchased in J (revenue!) for $1459/person round-trip.  The flights landed and left from Madrid, with a stop in each direction. We flew Alitalia (stopping in Rome) to Madrid, and KLM (stopping in Amsterdam) back home.
The cities we visited:
Madrid (1 day)
Barcelona (1 day)
Seville (½ day)
Gibraltar (2 days)
Paris (4 days)
London (4 days)
Our inter-Europe travel was booked as follows:
MAD-BCN on IB cash for $71.90/person (booked on Orbitz as to avoid the CC fee if booked directly with IB)
BCN-SVQ on Ryanair (FR) for $62/person, including one 15kg checked bag (booked direct and paid a small CC fee)
SVQ-Gibraltar-AGP rented a manual car from Hertz for €61.70 for 3 days, one way rental
AGP-ORY on Vueling (VY) for $100.32/person (Optima fare), including a 23kg checked bag, and assigned seats (booked on IB to earn 1000 avios as a promotion)
Paris (Gare du Nord)-London (St. Pancreas Int’l) on Eurostar for €43/person (booked direct)
LCY-MAD on BA for $143.80/person (cheapest revenue available, booked directly on BA)

All inter-Europe travel was nearly all offset with Barclays Arrival+ points so total cost for inter-Europe travel was $19.31/person.
Sunday, June 28, 2015 flying to Rome
Our Alitalia flight to Rome was leaving LAX at 4:15pm, so we arrived at the airport at 2:30. Like last summer, we were only travelling with carry on bags, but unlike last summer we were not reprimanded for bringing more than the official business class allowance.
We stopped for a few minutes in the KAL lounge in the TBIT just to refill our water bottles and take some tea for the trip. For the record, there is no pre-packaged kosher food in this lounge, though it does offer a nice indoor balcony overlooking the terminal.

View of TBIT from KAL balcony

We headed to the gate, only to find ourselves in a huge mess of people all trying to get on the plane at the same time; welcome to Italy.

Our ride to FCO

We were booked in seats 1A and 2C on a 777, so as to each have a window and aisle access. Since we’d be sleeping a majority of the flight I didn’t see a reasons to book the honeymoon seats, which seemed a bit more cramped as they literally touch.

Seat 1A
Our kosher meal was quite decent, being catered by Emuna catering from the valley.  After dinner I promptly changed into pajamas I brought from home and went to sleep. I found it odd that the eye mask in the Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit was white, so it didn’t do a very good job blocking out the light. Besides for being really hot in the cabin (which is normal for non-American airlines) the beds were quite comfortable. There was quite a lot of room in the foot well, and I slept for about 7 hours, although I kept waking up due to the heat. When I woke up there was still a few hours remaining, so I davened, had breakfast, and after 11 hours landed in Rome.

Kosher dinner
Monday, June 29, 2015 Rome and getting to Madrid
Our stop in Rome was scheduled for 5:45 minutes. We did this intentionally so we could go back to BaGhetto Milky for lunch. After a super long taxi to our stand, another long bus ride to the terminal, and an enormous immigration queue (no business lane), we opted to just take Uber for a flat rate of €50 to the city. I got a car quickly, and within 40 minutes we were at BaGhetto.
The one thing that I kind of anticipated was that we were not too hungry for lunch, despite it being 3pm. We ordered a caprese salad (we’d loved it last summer) and a mixed bruschetta plate for a light lunch. We also ordered pesto-salmon gnocchi and a mushroom calzone to go for lunch and dinner in Madrid the next day.  We ended up also taking most of the bruschetta and salad to go as well as we really weren’t too hungry. We passed on dessert both from the restaurant and the gelato place. We then went looking for our Parmesan cheese (well, not quite Parmesan, but close), but the grocery store that sold it last year seems to have closed down.

Bruschetta at BaGhetto Milky
We weren’t much in the mood of touring at this point, so we decided to just head back to the airport via public transport, which involved a bus and a train.  It was pretty easy, just a couple blocks to the bus from BaGhetto, but our bags were heavy, so it was a bit of a schlep. It took about 1 hour before we arrived back at the airport and, having already gotten our boarding passes in LA the day before) went through security to our gate.
The flight from FCO-MAD was actually operated by an AirEuropa  (UX) A330-200, which was a pleasant surprise for a short 2 hours, inter-European trip.  The business seats themselves were just fine for a 2-hour flight, or even for a longer flight if you didn’t intend to sleep. They’re angled flat seats, but really old and worn out. There is no kosher food option on European UX flights, but we didn’t care as we had our BaGhetto leftovers from lunch, which was more than enough. We landed in MAD at 9:30pm and took a taxi for a flat €30 to our hotel.

UX J on A330-200
We decided to stay at the AC Santo Mauro (an Autograph Collection hotel) using 35k Marriott points. This hotel ended up being our second favorite hotel (after the PHP)! We were upgraded to a suite, which consisted of 2 full bathrooms, 2 living rooms (one downstairs and one upstairs) and a bedroom. It was huge, spacious, and freezing cold when we arrived. We arrived in Spain during a heat wave, so it was 95ºF+ every day and 75ºF every night. Coming into a cold hotel room was really nice!

AC Santo Mauro Lobby

AC Santo Mauro, outside courtyard

AC Santo Mauro, Suite 30

AC Santo Mauro, entrance downstairs

AC Santo Mauro, downstairs living room

AC Santo Mauro, downstairs looking at entrance

AC Santo Mauro, upstairs and downstairs bathrooms were identical

AC Santo Mauro, upstairs and downstairs bathrooms were identical

AC Santo Mauro, upstairs living room taken from stairwell

AC Santo Mauro, upstairs hallway to bedroom

AC Santo Mauro, bedroom

more to come soon...

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