Napa – March 2016

Back to wine country…Yet again.  Fortunately (at least for Alyce), she was not pregnant this time.  Also, we were finally able to work it out so that some friends could join us.  Patrick, who grew up with Alyce and I, along with his wife Stephanie met us late the first night from Houston.

This trip was a Wednesday through Sunday.  That timing worked out for a couple reasons.  First, I used award miles and that was when flights were available within Alyce’s possible vacation time.  Second, I booked the hotel using the 4th night free benefit of the Citi Prestige card.  With that, they give you a credit for the 4th night’s room rate + taxes.  And it is the actual 4th night – not an average of the 4.  So having that be a Saturday got us a much bigger credit.

This was our first trip to wine country in Winter (even though it was a week or two from Spring).  The temperatures weren’t bad, but we had rain every day.  And not misty light rain…We had legitimate hard rain.  We must have heard the following line 10 times over the trip – “Sorry y’all had rain the whole trip…well actually, not really because we can use it.”

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That is the downside of traveling December through March to wine country – rain.  It’s not that it’s a guarantee you’ll get rain (the weekend before and after ours were beautiful), but you are far more likely to get rained on than the other times of the year.  The plus side is that room rates are less and things are generally less crowded. Continue reading

Italy 2015 Wrap Up

[So uhh…Disclaimer.  This post is long.  Like makes previous posts that I’ve had a disclaimer on look short.  It’s just shy of 20,000 words.  A professional typist typing at 80 wpm would take 4 hours just to retype this post.  I don’t blame anyone if you don’t want to read through it entirely.  You can search the area/town you might be interested in or skip down to the concluding thoughts where I give more opinions/advice based on our experience.  The day by day portion is more of a travel journal.  Also, Alyce has a talent for saying more than I do in much fewer words, so you can read her posts too.  Good luck.]

 

Italy…Finally.  This one had been on both of our wish lists for a while.

Me – I’ve always been fascinated with Roman history.  The Romans were an incredible society and were more advanced than any other that would show up for quite some time.  My engineering side has always been impressed by what they were able to accomplish 2000 years ago.  My law side is similarly impressed with Rome.  The Louisiana Civil Code that we use today is a direct descendant from Roman law – one of the few things I took from the Legal Traditions class we had to take at LSU.  It equally influenced just about all of the Western legal systems.

Alyce – She has a strong Italian heritage on her mom’s side.  Her Nonna (the Italian word for grandmother) cooked all sorts of delicious Italian meals, many of which I was fortunate enough to get eat too.  Pasta, Pizza, Italian meats and cheeses are many of her favorite foods.  She loves the history too, just as I enjoy the food, markets, etc. as well.

As is usually the case, Alyce had to rein me in on the planning/scope of the trip.  I wanted 3 weeks.  Alyce shut that down being as we had never even traveled with James when she was submitting her vacation request.  Also, she had only been at her new job a couple weeks when vacation requests were due.  Going right for a 3 weeker would have been a little bold.  In fact, she just submitted her vacation requests for 2016, and the same situation played out.  I wanted three weeks; she settled at two.  I’ll get the three weeker in 2017… [Editors note: Since writing this, we have changed our 2016 fall vacation to 3 weeks.  Persistence pays off.]

Two weeks sounds like a lot – and it is for US vacations – but it really isn’t that long to see a country.  You lose one night to travel, so you’re down to 13 nights before you even get started.  Plus, we had a 15 month old with us.  We don’t quite see/do as much as we used to…

Speaking of which, I planned about half of what I usually would (in terms of meals/activities/wine/etc.), and we still ended up skipping half of what we had planned.  And that is fine and somewhat expected.  No one wins if we wake up a baby and have him scream through a lunch because we wanted to go to a particular place.  That’s not enjoyable for us or the others around us.

Similarly, I probably planned our stops a little differently in the past.  I definitely would have stopped a lot more along the way during our transits.  We drove right through the heart of the Chianti wine region and didn’t stop at a single place.  As it was, we stayed at 5 different spots over the 13 days…That’s moving when travelling with a one year old.

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Chicago May 2015

As previously mentioned, the California trip did not exactly go as planned.  We still were facing a trans-Atlantic flight to Italy in September and did not want that to be James’s first time on a plane.  Chicago was the perfect solution.

Several airlines fly non-stop to Chicago, and the flight is only about two hours.  Plus, flights were dirt cheap in May.  We booked on American for $105 round trip all in.  United had some flights even cheaper than that, but we missed them by the time we had plans nailed down.  This time, we went with three economy seats because first class was a lot more expensive.

James did pretty well on the flights.  He got a little antsy, but we broke out something he doesn’t really get at home – the Ipad.  That settled him.  He eventually fell asleep in both directions for about half of the flight.  The turbulence seemed to help with sleep; we were probably the only people on the plane hoping for turbulence.

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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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Paris to New Orleans in Lufthansa First Class (748i)

Booking this was a pain.

Lufthansa (“LH”) only releases first class award space to partners (like United) within 14 days of the flight date.  And then it is a crap shoot as to when space is actually released – especially two seats.

This is made worse by the fact that the United site is notoriously bad at showing “phantom award space.”  What does that mean?  United’s site will show seats as available, but – after you go through the process of filling out all of your information and basically booking the ticket – it will result in an error.  That means the seat is not actually available.

One solution to phantom availability it to use ANA’s award site, but it takes longer and is much less user friendly in general.  But it is accurate.  The problem with ANA’s site is that it doesn’t show award space within 4 days (or 3 – I don’t remember), so once you reach that point (when 2 seats are most likely to be released on the most popular routes) it is useless.

The above factors combined with trying to search for these at night after a day of walking around/eating/drinking/etc. made it a pain.  I won’t even mention the unusable internet at the Hyatt Regency Churchill in London and how it nearly caused me to jump off the roof out of frustration while attempting to look for flights.

All that said, I put up with it because I really wanted to make sure we got to fly Lufthansa first class this flight.  United’s award chart was destroyed for Star Alliance first class flights as of February 1st, so doing this in the future would be far more expensive.  For example, this particular flight cost us 67,500 miles per person.  Now, it is 110,000 miles per person; that is a 63% increase.  Or put another way, both of our flights only cost 25,000 miles more than what one flight will cost going forward.

I also wanted to try LH first class because everyone raves about it, especially the ground service.  And I could go on with the links…

Anyway, I secured two flights for us on one of Lufthansa’s new 747 planes, specifically the 748i, about 2 or 3 days before we departed Paris.  I had other flights on hold should Lufthansa not open up, so we were guaranteed to get home one way or the other.  The exact routing was:

CDG-FRA on a LH A319

FRA-IAD on a LH 748i

IAD-MSY on a UA A320

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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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