...constantly searching to find the best travel deals and places to visit. A never-ending quest for adventure!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Place of the Day: Lake Bled

My jury duty has finally come to an end - a verdict was reached, and now life is relatively back to normal.  So...I thought it might be a good idea to write up another Place of the Day to highlight - it's a bit off the beaten path, but definitely in my region of places to visit that I haven't spent much time.

I know I didn't know where Lake Bled was the first time I saw the name.  This small island is located within the Julian Alps and the Gorenjska Province.  History says the lake was glacially formed, and to see it within the scope of the mountains can be breath-taking.  Thermal springs are present close-by, and a short gondolalike boat can whisk you over to the island and its 16th century Gothic church.

There are several places to stay in the area - if you're looking for a relatively well-known property, the only one that comes to mind is the Best Western Premier Hotel Lovec. Otherwise, you might want to enjoy a more local property, such as the Hotel Ribno Bled.  In any case, be prepared for an amazing view and experience.

How do you get to Lake Bled?  Train might be a good option:  The Lesce-Bled railway station lies on the Villach - Jesenice - Ljubljana - Belgrade - Istanbul - Athens railway line, and is within easy reach of Italy and Austria.  Flights are also possible into Ljubljana Airport at Brnik (LJU) - a sample fare from Chicago Ohare in Oct/Nov is running around $1000 on Delta/Skyteam and $1079 on Star Alliance carriers, so it's on par with other European air fares for that time frame.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

not very far

Sorry about having limited posts over the last week - I was scheduled for jury duty on Wednesday, and as luck would have it, I was selected to serve and are still going at this point.  I'm hopeful that we can get a verdict done soon, so stay tuned - my normal posting will return shortly thereafter. 

Such fun!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Place of the Day: Pamir Highway

There are quite a few places in eastern Europe/central Asia that are on my list to visit, but one place that I never considered until recently was one of the "stans"...Tajikistan.  Because of the significant unrest that has taken place in the region over the last few years, it might not be high on your list either.  But, one particular item you should not pass up is below:

Pamir Highway - Tajikistan

The highway parallels a number of high mountain ranges, and purportedly follows the paths of the original Silk Routes. If you're feeling adventurous, the path begins in Uzbekistan and follows a 2000km path until reaching Kyrgyzstan.  

Getting to the road could take a bit of planning.  You're probably best to try and fly into Dushanbe (DYU) (the capital of Tajikistan) and then head out from there.  Trekking tours are also available if you need some assistance in planning.

Friday, July 19, 2013

One way flights to Auckland (AKL) for $339 from the West Coast!

Yes, that's right - $339 one way in August from the west coast.  If you have miles to burn to get you back home and some availability for time off, this could be an amazing opportunity!

Here's the sample fare I just priced on United.com:

I had to hunt around on various days to find the $339, so don't be surprised if higher prices pop up on other days.

Good luck!

Update: The 8th, 20th, and 21st of August also have competitive pricing exact or similar to this...Sept 4th and 11th come in at $449.

2013/14 travel goal update

A few months ago I outlined a plan to try and fly on all of the Star Alliance member airlines - this was an ambitious goal, and one I'm happy to report has recently allowed me to check one of the list!

I can officially check SAS off my list, since dad and I connected to Oslo from Frankfurt on them - he enjoyed a quick snack and drink in business class, while I had a whole row to myself in the back on the plane.  Not bad.

Here's how the list stands as of today (red is done!) - I have a lot to go...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hotel Review: Park Inn Oslo

Oslo has its fair share of places to stay - most can be quite expensive, but I was able to find a reasonable two-night deal at the Park Inn.  This is a Radisson property located within a short distance from the main train station and in the center of many sites to see in central Oslo.

Property specs

  • 118 guest rooms
  • Breakfast buffet in the breakfast restaurant
  • Non-smoking property
  • Free High Speed Internet
When traveling overseas, I'm always looking for a nice place to stay that includes some type of reasonable internet option - just so that it's easier to access maps and look up possible places to eat.

This property did not disappoint - our walk from the train station took about 10 minutes, and then we were there - check in was fast and efficient, and because I had booked through Hotels.com all of my charges were already taken care of. 

Our room was small and comfortable - just enough space for the two of us, and still there was room for a desk and decent bathroom.  The shower was a bit of a disappointment - I still haven't figured out why Europeans love the "half" glass wall that opens at the back and lets all the water run everywhere.  Had the same problem at the Holiday Inn in Bilbao.  No matter...the room was clean and service impeccable - dad seemed to enjoy it!

Daily excursions and fun restaurants are only a short distance away.  We didn't even bother with the main tram/train system - we walked everywhere.  Karl Johan's Gate is only a 10 minute walk and many good Norwegian restaurants can be found all around.

Can't recommend staying here enough on your next trip - give them a try, you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Istanbul on the cheap?


I have a trip to Istanbul planned for later in the year, and my search has started for getting things ready ahead of time.  As luck would have it one of my daily reads has an Istanbul summary for options of where to stay and what to do.

Check it out!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Birthday Trip Top 10

Not sure what dad's might be, but these are my top 10 things from the trip:

10.1 Seeing the original "scream" - cardboard and all
10. BusinessFirst seats on United - made the flying easier and sleeping flat was definitely worth the trip
9. Fjord cruise in Oslo - perfect to get out on the water
8. Walking the Crown Jewels at the Tower more than once!
7. Changing of the guard by Karl Johan - caught it just at the right time, and got to see the whole thing
6. The idea to make a run for it across the street outside of the Tower...crazy London driving!
5. People who make abrupt stops for no reason right in front of me - for whatever reason, I was a magnet for these on the trip
4. Managing to get a spot on the fence for the Buckingham Palace guard change - and dodging the kids scaling the fence
3. The 60th birthday homage at the Heathrow Hilton
2. Our Norwegian food choices were excellent - fish dishes included

And #1...

1. Spending time with dad!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The final "leg"

I'm happy to report that everyone has made it home safely...and sad to report that the trip is all over.  Other than some jetlag, I think that everything went really well and that dad had a great time.  It was really fun to explore a new city and the connections couldn't have gone any smoother. 

The overall trip back was as long as I thought it might be - but our fun seats in business made it very comfortable.  We were up early to get to Terminal 1 at Heathrow, only to find that the flight was delayed for 2 hours due to a late arriving aircraft.  Great.  Going back to sleep wasn't really an option, so we stayed up, packed, talked, and eventually headed out the door to check out.  Except...that the arrangements I had made for our hotel room never got communicated to the desk staff.  So after some haggling and no resolution, I left the details for another day and we headed to check in.  Having some time to burn, we walked to the Star Alliance Lounge for some breakfast and free internet.  The food was good and I was able to keep up on our flight while responding to some emails. 

About 20 minutes before official gate opening, we started out for the gate - a much longer walk than one thinks to the other end of the terminal, but we made it with plenty of time and waited until the boarding started and the crowds began to cram.  It always amazes me how people "gate creep" and don't listen or read their boarding passes - we had people in Group 2 and 3 trying to board with the first class people and nothing holds up a line when the agents have to kick people out of line because they don't listen.  We got on no problem - our same seats were ready and soon we were off.

The flight was smooth - food amazing.  Dad tried the tenderloin and I chose the chicken.  And we both had ice cream sundaes for dessert.  The flight attendants in our cabin were thoroughly amused at the "father and son team" they had, and came and talked to us often. 

Upon landing at Ohare (8.5 hrs later) we made it through security and off to find dad's bus back to Milwaukee.  We just missed it at Terminal 5, but seeing we had 20 minutes until the Terminal 1 departure, we made a run for it...and made it with 5 minutes to spare!  Couldn't have timed it better.  A quick hug and goodbye, and dad was off to Milwaukee...and I was off to 4 hours of layover until my flight to San Diego.  Which went fine once we left, but I was completely worn out after all of it.

My top list of fun things from the trip will be coming soon...but for now I will sleep.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Final eve in London

Another spectacular day in London - sunny and warm.  We got out to see the area around the Tower and over to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard - pretty large crowds made navigating a bit interesting, but we managed to find an open spot on the fence near a corner where we could catch all the action.  We certainly timed the arrival well and didn't miss any of it.

Afterwards we tubed back to the hotel, repacked, checked out, and made our way west to Heathrow where we'll spend the night before flying out in the morning early.

It's been a really great trip so far - seems like dad has had a really good time, and I'm sure thankful we were able to make it all work. We weren't able to get to everything, but that's what future trips are for!

I'll be posting more pictures from the trip once I'm back in San Diego...stay tuned!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Warm day of walking...and buzz

No, it's not a buzz related to 'spirits' of any sort, but buzz because Andy Murray won Wimbledon today - first British man to do it in over 70 years.  So naturally there was much rejoicing to be had as we walked around - stopped in for dinner at a pub, and caught the last part of the festivities.  Pretty fun to be in London when it happened.

Our morning/afternoon for about four hours, though, was spent walking at the Tower of London.  Thought that dad might enjoy visiting for the historical part of it, and we were not disappointed.  They've redone the Jewel House since last I was here, and now you can actually view the Crown Jewels multiple times since they put a little walkway in next to the moving sidewalk.  Thought that was a nice addition, especially given the large crowds today due to the warm weather.

I must say though that I don't enjoy one thing related to the crowds - what possesses people in a crowd to just stop abruptly right in front of me (nearly causing an accident)?  Am I a magnet for this sort of thing?  I lost count of how many times it happened throughout the day - dad was laughing by the afternoon.

We also made it to see Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (where we caught the end of a quartet rehearsal).  Was fun to show dad where WLC's choir performed and I recorded (and nearly burnt the piano down). 

We'll be out again tomorrow to see the Palaces and visit my favorite fish and chips place!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

From Oslo...to London

Bit of a whirlwind day, but we made it safely to London and our hotel.  Here's the recap:

- Got up and took part in a boat tour of the Oslo Fjord - amazing pictures and time out on the water
- Walk by the Town Hall (and location of the Nobel Prize ceremony each year)
- Changing of the guard and pictures at the Slottet (Royal Palace)
- Visit to the Museet to see the Edvard Munch exhibit and original "Scream"
- Afternoon food on Karl Johan's Gate
- Picked up our luggage from the Park Inn and took the quick Flytoget train to OSL
- Made it through security and passport without issue and to our gate to board our British Airways flight
- Landed Heathrow just about on-time and after a quick bus to the terminal, made it through Passport control and to the Tube for our journey
- Our hotel is a 5 minute walk from Tower Hill and the Tower of London!

Looking forward to running around tomorrow!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Day in Oslo

Had an amazing day in Oslo...the sun rose and clouds cleared out, and warmer temperatures made for easy walking.  After taking our time this morning and getting our systems on the Euro-clock, we headed out for the water and Bygdoy, an inhabited island to the southwest of the main city.  This particular area has numerous museums, including the Frammuseet, Kon-Ticki Museet, and Vikingskipshuset.

The fastest way to get to the island is by boat, and after a quick walk from the hotel we were at the water and quickly hopped onto the transport.  It was a modest 50,00 Kr to get over, and in about 10 minutes we were off and walking to the Viking Ship museum.  The ships were uncovered some time ago and continue to be restored as funding allows.

We decided after seeing the boats to also walk down to the Frammuseet and see Roald Amundsen's polar ship Fram - this was one of the boats that took adventurers up toward the North Pole. 

After viewing the information on the expeditions, we boated back across the bay to the main city center, and "turned left" into the Nobel Peace Center.  The main exhibit highlighted the most recent Peace award winner, the European Union.  It also had portraits and information on each of the other peace prize winners.

It was time for dinner after the Peace Center, so we dropped off our packs at the hotel and were next off to dinner at Bacchus, a cafe/restaurant we had researched that offered authentic Norwegian food near Karl Johan's Gate.  We were not disappointed - dad tried a pink mountain trout dish while I tried a more traditionally cooked burger with Norwegian cheese.  Both were excellent!  After dinner we did a bit of shopping on the street, visited the Oslo Domkirke, and then walked back toward the hotel to get ready for our next day.

More to come tomorrow!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Arriving Frankfurt...and Oslo

Greetings from Norway!

I'm happy to report that we were successful in arriving at Oslo and transiting through Frankfurt.  Our evening is winding down, but I'll do a recap here of how the last 24-48 hours have gone.

After departing on time from San Diego, I arrived to Ohare and met up with dad within about an hour after touching down.  His bus had been a bit delayed, but made it on time and we met after security and had a quick lunch at Chili's. Since we had about 5 hours to burn I wasn't concerned about time.

Eventually we reached the gate, stood in line to get our passports checked, and then another line for the gate for BusinessFirst boarding.  I was able to successfully get a business class award ticket booked for dad, and used two of my Global Premier Upgrades for my ticket so we could fly together.  Dad's first time in global business!  I figured we'd have a good time.

And...we certainly did.  The service was spectacular, our seats were comfortable and able to lie-flat, and the food was very tasteful. I knew dad was having a good time when they brought over the menus and he had to think and make a choice about what to have for a main course.  Ha!  Our glasses were never empty, but soon we were over watching movies and off to try and get a few hours of sleep.

Transiting Frankfurt was a bit fun - why doesn't this airport ever put gate information in pertinent places??  Thankfully we could make use of my Star Alliance Gold status, and camped out in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge near our departure gate for refreshments and free internet (dad caught up on the USA Today on my iPad).  I also took advantage of a shower and cleanup before it was time to head to Gate A8 and our boarding bus. I'm happy to report that I was able to check off SAS on my Star Alliance flying list (and even had a whole row to myself on the flight up to Oslo while dad was enjoying his business class seat). 

Upon reaching Oslo we figured out the Flytoget train to get us to Oslo main station, and 20 minutes later we were standing in central Oslo.  A quick 10 minute walk away was our hotel for the next few days (the Park Inn), and after dumping off our things we were off to explore Karl Johans Gate before finding a dinner option - we also stopped at a pub for a quick drink with the locals.  Our dining choice for the night was the Cafe Christiana, a Norwegian restaurant we found that had reasonable prices and good selection.  Soon we will wind down the night and get good sleep for more walking fun tomorrow.

A few interesting notes:

1. Stepping off the plane in Oslo you get a bit washed over with cooked fish smell.  And the same thing happens when you get off the train at Oslo main station.  Why is that?
2. Avoid the fish soup if you can
3. When people tell you Oslo is expensive, believe them...it is.
4. Smaller restaurants are of fine quality, but can be a bit pricey
5. Walking the city streets really gives you a good feel for old-school Europe

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The journey begins...

Good morning!

I'm nearly out the door toward a fun week-long adventure with my dad that will stop in Chicago, Frankfurt, Oslo, and London.  I will be blogging as the Internet permits me to submit, and hope to recap our adventure as we move between countries.

Oslo will certainly be a highlight of the trip, given our family heritage.  Hopefully the weather cooperates - I didn't realize until last week that we'd be in London toward the end of Wimbledon and it always seems to rain during that time.

Here we go!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mid-year check in - July

I feel as though I'm behind a bit on my typical mileage and point accrual for the year.  I've been making smarter decisions on flying both from a timing and money perspective, and so that means I'm more spread out across my programs at the halfway point of this year.  Here's my rundown:


I'm behind.  Big time.  If I'm going to keep 1K for one more year before United implements their changes for achieving elite status, then I need to keep going and acrue as many as I can.  A mileage run may need to happy later in the year if I'm short of 100k.


I'm considerably down in stays this year, mostly because I've been smarter in when I make stays.  I'm matched to Diamond for the rest of the year, but expect to go back down to Platinum at the end.


Here's the x-factor - I enjoy the upgrades on any ticket, but realistically don't fly enough to keep both 1K and Exec Platinum.  With the pending merger coming down the pike of US Airways and American, this may be the odd one out (although my balance is pretty respectable so far this year and keeping Platinum would be helpful overall)

Looks like I'll keep plugging away on UA - and add AA as I go if it makes sense.