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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Spain and France 2016 Wrap Up

Our second big international trip with James.  The first one didn’t scare us off?  Are we crazy?  Probably.

Italy with a 15 month old was tough, but I was optimistic this trip would be easier for several reasons:

  • James was a different child one year later than Italy– though still very active and energetic.
  • We were bringing/meeting help in the form of our cousin Sam and James’s grandmother (Nonna).
  • We were more experienced travelling with a child.

You can go back and read my planning post (link) for more thoughts on that, as well as how we ended up at our final itinerary – after several changes (indecisive planning, terrorist concerns, etc.).  To summarize, we had a full 21 nights.  12 would be spent in Spain and 9 in France.Itinerary1

France and Spain are two pretty prominent countries for American tourists.  We had never been to Spain and had only been to Paris in France.  We were excited to get to both countries and – in our typical travel fashion – visit several places in each.

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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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