Holy Egg Shells Batman, I’m Going to Vietnam

I have two very exciting pieces of news.

1) I booked a winter trip to Vietnam with my amazing friend Lisa!

2) I finally liquadated my Delta miles – my least favorite miles that were bound to lose value the longer I held onto them.

jimmy-fallon-elmo-happy-dance-saturday-night-live

Okay, let me back up. Lisa has been dying to take a trip to Asia, and I have finally shaken the miserable memories of my incapacitating jet lag from my last Asia trip. So we debated between a handful of Asian countries I haven’t yet been to – India, Vietnam, Indonesia – and settled on Vietnam. The fact that Delta had business class tickets available for only 70,000 miles each way – well, that was just the pickle on the awesome sandwich that is my life.

Many travel bloggers have written extensively about Delta’s disappointing awards program. Only last week, Delta further devalued their program. I’ve been sitting on over 140,000 Delta miles for a couple of years, a result of actual butt-in-seat miles and stupid credit card signs-up when I first started playing this crazy game. (Remember when I thought a 30,000 sign-up bonus from Delta was a steal? Hahahaha.) But even the worst programs have a sweet spot, and I found Delta’s. Both Korean Air and Vietnam Airlines are Skymiles partners, and I managed to find business class seats in both directions for 70,000 miles a piece and a total of $105.30.

Check out the map of our flight itinerary below (though I haven’t booked the intra-Vietnam flights yet):

Tagged ,

HOUSEKEEPING ITEMS

I’ve updated a couple of items on the blog to make life easier for people who want to find things. Namely:

1) I’ve updated many destinations in the travel gallery if you’re looking to get a quick photographic taste for a particular city/state/country.

2) I’ve created a category dropdown menu at the top if you’re looking for all posts having to do with a particular topic.

3) You can also now follow me on Instagram.

4) If you don’t give a flying fuck, that’s okay too.

Cheers!

Tagged

Part #10: Highlights and Lowlights

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?
Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion
Part #9: First Class Baby!

My second trip to Asia was many things: Amazing, exhausting, eye-opening, cold, beautiful, empowering, and scary. Here are some of my favorite and not-so favorite experiences.

Highlights:

1) Traveling with my sister: This was my sister’s first trip to Asia, and it was exciting to see the excitement of travel through her eyes. She is now off to the Canadian Rockies this summer with my youngest sister, and I’m so excited for them.

2) Kyoto: Japan was a complete surprise. I didn’t have many expectations for Kyoto, and it turned out to be a beautiful, charming, and friendly city. I easily filled four days there.

**IMG_7338

3) The Great Wall of China: The Great Wall of China stands out as a top tourist attraction for a reason. It is truly stunning. I highly encourage you to to take a guided tour to a less touristy part of the wall so you can enjoy the splendor without thousands of other tourists.

@*IMG_2316

4) First-class: Traveling in first class – what is there not to like?

5) The Shanghai skyline: Despite the cold and the numbing sensation in my fingers, the Shanghai skyline was enchanting. The Shanghai Tower – now the second tallest building in the world – was the icing on the cake.

****IMG_4611

6) The Shanghai Ghetto: We visited the old Jewish ghetto where my maternal grandparents lived for several years during World War Two. For years, I had listened to my mom tell the story of how her parents escaped the Holocaust. It was extremely meaningful and fascinating to visit the place they called home for five years.

**IMG_2911

7) Traveling solo: Yes, traveling by myself for the last couple of days of my trip was slightly terrifying, but it was also empowering. I came home knowing not only that I am capable of traveling solo, but that I am capable of enjoying it.

Lowlights:

1) Jet lag: The jet lag on the way to Asia was no picnic, but the jet lag I endured after I came home was brutal and incapacitating. It was enough to make me swear off of Asia for a year.

jetlag2

2) Traveling solo: Like I said, the anticipation of traveling by myself in a foreign country was terrifying. All my bravado and wanderlust aside, I’m not very good at being alone. Being alone in a foreign country kicked my normal anxiety into overtime.

Friday-Friendly-Funny-Dave-Blazek-Friendly-Planet-Travel-Solo-Travel

3) Navigating in China: The lack of English and general expanse of China’s mega cities made the simple act of navigating challenging – although not impossible.

funny-English-signs-in-China-3

4) The Beijing smog: We were lucky to have a day of clear blue skies in Beijing, but found out just how bad Beijing’s famous smog truly is. There is nothing like a grey curtain hanging overhead to ruin a good picture.

**IMG_1562(2)

5) The cold: We knew it would be cold in China so this wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it was still a nuisance.

Tagged , , ,

Part #9: First Class Baby!

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?
Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion 

After two and half weeks in Asia, it was time for me to return home. I had a great time, but I was looking forward to my apartment, my bed, my television, etc. I was also looking forward to flying first class – YES, FIRST CLASS.

First class on United was only an extra 10,000 miles over business class – 80,000 miles and $61.40 – which was a no-brainer to me. For years, I’ve drooled over reviews of over-the-top first class products on Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, etc. United’s first class does not live up to that standard – not terribly surprising given United’s mediocre business class product. It was more like an extremely luxurious business class seat, but it was still lovely.

First up, I visited the lounge in Osaka’s airport.

*2014-12-09 12.12.55

*2014-12-09 12.13.14

*2014-12-09 12.13.31

*2014-12-09 13.12.23

I had a short stopover in Beijing and sprinted to the first class lounge to take some pictures and stock up on diet cokes. The lounge was spacious and lovely. I wish I had a little more time to revel in the luxury.

*2014-12-09 18.19.47

*2014-12-09 18.20.48

*2014-12-09 18.21.02

*2014-12-09 18.22.02

*2014-12-09 18.25.27

*2014-12-09 18.26.49

Finally, first class, or, FIRST CLASS!

*2014-12-09 17.54.21

*2014-12-09 17.54.34

*2014-12-09 17.54.42

Tagged , , ,

Part #8: The Very Gold Golden Pavilion

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion
Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?

Unlike the not-so silver Silver Pavilion, the Gold Pavilion in northern Kyoto is indeed very gold. Kinkakuji, as its known in Japanese, dates back to 1397, but has been destroyed several times and subsequently rebuilt. The current structure was rebuilt in 1955 after it was burnt down by a fanatic monk in 1950. Kinkakuji’s top two levels are covered in gold leaf, hence the title. There isn’t much to do at Kinkakuji but admire the glimmering building and its gold reflection, but that was enough for me.

Kinkakuji is not the most convenient of tourist attractions. The closest subway stop is Kitano-Hakubai cho, and it is still a 20 minute walk north. The more accessible Emmachi Station is a 33 minute walk. I am proud to announce that I took the bus like a genuine local and did not get lost!

Golden Pavilion2

****IMG_8012

****IMG_8081

****IMG_8100

IMG_8108

Tagged , ,

Part #7: Orange I Glad I Made it to Inari?

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha
Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion

If you like the color orange, you’ll love Fushimi Inari-taisha. Fushimi Inari-taisha is the main shrine located at the base of the mountain Inari. The path up the mountain is flanked by thousands of bright orange gates leading to smaller shrines as you climb the steps and leave the tourists far behind. Inari is the patron of business and merchants, and each of the gates (called torii) are sponsored by a Japanese business. This factoid explains some of the charms I found for sale.

*IMG_7683

This is the nature of money. This will hope that you can receive lots of money.

*IMG_7682

When you met a bad happen, this will save you.

The beginning of the hike is fairly flat and swamped with tourists. As the path climbs, fewer tourists opt to climb with it, and you’ll have thousands of orange gates to yourself. According to the Internet, the more than 10,000 gates date back to 711.

I can see people saying, “What’s the big deal about a bunch of orange gates?” But I was not one of those people. I loved the bright orange torii, and I loved climbing with them high above Kyoto.

***IMG_7618

***IMG_7621 ***IMG_7639

***IMG_7690

***IMG_7826

***IMG_7970

**IMG_7626

**IMG_7651

**IMG_7671

**IMG_7840

**IMG_7844

**IMG_7859

**IMG_7863
**IMG_7957

Tagged , , , ,

Part #6: The Not-So Silver Silver Pavilion

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey
Part #5: In Search of a Geisha

Next up on my Kyoto itinerary was the Silver Pavilion, or Ginkaku-ji. Built in the 15th century, the two-storied temple isn’t actually silver. Way back when, the plan was to cover the building in a silver foil, and the nickname stuck.

The best way to get to the Silver Pavilion from the Westin is to walk along the Philosopher’s Walk, a pedestrian-only path along a canal.

It is an easy, scenic stroll, filled with curious odds and ends. Case in point:

***IMG_7233

And this:

*IMG_7215

**IMG_7200

***IMG_7184

**IMG_7220

The path is also very popular with cats and people who like to play with cats.

**IMG_7075

**IMG_6935

**IMG_6837

**IMG_7103

The end of the path leads to the Silver Pavilion which boasts traditional Japanese gardens and pretty views in addition to the not-so silver Silver Pavilion.

***IMG_7298

The Silver Pavilion

***IMG_7336

I love these Japanese trees. We need more of these in the U.S.

*IMG_7355

So pretty.

Japanese rock gardens are decidedly sparse. But that doesn’t mean they are easy to maintain. They are stunning works of art.

**IMG_7240

*IMG_7250
**IMG_7292

**IMG_7280

**IMG_7315

And finally the view from the top of the garden:

**IMG_7382

 

Tagged , ,

Next Up: Scotland!

In a little more than a month, I  will jet off to Scotland with my good friend Lisa for a two-week tour that will take us from Edinburgh to the Highlands, to the Isle of Skye, to Glasgow. Now, I’m not a scotch or golf aficionado – two of Scotland’s typical draws. If not for Lisa, I would skip the requisite distillery tour altogether, and we will probably forgo a visit to St. Andrews. Blasphemy – I know. Instead, we plan on seeing some of Scotland’s most beautiful natural regions, famous castles, and a couple major historical sites (the inevitable result of being an longtime Outlander fan).

Here is a map of our itinerary:

We fly into Edinburgh Monday morning, where we will spend three days getting to know Scotland’s historic capital. On Thursday morning, we will head north and east to check out the famous Fife coastal walk. On Friday, we will continue north towards Inverness, allotting time for a scotch tour and a visit to Scotland’s most famous battlefield, Culloden. We will spend Saturday relaxing in Inverness and Sunday driving around the Loch Ness region. On Monday, we will head west to the Isle of Skye with a couple of stops along the way. We will spend the next day checking out (read: photographing) Skye’s stunning natural wonders. On Wednesday, we will head south towards Glasgow, completing our circle of Scotland. We’ll spend Thursday getting a taste of Scotland’s largest city and fly home Friday morning.

As usual, I insisted on using my points and miles to pay for as much of the trip as possible. Here is how I did it.

  • Economy flight from DCA-EWR-EDI: 30,000 United miles + $5.60
  • Three nights at the Radisson Blu Edinburgh: 100,000 Club Carlson points for two nights and a free third night
  • Car rental for one week: $397.74 (split among two people)
  • One night at the Hilton Double Tree in Dundee: 8,000 Hilton points + $41.74
  • Three nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Inverness: Two nights for 60,000 IHG points and one free night thanks to my IHG credit card (this is the only points hotel in Inverness)
  • Two nights at the Bosville Hotel in the Isle of Skye: $473.25 split among two people (there are no points hotels on the island and the hotels are rather expensive)
  • Two nights at the Radisson Blu Glasgow: 44,000 Club Carlson points for the first night and a free second night
  • Economy flight from GLA – PHL: 30,000 American Airlines miles + $146.20 (I still have to get from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.)

My out-of-pocket cost: $608.16

Needless to say, I am super excited. Lisa and I haven’t traveled together since last summer’s Peru trip, and we are desperately in need of some recharging girl time. I know we will have a blast.

In the meantime, I will listen to this song over and over again:

Tagged

Part #5: In Search of a Geisha

Part #1: How I Quietly Fell in Love with Japan
Part #2: Getting Around Kyoto
Part #3: Bamboos Galore!
Part #4: The One in Which I Did Not Get Attacked By a Monkey

To be honest, I don’t really know what a Geisha is. But I knew that I really wanted to find some and take their picture. So I followed my guide books and headed to the Gion and Higashiyama neighborhoods.

Here is what I discovered: Geishas are really hard to find.

In all my walking around, I saw only one real geisha and she hurried away as quickly as she could. I came across many tourists dressed as Geishas, but you can tell the difference because they will gladly pose for pictures.

*IMG_6033

**IMG_6011

**IMG_6013

Real Geisha

*IMG_6374

Fake Geishas – notice how the makeup doesn’t completely cover their necks

The good news is that there are plenty of other pretty things to see in Gion and Higashiyama, including many of Kyoto’s famous temples and shrines. I meandered through the streets with no particular destination in mind.

*IMG_5967

A shopping arcade in Gion

**IMG_6109

A Japanese man in Gion

**IMG_6130

**IMG_6169

**IMG_6224

*IMG_6057

**IMG_6233

As I made my way south, I stumbled upon the Yasaka Pagoda, a five-tiered pagoda built sometime between the years 592 and 794.

**IMG_6247

**IMG_6346

I continued through the jumble of narrow streets to Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. Kiyomizu-dera is a massive complex, rising into the clouds overlooking the city below. The main structure is made entirely of wood and constructed without a single nail (so says the Internet).

*IMG_6399

Approaching the entrance of Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera

**IMG_6407

*IMG_6464

Kiyomizu Stage

Walking down from Kiyomizu Stage along a path on the eastern edge of the mountains, I found a bright orange three-tiered pagoda, contrasting brilliantly against the blue sky.

**IMG_6445

**IMG_6483

**IMG_6548

**IMG_6584

**IMG_6604

Kiyomizu-dera offers stunning views of the city at sunset.

*IMG_6674

*IMG_6656

And finally, some random night photography as I made my way back to the hotel.

**IMG_6712

**IMG_6747

**IMG_6756

Tagged , , , ,

Weed, Running, and Boating in Toronto

Four months ago, I had a crazy idea. I emailed two of my favorite people in the world and wrote: “Let’s sign up for the Nike 15K race in Toronto.” To my pleasant surprise, they agreed.

Lucky for us Americans, one of those people – my good friend Daveeda – lives in Toronto. Rachel and I had instant accommodations. Too bad, the weather wasn’t quite as accommodating.

We flew into Toronto Friday morning at the crack of dawn and spent some time soaking up the important sites in between the rain. For Rachel, this meant sampling poutine. For me, this meant taking pictures everywhere.

2015-06-12 13.55.55

2015-06-12 15.57.06

Posing in front of our course map

2015-06-12 16.04.55

Rachel sampling sunglasses for the meager price of $178. A steal!

2015-06-12 16.14.23

Apparently, we are a big deal in Canada.

2015-06-12 16.36.38

After picking up our race packets, we made our way to Kensington Market which is a hispster’s dream neighborhood. Think graffiti, overpriced trinkets, dilapidated storefronts, and trendy restaurants. Oh, and lots and lots of weed.

2015-06-12 17.26.00_1

Hehehe…

2015-06-12 17.06.38

Kensington Market

2015-06-12 17.08.40-1

Just considering my career options…

2015-06-12 17.10.39

Dear Toronto, I LOVE this. Sincerely, me.

2015-06-12 17.14.03

Pretty graffiti in Kensington Market

After a lazy Saturday, race day arrived. I checked the weather for the fifteenth time, and the weather gods promised us no rain until the afternoon. Shockingly, the weather gods were wrong.

2015-06-14 07.26.26

Getting on the ferry for the Toronto Islands

2015-06-14 07.27.49

Daveeda and Rachel

2015-06-14 07.31.04

Me pretending not to be exhausted

2015-06-14 07.32.42

The stunning Toronto skyline from our ferry

2015-06-14 08.12.35(2)

Getting ready…

2015-06-14 08.13.20

In case you’re curious, I could not find the clothing optional beach

The course was beautiful. I wish I had more pictures, but since I’m pretty slow as it is, I refused to drag my time down further by stopping to take pictures. We traversed pavement, grass, gravel, and even a stunning boardwalk along the water. I managed to take this picture while running, as we made our way through Billy Bishop Airport and Toronto’s skyline came into view.

2015-06-14 10.45.56

I am happy to report that I finished the race, and I am the proud owner of my second Nike Tiffany necklace. I am also very proud of my friends who made excellent time. Daveeda and Rachel – you are legit runners.

2015-06-14 14.57.43

2015-06-14 14.58.39-1

By the time we finished, however, it had started raining. I was wet, freezing, and just a little bit grumpy – a terrible combination. The euphoria of running 9.3 miles was quickly washed away by the urgent desire to take the longest and hottest shower known to mankind.

That was not an option – at least not yet. First, we had to get back to the mainland. Instead of waiting three hours for the communal ferry, we hopped a ride on a private boat owned by Daveeda’s friend, Addler. This was a brilliant move on our part, except for the minor fact that it was still raining, and we were still cold and wet. As we squeezed ourselves into the boat, (including Daveeda’s husband and four kids) and zipped along Lake Ontario, the wind slapped our faces, and the water seeped into my bones. I didn’t know it was possible to be so miserably cold and deliriously happy at the same time.

2015-06-14 13.56.05

Our brilliant/disastrous boat ride

Daveeda’s seven-year-old daughter, not the least bit pleased with the prospect of a rainy boat ride, summed up the entire experience best: “Mommy, why did you run this race???”

Tagged , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 149 other followers

%d bloggers like this: