Travel Tip

Argentina: Parting is just sorrow, Buenos Aires to Rosario, 17 July 2016

Retiro Train Station Platform 7

Parting is just sorrow. This was the specter that was hanging over our entire trip, and now, it was happening.

This morning, we hustled from our hotel to the Aeroparque Airport for P’s long, multi-stop journey back to Seattle, while I continue my journey before starting a new job in Singapore. Finding the right counter to check in, getting his tickets etc. left us with very little time. The only time we had was a teary hug before he had to go board his plane. Our future was left hanging. (P.S. The tariff for taxis from airports is what causes taxi prices from the airport to town to be insane. I paid 3x the price to go back from Aeroparque)

After dropping him off, I took a taxi to the Retiro station as my train to Rosario was leaving in five hours’ time. I settled in at a café, and we continued to communicate via Whatsapp. I’ve always been the one handling all our travel details, and I couldn’t help but be worried about how he’d handle the three-country, five-city connection that’d take him back to Seattle.

At around three thirty in the afternoon, I sauntered towards the Retiro station. I made the bad assumption that I could purchase food on the train. For future reference, please do bring food on the train, there’s no food (for purchase or otherwise) on the train. Everyone else on the train seemed to have gotten the memo, as they brought picnic bags and generous portions of mate. (there is a free water dispenser on each carriage)

Pullman Class on Train ride from Buenos Aires to Rosario

The train journey was interesting. I don’t see myself necessarily wanting to do this particular route again, although if there are more scenic routes available, I’m open to trying them. The train system is slower than the bus, and actually, cheaper. My ticket in the Pullman class was 20 pesos cheaper than standard seats on the bus, but it took about two hours longer.

Pullman Class on Train ride from Buenos Aires to Rosario

The train wound through the countryside, and ghost towns for the most part. If you really want to check out the countryside, and see the stark comparison between life in the Argentinian countryside vis-à-vis the cities, the train journey will give that.

Sunset on the Train ride from Buenos Aires to Rosario

Hunting for my hotel at close to midnight was fun. I walked a block or two from the train station and finally found a taxi. But I might have stolen someone else’s taxi. He was nice enough, and because it was a female driver, I felt rather safe, so after his drop off at the Rosario bus station, I gave her the address of my hotel, and thus ends my long travel day.

Categories: Argentina, Rail, Travel Tip | Tags: , | Leave a comment

USA: Rental cars are such a nightmare! ABQ – PHX, 25 March 2016

Sports is big at this Starbucks

A lot of time was wasted today at the Phoenix car rental. Payless car rental at Phoenix is now on my shit list of car rental companies.

11 00: While waiting for our flight, mister and I had a discussion about transportation options in Phoenix. When I first booked the trip, car rentals at Phoenix were exorbitant (~300 USD for 2 days). Apparently, last minute prices for car rentals are lower and more reasonable – ~ 100 USD for 2 days. We actually have about 9 Lyft rides, and 2 Uber rides between us, so we were still undecided.

11 30: Just as the airplane door was closing, we decided to just pre-emptively book a car rental via the Southwest app, because it was ~ 120 USD all inclusive on Payless.

12 30: After standing in the long Payless line for what felt like an hour, we got to the counter. The guy truly sucked. If I didn’t actually look at the paper work, and just signed, I wouldn’t have noticed that they changed our guaranteed rates from 120 USD to …. 300 USD. This was by a bunch of extra insurance, and extra fees that I did not need at all. When I asked the guy at the counter, he just hemmed and hawed. I don’t like bait and switch tactics. When I asked to cancel the reservation, his best argument? “Oh, but I’ve already filled it” (So what?) … “Oh, but you won’t get the credit card funds hold cancelled for another few days”. Seeya! We ended up renting at Firefly for ~150 USD.

15 00: That’s how long our car rental ordeal took. We arrived at the hotel (15 min away from the airport) only 2 hrs after touchdown. I was still sick, and I had a fantasy baseball draft at 7 pm, so we decided to take it easy.

16 00: Food run. Arizona Mills is pretty awesome for this. Mister also needed some allergy medication.

18 30: Fantasy baseball time. Hotel wifi cut out a few times (ARGGGHHH!). I ended up with Ryan Braun against my wishes (thanks, Sheraton!). I’ll live.

Categories: Travel Tip, USA | Tags: | Leave a comment

USA – Mexico: 8 Tacos bite the Dust, El Centro to Mexicali, 18 March 2016

Accompaniments to tacos al pastor

10 30: We (meaning he) drove to Calexico East, as there was no wait time. We breezed through immigration … so easy to leave, so hard to return!

11 00: He took me to his favorite taco al pastor place that’s by the junction of the street he lived. We killed 5 tacos al pastor each (18 pesos = ~ 1 USD)

Tacos Al Pastor 11 00 – 14 30: Mucho Mexican love. I sat like a deer in headlines (no habla espanol)

14 30 – 15 15: I got treated to a fun activity of how Mexicans find each other. They played car tag, where his cousin and him were calling each other and trying to find each other on the highway. That was an adventure.

15 30: 3 more tacos al pastor bite the dust.

16 00: Raspado. Some Mexican shaved ice thing – my stomach is officially hating me.

Raspado

16 30: More family time for him.

18 30: Time to go to Estadio B-Air. Oh boy, I do love the concession stand offerings there. There’s only so much overpriced hot dogs, burgers and nachos I can eat!

World Baseball Class at Estadio B-Air

19 30: Team Mexico kills Team Nicaragua. The mercy was so sick, Nicaragua fans in the stands were jeering their own team. 😛

22 15: Don’t ever go to Calexico West. We waited for 1hr 40 min to get to immigration.

0030: ZZZZ

Categories: Baseball, Food, Mexico, Sports, Travel Tip | Tags: | Leave a comment

Flight Review: AA1223 Dallas – Seattle (DFW-SEA) Domestic First

AA1223 DFW-SEA Dallas - Seattle First Class

Ah, the flight from hell. It really has nothing to do with the flight itself, except I was expecting to be back in Seattle by 9 pm, 31st Dec, but my flight wound up flying over Seattle downtown, just as the fireworks welcoming the new year started. It started out as a half hour delay, but the boarding time kept being pushed back. Apparently, there were issues with the tires, and they wound up having to change 3+ tires, before abandoning that plane, and switching to another plane. As the clock ticked away, I was honestly beginning to think I’d never get back to Seattle.

For domestic crappy premium flights, I honestly don’t see much value in paying the premium. You are really just getting a larger seat, a meal, and maybe feeling more special? But if you are my size (5″4), it has rather marginal value. I guess the larger space means that if you want to bust out the laptop and get some work done, you will have more elbow room. They also gave complimentary earphones, which they will sell to you for $5 in coach.

AA1223 DFW-SEA Dallas - Seattle First Class

AA1223 is a Boeing 737-800. In first class, they have 4 rows of 2-2. The leather seats are wider, and there’s a lot of legroom. The seat also has a power socket, but mine didn’t work (great!). Because I was changing time zones, right after the meal service, I simply passed out, so that worked out in any case.

For the meal service, they only had chicken with polenta, and eggplant parmesan. I pre-ordered the chicken. They ran out of the eggplant after like three orders, so if you are vegetarian, I’d encourage you to pre-order your meal. A vegetarian sitting one row in front of me wound up with just a side salad for dinner.

AA1223 DFW-SEA Dallas - Seattle First Class

The chicken was pretty gross. It was really dry and tough. I ate some of it, but left most of it alone. The ice cream sundae was strawberry shortcake. I’m glad they had that, because I needed my calories for the day. To top off my flight from hell, service on this flight was somewhat gruff. At risk of sounding like I suffer from Stockholm syndrome, I’d say I can’t blame the flight attendant too much. Serving annoyed flyers on New Year’s Even vis-a-vis spending time with loved ones welcoming the new year? I’m sure that’s always awesome!

A note on delayed flights

Several days after my flight with mechanical delays, I used this online form to file my complaint about the delay. I got a form response within half an hour, giving me 5000 AA points for the delay. It might work, it might not work, or you might not get what you want. But if you are dissatisfied with your flight, that can be an avenue for you to air your grievances.

Categories: Airline, American Airlines, Premium Travel, Travel Tip | Leave a comment

Morocco to Spain: Marrakech to Madrid, 29 December 2015

Madrid

T’was a travel day. I’m mostly just getting my butt from Marrakech to Madrid. I stayed at the hotel until the noon check-out. I made the mistake of taking a taxi just stationed outside the hotel (read: tourist trap). It’s actually a short ride from the hotel to the airport (~2 miles), and the taxi ride should have cost, at maximum, 70 DH. But the taxi driver pointed at some stupid sign on his taxi, saying that he drove me from the further place (not true), and demanded I pay him 100 DH. I just told him that all I had was 50 DH, and 3 Euros, and he could take it or leave it. In retrospect, I’m still pissed that I even gave him the 3 Euros. It’s not a big amount of money, but I hate being extorted by dishonest people. More than that, it’s also the assumption that travellers are stupid, and deserves to be fleeced. Oh well.

Marrakech

After that, it was just a waiting game at the Marrakech airport. Marrakech airport is quite a small airport. They provide 1.5 hrs of free wifi, but you’ll get logged out every 30 mins, so you need to re-log-in every time. You can use multiple devices to extend the free wifi time. Food at the airport is rather pricy (~60 DH sandwiches), so if you are trying to save some money, you should pack some of your food.

Madrid

My Ryanair flight was delayed, so that kinda sucked, because I was already going into Madrid rather late (8+ in the evening), and the late flight meant that I was getting in even later. Fortunately, we did board eventually.

After getting into Madrid T1, I followed the clearly marked signs to the metro station, which is located closer to T2. I got a ticket (5 EUR) on the metro for my station. Thankfully, my hotel is actually on the brown line, so it was one simple change, and a ride to the end of the brown line. I got into my hotel by 10 pm, and after a quick check-in, I went to grab some Burger King before turning in for the night.

Costs:

Transportation: 50 DH + 10 EUR

Food: 200 DH + 8 EUR

Accommodations: 27 EUR

Total: 250 DH (~25 USD) + 45 EUR

Categories: Airport, Morocco, Spain, Travel Scam, Travel Tip | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Morocco: Rabat, 26 December 2015

Rabat

I arrived at the Rabat International Airport sometime after 5 pm, probably closer to 6 pm. The passport control was a little bit slow, but not out of control. I probably cleared it within 30 mins, and after changing some money (1 USD = 9.6 DH), I spotted the airport bus parked outside, and was good to go. The rate at the airport is pretty fair, and the exchange doesn’t charge a commission.

Getting In

You should see an airport bus across the street from the airport. It costs 20 DH to get from the airport to the Rabat train station. It probably took about 30 min. If you want a drop off along the route, you could probably ask. From the Rabat train station, I took a taxi to my hotel Mercure Rabat, which is located in the residential quarter of Hassan (10 DH). The bus also stops in front of the tram line, so if you are on that tram line, you can always just hop on the tram (6 DH per trip, or per hour, sorry, was too lazy to read the whole thing in French).

Getting Around

I mostly used the tram system to get from my hotel to the medina. There are a couple of stops in front of the medina. I found this to be a painless way to get around Rabat, and it is cheap (6 DH), and hassle-free (i.e. no rip-off taxi drivers). The main sights in Rabat are also quite walkable – for instance, it wasn’t too much of a walk for me to go from Hassan Tower to the Kasbah.

Rabat

Rabat

After check-in, it was getting a bit late, so I pretty much just wanted to get some food from the souk before retiring for the night. Man, it was really crowded. I think I suddenly became very aware of how much I stood out, even in the crazy crowd. Apparently, being a single, East Asian female really makes you stick out. I started to be extremely aware of my surroundings.

Regardless, hopping on the station, Tour Hassan, it was about two stations to Bab Chellah. There, the glorious smoke from meat on the grill was epic, and I wandered towards it. I wound up getting a grilled chicken sandwich for ~15 DH. I’m pretty sure I got the foreigner tax, but whatever, it was pretty tasty.

Rabat

I strolled down the street, and eventually wound up in the souk. I am generally not much of a shopper, so while souks are interesting for me to see, generally, I really have no observations about the goods on sale. I did eventually wander into another Shwarma place, and ended up with a shwarma sandwich with fries (25 DH). My best description of the souk is, a Southeast Asian night market. If you enjoy something like that, this is for you.

Rabat

After walking the equivalent of one tram station, I walked up the street towards the Rabat train station – I figured I might as well check out some of the train timing, since my plan is to take a train into Casablanca the next day. There are some cafes along the street, and dividing the main road is a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard, which seemed popular with families. I do find the café culture to be very manly – it’s mostly males lounging at the chairs, sipping their coffees/teas, and looking on street life.

Rabat

After checking out the Rabat train station, I hopped onto the other tram line (they have two in Rabat), and went back to my hotel for the night.

Note about buying tickets on the tram

If you know that you are going to need a couple of them, you might want to buy them in advance. You don’t save money this way, but their machines can sometimes break down, or just hang. So, buy tickets when you find a machine that’s working, so you won’t be stuck in a situation where you are at a station, and cannot buy tickets.

Rabat

Costs

Transportation: 42 DH (20 + 10 + 12)

Food: 44 DH (15 + 25 + 4)

Accommodation: 68 USD (stayed at a 3-star hotel, regretted it)

Total: ~ 77 USD (for convenience, I’m just using the 1 USD = 10 DH conversion)

Categories: Morocco, Travel Tip, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

How I will be staying at a Waldorf Astoria for free (and getting $13 out of it)

Update:

I received my $75 Visa gift card today (19 Oct). When I contacted their marketing department, they wrote back saying it will arrive 6 weeks after check out. This took a little longer than 6 weeks, but hey, at least it’s here!

I will finally be adding to my new country count again this year. Recently, I hopped onto the miles/points bandwagon, and my OCD + google-ful skills are finally paying off. I was mucking around the internet, looking for hotels for another trip, when I spotted this promotion on the Visa Signature Hotels website, which states that if I book an eligible Waldorf Astoria or Conrad hotel by 31st July, and complete the stay by 31st October, I will get a $75 USD Visa gift card:

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 7.56.09 PM

With some luck, I will be in Panama City during the promotion period, and the Waldorf Astoria Panama City is included in the list of hotels. I went online to check the rates, and some nights are going for 79USD + taxes (with taxes = 87 USD).

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 7.57.49 PM

As it is also eligible for Visa Signature benefits, some of the benefits include free breakfast, and a 25USD F&B credit. At the end of the day, I will actually come up on top with about 13USD. Not too bad for an evening of googling eh? I will update if I do indeed get my 75USD Visa gift card in the mail when I get back from the trip.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 7.56.44 PM

Note: Do read the T&C carefully. You can only get one gift card for each household, regardless of the number of Visa Signature cards that you have. Pictures are screen captures from Visa Signature Hotels website.

Categories: Hotel, Panama, Travel Tip | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Airline: EVA Air – What’s better than a Hello Kitty Plane? An Empty Hello Kitty Plane

EVA Air Hello Kitty Jet

EVA Air is by far my favorite option for my regular trans-Pacific flights from Seattle to Singapore, both for its timing, and the fact that EVA Air is just awesome on all counts. And when they joined Star Alliance in 2013, they became my only option (I used to fly Asiana Airlines so I could credit flights into my United account).

So, why are they awesome?

They are often one of the cheapest options. Outside of peak travel periods, this year, there were many 800 USD round trip flights from Seattle to Singapore. Just be aware of the fare class when you are booking, if you care about mileage accrual. The cheapest fare class generally doesn’t give you any mileage, but for a little extra (I paid 860 USD), I was able to get a fare class that gives 50% mileage accrual.

Generally, their food in economy is really good. Their standard offerings tend to be very solid options, and just downright tasty. And one of the hidden gems is their pre-selected meals. They have options like, no beef, or just seafood. On one of my flights, I selected the seafood option, and it just tasted amazing.

Seafood meal on EVA Air Hello Kitty Jet

Their service is also very solid. Their flight attendants tend to be very attractive, and really service focused. Earlier this year, a man had a heart attack while our plane was over the Pacific Ocean. This was resolved very quietly, as they asked if I would move to another seat, so the man may lie down on my empty row. They were very apologetic about moving me, and at the same time, the whole issue was resolved with no commotion.

Another awesome thing that has little to do with the airline itself: during the sale fare period, they tend to be empty. I’ve flown a number of poor man’s first-class seats, i.e. empty rows where I can sleep through the flight.

EVA Air Hello Kitty Jet - empty

Alright, the title.

A couple of years ago, EVA Air introduced the Hello Kitty plane, with Hello Kitty livery, and a Hello Kitty theme on the plane itself. It sparked such madness, that their inaugural flight (and several subsequent flights) was stripped bare. People stole toilet paper, toiletries, anything that they could strip from the plane.

I did not intentionally plan to fly the Hello Kitty plane, but as it turns out, my flight from Singapore to Taipei (BR216) is the Hello Kitty plane. At check-in, I was given Hello Kitty boarding passes. What other Hello Kitty items are on the plane? Pillows, drinks menu, plastic cover for earphones, safety instructions, toilet paper, toiletries, paper cups, cutlery, napkins, snack packs. Well, I’ll let the photos do the talking. I am not sure if this flight was widely advertised, or if the fervor has died. In any case, what is more awesome than a Hello Kitty plane? An empty one. I am guessing there are less than 100 passengers on this BR777-300ER flight with a capacity for ~300 passengers. People were asking for fresh sets of cutlery, and all sorts of souvenirs to take home for their families, and the air stewardesses very happily complied.

EVA Air Hello Kitty JetEVA Air Hello Kitty JetEVA Air Hello Kitty Jet

EVA Air Hello Kitty Jet

Tips for EVA Air seating (and scoring the poor man’s first-class seat)

If you happen to fly the 747, the upper deck is actually economy class seating. They are usually numbered in the 80s range. Why I love it? It is oftentimes empty, and even if it’s not, other economy class passengers generally will not take the empty seats, because they are not aware that this section is actually also economy class. Just a note – the bulkhead seats have fixed arm rests.

EVA Air has the habit of blocking a lot of their seats, e.g. exit row seats, bulkhead seats. Some of these seats won’t be available for online seat selection, and can only be requested at the counter. But interestingly, they also block seats at the back of the plane. These can be chosen using the online seat selection, closer to the date of the flight (like a few days before the flight). So, if you are looking to score an emptier row or an empty row, check back about two days before your flight. Be sure to make your seat selection more than 24 hrs before departure – the online seat selection system closes 24 hrs before the flight’s departure.

If you forgot to do that, you can still change your seat selection when you check-in. Gate agents are generally very nice about this, and will accommodate your requests as it is within their power to do so.

Categories: Airline, Travel Tip | Leave a comment

Olympic National Park, USA: Camping at Lake Crescent, 17 – 18 July 2015

Some kind friends invited me on an overnight camping trip to the Olympic Peninsula, a UNESCO world heritage site because of its biodiversity. We left Seattle at around 7 am, and hopped on the 8.50 am ferry from Edmonds, for the 2 hr drive from Kingston to Lake Crescent, arriving at Fairholme Campground close to noon. Camp sites (88 total) are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Although the sign outside indicated that it was full, be sure to drive in and check, as it was not updated, as was our experience. When we drove in, we found some availability. You can check out the different camps and their facilities in the link above (Fairholme Campground).

How securing a campsite works at Fairholme Campground:

There are three ‘loops’ of campsites, and located near the wash facilities is a board where you can check for availability of campsites, and how long campsites are reserved for. A blank space indicates an available campsite. The board is not completely authoritative, so the best thing you can do is to walk/drive around, and see if a campsite is indeed reserved. After you choose a campsite, fill out a little slip, and pay the fee ($20 per night).

Campsites differed greatly in size. The larger ones were snapped up pretty early, and because there were four of us and two tents, we also needed a largish campsite. After driving/walking around for a bit, we found a sufficiently large campsite on Loop C. I highly recommend Loop C. Loop C is the furthest away from highway 101, and some of the campsites are actually beside Lake Crescent itself. The only downside to Loop C is that it is a walk-in site, so you cannot drive/park your car right beside your tent. As long as you do not have too much stuff or have enough muscle, that should not be a great challenge. The views from the campsites on Loop C are priceless, and really worth the extra walk/work.

The ones by the river are numbered 81-88, I think.

Lake CrescentAfter eating a sandwich lunch at our campsite table, we headed to Hurricane Ridge, which is some 1.5 hrs drive from Lake Crescent. Hurricane Ridge offers gorgeous mountain views, and sound views from the lookout, which is a short walk from the visitor’s center. There is also some wildlife to be spotted – we spotted a deer. After our short walk in the short loops at Hurricane Ridge (we had a lil two year old trekker), we drove back to the campground for a dinner by the fire pit. I tried to wake up before sunrise for a blue hour shot of Lake Crescent, but well, I slept through it. Oh well. Nevertheless, it was amazing to wake up to bird song, and a picture-perfect turquoise lake. Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane RidgeLake Crescent

Lake Crescent

After breakfast at the campgrounds, we decided to head down the Peninsula to check out some of those glorious beaches. We passed by the town of Forks, which is now famous for its association with Twilight and had brunch at a diner.

One of the more unique things about the Pacific Northwest Beaches are their driftwood and black sand. I have been to Kalaloch a number of times, but every time I do go there again, I get reminded of how beautiful it really is. We stopped for a bit, and let the little tyke have some fun digging in the sand. The sand has an awesome texture – fine grain. For some reason or other, there were lots of dead jellyfish and crabs, which washed ashore as well. As we neared late afternoon, we started our drive back, passing through the town of Aberdeen, which is the birth place of Kurt Cobain. I’ve never done it, but apparently you can do some sort of Kurt Cobain tour if you are in Aberdeen. We mostly stopped for food, because the little tyke wanted to be fed.

All-in-all, a nice little weekender! Kalaloch

Costs:

Edmonds to Kingston Ferry: $29.65 ($13.65 for vehicle & driver + $8 per adult passenger. Tip: I usually drive this route in reserve, because you do not have to pay passenger fares from Kingston to Edmonds – You just have to pay the vehicle fare, saving $8 per passenger)

Camping: $20

Gas: ~$30 (335 miles. cost depends on your gas mileage, but at 30mpg and $3 per gallon, works out to this sum)

Parks pass: $20 (though not all areas require a pass)

Views/experience: priceless

Total: ~ $100 

Categories: Beach, Camping, Nature, Travel Tip, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Taipei, Taiwan: Taoyuan International Airport Free Showers!!!, 07 May 2015

For me, one of the worst things about these epic trans-Pacific, 24hr-long flights with long transits thrown in, is not being able to take a shower. Thankfully, the Seoul International Airport offers that. But today, I discovered that the Taiyuan International Airport offers it, too. I’m not quite sure when they started this. Judging from the excellent condition of the facilities, I am guessing it’s pretty new.

Where to find it?

After clearing transit security, head towards the food area on the upper concourse. You should see a Burger King and Starbucks. Do not stop there. Look across from there, and you should be able to see a Mosburger yonder. Walk behind the narrow path located beside the fancy Eva Air lounge meant for those privileged ones towards the Mosburger.

IMG_0158

You’ll see this (sorry, blurry pic)

At the bathroom from where this picture is taken, you’ll find two shower stalls:

IMG_0156

The awesome thing?

1. They are free

2. They come with those wall units of shower foam and shampoo.

3. There’s also a hair dryer attached.

4. It involves a rain shower, a shower head, and a tap.

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How it works

After you get in, lock the door. Once you are ready to take a shower, push the red button. It’ll give you 15 mins of hot water. That should be plenty.

IMG_0151

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The lowdown?

1. If you didn’t bring a towel, you can buy one from the massage/spa place that you’ll pass by, on your walk from Burger King to here. I just used my shirt to towel off.

Categories: Airport, Taiwan, Travel Tip | Tags: | 7 Comments

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