Charleston – August 2017

One random night in September 2016 (about 11 months prior to the trip), I was browsing the internet and reading random articles.  One on the great eclipse of 2017 caught my attention.  I thought it would be pretty neat to see a total eclipse being a bit of a physics/astronomy nerd…and look – the totality was passing right over Charleston.  My wheels were turning.

We had been wanting to go to Charleston for a while.  It just never worked out for various reasons.

Being way ahead of time, I checked for award flights.  Delta not only had available flights, but they were actually at a reduced rate of 9500 miles each way.  I also had Delta status at the time, so I could book and cancel award tickets without paying fees.

Flights were booked right at 11 months out.  I could always cancel if needed.

Next, I found award space at the Hyatt Place Charleston.  This is a category 4 Hyatt, so we were able to each use our annual category 1-4 award night from the Hyatt credit card.  I added on a 3rd day with points.

It seemed the stars were finally aligning for us to make it to Charleston – or should I say the sun and moon were aligning…I can’t resist the nerd jokes.

With nearly a year to go before the trip, I put it on the back burner.  In the meantime, we traveled to Spain and France, booked and canceled a trip to Spain and Portugal, and bought a major renovation project house.  Needless to say, I did not do much planning.

I booked this as an extremely quick trip to minimize time off of work.  And honestly, I was half expecting Alyce to bail on the quick trip when I booked it, but she never balked.

This trip would be just the two of us, and we’d leave Friday evening.  Our return flight departed at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, which left us enough time to watch the eclipse, hop on our flight, and get back Monday night.  With the tight schedule, we only had to take one day off of work.  Of course, if I had known that we wouldn’t be taking 3 weeks off for Spain/Portugal (or anywhere), I would have planned more time in Charleston.

We were all set.  And even though it was a quick trip, we had a great time.  Alyce chipped in with the research, and we ended up eating at some fantastic places by just waiting and eating at the bar (or late at night in the case of our first meal).

Day 1

Our flight did not depart until 4:30.  We each got in a pretty full day of work.  The late start combined with losing an hour to time changes left us not landing at CHS until 8:00 p.m.  The Delta flights again went off without any issue.  Both legs were pretty quick.

Catching an Uber to the hotel was easy enough and cost effective (~$15-$20).  Our driver was an Alabama fan, but he was a friendly guy – so I didn’t hold it against him.

By the time we checked in dropped off our bags and picked a place to eat, it was after 10:00.  Fortunately, our first choice of restaurant was open until 11:00 – Slightly North of Broad.

Alyce had read good things about it, and – even though it was late – we wanted to eat a good meal given our limited opportunities on this quick trip.  It did not disappoint.

We ordered a bunch of small plates and basically created our own tasting menu.  Everything was delicious, and I’d gladly go back for another meal.  That said, it may have been our least favorite of our three dinners…which speaks to the quality of our other two dinners as we had a very good meal at Slightly North of Broad.

One interesting close to the night was that both of our phones were completely out of batteries – something that rarely happens to either one of us.  But with the long day, all the Uber trips, and the fact that our phones were both 3 years old and on their last leg, we were out.  So we had to have the restaurant call us cab, which they didn’t even really seem sure of who to call.  After waiting 15 minutes, our ride finally arrived and took us back to the hotel.

Day 2

The Hyatt Place includes breakfast for all guests.  It is naturally not as nice a Park Hyatt breakfast, but it had multiple hot options and coffee.  We ate it every day and enjoyed it just fine.

After breakfast, we walked all the way down King Street from the Hyatt Place to White Point Garden.  We caught a Saturday morning market at Marion Square by luck on the way.  One thing was that it was pretty, pretty, pretty warm and humid being August and all…

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New York – May 2017

After cancelling our big Spain/Portugal trip, I still wanted to do something quick.  Being late May, our options were pretty open.  That is a good time to go many places.  I looked at several choices, but New York just made the most sense because we already had flights booked there (they would have been the first leg of our flights to Spain…we had to book the connecting flights to New York for Iberia).  Also, Alyce had two free nights to any Hyatt that were expiring soon, and the New York Park Hyatt is as good as any to use them.

We had been to New York once before (see the 2010 retro review).  That trip was mostly focused on fancy dining and more traditional New York tourist stuff – see a couple shows, go to the top of a tall building, museums, etc.

This trip was more about relaxing, hanging out, walking around, and doing whatever we felt like.  Part of that was that we really only finalized the trip about a week or two out.  So, most of the fine dining places were out even if we had wanted to do one, as I doubt we could get a reservation.  Also, the whole saving money thing with the renovation project, two mortgages…

As a result, we decided where we’d eat dinner the day most days – and it worked out just fine.  I had done some minimal research into ideas, but we were mainly winging it based on how we felt.  Same thing for where to walk/what to see.

We settled on a duration of 4 nights.  That’s my preferred length for a quick domestic trip.  While not Spain and Portugal, New York was still a very welcomed trip.  We hadn’t been anywhere since our 2016 Spain/France trip and were anxious to get back on the road.  Plus, being that it was just Alyce and I on the trip, it gave us a nice break from day to day family living.

Day 1

Our flight to New York (JFK) left late morning/early afternoon and was booked with Delta miles.  As mentioned, the original plan was to connect on an Iberia flight to Spain.  It was a completely uneventful flight.  I barely remember it writing this a couple months later.  We were in economy and mostly watched TV shows the whole flight.

The arrival at JFK was smooth, and we were out in a no time as we didn’t check any bags.  I decided to Uber, which was an uncomplicated/smooth process.  The actual ride itself…not so much.

We left the airport around 3:30, and things were moving quickly for the first 20 minutes.  However, we were about to hit some rough traffic.  I knew it was bad when my phone said we had 45 minutes left, then 15 minutes later said we had 50 minutes left.  Overall it took us over an hour and 45 minutes to get to the Park Hyatt.  Neither one of us were really feeling the car ride and were thrilled to get out when we finally made it.

So back to the hotel…We had two free nights from Alyce’s Chase Hyatt sign up bonus.  That meant we still needed to pay or use points for the other two nights.  And with rates over $1000 a night, paying cash was not an option.  Points it is.

I’ve emailed back and forth with an online friend who is a Hyatt “Globalist” (aka the artist formerly known as Hyatt diamond…lame name – I know), and he had offered to book a guest of honor reservation for us if it was worthwhile.  So we did it for the first two nights and hoped the benefits would apply for the whole stay.

At check in…Jackpot!  We were upgraded to a suite for the whole stay, and we received free breakfast for all 4 nights.  It worked out great for our 4 night stay.

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California March 2015

This was to be our first family trip with James, as well as our first trip in over a year.  But thing did not go exactly as planned…

Alyce had a week off in early March.  In planning, we knew we wanted to take James somewhere to test out flying/travelling with him prior to our planned Italy trip (in fall 2015).  It is still pretty cool in lots of places in March, so that led us back to one of our favorite destinations because we were confident that we would have good weather.  California.  And the weather was great.

The plan was to fly into San Francisco and rent a car.  Then drive to Carmel and spend three nights there.  Then spend a night in San Francisco in route to Napa, where we would spend the final three nights.  All hotels, flights, wine tastings, etc. were booked.

But that is when things went awry.  A couple days before we were set to leave, James came down with an ear infection—and that came with a strong recommendation against flying.  We weighed our options, which ranged from completely canceling the trip to Alyce staying behind and meeting me with James if he got better…to any other conceivable option.

Ultimately, we decided to go ahead and go alone for an abbreviated trip and leave James with his grandparents for a couple days.  Alyce would travel the first three days then head back, and I’d spend one night in San Francisco since we had used an award night that we could not get back.

This ended up working out well.  While I wish James would have been able to make the trip with us, the few days Alyce and I had alone were very relaxing.

On to the actual trip…As mentioned, the weather was fantastic.  Sunshine and spring time temperatures.  If anything, it was a little warm in the middle of the day.  Renting a car worked out great – driving is pretty easy in California.

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Chicago 2012 Retro Review

Chicago is a great location for a quick weekend trip.  It is very easy to get to from MSY (3 different carriers fly non-stop).  Plus, the flight is under two hours.  We left on the first flight Friday morning (flying United – we ended up getting upgraded to exit row seats for free which was nice) and were at our hotel by 9:00 a.m.

We just took a cab from the airport, which cost around $40-$50…Taking public transportation from O’Hare is supposed to be not too difficult and only $2.50 a person, so that is a definitely cheaper alternative.  Another positive with having a quick non-stop flight, you can leave your destination in the afternoon and still get back to town at a reasonable hour.

There is plenty to do in Chicago to keep you entertained for a long weekend.  There are many restaurants, ranging from the ultra high end to casual joints.  For entertainment, there are plenty of options…Museums, zoos, an aquarium, sporting events, shows, etc.  Chicago also has several Blues Clubs and Piano Bars for night activity.  We were pretty busy while we were there and still did not get to do a lot of stuff I would have liked to have done.

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Paris, France 2014 Wrap Up

Paris – the City of Light.

After a nice time in London, I wasn’t sure what to really expect in Paris.  I was fairly confident the food would be more to our liking, but I wasn’t positive at this point.  My confidence was a little shaken.

I could tell that public transportation was much more reasonably priced than London (1.3 Euros for a one way trip) and would get us to just about everywhere we wanted to go.  I was relieved to know that going in to it.  No more $70 US cab rides just to get to/from dinner 15 minutes from the hotel.

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London, UK 2014 Wrap Up

Europe.  Here at last.  While Europe seems to be the most common site for international travel –  as well as most peoples’ first intercontinental destination, we seemingly traversed the rest of the globe before making it to Europe.  Alyce had really been wanting to go to Europe, and I was excited about it too.  Our first stop – London.

London…Easy to figure this one out.  It’s the capital of the country England.  But wait, what about the United Kingdom?    Or Great Britain – where does that factor in?

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The Asian Detour

Hong Kong/Cathay Pacific

The start of our second trip around the world – albeit a much quicker trip than the last one.  Alyce was pretty anxious heading in to the last trip, and I couldn’t really blame her.  We were going to be away from everything that we knew and was familiar to us for nearly 3 months.

This time, she was much more relaxed (relatively speaking, of course).  We would only be gone for 12 nights.  And although neither of us were particularly happy about having to board Moose at the vet for that time, we knew he’d be taken care of.  Our parents watched the pain in the butt – aka Chunk.

We spent the night before we left in New Orleans, making things easier for the following morning.  Our flight to Chicago left New Orleans at about 7:30 a.m.  It was on an American Airlines Embraer E175 regional jet and we were in business class.  As with most domestic flights, it was pretty standard.  Though, I will say that the plane was actually pretty nice.  Many regional jets can be cramped/not good to fly on, but we liked this one.  And it was clearly a pretty new plane…I think it even had a new plane smell.

Upon arriving in Chicago, the cold air took our breath away on the brief walk up the gate bridge (I think it was 6 degrees F).  We followed the signs to the international terminal, and recleared security then waited for the lounge to open.

It was a little past noon, and the Swiss lounge was still pretty dead looking.  I finally found someone there and asked when they’d be opening, at which point I was informed that Cathay Pacific no longer uses the Swiss Lounge.  Oops.  I should have checked on that.

Now, Cathay uses the BA First lounge.  It is a bigger, much more spacious lounge compared to the Swiss Lounge.  That said, the food and drink selections were without a doubt superior in the Swiss Lounge.  It was not a big deal, and the extra space was nice.  Plus, you get your fill of food on the plane.

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