title: Metrowest Massachusetts date: 2023-04-04T21:42:25+00:00 author: dave excerpt: ‘Key info about the Metrowest Area’ layout: post permalink: /metrowest/ image: categories: “Dave’s Adventures” travel-flag: yes tags: Massachusetts New England Holliston Hopkinton Metrowest Restaurants I sometimes travel to the MetroWest area near Boston for work so I thought I would include some useful information. Outdoors Hopkinton State Park - 1500 acres; forest including hiking trails, beaches, and fishing; fee for parking during the summer. <href=””>Callahan State Park</a> - 800 acres; 7 miles of marked trails for hiking & horseback riding Lake Cochituate (Natick) - 3 linked ponds in Natick with waterskiing allowed on the South Pond Walden Pond in nearby Concord Cultural Danforth Art Museum in Framingham DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in nearby Lincoln Golden Triangle Shopping District The Golden Triangle Shopping District is one of the largest shopping areas in New England. It is approximately 3 square miles including parts of Natick and Framingham extending between routes 9 and 30. Natick Mall - 1,695,884 square feet of gross leasable area). It is anchored by Macy’s and Nordstrom’s and also draws people with an Apple Store, Dave & Buster’s and Wegman’s supermarket. It was formerly known as the Natick Collection and lost Neiman Marcus in 2021. Shoppers World - 781,507 square feet including AMC Theater (15), Kohl’s, Walmart, Best Buy, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls Favorite Services Harelick Dental Associates (Holliston) has the best dentists in the Metrowest area including one that focuses on computer guided implants. Favorite Restaurants Coming Soon Geography Metrowest has various definitions but it is always east of Worchester and west of Boston. Ashland Framingham Holliston Hopkinton Natick Sherborn Sudbury Wayland Westborough (sometimes included) I also like to include the nearby “M” towns Medfield Medway Milford Millis Read More ›

Silverado Lodge
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South Coast Massachusetts
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La Botella De Leche Hostel
We stayed at the Botella de Leche Hostel in April of 2021 and I visited it in 2012 and 2006. If you have any interest in a hostel, this place is wonderful. This hostel has both dorm rooms and private rooms. We stayed in a private room. It cost $50 per night. Add on 13% tax when paying by credit card. Stock Photo of La Botella Rooms Rooms are simple and much smaller than a typical hotel room, but great for the price. Note that they don’t have hot water in the hostel but the tap is warm enough that the shower is fine once you get used to it. At least in the private rooms, they will give you basic soap, shampoo and towels. They are happy to exchange towels for clean ones whenever you want. They seemed to clean the room once during our 6 night stay, not sure if there is a schedule to that. Also note that their plumbing is not designed for toilet paper. Don’t expect the room to be perfect. The door knob maybe coming off a bit (easy fix after I borrowed a screw driver), there will be chips in the paint, and other minor imperfections. There will be some ants, little spiders and maybe a cockroach or two. They must spray as most of the critters I found in the room were dead. Either deal with this or consider vacationing outside the tropics. The best part of the room is that it has a very powerful “mini-split” style air conditioner. You can adjust the temperature on the remote control and forget that it is 95 degrees outside. Internet The internet seems to work fine in the common areas though not so well in my room. Gym The hostel is one of the few places with a on-site gym. The best part of the gym is that it has working air conditioning. The downside is that it isn’t much else but a large room with some mats, and a few weights. At the time they had a pair of 30lb kettlebells, pair of 20lb kettlebells, some adjustable dumbbells (maybe ~12lbs each or one with ~30lbs) and a pair of ~4lbs dumbbells. They have a good sound system you can plug into and good wifi in the gym, so you can youtube whatever workout you want. Try Caroline Girvan if you are ready for a challenge. They also generally have at least one fitness class a day. Currently they have yoga 2 or 3 mornings a week, some sort of training a couple of afternoons a week, a few pole dancing classes and maybe some other dancing clases. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to take any of their classes. Note that during their classes or when the masseuse has an appointment, you won’t be able to use the gym. Vibe It was extremely friendly and very chill for a hostel. It is NOT a party hostel but still a nice place to meet people. There was no bar onsite and quiet hours start at 11pm (common areas effectively close down except maybe for solo work). Kitchen It had a kitchen that seemed well used but always available. We happened not to use it but I would feel comfortable doing so. While tap water in costa rica is said to be very safe, it is way too warm for my taste without ice. They have a chilled water filler but charge ~$0.40 for a half liter refill and $0.80 for a full liter refill (pretty much my only gripe, though very minor). They also sell bottled water for $0.80 for a half liter and $1.60 for a full liter. Staff / Service The ownership, staff and volunteers were as friendly as could be. I want to specifically call out the following staff: David (2021) - Normally at reception in the afternoons and extremely nice and helpful. He is a Costa Rican with perfect english. He seems to really like his job and is happy to chat when not checking someone in. Julietta (2021) - Julietta is a volunteer normally works reception in the evenings but seems to always be around. She is from Argenitna and spending some time here on a world tour. She is super sweet and helpful. Marcos (2021) - I believe his family owns the Hostel and he seems to be focused on managing the surf school. I didn’t get to know him very well, but seems like a lot of fun. Matias (2021) - Nice guy that is usually at reception in the mornings. Everyone else I interacted with there was wonderful, I just regret that I forgot their names. They have coverage at the front desk 24/7 though call ahead if you want to check in late at night or before 7am. Note that if there isn’t someone at the desk, just wait a minute, someome will probably come over quickly. It won’t always be obvious who is staff and who are guests as pretty much everyone turns into friends and many of the staff will hang out there during their time off (and still happy to help when off the clock). Note that the Botella changed ownership between 2012 and 2021. Back in 2012, the owner, Mariana, was super, super sweet, gives great hugs and speaks great English. Back then a private room was only $30 but, hey, inflation. As seems to be the trend, the former owner’s sons are all surf instructors. Affiliated Services / Staff Surfing - they have an affiliated surf school that also operates out of the Captain Suizo Hotel. Massage - they have a masseuse that operates out of the hotel gym by appointment. Summary I absolutely love this place and would certainly stay again, but you need to be a certain type of low maintenance traveler that priorities experiences and relationships over luxury. La Botella de Leche Avenida Central Frente al Banco 50309 Tamarindo, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica +506 2653 0189 [email protected] Facebook Instagram Read More ›

Surf Lessons in Tamarindo
Tamarindo is an amazing place to learn to surf. You can stand up at the wave break and there aren’t rocks to worry about. The waves are big enough to get up without being overly dangerous. Expert surfers will often sleep in Tamarindo, but go to an adjacent beach to catch bigger waves, beginners don’t need to. Most places on the beach provide group lessons for $45/2 hour session. Some hotels charge even more. However, the best deal on the beach is booking through the Botella de Leche Hostel. I started taking lessons there in 2006 under prior ownership. As of 2021, they are charging only $35/person for a 2-hour group lesson and they have good instructors. Marcos who owns (or family owns) the surf school is good. And Jonas, their primary instructor, is the best. Generally you meet at the Botella de Leche hostel at the appointed time and then walk ~10 minutes to the Captain Suzio hotel on the beach where they store most of their equipment. Includes rash guard (short or long sleeve)and use of a surf board. Instructors are fully bilingual. La Botella de Leche Avenida Central Frente al Banco 50309 Tamarindo, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica +506 2653 0189 [email protected] Facebook Instagram Alternatives Selina Hostel Tamarindo Tour Desk +506 402 055 12 - $45/group session Captain Suzio Hotel - $51/group session (book the same instructor at Botella instead for $35/session) Witch’s Rock Surf Camp - expensive hotel on the beach designed around surf & stay packages. Iguana Surf Camp & Surf Shop - $45 / 2-hour group lesson Back in 2012 I also took lessons from “Fran” (cell: +506 7026-9757). Fran’s mom used to own the Botella de Leche Hostel and is based out of there. He gave my wife and I a great surf lesson. Back then it was $30 for a ~2 hour group lesson. Read More ›

Hilton Garden Inn Liberia Airport – Costa Rica
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Massage in Tamarindo
Tamarindo is a great place to get a massage at a reasonable price. I thought I would share my experiences with two great options. Sandra Sandra works out of the gym at the Botella de Leche Hostel among other places. She is wonderful and easy to talk two. She is from Spain and can speak english fluently. As of 2021, she was charging $45/hour for a regular massage and $55 for deep tissue. La Botella de Leche Avenida Central Frente al Banco 50309 Tamarindo, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica +506 2653 0189 [email protected] Facebook Laydy Laydy is the best deal in Tamarindo for a deep tissue massage. She is strong and willing to work each knot. As of 2021, they are charging $35/hour or $20/half-hour. Tamarindo Massage by the Sea +506 8415-1868 [email protected] Facebook Current as of April 2021 Read More ›

JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa
The closest major brand to Tamarindo is the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa in Hacienda Pinilla on Playa Mansita next to Playa Avellana. At low tide, you can walk from Tamarindo Beach to the JW Marriott in about 1.5 hours though this is not for everyone. I have done it, but it requires crossing an river mouth (there are crocodiles in the rivers and there is a tiny risk that they could get lost and end up at the river mouths) on Playa Langosta, walking over many rocks area between the beaches and probably walking for long stretches without seeing another human. Driving between the JW and Tamarindo takes about 30 minutes as you need to go pretty far inland for the roads to connect. The Marriott’s beach itself is very small, but it is only about 10 minute walk on the beach (at least during low tide) to Playa Avellana which is huge and very nice. At the other end of Playa Avellana (maybe another 10 minutes or so) is a famous restaurant called Lolas which is a great place to have a $10 drink and watch the sun set. Though be careful not to stay too long as you may not want to do the walk back once it is pitch dark. The JW is part of a private golf community Hacienda Pinilla nestled in Marino Las Baulas National Park. I briefly visited in April of 2021. If you are looking for a place to social distance, this is it. On one afternoon there may have been 10 people total in the entire pool area (which they claim to be the largest in Central America). It felt a bit like a ghost town, but many people will like that during COVID. Summary: this would be a great place to go if you have Bonvoy points and like out of the way resorts or even as a place to recharge after spending some days hiking Guanacaste’s national parks or having very full days and nights in Tamarindo. Personally, I would prefer to stay in Tamarindo. While Tamarindo is expensive for Costa Rica, it will feel normal or cheap compared to large US cities and there is plenty of competiton for most every good or service you want. More info on Marriott’s website +506 2681-2000 Pictures from April 2021 Read More ›

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Hawaii Trip
I took my family on a 2 week trip to Hawaii during the 2019 to 2020 holiday season. Itinerary Summary Started the journey on December 17th with a long but well priced flight on AA from Boston(BOS) to Maui(OGG) with an overnight in Philly(PHL) (staying at the Renaissance Philadelphia Airport at a great rate and a nice Titanium upgraded) and stop in Dallas(DFW) for only 30k points per person. Arrived in Maui in the early evening. Reserved a mid-sized car from Avis, but maybe through being nice to the agent or my preferred status, was able to get an upgrade to a Jeep Wrangler, the perfect rental car for Hawaii in my opinion. Stayed at the Aloha Surf Hostel (see review) in Paia from Wed to Sat morning. Paid $185 per night for the “Ohana” shed. Moved to the Hyatt Regency (see review) on Saturday (12/21/20) and stayed through the following Saturday for 20,000 hyatt (transferred from chase) points per room per night. This was a great use of Hyatt points as rooms were going for over $600. On Saturday flew from Maui (OGG) to Kauai (LIH) in the mid afternoon on Hawaiian Airlines using 7,500 AAdvantage points per ticket Checked into the Grand Hyatt (see review) and stayed through Jan 2nd Mid-day on Jan 2nd flew from LIH to LAX on United for $404 per person Reserved a midsized car from National and got a Minivan from the executive aisle so canceled my parent’s reservation for a 2nd car and put 6 of us and our luggage into the Minivan. Stayed at a well priced Marriott in the Valley and got upgraded (Titanium status) to a suite so the 6 of us piled in shortly after midnight to get a bit of sleep Moved to an aunt’s house in the Valley for the next night and got to spend some quality family time Took a direct flight from LAX to BOS midday on Jan 4th using 12,500 Avios points per ticket. Maui Haleakala Volcano On Dec 19th, we left the kids with a babysitter (hostel employee) and drove to the Haleakala Volcano. There is an 11 mile hike starting at the top of the volcano and ending part way down the road though requires a ride from the lot to the top to start the hike. I had done this hike years earlier with my sister-in-law so I knew the ropes. We drove up to a hiker’s parking lot then hitch hiked to the top. After about 10 cars passing by, we got picked up by a women who was looking to hike the Volcano herself. We decided to hike together with a plan to drive her back to her car at the end of the hike. It was a beautiful hike through what looked like Mars to us. Looking down at the clouds we even saw a rainbow. 5 hours later we were back at our car and drove our new friend back to hers. Then headed back to the hostel. Paia Paia is a very nice surf town on the North side of Maui. It is not near any large resorts as it can be rainy, but it is near the big waves and the airport and is very centrally located to get around the island. Paia has a very convinient supermarket about a 5 minute walk to the hostel and plenty of cafes and restaurants, but do note that it is hard to get breakfast before around 8:30am. On Dec 20th, we explorer Paia and some areas close by. We went to Twin Falls, a small waterfall that is at the very beginning on the road to Hana. Has a fruit stand out front and a very short and pretty easy walk to the water, though not quite easy enough to get a stroller all the way down. There wasn’t any Verizon internet by the waterfall and I needed to send an email so backtracked 15 min or so to a store/cafe called “Jaws”. It was a nice place but their internet wasn’t working. Luckily, I was saved by a very nice real estate agent that had a working hot spot. If you are looking for real estate in Maui, let me know and I will introduce you. There are various small shops where you can buy stuff you forgot though at full retail. E.g., $60 bathing suit for a kid. Also not so far from the airport area where there is a Walmart and Target. Paia Bay Coffee Bar - decent cafe with good coffee, though very limited cooking facilities meaning limited hot options. It was also open the earliest in the morning for those transitioning time zones. On our second visit there an order for an ice americano came out hot and they thought that then pouring it over ice was a appropriate fix (ends up too watery). No big deal, but at their prices, I wasn’t expecting that. Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon - fairly traditional american diner breakfast options. Pretty good. Though I think they only have drip coffee if you are looking for something more advanced. Kaanapali On Dec 21st, we left the hostel and drove to the Hyatt Regency on Kaanapali Beach on the northwest of the island to meet up with my extended family. This area is shielded by a mountain range from the rains so stays pretty dry even in the wet season. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency (see review) for a very enjoyable week. The beach was very nice and we enjoyed the resort and some surf lessons nearby. Starbucks - there is a Starbucks in the Marriott on Kaanapli beach which was a 5 minute walk on the boardwalk so we ended up there most mornings. Note that the line could be 20 minutes long during the holidays. Whaler’s Village - Whaler’s Village is an open air mall on Kaanapali beach accessible via the boardwalk from the major hotels, though a bit of a walk. It has a few large restaurants. We at lunch one day at Leilanli’s and it was very nice. They also have a low end food court (Subway, etc.) and a few other food options including Acai kiosk. There is also a cookie store where if you walk in and say “Airport” they will give you a cookie for free (you can also sample mini cookies). There are various retailers there as well. We checked into the boxing day sale at LuLuLemon for forgotten sportswear. Road to Hana Went with part of the family for a round trip to Hana. We got lucky with great whether. This is the second time I have done this road (years earlier I did it as a full loop) and the big lesson learned is that there just isn’t enough time to enjoy it in one day. If I ever did it again, I would certainly either bring camping equipment or book a room in Hana for the night. The drive along from Kaapapali to Hana if you didn’t stop is over 3 hours each way and the whole point is to stop a lot. With 6 hours dedicated to just driving, there isn’t really that much daylight left to enjoy. We used the Shaka Guide audio tour app (something like $30 to buy all of the Maui tours). While the speaker could be a bit annoying with bad jokes, it was very nice to be guided. He had some wonderful ideas. We first stopped back in Paia at the Hana Picnic Lunch Company. They seemed to be set up to sell picnic lunches for people doing the road. There selection is limited, there is some food on the road to Hana and by the time you get to lunch, the food may already be bad unless you have a cooler (which, of course, they will sell you). Instead, I would pack a lot of dry trail mix that you can eat if you don’t happen by a nice lunch on the road at the right time. We stopped at a waterfall that I forgot its name. Went the wrong way in the woods for a while with my 7 year old daughter and 70 year old father so not the most fun, but eventually found the first waterfall. Though by then we weren’t in the mood to get above it. We stopped at a “Secret” Lava Tube Cave, kind of cool to walk through. Would be nice to have a flashlight, but the phone’s worked well enough for this very short walk. We stopped at various state park waypoints for quick views from the car. We made it to the black sand beach shortly before dark. It was really cool for the kids to play in the black sand and see the roaring waves (certainly not a swimming beach). There were a lot of people camping nearby which made me jealous as I still had a 3 hour drive back to the hotel in the dark. Finally making it to Hana, we looked for the red sand beach before dark, but didn’t make it. We then grabbed some dinner at a local restaurant. Read More ›

Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hawaii
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Aloha Surf Hostel, Maui, Hawaii
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JW Marriott Venice
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Free $10 Gift Card & Travel Rebates
We all like free stuff. Signup for Ebates here and get your choice of $10 toward: Walmart Macy’s Target Kohl’s After making at $25 purchase at any ebates merchant. This is on top of the cash back that ebates gives you from your purchases. Travel Cash Rebates 4% Hotewire 3% hotel, 4% car rental Orbitz 8.1% cruise, 2% hotel, $3.75 car rental Priceline 7.2% on name your own price hotel & cruise, 5.4% on name your own price air along with prepaid hotels and all car rentals, 3.6% on regular hotels, Most Hotel specific sites 2% – 5% cashback (e.g., Marriott 2.5%, Hilton 2.0%, Intercontinental 4.5%) Wyndham is not included, but instead you can get 20% off using the group code 1000009537. Most Car Rental sites 2% (e.g., Enterprise) – 4% (e.g., Dollar & Thrifty) cashback, though for Avis you will do better using the AWD code B291091 and for budget the BCD code R198191. Airlines are too stingy to list and I generally prefer booking on airline sites than booking through the price aggregators. Other Popular Sites Apple Store 7% Amazon 3% (they claim “up to 7%”, but really 3%) Walmart 1% Uniqlo 6% Nordstroms 3% (Rack 1.5%) Kohl’s 3% Walmart 1% Read More ›

Free $15 from Lyft
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Sette Oche Ristorante – Roma, Italy
Sette Oche Risorante (Restaurant) in Rome’s Trastevere district is simply amazing. To start with, walking trough the tiny streets of Trastevere at night with the romantic orange glow of the street lights is an experience itself. We did make a reservation. The few other restaurants that had enough Yelp love in Trastevere (such as Da Enzo al 29) didn’t pick up their phone. I assume that restaurants around here just stop picking up their phone when they are fill. I was a little concerned when Sette picked up. Why weren’t they full? Anyway, we jumped on the #160 bus from our hotel on Via Vento and were near Trastevere about 10 minutes later or so. Through a park and across a small bridge then a few more minutes and we were at Sette Oche. We requested a table outside and got our wish. This was very much a mixed blessing. The lighting, scenery and weather were beautiful outside, not to mention the violin player. Downside is that people smoke at restaurants in Rome (at playgrounds too). I am all for accepting the culture of others, I just really wish people could avoid blowing smoke on my daughter. Other than that, everyone was very nice and (like all over Rome) very accommodating to a young child. We ordered: </p> The large steak (maybe 400g). This was about 18 euros and came on a hot serving stone that continued to cook the steak. It was an ok cut but an amazing preparation. The ability to cook freshly cracked pepper into the steak just added so much to it. €18.50 The rigatoni cabonara was equally wonderful. It was a reasonable portion. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the cheese flavor was wonderful. It was a very simple dish but great. €10.50 The ravioli with spinach and eggplant was good, but our least favorite dish. It was a reasonable portion. The ravioli pasta was cooked perfectly. The vegetables tasted fresh but the flavors were relatively plain. €10.50 The caprese salad was excellent. The Bufula Mozzarella was perfect. My vegetable phobic 3 year old even was going to town on the tomatoes and tried Basil for the first time. €9.50 Neither the house red nor the house white was very good. But hey, at €5.50 a 1/2 liter, I couldn’t do much better at the Supermarket. Message to ownership: Sette Oche, I loved your food. I humbly request that you consider enter the vanguard of Italian society and disallow smoking on your patio. 81% of Italian women don’t smoke. Consider the marketing campaign. Sette Oche Ristorante Via dei Salumi 36 00153 Roma Italy +39 06 5809753 Neighborhood: Trastevere Read More ›

$20 Uber Credit
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Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
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American Express Business Gold – 50,000 bonus points
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Galapagos Trip: Days 2 and 3 (Miami and Ecuador)
This is the second in the series of Sara’s trip to the Galapagos. Planning and Day 1 (Newark and Miami) Days 2 and 3 (Miami and Ecuador) More to come… Always the shutterbug, I simply took far too many pictures to upload them all. See a sampling below, or the whole shebang on facebook My second day, which was spent in Miami, was nice. I went out for a sort of brunch with Cathy to a Cuban bakery where we got a mini sandwich and two cheese empanadas. The empanadas, covered in sugar, were the epitome of delicious! I considered getting more but my body revolted, telling me like an ever-present parent “Hey! That’s dessert, not breakfast!” To ensure I complied, my parental body promptly gave me a sugar headache. It was so worth it though :). I moved onto the sandwich and more tastebud awesomeness. Cathy and I looked at each other and, as only true friends can do, telepathically agreed to a pact of mutual fatassery to get another two sandwiches. I went out to dinner with my aunt and uncle at a nice Peruvian restaurant, then met up with Cathy at a nearby mall. We went shopping with her little eight year old cousin for Hello Kitty stuff. I discovered two things from this expedition: The first thing was that mustaches are apparently in right now (seriously, they were on EVERYTHING, even vegetable earrings!). The second thing was that Hello Kitty was everywhere. Cathy and I had a sort of punch-buggy-Hello Kitty thing going (as in “omg, there’s another store that has Hello Kitty in the window!”). I know we had counted at least 10. (Seriously, try it sometime! It’s amusing) Cathy was borrowing her grandma’s car so we went to pick up her grandma to drive her home. Almost immediately, Cathy and her grandma started having a heatedly animated argument in Spanish. I was amused and curious to know what could create such quick, passionate discord between them. Cathy translated for me: Her grandma feared we would be enslaved by people who would spray a perfume at us or put powder on our faces to induce amnesia and make us forget who we were. Naturally, we’d still be able to enter our pin number at the bank and give them the sum total of our bank accounts. Allegedly, she knew three people to whom this had personally happened. However, that would only be the start of some crazy warnings we’d get.  The morning of the third day, Cathy and I had our flight to Ecuador.  Cathy’s aunt warned us that Mercury was in retrograde and that strange things were likely to occur for the next day or so. Yea, ok, whatever. Also in addition to her warnings about being drugged with perfume or face powder, Cathy’s grandma was also worried about me, saying that I looked too American because I was wearing shorts. Cathy and I joked that we’d say we were from different countries (I had decided on Sweden) and would give people pseudonyms. Not long after leaving the parking lot, we got caught in a speed trap. It was a main road but the speed limit was only 25 mph. Granted, it was a residential street…ish. We saw the SIDE or BACK of many GATED apartment complexes. Either way, the cops were standing on one the side of the street, having pulled over 5 cars so far. Cathy’s mom, who was driving us to the airport, was furious. Allegedly, it was illegal for police to pull over more than three cars at one time for speeding . To add insult to injury, there were three cops doing this together. Cathy’s aunt, who was also there, gave me a knowing smile. Huh, I guess she was right. Mercury must have been in retrograde…whatever that means. Once we got to the airport there were thankfully fewer than the thousands of people in line than we encountered in Newark. The fact that the line was gradually moving was also an immense improvement.  All felt right with the world until I got pulled to the side at security. I’m obviously not a terrorist. I barely break five feet tall and could easily be disarmed of anything (including my intellect) by something as simple as a cute puppy. The most harm I’d pose to anyone not about to hurt me would be accidentally stepping on their foot. Considering I can sometimes get away with shopping in the kids’ section of shoe stores, that isn’t saying much. Yet even though I have nothing to hide and pose no danger, for some reason, I always feel anxious in these situations. I worry that a Ziploc bag of illegal drugs or some form of explosive will somehow spontaneously appear in my bag. I stepped forward, wondering if my neck pillow was now suddenly contraband. The man at security started making small talk with me. Security dude: (probably noting how pale I was) So are you from around here? Me: No, I’m actually from Jersey SD: So, on vacation in Miami? Me: Well no, my friend that I’m traveling with is, so we stopped here to rest before the next part of our trip. SD: Where are you headed? Me: The Galapagos. Well, we’re stopping over in Ecuador first. SD: Oh? Me: It’s a transfer flight. SD: Oh. The longer the conversation went on, the more nervous I felt. Then again, how would any woman feel about a strange man looking through her bag for a really long time? Why can’t they just invent a conscience scanner and determine that I’m genuinely on vacation? The fact that I stopped in Miami before heading to Ecuador made me worry about being suspected of drug trafficking or something. Cathy started giving me a weird look, having already gone through security and wondering why I was taking so long. She headed over and he started casually asking her the same questions he’d asked me. Finally, the security guy gave me a look that said he’d found what he was looking for. As it turns out, I forgot that I had a bottle of water in my bag. Oops. He wished us a good trip and winked at me. After finally getting through security, we went to our gate and sat down. We encountered a Latin American looking girl who wore shorter shorts than I did. I apparently wasn’t the only one wearing shorts on this flight. I felt assured, thinking Cathy’s grandma was just overreacting. Despite LAN’s (a member of Oneworld meaning you can use your American and British Air points) website being extremely difficult to navigate and their customer service representation being very rude to me, my experience with their airport had no problems. The flight went very smoothly. The one weird thing while we were waiting for the flight to take off was the music they were playing. They played a tune that sounded like off-key windchimes. It was a bit unnerving. I was happy to be rid of the music once we were off the plane. We got to Quito and had originally planned on sleeping in the airport. Cathy spotted an information stall for a hotel that had its own taxi service to take us there. The the hotel room was $50 a night and the taxi was $10. As it turns out the taxi was a worthy investment. Our cab driver was very friendly and informative. Cathy translated that we should only get in cabs with numbers on the door (a sort of visible taxi certificate on the front right hand side door). Those without (the fake taxis) were known for occupying drivers that dabbled in human trafficking. Our driver corrected himself, saying that sometimes the fake cabs put a number on the side too. The only way to be sure you were in a legitimate cab was to have the airport or the hotel call one for you. We arrived at Hostal Jardin del Sol to find a perfectly nice, clean and simple room. As with the toilets we’d later encounter in he Galapagos, we discovered that we had to throw away the toilet paper instead of flushing it. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like gunfire outside. We were petrified, pulling the curtains shut and trying to stay away from the windows, convinced we’d get shot. The “gunfire” ceased and my curiosity took over. I slowly opened the door to the balcony to find a beautiful view waiting for me. The “gunfire” started up again. Turns out, they were only firecrackers. Read More ›

Flying Fish Cafe @ Disney Boarwalk – Orlando, FL
Summary Rating: 4/5 Great Service! Great menu. Very good food, though they tend to overcook things a bit from my taste. We ordered the Pork. I would ask for it medium rare since we didn’t specify and it came out medium well+. They redid it for us and was medium and very good the second time. The pork comes with a side of mac and cheese that is amazing (can be ordered on its own) and 3-4 huge asparagus stalks. I believe it was around $36. We also had the potato encrusted fish. An interesting idea with a good sauce, but also came a bit overcooked. This is their signature dish though I found the pork better. This was also around $36 but didn’t include sides. Had a glass of Cline Old Vines Zinfandel for $10. Good. The had a bread basked that they implied was “coming out of the oven” but I assume it was reheated since it didn’t have a uniform temperature. Still good. And you can request olive oil (I don’t know why many fine restaurants still insist on putting out butter as the only side to bread in 2012, but that may just be me). The best part of the place apart from the great service was the atmosphere. I would call it high end casual. No white table clothes and could come in shorts (though they do technically have a dress code that says things like no swimwear or torn clothing), but granite counters, view into the kitchen, refined staff, etc. The chef’s bar is great. You can watch them cook during your meal. One of their managers, Kristin Duncan, was super sweet and helped us out a lot. Thank you Kristin! One downside is they are part of Disney dining. That means that they don’t have a phone number. If you try to call them you will go to central Dinsey reservations and talk to someone that is clueless. I called to ask how I get to this place from any of the shuttle drop off locations and she couldn’t help me. She also said that they didn’t have a bar inside (not true, they do). Flying Fish Cafe Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Villas 2101 North Epcot Resorts Blvd. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 Read More ›

Hilton & Waldorf Bonnet Creek – Orlando, FL
A very detailed review of the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria Orlando that we stayed at during our trip to Disney. Tons of pictures and money saving trips. Read More ›

India Quality – Boston, MA
Forward So I don’t usually write articles about restaurants in Boston since the focus of the website is on travel. However, others also travel to Boston so I decided to start. In general I use Yelp and TripAdvisor to decide where I am going to eat out of town. However, they are not perfect. I find that they become especially unreliable for restaurants with under 25 reviews since the owners and competitiors end up writing more reviews than real patrons. Outlier experiences also get overrated. So hopefully my reviews will add extra value with my readers that I have built up trust with. Review Rating 5/5 In my experience India Quality is the best Indian food in the City of Boston. It has some real competition in Cambridge and Somerville, but in the city, this is my goto place. It is in Kenmore Square, slightly below street level. Also its ambiance is very good for an Indian restaurant. While not a special occation place or where to go if you are trying to show off, you could certainly feel comfortable bringing a date here (unlike many Indian restaurants). It’s priced higher than the typical Indian take out joint, but lower than most any other restaurant of similar food quality and ambiance. I consider it to be a great value for a dine in experience. For take out it is a bit more fully priced, but I still splurge for it’s quality. Discounts and Freebies Well, this is the Free Travel Genius, so let’s focus on what’s really imporant to us - living the life for free / less. So, India Quality is both a small business and takes American Express. Can my loyal readers guess where I am going with this? It is the perfect place to go on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for American Express’s Small Business Saturdays. Each Amex card you have (and pre-registered) and use will earn you $25 off your check. The staff at India Quality are very gratious about using multiple cards. Now what if you have more Amex cards than your little belly can handle? Use them to buy gift certificates and come back to each some other time. India Quality is also very gratious about running multiple cards for multiple gift certificates. There is one small nuissence, however. India Quality uses old fashion physical certificates won’t give change or a new certificate back if the bill is less than its face value. Since they use a physical system, I can understand why they want to keep it simple, however, this gives the astute buyer an incentive to purchase very small demoninations (I go with $25) so not to risk losing too much or needing to supplement their bill with cash. I will need to recomend to the restaurant to look into an electronic gift certificate system. There are so many smartphone enabled applications nowadays to moderize payments, gift certificates, loyalty programs, etc. Hopefully, they give one a try. India Quality also gives 10% off to students with a valid student ID. I guess if you eat there often enough, you can look into the arbitrage of singing up for a night class, but we are talking one hell of a lot of Chicken Tikka Marsala here. India Quality Kenmore Square Read More ›

Tamarindo and Liberia, Costa Rica
See lessons learned from my trip with my wife to Tamarindo Beach in Guanacaste, Cost Rica and the surrounding area. Read More ›

Tenorio National Park – Costa, Rica
My wife and I spent our second day in Costa Rica at Tenorio National Park. We included some key info and pictures. Read More ›

Rincon de la Vieja National Park
My wife and I spent a day at Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Getting info on the internet on the park isn't the easiest so I decided to summarize my trip to help others. Read More ›

Palermo Cocktail Bar & Restaurant – Liberia, Costa Rica
We chanced upon Palermo restaurant in downtown Liberia (Costa Rica). Wow, what an amazing find. This may go among my top 25 dishes ever. Read More ›

Best Western Vista Villas – Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Overall 4/5 (physical 3/5, location 3.5/5, view from oceanview rooms 5/5, staff 5/5) Read More ›

Amex Small Business Saturday 11/24/2012
Small Business Saturday is soon. Get $25 free for every American Express card you register. Read More ›

Galapagos Trip: Planning and Day 1 (Newark and Miami)
This is the first in the series of Sara’s trip to the Galapagos. Planning and Day 1 (Newark and Miami) Days 2 and 3 (Miami and Ecuador) More to come… I booked a flight with my old college roommate, Cathy, to the Galapagos Islands to visit a friend we knew in college. We used to compare the prices of flights. Since Cathy is a Miami native and because it seemed wise to break up the flight into smaller trips, we chose to fly from Newark airport down to Miami.  Our itinerary was that the flight to Miami would be with United while the flight to the Galapagos (first arriving in Quito, Ecuador) would be with LAN. LAN is an Ecuadorian airline and a OneWorld member that is affiliated with American Airlines (see Dave’s article on other OneWorld members). I arrived at 10:30 am on August 5th to Newark airport for my 12:45 pm flight. Despite that I was over two hours early, this meant nothing. TSA had shut down the security checkpoints of terminal C because of two security breaches that day. There were at least a thousand people congregated on the ground floor of terminal C alone! We waited patiently in line until TSA agents had us merge with other lines (some of which were comprised of people that had just walked in off of the street!). Needless to say, this put us even farther back in line. When we finally got upstairs, we were shocked to find yet another line awaiting us. Beyond the full barriers within the security ropes was a long line extending down a nearby hallway! We were annoyed, since we had already waited about two and a half hours at that point. However, we weren’t worried about our flight. Though it was now just past our 12:45 flight time, we had been told by the TSA agents that all of the flights had been delayed. Allegedly, flights that had been scheduled to leave at 9 AM were only just now leaving. We were assured that we would indeed make our flight. Eventually, we got through security. Cathy and I went to the flight screens to see what time our flight would be rescheduled to. We saw three different Miami flights, none of which matched our flight number. Cathy went to stand on the customer service line while I went to check at our gate for any possible information. I looked at the destination screen at our gate to find it blank. I asked the woman what time the flight would leave. Apparently having answered this question a lot today, she yelled at me, saying “There is no flight!  It left already!” I was at a loss for words. I had apparently missed my flight because TSA had made it impossible to reach the security checkpoint.  What was even worse was that TSA had not communicated the situation to our flight! We kept encountering people of authority in the airport having no knowledge of what had transpired! After about a half hour on the phone with United customer service, Cathy lucked out by getting a representative that genuinely wanted to help. He couldn’t find a single opening on a United flight to Miami out of Newark, La Guardia nor JFK for the next two days! Thankfully he got us tickets on an American Airlines flight leaving in three hours. According to the answers that other passengers’ got from other representatives, the airline was technically not responsible for getting us a new flight. Though I was grateful for the effort that our rep had put into helping us, I was admittedly very, very angry.  Then I began wondering, why I should be grateful that they helped us.  We paid for our tickets, they owe us at least this much. Despite showing up with more time than necessary, we had been held up by TSA. Based on how many people had been stranded downstairs for hours, Cathy and I guesstimated that our plane could not possibly have left with more than 10 passengers. I temporarily swallowed my anger though. Aggravated as I was, I didn’t want to piss off any people at the airline, Lest it might jeopardize my spot on this new flight. I resolved to handle it once I got back home.  We took a bus over to terminal A and got through security.  We managed to get to our second flight with relative ease. Our new flight was at 5 pm. We began taxiing around on the tarmac before the pilot announced that there was a storm coming soon to Florida. He predicted that this would result in a one hour delay. The man next to me sighed loudly in response. I told him of our ordeal and that I was at least grateful to get to sit down. He got very quiet after that. About 15 minutes later, the pilot announced that he saw a small window of time during which we could avoid the storm and that he’d go for it. The flight went smoothly after that. I spent my time alternating between reading a book and trying to carry on a conversation with a nice old Brazilian man next to me, despite that I spoke no Portuguese.  We made decent time, arriving around 8:30. Unfortunately, Cathy’s mom, who was going to pick us up from the airport, assumed that we would take longer. We got a hold of her while she was grocery shopping. She finally arrived around 9:30 pm. By the time we got to the house, got our bags inside and answered everyone’s questions, it was about 11 pm. Needless to say, when the opportunity presented itself, I passed out. Overall mood for day 1: Argh Read More ›

Starwood AMEX Review – 25,000 Starpoints
August 2015 Update: since writing this article, the point value has been a degraded somewhat. Internet consensus is about 2.5 cents per point. Also, the annual fee went up to $95. On the plus side, they added free Boingo wireless(Current Cardholders Register Here, removed foreign transaction fees, added premium in-room internet and, for the business version only, gave access to the Sheraton club lounge Earn: 1 Starwood Preferred Guest point per dollar spent (2 points at Starwood hotels). I value Starpoints at about 4 cents for my use, though may be worth 2-3 cents for a more budget oriented traveler (see my analysis below). Starwood points can be converted into Airline points (e.g., American) with a 25% bonus making this card clearly superior to all of the Airline cards. Even better Read More ›

Use your Smarts (Phone)
I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods Store a couple of weeks ago. Apparently there was a 50% off sale on, among other things, wetsuits. I was a bit dubious thinking, “But half off of what price?”. Turns out they were $70-80 originally (about average, maybe a bit above). Awesome! Then I got worried that they wouldn’t have my size. I tend to fit into a size 4 or 6 in clothing and I was appalled to find that their smallest was an 8. The joke was on me: in wetsuits, I’m apparently a size 10… So I went to the counter, proud to be purchasing a $40 wetsuit. While waiting for the register, I decided to look online on my phone to see if there was a coupon for the store. Sure enough, I found a $10 off coupon. So I got my wet suit for $30! Point of the story: If you have a smart phone, always try to look online for a discount. This applies to online purchases as well because you can look for them on your computer before you finalize your order. Read More ›

I’m leaving on a jet plane–to the Galapagos
I wanted to write this MUCH earlier but work has been hectic.  My college roommate and I decided to go on a trip to the Galapagos, both to take in the sights and to visit an old friend from college.  So here is my projected list of things to bring on this trip.  Any last minute suggestions would be awesome from readers if you have anything to add 🙂 Stock Photo of some Waved Albatross from Wikimedia Commons sunscreen poncho/waterproof jacket travel pillow bug spray disinfectant spray/wipes backpack underwater camera first aid kit (meds, band aids, neosporin, etc.) moisturizer lip balm hat (maybe) & sunglasses flashlight scarf water shoes sweater/fleece quick drying pants snorkel & goggles swimsuit wetsuit flip flops sneakers ID passport (regular) camera   The reason that I’ll be bringing so many cool weather items is because apparently the Galapagos gets a little chilly in August due to changes in the currents around this time of year.  Hopefully, this list helps others plan their trip and/or inspires people to comment with helpful feedback! Read More ›

Anatomy of a counterfeit 100 yuan bill
There are likely many types of counterfeit 100 yuan notes. There are, however, a few things to look for that should give you an idea of what to look for on a legitimate bank note. First, let me start with pictures of the front and back of a legitimate 100 yuan bill. </dt> </dl> Front of a real bill The red half-circle in the left hand corner, when held up to the light, lines up with its blue counterpart on the back of the bill in the lower right-hand corner.   Back of a real bill </div> Note the placement of the blue half circle in the lower right hand corner.  When held up to the light, this will line up perfectly with its red counterpart in the lower left hand corner on the front of the bill.   Resulting circle on a legal bill When held up to the light, this makes a complete circle with a small square inside it.   Next, here are pictures of the front and back of a counterfeit bill.  On this counterfeit bill, that circle we encountered before doesn’t appear in the corner, but towards the middle of the bill towards the left… Front of a counterfeit bill Back of a counterfeit bill …and the right sides. And when held up to the light… Counterfeit circle doesn't line up the halves do not line up.   Serial number: Obviously, if you take out multiple bills and they have the same serial number on them, it should be a dead giveaway. But if you only get one counterfeit bill… Same serial number   Watermarks: Visible watermarks The denomination watermark on these counterfeit bills are visible without holding it up to the light. This 100 to the right of the green one would not be visible on legal currency. Visible watermark   The texture: The texture on the counterfeit bills are very coarse, having been more recently printed. A legitimate bill will have been worn smooth. Real (Smooth) Fake (textured)   The silver bar at the center of the bill: If you hold a legitimate bill up to the light, you will see a solid line running down the center. If you look closely, you’ll see RMB (standing for renminbi, the name of the currency). If you see these two things, you are in possession of legal currency. Silver bar running through the center Silver bar says RMB (sorry that it got blurry when I shrunk the pic) The counterfeit I have does not have a dark line down the center, nor the RMB printed in it. Only light bar down the center with no RMB printed inside it   Color change: The denomination should change color. On real currency, the 100 changes from green to blue. Real bill held upright (before) Real bill (after turning it) On the fake currency, the number stayed green. Fake bill (and you can of course see the watermark) Aaaaaand presto You can also see the watermark of Mao’s mug pretty easily from this angle 😛   As I said before, I am sure that there are a lot of different kinds of counterfeit bills.  However, I hope that any one of these details can help someone to spot a fake bill, should they ever encounter one. Read More ›

Hilton Cards – Diamond Status & More
A comparison between the American Express Hilton Surpass Card and the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Reserve Card. Check out the signup bonuses, gold status and chance for diamond status. Read More ›

Update on Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC): It still sucks
I had given up on getting through to ICBC. When I was still living in Korea, I had tried handling the matter at an ICBC branch in Seoul. For newer readers, the matter I’m referring to is my having withdrawn 300 yuan, at the time about $45, from an ICBC ATM in Beijing. This money, as I’d find out the next day, turned out to be counterfeit. Given that the ICBC website wasn’t very informative, I decided to go up to Seoul one weekend to see if there was anything that could be done. While the bank branch itself was apparently closed on Saturdays (couldn’t find that online, d’oh), I got a very nice Korean man to help me call an off-hours information line that the bank had. I told him my story and he spoke to the representative on my behalf in Korean. I was then told that the Korean branch could not be held responsible for something that had happened in China and would not be able to assist me with fixing the problem. Once I came back to America, I found out there was an ICBC branch in New York. I kind of gave up on the idea of calling them before even trying, thinking I’d be told the same thing that I was back in Korea. Surely if South Korea couldn’t be bothered, and they’re WAY closer to China than America is, America would feel the same. Months went by and I was telling the infamous story of my trip to China to a relative. My dad, overhearing me, said if he were me, he’d try harder to get this resolved. So I made one last effort. I originally wanted to email the bank, so I went to the ICBC homepage and clicked on the English translation. Then I scrolled down and clicked “Contact Us” at the bottom of the page. What awaited me there were a few Chinese phone numbers/extensions that I could call or had the option of texting. Underneath this was a link that said “Customer Complaint: Please click here”. So I did. It brought me back to the homepage in Mandarin. Grrrr… Then I decided to look up the phone number for the New York office. Success, I found it! So I called. After a short holding time, I got a representative. Relieved, I told her a shortened version of my story in case she just turned out to be an operator about to redirect me to another department. She asked me if I had a corporate account. I replied in the negative, saying this was more of a personal banking matter. She told me that their ICBC branch only dealt with corporate accounts but that she could give me a number for personal banking. “Ok, cool,” I thought, “at least she knows where to send me to resolve this.” I called the 877 number that she’d given me and got a Chinese woman whose English was not great. So I spoke slowly and tried to tell my story as simply as I could. The resulting conversation went something like this. Representative: You counterfeit money in Canada? Me: (a bit louder thinking she misheard me) No, China. Beijing ATM. Forbidden City. Rep: Yes yes. You go Beijing. Counterfeit money in Canada? Me: No. I got the counterfeit money in China. Rep: Canada? Me: China! I never went to Canada! Rep: Oh. Why you call here? Cannot help with China. This Canada! So the New York branch had transferred me to a Canadian branch, which was apparently saying the same thing as the Korean one: We can’t help you. The Canadian representative, however, did transfer my call to the branch in Beijing and told me which buttons to press through the phone menu that would come up. I thanked her immensely, thinking it would only be a short while before I could get some closure to my story. I selected the correct numbers and was redirected to a rep who could speak English. I told my story a third time. The man on the other end, whose accented English was quite good compared to the Canadian rep’s, solemnly told me that since I was no longer in China, the matter could not be handled since no one could prove that the money was counterfeit. I offered to take it to an ICBC branch to confirm that it was indeed counterfeit. I offered photos. At one point, I even offered to MAIL it to China. He held true to his position: This matter could not be fixed since I was not presently in China. Frustrated, I said “So let me get this straight. I would have to buy a plane ticket and pay another $180 for a visa just to come to China to resolve this?” Apparently, my sarcasm got lost in translation; he thought I was serious. He told me that, even if I did come to China, there was no proof that the money had come from their bank. I told them about the record on my BOA statement that it was their bank, the only transaction I had done that day. The next day, that money was the only money in my wallet. I only ever went to two banks during my stay in China: China Construction Bank (a member of the Global ATM Alliance with BOA and charged minimal 1% fees for ATM withdrawals) and ICBC (the one time I could not find a China Construction Bank). I told him that I still had the counterfeit money as proof. I had my bank statement for a record of the time and place that this occurred. I had witnesses. It did not matter. He said I could be faking. I told him that if I was faking, I’d be trying to get more out of it than $45. He said that ICBC had never had an incident like this before. Trying a different approach, I said that I was sure that ICBC was a well respected bank, that it was nothing personal, but all I had to go on was my one transaction with them, which resulted in giving me counterfeit money. He repeated himself, saying that ICBC had never given counterfeit money before. Exasperated, I asked him how he knew that for sure when cases like mine were swept under the rug and ignored. He repeated himself and I told him that while I had no issue with him personally, his bank had no honor. He repeated himself yet again. When I did not respond, he asked if there was anything else he could do for me today. I held back a laugh, said no and hung up. Moral of the story: While ICBC undoubtedly has legitimate transactions (otherwise how could it stay open?), I can again only comment on my one dealing with them, which gave me counterfeit money from an ATM. Additionally, they did not own up to this, nor handle this in a manner of trying to help me. Instead, I was treated like a criminal out to make a quick buck by conning a wonderful and honest bank. I cannot guarantee that other tourists will have the same problem with them. However, I would give the same advice with regards to any dealings with this bank as one would receive at the entrance of Dante’s version of hell: “All hope abandon ye who enter here.” Read More ›

Chase Hyatt Card – 2 free nights ANYWHERE
$1,000+/- worth of Hyatt stays for $75 with the Chase Hyatt Card. No brainier! Read More ›

Water Bar – Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Water Bar at the PGA Commons in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida Read More ›

[Expired]125,000 Points on British Airways from Chase
Chase British Airways Visa -- 125k points from Chase BA Visa after spending $20k or 50k points for $96. Worth it if you spend wisely. Read More ›

Tucci’s Fire N Coal Pizza – Boca Raton, FL
Review of Tucci's Fire and Coal Pizza in Boca Raton, FL Read More ›

Capital One Venture Card
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Fee: $59 Annual Fee (waived first year) – it takes about $8k per year of spending to make back the annual fee compared with Capital One’s fee free 1.25% cash back card. Ongoing Points: 2 points for each dollar spent Point Value: Each point is basically worth 1 cent toward any travel charged to the card.  It doesn’t have to be booked through their service, so buy that discount airline flight, stay in that B&B, take a taxi, whatever, and then choose to have your points applied to that item on your statement. Bank:  Capital One Card Type: Visa Signature No foreign transaction fees! Read More ›

Free Travel Genius Kiva Challenge
Kiva and our Leap Year Kiva Challenge Read More ›

A Portuguese Thanksgiving
When I lived in London, I had three flatmates: a guy from England, a guy from Germany, and a girl from Portugal. I was so excited to get to live with people from such diverse backgrounds and cultures. It was a great opportunity and I was all for it. Cut to November of 2010. I’m sitting in my apartment, Google Imaging the word ‘Thanksgiving’.  I’m looking at pictures of turkeys – a mix of dead ones, poised on the dinner table, ready to be devoured, and happy-go-lucky cartoon birds, waving at each other, naïve and innocent. I suddenly became a bit homesick.  America-sick.  The Brits didn’t seem to see the merits of corn muffins and pumpkin pie. They didn’t have a special day devoted to stuffing their faces. This left me forlorn and craving cranberry sauce. I considered making my own holiday meal, but soon remembered I couldn’t cook without causing a small fire. As luck would have it, my Portuguese roommate was half American! She understood my turkey fever and invited me to Lisbon for the holiday. I was happy to find that her family took it very seriously. The dinner was full of cheerful family members and all the Thanksgiving staples. It made me forget that I was thousands of miles away from home. The next few days were reserved for tourism. I had never been to Lisbon before, and was immediately struck by how gorgeous it was. Downtown —  the apartments were full of bright colors, and sweet unexpected touches.   The people looked very relaxed and happy.   We accidentally stumbled upon a rocky abandoned area, in the middle of the city. It was covered in interesting graffiti and had mysterious little steps and narrow paths that led to more random bits of art.                  Afterwards, we made our way to Alfama to visit St. George’s Castle. The steps inside were narrow and steep, but the view from up high was totally worth it.                      Later on that day, we walked the streets in search of gelato. We went to Santini Gelati, Lisbon’s most famous ice cream shop. If you’re ever visiting, you need to go there. So good. Eventually we made our way to a village called Carnide. We ate at an amazing restaurant called Portas Verdes that served steak on a searing hot stone that you cook for yourself. It came with a big salad, a generous plate of french fries, and dips. Amazing. I highly recommend this place as well. I only had two days to explore the city, but still managed to see so many beautiful things. If you’re ever stumped on where to travel, definitely give Lisbon a go. Read More ›

What if they don’t say YES right away — Expediting and Reconsideration
What if they don't say YES right away? This is a list of some of the key (and often secret) phone numbers for checking on application status, moving along a "stuck" application, getting another shot if the company says NO, canceling (and getting paid not to) and other key phone numbers. Read More ›

The Phoenician and Scottsdale, AZ
A review of the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale (Phoenix), AZ in January 2012 along with other hints about vacationing in Scottsdale. Read More ›

Roaring Fork
Review of Roaring Fork in Scottsdale, AZ. Cliff notes: good food and amazingly cheap "happy hour" menu that is available all night on Sundays and Mondays (just like Wildfish). Read More ›

Wildfish Seafood Grill
Review of Wildfish Seafood Grill in Scottsdale, AZ. Cliff notes: great food and amazingly cheap "happy hour" menu that is available all night on Sundays and Mondays. Read More ›

140k Hilton Points or RT USAAustralia
With two Hawaiian Airlines Visa cards, $158 in card fees and $2,000 of spending, you can get a round trip flight to anywhere Virgin Atlantic flies or 140,000 Hilton Points. Read More ›

[Expired] Virgin and BA: 30% Amex MR Bonus
Both British Airways "Avios" (until 1/31/2012) and Virgin Atlantic (Targeted, until 1/13/2012) are offering 30% bonuses for Membership Rewards Transfers. Read More ›

Exploring London Proper
Reina describes her adventures in Central London, UK including key sights such as Piccadilly Circus, East London, and Kensington Gardens. Read More ›

Extra 10k Membership Rewards Points [Expired]
Get an extra 10,000 membership rewards bonus points by signing up for the Extended Payment Option without using it or incurring any costs. Read More ›

Top Tips on a Trip to China: Tip #3- Do not trust local invitations to a tea house
This happened on the same day as the counterfeit currency fiasco I indicated before. I had been wandering around Beijing in the winter. My local Beijing friend, exhausted from our harrowing trip to Xi’an the day before, had gone home for a nap, leaving me on my own. We agreed to meet some three hours later. She was, however, so drained that she overslept and was late… by about four hours beyond that. During this time I, who had no working cell phone in China, kept asking people (well pantomiming really) if I could use their cell phones. I was elated to discover one young couple that spoke English quite well compared to most people one might find in Beijing. Before I continue, let me offer a disclaimer. While I am not from New York (30 minutes away in New Jersey), I was raised by two New Yorkers who taught me never to heed people trying to talk to me on the street because they were likely trying to sell me something.  I’m pretty good at ignoring  people on the street in general. Thus when I saw a sign taped to the hostel’s bathroom mirror warning people to not engage in conversation with people who come up to them on the street, all I could think was “Duh…” I had spent the day avoiding people who would address me with some variants of “You speak English?? I STUDY English!! We talk!” I smugly thought I’d gotten the hang of not getting conned. Oh dear, was I wrong… So back to the young couple. I assumed given my lack of gloves and hat, as well as my shaking from the cold, the girl asked if I wanted to go to a tea house with them. Since I was freezing cold, I saw no issue with this. Upon entering the tea house, we were ushered into a room and given menus. I was starving, having not eaten since around breakfast and it being about 6 PM. Looking over the menu, I was very surprised. Food is typically cheap in China. One of my favorite dishes, baozi, typically cost 4 yuan (about 80 cents at the time). I was shocked to discover that food at this place ran to 80 yuan and up! Being hungry and cold, I tried to overlook this and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, some chicken at 80 yuan. The couple ordered a pot of tea. This turned out to be the most delicious tea I had ever had! Just as I was beginning to feel that life wasn’t so bad, the check came. The bill said 600 yuan (almost $100) for six cups of tea and my plate of chicken! I was outraged! I’d consider myself a fairly composed person when in public, but with something that insane, I made a bit of a scene. A hostess came over and, in response to my yelling, offered to “take off the 100 yuan room fee”. “Room fee, ROOM FEE???” I was fuming. “What is the matter with you? You BROUGHT us in here, we didn’t request it!” Because of my outburst, the “discount” was taken from my portion, making what I’d pay 200 yuan (about $30). Even though the hostess took both of our cards, I’m pretty much convinced that their card didn’t actually get charged. After we paid the bill, the couple was in a rush to leave, instead of letting me finish my chicken or tea. They said that we should hurry to meet up with my friend. Because I just wanted to leave, I obliged. As soon as we were out the door, however, they vaguely said something about having a prior engagement and instructed me to walk “that way for five minutes” (pointing to the right, down a fairly dark street) “and turn right to go to the subway”. With that, they left. I am not a person to wear watches. Out of habit, I tend to rely on a cell phone to keep track of time. However, I did not have a working cell phone in China. Had you been on that street in Beijing, you would have seen a very distraught looking foreigner trying to maintain composure and count to 300 (a meager attempt to measure five minutes). Of course, counting to 300 is harder to do when you’re fighting negative thoughts. “They have my friend’s number in their cell phone,” I realized. “What if they’re calling her right now, demanding a ransom payment after having sent me to the middle of nowhere? I wouldn’t put it past them, after conning me at that tea house…” Fighting tears, I tried to see the positive in my situation. I stopped above a small pretty brook and went to take a picture. My camera battery died. Why me? I walked a little more, until I realized I couldn’t go any farther. Faced by a wall of traffic, I realized where I was. I was facing Tiananmen Square! I turned right and sure enough, a short walk down the street was the subway entrance. I managed to borrow one more person’s phone to contact Emily to tell her where I was. I thanked them profusely for letting me use their phone and went on my way. While waiting for Emily, I strolled along the street, half in curiosity, half in order to keep warm. I saw what I would later discover was Tiananmen Gate, a brick-red wall with a large portrait of Mao Zedong in the center.  It was bathed in white ground lights, with what appeared to be a temple behind it lined with its own strings of lights. I was so angry at my camera battery for being dead. I took some cell phone pictures with my otherwise useless Korean phone which did these gorgeous sights absolutely no justice. Soon after, Emily showed up on the back of her boyfriend’s scooter. She looked thoughtfully from me to the scooter and back again, trying to gauge the success of putting three people on it. Deciding in the negative, we instead hailed a motorcycle cab bound for adventure…and dumplings! Read More ›

Chase Priority Club Visa – 80k points
The Priority Club Visa officially only delivers 30k points on first use, but there is a link floating around that should generate 80k bonus points on the first use. There have been numerous message board posters confirming this works, however, I have not tried it myself. Read More ›

Liberty Hotel – Boston, MA
A review of our mixed experience at the Liberty Hotel in Beacon Hill of Boston, MA. Read More ›

Top Tips on a Trip to China Tip #2- Research Credit and ATM fees
Tip #2: Research your credit cards and banks for useful benefits, such as no (or reduced) foreign transaction or ATM fees. For example, ATM’s under the Global ATM Alliance will charge Bank America customers only 1% (instead of 1% + $5). Before I’d left for China, I checked the international information on my credit and bank cards. I was already aware that my Capital One credit card (like all Capital One Credit Cards, the Chase Sapphire Card, the AMEX Platinum Card, the Chase Ink Bold, the Chase Marriott Rewards Card and certain others) did not have international usage fees. My Bank of America ATM card, meanwhile, would serve me well. As a member of the Global ATM Alliance, Bank of America users are allowed to use their bank card at participating ATMs in certain foreign countries to withdraw local currency without having to pay an extra $5. After researching further, I was relieved to discover that China Construction Bank (a member of the Global ATM Alliance) was the second-most common bank in China. This alleviated my fears of not being able to find a branch when necessary. My friend Emily in Beijing, who I was going to visit, confirmed that this was an easily accessible bank. During my time in China, sure enough, China Construction Bank provided me with a cheap way to access funds. I’d made the decision, since the cost of a visa to China was $180, that I would not be returning. With that in mind, I did A LOT of shopping at small local stores. I’m positive I annoyed Emily given the frequency of my visits to the ATM, as well as the quantity of souvenirs I was purchasing. (Side note: Emily and I had a running joke. I happen to very much like dragons, tigers and horses, a common theme found in China. I had decided that I wanted to collect them while here. When I would see souvenirs with one of these animals present, I’d stop to investigate. I stopped so often that Emily would playfully mock me, saying in a high-pitched exaggerated tone, “LOOK! It’s a DRAGON! DRAAAAAAAAAA-GON!!”) On my 3rd day in China, I visited the Forbidden City. After shop-hopping together in the area outside, Emily dropped me off at the entrance, with the intent to meet up with me a few hours later. She mentioned casually that she had been there a few times before on school trips. As a Beijing resident, visiting this site was about as exciting to her as Times Square is to someone from New York or New Jersey. I guess along those lines, I was probably the international equivalent of someone who actually WEARS an “I ♥ NY” t-shirt. A few hours later, as I determined by looking at strangers’ watches since I had neither a phone, nor a watch, I realized I was already a half hour late in meeting with Emily. Guilt ridden, I raced out of the Forbidden City to our pre-determined meeting spot to find her…absent. What happened after this point serves as its own long story, which I will tell in another blog. The short story is that she did not show up for the next 4 hours. This did not bode well for me, it being New Year’s Eve and very cold. My jacket, while ever so stuffed with fluffy feathers, did not have a working zipper. I had also lost one of my two gloves and had no hat. After spending the little money I had in my wallet on a hat and gloves, I searched everywhere for a China Construction Bank ATM with no success. At the suggestion of a local couple (another story in and of itself for another time), I went to a nearby branch of a bank called Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. At first, I tried to convert some Korean currency I had with me for Chinese. No luck. For whatever reason, they didn’t accept Korean money. So, bracing myself for fees, I bit the bullet and used my bank card at their ATM. I took out 300 yuan (about $50). It wasn’t until the next morning, when on a tour of the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall that I found out from a vendor that my 300 yuan was counterfeit! I tried to handle this while still in China, but I couldn’t recall the name of the bank at the time. I checked my banking information for the transaction in question as soon as I was back at my hostel. Unfortunately, the bank listed the account transaction and location as a series of numbers…grr. My tourguide had misunderstood that I did not remember the name of the branch and appealed to CBC about the counterfeit currency. They were fully willing to reimburse me, thinking they were at fault. I corrected the tourguide but was not able to tell him the name of the bank. Since my flight out of China back to Korea was the next day, I figured that maybe I could resolve this from out of the country. I was wrong. I went online to the ICBC website to complain. I tried clicking their link for contacting them. This merely refreshed the home page. They had a wealth of different phone numbers, but none that could help me. Given that I only had a prepaid phone that only worked in Korea, I could not call outside of Korea. I waited until work on Monday to ask a co-worker to call the Korean ICBC in Seoul on my behalf. They said they needed me to come in person, since they could do nothing over the phone. Given that I worked during the week, I went up to Seoul on the weekend to a Korean bank branch of ICBC. Apparently, I didn’t realize that Korean banks were closed on Saturdays…-grumble-. I bumped into a worker of a company that shared a building with the bank, who was more than happy to help. He called a number he knew of and listened patiently before informing me that sorry but the Korean Bank branch is not responsible for reimbursing me when this happened in China. I begged that they at least pass the memo along to the China branch. More patient listening from the man, followed by him shaking his head. While Bank of America did reimburse me for the fees incurred from the transaction, they could not reimburse me for the counterfeit currency. Emily later told me that this does happen occasionally with banks in China. I appealed to her over Skype for help, but what she basically said was that it wasn’t worth it, to stop complaining and just be glad it wasn’t more. Moral of the story: If at all possible, go to a globally recognized bank (like China Construction Bank). To be fair, I don’t know whether or not Industrial and Commercial Bank of China would have reimbursed me had I been able to settle this while in China, but I know that China Construction Bank would have. Also, considering my feverishly frequent trips to the China Construction Bank ATM, I did not receive a single counterfeit bill. Read More ›

Chimichurri Grill – New York, NY
We had a wonderful meal here. This place is not cheap, but fairly reasonable given the ambiance, service, food quality and being in Midtown Manhattan. I would certainly come here again for a special occasion or a business dinner. Read More ›

Room Service Restaurant – New York, NY
Review of Room Service in New York's Hell Kitchen. Amazing lunch special. Read More ›

Ajisai Japanese Restaurant – New York, NY
Overall: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars. I went with my wife in November 2011. It is a pretty good Japanese place in Hell’s Kitchen. The fireball was excellent. It basically was a ball, the skin of which was thinly sliced salmon and the insides were some great mix of something that I can’t explain. Their vegetable teriyaki dinner was excellent as well, it came with interesting veggies and a very sweet sauce. The wasabi tuna roll was ok. The spicy tuna inside was of the type where you can’t really taste the tuna. I didn’t like the coconut chicken soup but that may have been me. I did not like their miso soup. The service was ok, a bit slow, but otherwise fine. Went on a Friday night around 9pm and was able to sit right away. For those from out of town, this is in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood with lots of good restaurants at reasonable prices. Though probably best not to approach the place from the south, the area directly surrounding the Port Authority bus terminals is one of the least nice parts of central Manhattan (though I pretty much consider the whole island relatively safe). Ajisai Japanese Restaurant Address: 615 9th Ave, New York, NY 10036 Neighborhoods: Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown West Phone: (212) 757-2688 Read More ›

Learning to Love New Malden
The day I first set foot in New Malden, I immediately broke down in tears. This is exactly what I looked like – minus the faucet: Kyle Flood Via Wikipedia Commons As mentioned in the previous entry, I had just spent a glorious day in Kingston, admiring the town, visiting my university, and was pumped to see where I would be living for a year. I had over-sized hopes and expectations. The friendly, helpful bus drivers at the Kingston Fairfield station recommended me taking the #213 bus. So, I did. David Howard via Wikipedia Commons Bad idea. It took just about 40 minutes to arrive. During that time, the sun vanished, the skies darkened, and it started to pour. I got off the bus, hopes dashed, freaked out that it would be taking me so long to commute to school every day. That, plus the weather, plus being directionally-challenged and getting lost twice over, made for a most unpleasant first impression. I couldn’t believe it. When I had checked out pictures of my apartment building online, it looked big and cozy, bright and cheerful. There was definitely a disconnect between my expectations and what was standing right in front of me. I felt duped. And, also, for the record, a little hoodwinked. On top of that, the town itself looked miserable. I know that this was in part due to the rain, but that didn’t offer any comfort. The surrounding area looked industrial and run down. The streets were chock-full of Korean people (this didn’t contribute to my disappointment, but it did contribute to my surprise). This was not the quintessentially British town I had envisioned. I felt a million miles away from Kingston. Later on I would learn that New Malden is famous for being predominately Korean, so that explains that. Also, I came to realize that all of London is now so multicultural that there is no such thing as “quintessentially British” anymore. That’s another one of those antiquated notions I had picked up  from watching one too many movies. Fortunately, I ended up making fast friends with my flatmates, which definitely came in handy in December, when our landlord began massive, invasive construction on our building and created a disaster zone for us to live in for the remaining 9 months.  Oh, but that’s a different story of its own. Living in New Malden ended up broadening my palate as well. I quickly discovered that a predominantly Korean neighborhood meant lots of delicious food. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Truer words have never been spoken. A few Bulgogi Bibimbaps later – try saying that 5 times fast – and I was a New Malden convert. Suddenly the town didn’t seem so bad. Ayustety via Wikipedia Commons Restaurants aside, New Malden also had a nice little park with a tennis court, plenty of trees, and open space. High street was just a couple blocks away, full of restaurants, a post office, little shops and a gym. Everything I needed was within short walking distance. Also, after I complained to everybody about the #213, I quickly learned that nobody takes that bus, as the #131 is much faster. Rookie mistake. I have to say that the town was very conveniently located. When traveling to Central London, it took about 10 minutes by bus to reach the Raynes Park train station, and then another 15-20 minutes to Waterloo station. Not too shabby. Stephen Craven via Wikipedia Commons Everyone knows that England is on the rainier side. So I realize now that I shouldn’t have let some bad weather dampen my spirits. And there were plenty of gorgeous days to follow. Here are some of my favorite shots:   The British are known for their sense of humor. Here are two little pieces of evidence I stumbled upon on the streets:                      If that name doesn’t draw you right in, then I just don’t know.   So all in all, while its charms may not have been readily apparent, by September 2011 I felt at home in this funny little town,  and didn’t want to leave. If you happen to visit, here’s the name and address of my favorite Korean restaurant. JIN GO JAE 272 Burlington Road New Malden, Surrey +44 20 8949 2506 ‎ It’s tiny, unassuming, and completely delicious. Enjoy! Read More ›

Top Tips on a Trip to China: Tip #1- If possible, get your visa while in your home country.
For most people, this probably sounds obvious. However, if you are traveling through Asia and decide to go to China at the last minute, or are an expatriate (a person currently living outside of their home country), you will be in for a little bit of heartache. If you want to so much as leave any airport in mainland China, you need a visa. There is no getting around this fact, especially if you are American. You also need to get the visa through a travel agency that has been approved by the Chinese government. Since I was living and teaching in Korea at the time, I had to ask my mentor teacher to call a travel agency on my behalf so that I could apply for a visa. There are two types of visas, single entry and multiple entry. Each I believe was the same price (or if not, the price difference is so negligible that it still would’ve paid off to get the multiple entry visa). When my mentor teacher asked which one I wanted, I elected to put my $180 towards a multiple entry visa. I sent off my application with my passport. It was a nerve-wracking couple of weeks without my passport because, especially in a foreign country, your passport is worth about 500 times its weight in gold. It felt like Christmas the day that I got my visa’d passport back. I excitedly ripped open the envelope to see what the visa looked like in my passport. There was a picture of the majestic Great Wall in the background. It had my name and birthdate on it. Then my eye settled on a line titled “Entries” with a 1 next to it. Another line read “Enter Before: 13 Mar 2011” (it was December of 2010 at the time). That made me suspicious that they had mistakenly given me a single entry visa. I appealed to my mentor teacher to talk to the travel agency. She then told me that I was not allowed to receive a multiple entry visa because I was not living in the United States at the time. I was fuming. I’m sure I was sending smoke signals to neighboring towns. I had paid $180 for the visa for my week long trip to China. Should I have ever decided to go back, it would’ve cost me ANOTHER $180. Granted, I had no idea that I would be going to China while I was back home in America, so I don’t think this could have been prevented in my case. Hindsight is 20/20. Try your best to get your visas in your home country.   Read More ›

California Trip 2010
Our 2010 trip to California including hiking along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, a jam packed day in San Francisco, and a relaxing weekend in Napa Valley, biking around, sipping wine, eating well and seeing old friends. Includes detailed hotel and restaurant reviews. Read More ›

Bistro Jeanty – Yountville (Napa), CA
Stock Image I’ve been to Bistro Jeanty twice, on 4/21/2008 and back on 4/2/2010. On my first visit we had a good bottle of wine, the mussels appetizer, a pork dish, a fish dish, fries, chocolate crème brûlée (great, and I am not such a big crème brûlée fan) and 2 coffees for a total of $131 including the tip. And all the food was excellent. On my second visit we had a sole filet, side of spinach, dinner size mussels (I didn’t like them this time), a glass of Blockheadia wine and a hot chocolate. We were eating light so this time it was only $81 w/tip. I was a tad less enamored with the food on the second time around, but it was still very good. And the service was excellent. My, now, wife asked for a fair number of substitutions and they were extremely accommodating — it isn’t usually easy to get french restaurants to substitute oil for butter. Also note, you can bring your own wine with a $25 corkage fee. Anyway, I plan to go back anytime I am near Napa. Address: 6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599 Phone: (707) 944-0103 Website: Read More ›

The “Accidental” Bargain Trip to Palma de Mallorca
After spending a little over three months living and studying in Seville, Spain in 2010, my friends and I decided to take advantage of our week long spring break and head to the beach. So we thought, what better place to go than the Greek Isles, right? Wrong. Read why we ended up in Palma de Mallorca. Read More ›

Dental Health = Mental Health (Dentistry in Korea)
I went online but all I found were phone number, listings and forum testimonials oscillating between "Oh man, this guy is really great I highly recommend him", and "People, I beg you, do not go to (the person that I had just seen being recommended), he's TERRIBLE." Some people said that a good deal of dentists in Seoul trained in the U.S. or Canada so they're pretty much just as good as back home. Others said Korean dentists tend not to be good and to go to Thailand.  I didn't know what to do or where to begin looking. Read More ›

First Impressions in Kingston upon Thames
By Trailer screenshot via Wikimedia Commons Last September, when I was standing around in Newark airport waiting to board my flight to London, I wondered what it would be like. I had traveled to Europe before, but never to the United Kingdom, and my conception of England mostly came from a mix of different movies. I imagined it would be a combo of Mary Poppins,  Mr. Bean, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. I thought it a give-in that Hugh Grant would appear in my life, that I would befriend a nanny who used words like “spit spot” and that I would fall in love with British men, all of whom would be incredibly self-effacing, bumbling and stumbling over their words, and utterly incapable of taking a compliment. Well. Julien Rath via Wikimedia Commons Suffice it to say that none of these things transpired. Apparently, I am too old to have a nanny, and most of the ones I spotted on the streets looked quite unapproachable anyway. As for Hugh Grant, I spent a year in London and managed not to meet him even once. The most ubiquitous British actor and our paths never crossed! Hard to believe, I know. But, let’s get back to the topic at hand! I was enrolled in an MA Creative Writing course at Kingston University. When they sent me my acceptance letter, it was like Charlie finding the golden ticket.  As soon as the plane touched down, I was dead curious to explore this Kingston I had heard so much about, and see where I would be studying for the next year. I had a basic knowledge of Kingston (Upon Thames), stemming from some very intensive Wikipedia research.  I knew that it was famous for being an old market place, I knew that it was home to the Rose Theater, and that it was right along the river. I googled Kingston riverside and saw boats going by, people relaxing outdoors, and so many swans. It was the latter detail that really sold me. The first things I noticed when I finally arrived in the Kingston town center were the adorable street names: Wheatfield Way, Eden Walk, and Lady Booth Road.  The next thing that drew my attention were the stores. I spotted Hollister, H&M, Uniqlo, and American Apparel. I saw McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. I was definitely not new to the concept of globalization, but it was still disappointing to be immediately hit in the face with reminders of home. The whole point of leaving was to see something brand new. I didn’t have a long time to grumble though, because I started noticing signs for something called Marks and Spencer, Tesco, and Boots. All three names were delightfully unfamiliar to me. On top of that, I was spotting pubs on every corner. They bore old-fashioned names, with traditional décor, and plenty of jolly old Englishmen inside. I was intrigued, but wanted to make my way to the Thames first. The view was more gorgeous than I had anticipated. There were cafes and restaurants all along the riverside, with couples lounging around, smoking cigarettes, eating generous plates of food, sipping on full-to-the-brim glasses of wine. And this was all happening in the afternoon! _Job? What is this “job” you speak of? _The sun was bouncing off the river, casting diamond shapes on the water. I saw a white-bearded man and his wife having lunch in their boat with the curtains half-drawn, and children sitting on the edge of the path, with their feet dangling over the water. And the swans! I had never seen that many in my life. Some were picking at each other, others were vying for the last piece of bread that a little old lady had thrown to them. A couple were upside down with their feet in the air, presumably having a drink. The whole scene was almost too picturesque. I stood there, snapping photos, and waiting for a giant asteroid to strike. It all seemed too perfect. I was overjoyed. I couldn’t believe my luck that I would be studying here for a year. And living here too! Well, not exactly here. I was moving into International Student Housing in New Malden. My landlord had told me that that town was a stone’s throw away from Kingston. I assumed that my flat would be in a location similar to this one. I imagined waking up in the morning to the sounds of happy couples having breakfast, and birds flying by. Well, I was in for a big surprise. But more on that next time! Read More ›

Chase Freedom
Chase has upped their bonus offer for the Freedom card to $200 (after spending $500). Along with no annual fee and 5% cash back on rotating purchase types, this may be a good entry level credit card for many people. Read More ›

Chase Slate – True 0% Interest
Chase just created a version of their Slate card that allows for 12 months of 0% interest on balance transfers with NO TRANSFER FEE. This is a true free loan for 12 months. Read More ›

Kati Roll Company – New York, NY
I went for a quick bite in late October of 2011 and again in November. On my first visit, I had the Udna Chicken Roll and the Chana Masala Roll, both on Paratha. On my second I had the Unda roll and the Achari Paneer Roll, probably on regular Naan since I forgot about the choice in bread. I really loved the concept since I would often make similar styled rolls myself when sitting at an Indian restaurant with Nan in front of me. All the rolls were very tasty. The first time it took about 15 minutes to get the rolls which was a bit surprising since the ingredients appeared to be made in batches ahead of the rolls. The second time it was probably only a 10 minute wait. Anyway, I would certainly go back for lunch or a quick bite when I’m in the area. Address: 49 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018 Phone: (212) 730-4280 Website: Read More ›

The Hog Pit – New York, NY
We had a great casual dinner here in late October of 2011. The pulled pork sandwich was the best I have ever had. They sweet potato fries were excellent and my wife loved the bbq’d mushrooms on her salad. They had Sam Adams Octoberfest on tap, my favorite, and available in a pitcher for under $20. We were there late on a Friday night and the noise didn’t bother us. It was a very casual atmosphere which is exactly what we wanted. Address: 37 W 26th St, New York, NY 10011 Phone: (212) 213-4871 Web: Read More ›

How I Traveled Europe On A Budget
From Ireland, we started in Prague, Czech Republic then made our way south through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia. Then we went to Italy for a night and finished in Athens. We then flew back to Dublin and spend the rest of the summer around Ireland. We did all of this for less than $4,000, read on to learn how. Read More ›

Chase Southwest Plus
Chase is offering the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus with 50,000 Rapid Reward points (aka "Two Free Flights") for your first purchase. The points are worth up to $833 of Southwest discounted coach airfare so could mean even more than two flights in many cases. Read More ›

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 40k bonus
$400 cash back or 40,000 United points for spending $3,000 with no need to pay an annual fee. Talk about a no brainer. Read More ›

40k AAdvantage Miles from Citibank
The 50k Citi Aadvantage offer is back. See details. Read More ›

Updated Chase Marriott Premier Card
Chase announced a major update to their Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card including upping the bonus to 50k, eliminating foreign transaction fees and no fee the first year. This is a great card for someone that is trying to up their Marriott status. ALTERNATIVE OFFERS: Similar offer to the above, but with a $75 statement credit (note that this may be for a limited time): Apply Here Similar offer to the above, but with 70,000 bonus points: Sorry, link appears to be dead If you have applied for any of the Chase Marriott cards in the last 2 months, it is worth a call to customer service to see if they will match you up to 70,000 points Read More ›

Chase Ink Cards (Plus, Cash)
Chase has 2 business cards under the Ink brand, the Ink Plus and Ink Cash (they used to have an Ink Bold and Ink Classic). The Ink Plus is clearly superior for anyone with significant spending. It gives you a much higher initial bonus and then allows you to do 1 to 1 transfers to certain valuable hotel and airline programs. If your spending is more modest, you may want to convert the card down to an Ink Cash card (or convert anyway if you already have a Sapphire Preferred for personal use). The Ink Cash and Ink Plus both provide 5X on office supplies (i.e, everything at Staples and Officemax) and Cable/Telecom (e.g., your cable bill, cell phone bill) and both provide 2X on gas. The Ink Plus also provides 2X on hotels and the Ink Cash 2X on restaurants. Note, this is for businesses, but that includes any type of work where you are comfortable calling yourself a “sole proprietor” and using your social security number for the tax id and your own name for the business name. Anyone that does contract work, sells stuff on ebay, babysits, etc. qualifies as a business. Also note that there are some reports that you can get more than one of the same Ink card (AND MORE THAN ONE BONUS) if you have more than one business. It is likely that you would need a separate employer identification number for each business, however, one of those can be your own social security number. Applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) is not a huge deal, though personally I would not go through the hassle for the sole purpose of a credit card bonus. If you do get an EIN for your 2nd sole proprietorship, make sure to let you accountant know. Read More ›

Amex Platinum – Could be worth it
The Platinum Card(R) from American Express is very expensive ($450 annual fee), but for certain travelers, it is worth it. Read More ›

Citi Forward Card – 5x on Restaurants & Amazon
**2/1/2013: Note that the Citi Forward card appears to be in flux right now. I have removed the links temporarily until I can determine what is going on. There are reports of only receiving 2x points for the key categories and the non-student version isn’t on Citi’s website.</strong></p> 10/20/2011: Citi starts you off with 10,000 Thank You points after spending $650 and signing up for paperless statements in the first 3 months. The Citibank Forward Card is a great additional card to keep in your wallet for all of your restaurant spend and spending on since you get the equivalent of 5% back (gift cards, etc.) on those purchases. With no annual fee, this card gives you 5 thank you points for each dollar spent on: Restaurants – including fine dining and fast food; but sometimes not when it is principally a bar Books – including Amazon.Com, Amazon Marketplace, Barnes&Noble(in store only) Movies – including most theaters, blockbuster, redbox; but not netflix Music – including iTunes Note: The bonus 5x points are based upon how the merchant codes the transaction. This could change over time, so keep an eye on statements. Cell phone protection (key terms): Damage or Theft (w/police report) Coverage up to $250 per incident (up to 2/year) with a $50 deductible A simple loss is not covered, nor is the phone covered while in the mail or in checked luggage Pre-paid phones are not covered You must pay your cell bill on this card to get coverage (starts the following month) If you don’t mind carrying around a few cards, this is a great one to add to the mix. Read More ›

Quicktip: 500 American Miles in 10 Minutes
Update: Link expired Liberty Mutual will give you 500 AAdvantage miles for filling out a quote form. Takes under 10 minutes. I did it a few days ago so it will probably be some time before they hit my account. I’m pretty close to hitting my 1 million miles / gold for life by the December 1st deadline, so every bit counts. Read More ›

Credit Score Update
You must ensure your focus on points doesn't ruin your credit and it certainly doesn't have to. Read more about my experiences maximizing my points while simultaneously keeping my credit score in the mid to high 700's. Read More ›

Amex Money Back via Facebook
So AMEX and Facebook have teamed up with the like, link, love promotion. Basically, you like AMEX on facebook, you link you AMEX card to the application, then you pick various cash back offers. For every offer, they will ask you if you want it in your feed, but you can just say no. The great part is, you can forget about it and get surprised with money back on your credit card bill each month. For example, I just bought a new Lenovo Thinkpad laptop (so I can blog to you from everywhere!). I had clicked on the Lenovo spend $999 and get $150 offer on facebook. I upgraded to the i5 processor, the HD webcam, the premium screen, the fingerprint reader, the 9 cell battery and a an airplane/car/travel charger kit (of course). The system retailed for about $2,000 and after two levels of sales and a coupon code, it was down about $1,010+tax, then down to $860 after the facebook rebate less $40 from FatWallet for using their link and my net was $820. There are also various travel related rebates as well. Register Here Read More ›

American AAdvantage Lifetime Status Rule Change
American announced new rules for obtaining gold and platinum lifetime status. There isn't much time left to post those credit card points. Read More ›

[Back On] Amex Business Gold – 60k+ points
Amex revamped the Business Gold Rewards Card with 50k MR points after spending $10k + 3x on airfare and 2x on advertising, gas and shipping. NO FEE 1st year. Read More ›

Audience Rewards – Free Points from Starwood, Delta and USAir
Need a handful of points to top up an account or to keep from losing them in a dormant account? Read More ›

AMEX Premier
A review of the Premier Rewards Gold Card Read More ›

Introduction and Credit Scores
I created this site since friends kept asking for my advice on which credit card to get. It seemed easier to just write it all down! Unless otherwise stated, my advice is for people with good credit that are able to pay off their entire credit card balance each month. For those that are looking to improve their credit, consider the Orchard Bank Secured Mastercard. You also accept that my advice is provided as a courtesy and you agree to do your own research. Applying for credit can have a negative effect on your credit score (see below). Also, credit card bonus offers change rapidly — while I try to keep this site up to date, you must check the credit card company’s website for the latest rules before you apply. Read More ›

Best Reward Credit Cards for Monthly Spending
Starwood Amex, Capital One Venture Card, Hilton Surpass Amex, Amex Blue Cash Preferred Read More ›

Israel Trip
My wife and I decided to take a last minute trip to Israel since we just got an infusion of over 200k Delta points by combining offers from two American Express cards with a Membership Rewards transfer bonus. Read on to hear about our travels to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the north and more along with our luxury hotel, budget hostel and car rental experiences. Read More ›

Guest Post: Coping with a Bad FICO Score
I am happy to report that Tim Chen, CEO of NerdWallet, has been gracious enough to guest blog for us. NerdWallet has great tools to help you pick a credit card including expertise in individuals with below average credit. Read More ›

Le Meridian David Dead Sea Resort
We stayed at Le Meridian David Dead Sea Resort for two nights in early July of 2011. A lot of reviews you may read on Trip Advisor or other sites are too harsh. It is not a 5 star hotel, but a solid 4 star. For the money it is certainly a very good deal. In July (off season), rooms were US$125/night including a very good buffet breakfast for all occupants. Alternatively, you can book some nights for 3,000 Starpoints each. American Express is offering up to 25,000 points (10k + 15k after spending $15k in 6 months) for the American Express Starwood Card until 8/22/11, so that is 10 nights on the dead sea (see my review of the Starwood Amex here). Do note that the room won’t include breakfast when using points and, Starwood doesn’t make this obvious. A lot of internet reviewers seemed to not like the other guests. They didn’t bother me, though we didn’t have an opportunity to socialize with them. There seemed to be a lot of families speaking slavic languages. The main pool was pretty good though a bit crowded. The dead sea water pool (indoors and out) was nice too, but note they don’t allow children. The gym had an ok verity of equipment but it was pretty old and somewhat low end. Defiantly below Meridian standards, though better than an old Marriott or Sheraton gym. It also seems to have somewhat limited hours. As mentioned, their breakfast buffet was very good. It had a western salad bar (i.e., lettuce and large pieces of vegetables), an Israeli salad bar (finely chopped veggies), a cheese bar, a bread bar, coffee (though I couldn’t find decaf), tea, a soda station (not sure if they charged for soda, but I would guess not), made-to-order omelets, hard boiled eggs, a type of prepared egg (often quiches) and a bunch of other stuff that didn’t interest me. They also have a dinner buffet that looked good from a distance, but, if I recall correctly, is expensive. We had an a la carte dinner at their bar which was very reasonably priced. One surprise was that many of the customer facing staff didn’t speak much English. It would be arrogant for American such as myself to expect the world to speak English (though many do), it is just strange for such a high level hotel not to have more English speaking staff. It was even more surprising that many of the staff didn’t seem to speak Hebrew either. Oh, and make sure you check out your room before you unpack. Our first room smelled like smoke. The front desk claimed it was a non-smoking room, but all the non-smoking rooms happen to still have ash trays in them. Hmmmm. Certainly one of the things that seemed a bit shady. All in all, if you are paying under $150 for a room, it’s a steal. If you are paying $500, you may be upset. Mobile Post Ein Boqeq Dead Sea, 89680 +972 (8) 659 1234 Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

[Expired] Starwood Amex – 30,000 SPG points
For current information, see my review of the card. Read More ›

Western Wall Tunnel Tour in Jerusalem
This was very interesting. We made a last minute reservation (+972-2-6271333) on our way into Jerusalem for that night. Note that it is often difficult to get a reservation. Try to book way in advanced. If there is no availability, continue to try up until that day. If you are very motivated, also try to show up since space seems to often magically appear at the last minute. If possible, try to do a day tour. During the day, you exit out the far side into the Muslim quarter. At night, you need to double back the whole route which means a lot of squeezing by people (both from the prior tours and when you need to exit). The tour was very interesting though and certainly worth doing. Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Sandeman’s New Jerusalem Tours (Holy City & Free)
We took both the Holy City Tour and the Free Tour with Sandeman’s. We loved the holy city tour. It was very reasonably priced and great. Our guide was Moki Schwartz. Moki was getting a masters in History in Jerusalem so really knew his stuff. We spent probably 30 minutes in and around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre learning a lot about its interesting history and modern trivia along with the Christian element of Jerusalem. Moki also brought us to an amazing lunch at Abu Shukri Restaurant (02-627-1538) in the Muslim Quarter. It was US$10 for a soft drink plus all you can eat Falafel, pita, hummus, bean dip, french fry, veggie, etc. We spent another ~30 minutes on the Temple Mound focused on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock along with much of the Muslim elements of Jerusalem and the way the city has been built up in layers. The following day we took Sandeman’s Free Tour. It was fine, but not as good as the Holy City Tour. Although there is no official overlap between the two tours, you do feel a bit of déjà vu when you take the Free Tour second. Oh, and as to the size of the Free Tour, it can be very large. Seemed like 40+ people showed up. We were very luck in that there was a extra guide available that day (clearly not normal) which allowed them to split the groups (though the first guide didn’t seem so happy about it). We ended up leaving the tour a bit early so we could have time to “climb” the Mount of Olives before heading back. I would still recommend this tour for someone that has limited time or a limited budget or wants a single tour to get an overview of the old city prior to being there for a while. Though if only doing one tour, I would pay up for the holy city. Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Jerusalem Hostel
We stayed at the Jerusalem Hostel (+972 2-6236102) in Zion Square. We really liked it. It was 280NIS/night for a double room. Had decent A/C (without individual control), free wifi (but not in our room), a balcony in the room and a really nice roof deck. They seem to have some bread and instant coffee for free for breakfast, but we didn’t partake in a kitchen where you can cook for yourself. They also have a washing machine for 15NIS with line dry. I would certainly go back. There is nothing fancy or luxurious about the place but it has all you need for less than half the cost of a regular hotel. They also certainly were not trying to nickel and dime you like certain other tourist operations. Only thing I would request is they put in one of those water filters/chillers to fill your Nalgene…I’m assuming the tap is safe, but those would at least taste better. The staff was very friendly, though the best part about the place was its location. It is in the dead center of Zion Square on Jaffa Road where Ben Yehuda hits it. I would recommend staying in Zion Square when visiting Jerusalem. It is about a 10 minute walk to the old city gate, but is still alive at night. You have tons of falafel and Shawarma shops, stores, restaurants and bars right there. Read more about our trip to Israel. Note: photo is stock. Read More ›

Renaissance by Marriott – Tel Aviv
The Renaissance was a pretty nice place. Definitely worth 25,000 Marriott points, though not sure if it was worth the $275 they were asking others. It was right on Tel Aviv Beach which was great. It couldn’t really have a better location. Parking fees were as expected and internet was high at $20 given that my father in law’s $150 hotel gave him free wifi as do many cafes and other places in the area. It would have been nice to have an outdoor pool like the Hilton a few blocks away. Also, be careful of prices in the hotel, for example, the mini-bar was in dollars. The prices actually looked reasonable until I saw the dollar sign. I never understood why tourist attractions can’t price in local currency. Renaissance Tel Aviv Hotel 121 Hayarkon Street Tel Aviv, 63453 Israel +972-3-521-5555 Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Avis Jerusalem – King David Station
I loved my trip to Israel, but had a horrible experience with Avis’s local contractor in Jerusalem. When you book from the US it appears to be at a very reasonable price, say $20 a day for a compact. When you get there it ends up being around $60 a day with insurance. There is no set rate for insurance, they seem to change what they feel like when you arrive. I asked why it was so high for me and the agent bluntly acknowledged, “that’s the scam, take it or leave it.” I had no other options at that point since I was already late to pick up family and didn’t have time to research bus schedules (I would have never rented the car knowing it was $60 a day, not $20). The tourist who rented the car prior to me was charged 1/3rd of what I was (I know that since they didn’t clean the car and their rental contract along with other garbage was still in the car). Even worse, I wanted to decline the CDW since I was using a World Mastercard (one of the only cards that covers rental cars in Israel). The agent said they would not accept Mastercard’s insurance and wanted me to sign forms acknowledge that I would be responsible for any damage, not Mastercard. Then came the car itself. They first tried to give us a 4+ year old Nissan Tiida. That car was falling apart. They then gave us a 2+ year old Nissan Tiida with 74k kilometers on it. This one had tons of cosmetic damage, a missing charger outlet and a broken passenger airbag, but otherwise worked. Upon my return to the US, I emailed customer service. Their email team wasn’t very useful. They often just cut and past random non-sequiturs out of their handbook. Finally, after the second time I asked for a supervisor, their customer service manager called me. Wow, what a difference. He was really wonderful. He took the time to read the whole email thread and listen to the issue. He understood since he acknowledged that others have had issues with this same location. He told me that this would be added to the licencee’s record and be part of the review process Avis uses with their licensees. He is also intending to make an appropriate financial adjustment. If only all customer service people were so easy to deal with. Note: I am still waiting for the adjustment, but trust it will happen. Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Coins are over!
For those of you that were buying coins from the US Mint on your credit cards to get points, that option is closed. Read More ›

Ben Gurion Airport (TLV)
My experience traveling through Ben Gurion Airport in July of 2011: **Entering ** The Passport control line was a bit slow. Probably 20-30 minutes. Certain passengers get questioned for a long time and others are very quick, so it seems to be all about getting lucky to be behind travelers that don’t generate a security interest. Also, new booths will open at random points, so consider positioning yourself to quickly move to a new line. They complied with my request to not stamp without much hassle, though they did ask why. Also note that there are rumors that hotels will charge you VAT if you don’t have a stamp. This wasn’t true for me. I checked into four or five hotels in Israel and all they asked was for a passport and sometimes a form to sign. I was never charged VAT at the hotels. I am not sure if this would affect VAT on purchased items since I didn’t buy anything to bring home. For anyone that was born in Israel, make sure to bring your Israeli passport, even if it is expired, even if you haven’t been in 50 years. They will require you to either renounce your citizenship or spend a while (and a few bucks, I assume) getting a new Israeli passport before you are allowed to leave the country. If you lost yours, make whatever arrangements you need to in advance to save lots of hassles. Exiting Israeli spends more of their energy looking for high risk travelers instead of focusing on screening for dangerous items. This works very well for them even though it may involve what we consider to be racial profiling. As people considered to be low risk, this was one of the most efficient airport experiences I have ever since 9/11. I would guess it was less than 30 minutes from showing up at the airport to arriving at the Dan lounge across from the gate. All this while being allowed to bring liters of water, never needing to take off a shoe and not even a single touch never mind a TSA groap. I hear that many travelers that may look different than us have had very different experiences, but I can only report on my own. I know this may not be fair and I have very mixed feelings about it, but certainly understand the rationale of state under constant threat. While I wouldn’t want America to engage in ethnic profiling, maybe there are other efficiency lessons we can learn from the Israelis. Oh, we got to the terminal about 2 hours before flight time. I believe the airport’s faq recommends 2 hours, but hear many others recommending 3 hours. This was enough time for us, but maybe not if you think you may be considered a higher-risk traveler. Oh, and the passport agent on the way out didn’t even blink when I asked not to stamp. Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Yehudiya Nature Reserve (aka Yehudia Nature Reserve)
This was one of the highlights of our trip. They have hikes where you swim part of it. We first hiked over an hour in the wrong direction (it was our stupidity, the rangers were pretty clear and the maps were good), so we didn’t start our real hike till quite later than we wanted. We had to cut our route a bit short, but it was still a lot of fun. The best hikes in Yehudia involve getting wet. You need to swim across a natural pool in the middle of the trail. There is no way around unless you double back. Note: – Try to bring a highly waterproof container for your camera (I am very sad that I couldn’t bring mine) and cell phone. – A cell phone is good to have in case of an emergency. The most popular route has a lot of hikers, so it is less of an issue but if you decide to do something less popular a cell phone in waterproof bag would be a good idea. – Make sure to also have a backpack capable of comfortably carrying 3L of water. – Try to wear clothes appropriate to both water and a long hike. E.g, quick drying underwear, “Water Shoes”, etc. It should be hot enough that everything dries quickly. – I saw some soldiers use rafts to carry their M-16’s, so if you have something that shouldn’t get wet, but don’t have a big enough trash bag, try a raft. Sorry I don’t have any pictures (the one above is stock), I neglected to bring an appropriate waterproof case for my camera. Yehudiya Nature Reserve Yehudiya-Hushniya Road (87) 04-696-2817 Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Safed Inn (aka Tzfat Inn aka Ruckenstein B&B)
The Safed Inn (aka Tzfat Inn aka Ruckenstein B&B) was a wonderful Hostel / B&B. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area. The couple (Dubi & Riki Ruckenstein) that owns the place are very nice. Riki moved from America years ago, but retains her perfect English (not always the case in Israel). Riki & Dubi are also great at giving advice on the local area. Their prices were very reasonable. A standard room for 2 people was NIS300. It was nice, very clean and had a fridge already stocked with ~3L of free bottled water. They have a deluxe for NIS400. I didn’t get to see it, but sounds like the big benefit was a jacuzzi. While still a reasonable price, we were just fine with the standard. They also had dorm beds, but I forget their price. The place is very social when I was there as you would expect of a good hostel. They have an indoor/outdoor area where you can eat and drink in the evening. You can bring your own or pay reasonable prices (NIS12 for a domestic large beer, NIS35+ for a bottle of wine). They also seem to give out some type of nuts and packages of salty junk food (nothing I liked but others were devouring them). I met solo travelers from Denmark, Netherlands, South Africa, Chek Republic and the US and a family from Brazil. Everyone was very friendly, sharing their experiences and advice on the area. Please note: – The area was targeted by Hizboella in the 2006 war. I wouldn’t go to the area during times of heightened tensions, but I felt comfortable during peace time. – The free wifi doesn’t work smoothly with Mac’s for some reason. I showed the owners a stopgap way to get it to work, so check with them if you are having trouble logging in (or email me). For the technically inclined, you need to set TCP to manual and pick a non-interfearing IP address. – It was very difficult to aim the shower head, but the owner plans to fix that. – Their plastic toilet seats aren’t very sturdy, though this seems to be common in Israel so maybe there is an issue with what is available in the country. – The continental breakfast costs NIS25 a person. It is not included in the room. We didn’t have it since that seemed expensive for what most places would normally include. If you give advanced notice, they will prepare a full Israeli breakfast for NIS50. This is a pretty normal tourist price for the area. – The Inn is not walking distance from the center of Safed. You will need a car, use buses (they may not be the most convenient), hitch (I didn’t, but others said it was pretty easy) or walk a very substantial distance up and down hills. The owners are very clear about this if you read your confirmation. – You must pre-arrange if you are going to arrive after reception closes (I believe at 8pm). You probably have some leeway since they owners may not leave right at that time, but call ahead. If you are flying in that day, give the owners your flight information and mode of transit. If you realize you may be late, call them before 8pm, even if you have to spend a bunch on the roaming fee. Safed Inn Hashlishi St. Safed, 13100, Israel +972-4-6971007 Read more about our trip to Israel. Read More ›

Up to 3,000 American AAdvantage Miles for your email address
American is giving away up to 3,000 American miles for allowing them to spam you. Click here and put in your AA account number. Make sure to hit SKIP when the video comes up. You will basically get 500 points for each newsletter you allow them to send you. Read More ›

Starwood Elite Shortcut
Contact me if you use Starwood hotels often, but not enough to quality for Platinum. I may be able to help you get some of the elite benefits. Read More ›

Hilton Amsterdam
My wife and I stayed at the Hilton in Amsterdam for one night last week. It was a very nice place, but beware of its location, it is nowhere close to the center of Amsterdam. Although I believe it is technically in the city, it feels like a close by suburb. They do treat Diamonds well, however. Read More ›

Climbing Kilimanjaro with Zara Tours
My wife and I summited Uruhu Peak of Kilimanjaro on July 10, 2011 at 7:06AM. It was a very exciting. For those considering a similar trip, I would like to share my thoughts. Air The trick is to fly into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO). JRO is half way between Moshi and Arusha (apx. 30 minutes from each), the two cities that Kili trips are based out of. The alternative is to fly to Dar Es Salam or Nairobi and take either a puddle jumper or a long bus ride. The only flight from outside the region to JRO is a once a day flight by KLM from Amsterdam (AMS). Delta has multiple direct flights from Boston to AMS, so the whole trip only required one stop each way. The best part of all is that we were able to do the trip on miles (80,000 delta miles per person round trip). I was able to get 150k of the 160k miles we needed from the Platinum American Express Card. Basically, Amex offered 100,000 Membership Rewards points for getting the card and then Delta offerred a 50% bonus on MR transfers netting 150,000 miles. Keep your eyes on my credit card blog for more ideas like that. Or if you are getting your ticket directly with FlyingBlue points, you can top up your points here. Climb Choosing an operator is a bit difficult. There are travel companies around the world advertising Kili trips, but almost all of them appear to use a local operator. Save your sell a couple of thousand and book direct. Read More ›

If you ever want to take a cruise, email me. I have ways of getting discounts. Read More ›

[Expired] AMEX Platinum – up to 100,000 MR Points
Old method to get 100,000 membership rewards points. Read More ›

Amex Blue Cash Everyday / Preferred
6% on supermarkets is hard to beat. If you shop for a family, the Preferred is a no brainer to have in your wallet with 3% on gas stations to boot. The no annual fee everyday card isn't too shabby either with 3% on supermarkets and 2% on gas stations . Read More ›

Hilton Surpass American Express Card Review
_Click here for updated information. _ Bonus: 40,000 bonus points on your first purchase (worth $200 to $720 depending how you use it) Earn: Rewards equal to 1.5% to 5.5% cash back for normal purchases or 3% to 11% for supermarket, gas, etc., depending on your travel preferences. Read More ›

Quick Tip: Oneworld Reward Flight Search on
@WanderngAramean gave me a great tip: Read More ›

Update: Gomiles is no longer active. I am now using award wallet. So I started using to keep track of all my and my family’s miles. You give them all your login info, so you need to trust them. A friend of mine is a partner in the firm, so I am going to go on faith. They are also certified by TRUSTe though I don’t really know what that means. They flag when you have status and let you know when points are about to expire (probably its most important feature). Check it out here: Edit: Also note that we will soon be ranked by: Blog Directory. Read More ›

Doubletree Times Square (Hilton)
You may be asking where to use your Hilton points in New York City. I am currently staying at the Doubletree Times Square and decided to share my thoughts on the place and other options in NYC. Summary: Best all around New York hotel in the Hilton family for most visitors. Read More ›

Element Lexington Hotel
The Element Lexington hotel by Westin (Starwood) is great if you have a need to be in the western or northwestern suburbs of Boston. The Element is a great concept. Very functional rooms, fairly good free meals and green tog boot. However, they are not a business friendly hotel (as much as they think they may be). The hotel needs to have the option of a direct dial phone line. Charge us $1 a day or something, but if someone is staying for an extended period, they should have a phone number. And now with Google Voice, we really need it. The Element claims to be an extended stay option, but charges full service hotel level outrageous rates for a domestic calls? A call into the same metro area (e.g., Boston), costs $1.50/minute! you need to renew your internet every day (even for wired!). This makes many applications unusable. For example, logmein/citrix/remote desktop in the case you leave your machine in the room and want to be able to login to it from your jobsite. Also, imagine being in the middle of a video conference and lose your connection since it happens to be 24 hours after you last re-upped your connection. they need more staff – the front desk doesn’t always pick up the phone. Certainly consider some type of VOIP (e.g., Vonage, Skype) solution if you are there long-term. Element Lexington 727 Marrett Road – B Lexington, MA 02421 USA +1 (781) 761-1750 Read More ›

Mekong Delta Bike Tour with Sinh Balo Adventure
As part of our honeymoon trip to Vietnam, we took a 2-day bicycle tour of the Mekong Delta with Sinh Balo. It was the highlight of our trip to southeast Asia. Read More ›

b.good (chain) – greater Boston, MA USA
I love B Good. They serve mostly food that is a healthier version of what you may normally buy, have friendly managers and a fun spirit. My only concerns: 1) There is some inconsistency in their locations. The one on Newbury St can be a bit slow. 2) They are very expensive when compared to fast food. It is certainly worth it to me since I think it is 1000x better than traditional fast food, just something to be aware of. As compared to fast causal, their sandwich sizes may be considered a bit small given their price, but, again, worth it. I do think, though, that their fries are simply overpriced. They seem to have priced them to encourage the combo meal. However, the combo meal only allows for Coca-cola products. How can a place trying to promote their “healthy-ness” require you to eat high fructose corn syrup to make the meal a semi-reasonable price. They also sell Snapple and other premium products, but add those to fries and a burger and now you are around $11. Read More ›

Margarets Restaurant – New Bedford, MA USA
I love this place. I grew up in Dartmouth and live in Boston and go almost every time I come home to see the family. Their pecan pesto halibut is just amazing. Also love the whole BYOB thing (as, I expect most of the Free Travel Genius’s readers would) along with their very very reasonable pricing. Place is small and can get crowded. Also very casual (which I like, but maybe not a place for an anniversary, etc.). Margarets Restaurant 16 Main Street Fairhaven, MA 02719 (508) 992-9942 Read More ›

M.A.X. Pass – Unlimited Skiing
Get nearly unlimited skiing for $599 with M.A.X. Pass. Includes 25 mountains. See article for a detailed review of all of the worthy mountains on the pass. Read More ›