Category Archive for 'Trip Notes'

Trip Notes: Miami 2014. Food, Food, And More Food.

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Related:
-Find dozens of trip notes like this one by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.
-Trip Notes: Miami. A Trip Of Firsts (2011).
-Trip Notes: Miami 2012

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In June, I got to dance at my brother JJ’s wedding in Miami, here are some notes from that trip.

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More after the jump:

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Trip Notes Hodgepodge: United Upgrade Quirks, Infant Travel Drama, Farewell CLE D, Wrigley SPG Suite, And Chicago BBQ Competition

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

-Find dozens of trip notes like this one by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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I flew to Kansas City once and to Chicago twice in the past 3 weeks, here are some of my trip notes:

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More after the jump:

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Join Me In The Windy City

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Last week a DDF member invited me (and several other guys) to join him in an SPG suite at the Yankees/Cubs game in Wrigley Field that he won in a Starpoints auction.

I’m way behind in writing trip reports, but I’ll give the gist of this one quickly. I burned some miles (gotta love short-haul Avios awards!) and took a day trip to Chicago for my first visit to The Friendly Confines.  Had breakfast with my grandparents in Northbrook and then it was off to meetup with several other mileage fanatics that had flown in for the day from Miami, NYC, and Toronto.

Milt’s is less than a mile from Wrigley Field and we got to dine with Jeff Aeder, Chicagoan of the year, and owner of Milt’s.  Great guy and he’s got his hand in a million different projects at once, but still has time to enjoy an afternoon Cubbies game. Love that!

At that point I’m already involved in 3 of my passions, travel, kosher food, and baseball.  Jeff is involved with a project  called Milt’s Night Out where people can donate tickets to sports games, shows, or concerts, get a tax-deductible receipt, and a family going through any kind of hardship gets a free meal as well as the tickets.

In fact all of the profits from Milt’s are donated to charity, the only kosher restaurant in the world that operates like that as far as I know.

Anyway we got into discussing kosher food (of course) and we talked about Mendel Segal, who (makes a killer BBQ sauce that I hope to be sold on Amazon shortly,) runs the Kansas City Vaad and the annual KC Kosher BBQ competition there that I’ve judged in 2012 and in 2013.

Long story short, Milt’s is hosting the 1st annual Chicago Kosher BBQ Competition and Festival (with advisory help from Mendel) and I’ll be one of the judges.

It will be from 11:30am-4pm this Sunday at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. If the KC BBQ contests are any indication, this one will be lots of fun for all as well.

My taste buds can’t wait.  If you see a bearded 29 year old fellow looking like a stuffed turkey from having judged dozens of plates of smoked chicken, ribs, and brisket come and say hello ;)

And ask me about my flight yesterday from Kansas City to Cleveland where I made a complete fool of myself. You’d think after having flown on 70 some flights with my kids over the past couple years that I’d know every airline regulation down pat.  But a little humility is always a good thing as I learned a new brand new one on that flight.

Guess I’ll just have to write up a trip report triple-header once I get back from Chicago next week.

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Better Than Any First Class Suite…Taking My Son To His First Ballgame

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Parking in downtown CLE: Free
Glatt Kosher Dog: $5.75
Front row seats: $25 (Well, being 2, Rafi’s seat was free).
Taking Rafi to his first ballgame (Tribe win!) earlier this afternoon: Priceless

I went to my first baseball game in the old Municipal Stadium on 06/28/92, got a free kids batting helmet giveaway, and saw the Indians beat the Blue Jays 7-6.  22 years later I got to pass that onto my own son on a sun-kissed day at the Jake.

It’s funny how baseball brings out such powerful memories.  I’ll never forget the trip I got to take last year with my grandfather (one of the few Clevelanders who was there during the last Indians parade) to all 3 sports hall of fames, capped off with seats on top of the Green Monster to see the Indians beat up the Red Sox.

As a 10 year old I was such a fan that I sent in hundreds of handwritten postcards to win tickets to the ’95 World Series and got to attend 2 of the home games.  Earlier that year we had stayed at the Westin Harbour Castle Toronto where the Indians stay when playing the Blue Jays and got nearly (Albert Belle was of course the mean holdout, though I’ll never forget his ’95 walk-off grand slam game I attended) the entire team’s autographs.  Plus when the guy who called out to hold the hotel elevator for him turned out to be Manny Ramirez we got free box seats to that night’s game as well :D

I’ve flown around the world in first class suites, but my coolest use of miles was for the opportunity to run out and literally steal second base during an Indians game.

Sure, it would be awesome to fly in a first class suite with your own private living room, bedroom, and shower. But $24K for 7 fleeting hours? That’s 33% more expensive than my car!  I’m far more proud of the numerous DDF fundraisers such as $24K raised on DDF to help a fellow DDF’er in need and the thousands of dollars raised as a scholarship fund for Jewda’s daughter.

Wake me up when I can use a reasonable amount of miles and I’ll be happy to compare it to the 57K miles I used for a Singapore suite.

Sure, the Indians may never again win it all unless baseball institutes a salary cap. But that doesn’t mean they can’t inspire memories.

2 months to go until his first haircut :D

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So, do you remember your first baseball game?

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Trip Notes: Maui No Ka ‘Oi

Friday, April 4th, 2014

-Find dozens of trip notes like this one by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

This is a long trip report but my philosophy on trip reports is to write everything on a destination in one shot as opposed to dragging it out into dozens of annoying installments. I’m always open to suggestions though, so sound off in the comments!
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Continued from Trip Notes Kauai: Heaven On Earth

Preface:

It’s not much of a secret that I have a bit of a love affair with the Hawaiian islands.

$87 was the cost for my hotel and airfare on my first trip in 2006. I’ve been back 5 times since.

In this post I’ve included activities and pictures from 5 trips to Maui.

Why go back to the same place so many times? I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many far-flung corners of the world but there’s no place where I’m in as good of a place of mind as Hawaii.  The air is fresh, the people friendly, the water warm, the scenery extraordinary, and last but not least as a US state it has nearly all of the creature comforts of being back home.  You can really appreciate our wondrous world when in Hawaii.

I’m a big Kauai fan. My wife is a Maui girl. It’s arguments like this that are easy to solve, we go to both!  We got back from Kauai and Maui in February, it was our first big trip since Talia was born. Talia was 4.5 months at the start of this trip and Rafi was 2.5 years old.

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More on the trip after the jump…

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A Quick Jaunt To NYC

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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This past Sunday I flew with my brother JJ my parents from Cleveland to NYC. JJs fiance’s side of the family flew in from Fort Lauderdale. Chabad tradition is to pray by the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, before officially getting engaged. Of course it was bound to happen that at least one of the flights would be delayed and indeed their Delta flight to JFK was delayed by several hours.

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More on food, food, and more food after the jump…
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Trip Notes Kauai: Heaven On Earth

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

This is a long trip report but my philosophy on trip reports is to write everything on a destination in one shot as opposed to dragging it out into dozens of annoying installments. I’m always open to suggestions and criticisms though, so sound off in the comments. Posts like these take days to write so your feedback is appreciated!   
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It’s not much of a secret that I have a bit of a love affair with the Hawaiian islands.

$87 was the cost for my hotel and airfare on my first trip in 2006. I’ve been back 5 times since.

In this post I’ve included activities and pictures from 5 trips to Kauai.

Why go back to the same place so many times? I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many far-flung corners of the world but there’s no place where I’m in as good of a place of mind as Hawaii.  The air is fresh, the people friendly, the water warm, the scenery extraordinary, and last but not least as a US state it has nearly all of the creature comforts of being back home.  You can really appreciate our wondrous world when in Hawaii.

We got back from Kauai and Maui 2 weeks ago, it was our first big trip since Talia was born. Talia was 4.5 months at the start of this trip and Rafi was 2.5 years old.

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More on the trip after the jump…
(more…)

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The DansDeals Hawaiian Toaster Oven Chain…

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Update: You can now make arrangements to get the toaster oven in this DDF thread.

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You may have noticed the relatively light posting the past 2 weeks while my family and I have been making up for our Vitamin D deficiencies in sunny Kauai and Maui.

Traveling for Orthodox Jews is nothing like it is for anybody else due to our kosher dietary restrictions.  That means bringing our own food or making our own prior arrangements for food when we travel to anywhere where there isn’t a large Orthodox Jewish population.

Over on the DansDeals Forums I got a private message from a member asking if we wanted to split the cost of a large toaster oven and I happily agreed.  Having a toaster oven has proven invaluable on the trip.  He left Kauai 2 days before I arrived but he left it at the front desk of the Grand Hyatt and they had it for me at checkin.

I’ve gotten to meet several couples on this trip who flew here in first class on sub-$100 airfares who nabbed them thanks to following @DansDeals on Twitter.

At any rate I posted yesterday on DDF asking if anyone wanted the oven.  A couple staying at the Westin in West Maui just came to pick it up from us at the Andaz in South Maui.  They also flew in first class for under $100 thanks to the DansDeals notification text :D

Irony of the story?  The wife works for Eli Webster, the man who prodded me into making a forums and who built them from scratch!

They leave paradise on Sunday.  Want to pick the oven up from them and continue the chain?  Post a comment with your email address and we’ll see how long this lasts :D

I’ll be back home tomorrow night and will continue regular posting after that.

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Trip Notes: NYC Seminars And Restaurants

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

-Find 72 trip reports like this one by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.  Those tabs can help you quickly find popular articles that I’ve written on miles and credit cards as well.

Pictures in this trip report can be enlarged by just clicking on them!

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I woke up 4am Tuesday morning shivering from the cold.  Which was odd as we keep our house pretty toasty in the winter.  It was negative 12 degrees in Cleveland (which shattered the previous record low temperature set in 1884) and the power had gone out in the middle of the night.

More on the trip after the jump…
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From BBQ Cholent To BBQ Ribs, I’ll Judge Them All

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Related:
-Trip Notes Kansas City: Ribs And Fiber Edition.

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.
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Yesterday Young Israel of Greater Cleveland held a cholent contest.  I was invited to come taste and preview the cholents before the masses.

A couple months ago I was invited to be a judge at the 2nd annual Kansas City Kosher BBQ Competition & Festival. Alongside an Iron Chef judge and Kansas City BBQ Society certified judges I might lack the credentials but I’m no less of a hopeless foodie.

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Hardware to be won in Kansas!

More on the contests after the jump…
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Trip Notes: Banff

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

-Find 70 trip reports like this one by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.  Those tabs can help you quickly find popular articles that I’ve written on miles and credit cards as well.

Pictures in this trip report can be enlarged by just clicking on them!
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2 weeks ago I went to Banff, Canada with Mimi, Rafi, and JJ, one of my 5 siblings.

Banff is truly a stunning place, albeit overrun by tourists during the peak summer travel season.  Luckily it’s not too hard to escape the crowds and traffic.

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View of Bow River from our suite in the Fairmont Banff Springs

Lake Bow

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Lake Louise

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Moraine Lake

 

More on the trip, traveling with a toddler, the ridiculously good restaurant quality food that we feasted on twice daily, and much more after the jump…
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Trip Notes: Los Angeles 2013

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

-Find over 60 articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.  Those tabs can help you quickly find popular articles that I’ve written on miles and credit cards as well.
I’ve also written trip notes on LA in 2011 and in 2012 that you can check out.
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Back in March a good friend of my wife got married at the Hyatt Huntington Beach. Here are some notes from the trip along with my list of must-eat restaurants..

Trips to LA are always all about the food and these trip notes are no exception, if you don’t care to read about and see lots of pictures of food then you can skip this one! I really ought to just start calling trip notes on LA and Miami “food notes.”

More on the trip, hotels, and my roundup of awesome kosher eateries in LA after the jump…
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A DDF DO Extravaganza

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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I’ve written extensively about a couple of these DOs including the United MegaDO+DDF DO last November and about the fun of some 2 dozen DDF guys attending the wedding of a fellow long-time DDF poster.

I’m a foodie. I’m a sports fan (If you read this article on my coolest use of miles or this one of the Hall of Fame trifecta trip you just may have figured that out already ;)). And I’ve got a boatload of Avios which make nonstop short-hops pretty much free and easy.

Every now and then I like to meet up with fellow community members who participate in the DansDeals Forums, also known as a “DO” (pronounced like the word due).  They’ve happened from LA to NYC to Jerusalem.

So last week I posted in the Chicago DDF DO thread:

This Sunday?
8:10am: AA3249
11am: Sushi at Shallot’s
1pm: Indians@White Sox
5pm: Milt’s
9:55pm: AA2868.

Am I nuts?

Apparently not completely, as 8 members, including several from outside of Chicago, expressed an interest in attending.

More on the DO after the jump…
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Trip Notes: Chicago Seminar Edition

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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I headed out for Chicago with my wife and son late this past Tuesday. At less than 7,000 AMEX points per round-trip thanks to BA Avios and the transfer bonus it was a real bargain.

More on the trip, Chicago’s hot kosher food scene, and the seminar after the jump…
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Trip Notes: Hall Of Fame Trifecta And Fenway Park In 72 Hours

Monday, May 27th, 2013

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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-3 day, one-way car rental from Cleveland to Boston: $100

-1 night in the Holiday Inn Express Cooperstown: $70

-1 night in the Sheraton Springfield: $90

-1 night in a suite at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Boston including a bottle of Oban Single Malt Scotch and Valet Parking: $0

-Tickets atop the Green Monstah’: $60

-A flight home on Airtran: $100

-Spending 4 days on the most unforgettable sports themed road trip with my grandfather and one of my 5 brothers: Priceless.

 

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View from the Green Monster

 

More after the jump…
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Trip Notes: 2 Nights In Singapore And Back Home On A Korean A380

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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Continued from: Trip Notes Maldives: The Longest Flight In The World And 2 Nights In Paradise.

We arrived in Singapore from the Maldives on Friday morning.  Thanks to the ghetto upgrade (lie-flat seating in coach thanks to an empty row of 4 seats in the middle of the Singapore A330) we were ready and raring to go.

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Living on the edge.

 

More after the jump…
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Now Open: Airspace Lounge Cleveland

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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I just arrived home from a 10 day stint in Kansas City with the in-laws for Pesach.

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Airspace Lounge CLE, free with your Platinum card (Coming soon…JFK T5!)

More after the jump…
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A DDF Day For The Books And The Joys Of HUCA, Take 2

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Update, 11am: Got home thanks to United and the kind AA phone agent.  One unlucky guy on the plane came up to me and thanked me for the $490 Delta deal nonstop to Israel that he was just coming back from.  Why poor sap? He used miles to fly on the American flight and when he went to checkin learned that all of their nonstop flights were cancelled.  They refused to accommodate him on United so he shelled out some $500 that United wanted for the one-way, more than his round-trip from NYC to Israel!
Don’t worry, I chastised him for not having 10K United miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards points that would’ve saved him the $500…

Side note: How awesome is this story on United!?!
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Related:The Joys Of HUCA

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As any of the 6,300+ members of DDF can tell you, HUCA means to Hang Up and Call Again. It’s pretty good advice for anything. Most phone reps are incompetent or not willing to help, so it can take many phone calls to find someone helpful.

If you’ll click on the related post link above you can read some of the examples I gave for it last time.

I’ll share another great example of it that I just encountered, but first the background story.

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I flew yesterday from Cleveland to NYC for 9,000 Avios. American wanted $1,176 for the round-trip as they require a 3 night minimum stay for a discounted fare, so not a bad use of miles.  This is why I love Avios.  It fills the gap that other miles have.  I feel guilty using American or United miles on a domestic trip as those so valuable internationally.  BA Avios aren’t great for most long-haul international flights (though there are a few notable exceptions) but they are oh so awesome on domestic short-hauls.

I’ll be flying into or out of the Cleveland airport for 3 days in a row. There should be a prize for this stuff ;)

When I landed in NYC I headed straight for Pizza Da Solo, the first authentic Neapolitan kosher pizzeria in the world.  But I didn’t go just for the food, I got to meetup with several members of my DDF family and trade stories and tips for a couple of hours.

As far as the food goes, the pizza was very good and unique, the calzone may have been even better. My calzone had ricotta, homemade mozzarella, eggplant, basil, caramelized onions, and garlic with sauce on the side.
2 of the guys ordered the $38 Truffle Pizza. The Pie didn’t look it had any $100/ounce truffle shavings on it, but one person speculated that it must have been really fine shavings that they missed! When I went back to get some sauce for my calzone I mentioned that the triffle pizza disappointed as they were not even visible. Turns out they forgot to add the truffle shavings to their pie! Not something that should happen for $38, but they did get a whole new pie out of it. And it still wasn’t worth $38, but at least this time they were able to say that authoritatively. If you do get it ask for them to go light on the arugula which drowns out the truffles.

A extremely thin crust Pizza with San Marzano tomato sauce, homemade mozzarella, basil, parmesan, and garlic, $9.

Invisible Truffles.

Truffles, Take 2. ($38)

Calzone ($13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just 8 strangers sharing a lunch together. But not just any guys, Guys who let the world know about offer matching, the $330 El Al tickets, and more via the DansDeals Forums. I’m easy to find here, the only one with a beard :)

Next stop was checking in at the Aloft Brooklyn. I booked it for 7,000 Starpoints though now it goes for a ridiculous 12,000 Starpoints. It’s very kitchy and not really my style.  The room is somewhat refurbished, though the HVAC unit is a real eyesore. If this is what all Alofts are like I’d stay at a Hyatt Place any day over it.

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No enclosed shower and shampoo dispensers. Plus the water never got hot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funny place for a fridge.

 

I went to Avis next to the Aloft to trade in my $25/day ridiculously humongous Infiniti QX56 SUV and got a Jetta in return. No shocker here, but in Brooklyn a QX56 with 4WD is a real pain…just about impossible to park anywhere. Some upgrades to $70,000 cars just aren’t always welcome. Boy I would have loved to have that car on the Big Island of Hawaii though, could have done some serious damage in it.

 

Then the highlight of the day, dancing the night away and saying L’Chaims (which may or may not be influencing my writing style right now) at AsherO’s wedding in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. AsherO, who joined DDF the very day that it was launched, is one of the most prolific posters over at the DansDeals Forums with over 18,000 helpful posts.

The coolest part? There were at least 20 DDF members who came to dance at AsherO’s wedding, most of whom only know him via his online persona or who perhaps met him once or twice at a DDF meetup in the past.

Yet we got together to dance with the happy groom. Or as he put it, his virtual family. When a non-DDF member broke into our DDF circle AsherO called him out for it, “noobie!”:D

The camaraderie among the active DDF guys was just awesome, really something special that I can’t explain in words.  It’s just very cool to start to make new friendships via an anonymous online forum.

 

Another fun story. While waiting for the Chuppah to begin a few DDF’ers went into the local Crown Heights bookstore.  I had a $25 GC there to burn and picked up $26.50 of stuff.  When I asked if I could put the balance on my Freedom card (hey, 13 miles is 13 miles!) the cashier asked, “What is this a DansDeals thing? I’ll take cash!” We all just rolled out of the store laughing uncontrollably :D

 

So, about that HUCA story I promised.

American cancelled all of their morning and afternoon flights from LGA to Cleveland for later today.
I called to find out my options but nothing was very good. Especially because I need to get back to catch another flight on Friday!
When I asked about being moved over to United (which still shows all flights to Cleveland as on-time) I was told:
-We can’t do that if the delay is for weather.
-We can’t do that unless we have no other flights that entire day.
-We can’t touch reservations made by British Airways.
-We can’t help you until you go to the airport.

Finally on the 6th call I got a helpful rep who moved me over to United after a nice amount of cajoling.
The ticket is even booked in full-Y class so I should earn a nice amount of elite and redeemable miles which is always fun on an award ticket.

And that was today’s excitement. Sorry for the rambling, it’s been a long day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a sight I see every day but one that can be done with persistence.  A BA 4.5K Avios award on AA being operated by United in a fare class that will earn 150% United elite miles.  But most importantly, switched without having to fight for it in the airport and that American was pulling the “weather” card as the reason for the mass cancellations.

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Trip Notes Maldives: The Longest Flight In The World And 2 Nights In Paradise

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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Trip Planning:

I’ve long dreamed of staying in an overwater bungalow.  The main places where they can be found are in French Polynesia (Bora Bora, Moorea, etc) and the Maldives (pronounced Mahl-deeves).  Neither of which are easy to get to and both of which are among the priciest places to stay in the world with few good point options.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The long road to paradise.

More after the jump…
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Good Night From The Maldives…

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

…And to think it only cost me 60K United miles and $20 tax to fly one-way from Cleveland in business class on sublime Singapore Airlines for the flights that took me to paradise.  Heck, I got 55K and $50 cash for opening a single card and spending $1,000 in my last 3BM.

My 2 nights in the Maldives are coming to an end and it’s off to Singapore tomorrow. If you’ve been there let me know the highlights of what I need to cover in less than 2 days.

 

Photos taken on my $99 Elph and are not touched up whatsoever.

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Miles And The Gift Of Spontaneity

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Airlines hate the spontaneous.  Need to fly last minute to an engagement party, for a business meeting, or even for a funeral (G-d forbid) and they’ll charge you up the wazoo.

A last minute trip nonstop between Cleveland and NYC, say from 01/09-01/10, is $1,172.  I used 9,000 BA Avios (7,000 AMEX, or 13 cents value per point) last month instead.

Sure, it’s not quite the same value as using 57,000 miles for a $10,000 suite on an airplane (17.5 cents value per mile) but both are great uses of miles.  And they both are prime examples of why I love miles and hate proprietary points programs like those from Capital One or Citibank.  Capital One would’ve wanted 111,000 points to get to NYC and a whopping 1 million points for my suite.

In short, real airline miles give me the ability to take trips I could otherwise never afford.

Last Friday at 12:30pm I told my wife about an airfare sale between Cleveland and Kansas City.  She asked if it was available for travel that day and I chuckled saying it was for February.

But she piqued my interest, so I pulled up United.com and lo and behold there was a 1:55pm flight nonstop to Kansas City.  I asked if she could pack in 10 minutes and we were at the airport by 1:09pm, just seconds before the United’s 45 minute checked luggage cutoff time at their hub airports.  The fact that the flight was so perfectly timed (10 minutes earlier or 20 minutes later and it wouldn’t have worked) seemed to be a sign from above :D

This was Rafi’s 40th flight, so we’ve got the security thing with an infant down to a science and we were at the gate with time to spare for a diaper change before boarding.  The only shame is that in just 6 months we’ll have to start buying him his own seat, but for now he sat free in any empty seat in his awesome lightweight Cosco Scenara convertible carseat.

And just like that, by 2:40pm central we were in Kansas City, more than 2 hours before shabbos.  It felt very strange flying so late on a Friday, but if things were delayed in Cleveland we could have easily just gone home before shabbos. Plus the weather was good in both cities.  Still, it’s not something I’d try on a Friday afternoon flying to the delay prone NYC corridor airports.

A paid ticket would have been over $800.  But the round-trip flight was just 20,000 United miles.  And we were able to catch the final 3 days of Sheva Brochos with Mimi’s newly married brother and sister-in-law and give quite the surprise to my delighted in-laws.

For a city without a kosher restaurant Kansas City has always impressed me.  I wrote about the best ribs I’ve had in my life as well as insane internet speeds back in August.  This time I got to try Pizza from Johnny Brusco, a non-kosher Pizza shop that has occasional kosher days, a chinese buffet that was so well attended I can’t believe they don’t do it more often (and how many chinese buffets have you been to that come with free Glenfidich Single Malt? :) ), and mouth-watering fried chicken tenders and sushi at Hen House.

Anyway I just got home yesterday.  In the past month I’ve been in Miami, New York (twice), Paris, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.  I’m actually looking forward to spending some time at home in good ole’ Cleveland for a little while now :D

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Trip Notes: Singapore A380 Suites And 46 Hours In Paris

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Related: May 2010 Trip Notes, Part 2: Paris

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

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I wrote on December 20th in my credit card lineup post that, “I’ve opened over 300 cards building a nest egg of over 10 million miles and points so that I can always hop on a plane, fly in first class somewhere, and stay in a 5 star resort without having to pay for it.”

As I was writing that I got bit by the travel bug and started planning the next trip…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trip Notes: Miami 2012.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

Getting to Miami:

-In 2011 we went to Miami in September and boy what a mistake that was.  It was miserably hot and humid, I really can’t understand how people function in South Florida between April and October.  Then again Miami folk probably think the same of people living in the cold between November and April.  I have to say I respect (perhaps even with some jealousy) the snowbirds like my grandparents who live in Cleveland for the summer and in South Florida for the winter.  They really have the best of both worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trip Report: United DO 2012 In Chicago

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

I flew last week to Chicago to experience the tail end of Star MegaDo 4. Hundreds of frequent flyer enthusiasts from forums like Flyertalk and Milepoint get together and fly around the world together and meet with various airline and hotel executives. Star of course refers to Star Alliance. A DO (pronounced like the word do or due) is simply a get-together while a MegaDo is a really big get together. Space to attend these events is always quite limited and there is a cost from $1,000 up to $5,000 depending on how much of the event you want to attend (domestic or international+domestic) and what class you’ll be sitting in on the plane. Participants were treated to flying a brand new United 787 Dreamliner among many other goodies.

I was invited to attend the United portion of the DO in Chicago for free so that’s what I’ll talk about. United billed it as their “inaugural” DO, so this will likely become an annual event. I’ll also cover the hotel I stayed in, the local DDF (DansDeals Forum) DO, and a small part of the local kosher scene that I experienced.

This is not my typical vacation trip report, rather it is a long and technical trip report about United Airlines. If you slog through it I’d love to hear your feedback in a comment and whether I should cover other such events in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trip Notes: Aruba

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

The flight:

In June I flew with my wife and son to Boston thanks to Jetblue’s first mystery coupon bonanza of the year.  When they ran it again last month I thought much bigger (let’s just say that 4BMs are now for sissies) and nabbed free tickets to Aruba for my wife, son, and my mother as well…might as well get some babysitting out of the deal as long as tickets were free!

While Aruba wasn’t our top choice for our first trip to the Caribbean, there are very few Jetblue flights to the Caribbean that leave late enough in the day from Boston or JFK to allow for connections from Pittsburgh. The other options all involved staying in NYC overnight twice, Jetblue does not time their Caribbean flights well for folks coming from connecting cities.

We flew to Aruba last Sunday and arrived into Pittsburgh late Thursday night before driving back home to Cleveland.

 

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Trip Notes: Vancouver.

Plus: A Comparison Of Cathay Pacific Business Versus First Class

Monday, September 10th, 2012

-Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

Background:
A couple weeks ago I asked for your Vancouver tips and got lots of them, so first of all thanks for your help!  The suggestions were great and anyone going to Vancouver should definitely look through them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tips For Flying With An Infant…33 Flights Later And We’re Still Learning The Ropes.

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

Rafi may be just 13 months old, but he’s one well-traveled infant with 33 flight segments and some 40,000 flown miles in his trip log since he was 2.5 months old when we took him on his first airplane trip to Miami.  Gotta take advantage while he still flies free! (Don’t forget to bring a birth certificate or a passport to prove they’re under 2).

I thought we had it down to a science at this point. We fly with his Chicco Keyfit 30 rear-facing carseat, the Uppa Baby Vista stroller frame, and the Chicco car seat adapter.  (I’ve posted good sales for all of those items in the past).  Each piece is under 20 pounds and falls within the guidelines of every airline to be able to be gate-checked. We started off when he was born with a Bugaboo and a Graco Snugride, but ditched  those long ago as they were so inferior to our current combination that it was laughable.

Rafi is an excellent traveler and falls asleep very well in his carseat.

We used to bring the car seat latch base along in checked luggage but of late we stopped doing that as it just adds bulk to the plethora of items you need to travel with a baby and isn’t any safer than just buckling in the car seat.  Granted that it is slightly more convenient to just snap the car seat into the latch base in your rental car, but not convenient to make it worth shlepping along the base.

We check the actual Uppa Baby stroller seat into a floppy luggage bag as it serves no use in the airport.  We do bring it along as these days Rafi prefers to take walks or to eat off his snack tray in the stroller seat rather than in the car seat.  Remember that you can check such a bag for free as an infant exception item.

The one nice thing about going through airport security with a baby? You and your whole family are allowed to use the metal detector lane rather then be subject to the virtual strip search that are being deployed at more and more checkpoints.

In coach on planes with a 3-3 configuration I’ll book us a window and aisle seat with an empty middle.  Nobody has ever taken the middle seat yet, and if they did I’m sure they’d be happy to trade for one of our seats.  At the gate I just ask the agent if the middle seat is still open for us to put the carseat in and have always been able to do that.

On a regional jet, aka Barbie’s dream jet, with a 1-2 configuration, I’ll typically book the 2 seats and then ask the gate agent if there is another seat open for me so that there can be a seat for the carseat next to my wife.  Never had a problem with this strategy either, though I have learned that on United’s Embraer jets only rows 3, 7, 11, 16, and 19 are equipped with an extra oxygen mask and parents with lap children must sit in those rows.

We flew with Rafi in BusinessFirst on a United 767 to Hawaii when he was 4 months old in the bulkhead.  There were no extra seats but he played on the floor and didn’t cry even once. We did have bassinet seats but he did want to be in the tiny bassinet for more than a few minutes.

We flew to Argentina in First class on an AA 777 and after some reluctance they did give him use of an empty seat and he proceeded to sleep in his car seat for the whole way down.  On the return there were no extra seats, but the AA first class suite actually has a big seat and a little seat and that suited our purposes.  For that international trip we used BA Avios to pay only 15,000 miles for Rafi’s ticket instead of 10% of the full fare or $1,000 when using AA miles or when paying at the airport.

Last week we flew on Cathay Pacific in first class from JFK to Vancouver and in business class on the return.   We had flown on Cathay Pacific last year on our round-the-world adventure in first class and they became my favorite airline, so I figured this would be a great way to try them out again on a flight that doesn’t require flying across the world.

I had always assumed that every airline would accept our FAA approved carseat, but boy was I wrong on that.

For this trip we actually used Avios to purchase 3 seats (thanks BMI for the free trip ;)) so that Rafi would be guaranteed his own seat.  On the Cathay 777 in First class there is basically a 4 person section and a 2 person section.  There was 1 person in the other section and there were just the 3 of us in the 4 person section.  Much to our chagrin though the flight attendants informed us that Cathay Pacific does not abide by FAA regulations and does not allow rear-facing car seats to be used in any class.  They actually tried to convince us to set up the carseat to be forward facing, but it’s simply not designed to do that and would have been downright dangerous, though technically would have been fine by their rulebook.  Well, there went any chance of having a nice peaceful flight.  The lead flight attendant consulted with the captain and the only compromise they would agree to was to hold Rafi during takeoff/landing, allow him to be in the carseat during the flight, but we would have to wake him up and hold him every time the seatbelt light came on.  Apparently they feel that holding a child during turbulence is safer than being buckled in a 5 point harness. :roll:

But everything with Asian carriers are strictly by the book and nobody is willing to do anything to bend any rules, so the only acceptable option was to hold Rafi during takeoff/landing and then try to secure him in a regular plane seat.  We had our own personal flight attendant in First and she really did try her hardest to accommodate us.  She made an elaborate bed with pillows on all sides to try to secure Rafi from rolling off the bed. At home of course we don’t use pillows or a blanket in Rafi’s crib, but here they were needed to secure him from falling down. Unfortunately the buckle did practically nothing as it could not be made tight enough for him, but Cathay is fine with that in turbulence and wouldn’t make us wake him up even though he would be totally unsecured, so long as wasn’t in that 5 point harness during turbulence…

At any rate I just stayed up for the 5 hour flight and checked on Rafi every few minutes to make sure he was OK and indeed he slept on the flat bed for the entire flight.

Had we had a forward facing carseat we would’ve been able to secure him in that in First Class.  I was about to go out and buy one for the return trip but I started doing some research on their website and it turns out that in business class you can’t even have a forward facing carseat.  On some planes you can’t even have a forward facing carseat in coach.

On the return trip we went through the same rigmarole, except that now it was 10:50pm PDT/1:50am EDT and Rafi was not happy about being held.  He cried before takeoff but fell asleep as the wheels went up.  In business the service isn’t nearly as personal as in first and the seat though still lie-flat is much smaller and less secure.  I used our pillows to try to secure the bed for Rafi but it was far from ideal and we had to constantly check on him.

I started researching the subject even more.  I learned that despite the fact that the FAA requires US based airlines to accept FAA approved carseats, you actually can’t have any carseats in Delta’s new lie-flat BusinessElite seating on their 777 aircraft.  Lots of other foreign carries also will not allow carseats and parents of small children should definitely try to avoid them.

Lesson learned from this trip: Always check those carseat policies before buying a ticket!  Had we done that I would have gladly given up flying on a world class airline and stuck with a US carrier like American or United that allows carseats without any issues.  The Cathay trip may have been 7th heaven when we were pre-child but now it was anything but.

I’ll talk more about Cathay business class vs. first class and all about Vancouver in an upcoming trip notes post.

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Pretty soon we’ll be shopping for a convertible carseat. Have any recommendations? Are there any that are better for travel or are they all monstrosities?

Have any other travel tips or lessons learned from your travels? Post ‘em in the comments! Learn anything useful in this post? I’d love to hear that as well.

As for me, all I can say is Gd bless my awesome wife for putting up with my travel addiction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathay Pacific First Class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathay Pacific Business Class

Rafi’s flight paths since birth.

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Reader Suggestions: What’s Not To Be Missed In Vancouver?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

I’m back again asking for your tips!

I’ve turned to my readers before for suggestions in Boston, Buenos Aires, Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C. and readers came up big time (as you can tell from my subsequent trip notes from Boston, Buenos Aires, Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C.).

Is it bad that I’m as excited to fly on Cathay Pacific once again as I am about checking out a new city? Their 747 first class that we flew on to Hong Kong was the best flight experience I’ve ever had in the sky, though they only fly a 777 between JFK and Vancouver.

-What activities shouldn’t we miss and what should we skip? (Stroller friendly is always a good thing!)
-What do the local kosher restaurants make best?

Hit the comments and let’s hear your thoughts!

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Trip Notes Kansas City: Ribs And Fiber Edition.

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

-I’ve spent the past week in Kansas City, the city of fountains. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 4 years since I first went to Kansas City to find my soul mate. When I first landed the rental car agent told me that I had to try out Kansas City style BBQ. Kansas Citians are quite proud of their BBQ reputation. I nodded and laughed to myself as if I would ever be able to. Turns out I was wrong!

-The airport is one of a kind. Although there are 3 terminals, wherever you land you only need to walk a few feet to reach your checked bags and a few more feet to be outside.  If you are flying without luggage you can show up at the airport 25 minutes in advance and have time to spare at the gate. They need a ton of staffing and checkpoints to do this, but it’s convenient for passengers. There is no TSA, they hire private security guards, but I find them to be even worse than TSA agents :P

-Throw your preconceived notions away. This place isn’t flat like they tell you in grade school and there are no cows roaming the streets, it’s just a city that happens to be split across Kansas and Missouri.

-Weather can be extreme.  While the weather on this visit has been perfect (though perfect for mosquitos as well), I’ve been here numerous times in the triple digits  and when it’s been well into the negatives, so be prepared.  Still, I thankfully haven’t been around for any tornadoes yet.

-This past Sunday the Vaad of Kansas City held their 1st annual kosher BBQ competition. Organizer Mendel Segal invited me to be one of the judges for the event and I gladly accepted.  “Avid Traveler, Kosher Food Lover, Blogger and CEO of DansDeals.com” Lol…love it!

What an incredible event it was. Thousands of people turned out for the event from all walks of life. Participating in the contest were 15 teams ranging from local Orthodox Jews to teams that came in from Boston, Chicago, and Morristown with names like “Farbreng It” and “Holy Smokers,” to local non-Jewish teams like “Three Brothers BBQ” and “Red Hot Orbits” that normally compete in regular non-kosher contests but were intrigued by the idea of a kosher competition and learning to try something new. Folks started cooking right after nightfall on Saturday and literally camped out all night long by their smokers. All were under the strict watchful eye of a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) who provided everything from the smokers, to the meat, to every spice and sauce being used by the entrants.

The judging was blind, every team had a number and we didn’t know anything more than that. The categories were chicken, ribs, and brisket and each were judged on appearance, taste, and texture. The ribs were my favorite part by far. I can’t even begin to describe how awesome one of the entrants ribs were, they were tangy, full of flavor, and moist. Indeed I later found out that the team that made the ribs that I fell in love with, “STP BBQ-Smoked to Perfection,” won pretty much every award there was!  Perfection indeed.

At the event they sold all kinds of BBQ meats, had a pickle and hot dog eating contest, and there were even local brands of BBQ sauce that had a special kosher run just for sale at the event. All in all it was an awesome experience, the turnout from all walks of life was massive, the local news stations and papers were swarming the place, and I hope to be back again next summer to partake in it.

-Another new exciting place I checked out was the Google Fiber Space. There’s just one of these guys worldwide and it’s located smack on the border of Kansas and Missouri.

What Google is about to do to the internet is nothing short of revolutionary and the Fiber Space is a fun place to see it all happening. Download and Upload speeds of 900Mbps-1Gbps. Yes, that’s download speeds that are 100 times faster than your so-called high-speed internet at home at 10Mbps.

There are demonstrations of just what can be done with that. Pages load before you can blink. Forget 1080p, you can watch 4K and 3D videos on youtube without any buffering time. Google Earth is INSANE with Google Fiber speeds. Download a movie in just a couple seconds. HD video games are on display. Except that the video games are all in the cloud, no cartridge or console is needed and it’s all seamless thanks to the incredible speeds of Google Fiber.

The store has dozens of employees there to show you just how cool the service is. Google is testing it out in Kansas City to see the response of people. They are prioritizing which neighborhoods to serve based on per-registrations and people go around campaigning their neighbors to signup. The cost is $70 per month for Fiber Internet or $120 per month for Fiber Internet, TV, and they’ll throw in a Nexus 7 tablet and that can be used as a remote control and a hard drive box. Alternatively Google will give you free internet at regular speeds for 7 years if you pay a one-time fee of $300.

As I explored the store I found a cozy little room to photograph. Then I turned around to look at the TV and a dietitian is live on the TV via webcam in full-blown HD, happy to discuss any questions I have one-on-one with me. We chatted for a full hour!

All in all a very cool experience and almost enough to make me want to move to Kansas City ;)

-There are lots of great museums in town if that’s your thing, like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Steamboat Arabia Museum, the Liberty Memorial World War 1 Museum and Monument, the Toy & Miniature Museum, the Truman Presidential Museum & Library, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, etc. We did most of those on our dates, but we didn’t just do the dry stuff back then. We also took Segways (beware, once you try one you’ll want to own one!) around the picturesque Union Station, hiked at the Overland Park Arboretum, painted pottery at Paint, Glaze, and Fire, walked around the awesome Plaza shopping district, went bowling/golfing/laser-tagging at Incredabowl, and took a Cinderella horse carriage ride around the Plaza and a gondola ride down the water there as well…good times.

-On this trip we went with some of my younger relatives in town to the new Legoland and Aquarium in Crown Center.  A combo ticket is $29 for adults and $23 for kids.  Pricy, but the kids absolutely loved it and I just might admit to having some fun there myself…

-There are currently no kosher restaurants in Kansas City (the kosher Subway has unfortunately closed down, does that make the original kosher Subway location in Cleveland the last one standing?) but the Hen House grocery store on Roe Avenue has a large kosher section with a deli as well as fresh prepared foods. Be aware that the counter is closed on Tuesdays. The kosher sushi you can buy at Hen House is very reasonably priced and is excellent, highly recommended. Their shnitzel (friend chicken breast) is great as well. Mendel Segal actually used to run the place and used to make incredible pulled BBQ beef sandwiches upon request, though you’d have to call to see what they can make for you now as he is no longer there.

So, anyone thinking of taking a vacation to Kansas City? It’s just 9,000 British Airways Avios (approx 7,200 Starpoints) to fly round-trip from AA’s hubs in Chicago and Dallas. Or would you consider competing in or attending the BBQ event next year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you ready to roll? Relaxing in the United Club sure beats the gate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBQ judging.  It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mendel Segal being swarmed by interview after interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ribs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ribs in anonymous boxes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heavenly ribs from STP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brisket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBQ for sale to the public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Dog Eating contest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trophies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 15 competing teams.

Google Fiber Space.

 

Reminded me of a site error or something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiber box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Streaming HD gaming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yowza!  I can only drool…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A whole lot warmer than an Apple Store!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprise! Not Google TV on display but a personal consultation with a dietician in HD.

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Take Me Out To The Ballgame…Buy Me Some Kosher Chili And Ribs.

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Did you know that there are at least 27 sports teams in North America with kosher stands? You can access the entire list on this DDF thread.

The Yankees may have beat their farm system team Indians once again last night, but it’s hard not to enjoy a game with amenities like express entry to Yankee Stadium, complimentary all-you-can-eat gourmet kosher food and desserts (the menu changes nightly) in the exclusive dining areas or delivered by waiters to your seats, drinks, and cushioned seats with plenty of legroom. The food is a whole lot better than the junk they serve at the regular kosher stand.

With a face value per seat in the $1,000 ballpark it’s not something I’d ever dream of paying (though you can likely scalp tickets for a fraction of that), but if the opportunity arises for you to sit in the Legends Suite I wouldn’t pass it up!  I had the opportunity to sit in section 17b last night which is really great as it’s the closest you can get to home plate without having your view obstructed by the protective netting, just be ready to nab a foul ball if it comes your way!

Then again a Yankees fan may just want to attend an away game in Cleveland where a front row seat has a face value of less than $100 and the flight from NYC is just 9,000 BA Avios round-trip. You can bring a whole lot of food to the game with all the extra change in your pocket. Or you can even splurge and sit in the dugout suite in Cleveland for a fraction of the Legends Suites ticket price.

Still, sitting in the Legends Suite is definitely an incredible way to experience a ballgame (and yes, the peanuts and crackerjack are on the house as well)

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Trip Notes: 48 Hours In Boston

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

We got back on Tuesday from 2 wonderful days in Boston.

A couple weeks ago I asked for your Boston tips and got lots of them, so first of all thanks for your help!  The suggestions were great and anyone going to Boston should definitely look through them as it would be impossible to cover even a fraction of them on such a short trip with a baby.

The flights were purchased for next to nothing with $100 off coupons from Jetblue’s voucher bonanza from last month.

Here are some of my trip notes:

Flight:

-In an era of cutbacks Jetblue really does stand out from the pack.  A free checked bag, leather seats with very good legroom, free TV, free snacks including kosher parve ones like Terra Blue Chips and Popcorners popcorn chips, a full can of pop, but most of all, really friendly agents.  On our return flight for example we were in seats 6C-D.  I decided to purchase extra legroom seat 1C for $25 to increase our odds of being able to use our carseat in 1D or 6D.  6D was eventually taken but the gate agent was more than happy to let us use 1D for the carseat and even came over to us to let us know that 2C-D would be empty as well (although the seatmap showed those and every other seat on the plane as being occupied) so that we would be able to sit close to each other.

Hotel:

-We stayed in a suite at the Fairmont Copley Plaza with 2 free nights and a free suite upgrade from last year’s Fairmont Living Social deal.  The hotel is in a prime location, within walking distance of most the city’s sights.  The suite was massive and nicely renovated but the bathroom was a disappointment, it was oddly cramped and in need of repairs.

Activities:

-The city itself has a wonderful historic, yet clean feel to it.  There’s a great vibe from just walking around its vibrant areas.  We got around on foot and by car, but it can also be done with the subway system.

-While grabbing brunch after we arrived on Sunday we received a great surprise in the form of a Flag Day parade down the main drag in the Jewish enclave of Brookline.  Marchers were dressed in their 17th century finest!

-Later on Sunday we took a ducky tour of the city and river.  You’ll learn about the history of the city in a humorous and fun fashion that will entertain all ages.  Kids can even steer the boat on the river.  Plus you pass by many stops on the Freedom Trail and learn all about the history of our nation’s revolution against the British.  Following the ducky tour with the map they provided also gave us a good sense of direction for the city, so I highly recommend doing it first.  Tours are not cheap, but there are student discounts (in fact most activities in Boston have substantial student discounts).  The part that irked me was the $10 charge for a lap child…talk about a money grab!

-It was very cold on Sunday, with temperatures in the low 50s, and was even colder on the ducky tour, note to self, check the temperature closer than 2 days prior to departure to know what to pack!

-On Monday we started by walking to the Freedom Trail, which is a series of sights connected by a red brick path that pertain to the Revolutionary War.  I bought a highly-rated app for $2.99 but it unfortunately didn’t play nicely with my phone.  So we decided to take a guided tour from the 1st stop.  The tour was very slow and only mildly interesting when it entered a graveyard and my wife decided that she wasn’t going to bring our little one into a cemetery at such a young age and that was that.  We followed the rest of the trail on foot stopping by the shops and stores around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.  We finished at the Paul Revere statue and took a $12 cab (that even accepted credit card with ease!) back to the hotel.

-The Sam Adams Brewery has free public tours that are a treat. You get to taste different kinds of hops while learning about the process before getting a free tasting glass and drinking different varieties of pretty much all you can drink free beer.  While drinking they educate you on everything from how to pour beer to how to taste the sweetness, bitterness, and creaminess of a beer.  Afterward they try to upsell you on beers that are only sold in the Brewery (I bit on this) and custom designed beer glasses (and passed on that). Under 21 folk get Root Beer instead of the good stuff during the tour.

-The Fenway Park tour was a highlight for a diehard baseball fan like myself.  Before the tour, we walked the tiny boundaries of the humble outside walls of the stadium.  Then we sat in the original tiny wooded seats (wouldn’t want to sit in those for 9 innings, spring for the sections with new seats!) and the highlight was climbing up on top of the “Green Monstah” with the awe-inspiring view from the seats on top.  Unfortunately the tour doesn’t take you into the dugout or locker room as is included in some tours of other stadiums, but I highly recommend the tour for any baseball or Field of Dream fans.

-The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship and dates back to the 1700s and is a stop on the Freedom Trail.  You can tour it for free with some caveats. It’s closed on Monday, nearby parking is very expensive, adult’s need valid ID, you must wait in a long line before clearing airport-like security, and then wait in another long line to tour or board the ship.  Unfortunately due to the scheduling of our trip and our limited time we only got to see the ship from before security.

Restaurants:

-Without entering any political kashrus debates the limited number of kosher restaurants in Boston (which all did have mashgichim there) were quite good, if not on the small and crowded side.

-Rubins: We ate here for Sunday brunch and Monday dinner.  For brunch we ate indoors I had delicious banana chocolate chip pancakes with home fries and fresh fruit ($10.99).  For dinner we ate Alfresco  and tried the very haimish tasting stuffed cabbage ($9.99) and a very good overstuffed Romanian Pastrami on Marble Rye ($13.99).  Cole Slaw or Potato Salad can be added for $1.  Homemade meat and potato knishes (2 for $5.99) were dry and not very flavorful.

DD rating: 8/10

—————————————————–

Rami’s: We had Monday lunch here.  The place is tiny and packed, not at all conducive to eating with a baby.  The schwarma ($10.95) and felafel ($7.95) though are pretty good, though the schug tasted like it was made with old ingredients and the fries tasted like they were refried one too many times.

DD rating: 6.5/10

—————————————————–

Taam China: We went here for Sunday dinner and Tuesday lunch.  Very good egg rolls ($2.50), and delicious szechuan crispy chicken ($13.50).  My wife got excited by the chicken corn soup ($5.95 for 2) on the menu based on the fantastic version we had in Hong Kong the year before, but it was a disappointment.  Sesame chicken was merely OK.  The szechuan crispy beef ($14.95) was very good.  Rice is not included with dinner (white $1.50, brown $2.50, fried $7.95) The best deal here however is the weekday lunch special served until 3pm. For just $7.50 you can choose from 15 select dishes, like their excellent sweet and sour chicken along with a very good soup like Hot and Sour and white or fried rice.  Yup, a soup, a chinese meal, and the fried rice for lunch are less than price of just fried rice for dinner!

DD rating: 7.5/10

—————————————————–

We walked into Kupel’s but the baked good windows were swarming with dozens of flies…gross.

We skipped Jerusalem pita and Eilat Cafe based on their mediocre reviews in the suggestions post.

All of the restaurants are located on Harvard in Brookline within a few blocks of each other.

—————————————————–

Pictures:

1 BR Suite, Fairmont Copley Plaza

1 BR Suite, Fairmont Copley Plaza

View from  1 BR Suite, Fairmont Copley Plaza

Bathroom  1 BR Suite, Fairmont Copley Plaza

Fairmont Copley Plaza Hallway

Flag Day Parade, Brookline

Flag Day Parade, Brookline

 

Ducky Tour Boat

On the Ducky Tour Boat

Freedom Trail Tour.

State House, circa 1795.

The seat of the British Government, circa 1713.  The Boston Massacre happened in front of this building in 1770 that was the start of the American Revolution and The Declaration of Independence was first read in New England from the balcony of the building in July of 1776.

Drinking a cup of Joe with Larry outside Quincy Market.

Didn’t realize there would be crop circles along the freedom trail…

Gas-lamp lit streetlamp in the historic and picturesque North End.

Paul Revere Mall.

USS Constitution

Sam Adams Brewery

Sam Adams Brewery Beer Tasting

Sam Adams Brewery Beer Tasting

Brewery exclusive beers.

Ted Williams

The red seat allegedly marks the farthest home run in Fenway, hit by Ted Williams…

…as I said, allegedly.

Enjoying the view from on top of the Green Monster.

Green Monster.

View from on top of the Green Monster.

What they tried to forget for so many decades…

Mediocre sesame chicken, Taam China.

Very good lunch portion of sweet and sour chicken, Taam China.

Lunch Hot and Sour Soup, Taam China.

Excellent szechuan crispy chicken, Taam China

A great Egg Roll, Taam China

Very good schwarma, Rami’s.

Felafel plate, Rami’s.

Fries, Rami’s.

Overstuffed Pastrami, Rubin’s.

Stuffed Cabbage, Rubin’s.

Potato and Meat Knish, Rubin’s.

Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Rubin’s

Blueberry French Toast, Rubin’s

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Reader Suggestions: What’s Not To Be Missed In Boston?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

I’m back again asking for your tips!

I’ve turned to my readers before for suggestions in Buenos Aires, Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C. and readers came up big time (as you can tell from my subsequent trip notes from Buenos Aires, Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C.).

It will be my first Jetblue flight since flying from Chicago to Long Beach for $90 round-trip back in 2007. Price inflation? Nah. This flight will be just a small fraction of that thanks to Jetblue’s free voucher bonanza last month.

We’ll just be there for 2 days and neither my wife or I have ever been there before, so we’ll have to do some prioritizing. The Red Sox aren’t in town, so catching a game at Fenway won’t be in the cards this time.

-What activities shouldn’t we miss and what should we skip? (Stroller friendly is a must these days!)
-Which kosher restaurants should we eat at and what do they make best?

Hit the comments and let’s hear your thoughts!

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Children In First Class…

Friday, May 25th, 2012

A letter from my inbox:

“I have read with interest your recent trip to Buenos Aires. You are truly not fair and totally inconsiderate to other passengers in First Class, by bringing a 10 month old child. I pay a lot to avoid the discomfort of coach, you on the other hand work the system to achieve what others pay for, and then we have to tolerate a screaming baby or the antics of a restless toddler by some other inconsiderate passenger (like you) And yes I do have children and no I never had them in First class with me until they were old enough to understand and respect the privacy and desire for a secluded environment of the other premium cabin passengers. Were it up to me airlines would prohibit children under the age of 10 from being in the premium cabins.

Have a good Shabbos & Yom Tov and hopefully I will never have to be on a flight in first class with you and your child.”

Harsh! What’s your opinion on the matter? Should children be banned from premium classes? Should people not travel in premium classes with kids even if they area allowed and have the miles or money to do so out of consideration for others? Is it dependent on the child’s behavior or is that irrelevant as any child can always have a bad day?
Hit the comments and sound off!
Somehow I’ll bet the lines will be divided by those with and those without their own kids!

To set the record straight Rafi has flown on 23 flights in his first 10 months on this world (well not counting the 24 flight segments we took when he was in the oven ;) ) including 4 long haul flight segments (Hawaii and Buenos Aires) in business or first class. After each of those flight segments we have had flight attendants and other passengers come over to us after the flight to let us know what a pleasure and how well behaved he was. The only fit he has thrown was when we were taking from JFK to Buenos Aires and once he was in his carseat he slept soundly through the night. That crying occurred for maybe 25 minutes out of 40+ hours of flying in longhaul premium classes.  If he was not a good flyer then I simply wouldn’t travel with him as much!
Additionally I selected seats in the last row of the cabin even though those aren’t the best seats to sit in, just in order to inconvenience others as little as possible.

And yes, I do use miles to travel for free and make no apologies for that aspect! I do feel bad and apologetic to others when they see us with a child in business or first class, but I sure hope you’re not on my next flight as well…

Persona Non-Grata?

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Trip Notes: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Friday, May 25th, 2012

A few weeks ago I asked for your tips and got lots of them, so first of all thanks for your help!  I incorporated many suggestions from there and the Argentina Master Thread on DDF for trip planning.

-My wife and I and our 10 month old son have just arrived home on Wednesday afternoon from a week-long trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  A city with lots to see, incredible Ice Cream and Dulce de Leche baked goods, and home to one of the best kosher restaurants I’ve ever been to.

Here are some of my trip notes:
(more…)

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Reader Suggestions: What’s Not To Be Missed In Buenos Aires?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

I’ve turned to my readers before for suggestions in Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C. and readers came up big time (as you can tell from my subsequent trip notes from Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C.).

I haven’t asked for feedback on international trips that I’ve taken, but I’ve got nothing to lose by seeing if any of my readers have any tips to share!

We’ll be staying at the Park Hyatt in a suite, thank to the Hyatt card and points from cards like Chase Sapphire and Freedom.

-So what activities shouldn’t we miss and what should we skip? (Stroller friendly is a must these days!)

-Which kosher restaurants should we eat at and what do they each make best? Any good cholov yisroel ice cream? Best place to pickup some takeout food for shabbos?

-Is it worth adding on a trip to Iguazu Falls, or better to save that for when the kids are older and will appreciate it more?

Hit the comments and let’s hear your thoughts!

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Trip Notes: SoCal Luscious Spring.

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Find more articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

Hopefully you’ll find my trip notes helpful for something. If not, just scroll on down and don’t let them bother you too much!

We got back last Wednesday from 2 weeks of soaking up Southern California sunshine.

The timeline of our trip went something like this:

-04/03: After having lots of fun dealing with the new United I finally got us switched for free with confirmed standby onto a Tuesday night flight nonstop from CLE to LAX so that we wouldn’t have to get up at 4 in the morning to travel the next day.  In the end my seat on the old Airbus was broken, so that caused lots of fun as well. We stayed Tuesday night at the Sheraton LAX for 3,500 points (that I had booked before it rose from a category 2 to a category 3) where they stuck our 4 suitcases each packed with 70 pounds of cooked frozen food in their hotel freezer.  We were upgraded to a corner suite with a wrap-around view.

-04/04: An Avis manager dropped off a Chevy Tahoe for us at the Sheraton and we hit up the Fish Grill location on Pico.  Maybe it was because we were the first customers of the day or maybe the Pico location is just inferior to the Beverly location, but the Grilled Salmon over Angel Hair Pasta with fries was not nearly as good as it was the last time we went to the Beverly location.
After spending a couple hours getting everything we would need for the entire holiday at Western Kosher (thanks Chase Freedom for making grocery stores one of the rotating categories for Q2!) I picked up food for the entire family from Shnitzly’s and Pizza Mayven and sped off to Palm Springs. Well, with LA traffic it was more like crawling along, but that’s the price you pay for amazing year-round weather I guess?

-We start looking for vacation houses for rent on sites like vrbo.comhomeaway.com, vacationrentals.com, craigslist.net about 6 months before Passover. We know already that The Twin Palms and Deepwell neighborhoods are within walking distance of the local Chabad House, so that makes things easier. After finding a place with sufficient bedrooms and a nice private pool it’s just a matter of negotiating a good rate. Orlando and Palm Springs are both communities where there are many houses that people own to vacation in for a few weeks a year and rent out for the remainder so rentals can be very cheap.  This year we landed a stunning house with 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2 massive dining tables (1 indoors and 1 outdoors in what was possibly the most idyllic setting for a Passover seder that I have ever experienced), a pool table, and of course a large, private heated pool.

Sure it’s a lot of shlepping to do all this, and my dear mother has been cooking since January in her basement Pesach kitchen, but we really have an amazing time with the entire family in a magnificent house for a tiny fraction of the cost of a real Pesach program.  And the weather in Palm Springs is always simply perfect around Pesach.

-04/05: The local Ralph’s grocery store had a surprisingly nice selection ranging from Passover Ice Cream to Passover Pizza made from potato starch and I’m definitely a sucker for every flavor of Passover Ice Cream I could get my hands on.  Their wine prices ($9.79 for Moscato) were very good as well.  Best of all during chol ha’moed they marked down everything by a whopping 80%, even on non-Passover items like Silver Polish gloves!

No longer needing the towing space of the Tahoe I went to Avis at the Palm Springs Airport and tried to get a convertible but they were sold out.  In the meantime they gave me a Caddy CTS and promised a Camaro convertible for me on Monday.  Boy was the Camaro fun to drive out in the desert!

04/06-04/14: Pesach in Palm Springs was as relaxing and beautiful as always.  Rabbi Denebeim always captivates the crowd with his speeches, and this year was no exception.  Engaging with personal stories and fun to listen to, there’s nobody falling asleep during his sermon!

There’s no shortage of things to do in Palm Springs, nature buffs have incredible hikes and scenic drives galore, and there’s no end to damage to your wallet that shopping will cause between the high end stores in Palm Desert to the quaint shops that line downtown Palm Springs, and the Thursday evening street fair.  Of course at the nearby outlet mall there’s always the small tricks you can do to help alleviate the pain like joining Premium Outlet’s VIP club to print up a voucher for a free coupon book or taking stores up on their free shipping policies which also will cause them to drop the tax by shipping out of state…

04/15: After 8 days of Pesach food it was time to head back to LA and start fressing! The drive back to LA on Sunday took less than 2 hours, or about half the time it took to get out Palm Springs on a weekday.

-Our first stop was Basil & Berry, a new Pizza and yogurt bar on Pico.  The menu looks great with mushroom and cheese stuffed crust pizza and lots of innovative toppings and fun sauces and pestos are available as well.  The pizza itself was quite good, but service here is a disaster.  The lady at the counter spoke zero english.  When I ordered eggplant as a topping she was trying to figure out why I wanted eggs on pizza. The restaurant doesn’t have any plates!  They were out of caramelized onions on Sunday and when I went back a few days later to pick up a pie I ordered with caramelized onions it had red peppers instead.  The yogurt isn’t bad though I preferred Yogo on Melrose.  The yogurt toppings here were also sorely lacking compared to YoGo.
The nice part? 20% off for checking in on foursqaure or facebook!
Pizza: 7/10.
Yogurt bar: 4.5/10
Service: 1.5/10.

-We checked into our hotel, the SLS Beverly Hills, a Starwood category 5 hotel, located on La Cienega just south of the Beverly Center. There are literally dozens of “suggestions” scattered throughout the hotel (and on billboards outside the hotel) of what SLS may stand for (Soft Like Silk. Scribble Little Somethings, Style Luxury Service, See Luxury Spread, in other words it stands for whatever you want it to stand for!) and pretty soon my wife and I couldn’t stop coming up with new things that SLS may stand for throughout the day.

We had stayed at the Andaz West Hollywood in the past and I even have a couple free category 1-4 nights that come as a built-in retention bonus feature of the Hyatt card. But service isn’t great there, I’ve read a number of ongoing strange reports of employees protesting in the wee hours of morning outside the Andaz, and the location of the Andaz isn’t as good as the SLS.  Plus I’ve never stayed at the SLS, so I was in the mood to try something new and I was able to get a cash and points room for Sunday night.   I booked the 2nd night using 12,000 points from my wife’s Platinum account.

The reason for booking it as 2 separate reservations was multifold.  First of all that way we both got a 500 point Platinum amenity, dropping the cost of the first night down to 4,300 Starpoints+$90 and dropping the 2nd night down to 11,500 points. With paid rates of about $450-$500 after tax for standard rooms, using points are a great value.  Second of all we each got a stay credit towards requalifying for Platinum status.  Third of all I find that the odds of getting a suite are generally increased on one night stays.  At checkin they said that no suites were available just then and that they didn’t know when one would become available.  They showed us to a terrace room, but frankly the terrace isn’t that exciting.  It doesn’t offer any real privacy and the room was small.  I picked up the phone before the bellhop even started unloading our bags and the front desk managed to find a studio suite for us that was just down the hall.

The studio suite was awesome, a very unique and modern design with a nook for the crib.  The bedding in the room is wonderful and the pillows were amazing. Overall I was very impressed with it except for the soap/shampoo situation.  The soap and shampoos were great actually, but they are in large public bottles that stay from guest to guest.  It’s a little creepy and gross in my opinion and is quite bizarre to see in a luxury hotel.

Otherwise service in the hotel was excellent.  We were often greeted by name and employees were very friendly without being overbearing.  Valet service was lightning quick and there was never a need to have or recite the ticket number.  The location of the hotel is centrally located just minutes from kosher eateries in the Pico/Robertson and Beverly/La Brea neighborhoods.

The rooftop pool is tiny but was nicely heated when I went for an evening swim and it was completely deserted. I guess the folks who hang around poolside during the day were at the vibrant bar scene downstairs or enjoying the rest of the city’s nightlife.

Overall I wouldn’t hesitate to return to the SLS and I just hope it doesn’t climb any higher than a category 5!
Room: 8.5/10
Service: 8/10

-On Sunday night we walked down down the block from the SLS to LA’s latest kosher steakhouse, La Seine, also on La Cienega. (Thanks Mom for babysitting!) I had heard some extremely positive and extremely negative things about this place, so I was quite curious to try it out. The place itself and the ambiance is wonderful with comfortable chairs and booths as well as fireplaces giving it a very cozy feel. We started with Sushi that was outstanding. We ordered short ribs, a la carte off of the tasting menu and a flat-iron steak with fries. The ribs were melt-in-your-mouth but unfortunately lacked much flavor. The steak was perfect and the variety of sauces they brought out with it were great as well. The fries were nearly perfect. For dessert we had a disappointing chocolate trio, which consisted of hot chocolate cake, cold chocolate cake, and a chocolate rum shot, and an incredible hot lemon tart. Service was phenomenal all around.
Food: 8/10
Ambiance: 10/10
Service: 10/10

-04/16: On Monday we hit up the cholov yisroel Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Beverly. The Iced Vanilla and Iced Mocha Coffee were both awesome.

-The Grove is always a nice spot to walk around and shop. I bumped into a fanwalking back from the Grove who recognized who I was and thanked me profusely for my Paris trip notes which he studied and copied to a T eating at each of the places I had been to and ordering the same foods down to the Farandole. Now that’s dedication!

-For lunch we had the La Gondola special, a Gondola Burger with soup, fries, or pasta for $10.95, which is a great deal. You really can’t go wrong here.
For dinner a half dozen DansDeals Forums members got together at La Gondola where we chowed down on Asian Spring Rolls, Avocado Egg Rolls, and their famous Ribs and Chai steak, topped off with a hot chocolate chip cookie with ice cream. Pretty soon folks from tables surrounding us started realizing who we were and started coming over to chat with us, so good times were had by all and the conversation went on for hours longer than the restaurant cared for it to carry on.
Food: 8/10
Ambiance: 7/10
Service: 7/10

-04/17: On Tuesday for lunch we tried out a new Sushi place, Meshuga 4 Sushi. They have a nice lunch bento box special, about $12 for a Miso soup, roll of sushi, salad, rice, and the best part, panko salmon sticks.
The food is decent, nothing to really write home about, but the lunch special is a pretty sweet deal. Service was very good and when I checked in on Facebook my wife and I both got free cans of soda.
Food: 6.5/10
Service: 8/10

-Yogo, on Melrose, can always be counted on for a great variety of cholov yisroel frozen yogurts with a plethora of fun toppings. Definitely worth a visit.

-Of course I couldn’t head home without bringing back from cinnamon crumb cake donuts from Cafe Elite or the crumb topping Cheese Danishes from Schwartz Bakery, conveniently located next door to each other on Beverly.

-For dinner we went to an old classic, PKD, or Pico Kosher Deli. After a hot pastrami and homemade onion rings it was off to LAX and a quick stop in the very nice Terminal 7 United Club (boy does it beat the Terminal 6 club I’m used to!). We had the bulkhead again on the A319 aircraft, it’s not as spacious as the bulkhead on the A320, but it was still very nice. We had an empty seat for our car seat and Rafi slept the entire red-eye home.

Pictures (Click to enlarge) :

Corner suite at the Sheraton LAX

View from our suite at the Sheraton LAX

The always yummy fries at Fish Grill

The fish however was dry and the pasta soggy at the Pico Fish Grill location.  Next time it’s back to Beverly for me!

Thanks for the fun times Avis!

A partial view of the master bedroom in our rented Palm Springs vacation home.

A partial living/dining  room view in our rented Palm Springs vacation home

A small part of the backyard in our rented Palm Springs vacation home

Outdoor dining area in our rented Palm Springs vacation home

Basil & Berry stuffed crust pizza with eggs, I mean eggplant.

SLS Beverly Hills

Original Terrace room at the SLS.

Original Terrace room at the SLS.

View of the Terraces from the pool deck at the SLS

Pool Deck Entrance, SLS

SLS Pool Deck

SLS Studio Suite.

SLS Studio Suite.

SLS Studio Suite.

SLS Studio Suite.

SLS Studio Suite Bathroom.

SLS Studio Suite Bathroom.

La Seine.

Excellent Sushi ($8, Salmon, Avocado, and Jalapeno in a tempura batter served with a delicious dipping sauce) at La Seine.

The Bordeaux Braised Short Ribs, $34, melt in your mouth, but the flavor itself is somewhat underwhelming.

The Flat-Iron steak, $29, was seared to perfection and served with a number of very good dipping sauces and well spiced fries, at La Seine.

La Seine’s Hot Lemon Tart dessert, $12, was out of this world.

The Chocolate Trio, $8, however was surprisingly merely OK.

Enjoying a short night out without our adorable little one, at La Seine.

Addictive Ice Blended cholov yisroel Vanilla and Mocha coffee drinks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

Cholov Yisroel items at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

A succulent Mushroom/Onion Gondola Burger with Pasta, $10.95 lunch special plus $2 for the sauteed mushrooms and onions, at La Gondola with delicious Pasta.  The soup option of the day, split pea with artichoke, was even a better choice.

Divine Hot chocolate chip cookie with Ice Cream at La Gondola.

Avocado Eggrolls with Cilantro dipping sauce, $12.95, are a absolute must have at La Gondola.

Asian Spring Rolls, $12.95, made with duck and chicken and served with peanut and teriyaki dipping sauces, are an excellent choice at La Gondola.

Chicken Salad, $13.95, at La Gondola.

Chai Steak, $38, in a caramelized onion sauce, can be inconsistent at times, but was perfect this time at La Gondola.

La Gondola’s famous BBQ Ribs, $38.

Of course at a DDF meetup we all pulled out our Sapphire Preferred cards, can’t beat 2.14 points per dollar!

Meshuga 4 Sushi’s lunch special.

Miso Soup at Meshuga 4 Sushi was quite salty.

Bento Box from Meshuga 4 Sushi had some great panko salmon sticks.

Yogo with raw cookie dough and chocolate chips!

Yogo.

A small sample of toppings at Yogo.

Cobb Salad with chopped chicken breast and grilled pastrami, $13.75, at PKD.

Excellent homemade Onion Rings, $3.95, at PKD.

Hot Pastrami, $12.95, at PKD.

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Beware The Premier Upgrade List Of United.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

What a mess…and we haven’t even left the ground yet.

As a Premier Platinum member at United I get 2 annual confirmed regional upgrades. As I was booked as part of a party of 4 to LAX, using 2 of those upgrades split us into 2 reservations. Of course I had made sure to have everyone seated in economy plus before splitting anything. The upgrade for the return flight could not be confirmed despite the empty cabin, so that confirmed upgrade is still waitlisted.

Today when I checked in for the flight it added me to the upgrade standby list. It also had the option to rebook everyone left in the reservation on another flight for free. After checking in it split the reservation once again, leaving us with 3 reservations.

Later today we realized that we could actually be ready to fly on the 9pm flight instead of the 9am morning flight. However when I went to change the other passengers it wanted to charge $75 for that change. Additionally it was now showing no free bags for everyone else in the reservation. Back when it was Continental when a reservation was split it remembered the proper baggage allowance (3×70 pound bags for everyone booked with a Star Alliance Gold member), but no longer is that true.

I spent the next 4 hours playing HUCA, or hang up, call again. That included 3 calls back from the electronic support desk, 2 calls to the Platinum desk, of which the Platinum desk punted me to an offshore support desk that kept me on hold for an hour. I heard every excuse in the book:
-I’m right, but there’s nothing that can be done once it’s split, even if I didn’t want it to be split.
-Companions of Platinum members don’t get free confirmed standby.
-Free confirmed standby doesn’t work for flights the day before even if it’s within 24 hours.

Finally I called back the Platinum desk again and got a very kind agent who agreed with me and made the changes on all 3 reservations for free. But she wasn’t able to get economy plus seating for my companions. Which led to another hour long phone call with the electronic support desk to get that fixed again.

At the airport the lead checkin agent said that the new policy is that only one companion of a Star Alliance Gold gets 3 free 70 pound bags, and everyone else had nothing. I pulled on the correct policy from United.com on my Galaxy Nexus, but she still insisted that the United.com policy is outdated, but that she’ll make a one-time exception…

I read that United was having teething pains with the merger with Continental, so I’ll cut them some slack for now. But it’s a full month since the systems merger, I sure hope this gets fixed of they’re going to have a whole lot of defecting elites members.

Wish me luck for the actual trip!

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Round-The-World Trip Notes, Part 4: Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Continued from:
-Round-The-World Trip Notes, Part 1: Khao Lak, Thailand.

-Round-The-World Trip Notes, Part 2: Chiang Mai, Thailand.
-Round-The-World Trip Notes, Part 3: Melbourne, Australia.

Here are some more trip notes from the round-the-world trip my wife and I took for a month between December 2010 and January 2011. Australia had long been on my bucket list, so it was really exciting to finally make it down under!  I hope these notes will prove useful for somebody.  You can read more of my trip reports by clicking on the trip notes tab.

This trip was made possible by AA’s unique OneWorld award chart where we flew around the world in first class for the cost of opening up a few credit cards.  With myriad of rules it’s not designed for beginners, but it sure is a whole lot of fun to play with!

I helped prepare for the trip down under with info from the Australia Master thread on the DansDeals Forums,
-Fodor’s Australia
-Lonely Planet Australia
-Lonely Planet Discover Australia (More of a “cliffs notes” guide than a comprehensive guide, but has great itinerary suggestions)
-Garmin Nuvi GPS Maps for Australia

-I’m going a bit out of order here, but for now I’ll skip Tasmania and I’ll lump it together with Hamilton Island in a future installment.  Here is an outline of the trip and where the notes on each section can be found:

Trip notes part 1:
Su 12/19/10 AA 3457, CLE-DFW, 11:30am-1:50pm, First
3:05 connection in Dallas
Su 12/19/10 BA 192, DFW-LHR, 4:55pm-7:35am+1, First Cancelled due to London snowstorms.
1:05 connection in London
Mo 12/20/10 BA 270, LHR-AMS, 8:40am-10:55am, Business Cancelled due to London snowstorms.
2:10 connection in Amsterdam
Mo 12/20/10 CX 270, AMS-HKG, 1:05pm-7:05am+1, First. Cancelled due to London snowstorms.
Su 12/19/10 AA 567, DFW-SFO, 5:45pm-7:35pm, First
4:30 connection in S. Francisco
Mo 12/20/10 CX 873, SFO-HKG, 12:05am-6:45am+1, First
2:25 connection in Honk Kong
Tu 12/21/10 CX 713, HKG-BKK, 9:10am-11:00am, Business
1:45 connection in Bangkok
Tu 12/21/10 FD 3027, BKK-HKT, 12:45pm-2:00pm, Coach
2 nights in Khao Lak/Phuket
Trip notes part 2:
Th 12/23/10 FD 3976, HKT-CNX, 7:20pm-9:15pm, Coach
3 nights in Chiang Mai
Su 12/26/10 TG 113, CNX-BKK, 4:00pm-5:10pm, Coach
1:55 connection in Bangkok
Su 12/26/10 CX 702, BKK-HKG, 7:05pm-10:45pm, Business
1 night in Hong Kong
Trip notes part 3:
Mo 12/27/10 QF 30, HKG-MEL, 9:50am-9:45pm, First.
6 nights in Melbourne/Great Ocean Road
Trip notes part 5:
Su 01/02/11 QF 2051, MEL-DPO, 8:30am-9:35am, Coach
4 nights in Tasmania
Th 1/06/11 QF 5720, HBA-SYD, 9:25am-11:10am, Coach.
Trip notes part 4:
4 nights in Sydney
Trip notes part 5:
Mo 01/10/11 QF 5842, SYD-HTI, 11:55am-1:25pm, Coach
3 nights in the Whitsunday Islands
Trip notes part 6:
Th 01/13/11 QF 5863, HTI-MEL, 10:55am-2:50pm, Coach
9:05 connection in Melbourne
Th 01/13/11 QF 29, MEL-HKG, 11:55pm-5:50am+1, First
5 nights in Hong Kong/Macau
We 01/19/11 CX 828, HKG-YYZ, 10:45am-12:35pm, First
2:45 connection in Toronto
We 01/19/11 AA 4533, YYZ-LGA, 3:20pm-4:50pm, Coach
1:05 connection in LaGuardia
We 01/19/11 AA 4674, LGA-CLE, 5:55pm-7:40pm, First

-Sydney is gorgeous, no doubt about it.  Easily one of the most beautiful urban centers that exist.  Its harbour is simply a site that you have to see with your own two eyes as it’s just breathtaking.  Definitely worth having on a bucket list.

-After 10 days of driving around Melbourne and Tasmania (on the wrong side of the road) taking in as many sights as possible, we toned it down to just relax in Sydney and do as little as possible. Quite frankly our Melbourne and Tasmania plans were just too aggressive (especially with a pregnant wife) and we were exhausted!

-Instead of renting a car and dealing with the traffic and parking costs we took a shuttle from the airport to the Park Hyatt Sydney.  I booked the Sydney Airport Connect which now appears to be called AirBus Sydney because it was just $20 round-trip.  You get what you pay for.  We were the last stop and it took over 2 hours to finally get to our hotel.  Once in the hotel I realized that I forgot one of my guidebooks in the shuttle but the company refused to contact the driver to look for the book.  On the return trip home they showed up before their scheduled time and left without waiting even for 30 seconds as they pulled away just as got to the door. They refused to provide a refund or to come back and get us.  Not a pleasant experience to say the least so avoid them at all costs.

Hotel:

-The Park Hyatt Sydney lives up to the high standards I have for the Park Hyatt brand.  The hotel is stunning and the location is perhaps the best of any hotel in Australia.  From our balcony we could see both the Sydney Opera House across the picturesque harbour and the Harbour Bridge.  The service in the hotel is excellent although unlike the Park Hyatt Melbourne they are quite stingy with suite upgrades for diamonds.  No matter though as the room and large and the location are view are priceless. We requested and received a room on the ground floor (which is in fact elevated over the pier outside the balcony) so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the staircases on shabbos.

-The hotel bought us a daily kosher breakfast as a Hyatt Diamond benefit.  Unfortunately the breakfast, which is catered by Passion8, was not cholov yisroel. Passion8 refused to swap out the unused meals for free, so the hotel went above and beyond and bought us brand new cholov yisroel meals. Major props!

-In another example of the hotel going way above and beyond, the doorman who saw our shuttle company drive right off proceeded to call the shuttle company to ask them to call back the driver but they refused. Without hesitating the doorman made another call and an Audi Quattro pulled up to take us to the airport in luxury on the Park Hyatt’s dime…now that’s 5 star service!!!

-There is a pool and hot tub on the rooftop, though it has little privacy due to it being in clear view of pedestrians on the Harbour Bridge.

-We thought the hotel was stunning, but the hotel actually closed shortly after our stay and just had a soft reopening last week after a year of renovations. When we return to Sydney we would definitely stay at this hotel again. Rates can go for $1,000 a night, which makes it a great value when using free nights you can get from the Hyatt card or you can transfer 22,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from cards like Sapphire Preferred to get free nights as well.

Transportation:
-The hotel is just a short walk to the Circular Quay (pronounced Key) which is the main transport hub for busses, trains, and ferrys.  There’s a bit of a learning curve, but soon enough we figured out exactly which busses would get us to the kosher restaurants near Bondi Beach and which ferry could take us to Rose Bay from where you can walk to other kosher restaurants as well.  Public transport is inexpensive (even cheaper if you buy a 10 pack of tickets) and pretty efficient while taxis are quite expensive.  Overall we were happy not to have a car, though now that we have a kid I would definitely have to rethink that equation.

Activities:
-Australia is not a cheap country at all and Sydney is a very expensive city. While historically the US dollar was worth much more than the Australian dollar it was at parity during our trip. Now 100 US dollars only buys 93 Australian dollars. This makes activities like the Bridge Climb, priced at A$200-270, or even a visit to the zoo at A$44 quite expensive. We settled for alternatives. We walked across the bridge for free and gawked and took pictures at those couples who had spent $500 (plus they charge extra if you want pictures and they don’t allow you to bring your own camera) to climb to the top.  The people that do the climb often rave about it, though whether that’s a function of having spent a few hundred dollars on a climb is debatable. The views of the harbour from the bridge walk make it a free activity worth doing. We had gone to a wonderful animal park in Tasmania for a small fraction of the price of the Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

-The weekend market in The Rocks, the historical district around the Park Hyatt, is quite fun and is a great place to buy souvenirs. There are booths where glassmakers make replicas of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge right in front of your eyes. You can even take a video of the piece you buy as they make it. And best of all prices are surprisingly reasonable at about A$40 and they can be negotiated as well. The only problem was that although they “guaranteed” that the way they wrap it that it will survive the plane-ride home in your carry-on, when you negotiate too much and have to pay in cash and they don’t answer their phone it’s hard to get them to honor that guaranty. Luckily I have an awesome wife who took the splices of the Sydney Opera House and superglued the ones that were still whole back together again!

-The vast Royal Botanic Gardens made for an extremely pleasant shabbos afternoon stroll from the Park Hyatt.

-Sydney kind of reminded me of Venice in that it kind of just screams to be explored. We would just hop on a ferry (definitely take a ferry while you’re in Sydney no matter what!) or bus, get off at someplace interesting, and just start exploring the city for ourselves without a guidebook. We found all kinds of neat places this way and it’s a pretty fun way to explore things for yourself.

Eateries:
-Katzy’s in Bondi is as good as it gets for kosher food in Australia. Prices were reasonable and most of the food was very good. After eating leftovers from Melbourne for a week in Tasmania it was good to get any fresh food, but the Ribs I had at Katzy’s really hit the spot and were excellent. We took out food for shabbos from Katzy’s as well, some of which was good, some of which was barely edible, so beware if you are feeling adventurous when you order!

-Pita Mix has decent Israeli style food. Shwarma and Shnitzel were good, the fries are more like potato chips for better or for worse. A decent place for a bite. Walkable to the Rose Bay ferry. To his credit the owner did introduce me to the nougats from South Africa with the edible rice paper wrappers that are pretty good.

-Bondi Pizza has pretty decent pizza, though nothing exceptional and it’s pretty overpriced. We managed to spend $60 on lunch here.

-Krinsky’s, located a few stops on the bus before Bondi Beach, was the best kosher grocery store we found in Australia.

-Grandma Moses bakery was nothing to write home about though some of the stuff looked like it should taste good.

-Glick’s bagels and bakery goods, next to Krinsky’s, are very overrated among the locals, but their Challah is pretty good.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Bondi Beach on a weekday…

…and on a weekend.

Park Hyatt Room.

Park Hyatt Bathroom.

Park Hyatt Room.

:)

Shabbos in the Park Hyatt

View from the Park Hyatt balcony.

Sydney Harbour, as seen from a ferry.

Park Hyatt, as seen from a ferry.

Harbour Bridge, as seen from a ferry.

Folks climbing the Harbour Bridge.

Enjoying the pier outside the Park Hyatt

Harbour Bridge at night.

Opera House at night.

Park Hyatt Sydney and Sydney Opera House, as seen from the Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House, as seen from the Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House, as seen from the Harbour Bridge

Harbour Bridge

Harbour Bridge, at The Rocks market.

Opera House, glued back together again.

 

An interesting way to make jewelry, at The Rocks market.

Katzy’s Menu 1.

Katzy’s Menu 2.

Katzy’s Menu 3.

Succulent Ribs from Katzy’s

Shnitzel, from Katzy’s

Shnitzel from Pita Mix

When they said “chips” at Pita Mix they meant it!

Bondi Pizza Menu

A great, if not expensive milkshake from Bondi Pizza…how did they do the heart?

A great, if not expensive milkshake from Bondi Pizza.

Greek Salad from Bondi Pizza

Bondi Pizza

Bondi Pizza

A kosher breakfast from the Park Hyatt

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A Quick Jaunt To D.C. And Baltimore.

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

-This is an abridged version of the trip notes that I typed up for 3 hours this morning that my blogging software decided to eat for its Sunday brunch :(
-Find other articles like this by clicking on the “Trip Notes” tab on top of the DansDeals banner at the top of this site.

-Back in January I asked my readers to give me some tips for the DC/Baltimore vicinity and of course you guys came through as always with tons of suggestions.

-We flew on Continental nonstop for just $100 each, which I would take any day over 6.5 hours of wintertime driving.

-The primary reason for the trip was a wedding Sunday night in Baltimore, but I figured that we would make a small trip out of it by staying Sunday and Monday night in D.C.  Not enough time for a proper trip or to do even a fraction of the suggestions, but enough to try a few different things.

-I’ve got a lifetime supply of free nights with my Fairmont Platinum status so that’s where we decided to stay.  Overall I was unimpressed with the hotel and would never pay their asking rates.  Perhaps it was due to how great the hotel and staff at the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui was, but we had high expectations. They failed to greet us by name even once even when we checked in, it seems that English is the 2nd language for most of the staff, housekeeping is not very responsive, and the $45/night valet parking is very slow.  We used a suite upgrade to get the Ambassador suite which was nice, although it did seem like the only room with no courtyard balcony.  The Rose 31 toiletries in the bathroom though were excellent, if not a bit risque in their labels.
Fairmont D.C., 2.5/5 DD Stars.

-On the plus side the location is great, it’s within walking distance of both kosher restaurants and and it’s right across the street from the Park Hyatt and Westin Georgetown.

-The best part of the hotel stay was sitting down at the bar and ordering a sealed bottle of 16 year old single malt Lagavulin and a Blue Moon and paying wih $275 in expiring Platinum food and beverage certificates. The spa here doesn’t accept the certificates as it’s not a willow stream location.

-Traffic and parking in D.C. is horrendous and we weren’t ready to deal with a baby and stroller on the metro so we mostly hoofed it from place to place along with an occasional taxi. There’s no way we could have done it without my new Galaxy Nexus as we used used Google Maps to accurately give us guided walking directions wherever we wanted to go.  Typing in a monument or museum or Starbucks and getting GPS walking directions all from my phone is awesome.

-On our only full day in D.C. we first walked to lunch at Distrikt Bistro in the JCC.  The menu online looks great, but the food itself is not very good and the ambiance is even worse, right in the JCC front lobby.
Distrikt Bistro, 1.5/5 DD Stars

-We took a taxi from their to Newseum that many commenters had raved about.  It stood up to the hype,  it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a museum by a wide margin and is a must-do, I could’ve spent days in the place. The history of sports broadcasting, the FBI exhibit, the 9/11 exhibit, the sports photography exhibit, the wall of daily from page newspapers from around the world, the newspapers throughout history, the exhibit where you get to be the broadcaster, the actual Berlin Wall, the Pulitzer price picture exhibit, I found it all quite fascinating.  Not to mention the stunning modern architecture and the view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the top.  The only bummer was that the 4D movie was malfunctioning that day.
Newseum, 4.5/5 DD Stars

-We used my Nexus to navigate us to various buildings, monuments, and of course the White House before walking back to our hotel.

-I had heard good thing’s about Moti’s Grill monday night all-you-can eat steak dinner in rockville, but with just one night we decided on Pomegranate Bistro in Potomac.  The appetizers, sushi, and dessert were nothing special, but the steaks themselves as well as the dipping sauces for the steaks were outstanding.  Unfortunately they did not have the Braised Short Ribs that night.
Pomegranate Bistro, 3.5/5 DD Stars

-The next day we walked to Eli’s Restaurant, which is a nice sit down deli. The Deli sandwich and dessert were great. The chicken noodle matzo ball soup and the burger left what to be desired.
Eli’s Restaurant, 3/5 DD Stars

-I easily got ticket online for a free tour of the Capital, but decided not to risk getting stuck in traffic getting from DC to BWI so we went to Baltimore early. We checked out the excellent Seven Mile Market Kosher store (why oh why can’t Cleveland, a city of 80,000 Jews have a place like this??) and picked up some goodies. The Breadsmith Cinnamon Cobblestone loaf we picked up there was incredible!

-We wanted to pick up some food for the plane home, so I went to David Chu’s and got a Sesame Chicken/Egg Roll/Fried Rice ($8.75) combo meal that was incredible and could definitely rival the best of the chinese restaurants out there. My wife wanted some Tempura Battered Sushi and David Chu’s sushi chef was out for the day and the Knish Shop doesn’t make Tempura sushi, so off to Umami we went. Of course once there I had to order a Sesame Chicken ($14) to compare. Umami’s pieces of chicken are much bigger, but they’re just not as flavorful or succulent as David Chu’s awesome version. The Chicken Pad Thai ($12) at Umami however was outstanding. The sushi at Umami though was underwhelming and overpriced.

-At BWI there was a new Airspace Lounge that was awesome. I got in with my inactive American Express Platinum card which worked there just as well as it does in AA, Delta, and USAir lounges. Having the card gets you and your family or 2 guests inside for free, otherwise it’s $17.50/person. You can a free alcoholic beverage or a meal and there are free self-service drinks and snacks and free wifi. The lounge was right next door to our gate, so it worked out perfectly.  I got my free Yuengling which went nicely with the sampling of the various chinese dishes that I got to try out in the lounge. All for your sake folks, all for you :D

Fairmont D.C. Ambassador Suite

Fairmont D.C. Ambassador Suite

Fairmont D.C. Ambassador Suite

Fairmont D.C. Ambassador Suite

Rose 31 Toiletries at the Fairmont

Fairmont D.C. Ambassador Suite

Fairmont D.C. Ambassador Suite

Champiñones Al Ajillo, $8, were flavorful and served with burnt toast at Distrikt Bistro.

Moroccan Cigars, $11, tasted like they were straight from the box at Distrikt Bistro.

This mediocre Monument Burger, $16. was served on a stale bun at Distrikt Bistro.

The Pesto Wrap with Chicken Breast, $14, was dry and lacked sauce and pesto.

This Newseum exhibit shows the credit cards of a passenger on the ill-fated United 175

View of the Capital from the Newseum

This Newseum exhibit shows the news antennae from the WTC and newspapers from around the world on 9/11 coverage.

Front pages from newspapers around the world, including Kauai’s The Garden Island, can be seen at the Newseum.

Does Delta fly to Occupied Washington DC?

 

White House

 

Avocado Egg Rolls at Pomegranate Bistro, $9.50, are OK, but can’t satisfy anyone who’s had them at Beverly Hills’ La Gondola.

Dry Aged Prime Rib, $28, with Peppercorn sauce, was succulent and excellent at Pomegranate Bistro

Rib eye Fillet, $30, with delectable Red Wine & Shallot sauce, is equally great.  You can also request extra dipping sauces for steaks like Chimichurri, Saffron Cream, and Bearnaise.

Tempura Battered Pomegranate Sushi Roll, $5, was well-priced, but just OK.

Pass on the Chocolate Souffle, $12, at Pomegranate Bistro

The Warm Alsatian Apple Tart with Ice cream, isn’t worth the $9 or the calories either.

Fairmont D.C.

Park Hyatt sign with the  Fairmont in the background.

Take a load off while riding the elevator in the Park Hyatt.

Bland Chicken Noodle Matzo Ball Soup, $6, at Eli’s.

The Western Burger, $11 is a very plain patty, with great toppings like grilled onions and Pastrami, at Eli’s.

The 5th Avenue, $13, Hot Pastrami with Sautéed Mushrooms, Onions and Deli Mustard on a French Roll, is excellent at Eli’s.

The Runny Chocolate Chip Cookie with Ice Cream, $6, hit the spot at Eli’s.

Airspace Lounge at BWI

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Reader Suggestions: What’s Not To Be Missed In D.C.?

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I’ve turned to my readers before for suggestions in Miami, Montreal, and Toronto, and readers came up big time (as you can tell from my subsequent trip notes from Miami, Montreal, and Toronto ) so I hope to hear some feedback for a short trip to the nation’s capital.

And no, I’m not trying to make my 6 month old son Rafi the world’s most traveled infant (though with his 16th and 17th flight legs coming up he probably could make a go of it), just going to prove that having kids doesn’t have to mean the end of our traveling days!

So what activities or museums shouldn’t we miss? (Stroller friendly is a must these days!) Which local kosher restaurants (D.C./Silver Spring region) should we eat at and what do they each make best? If we have time for one kosher eatery in Baltimore what would it be and what should we get there?

Hit the comments and let’s hear your thoughts!

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