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Panama Master Thread I'm planning a trip to Panama, most probably Bocas del Toro. As far as I can tell there's no Jews in that area. I would fly into Panama City and would like to figure something out with food for the Bocas and maybe staying there for shabbos.
Has anyone been there? any advice?

March 15, 2010, 11:21:37 PM
Re: maldives and dubai As promised my tripreport

it was my dream to once visit the maldives. Our last trip to china was very nice, but not relaxing. There was always another market, a must do attraction. We got up early....
This time i wanted a vacation that will be: doing nothing!

My sister just came back from sem and was willing to watch the kids for 9 days, so this was our chance.

Some info on the maldives: its a country, that has 100's of little islands. Every hotel is build on its own island. Most hotelrooms in the maldives are private villas on the beach or over the water. The maldives is a expensive place, as well as hard to get to, as not to many airlines fly there. June is the wet season, so you could get alot of rain. I took this chance, as during the dry season, the nice resorts are way to expensive...b'h we got lucky and had 6 days sun with 3 quick showers, that lasted 20 minutes

BA- was not a option for me, as they fly from gatwick and i can not fly from zuerich to gatwick, only lhr or lcy and i didnt want to transfer to a diffrent airport

Sq- shlep, as its not a direct route and good luck scoring 2 business seats sin-mle

So i decided to book a star alliance mix with emirates airlines. Continental was perfect for that, as they were partners with emirates. From dubai to the maldives i only had economy, but as i paid the business amount co promised to allow me to upgrade to business, as soon as it becomes available. At the end of march continental finished its partnership with emirates and was not able to upgrade me to business, as they had no way with communicating with emirates, so i cancelled the dxb-mle part and booked it with emirates miles. My ticket was the following:

Wed. Zrh-fra lh c.    10-11 am
Wed. Fra-dxb lh f.    3-11 pm
Thu.  Dxb-mle ek f.  3-9 am
Wed. Mle-dxb ek c.  10am-1pm
Fri.    Dxb-vie  os c.  2am-6am
Fri.    Vie-zrh.  os c.  7am-8am

i used 67500 co miles and 70000 ek miles a person. With these flights, i had a chance to try the first class terminal in Frankfurt and the new emirates first class lounge in dubai. I was actually planning on upgrading the return flight from dubai to f class as well, but lx and lh didnt release any seats, so i was stuck flying with austrian in business.

I was looking to stay in a overwater villa and wanted my own private pool on the porch. I  found the perfect hotel called halaveli. Big overwater villas, plunge pool, new resort and very small. Exactly what we wanted.

The outdoor porch on our villa:

Check out

The resort normally charges close to 1000 Dollars a night, they had a special buy 4 stay 6 promotion, a sale on the room and a 10% prepaid early booking promotion, so i got it down to 500 a night. I know you will think its expensive, but for that type of room a bargain in the maldives

Dubai has alot of nice hotels. the famous 7 star hotel burj al arab was 1000 dollars a night, so not within my budget. I booked the grand hyatt. I used a suite certificate to upgrade to a suite and as a diamond staying in a suite you get: free minibar, free pickup and drop to airport, free internet... I paid about 135 Dollars, that was a steal for a suite incl. all benefits.


You cant get any kosher food in the maldives, so i was planning on taking frozen bread, longlife milk and hermolis meals along and ask the hotel to warm them up for me. With a suitcase of nosh and other goodies we should be able to survive. I send the hotel a email, explaining to them what kosher is and asked them if they would help me out in storing food in the freezer and heating it up for me on a daily basis. They agreed... I spoke to a frum guy, that stayed at the conrad and he told me that they supplied him with kosher meals through kleins catering from australia. I contacted halaveli food and beverage manager and he said, they never did it, but anyway get once a week a shipment from australia. He was fine with me sending stuff along and gave me the number of their shipping agent. After a few phone calls around the world, the shipping company agreed to place a order bei kleins catering and also pick up kosher food items at a local grocery. The hotel told me, that they would add 80% to the cost price, so all expenses (shipping,customs...) are covered.
Kleins had a big selection of meals for 17 dollars, so i ended up paying 30 dollars for a good meal and didnt have to worry, that was worth it. I ordered challa,bread,milk,yoghurts,danishes,smoked salmon, ice cream and other food items and all was shipped to the resort.

I know i wrote alot about the planing, but for such a trip, especially to a such a place, its necessary, if you want to have a perfect trip.

Finally the big day arrives:

To be continued, a fellow dd member is planing a trip to the maldives, so I wanted to help by posting this already

September 16, 2011, 09:25:59 AM
Re: Amsterdam Master Thread ‘Schiphol Amsterdam Airport’ was designed as a transit hub so everything is basically one big massive hall with a lot of shops and things to do. Just in case you (or you wife/fam) get tired sightseeing the city, you can always go back to the airport and relax or shop there. If you have carry-on luggage you don’t want to take with you into the city, you can lock them up in a safes which are scattered around the airport.
Taking a taxi into the city is quite expensive (around 50 euro’s). The cheapest and easiest way into the city is by train which leaves from the train terminal right under the arrival halls. A one day return ticket cost 7.50 Euro’s. It takes about 15-20 min to get from the airport to the center of Amsterdam.
When you arrive make your way to the ‘Arrivals 2’ area. Over there is a store called ‘Holland tourist information’ there you can buy train tickets to Amsterdam central station and a day pass for the public transportation in Amsterdam itself.  Ask for a return train ticket to Amsterdam and for a 24 hrs ‘gvb’ unlimited day pass. Pick up a map of Amsterdam’s tourists attractions while you are there. Can’t hurt!
After that follow the signs to exit or the meeting point. That’s basically a big red and white, piece of art in the middle of the arrival plaza. (Right there, are machines to buy train tickets to Amsterdam if you haven’t done so yet. There is also a desk there) trains to Amsterdam leave about every 5-10 min. ask or look at the information screens on which platform the next train leaves.
Once you come out of the central train station make your way to trams (not buses!) on your left hand side before you cross any bridges. If you haven’t bought a 24 hrs (or more) ‘gvb’ unlimited day pass you can do so in the central station. Maps of the tram routes are available there too. In general most conductors on the tram speak English and you could ask them for help and ask them to tell you where or when you need to get off for the various attractions. Most people in the Netherlands speak a decent English and you could always ask people in the street for help.
In front of the central train station, across the bridges are many boat companies who offer boat tours around the city’s famous many canals. There are different tours available and some companies let you hop on and off at the major tourist landmarks (such as the Anna Frank house, Heineken Experience etc). so you could use it as a form of transportation. It might be a little bit more than a regular boat tour though.
Here are some ideas where to go. I include a web address when available, which tram# to take there and a little info about it.

Old Portuguese shul from the 17th century. Completely original and intact. A must see when coming to Amsterdam. Take tram # 9 or 14 to get there.
Anne Frank Museum. Another must visit. Visit early in the morning or order tickets online. The lines get very long in general. Take tram #13 or 14 to get there.
Flower market located by the ‘Singel’ and ‘Muntplein’. The Dutch are famous for their flowers and here you can buy flower bulbs and other stuff (like marijuana plant seeds!! Etc. in Holland you are legally allowed to own 2 marijuana plants for personal use. Don’t buy the seeds and try to bring it to the US. I’m NOT responsible). Cool place to go past if you have time. Lots of trams stop here. # 4,, 9, 16, 24, 25
Leidseplein. A famous square with a lot of coffee shops…. Take tram # 1, 2, 5, 7, 10 to get there.
Van Gogh Museum: Famous Dutch artist. If you like historic paintings etc. not a  must but lot of people go there. The building itself is a funky design and it’s located on a nice square to take a rest and grab a beer. take tram # 2, 3, 5, 16, 24
House of Bols is located right next to the van gogh museum. It’s a fun museum/bar about the dutch dring ‘Genever’.
Drinking traditions
Jonge jenever is sometimes served cold from a bottle kept in a freezer. However, the higher-quality oude jenever (and korenwijn) is usually served at room temperature. When jenever is drunk with beer (normally lager) as a chaser, it is referred to as a kopstoot (headbutt) or duikboot (submarine) in Flanders. Traditionally, jenever is served in completely full shot glasses taken directly from the freezer. As the glass is very cold it is advisable to take the first sips without holding the glass, leaving it on the table and bending one's back to apply one's mouth to the glass
Albert kuyp market. Famous Amsterdam daily market where you can buy literacy anything. If you want a real local experience, go here. Take tram # 16, 24 to get there.
Heineken Experience is the famous Dutch beer brand museum. I remember the days that they gave you free unlimited beers at the bar, during and after the tour. Now they only give you 2 or 3. (or soda/other drinks if you don’t like beer) take tram # 4, 7, 10, 16, 24, 25 to get there.
Kosher food
They don’t have many kosher certifications in Holland. There’s a list with kosher products which they update all the time so it’s hard to know what kosher or not in the regular stores. There are small kosher sections in some supermarkets like the ‘Albert Heijn’ or ‘C1000’. The few kosher stores are located in the Jewish area which is a tram ride away from the city center. There are two kosher restaurants closer to the city center.
1)   Sandwich shop Sal-meijer. This is actually a famous kosher sandwich store in Amsterdam with some good stuff. My wife (from the US) liked their French fries very much. It’s  great place for brunch/lunch. There’s a train station down the road (10-15 min. walk.) so it’s a great location for a quick bite before heading out to the airport. Just ask the owners for directions. They are very nice people. take tram # 12, 25 to get there.

2)   Hacarmel kosher restaurant. (Amstelveenseweg 224 1075 XT Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Israeli style meat restaurant. Take tram # 2 or 16 to get there.

There are more kosher restaurants in the jewish area. Pls see the google maps link for that.

Here is the closest shul to the city center with a daily minyan.
Synagogue Kehilas Ja’akov
Gerrit van der Veenstraat 26
it’s a regular house, so you won’t see there’s a shul. Check out their website or let me know if you are interested in going there and I can find out the exact times for the minyanim from my family. Both my father and my brother daven there. Here’s another usefull link they have on their site.

google map of main tourist attractions in Amsterdam

if you really want to experience Amsterdam, rent a bike instead of taking the trams. You can rent them outside the central train station and other various locations, only rent a bike if you really know how to bike. There are a crazy amount of bikers in Amsterdam and they all do crazy things. Roads a re small and cars and bikes have to fight for their space. Be very careful.
If you like herring than you should definitely stop at a herring stall. Dutch herring is the best in the world !!! harring stalls are scattered around the city. There’s one at the ‘Albert kuyp market. They only serve herring and only one type, which is kosher. Just don’t order a herring in a bun. The bun is not kosher! Just order one whole herring with onions and a pickle and eat it whole. Like the dutch people do!
Enjoy your trip and don’t hesitate to ask for more info if you need.
Be safe!

November 09, 2011, 05:03:00 PM
Europe trip report pessach 5772      I found out I was going to Poland for pessach less than a week before I left so it didn’t give much time to make an organized itinerary and buy 5 guide books on every city I will be visiting as Dan is so keen to do. A rental car was my main concern for a trip to work out. I initialy negotiated a reservation through a website called where I managed to reserve a manual car for $24 plus various small fees. When I got to Warsaw the local shliach introduced me to a small local rental company where I managed to negotiate an amazing price for a 2 week rental. With all taxes, fees and insurance included I paid $27 a day for an automatic ford focus plus a mandatory $300 down payment. If anyone wants to rent from thme call Paul at (+48) 608-461-444. As a side note I know a lot of rental companies outside the US try to rip you off on the down payment and damage claims these guys didn’t even look at the car when I returned it they were really mentchen and I highly recommend them. The next most important item was navigating around Europe. My chavrusah found an android app called navigon It is made by Garmin and does not require data which was obviously a must. The app was a life saver especially with the very helpful POI feature. If anyone wants a link to download the app feel free to PM me. For food we brought hard salami, tuna, and a whole lot a matza. We flew on Lot airlines which was easily the worst airline I have ever flown with the terrible kosher meals, rude flight attendants and a seat that sank literally a foot down when I sat in it (I sat on 2 pillows to compensate), there is not much worse I could expect. I landed in Warsaw.

     Warsaw- The Jewish Ghetto does not have much there to see. Amazing antique market every Sunday. If you are there you must check it out. I spent hours looking through a lot of old stuff, including but not limited to swords, switch blades, guns, rifles, beautiful glass, and old Jewish scripts including a large part of a sefer torah. All the antique markets I went to had old Jewish materials like megilas, torah covers, pointer hands for a torah etc… Just be warned no matter how old it looks some of the stuff is fake. The old city is very beautiful, but not worth to visit unless you are in Warsaw already. They do have a kosher restaurant I did not eat there though. One nice thing was that you can park anywhere, sidewalks are perfect. I think there are signs outside of every neighborhood saying specific parking laws so ymmv. The police are a total joke, always bribe cops if you get pulled over. Just be sure to keep an extra 50-100 zluty in your passport in case…

     After Warsaw I went off to Poznan where I conducted a seder for 50 Jews.

     Poznan- A very clean and nice city. It has many old buildings and two old shuls. One shul was made into a swimming pool by the Nazis and has remained so since. The Carlsberg beer factory is here not that I went because it was pessach. Rabbi akiva eiger is buried in the back yard of a apartment building with his family. It was neat knowing I was one of maybe one hundred Jews to visit his kever due to it only being discovered 4 years ago. It’s a cute town nothing to write home about but if you drive next to it it is worth pulling over for a 30 minute walk around the old city. In addition there are museums which I did not have time to explore. It is from what I have seen and been told, the prettiest city in Poland.

    Motzei  yomtov my chavrusah and I drive through Germany, which has the most amazing highways I have ever driven on, to Prague. (Side note Poland does have road tolls of about 3 or 5 dollars every so often.)

    Prague- Most beautiful city I have ever been to. When I drove into the city I saw the first street where every building had intricate carvings, and moldings around the windows also every building had a different beautifully colored stone. Then I realized the entire city was made up of streets that looked like this, I was instantly in love. The kosher restaurants are outrageously expensive I believe there is a chabad one and one other. The marhals shul and cemetery are obviously a must. There is a way to get into the shul and cemetery for free you have to talk to the shliach though. We ended up just buying 2 tickets because they charge to see the mharals shul and 6 other shuls on one ticket and then they charge separate for the cemetery it is very smart of them to do… None of the other shuls really seemed worth going to. Charles Bridge is a must to walk across. I bought some very nice artwork on the bridge. Make sure you bargain these people I bought 2 paintings which were originally 70 euro for just 32 euro.  In general enjoy the superb architecture is just breathtaking. There are also some very modern buildings that cannot be missed. Bribe cops if you get a boot on your car, we got one the cop wanted 50euro to take it off. We offered 25euro and made it very clear we didn’t need a receipt the officer readily agreed. Parking is almost impossible to find, but once you do its not to expensive, I was there on easter so it was free  . Also do not expect to be alone in this city there are thousands of tourists every day the streets are always full and hectic.

    After a long day of walking in Prague it was off to Vienna.

    Vienna- Really nice city it has the olden city look but its very active with industry and modernized so in a way that you feel you’re in a regular city. There is a beautiful palace with free garden in the back that has a view of the entire city. At sunset it was a breathtaking view. That evening we went to a concert in the palace where Mozart had played. It was a decent concert in retrospect I probably wouldn’t have spent 25 euro to go. We stayed by the nicest shluchim ever they moved 6 kids to one room to give us our own room to sleep in. Parking is annoying and expensive. Downtown was 4 euro an hour. In the Jewish area you need to change parking tickets every 2 hours… At the end of the day it’s not necessary to see Vienna but it was a nice stop to rest and have a proper sleep for 2 nights.

    We were planning on going from Vienna to Venice but we realized that Hungary was only 4 hours away so the night before we left Vienna we decided the next day we would go to Budapest.

    Budapest- Very clean and serene city, Especially on the mountain overlooking the city. Just walking around was like in another universe with all the people so happy and calm. Very beautiful buildings bridges etc.  The chabad has a receptionist whom was very helpful, the shliach was also very kind and got us a 3 course lunch (granted it was pessach not sure if they offer that every day). . Parking is cheap but make sure you feed the meter, they will tow you here as fast as Prague will put a boot on. The old city across the river is so serene I could not get enough of it. Unlike Prague whichwas packed off rushing tourists this was so peaceful and relaxing. I walked along a brick wall that was at the edge of a mountain and just enjoyed the environment. There are many jaw dropping buildings to be seen. Although none of the museums looked to interesting.  There is the largest synagogue in Europe which is across the street from chabad. I would highly recommend Budapest as a one day trip.

    Now it was erev the second days of yom tov so it was time to drive down through Slovenia , which is gorgeous country side and mountains, and on to Venice. We were going to park by the San Giuliano lot but there was a yacht show that weekend so the lot was closed. Lucky for us we were informed by the lot owner and confirmed by the guy who runs the ferry to venice that Cops don’t ticket for parking on the side of the street or in the parking lot by the ferry over the weekends for sure,( and it seemed even not the weekends you could park there for free too). So that is exactly what we did and got 3 days of free parking although we had to buy 7 euro ferry ride tickets to get in. Not that I was complaining the ride was great!

     Venice- A must see in your lifetime. It is the coolest most romantic and awesome city on our trip! I was there for the 2nd days of pessach and out of the 48 hours at least 12 were spent walking. The shliach Rami really is as amazing as everyone says he is. Although if you plan on crashing on the floor of his shul or a shliachs house or the smicha dorm, forget about it he seems to have a very strict no bochurim crashing policy. But he hooked us up with a beautiful Venetian attic for just 20 euro a night so I couldn’t complain too much. The food at gam gam was GREAT and of course free. The atmosphere was all very friendly. And we even got free pies of pizza right after moshiach seuda!!! My advice is to just walk all around the city get lost and ask for directions back. You will be amazed at all the things you will discover, boat garages, coolest eye glasses in the world, docks that sink halfway before the next street and you can scale the wall to get across, etc… I loved every second I was in Venice and B”H it was yom tov because there were so many amazing shops selling beautiful glass products and other specialties I don’t know if I could have resisted. The regular shul there is very old and nice inside with sefer torahs dating back over 400 years in use every week. There is so much to write about Venice but you will have to just go there and experience it for yourself.

    The day after pessach it was off to see the rest of Italy starting with Florence. (Side note Italy was the only other country besides Poland to have road tolls and in Italy they were far more expensive about $25 to get off the highway by each city) There are some Amazing rest stops in Italy specifically Autogrill rest stops have a place to park your car overnight and some have showers in the morning, and washers and dryers for a small price.

    Florence- A beautiful city. Some would call it the art capitol of the world. There is no full time shliach only on Shabbos and tourist season. There is a kosher restaurant called Ruth’s and around the corner a kosher market that sells sandwiches and sometimes pizza (hechsher?). Didn’t eat at either so I can’t report on the food. The 3 most famous museums are the Uffizi, pitti, and achedamia. I was fortunate to get there for culture week when every museum in Italy is free so I am not sure about prices for these museums. Uffizi has more sculptures than I knew existed in the world. There were some notable ones that I am sure everyone knows from gemara and Jewish history so those are cool to see and put a name with a face. The ceiling is stunning too it is an amazing museum although a bit repetitive and long. Don’t get me wrong I would encourage everyone to go there it is really amazing how detailed and realistic these thousands of years old sculptures are. The Pitti is a modern art museum, (do not be confused with the modern art of nowadays when they say modern they mean the time period of the the 1800’s). The art was very nice. The whole museum can probably be done in 30 min. maybe stretched out to an hour in general I always skip portraits because they bore me to death. The museum Achedamia is one of the reasons I went to Florence to see Michelangelo’s famous David. David definitely lived up to expectations it was the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen in my life and this is after seeing about 500 at the Uffizi. The rest of the city is just plain pretty with a river flowing through the middle random sculptures all over and a ton more museums which I unfortunately did not have time to see… The Ponte Vecchio Bridge is famous nice walk but nothing to special in my opinion, just a ton of expensive jewelry I will never buy. Parking is a bit hard to find but it’s not too expensive once you do. The Portuguese shul is right next to the kosher places and is stunning definitely a must see. The leather market is very neat. There is one vender who is in love with Jews especially if you are wearing a yalmuka. He literally sold me stuff 30 euro cheaper than everyone else even with bargaining. You may need to shmooz with him but it’s worth it. IIRC His name is Marko just ask for him, he is the one that loves Israel. There may be 2 leather markets so make sure you are at the one closest to the Uffizi museum. There is also an antique market but it’s not nearly as large and varied as the one in Warsaw. I wish I had more time for other museums in Florence. I heard there is an amazing museum full of different types of war armors. Next time…

    Off to ancient Rome.

    Rome- Any history buff like me will automatically love Rome there is so much there Jewish history and non-Jewish history it was very neat seeing all these places in person. 1st of all if you go to rome and don’t wait for the guided tour of the synagogue (you can only see it with a tour guide unless during minyanim which I believe are daily) your crazy. It is the most elaborate, ornate and grand synagogue I have ever seen it puts every modern day shul to shame (Others say it looks like a church a don’t like it).The coliseum is very cool to walk in and explore. It is much better from the inside then out. We also went to the arch of Titus which is included in the pass to the coliseum. Of course we saw the menorah (and informed everyone around us that it’s not the real meorah but rather just a lamp ;). Baghetto Pizza was very good pizza and an even nicer owner he gave us about a dozen pitta breads for our trip back to Poland for practically nothing. In general seeing all the ruins and old bridges etc is very neat. Also we climbed to the top of a mountain across the coliseum and had an amazing view of rome. Parking was very cheap once we found a spot. There are many kosher restaurants all mainly in the Jewish ghetto.

     Now for the long drive back to Poland, but with a stop at the always beautiful LakeComo.

     Lake Como- Beautiful Lake at the foothills of the Alps. I wish I could have spent more than a few hours here. Seems like a really nice place to spend 3 or 4 days just boating and exploring the lakes and rivers in front of the Alps. Amazing views of the lake, alps, and city of Como from on top of the mountains you can just drive up any of the roads, I think most of them are residential, when the road gets to narrow and steep just walk the rest of the way up as far as the road goes and take in the scenery I did this at sunset and the view was absolutely breathtaking.

    Now off to meet up with March of the living. We drove through Switzerland which was amazing driving through the Alps. Drove by Lichtenstein, through Germany returned our car in Warsaw and took a train to Krakow.

    Krakow- Most people visit Krakow because they are there to visit Auchwitz and Birkenau. I did the same. You can get a relatively cheap cab from the train station to take you to the camps and back for about $40. I was there for March of the living. It was really an amazing experience that I am very happy I was a part of. The whole experience was extremely inspiring and emotional of course. In Krakow there are 3 kosher hotels open all year around. I ate at the 5 star holiday inn and the kosher food was top notch. All very fresh and delicious. The food I ate was under hashkacha of the local shliach rabbi Gurary who is an amazing guy and extremely nice. He gave us blow up mattresses to sleep on in his shul which is about 400 years old. Krakow has a Jewish section like seemingly all cities in Eroupe. There is the Rem”a’s shul and kever along with the Ba”ch, tosfos yom tov, and Yossel goy (tzadik)buried next to the tosfos yom tov. There is a market in the Jewish section and I managed to find some very cheap and neat nick-nacks to bring home. Krakow is a decent city with a few pretty buildings no reason to visit other than of course the camps.

    Back to Warsaw for Shabbos by Rabbi Stambler which was very nice experience. After Shabbos we took a 17 hour train to Amsterdam.

    Amsterdam- Amsterdam to me was like a best of all the cities I visited on my trip and was a great city to end my trip. It has the beautiful canals of Venice, museums that can rival Florence, and classic Dutch architecture dating back to the 1600’s, that does not even come close to the architecture of Prague, but is unique in the sense that you won’t see such beautiful buildings of this style anywhere else. The first thing we did was buy a three day unlimited tram, bus, and subway pass for 16 euro. The transit system is phenomenal in this city. Next we bought the yearly museum pass good for nearly all major museums in the Netherlands for 45 euro, and it lasts an entire year. It was well worth it because we would have spent more than that just our 1st day (most museums are either 14 or 8 euro)! I will list the museums in order of what I liked. The Van Gogh museum has the biggest collection of Van Gough paintings in the world. I am biased towards Van Gogh partially because his bedroom is probably my favorite painting all time. None the less him and his contemporaries made undisputedly some of the most mesmerizing paintings in history. Be sure to see all the floors, I almost skipped the basement exhibit which is one of the most moving art displays I ever walked through, it puts you in a different world of nature, truly amazing. Next is the Rijksmuseum with great paintings of mainly Dutch origin, do not miss the the nacht vatch is the most famous art display in Holland, it features Rembrandts largest and most famous work. The maritime museum is a GREAT museum for kids and adults alike with a pirate ship to walk through, and tons of other exhibits you can easily spend 2 hours here and not get bored. The Royal palace is only open when the queen is not there with foreign dignitaries. Be sure to check that its open before you go. The palace is exactly what you would expect, ornately decorated rooms and hallways. This comes with a free audio tour which is suggested being that there aren’t any signs as to what things are. The museum of resistance is all about the Dutch resisting the Nazis in WWII and about the Jews in WWII. It takes a good hour and half to do, I unfortunately didn’t have that much time but it was very interesting none the less. The Museum Geelvinck is an old Dutch house that is open to the public to walk through. It consists of a coach house and a main house with 6 different exquisite rooms. The thing I like most about this museum is you can sit on most of the furniture and it is just really relaxing to be in. If you need a place to chill for a bit and take in some of the most beautiful granite you’ll see in a house, this is your place. The Jood museum had some interesting artifacts. Especially a very beautiful megilah with illustrations on every column. The old shul is included in the Jood museum ticket so may as well go see it but it’s nothing to special, just old. The Foam museum was interesting and nice to walk through seeing the many different photo journalism displays. Not one of my favorite places though. The van loom museum is nice but a bit to regular type of art for my taste although the house it is in is quite nice to see. The Allard Pierson museum was a bit lame. It had a bunch of old objects from Egypt and Greece which I have seen a thousand different places before. If you are into artifacts from those times you may enjoy it otherwise don’t bother. The hermitage museum was the worst museum we went to on our trip. It was extremely plain mostly portraits and Christian paintings really advise not to bother going there. The Stejdlik museum was closed but they had a temporary space with 3 film exhibitions. No point in going until the full museum reopens. The Anne Frank house has massive lines if you plan on going make a reservation before through heir website. I do not see the big excitement about the house but that’s personal feelings so I won’t get into it. The Diamond museum was a total waste of time. The most fun thing we did our entire trip must have been renting a paddle boat and driving the canals for 2 hours. We were having so much fun discovering birds’ nests with eggs in them and waving to everyone, the people of Amsterdam are so nice. The flower market is nice I bought a beautiful orchid for my host there. The kosher  sandwich store sal-meijer has extremely unique tasting meats being that they are all handmade by the owner. He also has stupendous mustard for the sandwiches and mayo for the fries. I am completely sold on the mayo and fries concept. You must have a few sandwiches from here. The pizza shop Pizza co. had pretty good pizza nothing amazing but nice to have fresh good pizza while traveling, also the fries were good. There is one main kosher grocery store and a kosher bakery, they both sell Sheffa yogurt which is the most amazing yogurt/breakfast food I have ever had! It has fresh fruit in the bottom and delicious yogurt on top. This is an absolute must have! The food I tried at the bakery was pretty awful, although a loaf of bread was cheap and good for sandwiches. I did not go on the tour of the Heineken factory because it was 17 euro and didn’t seem even close to worth that price. Instead I tried a local brew in a bar called IJ brewery it was a very good beer. Also a must have while you’re in Holland is jonge jenever which is just gin, but I have had gin in America and it tastes nothing like this stuff which is delicious.

    We flew out of Amsterdam again on Lot which was an equally horrible experience. They made my chavrusah check his carry at the gate on which he had already flown to Europe with because it was a few centimeters to large. That cost him a whopping $85. For our kosher meal we had meatloaf that expires in 2014. It was not edible. So to list the cities in favorite order it goes 1. Venice 2. Amsterdam 3. Prague 4. Budapest 5. Florence 6. Lake Como 7. Rome 8. Krakow/camps 9. Poznan and 10 Warsaw. I obviously had to abridge this trip report to just list the main activities I did in each city. If anyone has a question or wants details about a specific city feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer them. Also if you want photos of something specific let me know I have a few.

May 08, 2012, 04:07:24 PM
Re: maldives and dubai We checked in at zrh and were able to send our cases directly to mle, as swiss, lh and emirates have a luggage interline agreement. The first class lounge in zuerich is nice, we only had 15 minutes and had a quick drink.
They didnt drive us to the plane as the plane left from a gate. Lufthansa and swiss have a policy, that they only serve kosher meals for flights more then 65 minutes and the flight to Frankfurt is 65 minutes, so we didnt get anything to eat. It was a regular european flight, so nothing to report. We arrived in frankfurt at a gate, so again no car pick up. We walked to the First Class terminal, its about 7 minutes and not a big deal. The FCT is amazing. Its a oasis of peace and calm and you dont realize, that you are in a airport. Alot of people wrote about it already, so i will not waste to much time on it. I took a nice bath to get the lufthansa duck.
We ordered kosher lunch in advance, but for some reason only one arrived. No big deal, the kosher caviar was delicious. I had quite alot of whiskey and time passed very fast. Before i knew it, they came to pick us up for our flight to DXB. They drove us in a nice mercedes to the plane. Have to admit, it was really special. From the car straight into the plane, no line.
As its a 747, we were on the upper deck, so we didnt hear and see boarding, other a private jet almost. Lufthansa is upgrading their F-Class, we still had a old layout. Thats fine, as in the old layout everyone gets 2 seats, one is the chair and the second seat is made into a bed right away. Load was 4/8. We had the front row, before take off, they make the second seat into a bed already.
Meal was very good, only downside, we had salmon in the lounge, now they served us a piece of salmon for starters and another piece as main course. B'h no salmon ice cream for desert.
Flight passed quite fast, slept, watched a movie... Before landing in dubai it was time to put my cap on. I dont think, it would have been a problem transiting with a yarmulke, but still...

We landed on time and had about 4 hours until our next flight. Dubai airport is huge, tons of shops, but we could not be bothered and went straight to the first class lounge. Its very big and really nice. Besides for the fct, the nicest one i have been to. I got a free massage and my wife got her nails done...
We then walked to our departure gate (next to the gate boarding for kabul), boarding had started already, so we walked straight into first class without waiting. First impression: It was nice, but i preffered lx,tk and lh. They had a 2-2-2 layout, thats quite crowded in first class. Only cool part was that every passenger had his own mini fridge. The flight attendant confirmed, that our kosher meals were onboard. I was looking forward to a ek amenity kit and pj, but they didnt give anything. Said the flight was to short. Very disappointing for F.
They asked us, when they should wake us and i told them as late as possible. They really did and served us breakfast 25 minutes before landing. Food came from bangkok air catering and was very good. Their video system is amazing, 250 movies, big screen. Its probably the best in the skies.
Landing itself was stunning, one can see the corals when landing and i knew right away that we have landed in paradise. Immigration and customs (they x ray every bag, so dont think about bringing in alcohol) can take quite long, but as f passengers we were the first guys out and were out of the airport in 15 minutes.
Right when we exited a hotel rep waited for us and took our luggage across the hall. The check in desk from the seaplane company is there. Every person is allowed 20kg, so i had to pay some overweight charges, as we packed more then that. It was only 3 dollars a kg, so it wasnt to bad... Once we got our seaplane boarding card we were driven to the other side of the airport. They have a seaplane terminal there.
he nice hotels operate a lounge with drinks in the terminal, ours did, so we were able to wait and relax. There are no fixed times when the plane leaves, as they try to fill it up with people flying to nearby resorts. We got lucky and after 30 minutes our plane left. Taking off on water instead of a runway is quite a experience, but it was quite smooth. The plane is very small (no a/c !)and fits max. 20 people, we had 8 people on board. The view on the flight was stunning, i just looked out of the window and was: wow. The plane dropped the other people at 2 other islands first, so we got to experience a few landings and take offs... Finally i was able to see our island and we circled it once, so we should land in front of the jetty.
Hotel staff was waiting for us with fresh drinks, cold towels right when we got of the plane. The manager himself came to say hi, as well as the food and beverage manager, that i arranged all our food with. They gave us a quick tour of the island with a golf buggy and dropped us at our villa. I requested the last one on the uneven side, as thats were the reef is and the boat traffic to and from the island was in front of the villas at the other side. The villa itself is very large, huge bathroom, walk in closet, apple tv... really had everything we could have asked for. On the porch we had our infinity pool, tables, sunloungers, it was just heaven.
The food and beverage manager asked me for a short meeting with him and the cook, so we can discuss the kosher food. They took me to the freezer, were they showed me all food, that arrived. They were really very nice about it, they told me, i could have the food delivered whenever i want, to whatever restaurant i want. I just have to call them 30 minutes before... The cook also gave me 2 picnic sets of dishes so that i can eat from real plates,fork... I toiveled them in the ocean and took them to our villa after every meal, to wash them... By now it was late afternoon and we took a stroll around the entire island. It took almost 10 minutes to reach the island from our villa, walking down the long bridge, that connects the watervillas, we could have ordered a buggy, but we wanted to see everything.
Every employee we saw, greeted and smiled at us. On the main island, there is a pool, bar and the beachvillas. The pool is very nice and has a stunning view, but why go there, if you have the same on your porch... The beach villas are spread out and have 2 floors. The top floor is the bedroom and the bottom has the sitting area and pool. They were all hidden behind some lush trees... On halaveli the villas on the beach are more expensive, as they are bigger, but i dont know why someone would want to stay there. We completed the walk around within 15 minutes and didnt see a soul. We really had the feeling we had the island to ourself. At the end they have a presidential villa (roger federer was there a few weeks before us) its huge and has a big pool.
We sat down on one of the huge beanbags that are spread around the island and a waiter came running right away offering us a drink. He recommended as fresh coconut and we agreed. In front of our eyes he climbed on a palm tree and got us 2 coconuts, that he prepared. Thats what i call service! They also briefed the entire staff about kosher, as the waiter asked, if we are allowed to drink this. We asked how he knew, we keep kosher and he told us that the entire staff got a briefing about us, before we arrived and was explained, what kosher is. Wow! Dinner time was approaching and i asked the f'b manager to serve us dinner at the overwater restaurant and set what menu i wanted. The restaurant was very nice and they had lights shining at the water, that attracted alot of fish. Quite a nice place to eat. The food was delicious, we had a beef soup, honey mustard chicken, rolls and ices for desert. Being 1000 of miles from the next kosher place, ^the arranged kosher food was really a treat.
The next day they delivered us breakfast to our room, at the exact time, as we ordered the night before. They even added a fruit plate and some fresh orange juice. We had danishes, rolls, croissants, milk, cereal, lox... we ate our australian breakfast on the porch to a stunning view....

I will write the next few days in brief, as there is not so much to write about, as the maldives is more about chilling out and not doing things....

- We had every supper at the beach restaurant, food was delicious and we sat right next to the waters edge. torches, sand and the sound of the waves
- We did one snorkeling trip, they took us by boat to a reef and we swam for about 45 minutes. We saw turtles, sharks and 100s of fish I cant even describe...worth every penny... I dont think diving would have been necessary, as the water is so clear and we could see all from the top. We were allowed to keep our snorkeling gear for our entire stay and used it quite often in the water in front of our villa
- Shabbes was the most relaxing ever, we ate our meals on the porch. friday night the hotel warmed it up for us, we took along Chale,kigel,gefilte fish and Thomy from home and with the catered food were not lacking anything. Shabbes lunch I could not ask the hotel to warm up any food, so we just had chale, gefilte fish and coldcuts with some ice cream for desert... I always wear a white shirt and dress pants on shabbes, no matter were I am, so the people gave us quite a look when we went for a walk after the meal
- We had a massage in the spa. It was not cheap, but quite the experience. It was in a overwater spa villa and you look down through a hole in the floor and see the fish swimming underneath and hear the waves. I slept most of it, it was so calm and relaxing :-)
- We had alot of drinks while there and the staff was great. They made us a new drink every time, made up cocktails, that were not even on the menu and really put so much effort into all. We spoke to them alot, they all had a story to tell, are away from their family for a long time to make a couple of 100 Dollars a month, but the honest smile and effort, wow. We have never seen such good service.


May 16, 2012, 11:21:58 AM
Re: maldives and dubai time passed very fast and the day before departure arrived. The hotel told us, that the seaplane would leave at 07:30, as our plane left male by 10:00. At least we would get to see a sunrise, as we never got up for one, way to early. We packed all the extra food for Dubai and tipped the staff...Our left over ice cream is probably still there- AJK go look for it! The hotel served us breakfast at 06:30, eating it on our porch with the most amazing sunrise, I could cry, that we had to leave. Our favorite waiter got up early after a late night, just to say goodbye to us, even through his shift only started at 11:00... They drove us with a boat out to a jetty in middle of the ocean, as they didnt want the seaplane to wake up the guests early in the morning. The ride was very smooth and we picked up some other people at 2 resorts. Check in in Male was very easy. emirates uses a contract lounge in male airport... The lounge was disgusting, toilets were worse them in Yeshive, really not a fun place to spend time.
We were only 10 people in business class and the kosher breakfast was very good. The seat was not much worse then first and good enough for a 4 hour flight to Dubai. On the plane they gave out a fast pass for immigration and we cleared it within a few minutes of landing... Emirates offers all business and first class passengers a limo ride, but as a Hyatt diamond staying in a suite the Hyatt did as well. I used the Hyatt driver, as he would know the way 100% There are 3 hyatts and we stayed at the grand hyatt. rate was about 130 dollars a night and I used a suite certificate to upgrade. A nice mercedes S Class took us to our hotel and check in was very easy and no hassle. Room was very nice, but after coming from the maldives i wasnt that easy impressed. nice size living and bedroom. I booked a desert safari for that night, as I read its a must do. Since my wife was pregnant at the time we had to skip the jeeping. The tour was quite costly and nothing special, we stopped at a desert camp for a hour, but as I didnt enjoy the belly dancing and could not have supper, it was quite boring... all in all a waste of time and money
The next day we got up early, checked out, gave our luggage for safe keeping and went to the mall of the emirates,.Its a big shopping center with a indoor skiing center. outside its about 100 and inside I went skiing by 25 degrees. The skiing incl gear (gloves, ski, boots, snowsuit) was 30 Dollars for 2 hours. They have 3 lifts, a mountain restaurant and did the place very nicely. As you can imagine the skiing wasnt amazing, but once I was there I had to try it. My wife went shopping during this time, so its perfect for sholem bayis, husband skiing, wife shopping. My wife found some shmonzes, they had a very big selection, but prices were not very cheap. We then took a cab to the Dubai Atlantis hotel at the end of the palm. They build the exact same one, as in the Bahams with a huge aquarium. They dont let any outside guests in the hotel, unless you are staying there, so we only took a quick tour of the aquarium, nice, but nothing special. After a hour, we took a cab to the Dubai mall. This mall is huge and has every brand name shop one can ask for, it also has a huge aquarium, a indoor ice skating ring and close to 1000 shops. I never walked so much in my life. Outside of the mall they have a water fountain show right next to the burj khalifa. We sat on a porch of a restaurant and had a drink while watching the show. it was nice, but not that impressive.... There is a pass in the mall, that takes you to the elevator for the viewing platform of the Burj
I booked online tickets to go up to the top of the Burj Khalifa, at a certain time. Thats really necessary, as when we went they didnt sell any tickets for that day anymore. Only special tickets for 100 dollars. The wait was about 15 minutes and we got there exactly for sundown, so we saw Dubai by day and night. The view was stunning, unreal what they build from all that oil money... By now it was quite late and we still had one major attraction left. The Burj al arab. This is the only 7 star hotel in the world and is supposed to be stunning. I didnt stay there, as the cheapest room was 1200 dollars. They dont let any outside guests into the hotel and a roadblock checks every car before entering. I reserved, weeks in advance, a table at the bar in 37 floor, like this we were able to get in (thats the only way). They just had a minimum spending of 35 dollars a person, not that bad. We walked around the hotel, before taking the elevator up and it was really nice. alot of gold, marble, very flashy. The bar was full of people and I had to wear a dress shirt to get in. We had some nice drinks and spent the next hour relaxing and observing the guests of the hotel. You could clearly see, this place was not for the "simple" people. We took a taxi back to the hyatt and picked up our luggage. The hyatt drove us to the airport and unfortunately we had to fly austrian airways back. Even 3 hours before departure Swiss or Lufthansa did not open any seats.
The flight with austrians Business was ok, nothing special. Beds did not go flat....

We had a amazing time, it was not cheap, but worth every penny. please feel free to ask, if you have any questions.

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but with AJK there right now, I knew I had to post before he does ;-)

I will try to post some pictures asap

May 16, 2012, 11:54:33 AM
Re: Sedona, AZ Since I started here I'll post it here. If anyone wants to I guess you can move it. If it's too long please let me know.

I'd been technically planning this trip for years as sort of a get away with a friend/ escape to nature from the daily grind and find myself a bit.
This would be my first semi-major trip somewhere without my wife since we got engaged.

I'd been thinking about Zion national park but when I broached the idea to my brother-in-law I said 'Phoenix' to give him a general idea of the vicinity and he booked his nonrefundable ticket so fast we were kind of stuck. I think it worked out well though because the weather in March is quite cold in Utah.

We decided to go the week after Purim, departing early on Sunday March 3 and arriving back early Wednesday morning taking the red eye the night before. We were coming from different places and meeting in PHX.

Sedona was his idea. Truthfully the name barely meant anything to me. I'd heard it floated around in the past and I barely researched it before going. I'm glad about that because I was in for a very nice surprise.

I booked my flight using UA points direct from JFK to PHX economy there and first for the return. I figured that I may be able to sleep a bit in  first and since I'd be going to work directly from the airport I needed as much sleep as I can get.

We met up in PHX and rented our car, declining to take the Ferrari that Hertz offered for $2000 a day and instead opting for the slightly more modest Mazda 6.

As a city Phoenix was totally unimpressive to me, at least the Jewish residential parts that I saw. The city is flat and extremely dry, although there is some beautiful mountain scenery surrounding the city. The homes are low and it seemed like there were gentlemen’s clubs everywhere.

We had brunch at Manhattan Pizza and Subs. It was totally empty on this Sunday morning and the tuna salad and pizza was surprisingly good.

We stopped at a friend’s house and strapped on our hiking shoes and camelbacks.
Our first stop was to hike Squaw peak (also known by it’s official name Piestewa Peak). The Summit Trail (elevation gain = 1,190 feet in 1.2 miles [thanks Wikipedia] ) is much harder than it looks, because as you reach the summit of each hill you can see another taller one behind it. In any case, I made it very close to the top before I came to the realization that drinking all that water might not have been a great idea. Up on the mountain there is absolutely no privacy. Everyone above you can see right down and the people below you can see right up. Apparently, there are rattlesnakes just off the path so that kind of limited my options. Anyway I scooted down and I can’t say I regretted that decision very much because I think I saw all there was to see: a big kind of dreary smog filled valley. I hope this doesn’t sound too negative; maybe it’s because it was a cloudy day. Mostly I recall the city being a grayish sandy color. One cool thing was the orange trees which were all over, and the huge saguaro cactus.

We had supper at our friends and then left to Sedona. The trip there is about 1 ½ hours and we got there well after sunset. The road in to Sedona is an official All American Highway and it’s easy to see why although I didn't get to see it until the next day. We had a room booked at the Amara Hotel and Spa which ended up costing $110/night on Priceline. I believe it was $300/night on the hotel website. Our stay there was great, I highly recommend it although be sure to get a room with a view. The rooms were beautiful and spotless although the bathroom looked a bit dated and the tub was tiny. They had a nice Starbucks spread around the coffee machine and that’s always nice. We observed hotel staff giving others the ‘timeshare schmooze’ but we didn't get one, Thank G-d.

Our hotel room windows looked out at snoopy rock (the lower formation).

The next morning I woke up and peeked out the window. Basically, nothing can really prepare you for this place in my opinion. Sedona is Gorgeous. All the pictures don’t do it a speck of justice (Well maybe some of mine do ;) ). Everywhere you look there are huge towering mesas of bright red rock. Bizarre formations with names like “Snoopy” (-actually looks like snoopy) “Bell Rock” “The courthouse”. At the bottom there is bright green vegetation but about halfway up the rock formations become sheer cliffs and the sun at different angles turns the rock into breathtaking, dazzling works of art. These ‘mountains’ are everywhere and the feeling that you get is like being on the surface of mars except with plants.   

Taken at the Information Center on the All American Highway.

You can clearly see the different layers in the mountains (technically mesas or buttes), some are light red, some dark red and some white. Every mesa has the stripes on the exact same level so it’s easy to see why the theory is that it used to be the bottom of a prehistoric ocean.
The city is very touristy and we avoided that whole aspect. It is built in a very clever way though, so if you are out hiking up one of the mesas the city blends in very well and can’t really be seen.

Bell Rock just behind Ace Hardware

My bro-in-Law had been to the Grand Canyon twice before and wasn’t really interested in going again. I had never been and figured if I came this far I’d better go see it. I drove up through Oak Creek Canyon, a stunning peaceful meandering drive up towards the GC. There was no cell coverage there but there were lots of bed and breakfasts. Coming out of the canyon it was a very direct trip up north and took me 2 ½ hours including bathroom/souvenir pit stops.   

On the road into Oak Creek Canyon

One thing about Arizona is the climate. I was lucky to get to the GC when it was about 50 degrees in mid-afternoon. But that was a warm day and there was still snow on the ground. The week before it had been colder there than in New Jersey while Phoenix was in the upper 70s. Inside the canyon it is over 20 degrees hotter than at the rim. The cold was the reason I almost didn’t go.

I am very hesitant to post my pictures of the Grand Canyon. (I think I’ll find the best online picture taken from where I stood. The pictures I took look a bit washed out from the bright sun.) For those who have been there, you know what I mean, and for those who haven’t, this is one situation where the picture seriously minimizes the sheer amazingness of the place. I’d seen pictures before I went and never felt very moved by them but seeing it in person was a very different experience.

You walk through a forest following the small crowd and then suddenly the floor disappears. My jaw dropped and if my brain was able to talk it would have said something like “AAAAAHHOOOOHHHHUUUUUNNHHH!!!” Anyway, that’s what the people around me said when they saw it. The canyon is over 6000 feet (over a mile) deep, up to 18 miles wide and 277 miles long. There is an utter silence that hangs over the entire canyon. You cannot see anything moving. No birds, animals, planes, nothing. Due to its depth and width you can see for miles and miles. I can’t think of anything else on earth that humans can observe with a perspective for its size.
What I thought was the whole thing just looks so fake! I would not have been surprised if someone had peeled the view away and it was just a picture on a screen.

View from Mather Point on the south rim. Photo Credit. Design and Creation Credit: HaShem

If you stare at one gap in the cliffs at the center, you can just make out a short stretch of the Colorado River a mile below. That’s approximately five times the height of the empire state observation deck.

The Colorado River. I took this one

After gawking for a bit more than an hour I decided it was time to go. I still had lots of stuff to do in Sedona and as they say “G-d created the Grand Canyon, but He lives in Sedona” a testimony on the beauty of Sedona. I’ll just say that the GC is something you must see in your life. I bet it’s just about the most amazing sight in the world and if you think I’m wrong you’ve probably never been there.

Along the way home I got a bit lost which I’m not complaining about because I got drive down a bit of historic Route 66, something I’d been hoping to do.

I made it back to Sedona, this time driving up the Red Rock Scenic Byway, picked up my BIL, and together we headed to hike up Cathedral Rock. If you do some research you’ll find out about the four ‘vortexes’ in Sedona that has people coming from all over to heal them or connect to nature or just to smoke pot. Sedona is very welcoming to pot heads and spiritual seekers. Anyway, Cathedral Rock is one of the four vortexes and we started the hike about an hour or so before sunset.

Cathedral Rock

Here are some views from up top:

You can see how the city blends into the scenery
The hiking there can get very steep and it’s worth investing in a quality pair of hiking shoes. At times the trail leads up vertical clefts in the rock and may not be recommended for those with a fear of heights or people who are out of shape.
At the top there are a few narrow ‘saddles’ that sit between the giant stone fingers and when you get to the top you can see the view from both sides. Here is the other side:

The Saddle looking towards the side we came up from.

Stone fingers

We davened mincha up there, and then went down and back to our hotel where we finished the day by eating a supper of shrink-wrapped turkey drumstick and prepared salads, and then soaked in the outdoor hot tub under the stars before going to bed.

The next day was to be our last in Arizona. We got up pretty early and headed out.

To be continued...

April 16, 2013, 01:47:28 AM
Re: Sedona, AZ Thanks everyone!

Ok, Part II :

Things got pretty interesting on our last day. 

We decided to hike up bell rock which if I recall correctly is considered to be the main vortex. One elderly gentleman we met on the trail explained it as follows:

The reason the rock is red is because of the 2% iron in the rock that oxidizes (i.e. rusts) when exposed to the elements. Since there is iron everywhere, people believe it creates an electromagnetic force and at the center it causes a vortex that has unusual properties and can heal people of their diseases and so on.

As you can see from this photo, the mesa is kind of shaped like a bell:


Where the sides slope up but at a certain point the cliff becomes sheer. We made it to the bottom of the cliff and were enjoying the amazing view:

Then we figured we'd start heading back down. That's when we met Mark. Mark had Lupus, a disease which he says totally went away when he came to Sedona. He says he is a prisoner in Sedona. He informed us that he'd be happy to take us to the top of bell rock and show us the view.

Apparently one side of the bell opens up  and instead of sheer cliffs there is slightly less sheer cliffs. It looked terrifying to me, there was absolutely nothing to hold onto for much of the way requiring one to balance on a steep sloping cliff. If you slipped it was a long roll/fall down with nothing to break the fall. Death would probably result.

But Mark insisted that he was there to help. He knows the place like the back of his hand. Seriously he showed us every handhold and foothold. At one point he told us to walk past a huge beehive halfway up the cliff. "Don't swat the bees. If one stings you they'll all come after you." I don't know how I did it because I. hate. bees.

The crevice and path to the top

Well, Mark guided us right to the top where there are a bunch of  platforms to climb onto. My legs were shaking and my knees felt weak. We had no climbing gear and I had never rock climbed before. If one handhold in the rock had broken off in my hand or my foot slipped I don't think I'd be here to write this report. The rock there is sandstone and it  can crumble in your hand.

Halfway up

The top is not flat. It consists of a bunch of different size platforms with crevices everywhere and higher platforms to climb. To get to one area of the top you need to take a 'leap of faith' to jump from one platform to the other. Do it right because it's a long fall. On the platform is a metal box screwed to the rock with pens and notebooks for people to leave their thoughts.

Top of the Rock

raised platform on one side. One slip and hundreds of feet of free fall. Also note the white rock at the top and the white layer of rock in the mesas in the distance. Same height.

By the way there is no way to get to the very pinnacle of bell rock which is a platform that's raised high in the center of the top.

The views from the top were incredible although a bit hard to appreciate with my stomach churning and unable to stop thinking about the trip down. On the way up I had watched a girl who was going down slip and be caught in the nick of time by the guy she was with. 

Going down was easier in a way but also scarier because you have to walk down a steep slope with nothing to hold onto. You absolutely need really good grippy hiking shoes for this although some crackpot was doing it barefoot.

Going down - Mark is the one with the cowboy hat

On our way down we came to smooth drop in the stone that was almost vertical and about twenty feet high. Mark told us to straighten one leg and squat on the other one and just slide down the rock using the heel of our squatting foot to slow the fall. This is making me queasy just remembering it. I remember sliding down the rock and wondering what would happen if my heel lost its grip for a moment. There was absolutely nothing to grab onto except smooth red rock.

I thought Mark might ask for money for taking us to the top but he didn't and really protested when I offered him $20. I made him take it partly because I really appreciated what a great comforting guide he was and partly because I was so happy to be alive. Right before we took leave of him, we bumped into a group of young girls and Mark happily volunteered to take them to the top.

At this point we decided that we had 'done' Sedona and it was time to leave   We stopped at a supermarket to grab some food for the drive back to Phoenix and got in the car to leave.

A word about Sedona's supermarkets. They are gorgeous and there is of course plenty of food that even a Cholov Yisroelnik like me could eat. You just have to keep an open mind. Fruit, vegetables, naked smoothie drinks, chips, bagels etc. they even had a nice section of Hertzog wines. Sedona is an expensive place to live and the stores represent that.

Our next stop was to see Montezuma's Castle National Monument. This is a tiny park where you can see the adobe style apartment building built into the cliff about 1000 years ago. This is impressive until you realize that 2400 years ago they were building the second Temple in Jerusalem and the Colosseum in Rome.

Montezuma's Castle - you cannot go up there

The park may be small but it is very well maintained and beautiful with white beech trees (I think) all over and a river nearby. The fee is $5 for adults.

When I went to the grand canyon the lady selling me my ticket ($25 and included parking) asked if i was planning on visiting any other national parks. I said no but I'm pretty sure if I had said yes I could have gotten a pass and visited this park for free. Oh well, you live and learn. Both park tickets are valid for 7 days.

Montezuma's Castle is located on an Indian reservation - I think Navajo. The reservation was weird and looked very run down and littered (The park itself was spotless). There was a small kitschy casino nearby. Apparently the only person who benefits from these casinos is the chief. The others remain just as hopelessly poor. From what I understand, American Indians are just about the most dysfunctional groups of people in the U.S. with lots of domestic abuse, alcoholism and general uselessness.

We left the park after a short while. The drive back to Phoenix was uneventful and beautiful. The road to Phoenix slopes down and when you get to about 3500 feet above sea level the cacti appear suddenly. They are very big and tall and are everywhere.

Saguaro Cacti

Phoenix city is the sixth largest city in America which is pretty astounding to me because I got the feeling (from my few hours there) that if I ever needed to run away from the law it would be the perfect place to hide. Dusty dreary and bleak just like the old desert towns that you read about. I expected to see a sheriff or two on horseback.

Apparently Phoenix was hit really hard in 2008 and it shows. When driving from the inside out you come to a point where the communities of beautiful homes are just blacked out. No lights and no activity. And they stretch for miles and miles like some kind of high tech ghost town. Driving past them was very depressing . Tens of thousands of brand new homes just sitting there vacant. Modern glass office buildings, empty, with torn 'Space Available' signs dangling listlessly over the side.

After stopping at CVS to pick up some vanilla reload cards, we showered at our friends and headed for the airport. My seat in first (1A) while comfortable did not allow me to sleep one iota better than in economy. I don't know how others do it, they plop into their seat, put on an eye mask and just fall asleep until the plane lands. It takes me 45 minutes to find a comfortable position at which time I'm just beginning to realize I need to pee. Oh well, that's life.

Overall this trip was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.

Here are two pictures I took with my iPhone's Panarama feature:

View from Cathedral Rock

The Grand Canyon

Here are some things I learned:

1. No need to go crazy with kosher food. If you are traveling in the U.S. there is no need to base an itinerary off the local kosher restaurant situation. Buy almond milk and cereal, fruits and veggies. Also granola bars, tuna fish and mayo, fruit smoothies... there is a ton you can eat and if you eat choliv stam you are home free. No need to worry about packing vacuum sealed cholent and kishka.

2. Fancy things are not needed for a good trip. While our hotel was nice, we spent very little time there, rented a basic car and ate plain food from local supermarkets. I've got nothing against eating in nice restaurants and renting luxury cars but when it comes right down to it they aren't needed to have a great time.

3. Vacations in America are easier. People speak the language and you don't need to worry about foreign exchange fees. People drive on the same side of the road too. And of course the culture is the best in the world.

4. People are really nice out west - true story.

5. Every mountain has it's 'Mark'. Mark was awesome.

6. There are amazing places right here in America. Really, there are so many places just in Arizona that I didn't get to see:

•   Slot canyons
•   Coyote Buttes - you need to win a park lottery three months in advance to see this place.
•   Actually going into the GC
•   Painted desert
•   Saguaro National Park
•   Petrified Forest
•   San Francisco volcanic valley
•   Lake Powell
•   Canyon de Chelly
•   List goes on and on... Right into Utah!

Amazingly I found this video on YouTube by a guy who went up with Mark. In it he takes the 'Leap of Faith'!

Hope you enjoyed reading. Until next time, my upcoming trip to Alaska for a week in July..

April 17, 2013, 12:21:27 PM
Re: Alaska Master Thread 1. You aren't going to drive from Seward to Denali and see anything in one day. The drive is very far.

2. In Seward: Do a fishing charter during the silver salmon derby. But, make sure you verify that the fish are still in schools and haven't broken up to start running yet, or you won't catch nothing and should be by the river heads on the shore instead. (half day fishing is like 150 pp)

3. I fee like the glacier cruises in that area mostly leave from Whittier, which is like a decent drive from Seward. There may be some from Seward also, I dunno. A decent glacier cruise will run you like 100 pp also.

4. Hiking near Seward. A cannot miss is the Exit Glacier hike. Pretty strenuous up to the top, but the views of the Harding Ice Field are amazing, and you can walk right up to (onto?) it. Bring a sweatshirt in your backpack on the way up even if its 100 degrees because it is cooooold up by the icefield.

5. Don't forget to include for the RV docking fees at the campgrounds you'll be docking at. I don't know anything about RV's. But, I do know there is a really great campgrounds on the road by the Exit Glacier (10 min out of Seward) which IIRC is free for tenters, and  a moose walked right though the night I stayed there.

6. There is a guy who makes hand made knives on the road down to Seward. His shop is called IRBI. He's cool, stop by and shmooze with him.

I have lots more info about the area, but my trip (3 yeshiva guys) was probly a bit different than what you want to do.

May 05, 2013, 01:24:22 AM
Re: Alaska Master Thread Alaska trip report, Disclaimer I did this 3 years ago so trying my best to get it right.

I planned this whole trip with my wife pretty last minute but it ended up working out really nicely.

We landed in the evening in Anchorage and rented a jeep from a local guy so that we could drive the Denali highway which you can't do without a jeep. We payed about 900 for 2 weeks. We spent the night in Anchorage. The next day we drove to Whittier and did a nice cruise of the Price William sound. We saw many glaciers and a few sea otters. Was really cold as Alaska can be when you are on the water so bring rain gear etc. We loved driving thru the tunnel and found the town small but quaint. We then drove to Seward.

The next day we drove to Homer AK to catch a float plane to some remote national park to see Grizzly bears catch fish. Was really cool taking off and landing from the water. We paid 300 per person which is why we did it out of Homer which was a 2 hour drive away. From the touristy areas they start at 600 pp. Was the coolest part of our trip. We saw many many grizziles swimming in the water all around us (some were less the 5 feet away!). A few of them had cubs and it was really something you gotta do one day. You can see the salmon swimming in the water, and when they get caught the bears just gobble them up!

The next day we did a 9 hour tour of Kenai Fjords. It was a Friday but we got back at 5 and Shabbos wasn't until 10 so that was not an issue. We saw humpback whales, killer whales and a lot of other wild animals as well. We saw glaciers and the coolest scenery and it was well worth it. Make sure to take something for the rough seas, the ships sell them and if you take before you leave you wil be fine.

Shabbos we walked around Seward and played games till Shabbos was over at around midnight!! We stayed right by the water so we got to watch the bald eagles and otters hang out right near where we were staying.

Sunday we drove up to Talkeetna, stopping many times along the 4 hour drive. we then checked into out log cabin deep in the woods. We did a small hike and just walked around town a bit. The town has a real charm. The next day we did a flight over Denali which was super cool and did another nice hike. Note that we had bear spray as the area has many bears. A few hikers were mauled the next year in Talkeetna so go prepared.

Tuesday we drove to Denali and did another hike near the cabin we had rented. The scenery was out of this world and even just the drive up to Denali was for the books. Our cabin had a balcony overlooking a huge river and was right next to the park.  Wednesdat we did the Kantishna bus into Denali park. It was very cool however we found it to be a bit long. There was a lot of animals but they were all far from the road and we were spoiled from our bear viewing experience so we were not as impressed. The mountains were really cool but seeing Denali from the flight was a lot cooler. It's still worth going into the park just to experience the vastness of the area.

Thursday we drove across the Denali highway to the Copper river princess lodge . The drive was on this rugged highway which you can only do with a jeep. Took a couple of hours but was from the more scenic drives in AK. As you can imagine there werent to many other cars out on the road. Friday we drove on a dirt road thru Wrangell-St. Elias national park. We only went in about 35 miles which is as far as you can go, but the drive was over 2 hours. Hard to describe how amazing it was. The park has the largest concentration of high peaks anywhere in North America and you see them along the whole drive. Pretty scary driving but was worth every minute of it. The whole area has less tourists but it's still on the tourist route so you don't feel like you are out of it.

Shabbos was very relaxing in the wilderness lodge. There is a huge sitting area in the back overlooking this huge valley and perfect mountain range in the background. The lodge caters mostly to cruise passengers so it's really nice. We booked our room through princess cruises.

Sunday we drove to Valdez to watch the ships and see the bay which was really pleasant. The drive from Copper River to Valdez has these huge mountain passes which was one of the reasons we did it. Valdez itself was also just a fun place to walk around. We then drove about 6 hours to Anchorage, stopping many times along the way. We went hiking on a glacier which was really cool. IIRC that night we flew back home.

We did many more small things while we were there, mainly stops along the way that caught our eye. We also tried finding Sara Palin in Wasilla (that was when she was still big) but we couldn't find her.

May 12, 2013, 01:47:40 AM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague Thursday morning we took a taxi to the Prague Castle, the biggest ancient castle in the world according to Guinness World Records. We opted to buy tickets for the “short visit” which included entry to the following locations: St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica, Golden Lane. As you can see, 2 of the 4 locations are churches which I don’t enter. The audioguide was also extremely expensive so I figured I’d make do with the signposts. In the end that was a mistake as I didn’t get the proper experience at the Old Royal Palace.

There is a changing of the guard on the hour, but the one at 12 noon has the full fanfare and flag ceremony which I attended. Some might say it’s a bit too drawn out.

August 11, 2013, 04:50:13 AM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague After the changing of the guard, we went to the Golden Lane, included on the ticket. The Golden Lane is a 15th century street with quaint little houses that at one time housed the sharpshooters of the palace. Today, they house reproductions of the old world style of living as well as the very interesting medieval armory displaying suits of armor and weaponry throughout the ages.

Torture chamber

Gun knife hybrid

August 11, 2013, 04:50:46 AM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague We then strolled down towards the old town, crossing the famous Charles Bridge, dating from the 14th century. I personally didn’t like much of the artwork for sale on the bridge, but as others have pointed out, haggling is possible should you be interested. Coming from the palace, the third to last statue on the left side is the infamous kadosh kadosh cross, paid for by a Jew in 1696 for allegedly “blaspheming” the cross.

We then bought tickets to the Altneuschul and toured it. (Entrance to the Alteneuschul is not included on the Jewish Museum ticket although you can buy it at the same time for a small discount.) As I stated previously, I have a great Jewish guidebook on Prague and we spent some time in the Alteneuschul analyzing the details. After all, it is the oldest continually used synagogue in all of Europe, built in 1270. While no photography is allowed inside, as long as you keep you flash off, you should be fine. Alternatively, you can come for mincha/maariv for free, and can take as many photos as you’d like. Just make sure to come a little early, as during prayer times there’s a guard who asks more questions than security at TLV.

Place of the Maharal, and to the left, the Noda Beyehuda

Attic of the Altneuschul, what lurks within???

August 11, 2013, 04:51:44 AM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague Adjacent to the Altneuschul is the Jewish Town Hall from 1560. On the side of that building is an interesting clock with the Alef Bais instead of numbers, and runs counterclockwise.

"design" on the facade of a building. Magen david associated with stacks of coins....

We then went to Dinitz for dinner which was enjoyable. TIP: After you exit the old cemetery, there are stalls on the right side selling all sorts of knickknacks. One of the ones closer to the cemetery sells pocket mirrors. That stall also has 10% off coupons to Dinitz if paying cash. As the credit card machine wasn’t working anyways when we were there, it was great to have the coupon.

August 11, 2013, 04:53:05 AM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague Friday morning, we took a taxi to the old cemetery of Zizkov (near the TV tower) to visit the the kevarim of the Noda Beyehuda and R’ Eliezer Flaklas, the Teshuva Meahavah. My original research led me to believe that the cemetery is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I subsequently learned that it’s open on Mondays and Wednesdays between 11am and 3pm, and on Friday between 9am and 1pm.

Noda Beyehuda

We then took a taxi to the Stefanikuv Bridge where we picked up a Vltava River cruise. We went on the 1pm English cruise offered by Premient Tours, one of the better tour operators. They also offer hotel pickup IIRC.

August 11, 2013, 03:36:13 PM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague We then walked to the old town square to watch the ‘glockenspiel’ spectacle which occurs on the hour from 8am to 8pm on the old town clock. When the clock strikes the hour, a kind of politically incorrect medieval morality play begins. Two doors slide open and the statues of the Twelve Apostles glide by, while the 15th-century conception of the "evils" of life -- a Death skeleton, a preening Vanity, a corrupt Turk, and an acquisitive Jew -- shake and dance below. At the end of World War II, the horns and beard were removed from the moneybag-holding Jew, who's now politely referred to as Greed. I found it to be far less entertaining than the glockenspiel in Munich.

It's worth climbing the Old Town Hall's tower for an excellent view over the red rooftops of Staromestské námestí and the surrounding area. But be warned: The steps are narrow, steep, and quite physically demanding, so the less courageous should take the elevator, which we did.

August 11, 2013, 03:37:31 PM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague We then walked to the New Town Hall, a few minute walk away at Marianske Namesti 2, to see the statue of the Maharal and Golem installed in 1912.



We then checked out of the Sheraton and checked in to the Hilton Old Town for a number of different reasons, but primarily due to the fact that it was way closer to the Jewish area thus less walking on Shabbos. As a Gold member with Hilton we were upgraded to a junior suite.

August 11, 2013, 03:38:30 PM
Re: “Light” Trip to Vienna & Prague With a half day left in Prague, we took a taxi up to Petrin Hill and the Petrin Observation Tower there (the Czech Eiffel Tower), for amazing views over Prague. There are also gardens and a nice mirror maze the kids enjoyed. There’s also an observatory up there, but during the daytime only sunspots can be viewed so we skipped it.

"The Czech Eiffel Tower"

Vltava River

Charles Bridge

Prague Castle

We took the funicular down the hill and walked along the river, over the Charles Bridge and to the Old Town Square, where we relaxed and had some local beer in one of the many seating areas. As I was finally out of excuses, I reluctantly “ponied” up (pardon the pun) the 800 CZK for a horse and buggy ride around the Josefov area that my kids had been asking for the whole time.


We then ate dinner at Dinitz, checked out of the hotel, went to the airport with the Israir supplied van, submitted our VAT refund receipts and checked in for our respective flights to TLV. (To my delight, Israir reserved us in Business Class. Although it was only coach seats with an empty middle, it proved to be invaluable as my kids were able to lay out and sleep the whole flight)

And that’s how we did a “light” one week trip to Europe 3 weeks after having a baby. THE END!!

August 12, 2013, 05:49:19 PM
Re: Alaska Master Thread Hi Everyone,

I wrote up a nice trip report but first:

There wasn't a ton of info on Alaska in this forum when SomethingFishy and I started planning our trips so I took some time to write up some technical notes about my trip. These are for people who want to or are planning to go to Alaska. I hope they help and feel free to ask me about things I may have missed. For the trip report, just skip the intro.

A very important note about the cost of this trip:

Soon after deciding on Alaska as a destination, we discovered one relevant factoid: Alaska is a VERY expensive trip to make. The airfare is (or can be) expensive, the hotels are expensive, the food is expensive, the rental cars are VERY expensive, the activities are expensive. Since places are very spread out the cost of gas (which is expensive) can quickly add up.

However, I had booked tickets a year ago during which I did my best to cut costs wherever possible. Here is what the different things ended up costing me:

$880 for two tickets - PHL-SEA-ANC via the icelandair/Alaska air deal.

35,000 SPG points for six nights at the Sheraton Anchorage. This would have cost us $

$400 for a one week car rental (Toyota Highlander) at Avis. I played around with the Avis website a lot and the cheapest was picking up the car in downtown Anchorage and then dropping it off at the airport.

$130 for a room at the Hotel Seward -

$110 for a room at the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel  --

For activities, DDFer SomethingFishy and I split the Toursaver coupon book ($99 I used two coupons.

$50 for the Toursaver coupon book.

$150 for a buy one get one free Prince William Sound cruise

$300 for a buy one get one free Summit Tour of Mt. McKinley from talkeetna aero services ( (reg $600 for 2).

$258 for ice climbing on the Matanuska glacier for two with MICA guides

app. $90 for two seats on the 11 hour Wonder Lake bus into Denali National Park.

  --- We saved $400 using the toursaver coupon book. ---

App $300 for gas - though I think it was even more.

$150 for night and day meals for two at the Chabad in Anchorage -

Plus some money for random drinks/food/souvenirs/clothes/supplies and gear for the trip.

Total about $2,800 plus 35,000 points. Wow. Writing it up now, it just seems like a ton of money. And we tried to be frugal. The part that made it easier was buying the airfare a year in advance.

My wife and I love travelling and we trade off a lot of other things to be able to support it. I guess some couples might feel lost without a nice bedroom set, but we'd rather spend the money exploring the world.

A note about food:

The idea of bringing la-briut meals sounded less than tempting so instead my wife made several meat meals, and froze them together with their side dishes. We brought along a stick free pan and a single burner. This meant that after a long day we could come back to our room and cook up a hot homemade meat dinner. It was amazing although making sure that the food stayed frozen was an effort. She also made a big bag of homemade granola which we ate as cereal with almond milk that we purchased there. Of course the huge beautiful Safeway/Carrs supermarkets in Alaska with plenty of kosher food meant that we would never go very hungry.

A note about the pictures:

A few months ago, per SomethingFishy's recommendation, I purchased a Panasonic Lumix GX-1 along with an 14-45 wide angle lens. I almost went with just that but thankfully, in the end I rented a 45-200 zoom lens from for $44. I was very happy with their service. My only regret is not ordering an even longer lens. I really needed the zoom lens, I wouldn't have gotten all my most amazing pictures without it.

A note for people going to Alaska and considering going by cruise ship:

I had a conversation with a woman recently, who had gone on a cruise to Alaska and she felt being on the cruise she had missed out on the best parts. I didn't take the cruise so I can't compare, but let's just say that I don't feel the way she did. Perhaps the only thing I regret about going was coming back  :D

If you decide to go to Alaska, think very long and hard about taking this once in a lifetime trip stuck on a floating carnival casino with a bunch of city slickers. The boat will take you on shore to the same tourist traps that exist in every touristy destination in the world. The real Alaska is beyond the shores in the rugged wilderness far outside the bubble of a floating hotel. So grab that mothballed backpack from deep in your coat closet, shake it out and strap it on. Alaska awaits.

I did it, and so can you.

And now...

August 15, 2013, 12:58:01 AM
Re: Alaska Master Thread Some Motzai Shabbos reading:

Part one

Imagine driving down an empty smooth two lane highway winding through towering mountain ranges in mid-summer. The mountain peaks appear in every shape and size (except small) some covered in the greenest rain-forest, some bare exposed granite and some crested with glistening white snow. The road dips and turns and going downhill the mountains are suddenly so high you cannot see the peak.

The windows are wide open and the great crisp outdoors is pouring into the car. The temperature blends perfectly with the spotted sunshine to drench you with a cocktail of absolutely perfect weather.

It is 10:30 PM.

Although it is peak tourist season, the highway is blissfully empty aside from the occasional RV chugging along. Lining the road is an endless parade of patches and clumps of tall purple flowers, bright fireweed laying out a royal welcome mat in a vivid display of color.

The occasional moose traipses across the road in search of some greener grass.

As the road dips down, you drive along wide rushing braided rivers, heavy with melting mountain snowfall and glacier ice. Looking high up, you can see dozens of rivulets run down the side of green mountains meeting together at the bottom in a rushing waterfall right at the side of the road, so close you can practically reach out the window and dip your hands into it's crystalline waters.

Every few miles a creative and unique display of mailboxes belies the seeming emptiness as it indicates the hidden presence of some collection of homes. Homes that vie with each other for the claim of living in front of the most incredible views mankind has ever been privileged to contemplate.

The road meanders through small towns and patches of homes. Every home is unique, appearing to have been lovingly handmade by some backpacking adventure seeker who accidentally stumbled into Alaska and suddenly knew they were never going back home.

Suddenly you crest a hill and floating in the distance appears a shimmering white mountain. Enormous, it appears to hover in the haze, bigger than any tourist guide could have prepared you for. It looks down seeming to mock every mountain you thought was huge until now. Every turn you make, it floats into view towering above the clouds so high you're not sure where the mountain ends and the bright sky begins.

It's now 2:00 AM and it's finally dark. Well, only if you're facing southeast. Turn around and you can see the eternal twilight of the midnight sun. The horizon is sprayed with orange light and half the sky is a dim light-blue color. It will stay that way for a couple of hours and then the sun will rise again for an incredible 19 hours of bright sunlight.

This is Alaska as I, along with my wife, discovered it, this past July.

We scored tickets with this deal: on Alaskan Airlines a year ago and settled a short while later on the PHL to ANC via SEA redemption with the two long flights (between Philly and Seattle) in first class and the short ones (ANC - SEA) in economy). Alaska Airlines does not offer any kind of specialty meals. Instead they offer many different courses so that there will be something for everyone. Not very helpful at all. The tickets ultimately (after a surprise $75 per ticket booking fee) costed about $440 per person round trip. Not a bad redemption when you consider that economy tickets seem to go for about $650 from the little research I did.

I actually started off the flight a bit depressed. I had spent the entire previous year researching Alaska and I thought to myself that was a bit of a shame since I felt I already knew Alaska and there would be no surprises or adventure. I had already 'seen' all the places. Boy was I ever wrong. NOTHING could have prepared me.

The flights went smoothly. We took off at 10:30PM from SEA in darkness heading north and 20 minutes later I could see a small band of blue light on the horizon. It got brighter and brighter as we approached Anchorage until when we landed at 1:30 AM the horizon was streaked with the orange/red dusk of the midnight sun. Before we landed I could clearly see the black silhouette of Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America at a stupendous 20,000 feet or 17 times the height of the Empire State Building, framed against the red sky, 145 miles to the north. Beneath us, a maze of white capped mountains, ice fields, and glaciers spread out into the distance in a tangle of rock and ice.

We landed and hailed a cab to the Sheraton hotel in downtown Anchorage, the only SPG property in Alaska. There are no Hyatts in Alaska. There are quite a few Best Westerns, though. I stepped into the one in Seward to buy a drink and it was easy to see why prices were over $300 per night. IHG has some hotels in Alaska as well.

The cab driver was friendly and told us which bars to go to for the best seafood. We listened politely. He also informed us that practically everyone in the city spent the winter months smoking marijuana. The fare cost about $20.

We used SPG points at the Sheraton, 6 nights at 7000 points each minus 7000 for the 'fifth night free' promotion. The room was clean and nice although it seemed unable to hide its age with a bathroom that looked a bit dated. I would definitely recommend it. The staff was very helpful regarding helping us get into our room on Shabbos. I bet they don't get too many religious Jewish people staying there.

The next morning we made our way to the Avis three blocks away. They were super helpful. Our biggest expense in Alaska other than the flights, we rented a Toyota Highlander. They definitely don't allow any driving off road though, so the usefulness of renting a four wheel drive is very debatable. Gas prices were approximately $4.

We packed up and headed south to the tiny town of Whittier. An hour twenty from Anchorage, this town wasn't always accessible by car. That only happened as recently as 2000 when the DoT turned the train tunnel into a shared one lane highway/ railroad. Cars have to line up for a once per hour chance to drive through. It is the second longest Highway tunnel in N. America at 2.6 miles long.

The drive south of Anchorage is a destination itself. The Seward highway has the highest scenic designation in the U.S. It is an All American Road and it easily lives up to that. The drive is stunning. Green and granite mountains on either side and a bay in the center, you can see glaciers nestled between the peaks and waterfalls everywhere. Every turn demands a photograph but there isn't a single picture that can do it justice.

Whittier is tiny, a former military base, but we didn't get much time to explore because we had to catch our day cruise, a five hour tour of stunning Prince William Sound to Surprise glacier by Major Marine tours.

Town of Whittier

The tour was narrated by an elderly, very entertaining Alaska forest ranger. Every time some wildlife was spotted the boat stopped for people to take photos. It was quite cold on the upper outside deck - although it was warm on land there was a need for thick sweaters especially near the ice fields and glaciers.

Wildlife included sea lions, stellar sea lions, sea otters, a huge salmon hatchery which consists of a bunch of small boats and fisherman reeling humongous nets full of fish and handing it over to the mother boat for processing Also, an enormous and incredibly loud rookery with thousands of squawking sea birds and their young hungry ones. And eagles. We cannot forget the eagles. We didn't see any whales though.

The final destination was the enormous tidewater glacier, Surprise glacier. As you get closer, the water begins to fill with ice floes and small icebergs. If you are lucky you will see huge house sized chunks of ice plummet into the water with an accompanying Boom like a crack of thunder. This is the epitome of the trip for many people but we only got to see a bit of that from a distance.

Sea Lions

Surprise Glacier

Sea Otters

Ridiculously loud bird Rookery

Feed us Mommy!

Sunglasses are a must almost everywhere in Alaska and the many hours of sunlight is another reason to get a good pair.

After the cruise we headed to the tunnel and after waiting ten minutes to be let in, we headed south to Seward. Once again, the drive was stunning, this time turning away from the water and heading through the mountain ranges.

One interesting thing is that everywhere we went, the road signs were riddled with bullets. i guess there isn't a lot to do during the long winter months, or maybe they just hunt moose and have horrible aim. ::)

The drive is about two hours long and all the way we passed small homes that looked as though they'd been hand built by nature lovers and mountain hermits. We arrived at the coastal town of Seward at about nine o'clock pm, or as it's known there, 'mid-afternoon'.

We checked into the Hotel Seward, a very interesting hotel with prices that were certainly not commensurate with what we got. We paid $130 on for a tiny room with two shared bathrooms down the hallway. The bathrooms were neat and clean but the room was insufferably hot since the day was warm and the room lacked any air conditioning. One saving grace was that the room had a sink and a fan, but I barely got any sleep because of the heat, the first of many sleepless nights to come.

The hotel itself has a really fascinating lobby, filled with stuffed animals, Alaskan tchotchkes, and paintings and maps. I would have hung out there longer but the coldly polite staff made us feel less than welcome. I'd give them one star for being in a nice location and having a cool lobby. I could see being happy though, if they lowered the price a bit.

I got up around seven on Friday morning and threw on some clothes and a camera. It was a one block walk to the bay. It still felt like pre-dawn, the town was empty and fog hung everywhere, rolling down the mountains and hovering over the bay. There were seagulls flying overhead though, and some early riser fishing boats were heading out to open waters through the bay.

Early morning fog hangs over the Seward bay

There were also ravens wandering the streets, making a racket and that's where I got this shot, one of my favorites from the trip:

We had planned on leaving Seward early and going to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood which is about halfway back to Anchorage, but the town was so beautiful that we just stayed and wandered the streets making our way downtown where a giant cruise ship had docked and it's passengers were browsing the tourist traps downtown. Going into the Safeway supermarket there, I heard a little girl behind me say "Look, Mommy, there are Jews in Alaska!" (Why doesn't my baseball cap ever work? :-[ Kidding... I assured them that I wasn't a local.

With all the activities we did, I think my wife and I agree that our favorite place was Seward. Peaceful, calm and surrounded by outrageously beautiful scenery, I feel like I could have stayed there for a month and not notice the time go by.

Tall Purple Fireweed

Fog is gone from the Seward Bay


Hotel Seward

However, at about 4:00pm we reluctantly left and headed north to Anchorage. Although Shkiyah in ANC was around 11:30pm, there was only one community there and that meant we were subject to the time they brought in Shabbos and that was at 9:15. Besides, we had made reservations to eat both meals with the Greenberg family. Rabbi Greenberg is the local Chabad Shliyach and the secretary had called to inform me that I was completing the minyan for Maariv.

The drive back was, once again stunning and the road was quite empty although we could see the opposite lane full of RVs as they headed out for the weekend.

We got back to Anchorage about an hour before Shabbos, checked into the Sheraton and explained that we'd be needing help getting into our rooms on Shabbos. They were very accommodating and I'd bet they don't get too many orthodox Jewish people staying there for Shabbos. Then a Shabbos miracle happened and it seems their automatic doors broke just for Shabbos and they had to be kept open the entire day. Thank you Hashem for that, because there were no service doors available to use.

We drove to the Greenberg's home and davened there, followed by a delicious Homemade Shabbos meal. There were lots of interesting people from all over who joined us there. Most of them had booked hotel rooms nearby but the Sheraton was just under an hours walk. We walked through the city at 1:00am uneventfully, a walk made easier by the midnight sun which meant that even at that hour, the sky was stuck in a permanent state of post sunset.

Shabbos morning it was raining but we made the wet trek (an hour fifteen) to the beautiful new Chabad center. Shachris was followed by a boisterous meal in which a day camp from Michigan joined us. We slowly wandered back to our hotel taking a very long detour through the city and a peaceful park. By now the sun had come out and was high in the sky by the time we made it back to the hotel at 7:00pm. We went to sleep, waking up after 12:00am and around 1:20am we walked back to the Greenberg's home to hear havdalah and pick up our car. Then we went back to the hotel to sleep.

About the midnight sun: I didn't understand what the 'midnight sun' was exactly, before the trip. Basically the sun moves extremely slowly, dipping over the horizon at 11:30 for a few hours before coming back up. It slowly gets darker until the night peaks at about 2:00 am (when we were there). It never goes too far down though, so throughout the short night there is an eternal twilight on the horizon. I guess it can get pretty dark if it's cloudy or if you are facing the opposite direction.

Taken at 2:50 AM:

Now, although it may not sound overly impressive, it was VERY weird to experience it. I can't really explain it, but maybe it's like a never ending jet-lag. I kept marveling every time I looked around late at night and the horizon was well lit. Also, the long daylight hours trick your brain to think it is mid afternoon at 9:00pm so that although your body may be exhausted, your brain thinks it's supposed to be wide awake. This slowly caught up with us until by the end of the trip we had gotten barely any sleep and were both utterly exhausted.

To be continued...




P.S. A word about the state:

Alaska is not 'like the rest of the U.S. just with mountains'. It is very different, exotic even. Everything is different; the trees, the plants, even the weeds. Certainly the scenery everywhere is breathtaking. The Kenai peninsula, (where Seward is), is an actual rain-forest.

Along with glaciers and waterfalls everywhere and the fact that barely anyone lives there (the population of Alaska, an area twice the size of Texas is less than 3% of the NY metro area) the sense I got was that I was truly in another world, the last great wilderness.

Thus, I think it is a mistake to leave the U.S. looking for exotic locations internationally when you have a wonderland like this in your own backyard. Well - maybe your backyard's backyard.

August 17, 2013, 10:02:48 PM
Re: Alaska Master Thread Here is part two. It's shorter than part one because I've decided to let the pictures do most of the talking.


On Sunday morning we headed out into the last frontier. We passed through Wasilla (Hi Sarah Palin) our destination was the tiny town of Talkeetna, whose mayor is a cat named Stubbs. We were booked on the Summit flight with Talkeetna Aero, an excellent company which provides flights around and on Mt. Mckinley.

About 1/3 of the visitors to this part of the state get to see the Summit of Mt. McKinley because the mountain creates its own weather patterns and that is usually clouds. B”H we were blessed with clear skies.

At about halfway to Talkeetna we crested a hill and suddenly there it was. The mountain loomed over everything. Enormous, you could barely make out where it ended and the sky began. It was definitely a sight to see. Roughly the height of 15 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other, I’ve never seen anything that tall in my life.

Mountains on top of mountains

By the way, bugs are everywhere in Alaska. Here is our very own bug cemetery - and this is with cleaning several times. I guess you never know what you are going to find because I found three chips in the windshield that I'm pretty sure I didn't cause. Thank G-d they didn't charge me for it.

The highway north from Anchorage is a two lane highway and with no warning at all, traffic was completely halted for road construction about an hour from our destination. We sat there for a half hour and were definitely going to miss the flight. So I called Talkeetna Aero and they were absolutely amazing. They immediately reserved the last two seats on the next flight and even offered to put us on a different style flight with a glacier landing instead of the summit flyover.


We opted for the summit flight and took off with our pilot Charlie in a tiny, cramped oxygen equipped, ten seat prop plane. I immediately felt sick although my wife had a great time. We strapped on flimsy oxygen masks at 12,000 ft and headed up to around 23,000 ft with the enormous mountain surrounded by glaciers, smaller peaks and canyons below. The mountains are all in a relatively small area so it is somewhat shocking to take off on a flat plain and be in the midst of an enormous mountain range 20 minutes later.

Mt mcKinley up close and personal:

Look close and you can see a plane on the glacier. We opted out of that tour.

This is the enormous Ruth Glacier. It actually has a forest growing on it.

The pilot was very informative but one story stood out. Apparently one climber made it to the top, chucked his backpack over the mountain face and skied straight down. Looking at the sheer cliff rising through the mists, the absolute insanity of doing that boggles the mind. However, he did survive and it’s a feat that's never been replicated.

Skiing anyone?  ;D

After landing (and bentching Gomel), we headed to Talkeetna and hung around the general store for a bit before heading out on the two hour drive to our lodgings, the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel, a fantastic little place with a bunch of cabins surrounding a big cozy central cabin. This place was so cool I wish I could have stayed more than one night. The central area has a kitchen – obviously not kosher, with lots of couches, guest books, tons of photo albums with pictures that I guess were taken by guests, free wifi and more. Lots of people were there and the atmosphere was very friendly and inviting.

We paid app $110 for the night.

Denali Mountain Morning Hostel:

We arrived there after twelve and fired up the burner for a hot meal of meatballs and rice before conking out. The alarm rang at 5:30 so we could catch the 7:20 Denali Shuttle to Wonder Lake inside Denali National Park. We ended up missing the bus by seconds and they were unfriendly if not downright hostile about that but grudgingly put us on the next bus. It worked out great though, because our bus driver Jerome was fantastic. His dry sense of humor kept us entertained and distracted while the green school bus made terrifying hairpin turns on the narrow gravel road overlooking 1000 foot cliffs.

The park inside is beautiful. Here are some pictures to get an idea:

And of course:

From outside the park

We saw several grizzly bears, caribou, ptarmigans and others and of course got close up views of the mountain on this spotless day.

Grizzly Bear


Young grizzly

Moose (right outside the park)

We ended up taking the bus all the way in and after 11 1/2 hours of driving we started the 4.5 hour drive back to the Sheraton in Anchorage so we could head out early the next day to Matanuska Glacier, a 2 hour drive from Anchorage. Needless to say at this point we were utterly exhausted from the endless driving and lack of sleep. I'm sure we would not have been able to do it, if not for the eternal sunlight which seriously messed with our internal clock. Somehow we made it back to the hotel though I had to practically hold my eyes open when it was my turn to drive.

The long drive home

Early the next morning we headed out west. This drive was stunning, easily on par with the Seward highway and empty as anything. There was barely anyone on the road. Just empty highways and drop dead vistas.

We were going ice climbing.

We arrived at our destination MICA guides where we strapped on crampons - spiky shoes- and gear and headed down on a nauseatingly bumpy ride to the massive gorgeous glacier. Our two guides showed us how to carefully wedge our spikes into the ice and swing the ice tools into the ice, carefully kicking our way up the walls of ice. I don't care how it looks, when you are 20 feet up an ice wall, you don't feel secure at all. I couldn't shake the feeling that the ice would just give under my crampons and several times it did - luckily I was harnessed and our guides had the job of catching us if we fell, by hanging on the rope that was secured into the ice on the other side of the wall.

It was very scary but thrilling when it was over and you were safe on the floor having made it to the top. This is what the guides called type two fun.

After trying several different (and harder) ice walls we headed for a short tour on the glacier before heading back and then to Anchorage.

After showering and eating we headed to the Airport for the flight to Seattle and then to Philly. And that was the end of our Alaska adventure.

We can't wait to go back.

Matanuska Glacier

Tiny people on the glacier

Climbing the cliffs

200 year old meltwater. I drank some (from a cleaner spot) SF- it was delicious!

The mailbox situation

More mailboxes

And that's all!
Hope you enjoyed reading this!

October 22, 2013, 12:03:18 AM
Re: Alaska Master Thread TRIP REPORT:

This past summer there was a massive sale on flights from NY to Anchorage , and right when i saw that i jumped on it and booked tickets for November (last week) with 3 other friends. There was one Problem, November is the wrong time to go to Alaska!! i did some research , but i couldn’t do much since the prices were going higher by the minute. I tried reading through this thread but there was no proper trip report for the winter and i guess i just TOFTT and here goes:

6 AM flight out of LGA connecting Through ORD. All 4 of us had a bag (and food) + one big box of food that we brought with. They each weighed about 70 lbs or so! Thank G-d i have status with AA and i am allowed 3 bags up to 70lbs along with the complimentary upgrade i got until ORD which allowed me an additional bag and one of the guys had a citi AA card which gave the 5th bag free. A little tip to the curbside check in guy and are few extra pounds above 70 were fine :)

Arriving in Anchorage, it was cloudy and snowy. The first snow fall of the season came that morning and all the roads were slippery and dangerous. Weather was in the low 20’s.We went straight to hertz to pick up a 4WD - Tahoe  - which was redeemed using 4400 Hertz points for the week (saved us $1100) and hit the road for a long drive to Fairbanks. We stopped at the Chabad in Anchorage and dropped off some stuff they asked us to bring from NY and took a small tour of the nice building. Very welcoming rabbi and Rebbetzin. They invited us to come Friday night and eat with them which was nice.

Fairbanks: - Sunrise 9:15am / Sunset 3:58p
7 hours later in snowy and carful night drive we arrived in Fairbanks and checked in to the Holiday inn express which was cheap and comfortable and we booked it an hour before we got there. In general every night we were spontaneous , so we would book the hotels online right before we got there. Morning came in Late :)

CHEENA HOT SPRINGS - An hour and half drive east from the city but worth it. its a pleasant drive and decent scenery. The hot springs is a pool of water in middle of a bunch of rocks which is naturally hot and really relaxing. The weather was 6 degrees outside and we got into our bathing suits and jumped in! really cool - Entrance Fee: $15 per person (unless your a guest at the resort there) and bring your own towel or it costs $5 more for a small towel.
ICE MUSEUM - before we entered the hot springs we signed up for the 1 o’clock tour of the ice museum and we opted for the $15 apple martini in glass cups which is pretty cool. The ice museum was warmer then outside as it was 20 degrees indoor and everything is made of Ice . Really nice sculptures. - its quite small though. Entrance fee  - $20 per person (i think)
There are other things to do there but didn’t look interesting. We drove back to the city and night fell. We checked in to the next hotel and waited till about 11pm where we left to go try and find the Northern Lights……We drove far out into the deep night away from all city lights and the temperature got soo cold there, about -15 degrees! . We couldn’t find the lights so we just hung out in the snow a bit and headed back to Hotel.

The plan was to go to talkeetna 4 hours south and take a plane ride around Denali but we left Fairbanks too late so we scheduled for the next day.
We drove down towards Denali. An hour in to the ride the view became gorgeous! We didn’t know what the view was since we drove through the night on the way in. It just got nicer and nicer. Amazing mountains covered in snow. Just driving around like that is worth it to go there. Passing through Denali everything was shut, all stores, kiosks, and attractions are boarded up or gated for the winter. Really deserted. we also had the highway to ourselves almost the whole week!. We entered Denali National Park, but 3 miles in it was closed off. :( and only on park ranger around which pulled us over but thats for a diff time :) So we found a nice little spot with a gorgeous view and parked for lunch. After lunch we continued down the beautiful highway towards Talkeetna township where we found online a bed and Breakfast which id defiantly recommend you go to.

Its called Overlook inn. It overlooks the mountain view line of Denali. Google them, its a little hard to find them at night, but we managed. Its a big house (building) 4 stories and an older sweet couple taking care of it. They have different options for rooms which obviously all include a non kosher breakfast. We took the biggest suite which had a queen size, a pull out sofa bed, a twin bed on top level of room (studio style) and a blow up mattress. - Best view from there. The whole house was empty and the couple stayed away so we had the whole thing to ourselves. Theres a very lounge comfy lounge space thats supposed to be shared but was empty. couches , game tables, furnace, dining table all wooden and nice, and a beautiful large kitchen which we used to make our own BBQ n stuff. price for the suite was $219 (split by 4)

The Denali plane ride place called us and told us the weather was too cloudy and they canceling flights….so we didn’t do it. Continued driving down south towards anchorage and stopped in whissler. (where Sarah Pallin lives) Nice little town. Nothing really to do there so we drove another hour and half to Matanuska Glaciers.
MATANUSKA GLACIER - it is a must in the winter. (and summer prob) its a gorgeous drive -diff then denali highway - at mile marker 102 theres a place there where they give tours and stuff which we went on. It was a snowmobile with a big sled in back which had benches on it and he took us around all the glaciers until night fell. AMAZING place!! Glaciers are really cool, we got to go in them and around and on top. Don’t miss it.
We then drove another 3 hours past Anchorage to Seward. They say the view is unbelievable there, but we knew we’d see it on return. The nice thing was that the full moon was out and very bright so we were able to see the mountains in the moon light which was also breathtaking .
Checked in to the holiday inn

We woke up to no snow! Seward is all the way south so it was just nice and cool. The funny part was that 10 min north when you leave Seward its all snowy. We drove around but there was nothing to do besides look at the scenery and town that was all closed up. There is an exit nearby thats called exit glacier which we planned on going there but they closed it that morning. So we started drive north west to Keenai. about an hour and a half. This drive was also beautiful and the best spot was the frozen lake with mountains surrounding it 360 degrees at the fork where you can go down to Keenai.
KEENAI - had bad weather. small blizzard and annoying. - We went to Walmart there and got some pans and coals to make a BBQ on the Frozen snowy deserted beach. When Night came we decided to go closer to anchorage so we don’t get stuck for shabbos was it comes in at 4pm
We decided to go to Whittier for the night. we googled a place to stay there and found June’s Suites. which she has a bunch of rooms on top of the tales t building there and over looks the small tiny town. We paid like $135 total for Queen size, 2 x twin and couch .
WHITTIER - its a small town that originally was trying to hide from Japanese! weird if you ask me :) The road to get in is really interesting. You need to enter a one way - one lane tunnel that is supposed to accommodate two way traffic and a train. So they set up times for each direction and train. - Every 15-30 min one side gets to go through. Even though it was empty theres a gate closed so we couldn’t just go . When we did go the speed limit is 25 and i went about 50 - which i only found out later i was being watched when a cop found me at the hotel and asked why i was speeding. but he was cool, no ticket, he was just telling me to be careful and welcoming me to his ton cuz he’s the only cop there!! - the town is walking distance

We drove about 10 miles to Alaskas Animal Recreation Center. Entrance fee per person is $12 or $35 for a full car. We were lucky that we saw one brown bear, because now the bears are all in hibernation. but there are many other interesting animals you don’t see at your local zoo. besides that the view surrounding you just makes you want to stay there! - on the way up to anchorage we stopped in gird wood where they have Aleyeska Ski resort , but skiing was closed until the 28th of november so no skiing!
Made it to anchorage an hour and half before shabbos - took a hotel suite behind the chabad house. Raddisson inn - $160 for 2 queens , a pull out couch and a roll away .

Friday night: No minyan at Chabad , and we walked to Rabbis house for a nice meal.
Shabbos Day : 10 am Minyan at Chabad and nice full fledged Kiddush - by the time your  done your cholent shabbos is almost over!

Motzei Shabbos: The Jewish federation had a massive fancy dinner (450 ppl ) and an auction with 800 + items. So we just stopped by to show support and helped out with the Jewish Classical Chassidic Dancing - Then went to shower up and headed for the Airport for a midnight flight with a stop in SEA (and a complimentary upgrade from there)

Landing in NY at 50 degrees was the hottest 50 degrees I’ve ever felt!! :)

OVERALL: Don’t go in November - if your not sure Seward or Denali (south or north) its a tough call cuz i like to see it all but i personally liked the south view a lot more although some may disagree.
Cell phone service - we had in al the cities 4G LTE (at least i did with Verizon) and on road 3g or 1x and then an hour out of city Dead service.

Tip: when its freezing outside , make sure you have a nice bottle of whisky or tequila as it really feels amazing!

December 01, 2013, 10:51:14 PM
Re: Arizona Master Thread In lite of my upcoming trip I read through this thread and fished out all attractions.
As it might  a help for some one i"m posting it
Please if you have comments let us know.

Lake Powell az
Further north then GC

Fossil creek az
Out of Africa Wildlife Park, Camp Verde, AZ

Petrified forest az

Phoenix parks
Thunderbird park az
Encanto park az

Sedona  lots of info

Great soldier pass trail Sedona
Devil's Bridge Trail looks easy
Broken Arrow Trail
Oak Creek Canyon
west fork trail in oak creek canyon az
Cathedral Rock
Bell rock

Grand Canyon

Grand canyon vister's canter  IMAX

The Grand Canyon Rim Trail

South Kaibab Trail

Bright Angel Trail

Havasu Canyon
Part of GC long hike


Bearizona az

February 23, 2014, 04:10:44 PM
Re: Mr & Mrs. Rots5 MLE TR with a stop in LHR and HKG 2014 Mr. & Mrs. Rots5 TR 2014

So after last years trip to Thailand I knew I had to top it off for this yr  Thanks to all the help from the ddfers I learned a lot more and I knew what I was doing, so this time around  there were less questions asked.
So around the end of December if im not mistaken I heard there would be a UA deval in which biz would go up considerably. So I got on it. I was not sure where I really was interested in going but I made a small list of the options. After my wife met mrs. AJK one Shabbos it was decided that the Maldives was a decent spot for a couple days :D.

At the time I was living in Israel and I didn’t know where I would be living so it got a little complicating trying to find flights. In the end we decided that we would be in NYC for the summer either way. (maybe it was mrs rots5 way of getting us back to the US…. Jk ) So I found decent tickets on UA to MLE all in J:

NYC-LHR stop for 8 hrs on United

LHR-IST 2 hr stop on Turkish

IST –MLE  on Turkish

MLE-Island on Maldivian

Now the question was about the way back, which way should I go and if I should use UA or not. I ended up seeing a deal from Cathay as long as it originated in the far east somewhere. I checked it MLE-HKG-NYC and it came out to be around 1k a ticket in J. I tried with a 3 day stop over and it came out to 1100 or so after taxes and fees. The nice thing with Cathay is that they have a great cancellation fee if need be and I would get credited the full mileage. So I booked it and our  flights were complete.

NYC-LHR-ITS-MLE leave Monday night, spend the full day in London, arrive in MLE on weds am
MLE-HKG-NYC  leave Sunday night from mle spend 2 nights in hong kong and arrive weds night NYC

Prep for the trip:

I had to now book a hotel for MLE and HKG. Being that chuchum has a very good hand on travel and his advice has paid off in the past I decided to splurge and look for an OWB + Pool for MLE. I found some hotels that fit the bill but they were closer to the airpot but even the expensive ones the bad reviews were all “to many plans, boats always around… and so on” so I was looking for a seaplane hotel as pool -  I must say it all depends on the person/couple. I happen to not be a huge pool person if there is reef/water right outside my living room so I feel that MLE might be overdone with a private pool, but I def am happy I did it anyways. I was not so thrilled about going to PH (besides the no pool – just wasn’t feeling it). I looked into a few other options. When I was looking on the internet I found that the Viceroy Maldives was having a sale; stay 3 nights get the 4th free. I went onto and TA and I did my research on this. After much extensive looking we decided this was a perfect hotel.  Thanks to a special friend who is a huge tzadik in his own quiet way I got a pretty good deal on the hotel. So we were set with flights and hotel in MLE.

I passed the diamond challenge (did the #icebucketchallenge too) with PH and I booked 1 free night and one C+P in PH STS in Kowloon, China. The reason I did that was the first night I did C+P and used a suite upgrade with the intent that they would just keep me there for the second night.

So now I was set.
I went to Costco and asked them for an underwater camera – shout out to SF for the help. They showed me the one they had, as she is showing it to me she slipped it in there, oh and you can even return it when ur finished….  it was a fuji crap…. More about that later.
I now needed to buy food. It was mainly for the MLE part of the trip being that in HKG theres a few places to go out to eat. I went to some local take outs in monsey and bk and pick up some food and I asked them to double wrap it, which was fine. Personally I should have done what Daganster did and was bring a BBQ and raw meat.. next time.

I bought chala the week before and froze it imm. I also brought small milk containers which I froze too for cereal and coffee. I also got the same size mini grape juice bottle for Shabbos. In my local supermarkets besides the take out they sell these boxed meals where you add water to a heat packet and it cooks it. They were def decent enough to get by along with deli sandwiches meat salad and the takeout. MLE is pretty makpid on bringing in alcohol so just a heads up to anyone, though I did bring n a mini livet for shabb day Kiddush. 

I emailed the manager to set up a seaplane flight which was 550 pp.

As time got closer the war began and of course contemplated pushing it off for many reasons, one being the obvious – safety. I asked a few people who I trust there advice, and I spoke to my rabbi. Then a week before I was supposed to go the story with those Israelis happened. I emailed the hotel and explained to them that I was supposed to be coming and should I be concerned. I emailed them as a religion respecting person and im not looking for any trouble or make a rukus. The manager sent me back the story saying this is what recently happened but on the island there is nothing to worry about as long as you live as American and are on a trip not a protest. As time got closer I spoke to cathay if I wanted to cancel (that’s how I know the rules now) and was litt on the verge on canceling. The day I was going to cancel they set a 3 day seize fire, so i left the trip be. At first I was not going to tell my wife about the story, but of course I cant keep a secret like  - lol-  that and she was actually not nervous about that at all. Lol. She was nervous maybe the food would spoil…

I was also a bit nervous about finding my way around and calls so I decided to call a sim rental company and spend the extra money for the peace of mind. Advice: don’t use sim rental companies. Don’t be lazy and just buy one when u get to these places. Of course they sent me the wrong APN and only got my phone to work on my way out of LHR which was very disappointing. I then was in HKG and just bought a sim in the airport at HKG for 8$ with 5gb of data at 4G. I paid more than that per day . Useless… nu nu.
Day of: our flight was at 9pm out of ewr which makes monsey life pretty easy, but I had to be in BK for a job interview at 11 and was there for 2 hrs. As I was leaving I called in Chinese in monsey (mandarin) and they double wrapped my food for the flight. We got to the airport at around 7 ish and everything was smooth, checked in, and if you are flying UA they have a pre check in lounge where they do it all for you and have a private security line. Got to the lounge and I figured I would have my Chinese and take a shower, but the lines to the shower were around 2 hrs and as I entered the lounge she said to me you have any food? Well please leave it here…. So there went that. At 8:30 we boarded our flight and left…. I am still at that stage where I don’t mind flying business and I am not makpid on the hard product as long as it’s a bed and quiet.  one day…. Flight was great – food was not good at all. (though I ate some of it and konked out before I can eat the Chinese I still had). Issue is that its only a 7 hr flight between the food and movie, I slept maybe 4 hrs…
As I stated I didn’t do much research about London and we were going to be there for short, but thanks to CHAIM’L I had a mini trip planned. I found online before the trip there is an express train called Heathrow Express takes you to Paddington. Before paying for it look online for a promo code, I got 30$ off on the spot (ht: chsim’l). With CHAIM’ls help I was told that I can get off at Paddington buy a full day tube pass and use to get to the big ben. Took a picture of it and the London eye, and hopped on another train to the Palace. Was great, took another few pictures and left back to the airport. Everything worked out so smoothly. On this stop over I took my carry on the whole time, I wasn’t looking for the hassle to find a place to drop it off. It wasn’t so hard to walk around with it all day. 
Got to the airport (LHR) and went to the Turkish lounge and waited there. It’s a decent lounge, I took a shower (was not great) and then boarded the next flight to IST. It was a short flight, we arrived at IST at 11pm and our flight to MLE was at 1 so we waited in the IST Turkish lounge. Don’t look at batchys pics, they don’t do justice to that lounge :D … we were so tired so we just spaced out. I of course had to wlk around and fully see it all. In the lounge I kept looking for my flight to MLE but the time wasn’t on the board yet, which I was very hesitant bec I didn’t know where the gate was and how far we were from it. Around an hr before the flight I went to the front desk and asked what gate is my flight, they told us to run bec its far… we ran and we were the last ones to make it to the bus that took us to the plane… nerve wracking.

We boarded the flight and I asked the ‘chef’ to warm up my Chinese and she said no bec it would melt in the oven… so I had my Chinese cold, which was still amazing. By this time we had been up for almost 2 straight days. So I didn’t need much help from JACK but it helped ;) and I was out in seconds. We arrived in MLE at 10 am and my luggage was the first to come out. We went thru customs (being that we flew business they give all J flyers a fast pass card to skip all lines) was one two three. We came out of the airport and we met the VICEROY hotel agent. He showed us to the TMA (trans Maldivian air) desk which they checked me into the next flight and charged me another 90$ for overweight bags. (max at 20kilo pp). they then brought us to the viceroy lounge in another building around the corner from the airport. The lounge was cool and nice, stocked with some kosher food (granola bars, pringles, and cookies). We waited around an hr and the next set of ppl came and we were ready to go. We boarded the seaplane and flew off to the Island.
The flight took an hr but it was gorgeous, seeing those islands on the way and all. Was amazing! We arrived to waves from the staff which was different than when I come to my in laws  they gave us some fruit drinks and showed us to our room. Our room was an OWB and was gorgeous and big. It had a sitting and lounging area as well as a big deck with a pool outside. On the side of the pool there were steps farther down to another deck that was litt on the water. With steps that led into the water.  The villa was private and had huge 20ft ceilings. There were signs of wear and tear but that’s only if you looked for them, don’t forget it was on the water its hard to upkeep a house in middle of the water. The way the villas are arranged is that the and part of the island ends and then theres a walkway that’s over the shallow water and all the villas are over shallow water. When you look out from your room you see green crystal clear water. Its breathtaking. Anyways, my hotel package included breakfast and dinner but no drinks. The head chef knew I was ‘kosher’ and he came over to me a few times asking if there was anything to do. The hotel gives free snorkel gear, which we took adtv of. The house reef is great and the snorkeling was amazing! you can go snorkeling right outside your room if you want, which is what we did once we realized that we can. The beaches are white soft sand and the whole island is empty. You can walk the whole island in 20 minutes. They have activates planned if ppl are interested, and there fitness room is open 24/7.

On Friday morning I went scuba diving. It was more expensive than other places ive gone but on the advice of AJK I must do it, which I would do again anytime. I love the whole fish scene the instructor saw I knew what I was doing so he just let me go on my own for the most part while he tagged behind. It was an hr and I prob could have stayed even longer. As AJK initially said ‘get your license’ and I stand behind that. My camera: I started using it when I went snorkeling and the pics were just barely decent and that’s stretching it. SF suggested a diff camera but they didn’t have it (no blame to him). I took it snorkeling and before I got to even 5 meters the camera stopped working and then it just died. I saw water get into the lens and so on. After I finished snorkeling I opened the battery pack and my SD card was corroded and ruined – If anyone knows how to get the pics off that card I would greatly appreciate it till then I lost 20gb worth of previous pics). For the rest of the day we just snorkeled and chilled.  We watched the sun set which is amazing to see, being that it sets pretty quickly there, and we had our Friday night meal. I told the head chef that I would like to eat fri night there, so he set up a private porch off the main dinning room that is on the beach on the water. I gave him all my food beforehand with strict instructions which was perfect.

On Sunday they asked us in the morning if they can move us to a beach front room for the afternoon until out flight. In that room there is a sign that says keep doors closed but you still might get the garden geckos, which are common. So there is a downside to being on a beach front room…

We boarded out seaplane flight back to mle at 4 ish and with a quich stop at another resort we were back In the airport at 6pm. My flight to HKG wasn’t till 1030. I wasn’t so thrilled about taking a local tour of Male, and we couldn’t check in till 830. They have a priority pass lounge before check in at the domestic side, so we stayed there until 8 ish. When we went to the cathay line and they brought us into the pre-check in lounge where there was someone who checked us in while we sat in the lounge. The cathay lounge after check in was nice and comfortable. We boarded our flight at 10 and we were off to HKG. The food on the flight was amazing! Hermolis was the catered food, we had lamb chops which were very good. Horrible movie selection, but we lived 

In the end  We decided to cut the HKG part very short and we made that to be only an 8 hr stop. With the help of MEIR613 and AJK we had another mini trip planned. The plan was to hop on an express train to Kowloon and take a ferry to vic peak and then back to the tram and to the flight. So as Mrs AJK can attest us men need working phones… mine didn’t work it took us a couple extra min to get a new sim and get it to finally work. But in the meantime my wife wanted to go to the ladies market and she wasn’t in the mood of doing a full run around and I was fine with that. It wasn’t the main part of the trip and we decided we have a place that we can go revisit now .

In addition this time we decided it was time to not take our carry ons around being that everyone advised us there is a lot of walking. In terminal 2 in HKG there is a baggage off and is very easy to find. Not far at allfrom the cathay security check and it was easy to pick up. That worked out great. Just remember that in HKG they do not give any priority to ppl flying business so you will have to wait at customs at the same line and security too.

 SO we took the express train to Kowloon got off walked around and walked to the ferry and figured wed go over to HKI but the ferry wasn’t able to take us at 10 am for some reason unless I bought one of those 3 day hop on hop off passes, so we just walked down the ave of the stars which was cute and then we got to Chabad for lunch. Lunch there was a fortune but I love Chinese and it def made the list of the top three Chinese ive ever had . From there we hopped on a train to Mon kok station where the ladies market is. My wife found tons of stuff that she liked and souvenirs for the siblings. My flight back to JFK was at 430pm at 2pm we made up that we should head back to Kowloon station and then to airport. We tried finding a cab and of course they were either full or didn’t want to take us… I started to get a bit nervous being that we still had to pick up our carry on and then go thru security. We ran around 3 blocks to a block which was not bumper to bumper found a taxi and threw him a 5$ bill and said drive to Kowloon quickly and ill pay the meter as well. Lol we were there in 3 minutes… had no idea the oriental knew how to drive cars I though they just do manicures and clean clothes…. Just kidding. We got to the airport and we got to the first class lounge 50 min before our flight. It was crazy hot that day so we were able to get in a quick shower which was super clean and amazing….then we boarded.
We both slept most of the 15 hr flight being that we were just flat out exhausted. Food was great again. Arrived in NYC at 9pm and was home by 1100, and life starts again…

Of course my wife and I pointed out certain details and said ‘don’t forget to add into the trip report’ of course I don’t remember them all. :)

Thank you to everyone who helped with this fantastic trip, including all those who gave me the time of day to answer my PM’s and whats apps, and thank for reading. I will try to post more pics over the next couple days.

August 31, 2014, 10:41:19 AM
TC610's Honeymoon / France, Maldives First, before I begin, a special thanks to all of the contributing members of the DDF community.  Without the information I learned here, I would've never been able to experience the honeymoon of a lifetime.  I earned a ton of UR/MR/UA my first year at DDF which paid for the entire down payment on my new house.  The next couple of years I earned a ton more points - enough for me and my significant other to fly to and stay in Hawaii, different parts of California a few times, and Mexico twice, ->all in style<-, all on points and free nights.  In addition, it paid for almost all my honeymoon!  I just wish I was able to attend the DDS in CLE, it probably would've helped.


USA -> France -> Maldives -> USA

Part I - Planning

The soon-to-be wife and I wanted to have an unforgettable, once in a lifetime trip for our honeymoon - a trip that if we don't take now, we won't be able to take until ~18 years after we have kids.  Most of the people we know in the Midwest go to places like Jamaica, the Bahamas, Mexico, and Hawaii for their honeymoons.  We wanted to do something different.  Europe + the Maldives was *very* different.  98% of the people I talked to never even heard of the Maldives.  100% of them thought our trip plan was a great idea and they were excited for us!  The fiancee was hesitant about doing the Maldives due to the long travel from the US and long layover in IST, but I mentioned we could have a free stopover somewhere in Europe (I've always wanted to go to France!) to break up the trip and then she was more than OK with it.

Being a true DDFer (and part time FTer), going to the PH Paris and PH Maldives were no-brainer aspirational awards.  My goal was to book everything pre-devaulation (Hyatt, UA) back in January 2014 for a September honeymoon.  Getting points availability dates for both Hyatts in order, along with finding *A saver business awards through UA, was not working out.  Availability at PH Paris was easier to find than PH Maldives.  The Gold Passport desk was able to find points nights for the PH Paris that the website did not show, and after making a 3 night reservation online, the PH Maldives was able to extend my points reservation to 5 nights.  All nights were 22k each.  I reserved an upgrade to OWB for the last 3 nights at $365/nt.  I had 100k in TYP burning a hole in my pocket, so I confirmed ahead of time that charges could be settled with Hyatt Gift Checks and spent my TYP on $1,000 worth of those to help pay for the upgrade.

Flights. I used Diamond KVS membership and the free AwardNexus route builder to assist in finding flights.
My original routing was:

MUC -> CDG (I) LH  Stopover for 3 nights

CDG -> IST (I) TK  (7.5 hour Layover)
IST -> MLE (I) TK  Destination for 5 nights

EDI -> EWR (X) UA  (Plan B for I class)

Flight was ticketed by UA at 120k/pp +tax.  Why route through CLT?  At the time it was the only way to get Transatlantic saver business on *A.  Ticket had to be manually priced and approved by a supervisor since I had 5 total segments on a transatlantic flight (a LOT of HUCA to find an agent willing to it - the "Have United Call You" post was invaluable here).

During our 7.5 hour layover in IST, we planned on freshening up in the IST lounge and then touring Istanbul for the day.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, LH had been rolling out their new business product with lie-flat beds.  I wanted to snag two of those seats, but there was no guarantee that the CLT -> MUC route would have them in time.  In June, I did find 2 seats on the EWR -> DUS route that had the new business, so I switched my outbound itin to:

CLE -> EWR (X) UA  (Plan B for I class)

UA was going to charge a change fee, but since they changed times on my itinerary many times over the course of those 6 months, I asked them to waive the change fee for me and they did.

My flight departing MLE was 11:40pm, and I knew that the PH Maldives would give us reasonable accommodations the day of departure, so we would be able to squeeze out an extra day in the Maldives.

Planning done.  We had to sit and wait for the wedding day, so now you get to sit and wait while I write Part II.  Any questions in the meantime?

October 08, 2014, 11:26:12 AM
Arizona: Sedona and the Grand Canyon TR We wanted to do a short and interesting trip but couldn’t decide where to go. I read a few TR and they all seemed good enough. But when I came across Yehuda S.’s TR I had no more doubts; this was the place I wanted to visit! My wife, our 3 month old daughter and I went on this short trip, from November 2-4 2014. We took along our Panasonic Lumix LX5 Camera and all photos featured here are from our own snapshots; nothing is downloaded from other sources.

We departed 10:30 am and flew JFK-PHX with US Airways. Since I booked the tickets quickly, I made a mistake in one letter of my name. I didn’t realize it until I was stopped by a TSA Agent who sent me back to change my name. The ticket agent couldn’t change it since it was booked with Avios, so he just scribbled on that letter and rewrote it right below… I then went again to Security and chose to stand on line by a different TSA Agent and he B”H let me through without any issues.  The flight took about 4.5 hours. Along the way there were nice views from the AZ desserts.

Getting closer  to PHX

Right after we landed I powered on my cell phone and received a text message from Hertz that my Jeep Patriot is parked in stall #M0010. Considering that I booked an intermediate car it was a great surprise for me and a good start for our trip. There are no car rentals “in” the airport; you have to take a shuttle to a building where all car rental companies are located (about a 7 minute ride). We got onto a shuttle right away and were taken to the parking lot. I just walked straight to my car and drove out. It was all very simple and quick. When I left the rental, the guy told me “thanks for being a Hertz 5 star member”- I guess that’s why I got the upgrade.

Police Bike in the Airport

Our first stop was at Segal’s for a late lunch/early supper. The food was delicious and Heimish. Then we went to Last Chance and picked up beautiful clothing for less than $10 a piece, and then did some more shopping in the Shopping Center. When we were done, we headed out to Sedona.

The driving in AZ is something the Tri State should learn from. It was such a pleasure! There are no Tolls, no construction, and the speed limit is 75 mph! (Perhaps, if NY would be a Republican state it would also be that way) Best of all, the gas prices there are crazy cheap. I filled up my tank for $2.29 when the average price in NY was $3.43.

When I started my drive up to Sedona, it was still light outside.  Along the way, it darkened and we had a beautiful sunset view. Later on however, something followed that I was totally unprepared; the speed limit was 75 mph and it turned completely dark - a darkness that I’ve not experienced in my life before - and the highways were becoming really curvy and steep. Even though I consider myself a professional driver, it was a real hard drive. I found it difficult to reach the speed limit…

We booked 2 nights in the Sedona Real Inn, and arrived there about 7:30 to check in. But before settling for the night, we first had to stock up on food. So we drove to Safeway, about 1 mile from the hotel, and bought fruits, vegetables, chips, etc.

Sedona Real Inn


We woke up early, and off we went for the once in a lifetime trip! The way from Sedona to the GC takes about 2 hours. The first leg of the way which is a drive in Oak Creek Canyon is pretty challenging, with one lane in each direction and awfully curvy.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon (Google Maps)

Once you get close to Flagstaff the road straightens out. After Flagstaff you hit the final road to GC which is a semi highway with one lane per direction and the speed limit goes up to 75mph and of course you drive on 85+… That road is very boring, for over an hour you see nothing but endless desserts; no exits, no gas station, no rest areas, absolutely nothing! Then when you finally arrive about 15 minutes before the GC there are some gas stations and a few shops (Don’t buy anything in the Gift Shop there as the shop in the GC is much cheaper) then you finally enter the GC. The price is $25 and you get a pass to go in.

Near Flagstaff

After entering the village we parked by the visiting center. Upon opening the car door, a fresh cool breeze welcomed us. (By the GC its about 10 degrees cooler than in Sedona) We geared up and walked to the bus stop from where a bus leaves every 8 minutes. We took the bus towards the South Rim. We went down by the South Kaibab Trail which was supposed to be a hike that is kids accessible with breathtaking views and restrooms along the route.

Upon getting off the bus I was like Ooohhhh mmmyyyy!!!! This is huuuuuge!!! And steep. When we entered the trail and saw how steep the trail actually is, it was truly terrifying. The first 10 minutes we couldn’t breathe, and then it started straightening out a bit. The deeper you go in the trail the nicer the view becomes. Kids accessible? Look at the picture and tell me how. Restrooms? After walking 45 minutes to the ooh aah point we were told, “Hike down for another hour, there are some restrooms” (After the ooh aah point the trail once again gets very steep). There are no signs along the way to let you know how long you still have to go (like in Switzerland). Safety? I thought only in Europe the safety is poor (I had a brother who nearly drowned in Europe after falling out from a ferry boat who’s door was literally open) Now I see that here in the USA you need to look out for your own safety as well.

View from the start of the S. Kaibab Trail

The first 10 minutes is very scary. Kids accessible?!

I will not even try to describe the views from the GC as it’s something that words can’t do. If you were never there, you will never know. Even the best pictures don’t show you a fraction of the real and incredible views, especially since it’s not just one point to look at, but a 360 degree view. And besides the actual views there is another amazing thing; since there are no mountains, your eyes could see for a vast stretch of a few hundred miles. Of course you can’t “see” so far but you can see the horizon.

As you hike on, the views widen more.

The widest point of the trail. Here we allowed ourselves to catch our breath and snap some photos

No gates on the sides

Random snapshot

We were by the ooh aah point for about 10 minutes, and then we hiked back. By ooh aah point, there were a few insane people who posed for pictures by the tip of the stones. I was terrified that I will see someone slip and fall down... The hike back was easier than the way going. We took the bus to an observation point called “Yaki Point” and then took the next bus back to the visitor center, bought some souvenirs and at about 2:00 we drove back to Sedona.

View from ooh aah point

Ooh aah point

View from Yaki Point

This might give you an idea of how big the GC is. See the red box on the left?

This photo is the red box from the previous pic. See the red circle? That’s 2 mules with people riding on them!

On the way back, while driving on the boring highway I thought, why not test how fast the car can drive? I knew (thought) I’m safe since you can see a few miles ahead, and I saw there are no cars in sight, so I pressed down the gas 90…95…100… after reaching 100 mph the car started shaking from the winds…105…110… suddenly for a split second the front tires lifted and landed on the other lane… B”H there was no car there. I quickly turned back the wheel and obviously slowed down, and never hit 90 again.

We arrived to Sedona at 4:30. We wanted to watch sunset (5:30) by the Cathedral Rock. We arrived at the rock and realized that the parking lot and hike are on the east side of the rock (NE). The beauty of sunset in Sedona is to see the rock turn red and glow. In order for us to see that we would have to hike all the way around the rock and by that time the sun would long be gone. I checked on a map and saw the fastest way to drive to the other side of the rock would be a drive around Sedona. But by that time it was already 5:00 – half hour before sunset. A quick google search revealed us that on Airport Road there is a lookout point special for sunset.  5 minutes later we were there. It is a huge parking lot with loads of people watching sunset. The views were awesome. Then I drove another 1000 feet to check out the tiny airport.

I jumped out at Cathedral Rock, snapped  a picture and continued on

Waiting for sunset

The rocks are starting to glow

Note Sedona between me and the rock

A glimpse towards the sun

The rocks in full glow

A few minutes before sunset

1 minute later

We had the return flight scheduled for 1:30 pm in Business.  We woke up early, checked out of the hotel, and about 7:45 drove out to Bell Rock. The parking fee is $5 (Red Rock Pass). We hiked on the rock and took some stunning self-portrait pictures. The views from there are spectacular, especially in the morning. When it became difficult to hike further we turned back to our car.  Supposedly, Sedona has 4 places where there is a vortex; meaning you feel some magnetic power pulling you down… one of the places is Bell Rock. We tried to feel it, with no success… I guess we don’t live in an illusion…

Bell rock (From behind, the famous “bell shape” is from the front)

On Bell Rock

View from Bell Rock

The drive back to Phoenix was way easier than the way going (if safety matters to you don’t drive at night!). Along the way we were able to enjoy the jungles of cactus. Then we made a stop by Anthem Outlets. We got some cheap things at Gap from the clearance rack… and a few other stores. Then we returned the car. After checking in, we went to the Lounge Club. (From Chase Ink) That lounge is pretty old and small, but they provide some free food; chips, soda cans etc. As soon as we were seated with our baby, we got stares from the 2 passengers in front of us, and as soon as my daughter started Kvetching a little, the two guys whispered loud “get her quiet” “shut up” etc. They really made us feel uncomfortable.

After all, it was a trip worth going!!

Cactus along the way

PHX lounge Club free snack bar

In front of Anthem Outlets

I discovered a new thing... I set my camera on SCN-Sunset and NYC looks like a piece of gold...

December 09, 2014, 07:21:09 PM
Re: Down to Egypt
It all started with a text message;
" Wanna go to egypt next week?"
To which my response was "What?!" and then "yea"
So we got down to start planning (most of which my friend did"

The plan was for 2 days in Sharm El Sheikh and 3 in Cairo
1/7 Sharm El Sheikh
1/9-12 Cairo

Finally the day came and we began


We set off for a 10am Egged bus to Eilat. We get there and of course the bus is fully booked, but they tell us to wait anyways maybe people won't show up. Of course in classic Egged fashion they managed to stuff almost everyone onto the bus and off we went.

So most of you like to write about your plane rides - all I can write here is that it is equivalent to 5hrs of coach (I did find a lie flat seat in the aisle )

We finally arrived in Eilat and hit up Itzele Shwarma, last macolet with kosher food, and chabad to chill a little before cabbing to Taba Border.

The border was quite the hassle not going to go in detail now - I can upon request. Anyway we cross border and are immediately heckled by cab drivers. If you ever thought Israeli cabbies were bad this is like x10. You have to be good negotiator and tough to make it in Egypt. So we managed to bargain cabbie down to 300le and we were off to Sharm El Sheikh.

After about a dozen checkpoints in which our nationality kept changing we arrived in Sharm. We had decided that this trip would be cheap but with the Sheraton at only 3k a night we felt we couldn't refuse.  (Thanks @drago for plat status) The hotel was really nice but the service was unhelpful and wifi was down (something that we were relying on). We asked the concierge where we should head to as it was only 9pm but they just told us everything is closed, so we started schmoozing with random guests and one pair of English Jordanians told us they were headed to a place called Naama Bay so we went with them.

Naama Bay is basically Sheesha (hookah) bars, restaurants, clubs, and a bunch of shops. It stays up real late so don't rush to get there. We settled on awesome Sheesha bar where we sat on floor (paid 20le each for a beer - sheesha included) and just chilled. We bought a couple of souvenirs before finally heading back and calling it a night.

Random note - while things in Egypt are cheap it definitely began adding ip and I quickly learned trip was not as cheap as I originally thought but also not that much more...

Day 2 sometime soon

January 13, 2015, 10:33:17 PM
Re: Down to Egypt OK before day two a little filler info and hopefully a couple pics.
Sharm El sheikh is basically an artificial desert town with tons of hotels/resorts, ranging from really really nice to your standard 3* product. From talking to random tourists and looking online it seems that you should be able to get nice hotels with all inclusive (unlimited (food) drinks!) for about $130.
We chose to go for a category 1 spg hotel - The Sheraton. It was 3k weekday and 2k fri/sat. The hotel itself was gorgeous - we had a room directly overlooking the sea and there was private beach but service was Very official and also quite unhelpful. I think the only thing they got right my two nights there was wake-up call. Definitely worth 3k points but not much more - plus we found the staff at the less opulent resorts to be much more chilled.

Anyway back to Sharm. Since it is vacation town there are not many real "locals". Most of the employees are residents of Cairo who come to work in Sharm for like 3 months at a time and then go home for at most a month before returning. What I can say about these folk is that they work thier a$$ off for a little money. Sure they will try sacking everythe dollar they can off you, but at least they work hard for thier money. If you are careful and make sure it is is evident they are not getting any $ or only x amount then they can be very friendly and fun to schmooze with. Also just btw like 98% of them are male. My entire time in Sharm I saw 3 Egyptian women.

While in Sharm we found 2.5 local places to hit up
Naama Bay - nightlife, stays up late 3amish, as for pritzus really not as bad as any American city. We just looked around and hit up one sheesha bar.

Old Market -  literally hundreds of stores all selling like the same twenty items. You can get some real bargains there. Also open until 2 or 3 am

Random stores, sheesha bars around town are also worth it to hit up and schmooze with locals.

January 14, 2015, 03:39:12 PM
Re: Down to Egypt Day 2

We had originally planned to go on a full day boat excursion to one of the nearby islands and scuba dive over there.
Alas the claimed that UT was too windy and the boat did not sail that day. Also we woke up a bit too late, although I am sure for the right price that would not of been an issue. Anyway the Sheraton has a dive school/center on premises and after a bit of negotiation, we bought two dives  each from them for $50. My friend has a diving license whereas for me this was my first time. For anyone who has not tried it - it is absolutely incredible and worth every dollar. The world Hashem created below the surface is just so amazing I cannot even begin to describe. Fortunately my friend does have a GoPro and as soon as I get pics from him I will bli neder post. The experience itself is a little scary at first, but basically my guide just held me underwater for a while and after about a minute I realized I was still breathing and calmed down. The water was pretty cold so always ask for full wetsuit.

After both dives we still had energy so we booked quad biking (also from guy at hotel) for $30 each. They drove us off to the desert and gave us full 45 minutes on the bikes - no cheaping out. Guide was very friendly and a good guy. Instead of just having us ride in a circle they had us travel to a bedouin village thing as destination, which I thought was pretty cool. While chilling in village thingy I noticed I was sitting in a 100% kosher succah לכל הדעות! Fine except maybe Chazon Ish ;-) But still I thought that was fascinating and will bli neder post pics of that as well. We drove back through desert nearing sunset and scenery was beautiful. It is amazing that even a desert can be quite scenic.

We got back to hotel completely shot and just chilled and had early night. We had flight to Cairo for next day so had to wake up early...

January 15, 2015, 08:26:48 AM
Re: Down to Egypt Day 3
We woke up bright and early for 9am flight to Cairo. Checking out of hotel was hassle, as we were in a rush, and they basically chased us for phone bill (the calls never even worked and I only tried because wifi was down).
We arrived at airport and we're told problem with visa.(I should mention now that we were planning on purchasing visa in airport.) Guy walks with us to passport control and a bunch of Arabic is thrown back and forth and finally they tell us we cannot travel because we need guarantee letter from tour company (?!). We try hocking different guys back and forth and no go. All they tell us is it is not a big deal just go to any travel agency in airport (there were a bunch) and they will do it for you. Anyway apparently it is a big deal and although they all knew what we were referring to (so maybe it was not complete bs) they would not do it for us. (and yes we offered $$$).
 As it was getting later on Friday, I finally relented, bought data, and cancelled our points stay at Le Meridian pyramids, and got on priceline. We ended up booking random hotel, Shores Golden, for $50/night (fri-sat) and stayed there for shabbos. Although it was not half as nice as sheraton, the staff were so much more chilled which we appreciated. Saturday night we hit up old market which is basically as described above.

P. S. Later on Monday we did official day trip with tour company to Cairo and everything went smoothly (without frikin guarantee) . I will explain what we did differently although I still do not completely comprehend what went wrong. All I know is G-d did not want us in Cairo.
On Friday we went to check-in (as would in any other airport), whereas on Monday we first went to visa office. The visa office is next to mosque-shtiebel thing and it costs $25.If you insist on paying with Egyptian they will make up price (different ppl on our tour paid different price) which can workout less.
Afterwords go to passport control where they will stamp (they never asked us for guarantee). Only then proceed to check in to receive boarding pass. I cannot promise this will work for you, but this is what worked for us. The last thing Egypt is  is consistent.

Pps I had booked flight on sp and was hoping to have travel insurance cover this. By the time I got around to calling I saw it was automatically refunded! And I still have no clue why
הודו לה' כי טוב

January 18, 2015, 08:49:10 AM
Dreams of Flight - Hummingbirds and Arizona Howdy.  Here is a trip report from our recent trip to Arizona.  Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy.

First off, thanks to my good buddy for helping me book my cheap airline tickets.  Your help was greatly appreciated.

We arrived in Phoenix, Arizona on a Wednesday evening and stayed that first night at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.  We chose the Phoenician because it is a very nice SPG property and is fairly close to the airport.  The following day we relaxed and swam in the pool. We then went to Kitchen 18 for lunch (one of the best burgers I ever had - highly recommended restaurant) and drove to Grand Canyon National Park.

Here are some pictures taken at Mather Point.  These particular pictures were taken from our 2013 trip (the lighting was better in 2013 than when we went recently as we arrived late in the day).

DSC_4072_HDR by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3973 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3833 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Enjoying the view (2015 pictures):

DSC_3362 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3308 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After enjoying the Grand Canyon, we drove to Flagstaff where we stayed for the next three nights at the Doubletree by Hilton.  We chose this hotel due to its close proximity to the Chabad shul.  Although we had a nice time with Chabad in 2013, our experience this trip was way different.  We called asking to buy challah rolls and maybe some kugel for Shabbos and were told that none were available.  We ended up finding uncut pretzel rolls which we used on Shabbos.  In short, if you are in Flagstaff for Shabbos, make sure that you have everything you need in advance and do not rely on Chabad. 

On Friday morning, we drove to Sedona for the annual Hummingbird Festival.  The folks from the Hummingbird Society were banding and releasing Hummingbirds.  My older kids were able to hold and release hummingbirds after the banding.  Both said that this was their favorite part of the trip.  This was our second trip to the festival.

Here are pictures taken of the banding:

DSC_3429 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3430 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Here are pictures of my daughter holding a hummingbird before it fluttered away:

DSC_3438 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3441 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3444 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pictures taken of the hummingbirds:

DSC_3418 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3453 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3591 by P Bryan, on Flickr

A beautiful butterfly:

DSC_3510 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Here is a video I took in 2013:

direct link (can be viewed in HD)

After the banding, we drove to Wupatki National Monument to see the ruins of the Pueblo Houses.  Here are some photographs taken of the Pueblo Houses:

DSC00010 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC00015 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then drove to Sunset Crater National Monument.  Here are some pictures taken of the volcano and surrounding lava field:

DSC_3472 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3469 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3487 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3480 by P Bryan, on Flickr

This year my kids had a chance to see lava fields in Hawaii , Iceland , and now Arizona.   :)

On Sunday we went back to the Hummingbird Festival for a garden tour, although we only went to one particular garden, one of our favorites from the 2013 trip.  Afterwards, we drove to Walnut Canyon and then to Petrified Forest National Park, which was absolutely gorgeous.  Here are some pictures taken at Petrified Forest National Park:

DSC_3606 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3615 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3609 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3616 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Someone is getting very serious about photography:

P1000979 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Petrified Forest National Park, we drove to Scottsdale for dinner at Kitchen 18.  Then it was back to Phoenix for our flight home.  We arrived Monday morning and I was back at work Monday afternoon.  Can't wait till next year.

PS: BI still rocks.

August 07, 2015, 12:44:03 PM
D93's Trip to Egypt Route: JFK-FRA-CAI-AMM-TLV (SQ, MS, MS, RJ)

Sunday 10/11.
I arrived at JFK 65 minutes before my flight and after about 10 minutes of me convincing the check-in agent that I can get an Egyptian Visa in CAI, I made it to the gate 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I was flying Singapore Business class (R was not available :( ). As far the hard product is concerned, it is arguably the best J product that exists, the seat is huge, extremely comfortable and very private. However, I was very unimpressed with the soft product, slow service, horrible drink menu, and no amenity kit (maybe I'm just too used to F ;) ). The KSML was non other than the infamous Bornstein's inedible thing they call “food”.


Monday 10/12.
I landed in FRA on time and I headed to the Maple Leaf Lounge (I was already in the Senator Lounge a couple months ago, so I decided to check out a different lounge this time while I'm in FRA). The lounge is much smaller than the Senator Lounge but it's very nice and wasn't crowded at all. I davened shachris, took a shower, had something to eat and waited until my next flight to CAI.

The EgyptAir flight from FRA-CAI was on their 737-800 which had recliner business class seats, which wasn't too bad for a 4 hour daytime flight. They had a Koran hanging on the wall in the front of the cabin (although I'm not sure if one can actually take it down, as I didn't ask if I can use it :) ). I was happily surprised when they served me Hermolis KSML!!

I landed in CAI at 710pm. The immigration system there is very simple, you buy a Visa for $25 from the money exchange banks which are located right before passport control, then go to passport control and get it stamped, and I was out of the airport with my bags by 740pm. I got a cab from outside the airport to take me to the Le Meridien Pyramids, which was a 1 hour drive and cost me $15 (I was clearly ripped off, but I just wanted to get to the hotel). Driving through Cairo was a crazy experience, the city is absolutely nuts. There are no traffic laws, not a single traffic light in the entire city, everyone just drives and drives until they are a half an inch from a car merging into them, 2 lane highways have 5 cars driving side by side, it's an amazing site to say the least!! The hotel is very nice and big, but was quite empty, I was upgraded to a nice suite. They have a good sheesha bar on premises with classic cheap Egypt prices ($3.50 for a sheesha). After some sheesha and beer, I went to sleep.

Maple Leaf Lounge

EgyptAir on board Koran

LM Pyramids

Tuesday 10/13.
I hired a private tour guide to take me around for the day (cost $165 – all entrance fees included), he picked me up at 8am and we headed out to the pyramids. The drive from my hotel to the pyramids was about 2 minutes. There are 3 large pyramids in Giza and a few smaller ones around them. After walking around the pyramids and climbing a little bit up the largest one, I took a camel ride for 30 minutes around the area. We then went to see the Great Sphinx and a temple which is next to it.

Just a tip for any future trips – Do not go to the pyramids before 10am, it was extremely hazy out until 10am and I unfortunately didn’t get too many nice pictures because of it.

After the pyramids excursion, we drove an hour to the Egypt Museum which is located on Tahrir Square and houses all the mummies and artifacts from all the pyramids and tombs around Egypt. You can't bring a camera into the museum, but I managed to get a few pictures using my phone. Afterward we walked to the middle of Tahrir square to shoot some pix there.
We then drove 30 minutes to Old Cairo, walked around the streets there for little while and went to see the Ben Ezra Shul (legend has it that the Rambam used to daven there).
Afterward my guide drove me back to the airport, which took an hour to get to, but I arrived with more than 2 hours to spare before my flight. The EgyptAir check-in agent checked my bags through for my Royal Jordanian connecting flight from AMM to TLV without a problem at all. I went to a quiet room that they call a “lounge” and found a quiet corner to daven mincha.

Nile River

Egypt Museum

King Tut

Animal Mummies

Tahrir Square

Ben Ezra Shul

The flight from CAI to AMM was an hour long and very uneventful. I landed in AMM and had a 1:40 connection until my next flight. The flight from AMM to TLV took a total of 25 minutes and I landed in TLV at 915pm.

Thank you Hershelsdeals and everyone else who helped me plan this trip!!

October 15, 2015, 07:11:24 PM
Re: Down to Egypt Day 4 - Shabbos
Was spent in hotel where we enjoyed wine and other delacicies we shlepped in from IL

Satarday Night

IIRC After Shabbos ended on the recomendation of someone we hit up the Old Market. It is literally the same 6 stores 100x over. We strolled around for a bit and bought a bunch of Sheesha (Hookah) to bring back to IL. (I actually eventually brought to Goa in Ben Yehuda and the workers (Shebobs) there were massively impressed by it.)

We then realized we had a decision to make. We still REALY wanted to make it to Cairo, so we went to one of the dozen tourist shops that dot the area. Over our stay we had already found one guy we liked so we went to him. After a lot of back n forth (probably multiple trips, I can really barely recall how it all went down) We booked a full-day boat ride with scuba diving for sunday, and a full Cairo package for Monday. Im sorry I do not remember prices. The Cairo package included Early (and I mean early) morning flight, Egypt Muesuem, pyramids, and a bunch of tourist traps to kill time. It also included what looked like a nice lunch, which we of course did not partake in.

October 22, 2015, 10:10:23 PM
Re: Down to Egypt Day 5 - Sunday

We woke up bright and early davened and checked out of hotel. They were very kind and let us keep all our stuff in a locked closet thing until we came back from excursion. (They were a little taken back by our 3 shisha's  ;D  ) We got to the boat and were actually impressed, it was Largish yacht and on the trip was maybe 30 ppl plus instructors. Here is where we met our first American (fine, Canadian) tourists but almost. They were seasoned world travelers but knew nothing about cc/points.  :o

The scuba diving here was even better than by the hotel. It was really very cool. This forum is crazy about snorkeling (which is cheaper, can be done on your own, and doesn't require a ton of gear), but seriously anyone who enjoys that should definitely try scuba if they can. It is absolutely incredible to be entirely submerged and surrounded by this wonderful world of color. Even if you only get 15 minutes at a time (the max for unlicensed) it feels so much longer down there and is sooo worth it.

IIRC the boat made three stops. I had paid for two dives so chose the first two stops to do them. My friend, being a licensed diver took one uber long dive (30 min IIRC), so he left at the second stop and was picked up later on the way to the third stop. Lunch was served on the boat, which again we did not partake in. But there were unlimited refreshments (bottled soda/water) and we brought instant oatmeal/protein bars for lunch.

We got back to sharm tired and homeless. I used my data to book cheapest hotel for the night. It was $20/night and was awesome. Firstly, guy working the counter was awesome 18-year-old who was high off his rocker. They got our reservation by fax (!?) which we both found amusing, and the room, lobby and property were surprisingly nice. (hotel link- it’s actually 15 now) and crashed for the night. In an honest review of the hotels we stayed, I would rank the service here the best. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention when we checked in there was live band (guy at his keyboard - but hey Ive been to weddings that have the same) playing music for the guests.

Correction- Actually thinking back I think we booked Cairo now...but makes no dif

P.s. Some of you may be wondering how we still had rations now. You are correct we were dangerously low, but figured we could rough it out for one more day in order to see Cairo

October 22, 2015, 10:38:52 PM
Re: Down to Egypt Day 6 - CAIRO

Again we woke up early and were picked up to go to the Airport. This time we got our Visa's before boarding pass, and I think that may have made the difference, although with all the made-up rules I cant promise. We actually paid for the Visa in Egyptian Dollars and that worked out cheaper. Plane ride was 40 min and uneventful. We met our tour guide in the airoport, a Muslim (no suprise there) lady with an annoyingly high pitched voice. But overall she was a good informative guide, actually fluent in English. The other folks on the trip are what really made it fun. What still stands out to me, is this one tall back-packer dude, below is what I recall of actual conversation;

Me: So where you from
Him: Uhhhhm (pause) well if I had to answer I'd say LA but I havent been there in like 4 years man. Ive just been all over the place (Lucky style, without the hotels and first class cabins, so more like Suave style)
Me; So if you had to pick a place to live, where would it be?
Him: Up in Northen Canada with the Eskimoes  :o :o :o (He was being honest, I swear) After a while, I'd start going crazy, so I'd go back to La, but then I'd come right back...

Anyway back to tour, first stop was Egypt Muesuem. Basically all the stuff from pyramids in one big building, really cool stuff. Probably the one stop besides the actual pyramids that is worth it. There are no pictures allowed in the muesuem, so this is where a GoPro came in handy. Alas it was my friends so I dont have pics, sorry. After a while our guides tour was getting boring so we dithced and started wandering around muesuem on our own. We found this posh professor type giving what seemed like an expensive high-class tour so we started asking him questions. He was obviously very knowledgable and got into a long winded explanation of which Pharoah was the one by Moses but caught himself and basically told us its inconclusive.

Next, was lunch, which we ditched and roamed around Cairo. It really is 3rd world, even the business parts are slumish and the roads are just wow. We tried to get bank to trade our $$ but it was no-go. After we made to the pyramids. Besides being an ancient wonder, they are really a tourist trap. You go there, take pictures, get hounded by vendors, maybe take an uncomfortable camel ride and leave. But we enjoyed it and got a bunch of good pics. Everything else from tour, besides from driving through Cairo was boring imho.

Anyway, after tour we made it back to Sharm for one more night. 

October 22, 2015, 11:18:08 PM
Re: Arizona Master Thread
Hows the westin?
I've been there already 3 or 4 times and it's one of my favorite places for an easy, low-stress getaway with the family.
Ok. We are back. When you say the Westin realize that there is the hotel and then the villas. We stayed at the villas, used the spa at the hotel. When you use the villas you are able to use the hotel facilities as well. Based on info found in this chat I emailed as well as called the westin before we left ny and requested a better room. SPG Gold doesn't get any privileges at the Villas, maybe because it's a time share facility. Nevertheless, they gave me the room we requested. They were extremely nice. We stayed 6 nights, relaxed and did little else, so this is not quite a TR you would expect. The villa has a kitchen, living room and bedroom. Has a balcony. Other than that, no windows, which, honestly, we didn't even realize till we were there a while. You open the porch door and that's fine. As expected, facing the golf course, it was very quiet. In reality, the entire Villa grounds were nice and quiet. When we arrived we were quite thirsty and the person behind the desk got us 6 small waters so we didn't have to run out. We got 500 SPG points for each day we didn't use cleaning. (It hasn't posted to my account yet, have a call in), Food - We went to Segals a couple of times. Food was good. Service a little lacking as far as speed, but nice staff. Had your standard chicken dishes. No dessert. Went to La Bella for pizza motzei Shabbos. Large selection. Very good. We went to Manhatten pizza for breakfast. Run down, small, not too appetizing a place, but the food was actually good. All other breakfasts we ate at the JCC in Scottsdale. We went to Kitchen 18 Sunday night and couldn't get in - 45 minute wait. That's when we hit Segal the second time. Kitchen 18 folks said they're breaking records on attendance. We ate there Monday night and the food is quite good, staff very friendly (not so friendly Sunday night, but they were overwhelmed). Now Shabbos. We first checked Kitchen 18 food. It was like going to a restaurant and picking out some dishes. We wanted "Shabbos" food. Saw segal had package deals (definitely not a package of what we wanted). They said no cholent. We went to Imperial. No cholent unless you order 3 pounds minimum? That'll never fly in Flatbush! Anyway, in Imperial you saw everything in front of you and picked what you wanted. No liver, except frozen Meal Mart. We bought our stuff there. We were totally not impressed with the food. Very unhappy. The chopped liver was sawdust. Shabbos - We walked to the Torah Center (Rabbi Shoshan). Last time we went to Scottsdale, 5 years ago, it took around 25 minutes to get there. It seems they moved. Instead of googles 45 minutes, it took us an hour walking slower. Never again. That's just because I can't do the walk. We met another couple, same issue. The shul is very nice to go to though. We did very little. We did do the wild west jeep ride, we thought a very good trip. Very educational. We did one day at the spa. Other than that we just relaxed. The weather, until Monday night, was beautiful Cold in the morning and beautiful the rest of the day. As an aside, we used AA for the trip JFK-PHX and the entire staff on both sides were overly pleasant to deal with and things moved very fast. The steward/stewardesses were just okay. Sorry about very little detail but we really went to just relax. We picked this instead of florida because every one else went there! We recommend the trip, but be careful about where the shul is for Shabbos. (We bought tape for the door and refridgerator for Shabbos and it worked fine.)

February 03, 2016, 10:44:17 AM
Re: Arizona Master Thread Scottsdale TR

While living in Silver Spring I was able to take advantage of all the direct flights going out of BWI from southwest.  Having a CP was amazing. Unfortunately, for the time being I moved to NY after school which has very few direct flights from southwest.  Zika narrowed down my options for a vacation spot as well.  However, I was able to find availability on the one daily direct flight from EWR to PHX on my anniversary weekend.  This made my decision a lot easier and I booked a flight from Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning.

After all the advice from DDFers I booked us a room at the Phoenician and rented a car from Fox.

The Phoenician is a really nice resort with a great staff.  It is also very well located.  However, I would like to point out that there is a resort fee ($30) and fee to self park ($12).  Tomorrow morning I will be looking to waive the resort fee and will update on the outcome. 

On Thursday my flight arrived around 3:30pm and we went straight to the hotel to check-in.  After walking around the hotel we decided to go to last chance.  Definitely recommend going.  If you sift through enough of their garbage patiently you will find amazing deals.  After last chance we went to Segals for dinner.  Have to say I was not so impressed.  I would probably go the chinese route next time instead of the short ribs. Fried wontons were okay. After dinner we went back to hang out at the resort and went to sleep.

On Friday I ended up waking up at around 6am due to the time difference with the east coast.  I called the concierge to see what I could do around the hotel and she recommended that I go on a hike of camelback mountain that was guided and left around 645.  The hike was actually amazing.  I never went to Hawaii and I am not such a big hiker, but I really thought it was a great experience (it was a also great weather for a hike).  The views on the summit were beautiful and you were able to get a nice 360 degree view of the PHX/Scottsdale area.  After the hike we went to pick up food at Imperial for Shabbat.  From there we went to Fresh Mint.  Have to say I am not a big vegetarian food type of guy so Ill leave a review for on that for someone else.  They did make a good limeade though.  After lunch we went to the hotel to hang out by the pool.  The pool area was amazing. They have many pools.  They even had one area with volleyball which was fun.  The pool area also had a water park type area for little kids.  This was actually the first trip we took without our 2 yr old, but there were so many activities for little kids around the hotel (feeding fish by pond, bubbles by the lawn, etc)

Saturday was relaxing.  The rooms have nice size balconies which allowed for us to make our Shabbat meals outdoors.  In the morning we walked around the hotel's cactus garden which was actually a decent size and pretty cool.  At night there was a movie showing for kids by the pool with glow in the dark tubes to hang out in the pool.  After the movie we went to Labella Pizzeria.  The calzones and pizza were actually very good and highly recommended.

Looking forward to coming back with my little son so that he can enjoy.  Hopefully next time I find the time to stay a little longer so that I can go to Sedona and GC.  However, if your looking for a place to just chill, Scottsdale alone will be enough to have a great time (at least if staying at Phoenician).

April 03, 2016, 03:14:24 AM
mgarfin's 2014 trip to Arizona-Delta glitch
This has been sitting on my desktop for a long time waiting for me to finish.
This trip was in March 2014.


On one cold winter morning I was leaving shul after some learning. I checked my texts and Yikes!! THERE’S A GLITCH!! I ran to my office. First, I needed to find a calendar and figure out when I can take off work and go.  So I pick a date and then, I don’t know why, but I searched NYC-PHX Arizona, and booked tickets. I went on to the next destination LA, by then it was dead. I then broke the news to DW, (while she was on a trip to Israel) that we are going to AZ. At first she was hesitant… “why Arizona??  I did not have an answer! I calmed her down by telling her that the tickets were for Delta Business NYC-PHX $39PP and our 11-month baby would have a seat.  Such an opportunity doesn’t happen that many times :)

As the date of departure got closer, I kept on reading the Arizona master thread, asked lots of questions, and got help from some great people (mumchim). As a new DDf member we ordered meals from Pom (had to try it for the first time – loved it!) and a gogo for the car seat (of course), and off we went. 

Day 1-Sunday

DL JFK-PHX was an old plane but the service was very good.  We were served a Bornstein meal which we did not eat :(.

We landed at about 12 PM, picked up a SUV from National executive aisle (Honeywell) (thanks to Citi executive card), and headed straight to Cholla Trailhead on Camelback Mountain. We hiked up with the baby in a carrier, 3/4 of the trail until we felt that it was too dangerous to continue. (I don’t recommend doing this with a baby, you really need to be a fighter like DW). Views are amazing and beautiful and the hike is challenging, exhilarating and fun.  There were many locals running up the mountain with their dogs as if it was a catwalk – they were very experienced!  It’s one of the 2 mountains in the whole city of Phoenix.

View’s from first stop

The terrain

After our hike, we went to our Hotel, the Sheraton oasis Scottsdale for the night (SPG). We had a pre-arranged upgrade to a suite from the hotel manager.



Day 2- Monday

We started out a bit late, since we davened with the latest Shacharis in town, 8am @ Chabad of Scottsdale.
Checked out of the hotel and off we went.

View’s from drive out of Scottsdale 

Our first stop was Out of Africa Wildlife Park, Camp Verde, AZ.  You get a really close encounter with the animals.  They also have a nice tiger show. We enjoyed it, but my kids would’ve enjoyed it more.  We felt it was just another kind of zoo (This place seems to get very good reviews on DDF so do your own research).

Next we headed to Fossil Springs Trail near Camp Verde, AZ.  We got a bit lost but finally found the dirt road that gets you to the trail head.  It was extremely muddy as it had rained the day before.  We drove down the road very slowly, stopped for some pictures of the view and of course of the sunken cars and pickup trucks (can’t find pictures). There was a nice brook along the way. It came to a point that we weren't sure if we missed the trail head or not.  There wasn't a person in sight, no cell phone service and the sun was starting to set, so we turned back.

From there we drove to Flagstaff AZ where we stayed the next 2 nights. We stayed in Double Tree by Hilton Flagstaff, which was booked through hacking a Priceline "name your own price”. We picked Flagstaff over Sedona because it was closer to the Grand Canyon and still not too far from Sedona, (but later, after visiting both cities we knew that Sedona is a better option as it’s a much nicer city). We got upgraded to a small suite.

Flagstaff in March

 Day 3- Tuesday

We drove up to the Grand Canyon - the drive was about an hour and a half. We parked and went to the main visitor’s center. The troopers where very knowledgeable and they gave us 2 maps (the one that's formatted like a newspaper was much clearer and better than the colored one) The map was a saver, very clear and easy to use. We watched a free film on the history of the canyon, it was not bad (but it was full of כפירה ). DO NOT waste your time or money at the Imax (before the entrance to the park)!
As soon as we got behind the visitor’s center, t I got my firs glimpse of the canyon.  Boy was I shocked when I saw it!!!  No pictures or words can describe it.  NIFLOAS HABOREI!!!!!

From the visitors center we took the bus to Bright Angel Trail.  We hiked just past the second tunnel - 2 ½ hours (with our 11-month old baby in a baby carrier). Weather was perfect for hiking the canyon – 50 F.  Views are magnificent!!! It was strenuous but well worth it.  We got the feel of hiking in the Canyon.

Next we took the shuttle to the Grand Canyon Rim Trail head.  From there you can either walk the paved trail or take the bus and hop on and off at each of the ten stops/lookouts.  The bus waits approx. five minutes at each stop and runs every 15 minutes. We took the shuttle for the most part but walked a few of the shorter segments. You get extremely different views at each look out. You even get to see the Colorado River. 

About an hour and a half before sunset, we started to rush back trying to make it for sunset at Yaki Point or Mather Point. The bus didn’t show up for an hour so we missed it. We drove out through Desert View Drive, thinking we would still catch some last sunset views at the further lookouts, and we were somewhat successful.  Night fell really fast and got pretty dark out there. We drove back and arrived at the hotel very late and collapsed.



 Day 4- Wednesday

We checked out of the Hotel and headed to Sedona -  driving through the AZ-89A highway which has spectacular Views. As we pulled in to town we found a tourist info booth and stopped to ask some questions.  We soon realized that the woman at the booth wasn’t going to be helping us out anytime soon since she had some guy listening to her “timeshare schmooze “.  We moved on. We parked on the main road and took a stroll down the main street.  It was full of touristy shops.


In Sedona one of the main things to do is jeep rides around the red rock mountains.  We needed a company that would allow us to take our baby along for the jeep ride.  We found a place that uses Hummer for their tours - as opposed to smaller jeeps (Sedona Off-road Adventures) therefore they can allow infants. They took us for a drive up Schnebly Hill Road with beautiful views.  It was a very bumpy ride, and we were told that the road is never repaired as to keep the adventure. For a few extra $$$’s we also got a tour of the city all the way out till the outskirts, and the guide pointed out names of mountains and much more.

Schnebly Hill Road


After that we got back in to our car and drove up to The Sedona Airport Overlook and got views of the red rock mountains from different angles.


Next we headed to The Bell Rock.  What an interesting looking mountain/rock.  We parked at Courthouse Vista and hiked up around till it got dark and DW got nervous. This was one of the highlights of Sedona.








From there we drove back to Phoenix and stayed at the Sheraton PHX airport hotel, close enough so that we can make it to the gate for our early morning flight.   

Reminder:  There is beauty in your backyard!!!   Before traveling the world look for the beauty nearby!! In Israel they say to someone wanting to travel abroad, “have you been to Eilat???”

May 23, 2016, 12:20:33 AM
Arizona Trip Report This is my first trip report so I hope I got it right!

My wife and I had an unexpected vacation opportunity so we took advantage of our bucket list item to visit the Grand Canyon.  We flew first class on AA from LGA to PHX via ATL for 90,000 AA Miles. 

We left LGA on Sunday afternoon.  When we landed in ATL we used United Club passes (from the United Credit Card) to pass the three hours.  The Club was nice, even though there weren't many kosher options.  But there was soda, coffee, and beer on tap.

We landed in Phoenix on Sunday night, picked up a Jeep Renegade from Alamo (booked using Costco Travel) and drove to our hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Phoenix North.  We stayed there just for one night for 4000 Starwoods points.

Monday morning we drove towards Sedona.  Near Sedona we went horseback riding at Horsin Around Adventures.  It was a 90 minute ride through the mountainside.  Not with Sedona views but was still gorgeous.  The guide made the ride even more enjoyable.

We then drove to Arizona ATV Adventures where we took a Double ATV tour.  This tour lasted 3 hours, and took us on a drive with stunning views of the Sedona mountains.  The guide was very helpful and provided water and chocolate bars throughout the drive.  It was really a remarkable adventure.

view from the ATV

After ATVing we drove to Flagstaff.  The drive was one of the most scenic drives with beautiful views of the Sedona mountains, as well as natural cliffs and caverns.  In Flagstaff we stayed in a Country Inns and Suites.  The concierge suggested going to the Lowell Observatory that night which was very interesting.  After a short explanation of the constellations, we were taken outside where the presenter showed us all of the constellations, as well as Jupiter and Mars.  They have several high powered telescopes on the grounds which we looked through and saw amazing close ups of Jupiter and Mars.  The night sky was the most amazing, or so I thought.

The bright star is Jupiter

The next day we drove to the Grand Canyon.  Lonely Planet has a one day plan for the Grand Canyon that we followed and we were happy we did.  We drove from to the East Entrance of the park, rather than the more crowded Main Entrance of the South Rim.  We started our day at the Desert Watch Tower which is the highest point at the South Rim.

View from the Desert Watch Tower

After the tower and one or two more lookout points, we drove to the Shoshone Point parking lot.  This is an unmarked and unadvertised trail.  There's a dirt parking lot that is 5.3 miles from the X trail.  After an approximately 30 minute walk, you reach Shoshone Point.  What you get is the most breathtaking views of the Canyon as well as peace and quiet.  They go out of their way to not advertise Shoshone Point, so those who do know about it are treated to the tranquility of the place.
Shoshone Point

We drove to the South Rim main entrance where we ate our lunch and then took the shuttle to to South Kaibab Trail which we walked to Ooh Aah Point.  Just follow all of the precautions that they tell you about hiking below the rim and you'll be fine.

Below the Rim

When we hiked back, we walked along the paved path from the South Kaibab Trail back to the main entrance.  We then went to Yavapai Point for sunset.

Sunset at Yavapi Point

After sunset we drove back to Flagstaff but with three pit stops on the way.  The first was at an ultimate tourist trap called Bedrock City.  There's nothing there but if you're a fan of the Flintstones you'll appreciate the 5 minute stop.
Hi Fred!

Once we reached US 180W we were driving in pitch black and no other cars on the road.  Twice, we stopped the car to look up at the sky.  THAT was the most amazing night sky I've ever experienced.  There are no lights for miles in any direction and you see more stars than you ever thought was possible.

Day 3, we did a quick morning hike at Sunset Crater National Park.

Sunset Crater National Park

Then we drove to Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde.  We enjoyed the park, but it's not a whole day activity.  The safari ride was nice, and the Giraffe literally put its head into the van.  The other animals were cool to see.


We then walked around to see the other animals.  The place is not a zoo so don't expect to see zoolike enclosures.  It's very natural.  The Tiger Splash show was great as well!

Tiger Splash Show

We then drove back to our hotel in Phoenix.  We stayed at the Westin Kierland, a 12,000 point a night Starwood Resort.  It was a beautiful place and we were on the top floor with mountain views.  We ate dinner at Segals in Phoenix, where the ribs were delicious as was the chicken shish kabob.

Chicken Shish Kabob

Finally, for our last day in Arizona we spent the early AM lounging at the pool and at the (empty from people) lazy river and water slide.  We checked out of the hotel and went to Fresh Mint for lunch.  A vegetarian restaurant, it was recommended very highly even for us meat eaters.  The food was excellent and we finished our dishes clean.

We went to the Musical Instrument Museum which was one of the coolest museums we've ever seen.  It's divided by continent and county and you get to see and hear the instruments from their native lands.  There are over 5,000 instruments on display.


We then ate a quick takeout dinner from Kitchen 18, a chicken salad and schwarma wrap, which once again were delicious.  We concluded our trip walking around the Desert Botanical Gardens at sunset, which offered breathtaking sunset views.

DBG Sunset

On the way home our flight from ATL to LGA was cancelled and we were rerouted through DC.  In DC they gave us a $24 food voucher for our trouble.  When we landed in LGA, our luggage was still in ATL but they delivered it to our home 8 hours later.

So minus the travel home, it was an amazing trip and Arizona should be on everyone's bucket list.

June 05, 2016, 07:51:28 AM
Motorhome Adventures in Utah and Arizona by PBaruch (2016) We are huge fans of America's National Parks and the American Southwest so DW decided to plan an RV trip throughout Utah and Arizona this summer (2016).  Since I selected our adventure in Iceland last summer, it was only fair to let DW choose a trip this summer.  Further, after renting a camper truck in Iceland, we were hooked and looking forward to an adventure in a proper full size motorhome.  The advantages of an RV include freedom to move around on a whim with no need to unpack in a different hotel each night.  However, the cost of an RV rental (including insurance and mileage) and fuel can be expensive.  As anticipated, the kids had a blast and are looking forward to another future RV adventure.

We flew into Las Vegas on an early Sunday morning and took a taxi to El Monte RV on Boulder Highway.  We decided to rent from El Monte because this was one of the few motorhome rental companies that we found to be open on Sunday.  Information about El Monte RV in Las Vegas can be found here:

We rented a 31 foot long Class C motorhome, information about which can be found here:

This particular model has a bed over the front cab, a queen size bed in the rear, a bunk bed in the middle, and a sofa and dinette that convert into additional beds if needed.  This model also has two slides.  One slide extends the living/dining room area while the second slide extends the bunk bed and rear bedroom area.  Although I was a bit apprehensive about driving such a monstrosity, my initial fears turned out to be unfounded.  Aside from constantly correcting the steering as a result of road conditions and wind gusts, it was fairly easy to drive.

Photographs of the RV:

DSC_6442 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6445 by P Bryan, on Flickr

A few interior photographs (more of which can be found on the El Monte website link above):

The rear bedroom with a queen size bed.

The rear bedroom with a queen bed. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The over the cab bed.

Bed over the front cab. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The check in process was painfully slow and if you are expecting car rental service you will be grossly disappointed.  We had to wait for several hours before finally being seen.  After going through the paperwork and a walk through of the motorhome with a primer on how to use the various systems, we were off.

Our first stop was at a nearby Walmart Supercenter, where we purchased cheap sleeping bags, pillows, drinks, and supplies for our journey.  The motorhome rental does not include any bedding/linens and there is a $50.00 per person optional fee to rent blankets, sheets, pillows, and other items.  Instead of paying this fee, we bought sleeping bags for $10.00 each and pillows for $3.00 each from Walmart.  We joined two sleeping bags together to create a queen size sleeping bag for the queen bed in the rear of the motorhome.

The sleeping bags we purchased can be found here:

Our next stop was at Smith's Food & Drug Supermarket, which has a dedicated kosher section with a large variety of take out foods.  Information about Smith's can be found here:

Photographs of the kosher section:

IMG-20160703-WA0008 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160703-WA0014 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160703-WA0012 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After stocking up on food at Smith's, we were off to Ruby's Inn RV Park & Campground, information about which can be found here:

We chose this particular campground because it was near Bryce Canyon National Park, our first destination.  We arrived at the campground well after dark and since our site wasn't "pull through," I had to back the RV into our spot.  It wasn't easy but we managed.  After parking the RV and hooking up to electric (which is necessary to run the air conditioning system and outlets unless you are using the built in generator), we went to bed.  DW and I had not slept at all the night before (due to last minute packing) and we were plain exhausted.  Although we didn't have much time to spend at this campground, it was my favorite because the RV spots were nestled among the trees.  Most of the other campgrounds we visited were more akin to cement cities.

The next day we visited Bryce Canyon National Park.  Here are some photographs taken at Bryce:

DSC_6467 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6506 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6475 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6559 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6582 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Bryce, we drove to Page Arizona, our second destination.  Along the way to Page, we stopped off at Hanging Garden Trail near Lake Powell Dam.  This trail leads to a hanging garden.

IMG_2275 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hanging Garden Trail (near Lake Powell Dam), Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Hanging Garden Trail, we drove to the Page Lake Powell Campground, information about which can be found here:

The next day we visited Upper Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon located on the Navajo Reservation.  I've been wanting to visit Antelope Canyon for years and it was a dream come true.  Our entire family, including my little guy, walked through the canyon.  Here are some photographs taken at Upper Antelope Canyon:

Upper Antelope Canyon (sunbeam), Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Upper Antelope Canyon, DW let me take a photo tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, which allowed me to bring my tripod into the canyon.  Here are some photographs taken in Lower Antelope Canyon:

DSC_6974 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6960 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6946 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Antelope Canyon - Spot the eagle by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6808 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6787 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, we drove to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  During our drive, DW became concerned about our little guy.  He hadn't been feeling well and felt very hot.  What most concerned us was his refusal to drink or eat.  Upon our arrival at the Grand Canyon, DW found a park ranger who called an ambulance.  The emergency medical technicians checked out our little guy and recommended that we take him to the closest hospital in Kanab, Utah located about 80 miles away.  We were told that our little guy had a fever, was dehydrated, and needed IV fluids.

Before the ambulance arrived, I was able to take a few pictures at the Grand Canyon:

DSC_6988 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7004 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upon our arrival at the hospital, DW took our little one into the emergency room while I stayed with our other kids in the RV in the hospital parking lot.

IMG_2649 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The little guy returned several hours later with a burst of energy unseen in days.  He was literally bouncing off the walls.  I'm not sure what concoction IV he was given but I'll take a double dose.  After a while our little guy settled down and we all went to sleep.

The next morning we drove to Zion National Park, our next destination.  At Zion, we did the Riverside Walk hike, a paved path running alongside a river.  Here are some photographs taken at Zion:

DSC_7015 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7034 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7058 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW was tired out and decided to rest with our little guy on a bench along the hike while I continued on with our other kids.  While DW was sitting on the bench, one of the ferocious park squirrels chewed through DW's backpack to get to some snacks:

IMG-20160706-WA0009 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The squirrels at Zion have no fear of people and we saw people literally step over squirrels on the path.  Clearly, someone has been feeding the wildlife.

On our drive into Zion we passed by majestic scenery which I thought I'd have an opportunity to photograph on the way out.  However, we drove out of the park using a different route and sadly I didn't have an opportunity to photograph those spots.  Zion is definitely a park I would like to visit again.

After our hike in Zion, we drove to Zion River Resort, where we camped for the night.  Information about Zion River Resort can be found here:

The following morning, we drove to Hoover Dam, our final destination of the trip.  Here are some photographs taken at Hoover Dam:

DSC_7129 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7175 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7121 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7165 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Arizona side of the dam had Arizona time:

DSC_7168 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Nevada side of the dam had Nevada time:

DSC_7158 by P Bryan, on Flickr

It was freakin hot:

DSC_7176 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Hoover Dam, we drove to Lake Mead RV Village, information about which can be found here:

On Friday morning, we drove back to Las Vegas.  Our first stop was at Smith's where we picked up food for Shabbos.  We then returned the RV and took a shuttle to the Westin, which I booked using SPG points.  We were unimpressed with the Westin but I didn't want to spend money to stay at a nicer hotel for Shabbos.

Our flight home was Sunday morning and we were all looking forward to get out of the Utah and Nevada summer heat.  At the airport, we visited the Centurion Lounge, which turned out to be a major disappointment.  I was very excited when American Express first opened this lounge upon hearing that kosher food was offered.  However, when we visited the Centurion Lounge, no kosher food was available.  Most of the fruit was already cut and they did not offer any disposable cups for coffee.  Further, when I asked for a disposable cup explaining that we could not use the ceramic cups, the woman at the bar rudely stated that they do not offer take out.

Here are some photographs taken at the Centurion Lounge:

DSC_7190 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7191 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We most certainly want to return to Utah and Arizona in the future and I am already planning a hike through the narrows at Zion National Park with a friend for next year.  I hope you enjoyed this trip report and thanks for reading.

August 03, 2016, 10:59:06 PM
Re: Motorhome Adventures in Utah and Arizona by PBaruch (2016) Dad taking pictures while waiting for the ambulance. Classic!
August 04, 2016, 08:04:00 AM
12 Day Midwest Roadtrip - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming I'm actually still mid-trip but figured I'd get started with the TR since there is so much going on.  My wife and I have been talking about doing this trip since we were dating. Now, 16 years later it's a reality. We like getting in a lot of activities not necessarily spending a ton of time at a particular place. It's about covering ground on our road trips.

Day One:

We flew into Phoenix on Southwest. My wife and I both have companion pass which cover our two kids.  We rented an intermediate SUV from Thrifty. The only interesting thing from my flight was that as a CCW holder, I decided to bring my firearm with me on a flight for the first time.  The requirements were a little tricky and the desk agent didn't know the rules as well as I did after the time I spent researching it.  It took some time but it worked out well.

We picked up food at Imperial Market and Deli. The restaurant there is pretty run down and not appetizing so we took our food and ate it at our first activity.

Hole in The Rock - There are shaded picnic tables and a very short hike, more like a walk up to a small mountain with a hole in it. We figured this was a good way to get the hiking juices flowing for the kids. There was a great view from the top and it only took a few minutes to get up.

Then we started making our way up to Sedona.

Montezuma's Castle - This was unplanned, we just saw it on the side of the road.  It's a national park so we bought our America The Beautiful pass here and went in. It's a great way to spend 30 minutes or so seeing these amazing apartment buildings built into the rock that the Indians created hundreds of years ago.  Was interesting to see. 

Then we arrived at Sedona.

Bell Rock - A nice sight to see and parking is free with the ATB pass. We walked up the path a little bit the clouds were getting threatening so didn't get too far. 

Cathedral Rock - Another nice quick hike up a really cool rock mountain (.9 miles round trip)

Sunset over Sedona - We had planned to watch the sunset from Airport Mesa Overlook in Sedona but it got very stormy so we just went to the hotel.

We stayed at a basic family owned motel, Sugar Loaf Lodge.  Nothing fancy but nice and the room had a microwave. We were able to back the SUV right up to the room and unload all of our bags, cooler, etc. It was a great, peaceful night sleep for $70.

I'll continue to add days to the TR tomorrow.

August 05, 2016, 12:28:02 AM
Midwest Roadtrip - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming Day Two

Because Arizona is three hours behind, we woke up plenty early and got started with our day. 

Devil's Bridge - This was really fun. It's a 1 mile hike up a dirt road and then a .8 mile hike up the face of the mountain. Not too strenuous but definitely got us working.  If you have a 4x4 vehicle you can drive the first part.  When you arrive at the bridge you can go out onto it, hundreds of feet up.  It was thrilling!

Slide Rock Park - This is a natural stream over rocks. You can slide down the rock face in the rushing water and then swim at the bottom. There's also a spot where you can jump off the rock about 15 feet into the water.  Obviously stay away if you don't go mixed swimming. But if you do, this was so much fun! The kids went sliding over and over. The wife and I went a couple of times and then swam.  It was kind of crowded which took away from the experience a little but still well worth it!  It's $20 per vehicle to enter.

That was it for Sedona, we started making our way up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The scenery during the drive just kept blowing us away. There was barely any time that the kids played with their Kindles.

Bedrock City - This is a cute roadside stop with a Flintstones theme. It's a good place to stop and rest and they have a tour of a mockup of the town of Bedrock. The tour was $5 pp and my kids had no idea what the Flintstones are so we decided not to spend the $20.  But we got some cute pictures and had a nice break.

We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park and stayed at Yavapai Lodge. We really wanted to stay in the park and this was the cheapest of the options, but not cheap.  It was a basic hotel room but had no microwave. Right across the street is a General Market which was a full grocery store and had a public microwave to use. So we kashered it and warmed up our food there throughout our stay. There was no wifi or cell service in the rooms but the main building and market had wifi so we checked in when we went to warm up food.

Sunset at the Canyon - The most popular spot to watch sunset is at Hopi Point. Because it's popular it gets crowded and unpleasant. So we went a few stops further on the shuttle to Pima Point.  What a beautiful site!

We took the shuttle back to the hotel, had dinner and and went to bed.

August 05, 2016, 09:37:39 AM
Midwest Roadtrip - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming Day Three

We went back to the general store to kasher and use their microwave again.  I forgot to mention that they actually have quite a bit of kosher food there. They even had sliced bread!  I wouldn't count on the market for meals but you can definitely supplement from there. There's also a Chase bank branch and a Post Office next door.

Grand Canyon Visitor Center - Spent some time looking at the exhibits and taking in the film.

Then we took the shuttle over to the Kaibob Hiking Trail and hiked down to the first stop in the canyon, "Ooh Ah Point".  It is a pretty easy hike on the way down and tough on the way up. Not strenuous at all except that you are going uphill for a mile or so.  If it weren't for the kids I probably would have gone on to the next landing but it was still worth it. The views are insane and change from every viewpoint. Being in the canyon was a different view and experience.

Then we hit Yaki Point and Mather Point and then stopped at the Geology Museum which was very cool.  Walking westbound from the museum for 10 minutes was a whole new view and well worth it.

That was it for the day. Back to the General Store for food and the hotel for sleep.

August 07, 2016, 02:07:09 AM
Midwest Roadtrip - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming Day Four

We drove out of the canyon village and stopped at a couple of more points on our way out.

Navajo Point - Not to be missed. You can clearly see the Colorado River and its impact on the canyon.

On our way out of the park we got blocked by a big elk meandering along the street. Was exciting for the kids and we got great pictures. 

We started making our way up toward Page, AZ. The drive, like all of them were beyond description, we stopped a few times to marvel at the views.  We would constantly be saying "Whoah!" As we turned a bend and saw a new sight. 

Lower Antelope Canyon - This was a real treat. We booked a few months in advance with the tour company Dixie Ellis. It was $20 pp plus $8 pp to the Navajo for the privilege of entering their land (it's the least we can do). We arrived about 45 minutes early and they ended up adding us to a previous group so we didn't wait long.  But it was really busy so we did have to wait a few minutes at the entrance to the canyon.

This experience is indescribable but I'll try. You got down about two stories of stairs and then walk through a slot canyon. It's not wide and you always can see the sky above but it's a combination of a canyon and a tunnel almost. So you feel pretty enclosed.  The structures and the colors were breathtaking. We kept saying "Wow" at every turn.  It was not at all physically challenging and it was well worth the money.

Horseshoe Bend - Just a couple miles away from Antelope Canyon is this horseshoe shaped curve in the Colorado river. You view it from above and the colors and textures are simply breathtaking. I couldn't believe it was real. This was my favorite thing to see so far.  I don't remember seeing something so absolutely beautiful in North America to this point.  It's a short, simple walk to and front the parking lot, about a half mile each way.  As always though, being water and sunscreen, etc. it was hot!

Swimming in Lake Powell - This was just a few miles north of Horseshoe Bend and a delicious respite from the heat and hiking. Again, if you don't go mixed swimming, skip this spot, but if you do, definitely take a dip.  Most places with access to the water charge for parking but we found a spot that didn't.   

Take a gravel road on right side just before the dam as you leave Page to access a big parking at the end of it (it is the second parking on the way about 5 min drive from main road). You can then hike down through the rocks to a small beach and take a swim in the lake.

The rocks that you climb down are really cool formations. My kids decided to not swim and just climb around which was great for them. I went swimming and the water was great. My wife stayed on the rocks and just took pictures of everyone.

(those are my kids on top, to give you an idea of the scale)

Old Paria - We ended up skipping this by accident but it was in our itinerary and is supposed to be amazing. It's a quick dirt road drive with amazing views right off the main road when driving up 89A.

We made our way up to St. George to Utah to spend the night there.  On our way we passed through a town, Kenab, that had serious flooding from an earlier storm.  Everyone was out putting sandbags out to save whatever they could. We saw police officers carrying people out of their homes. We contemplated stopping to help but figured we'd end up just being in the way and continued on.

St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm - This was an indoor activity that we had planned on case it rained. We didn't end up needing to do it but I kind of regret skipping it. It's a location where they actually discovered dinosaur bones and you can get up close and handle them and learn how they discovered them. 

Red Lion Hotel in St. George.  A beautiful drive-up room and an indoor pool in the adjacent building. The kids and wife went swimming in the pool and I fell asleep poolside.  That was a long day but amazing memories.

August 07, 2016, 02:52:32 AM
12 Day Midwest Roadtrip - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming Day Five

Glitter Mountain - my wife found on Pinterest a hidden gem (pardon the expression) of a place where one can bring their own hammer and chisel and can break away gypsum from the mountain.  It's a little bit of an adventure to get to buy a lot of fun.  DW found this hand drawn map online to help find how to get there. 

Zion National Park - Another National Treasure. Enough has already been written about how amazing this park is.  I'll just tell you what we did that was kid-friendly.  We really wanted to face our fears and hike up to Angels Landing but the weather looking threatening and we didn't want to get caught up there in a storm.  So we took the shuttle to the last stop, Temple of Sinawava and walked the Riverside Trail. Just as you enter the trail there's a turn to the left to walk along the actual riverbank, that was a lot more fun.  After that we took the shuttle to The Grotto and walked from there to the Emerald Pool Trail. The end of the Lower Trail was really cool, DW and I wanted to continue but the kids got kvetchy so we headed back to the car and left.

On our way out of the park we saw a huge herd of Bison which was a real treat!

The drive to Bryce was absolutely stunning.  Again, my kids didn't even touch their kindles. 

Bryce Canyon - Another sight that can not be explained or photographed. Simply breathtaking. We stopped at the visitor center to watch the video and get an intro to what we'll see.  Then we went to Sunrise Point and Inspiration Point. At Inspiration Point there was a short little hike down into the canyon that puts you right up against the formations.  The whole experience is impossible to explain, it's just so amazing.

It was time to start making our way up toward Yellowstone. We decided to spend shabbos in Salt Lake City on the way, but that's a pretty long drive. So we headed out and spent the night in Beaver, UT. It was a Comfort Inn and Suites that I booked with Choice Points. And my Gold status got us the family suite which was roomy and comfortable.

August 10, 2016, 02:05:44 AM
12 Day Midwest Roadtrip - Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming Day Six - Erev Shabbos

We woke up in Beaver, UT and made our way up to Salt Lake City.  We stopped off at Kosher TO Go, a family run business under the hashgacha of the local Chabad. They charge an absolute fortune so we brought our own shabbos food but wanted fresh challah so we ordered from her and picked it up along with a bottle of grape juice on Friday. 

Then we stopped at the Chabad house to get a yarmulke because one of my sons lost his along the way and didn't want to wear a baseball cap all shabbos.  It was a beautiful building but the rabbi wasn't the friendliest in the world. I put $5 in his pushka anyway for the yarmulke.

Olympic Park - This was the site that hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002.  There is a lot to see especially if Olympians are training there as they often do, even in the summer.   There are a lot of touristy rides that are super expensive so we skipped them but still and a great time. Standing next to the bobsled track and watching it zoom past you is an awesome experience.  The museum is interesting too, lots of interesting olympics artifacts. Well worth the visit and time.

The local grocery store chain is Smith's. We went into the one closest to the place we were staying and they had all of the usual kosher stuff you'd find in any grocery store. They did have the cutest little kosher section with mostly useless stuff but it was the thought that counts.  Although if I had known about it, I would have bought the grape juice there instead of paying almost double at Kosher To Go. Oh well, it's nice to support a small, family-owned business.

For shabbos we rented an AirBNB using the plentiful gift cards we had saved up from the Amex offer.

August 10, 2016, 02:33:27 AM
Vegas Zion Page Grand Canyon Sedona TR Thanks so much to all the DD posters whose TRs have been so helpful!
This trip has been one my husband and I have been talking about for a long time and I am so grateful that we finally made that dream come true.
Our trip was from Sunday through Thursday this past week (late August 2016), and in short, our itinerary was: Vegas, Zion, Page, Grand Canyon, Sedona, and flight home from Phoenix.  I’ll post one day at a time cuz it’s a bit long.
Day 1
We took an 8:30 a.m. flight from EWR to LAS and with the time difference, we landed before 11 a.m. We took the shuttle from the airport to National, and thanks to a link my husband found (recommended by a friend) we were able to rent as Emerald Club Executive members. This meant that, after making a reservation at home, we did not have to wait at the rental counter. Instead, we went straight to the lot, chose whichever car we wanted from the entire lot, and National recorded our choice at the booth on our way out. Very cool and convenient.
We wasted some time driving to a pizza place that turned out to be closed, and then had a wonderful lunch at Panini Café. Delicious food for decent prices. Afterwards we went across the street to Albertson’s to pick up kosher food. I originally planned to take everything from home so we wouldn’t have to shop, but our suitcase weighed a few pounds more than 50, so we took out tuna cans and other food. There’s supposed to be fresh Pas Yisrael stuff, but the guy who makes it was out sick or something and we only found some packaged rolls and basic cakes. Thankfully I’d brought whole wheat bread from home for myself. We did find cold cuts, cream cheese, crackers, and most other items on our list.
Once we had our groceries, we drove out to Hoover Dam. We had reservations for the Power Plant tour, which was very interesting. After the tour we went out on the roof and then onto the dam bridge and got some great pictures at both places. On our way out, we also stopped at the Memorial Bridge parking lot, because I’d heard that you can get the best view of the entire dam complex from there. There’s a bit of a hike up from the parking lot to the bridge, and though it’s not very long, the heat and steps made it a difficult climb. After some kvetching from my husband, we finally found ourselves on the bridge. The climb had certainly been worthwhile because the view was absolutely breathtaking!
We drove back to Vegas and checked into our hotel, Grand Vacations Hilton on the Boulevard. The hotel wasn’t on the Strip but about 15 minutes away, which is what I wanted. After taking some time to unwind and change, we went out for supper to Jerusalem Grill. Not a very fancy place but great food and nice people. After supper, we went to see the fountain at the Bellagio. Every half hour, there’s a light and water show, as the fountains dance to the music. Very cool.
I found the huge flashing billboards and noise on the Strip a little overwhelming. I’ll take a scenic vacation over a city one any time, so after the fountain show I just wanted to get out of there. We had considered stopping at the Circus Circus Hotel for a free aerobics show that goes on every half hour, but we were both tired from the flight and walking around the dam and neither of us was particularly interested in seeing Vegas night life, so we decided to call it a night.

August 28, 2016, 02:09:00 AM
Re: Vegas Zion Page Grand Canyon Sedona TR Day 2
I had hoped we’d hit the road early on Monday morning, but we realized that we hadn’t bought enough tuna and had to get back to Albertson’s, which is in the opposite direction. We made another stop at Target for a selfie stick and finally were on our way.
We reached Springdale after noon. As we got close to the park, we saw a sign out on the road saying that the parking lot inside was full. This meant we’d have to park in Springdale and take the shuttle to the park. In the end, that wasn’t necessary, since we found parking on the street, right across Cable Mountain Lodge, which is next door to the Springdale Shuttle stop #1 is. Stop #1 is in front of Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theater, and a path behind the building leads to a footbridge and the park’s walk-in entrance booth and the Visitor Center. (We paid the regular entrance fee at the booth because we didn’t think we needed an America the Beautiful pass, but with all the places we visited, we probably should just have purchased the pass.)
Now let me just say that while I like to hike, my husband is more of a reluctant hiking companion, so we were looking for the shortest hikes with the best views. We took the in-park shuttle in front of the Visitor Center and our first stop was at the Zion Museum. There’s a beautiful view behind the building, no hiking required! Next, we stopped at Zion Lodge, which has the trailhead for the Emerald Pools Trail. This was a really nice hike, partially uphill, with gorgeous views that led to beautiful falls. The trail continues to the Middle and Upper Pools. The path turns into a series of steps, which is very exhausting but makes for some incredible photo ops. We turned back at the Middle Pools. The way back is much easier as it’s mostly downhill. All in all, a doable, beautiful hike of 1.5-2 hours that I would highly recommend.
Next we took the Weeping Rock hike, which is quite steep but short, less than half hour round trip. The trail ends at a rock that forms an overhang of sorts that keeps dripping water. This is water that has seeped in centuries ago at the very top of the huge red rocks and slowly made its way down over many years. According to a ranger on site, the water dripping out of the overhang is some two thousand years old.
As we headed back with the shuttle to the Visitor Center, we made one more stop at the Court of the Patriarchs. A short, steep path leads to an excellent view of three prominent peaks, which have been aptly named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so we got some photos with them!
It was probably around five or six when we headed back to our car. We had reservations at Page, Arizona, so we still needed to drive another two hours that day, for a total of four hours of driving – the most of any day of our road trip. To get to Page, we actually had to continue on the 9, which goes directly through the park. We showed our tickets at the park toll booth so that we wouldn’t have to pay the entrance fee again. As the 9 continues through the park, it goes in the opposite direction of the park shuttle bus route, towards the other entrance/exit. The views towards that exit are absolutely breathtaking. We stopped several times to take pictures. Then, as we exited the park, we went through the famous Zion tunnel, which was blasted through the rocks. The views for the next few miles, through the canyons outside the park, are just mind-blowing and totally worth it even if someone is planning to turn around and head back towards Springdale or Vegas.
Eventually, the magnificent canyon views gave way to endless open desert, making it less of a wow drive for the remainder of the trip to Page.
I want to mention that I know I know I know that we should’ve stopped at Bryce first. Yeah, I know the rock formations are incredible and completely different from the huge impressive rocks at Zion. However, it’s an hour in the opposite direction, making it a two-hour detour, without calculating time to look around inside the park itself. We had only five days, and as much as we tried to shuffle the schedule we just couldn’t make it work. Besides, our road trip already included some 11 hours of driving, so we had to be realistic… Maybe one day we can get there through a flight to Salt Lake City.
Bottom line, our next pit stop was Page, Arizona. (We had some fun figuring out the time, because from Vegas to Zion the clock had to be moved an hour, and then from Zion to Page we had to move it back, so we had some weird estimated arrival times on Google Maps…)
We arrived after dark to Courtyard by Marriot Page. The lobby décor is rather rustic and different, but the rooms were nice and clean. Microwaves are available upon request, so we were able to reheat our store-bought, double-wrapped suppers.

August 28, 2016, 02:13:38 AM
Re: Vegas Zion Page Grand Canyon Sedona TR Day 3
Since we were traveling in late August, the area’s monsoon season, some drizzles were expected, and indeed we woke up to rain the next morning. We were scheduled for an 8 a.m. kayak tour with Kayak Lake Powell, but that got postponed due the rain. Fortunately, we were able to switch around our schedule. We had a Lower Antelope Canyon tour scheduled with Ken’s Tours for the afternoon. We drove down to their place and the rain stopped as we approached. We were able to change our canyon tour time to 10 a.m. so that we could do that in the morning and still make the postponed kayak trip in the afternoon.
The Lower Antelope Canyon tour is simply surreal. If you are anywhere within driving distance this is a must do. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. There is also an Upper Antelope Canyon tour but from what I understand it doesn’t come close to this one.
After the canyon tour, we met up with the guys from Kayak Lake Powell at Antelope Point Marina on Lake Powell, which is just five minutes from the Ken’s Tours. I personally love kayaking because I like feeling connected to the water and being able to take in the natural beauty without engines running. However, there are also boat tours and I think jet ski rentals available at Antelope Point Marina for those who prefer speed. (There’s a $25 entrance fee at the marina, on top of any tour or rental cost. Incidentally, we were originally going to do the Lone Rock Beach tour with the same company but were persuaded to switch by one of their guys. Not sure if he simply wanted to put us together with an existing group or this is really nicer, but just throwing that out there as another option.)
The Lake Powell tour was beautiful. Very pretty lake and after kayaking for a few minutes, you turn left and find yourself in the water between the canyons. (You can also rent kayaks and do this on your own, but I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to figure out where to go… )
After our kayak tour, we ate lunch in our car and then began heading towards Grand Canyon. However, on the outskirts of Page, we first stopped at Horseshoe Bend. Another must see site. There’s a short but somewhat difficult hike from the parking lot to Horseshoe Bend, and there are warnings everywhere to take plenty of water. Even though it’s not a long trail, it is under the open desert sky, with no shade and some uphill walking. Once you get to Horseshoe Bend, though, you forget how hard it was to get there. You look down into the canyon and see the Colorado River… Hard to explain. You just gotta see it to believe it! I always assumed the pictures I saw online were photoshopped, but all those colors are real.
After oohing and aahing and taking too many pictures, we returned to the car and continued towards Grand Canyon. We hoped to make it there, through the East entrance, in time for sundown, but clouds came out again and rain started falling. The Desert View Watchtower closed just as we came into the park, so we skipped that and went directly to Grandview Point. Though we got there in time for sunset, there was nothing to see but heavy clouds. We snapped some photos of the darkened canyon and continued to our hotel in Tusayan, the Holiday Inn Express. (I need a nice, clean room when I’m on the road, and from the reviews, it seemed that the hotels inside the park don’t fit that bill very well.)

August 28, 2016, 02:19:25 AM