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1
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Japan Master Thread
« on: July 10, 2018, 08:41:24 PM »
..
There are free (English) tours that start at the Tokyo Metropolitan Building in the tourist information center and go around different places in Tokyo
They also have free English tours *of* the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, which also include admission to the observation deck on the top.
We really enjoyed it  :)

2
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Japan Master Thread
« on: June 28, 2018, 11:18:05 AM »
I'm trying to plan a week-long trip to Japan - arriving Monday afternoon/evening, leaving the following Monday (or possibly Sunday).

I was gonna stick to Tokyo, but then @moish told me there's not that much to do in Tokyo anyway, and I'm better off with Kyoto. So... I'm thinking to do most of the time in Kyoto, with a little time in Tokyo.

My initial plan was to land in Tokyo on Monday, stay there until Wednesday, and then take a bullet train to Kyoto, and stay there until Monday. But now I'm having second thoughts... Should I go to Kyoto first through the end of the week, and then do Tokyo from Thursday or Friday until Monday (or possibly only until Sunday)?

I'll be traveling with my wife and baby, which complicates things Shabbos-wise - I'll need to stay as close to Chabad as possible, so that I can (hopefully) get a non-Jew to push the stroller there and back. I prefer to stick to SPG (or Marriott), since I'm SPG Plat, so Tokyo is great for that - there's a Sheraton right near Chabad. Not sure what the story is with Kyoto, though... also, the Kyoto Chabad house appears to be "unofficial" - should that worry me?

Basically... any advice, peeps? :)
We spent a shabbat in Tokyo and a shabbat in Kobe (a 30-40 min train ride from Kyoto/Osaka IIRC). AFAIK the Kyoto chabad is pretty new.
The Sheraton in Tokyo is pretty close to the Chabad, and Japanese hospitality will make sure the hotel helps find someone to push the stroller (and probably wait around until you finish as well!).
If you'd prefer to forgo the shabbas goy, talk to the Chabad Rabbi in Kobe, as they have an apartment in their building (which is sometime available for outside guests) which solves the problem of no eruv.

Personally, we found tons to do in Tokyo (spent a full week there), whereas we were done with Kyoto after two days. All depends on what your interests are.
Kyoto is lots and lots (and lots) of temples. The first few are pretty cool, but after that we were done.
Tokyo is an urban sprawl with tons to do and see.
So definitely do your research and decide which interests you more. And don't get me wrong - there are cool things to see in Kyoto too. Just not as much as in Tokyo IMHO :-)

3
Goods For Sale/Trade / Re: National Free Day Coupons Master Thread
« on: May 10, 2018, 05:31:38 PM »
You are better off trying in the Hertz or Avis thread for that price.
Perhaps.
Although there's only a month left until they lose all value..

4
Goods For Sale/Trade / Re: National Free Day Coupons Master Thread
« on: May 10, 2018, 05:09:30 PM »
Looking to buy a 1-2-Free day. Looking to pay 30$

5
Credit Cards / Re: Cal Visa Screwing me on ELAL points
« on: May 10, 2018, 11:01:22 AM »
Did you try HUCA?

6
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Next Vacation - Ideas
« on: April 12, 2018, 09:20:39 AM »
Looking for somewhere to stopover for a few days midweek in early June on the East Coast.
It should be a place with beautiful beaches that are empty  :)
Preferably not too humid.
Good value points hotels are a plus.

Was looking at the areas around Wilmington, NC or Jacksonville, NC... Anyone been? Also open to other ideas.


7
Day -2, -1 and 0: 5 flights, 6 lounges and an instant ramen museum
In honor of it being our tripanniversary next week, I decided about two weeks ago that I would (finally) get out the next post. Hopefully the following post installment will come sooner than the next tripanniversary. (Writing it also really made me appreciate all those people who do manage to get their TRs out in a timely fashion, and especially those who actually *finish* their reports. You make it all worthwhile!)


I’m going to start this post out with a little big thanks to my wife, who put up with my shenanigans and agreed to come on the trip even though we were in transit for almost 72 hours from departing Tel Aviv until we reached Tokyo, as I’m not sure if it came through in the previous post.

Our journey started on a mid-week evening in March.
Our flight to Amman left Tel Aviv late in the evening, but not late enough to prevent a 3 hour layover in AMM, before continuing on to Bangkok. Among the many things I was looking forward to when flying business for the first time was the use of business check-in counter, passing by all those plebeians flying coach and queuing up in those endless lines..
But both check-in lines were empty. It didn’t prevent me from feeling a little heady when the agent handed us our business boarding passes (even if they looked just like the economy ones). Due to our creative routing, the agent told us she wouldn’t be able to generate boarding passes beyond Bangkok, so we’d have to visit Cathay’s transfer desk there.
Passing through security was uneventful, and we soon found ourselves air side.
Flying business got us into the super-luxurious and exclusive adequate Dan lounge, where we feasted on soup and crackers. We had been in the lounge a year before (thanks to an Israeli credit card that used to offer free entrance) and it looked exactly the same (down to the positioning of the drinks in the fridge). At least the salads weren’t a year old…
In any case, even though it was (and still is) nothing special, it’s nice to have a variety of free kosher food, especially in our case where they didn’t serve any food on the 24 minute and 17 second flight (I timed it :-P).
After finishing our snack we hung around in the lounge a bit longer, before heading to our first flight out of five over the next 48 hours.
The TLV-AMM flight is unlike any flight I’ve ever taken. At only 69 miles, the flight is scheduled for 45 minutes, but a look at the flight history shows that it averages around 27 minutes. We literally spent more time taxiing at the two airports then flying.
Due to the low altitude, you have great views of the route. Especially at night, it was really amazing to fly the breadth of the country. Unfortunately, my ancient point-and-shoot camera, which was great for the rest of the trip, did not do so well with the combination of movement, low light and reflective airplane windows.
 So here’s a picture of the crazy lady from the RJ safety video instead:


 Crazy lady from the RJ safety video

Very (very) soon, we found ourselves in Queen Alia Airport. We had 3 hours to kill until our flight to Bangkok, and after a few minutes of browsing the duty free, we decided to go to the lounge and try and get some sleep.
The Crown Lounge (which is also open to Priority Pass holders) is located directly above the terminal, and shares the same open-air space of the terminal, giving a very spacious feeling. It also means there’s lots of people-watching to be done – even at 1am.
View from Crown Lounge
The lounge was quite empty. Upon entering, the lounge splits in to two parts – the right hand side is where the food is, the left hand side is where the seats, couches and comfy armchairs are. So we grabbed ourselves two couches, and took a quick snooze until our next flight.
Snoozing in the Crown Lounge AMM

At about 1:45AM we headed over to the gate, where we boarded our 787 to Bangkok. While the TLV-AMM flight had been our first ever flight in business, it didn’t really count (as business. Or as a flight, for that matter). Here we were going to have our first ever full night sleep on a lay-flat airplane seat. It did not disappoint.

As soon as we hit cruising altitude, we put the beds into sleep mode and hit the sack. Definitely the best sleep I’ve had on an airplane. The flight was about 8 hours, and we slept for about 6 of them (a good thing too, because we weren’t going to get any sleep the next night… More on that later).
We were served some sort of breakfast (or was it lunch?) about an hour away from Bangkok, I seem to remember it being adequate.  Soon enough, we were descending into the beautiful hot and humid Thailand.

IMG_6231

This was the first time I’d ever been on a flight which makes a stop where people get out. The RJ flight continues from Bangkok to either Kuala Lumpar or Hong Kong, depending on the day. Unfortunately, it was the wrong day, which was why we were getting out at BKK. They counted the stopover passengers as we left the plane, and double-checked the names as we entered the terminal.
Next time, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui!



As we hadn’t been issued Cathay Pacific boarding passes when leaving TLV, we headed over to the transit desk, where after a few minutes wait (they needed to electronically move our checked baggage from the RJ ticket to a CX ticket) we were on our way to the CX lounge.




We had a few hours to kill in the lounge, so we availed ourselves of their fruit and drinks, and printed out some info for our excursion during our last stopover, in Osaka. The CX lounge has a wide variety, and great windows and comfy chairs for plane spotting.
It wasn’t long before we were heading to our next plane, a CX A350 – a last minute switch from the B777 that was scheduled.

For those who have never traveled business class, just having a lie-flat seat (like on the RJ B787) seems like a dream. But even to our inexperienced-premium-travel-class-senses, we could tell that the CX business class was a different level. 
Whether it was the service upon boarding, the upholstery and more advanced chair, jam-packed IFE, private enclosed seat – all of it made the CX J experience a whole different class from the RJ J. It didn’t hurt that they had a Hermolis J meal for us either ;-)
The CX A350 J is set up 1-2-1, with the two middle seats having a divider between them that can be raised or lowered. One of the seats is staggered slightly farther back then the other, so one of us needed to lean forward to talk to the other, but it wasn’t too bad.
Though it was a short flight (just under 3 hours) we enjoyed it immensely. I could get used to flying like this!

In Hong Kong we had a 4.5 hour layover which we put to good use – checking out all the lounges! As Hong Kong is Cathay Pacific’s home base, they have no less than 4 business lounges for departures, 2 first class lounge for departures and 1 business lounge for arrivals. Gotta catch’em all!
You can read more about them on Cathay’s own website or on Lounge Buddy, but all of them are amazing. Our take-home points were the following:

-   The Cabin – has tons of private seating, cool fruit juice shakes
-   The Pier – humongous, loved the quiet room (see picture above), lots of reading material and definitely try the tea room
-   The Wing – last lounge open; don’t forget to ask for Haagen-Dazs ice cream!

We had a great time just exploring the different lounges. They also stamp your boarding pass at each lounge, so it makes for a great memento.
Our departure was at 1:50AM, at which point the Wing lounge was also closing up. We were both pretty tired, having been in transit for over 24 hours at this point (and not done yet!), and couldn’t wait to take off and get some sleep. Unfortunately, we were delayed departing Hong Kong – so I fell asleep in the upright position, while my wife waited until she could change the seat into a bed.
The bump of the wheel hitting the runway woke me from my sleep. We were finally in Japan! But not in Tokyo…

Our first stop in Japan was in Osaka, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan (after Tokyo), and one of the largest in the world.  It is served by two airports – Kansai International Airport (KIX), where we landed – and Osaka-Itami International Airport (ITM), where we were departing from. Despite its name, it serves very few international destinations. There are flights from both KIX and ITM to the two Tokyo airports Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND), but there was no availability for any of the flights out of KIX, despite my checking multiple times a day for the week before departure. Out of ITM there was quite a lot of availability, but even the earliest flight would require us sitting in the airport for 2 hours. We needed to get some fresh air. So with a little help from the Japan Guide, we were able to find an attraction not too far from the Itami airport which we could visit before getting on our flight to Tokyo.

This is a good place to introduce the Japan Guide ( https://www.japan-guide.com) that I just mentioned. It is the ultimate guide to everything in Japan for the English-reading tourist. Attractions, schedules, transportation maps, instructions how to transfer between airports, Cherry Blossom best viewing areas – it’s got everything. The navigation is a bit “Japanese” at times, and you’ll sometimes have better luck searching the website on Google then trying to find the link you want – but it’s amazing.

Regarding Japanese passport control and customs: going through the border control was very smooth. If I’m not mistaken they took thumbprints, and a picture of us. I don’t even think they asked us how long we were staying.. I was slightly apprehensive regarding customs, as we were bringing in quite a lot of food, and even though I tried to follow the rules (see my first post), I wasn’t really looking forward to explaining to a Japanese customs agent why I had frozen lasagnas and chicken soup in my suitcase… Luckily, they let us through with barely a glance. Though I did throw out the apple I had picked up at the lounge in Hong Kong.
From the Japan Guide I knew that there were two ways to get between Itami and Kansai airports – one was taking an airport limousine bus, which took you directly from the terminal in Kansai to the terminal in Itami, and the other was to take three different trains through the heart of Osaka (it came out more expensive too). Guess which one we decided on?

A quick note about the airport limousine bus. When you first hear about the airport limousine bus, you might think this:



But in reality, it’s more like this:


 
I guess the Japanese think that if they would just call it the airport bus, nobody would take it... Or some enterprising foreign businessman managed to sell them “limousine busses” ;-)

This was where I will mention my first mistake of the trip. Researching the cheapest option for internet showed that buying a SIM card at one of the electronic stores in downtown Tokyo would be much cheaper than purchasing one at the airport – which is true. I saved about 15$. But the headache and worry it introduced was, in hindsight, not worth saving 15$. I definitely recommend getting one of the SIM cards or pocket routers at the airport (or possibly have one waiting for you at your hotel).

Knowing I couldn’t rely on having internet access, at the lounge in Bangkok I had printed out instructions on how to find the bus. We found it easily enough, purchased a ticket at the window, and we were then treated to our first display of Japanese bowing. There were two attendants hanging around the curbside.
When the bus drove up, the driver got out and the two attendants bowed to him. He bowed back. They bowed again. Then the bus driver got back on the bus, and the attendants started loading the luggage. We saw this happening many times afterwards, but the first one really made an impression (lack of sleep might also have had something to do with it).

The ride on the bus took a little over an hour, and it was our first opportunity to view a Japanese city (even if it was mostly from a highway).
The bus dropped us off right outside the terminal. Unlike the Kansai airport which clearly catered to many foreigners, due to the English that appeared on every sign, the Itami airport had very little English. Very very little.
Our plan was to check in to the flight and get rid of checked luggage, store the hand luggage in a coin-locker (a common fixture in public places throughout Japan) and go touring for a few hours. We were, however, slightly hampered by our lack of knowledge of Japanese. We finally found the correct check-in counter (they have different counters for Japanese, non-Japanese, and people with baggage) and after a harrying wait in which the agent couldn’t figure out how to pull up our economy JAL ticket on the business award reservation, we were finally rid of the suitcases. We found the closest coin locker, deposited the hand luggage and away we went.

Our destination: the Momofuko Ando Instant Ramen Museum.

Getting there from the Itami airport was very easy (and we had printed out Google Maps instructions before hand), and involved taking the airport monorail one stop, switching to the Hankyu line, and going one stop - 18 minutes total (including a 5 minute walk from the station to the museum).
Japanese ticket machines are very impressive. It’s like an arcade game, with lots of flashing buttons and lights. They’re usually brightly colored, with lots of information (in Japanese of course) printed around them. Luckily, all of the ones we encountered throughout our trip all had an “English” option.  I forgot to take a picture of it, but it looks something like this:



After a quick ride and a short walk through the streets of Ikeda, we found ourselves outside at the museum. The museum is located on the grounds of the house shack where the creator of instant ramen noodles – Momofuko Ando – lived and invented the instant ramen.
For those who have never encountered instant ramen, it’s basically a cup of noodles which you cook very quickly with hot water (similar to the Israeli “mana chama”) . Usually it includes pieces of chicken or seafood, but as with other foods, the Japanese are happy to experiment with all sorts of interesting additions and flavors (wasabi flavored kitkats anyone?).

A statue of Momofuko Ando:
P_20170323_105218 Momofuko Ando

A lifesize instant ramen cup:
P_20170323_112636

They have a short animated video telling the history of the instant ramen, the shed in which Momofuko Ando worked his magic, a “hall of instant ramen fame”, and a floor where you can make your own instant ramen from scratch. They also have an exhibition of many different types of instant cup noodles from all over the world, which was very cool.
All in all, we spent a good two hours here, and it was a great, short and fun excursion to break up the endless travel.
We headed back to the airport, retracing our steps. We arrived back a bit earlier then we needed to, and there were no priority pass lounges at Itami, so we spent our spare time plane watching on the open-air observation deck.

As I mentioned in my first post, American Airline awards can only book into economy on domestic Japan Airlines flights. While there is often availability to upgrade with cash for a very low price (when travelling on paid tickets as well), we didn’t really care about the ever-so-slightly larger seat. The flight took about an hour, and we landed at Tokyo Haneda airport.

Here came mistake number two. I had read in multiple places that Haneda was much closer to the city center, was connected via a fairly and cheap subway, etc, as opposed to the much more expensive Narita Express train. Which was why when choosing between landing at Narita or at Haneda, I chose Haneda. I obviously wasn’t thinking of the fact that we wouldn’t want to schlep our suitcases on the infamous Tokyo subway, or that -  as we would be departing from Narita anyways – I could get a round trip ticket on the Narita Express or Airport Limousine Bus, which would make it cheaper than getting one way tickets from Haneda on the arrival and to Narita on the departure.

As we were planning on taking the subway, and we didn’t want to lug all the suitcases on the train with us, we planned on using the luggage delivery service provided (for a small fee) by the Prince Sakura Hotel.  Such services are very common in Japan, and we used it again the following week to send some of our luggage directly to Kobe, where we would spend the second Shabbat.

It really did make a difference. We took the subway with just our backpacks to the Shinagawa station, which is a 3 minute walk from the hotel.  I’ll describe the hotel in a later post, but we really enjoyed ourselves. At check-in they noticed that I had multiple reservations, and asked if I’d be leaving luggage in between. I explained about our food situation, that we’d need to store food in the room service freezer and they said they’d be happy to help, and to contact the front desk whenever we needed something. As our luggage was still in transit (we arrived at the hotel at about 3pm, and our luggage was scheduled to be there by 5pm), they told us it would be sent straight to the room once it arrived.

The bellboy took us to our room. We were planning on having an early dinner at Chana’s Place (the kosher restaurant run by Chabad, about a 20 minute walk from the hotel), but I really didn’t want to leave before we had made sure that the food was put away in the Freezer.
We hadn’t been in the room for 10 minutes, when there was a knock at the door. It was our luggage! It had arrived well before the scheduled time. We immediately went to work unpacking all the food. I had asked for a box to be brought up for us to put the freezer stuff in, and the bellboy was amazed at the amount of food we had brought. His English was passable, although I made sure to write down the word “freezer” on a piece of paper, just in case.  We had brought real food for 10 nights (and bread for 12 lunches), and the other nights were Shabbat or eating at the restaurant. Good thing we were flying business class, otherwise we would have been very overweight…


 
I also asked him to empty the mini-bar, and he said he’d ask room service to come up and do it.
This was when we discovered mistake number three. As I mentioned, we had brought frozen chicken soup for dinner (which we had made the previous Shabbat). However, we hadn’t moved it from the plastic container we had originally frozen it in to a zip lock bag before putting it in the freezer bag in the suitcase. Big mistake! The container had gotten punctured somewhere along the way (it wasn’t a very good quality one), and while in transit from the airport the soup had defrosted a bit.. and leaked into the freezer bag! Luckily I had brought a supply of ziplocks in a variety of sizes, so we transferred the still-frozen soup into one, and disposed of the box. I then spent the next 10 minutes trying to clean the bag, before laying it open on top of some sort of air purifier that was in the bedroom. I must have managed to get most of it out, as by the next day it smelled fine :-)

We headed out to Chana’s Place. The walk was straightforward, and we passed by all sorts of stores and shops, as well as two shrines. The streets were clean, and the sidewalks were pretty wide as well. There weren’t so many people about, but we enjoyed just walking around the neighborhood.

 
Chana’s Place is located in the Chabad of Japan complex house run by Rabbi Mendi Sudakevitch (Chana is his wife). They have a full time cook (who is also the waiter, cashier and manager of the restaurant). It’s a small room with 4 or 5 tables with two chairs each, and a large doorway into the kitchen (you can see the picture on their website). The menu is fairly priced, considering the difficulty in getting kosher ingredients, and is available on their website.

I don’t remember exactly what we ordered, but it was yummy and filling (a nice sized portion). As we were paying, the cook casually mentioned that the following week the restaurant would be closed, as they were cleaning for Pesach! Unfortunately, we had planned on going to the restaurant the day we came back from Nara, as I didn’t want to have to deal with dinner. So we’d need to make a slight change to the meal plan, not a big deal.
On our way out, he offered us some kosher jelly some previous traveler had left with them, which we took. Mistake #4: We had brought bread and peanut butter to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but hadn’t brought any jelly!! Oops…
On the opposite street corner from the Chabad is an upscale store called Peacock, which we went in to just to see what a Japanese supermarket looked like, and whether there were any kosher products. The answer to the first: very much like a western store. The answer to the second: absolutely nothing. Except for this:
Looks really filling…

P_20170323_210117

At the store we purchased some aluminum foil (which had somehow escaped the packing list) and some (expensive) bananas and tomatoes, and headed back to the hotel, where we got our first full night’s sleep in almost three days.

View of Tokyo from our window. The thing that looks like the Eiffel Tower is called the Tokyo Tower.

IMG_6279

8
On The Road / Re: Hotels in Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto)
« on: March 18, 2018, 09:19:48 AM »
You'll have better luck in the Japan Master Thread

9
I was charged full price for cancelling a points reservation at Hilton CDG on day of arrival (son was sick so we didn't fly, hoping insurance will pick up the tab)

10
Up In The Air / Re: KSML (Kosher Airline Meals) Master Thread
« on: March 05, 2018, 02:25:11 AM »
bump
You're in luck... I Just got back last week from TLV-SVO-JFK-SVO-TLV on SU Aeroflot.

Out of TLV I didn't order a KSML (due to last minute booking), but both the cold and hot food was all labeled kosher Rabbanut, with some of the stuff Badatz/Machfud (note that the hot portion doesn't come double wrapped though...), and the KSML was Badatz Eida Charedit.
SVO-JFK and SVO-TLV was provided by בדץ אגודת הרבנים רוסיא, Rav Berel Lazer. SVO-JFK we got dinner and a snack. I have pictures of the dinner, I'm almost certain the snack was not the same, but I honestly don't remember  (see pictures below of first meal service SVO-JFK). SVO-TLV we were served a breakfast (omelette).
JFK-SVO was Borenstein (we got BBQ chicken for dinner and an omelette for breakfast. Didn't even open them)

SU KSML SVO-JFK 2
SU KSML SVO-JFK 1

11
Goods For Sale/Trade / Re: National Free Day Coupons Master Thread
« on: February 08, 2018, 02:25:35 AM »
Looking to buy a free day coupon for a one way rental.
Thansk

12
The Arrival+ offers 2 "miles" on every dollar. 89$ AF, waived the first year.

13
Just tried paying for a new Israeli passport via the website (forms.gov.il) with my CSR and it declined it, saying it could only take Israeli credit cards.
Did not try over the phone or at one of the self-service kiosks.

On the other hand, Meuhedet payments are still going strong.. Although they keep calling me up to tell me to setup a horaat keva  ::).

14
Up In The Air / Re: Checking In Luggage For Two Airlines
« on: November 07, 2017, 07:38:01 AM »
Does anyone have any experience with interlining out of TLV? Are the agents there competent? 
Specifically I'm planning on interlining from A3 to TK (according to EF they do interline), but I'm worried that the Israeli check in agents won't have any idea what I'm talking about  ::).

15
Up In The Air / Re: Rome Airport (FCO)
« on: October 11, 2017, 06:42:44 AM »
Thanks Dan, I was about to modify my post and suggest priority pass :)
I was flying NYC-FCO-TLV on Alitalia, so flights landed and departed from Terminal 3 (non-Schengen flights).
The PP lounge there is the "Le Anfore Lounge", for which you have to take a shuttle to one of the satellite areas (if you're departing from the main building), and upon returning to the main terminal you need to go through security again...
The lounge itself is not exciting in the least - some baked goods, fruit and drinks. In my opinion, the chairs aren't even so comfortable. You also need to go down (and then up) quite a few stairs - no elevator or escalator available.

According to the PP website you should be able to access the other two lounges in the Schengen terminals, but it's a bit of a schlep from Terminal 3.

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