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Trip Reports / 36 Hours In Havana, Cuba
« on: November 05, 2019, 10:51:38 PM »
Quick 36 hour trip to Havana

Visiting Cuba is like walking into a 1950s time warp, but not exactly the glamour we see in the movies. We wanted to visit Cuba while it’s still open to US Citizens and there are easy direct flights. The Obama administration loosened the restrictions and open up limited travel, but there are still severe restrictions and the Trump administration is seriously tightening them. Before you plan a trip make sure to check the check with US Department of State for travel restrictions and business that you are not legally allowed to patronize in Cuba (there are over 80 hotels that we can’t stay in).
Good reference:

US Department of State issued a travel advisory “Exercise increased caution in Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees resulting in the drawdown of embassy staff.”

We left Miami at 10:00 AM and landed in Cuba at 10:50am!! It was awesome!! Super quick flight! (We went to Miami with the family for 2 weeks and took the quick trip from there).

Special thanks for all the guidance on the forums. Booked AA 15k and got complimentary upgrades on the short flight. American Airlines helps coordinate the requirements and has someone by the gate that will help you obtain and pay for the visa (TIP: do not lose the Visa if you don’t want to get stuck there). Booked the hotel with Expedia only once we had the visa and already boarded the plane. (Expedia was actually very helpful when we got there because the hotel wouldn’t let my wife into “our” room because she wasn’t added to the reservation. Expedia customer service was helpful). The US government on permits US citizens from staying in certain hotels. We stayed in Parque Central, based on the reviews was the nicest hotel US citizens could stay in,
however, rooms were to be desired and wouldn’t want to stay there for more than a night. It’s also in the best location. Please also keep in mind there are zero American products, you can’t use an American credit card and there’s almost not internet. You need to pay cash for everything and the currency is tied to the dollar.

We arrived, took a taxi to the hotel, “Parque Central,” we put our bags in storage and heading straight into a 1950s orange Buick convertible and took an hour and half tour all around Havana. We saw all the “hot spots” and enjoyed the stunning weather, with our  sunglasses on and mojitos in hand.

We then walked the streets, getting lost, on purpose, just soaking in the culture. We went into bars, shops and of course smoked a couple of cigars along the way. We had drinks with some locals who were clearly “random locals” who were overly friendly and spoke a perfect English ;). Crazy what we observed, the city is frozen 1950, there’s currently and economic crises and wide spread food rations. We saw very little grocery or corner stores, with the ones we saw severely lacking.

We then cooled down on the hotel’s rooftop pool. We had dinner and went to the local bars to enjoy some Cuban nightlife, filled with, music and dancing on the streets.

The next morning we enjoyed complimentary breakfast and headed to the cigar factory to watch how Cuban cigars are made. The process was simply mesmerizing. We caught a noon flight back to Miami and made it to our gate within the hour.
What a whirlwind!!
I highly recommend a short trip to see the culture and turn back the clock to 1950!

Trip Reports / Yuey’s Costa Rica Trip Report
« on: February 26, 2019, 04:59:11 PM »
Costa Rica- January 2019


Airfare: JetBlue 53k/each  UR
Hotel: Andaz Papagayo Peninsula 20k/night
Food: Super Kosher Costa Rica

We left JFK on Wednesday morning, January 16th, at 11am, and the weather was 26 degrees Fahrenheit.... 5 hours later, at 3pm, we arrived in Liberia airport to a sunny 88! We were definitely off to a good start!!

A driver from our hotel, Andaz Peninsula Papagayo, was there to greet us and take us to the hotel.
After a quick 30 minute drive we arrived at The Peninsula Papagayo, better known as Paradise.
From the moment that we pulled up to the Andaz, we knew that we were in good hands. The staff greeted us with a warm smile, a glass of pineapple mint juice and a cold neck towel. Ah, so refreshing!!
We checked in, went to our room, on the 3rd floor, with a gorgeous view of the forest. We truly felt like we were one with nature. The room was beautiful.

We then went down to the main restaurant, Rio Bongo, where our meal, sent by Super Kosher Costa Rica. The food was packaged beautifully and labeled perfectly. We knew this was going to make our stay that much more enjoyable. The kitchen staff was beyond accommodating. The staff, in general, was amazing!

We woke up after an awesome night’s sleep, and went straight down to the pool to soak up some sun. Again, the Andaz, has everything! Flip flops, sunscreen, fruit infused water and even baristas bringing around complimentary fruit smoothies poolside. The pool was magnificent! An infinity pool, with a view of the rainforest. It was simply breathtaking.

After a lunch, we went to the beach where we took a 10 minute boat ride to the Andaz Beach house. It was extremely relaxing and entertaining! The monkeys were roaming freely and put on quite a show. We then went back to the hotel for our “barista class.” Being that Costa Rica is known for it’s amazing coffee, we knew that we were in for quite a treat. The Barista teacher, Luis, did not disappoint. He was extremely well educated in all things coffee. He showed us serval different techniques to achieve the perfect cup of joe! We tasted them all and they were all delicious in their own way. Now that we were wired, it was time to dance the night away! The bar band was awesome! We had a great time!
The caffeine wore off and we fell asleep, super excited for our adventurous day in Borenquin.

We left the hotel at 7am with our adorable tour guide, Jose. He had such a passion for his job and it was evident from the moment that we got into his car. We arrived in Borenquin about 90 minutes later and ready for our exciting day ahead of us.
We started off with horseback riding with spectacular views. We went through stunning greenery and ended by a gorgeous waterfall. Jose was an amazing photographer and went above and beyond to capture all the fun!

We then got suited up for “canopying” which we refer to as zip lining. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done!! We did 13 zip lines through the rainforest. Each one was cooler than the next!! It’s an experience I’ll never forget. After lunch, we went onto relax a bit. We went to the sauna, followed by a mud bath, from volcano mud, and then a dip in the sulfur bath. Our skin felt amazing afterwards!

Borenquin was the perfect place to get a taste of many of the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer.
Jose then took us to the souvenir shop where we bought tons of local Costa Rican coffee along with the Chorreador, the famous stand used to make the perfect cup of Costa Rican coffee.

We got back to the hotel at 4:30, with an hour to spare before Shabbos began. We packed a bag with our books, snacks and drinks and brought it to the front desk before Shabbos began. The staff once again was so accommodating. The hotel engineer, came to our room to turn off all the sensors.

The next morning we took a walk to the marina. After our Shabbos meal, we went to the front desk where a sweet employee carried our bag of goodies to the pool. They set up our longe chairs and we read our books which sipping our fruit infused water, what could be better?! How about a hammock on the beach? After we finished our books, that exactly what we did! It was so relaxing. We then went back to our room for shalosh seudas and havdallah. We capped off the night with a great time by the hotel bar accompanied by music.

We woke up for our last day in paradise ready to soak it all in. We went down the beach and went kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling. Afterwards, we went to the pool and completely relaxed. The fruit smoothie in the pool was the icing on the cake! Once we were dried off, we took one last bike ride around the Penisula Papagayo. We took the hotel’s free electric bikes and had an amazing time. The scenery was stunning. From the marina view to the lush greenery to the ocean. It was the perfect ending to our stay.

Special thanks to my wife for writing the TR

Trip Reports / Marrakech, Morocco Trip Report
« on: June 01, 2018, 12:18:10 AM »
We flew Air Royal Maroc from JFK to Casablanca. We booked pretty late so used the Chase Reserve portal to book round trip for only 55k points (as is there really isn’t too many options, the others being United stopping in Lisbon, BA through Frankfurt or the same ARM using AMEX points transferred to Etihad). The entire flight was around 6 hours then we had a one hour stop and headed on to the next leg of our trip from Casablanca to Marrakech for a simple 50 minutes flight.

      We landed in Marrakech airport and we were greeted by Rastam’s (of Bashram Tours) partner, Yasuf, who took us from the airport straight to the Jemma el Fna, the main square to explore “Medina,” the old city of Marrakech, as well as the souks (market places).

       We had an amazing time bargaining with the shopkeepers! We then continued on to the Bahia Palace and the beautiful Lazama Shul which has a Jewish courtyard and a museum with historical items from other synagogues in Marrakech and the Atlas mountains as well the kollels. 

        Now the real adventure came ; we went to see the full presentation of the “Morrocan argon oil collection.” They have an oil, creme or spice to cure just about anything!! We then went to see how they make the Morrocan rugs and sipped on mint Morrocan tea as they brought out about 30 rugs to display for us.
The leather market, kaftan “headquarters,” and wood making were all fascinating as well.

      We then headed into the “Medina,” the main square, where we sipped on fresh squeezed juice and watched the “snake charmers, “monkey men,” and ladies giving hennas. Well the watching didn’t last for long because the next thing we knew we had 3 monkeys on our shoulders and a snakes wrapped around our necks!! These “charmers” were ready to take tons of pictures and collect their tips! It was quite the experience to say the least!

      We got back to our hotel, The Four Seasons Marrakech (also booked on the Chase Reserve portal for a total of 80k points) and had dinner catered by Mrs. Oyahoun, a Jewish lady who cooks in her house and delivers a full Moroccan cuisine, waiting for us, wrapped beautifully. Everything was delicious! From the Moroccan  fish to the couscous with vegetable, to the homemade macarrones, we had enough food to last us 2 nights! (We brought deli, wraps and other goodies as “back up.”). She charged $35 per person and was well worth it.  We had a wonderful meal on the balcony and the hotel staff went above and beyond to accommodate.

        Rasham picked us up promptly at 10am and drove us to the Atlas Mountains. On our way, we had some “traffic” from the sheep, donkey and camel crossings. We stopped by a “Berber house,” to see how the original Morrocans live and how over 60% of the population lives today, in clay and straw houses.

       The Atlas Mountains were everything we thought they’d be and more. We hiked up to gorgeous waterfalls, through souks and met some very entraining “entrepreneurs!”

      After our amazing and quite rigorous hike, we changed and went to the YSL museum and Majororelle Garden. It was really incredible to see YSL’s original sketches, his amazing career accomplishments and beautiful collection of gowns through the stunning exhibits.

       The gardens were simply magnificent! From the vibrant colors to the detailed arch ways and interesting landscape, it was a photographers dream backdrop!

      After a fun filled day we went back to the Four Seasons to relax and swim in their beautiful pool. Then it was off to bed because we had a 4am wake up call the next morning!

      “ Marrakech by Air’s” driver picked up from the hotel at 4:30am and took us to literally the “middle of nowhere” to have some Moroccan mint tea before we ventured off on our hot air balloon ride to see sunrise over Marrakech. It was an incredible experience!! After the hot air balloon ride they took us to a fully morrocan decorated tent to enjoy a “Berber breakfast.” Then at 7am... we were off to go camel riding... so by 9:30am we were back at the hotel and felt like we had a full day! Nap time!!! We napped from 10-1 and then went to the La Mamounia hotel to check in for our “Hammam” spa treatment to see the magnificent hotel and grounds.

        We then went back to the Jemma el Fna to be real tourists! No guide, just us and the map! It was a blast!!

      Now, the icing on the cake, changing into our robes in the La Mamounia spa, waiting in the “relaxation room,” for our masseuses to come and give us the “Hammam” treatment. It was the most interesting “massage” we’ve ever received! That’s because it wasn’t a massage as all!! It was a fully body scrub that left our skin feeling super soft!!
Drinks by the La Mamounia bar with relaxing Moroccan music playing in the background, and a visit to the casino were the perfect ending to our incredible trip!

Special thanks to my wife for writing this trip report and for an amazing vacation!

First course

Moroccan Main Course

La Mamounia Spa

Hot Air Balloon

Trip Reports / Yuey's Spain Trip
« on: November 18, 2015, 11:17:20 PM »
Spain Vacation
•   Hotels:
o   Barcelona: W (25k SPG, suit upgrade with SPG Gold)
o   Seville: Alfonzo Luxury Collection (20k SPG)
o   Gibraltar: Sunborn ($443 for 2 nights, used Barclays card to get full reimbursement)
o   Madrid: The Westin Palace (12k SPG, , suit upgrade with SPG Gold)
•   Flights
o   JFK – BCN 30k AA Advantage
o   BCN – Malaga $89/ticket (used Barclays card to get full reimbursement)
o   MAD – JFK 45k AA Advantage
•   Transportation
o   BCN and MAD, Double Decker Bus (reimbursed with Barclays card), subway and cabs.
o   Malaga – Granada – Seville – GIB – Malaga – Car rental ($203 Rented Mercedes with Chabad corporate code, used Barclays card to get full reimbursement).
•   Food
o   BCN – Macabi
o   Malaga: 2 restaurants
o   GIB: several restaurants and a bakery
o   Granada, Seville and MAD wraps, Haagan Daz, hard salami, tuna, salmon, and fruit.

•   Payment – used Barclays and Chase BA card for all purchases as they have no foreign transaction fee (1USD = 1.111 EU)

Day 1 Schedule – Barcelona
To kick off our Spain vacation, we took "fat tire bike tour." 🚴🚴🚴  Cameron, our tour guide, gave us an excellent overview of the magnificent city of Barcelona. We stopped at all the "hot spots," including the famous Sagrada Familia. After the fabulous bike tour we took a stroll on "The Ramblas." It was hustling & bustling with tourists. We ate an early dinner by a delicious restaurant called Maccabi. We then went to the Park Guell, the colorful Gaudi-designed park overlooking the city. It was unbelievably gorgeous! We then walked back to our hotel, the W, passing through Barcelona's magnificent beach walk.

Day 2 Schedule – Barcelona

The jet lag definitely hit us today.. We went to sleep at 10pm (after touring from 8am-9pm) and woke up at noon, refreshed, and ready to continue seeing the magnificent city of Barcelona. We started our day visiting the Museo Picasso. (We booked tickets in advance, with a 1:30pm time slot... (Very important to book in advance so you can skip the line.)  The works of Picasso were eye opening & so creative. We then took the "hop on, hop off bus" (best way to see any any new city!) to the Ramblas to eat an early dinner by Maccabi Restaurant, one again 🍴🍝🍻.  We then walked through the beautiful streets of Barcelona. We went through the Barri Gothic (City's Gothic quarter, seeing remnants of Barcelona's Roman past), went to see Casa Batllo, Gaudi designed home topped with fanciful dragon-inspired roof. (It's thought that Guadi based the work on the popular legend of St. Jordi slating the dragon. We then continued walking down the Psg de Gracia, filled with all the fancy shops. Then we went toward the Placa d'Espana to see how beautiful the National Palace looks at night 🌜... (There is only a magic fountain show Thursday-Sunday). We then walked home, passing the beautiful Port Vell to our hotel. Another wonderful day...


Day #3 - Granda/Seville

•   Hotel: Alfaso Luxury Collection (20k SPG)
•   Arriving 9:15 (Flight: Vueling BCN - Malaga, I used Barclaycard Arrival Plus to get full reimbursement)
(No Known Kosher Restaurants)

We woke up bright & early ☀️ and took a flight ✈️ from Barcelona to Malaga. At Malaga airport we rented a car 🚘 and drove to Granada. We had 4pm reservations for the Alahabra. (We booked these tickets weeks in advance. They sell out at least a week, sometime months during high season, in advance. They are very strict with the time slot. We came an hour early and they wouldn't let us in. (This wasn't a problem at all because there is soooo much to see around the grounds surrounding the Alahabra.) The Alahabra, the last and great Moorish palace, highlighting the splendor of that civilization in the 13th and 14th centuries, was absolutely breathtaking! We then went to the Plaza Nueva to get a much needed Ice cream! (There are 2 Haagen Daaz shops on that block that carry ice cream with an OU). We then, drove to Seville. We took a nighttime horse & buggy 🐴 around the entire Seville. It was such an amazing overview of the city. Tomorrow we'll get to explore the city of Sevilla in detail....

Day # 4 Seville 
We walked to from our hotel (the Alfonso XVII.. Which was extremely centrally located.. a quick 10 minute walk to all the attractions) to the Alcazar Palace(the picture below was taken in the "Hall of Ambassadors."  Here, in the throne room, Pedro received guests and caroused in luxury. The room is a cube topped with a half-dome, like many important Islamic buildings. In Islam, the cube represents the earth, and the dome is the starry heavens. In Pedro's world, the symbolism proclaimed that he controlled heaven and earth. Islamic horseshoe arches stand atop the columns with golden capitals. lattice windows are above those.)  The Real Alcazar, which was built by the Moors in the 10th century, revamped in the 14th century, and still serving as royal digs. After the palace, we took a relaxing boat ride on the Guadalquivir River. (They had an adorable costume set, where we took the photo below. In the background of that picture is the Torres del Oro/Gold Tower.) We then went to the Plaza de  Espana. It was absolutely gorgeous! (Felt like Central Park with people row boating🚣around the gorgeous views of the ️Stunning plaza.) We then drove to Gibraltar... Continue to the next e-mail for details about our amazing experience in Gibraltar...

Deli Express
Uncle Sam's Deli

•   SHA’AR HASHAMAYIM - Esnoga Grande or Great Synagogue -  47/49 Engineer Lane (Box 174), Gibraltar, Tel: (350) 200 74030
•   ETS HAYIM - Esnoga Chica or The Little Synagogue - 91, Irish Town (P.O. Box 31), Gibraltar. Tel: (350) 200 75563
•   NEFUTSOT YEHUDA - Esnoga Flamenca or Flemish Synagogue - 65 Line Wall Road, Gibraltar. Tel: (350) 200 76477
•   ESNOGA ABUDARHAM - Abudarham Synagogue- P.O. Box 190, 19 Parliament Lane, Gibraltar. Tel: (350) 200 77789

Schedule Day 4 & 5
We arrived in Gibraltar at 4:30pm. (You have to pass through border patrol to get from Spain to Gibraltar. We got very lucky because there was absolutely no line. They advice you to give yourself an extra 2 hours, just on case there is a long line to get in.) We went straight to the Rock of Gibraltar. (At first we were disappointed because the cable car was closed due to strong winds. This was definelty a blessing in disguise, because we ended up getting an amazing taxi driver/tour guide that took us to all the stops, including the "Walls of Hercules 💪"   The Caves, to see the  famous monkeys 🐒🐒🐒 jumping around and of course, "The top of the Rock!" We got especially lucky because it was a very clear day so we were able to see Africa & Moracco from the top!
We then went back to our hotel, The Suborn, which is yacht 🚢 that is permanently cemented into the ground, to get ready for Shabbos.
We had the most wonderful time over Shabbos. The community in Gibraltar are so friendly & warm. Gibraltar is tiny so everybody know everybody. It was a fabulous experience!

Day #6 Schedule - Madrid

We woke up bright & early 🌅 to drive to from Gibraltar to Malaga Train Station (return our rental car there) to take a high speed train 🚉 from Malaga to Madrid.
We got off the train at Madrid and walked 5 minutes to our hotel (The Place by Westin). We then went to see the Royal Palace, Spain's sumptuous, lavishly furnished national  palace.
After seeing the magnificent Royal Palace, we went to pick up our tickets to the bullfight. 🐂🐂🐂🐂 Wow!!! That was an eye-opening experience!! Crazy!! Definitely an experience!
After the bullfight we went walking through the Plaza Mayor, center of town, to our hotel to rest up for our final day of touring around Spain...

Day #7 Schedule - Madrid
We started our of day by taking a tour around Madrid along the "hop on, hop off bus" 🚌... After we completed route 1 (took about 1 hour & 15 minutes), we went to the Prado Museum. The Prado is one of the world's great museums, loaded with masterpieces by Diego Velazquez, Fracisco de Goya, El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Durer, and more. It was truly remarkable!
We then went back on the Mardid City Tour bus to take Route 2 around the city. We hopped off by the Puerta del Sol, Madrid's lively center square, Calle de Serrano, with all the beautiful shops and just enjoyed soaking in the city of Madrid.
We then went to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the modern-art museum featuring Picasso's epic masterpiece Guerica.
The day was topped  off by Flamenco street performers by the Puerta del Sol.
Spain is such a beautiful county. We feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to see its magnificence!

Special thanks to Bex for an awesome tip and for contributing to this trip report!

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