Friday, November 30, 2012

Travel Inspiration Photo #8: Sana'a

This weeks travel inspiration photo comes from Sana'a, Yemen.  Sana'a is the capital of this country at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula.  Most people probably know both Sana'a and Yemen as a hotbed for terrorist and Muslim extremist activity.  These facts shouldn't stop you from researching or getting excited about a visit -- you may just need to do a bit more planning before you head off.  Have you been to Sana'a?



Does this photo make you want to pack a bag and take a trip? How do you get inspired?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Travel Inspiration Photo #8


What inspires you to travel?  A photo from a friend or a news article often inspires me to research a new destination -- or to plan a trip.


Does this photo make you want to pack a bag and take a trip? How do you get inspired?

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Olympics & More: AC Barcelona Forum

When I first heard that Marriott was going to enter into a JV with AC Hotels I got pretty excited.  I've heard some great things about these properties (located in Spain, Portugal and Italy) and I was excited that I could earn Marriott points with a stay.  

We decided to pull the trigger and stay at the AC Barcelona Forum for our final night.  The lobby is enormous, with large windows and an incredibly high ceiling.  I loved the space.  In addition to ample seating and the check-in area, you'll find work stations with computers and a very large multi-national newspaper selection.

As we checked in, the front desk clerk greeted us in Catalan and Spanish. She asked what language we would prefer to speak during check-in (yes, English was offered). We opted for Spanish.  While MS is pretty fluent, I am not. I studied for about three years in High School, but surprisingly I understood about 80% of what she said. I must admit, I was a few seconds behind the conversation as my brain processed the language, but I did get most of it.


The elevators were quick and spacious as well.  We had a queen room with a view of the harbor. The room felt very rich because of the deep tones of the wood. The room even had a couple plug ins at each night stand -- and we all know how much that means to me!



The windows opened fully too -- something we don't see to often in the US, damn our litigious nature.  One issue though, water was dripping from the window - not sure where the water was coming from, but when the window was open there was a pool of water on the floor.



 A CD player was available and they even provided a nice AC Hotels mixed CD for us - we could have taken it home with us for an additional charge. We were content to listen to this in the room and that was it.


The bathroom was very clean and modern.  The dark green marble also made this room feel more luxurious than the going rate.  The water pressure was great and the hot water was plentiful.  We had plenty of towels too -- even after I had to use TWO towels to soak up the water around the window. Yet another hotel pet peeve of mine -- an inadequate supply of towels.





The hotel was across the street from a busy shopping mall, which I did visit to buy an extra suitcase because of my French shoe shopping addiction.  The hotel is a very short walk to the Besos Mar subway station and is also at the Forum tram stop.

We didn't eat at the hotel (Barcelona has some great food and we wanted to get out and explore a bit more our final night in the City), nor did we visit the gym or the swimming pool.

I would definitely stay at this hotel again - it was close to transportation and with ample taxis to get you were you needed to go in the City.  This area does have some cool modern buildings, but if you want to stay in an area surrounded by the Gothic Architecture Barcelona is known for, stay elsewhere. If you want a modern hotel with top notch service at a very reasonable price, this is your place.  We paid less than 125E for our room.

Have you stayed at the AC Barcelona Forum?  Have the AC Hotels changed since their partnership with Marriott?

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Classic Airline Commercials - United 1982

I was playing around on YouTube a while back and stumbled across some old airline commercials.  These are so dated, but do make me miss the days when air travel was more glamorous.  Granted, I never flew when the airlines were in their hay day - the first flight that I remember was in 1982 (I was three), but compared to flying now, the 1980s were the golden age of air travel.

Check out this commercial for United Airlines.  Two things that make me smile about that commercial:

  1. "...we've built the largest airline in the free world." What was the largest airline in the non-free world in 1982?
  2. Check out those quintessential 1980s United colors - the best part, Seattle Airport still has that color scheme in their United gates - see the pick from our PNW Road Trip below the video! 



United Gate at SeaTac -
Photo Taken August 5, 2012 -- Yes, 2012.
Oh how times have changed, haven't they?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Olympics & More: Montpellier, France

Our final stop in France was Montepellier. We didn't have as much time in the City as we had hoped, the major traffic jam the day prior really put a damper on our itinerary.  One of our guidebooks called Montpellier the Oxford of Europe (I guess you have to forget that the UK is in Europe for this to ring true, but I get what they were intending).

Montpellier is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon Region in Southern France and is home to a quarter of a million people.  This third largest City on the French Mediterranean Coast (behind Marseille and Nice) and the eighth largest City in France is also home to the University of Montpellier. The University was founded in 1160 and is one of the oldest on Earth.

Some amazing Roman Ruins still exist in the City like the aqueduct below.



The Porte du Peyrou, an Arc du Triomph was built in built in the 17th Century and was designed to celebrate the reign of Louis XIV.



Louis XIV
Louis XIV






While we didn't get to spend too much time exploring the City, we did really enjoy the limited time we had.  I could see us going back to visit if we were in Southern France again. The City is very walkable and has a tram system that got us everywhere we needed to go.  You have to love a small European City with a large student population -- great cheap food, great transport and just a great vibe.

Have you been to Montpellier? What is your favorite City in Southern France?

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Assembly of United's B787 - Time-Lapse

I am a fan of both @United and @BoeingAirplanes so this time-lapse video showing the assembly of United's 787 Dreamliner just makes me happy.

We saw this plane post assembly and pre-delivery this summer when we toured the Boeing Facility in Everett, WA.  Thanks to Darren at Frequently Flying for introducing me to this video.


Have you flown the B787 yet?  Do these videos get you excited for new airline products?

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Irish Passport Stamp

The Irish Boarder Control folks use green ink to stamp your passport as you enter the country.  If this doesn't fill you with Irish spirit, I don't know what would. 


Can I just say, I am glad the US doesn't use a Red/White/Blue ink pad for its stamps.

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Thanksgiving in Ireland : Introduction

We spent Thanksgiving in Dublin, Ireland this year, returning last night. Ireland was on my visit list (very few places aren't on this list, really), but it wasn't very high on that list.  A dear friend loves Ireland and she studied there a few times in College and has made a couple return trips since we left school too.  She loves it.  I had to visit.

The airfare during Thanksgiving week to Europe is dirt cheap - no business travelers and very few people going to visit people in Europe for the holiday. We found airfare that was cheaper to go to Ireland than to go to Los Angeles.  Who wouldn't want to visit Ireland under these circumstances, right?
Did you travel (away from family) this Thanksgiving? If so, I want to hear all about it!

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Travel Inspiration Photo #8: Goa India


Our travel inspiration photo comes to us from Goa India.  While I am not necessarily a beach person and am not really a cow on the beach person either.  Goa has been on my list of places to visit since I first saw the Bourne Supremacy, then when I first started practicing yoga I became interested yet again in this area.


Does this photo make you want to pack a bag and take a trip? How do you get inspired?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Travel Inspiration Photo #8

What inspires you to travel?  A photo from a friend or a news article often inspires me to research a new destination -- or to plan a trip.


Does this photo make you want to pack a bag and take a trip? How do you get inspired?

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"Opt Out" Thanksgiving

Some of you may be aware of this already, but the Thanksgiving travel weekend is a time when travel activists and regular Joes choose to "Opt Out" en masse at the airport.

Opt Out of what? The TSA Nude-O-Scopes a/k/a the full body scanners. The thought is that if enough people opt out it will cause havoc at the airport and TSA will remove this equipment. I do favor grassroots protests but do I think this will work?  I think if the stars and moon align people could miss their flights, but I don't think it will lead to the removal of the equipment.

Will I opt out today? Yes, but I opt out every time I fly. If TSA wants to see my junk, just ask...no photos please.

Are you opting out?

Thanksgiving Travel

Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest air travel days in the US. This year is the first time in several years where I am actually flying on this day.  I am flying to Dublin and spending the long weekend in the emerald isle.  I have a whopping 3 hour lay over at Heathrow -- and I am hoping to grab a quick shower at the Star Alliance Lounge before continuing on to Dublin.

What do we have planned in Dublin? Well, we are going to take the Guinness Brewery Tour, Take a Bike Tour (like we did here, here and here) and have dinner at a Michelin rated restaurant.  We are staying at a pretty new hotel in Dublin and staying a night in a castle a couple hours outside of the City.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving?  Are you braving the holiday travel rush or are you staying local and low key?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To Upgrade of Not To Upgrade (United)

I fly to #Ireland on Wednesday with #United.  The last time I flew to Europe I upgraded for 16,000 Miles and $440 to business class. This was the best travel money I ever spent (well, the way over it was the best, the way back it really was just fine).

Last time United offered a discount on both the number of miles and the co-pay. Now the cost is 20,000 miles and $550.  The miles mean nothing to me since I have a ton of United miles, but the $550 is a bit much. This is the one way cost, not the round trip.

I am debating on upgrading to BusinessFirst on my flight over to Europe (I won't upgrade on the way back though).  Last time I upgraded because I had only 48 hours in London and wanted to hit the ground running - after getting good sleep on the flight. This time my flight leaves in the mid afternoon, so sleeping really isn't a real option.

I just spoke to MS, who left yesterday for Ireland (yeah, don't get me started on the early departure....) - he said the jet lag is really getting to him, mostly because of the grey, cool, rainy weather (well and the time change of course).  This makes me think I should try for the upgrade.

What do you think? Should I upgrade to BusinessFirst or hang out in my exit row seat for the 8 hours to Europe on Wednesday?
Should I pay $550 more plus 20,000 miles to sit here....
Or here...?
What would you do?

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Going for Starwood Gold?

I think I'm going for gold status with #Starwood this year.  Gold status only requires 10 stays or 25 nights at Starwood properties in a given year.  The Starwood American Express card gives you two stays and five nights towards this status too.


What does Gold status get you?

  • 3 Points/Dollar spent at Starwood Properties (up from just 2 with your general membership)
  • 4pm late checkout if available
  • An "enhanced room" at check-in, if available. This isn't necessarily a room upgrade, but could be a room with a better view
  • Special customer service phone number for Elites
  • A Special Gift at check-in of either complimentary in room internet access or a free beverage
I currently have seven Starwood stays this year (including the two free stays from American Express).  While I don't think these benefits are necessarily worth a "mattress run", I do think it is good enough to switch some hotel stays from Hilton to Starwood this year.  I have one three day trip coming up in December for work. I am thinking about hotel hopping on this trip.  My colleagues will be staying at a Hilton near Disney (god forbid).  There are a couple Sheratons within 1.5 miles of the Hilton. 

If I do this hotel hop, I will start at one hotel for the first night, then switch to a different the second then return to the first for my third and final night.  Have any of you hopped between hotels like this to get your status?  Was it a pain the neck or totally worth it?

What would you do?


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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Tomato Soup and Cheese and Bacon Sandwich

Tonight I fixed Sunday dinner for myself, since MS is in Ireland. I decided to make homemade tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort food.  I pulled out the classic Joy of Cooking cookbook and found their simple tomato soup recipe.  This was by far the easiest soup recipe I've ever made. Chop an onion, saute in olive oil, dump two 28 ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes into the pot and cook for 30-60 minutes.  Once cooked down, puree the soup with either an immersion blender, food processor of blender. I chose the latter.  Return to the pan and heat thoroughly.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

I told you this was crazy easy. I added a bit of basil to the soup too -- how can you have a tomato soup without basil?  I made a cheese sandwich too -- and since I am a big fan of gluttony I added a bunch of bacon and tomato to the sandwich.

Sauteing the onions
Red Gold did not sponsor this blog post...
Big pile of bacon next to piping hot soup
Grilled cheese with tomatoes and bacon and tomato soup 
Cheese sandwich with tons of bacon and
tomatoes - a not so healthy dinner

What did you fix for dinner tonight?  Did you cook up a big pile of bacon to go with whatever you were cooking?

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Travel Inspiration Photo #7: Halong Bay, Vietnam


Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam is our Travel Inspiration Photo.  This area is just 100km from Hanoi.  This natural wonder is made up of hundreds of limestone islands that create a maze of beauty and seclusion.



Have you been to Ha Long Bay?  Who wants to hop on a flight right now and experience this amazing area?  Anyone have a tripped queued up to Vietnam?

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Olympics & More: Courtyard Montpellier

We stayed in a brand new Courtyard Marriott in Montpellier.  This hotel opened just a few weeks before we arrived.  This area of town is so new, the recently updated GPS didn't even have the streets surrounding this hotel or the plaza it was on.

We pulled in and found that the garage was full - we had to park across the plaza in the Town Hall parking garage.  The front desk clerk was not at all interested in helping us.  She said the bars and restaurant in the hotel were closed (even though we saw people in them), WiFi was an additional charge, even though my reservations indicated it was included and when I asked for a recommendation for someplace to eat in the area, she said she just didn't know.  I asked for a tourist map of Montpellier and she said they didn't have any.

The hotel itself was very sleek and modern and set on a newly constructed modern plaza.  The rooms were perfectly acceptable. There was enough room for the two of us, they were clean (which isn't something all the common, considering some of the hotels I've stayed at this year: here, here, and here).

Sleek, Modern Courtyard Marriott
Big comfy king sized Marriott bed



The room itself was comfortable although the hallways were a bit noisy - with doors slamming and the echoing of conversations.  The water pressure and temperature were both great.  Despite the rough greeting we received by the oh-so-helpful front desk clerk, I would return to this hotel, next time I stay in Montpellier.  The building was pretty cool, the area new and had enough  to do after hours - and it was very close to public transit.

Have you stayed in Montpellier before?  Do you like to stay at hotels right after they open or do you prefer to wait a few months so they can work out the kinks?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Travel Inspiration Photo #7


What inspires you to travel?  A photo from a friend or a news article often inspires me to research a new destination -- or to plan a trip.



Does this photo make you want to pack a bag and take a trip? How do you get inspired?

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Olympics & More: Road Trip to Montpellier, France

We left Carcassonne and continued our European road trip.  We hop in the car and plan to go straight away to Montpelier, check in to the hotel and explore this old City.  The 152 kilometer trip along the A9 would take us by Narbonne and Beziers to Montpelier.  This trip should have taken us about 90 minutes. After about 30 minutes on the road the GPS flashes a change in route and directs us to take the next exit...which was about 100 meters away.  Going 120 kpm, we couldn't get over to take the exit. HUGE mistake. The GPS then gives us a news flash of a car accident on the A9.  This was a catastrophic accident. Two trucks and three cars crashed blocking all lanes of traffic.

We were at a standstill.  We sat, not moving, in total gridlock traffic listening to the same three songs on the radio (Nikki Minaj's Starships, Flo Rida's Whistle Song and ..... oh god, I can't remember the third song now. I thought I would never forget this...I will update when it comes back to me).  It was torture.  We eventually made it to the next exit -- after 4 hours of sitting in traffic.  The exit and surrounding roads were not designed to take all the traffic from the A9 -- it was continued gridlock, but at least we were moving.


First Exit Required
Toll Booth Attendants handing
out water as we exit the A9
Off the A9, on local streets
We eventually made it to Montpelier -- but it took us more than 6.5 hours from the time we left Carcassonne until we arrived at the hotel.  This was by far the longest, most miserable roadtrip day I have ever had. Everything was just out of our control -- we were just there.

France really just kicked our butts this day.  We were exhausted, frustrated, hungry and angry that we missed a good portion of the day being stuck in traffic.  We didn't get mad or yell at each other though, which was great - and a bit surprising.

I hate road trips.  Have you ever been stuck in a situation like this before? How do you entertain yourself when you are trapped in a traffic jam like this?  What's the longest you've ever been trapped in traffic before?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Olympics & More: Carcassonne, France

After the Airbus Factorie Tour we headed south. Our ultimate destination was Montpellier, France.  The total distance between these two Cities is 242 kilometers and should take about 2.5 hours without stops.  We wanted to stop in the medieval town of Carcassonne which is just 96k from Toulouse.

I wanted to stop here because this City is referenced many times in my French textbook (yes, I'm still taking classes at Alliance Francaise).  I wanted to wander around this ancient City, find the Youth Hostel (another key location from my French Alter Ego text book).  We parked in Carcassonne and walked about 15 minutes up to the old City.

This place was a total tourist trap.  It was absolutely packed with tourists. The streets were lined with postcard and t-shirt shops.  You could buy poorly made medieval trinkets or tour books in one of 15 different languages on every corner.  The worst part -- there is no Youth Hostel in Carcassonne!  Now that was the most disappointing part of the whole City.







Madam Carcassonne!
The history of Carcassonne is quite interesting though.  Around 800 AD (the story goes), the old walled City was under siege by Charlamagne and almost ready to fall. The City had almost no food - they were nearly defeated.  A woman stuffed her last remaining pig with all the food she could find (the pig was still alive). She then tossed the pig over the City walls and when it hit the ground, it burst open. The army laying siege saw this stuffed pig with all this undigested food and they realized that their must be a near unlimited amount of food stored inside. The siege would not last.  The army packed up and moved on. The City was saved...or so the tale goes.

The Medieval City itself was beautiful, but Carcassonne was a mess - I would not go back. The tourists just made me miserable.

Have you been to Carcassonne?  Are you studying French with the Alter Ego books - did you want to go find that woman who works at the Carcassonne Youth Hostel?

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