Category Mileage Running

Rio Mini-Trip Report Part 2, the Sheraton Grande Rio, Sunshine, and AA GIG-MIA-DCA

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For my third night in Rio, I switched hotels because my friend was staying at the Sheraton Grande Rio his second night. Prices were a little less than the Caesar Park, so I decided why not. The property is in Leblon, about 10 minutes from Ipanema – a bit west of the main beach and shopping/hotels/restaurants area of Leblon. The hotel is more resort-like than those on the main drag, with its own beaches, pools, tennis courts, etc. It’s also a huge hotel, with 26 stories.

The Sheraton from Leblon

The Sheraton from Leblon

As an SPG Gold member, I had gotten an email two days prior to my stay asking me my arrival time, and inviting me to check in at the “Club Reception” on the 26th Floor. I had hoped this would mean I’d have club access, as its pretty tacky to tell people to check in at the club, and then banish them.

The lobby of the hotel was a flurry of activity, much more hectic than the Caesar Park, reflecting a mix of conference guests, tourists, businesspeople, and airline crew. I took the elevator up to the 26thFloor, where there was a long reception desk between two glass rooms, a club lounge and a restaurant. The desk clerk was friendly, and told me I’d been “upgraded” to an Ipanema view room on the 23rd floor, and that they’d also given me club access, which included breakfast, “tea” from 3 to 5, and happy hour from 6 to 8.

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

Club Lounge , Sheraton Rio Grande

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Rio Mini-Trip Report 1: AA Main Cabin Extra DCA-JFK-GIG, a Second Try at the Caesar Park Hotel, & Rain in Rio…Again

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I’d already been to Brazil twice since November, with Rio and Iguazu in one trip, and Bahia, Sao Paulo, and Brasilia in another.  But American had a really cheap, sub-$500 fare from DCA to Rio, and a friend was going down for a weekend.  I hadn’t done the Rio nightlife on my last trip, with only two nights in the city, and the weather had been grey and cloudy, so I thought this would provide a second opportunity to do that stuff.  Also, after eighteen months of solo travel, the idea of traveling with someone else was nice. My friend was only going for two nights though, which struck me as insufficient (I’m getting old), so I went down a night early.  The routing would be a lot more straightforward than my last trip to Rio, and I’d be flying DCA-JFK-GIG on the outbound, and GIG-MIA-DCA on the inbound.

My trip down to Rio was pretty uneventful. It started with a stay at a crowded Admirals Club at DCA, where I worked a bit, and a 737 from DCA to JFK. The one thing of note was an honor guard meeting an arriving plane at one of the gates at DCA.  I’d never seen an honor guard meeting a plane inside a terminal before, and assume it was to greet the family of a fallen servicemember.  The leader of the group welcomed about a half dozen passengers off the plane, and none looked super sad, but obviously I have no idea.

Honor Guard at DCA

Honor Guard at DCA

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Four Nights in Brazil, Part 3: Man Plans, Brazil Laughs– 40 Hours in Rio and the Caesar Park Hotel by Sofitel

Category: HotelsMileage RunningTrip Reports Comments: One comment

This is Part 3 of a series of trip reports on my November trip to Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls.

On my ticket to Iguazu, I could book a stopover in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro for no extra cost. At first I was planning on doing Sao Paolo, but folks suggested 2 days in Rio would be a better use of my time. There was a lot I wanted to do in those two days, which didn’t work out too well for a number of reasons. But I still found the city enjoyable and will probably go back some time now that I have a 10 year visa.

Caesar Park Hotel Ipanema

Caesar Park Hotel Ipanema

Generally, I was very pleased with my hotel choice, the Caesar Park Hotel, a Sofitel managed property right on the beach in Ipanema (sometimes spelled Cesar Park). Although there are tons of hotels in Rio, the major American chains don’t have properties that are particularly well-located for tourists except for the J.W. Marriott, which was out of my price range. Caesar Park, though, was right where I wanted to be. The hotel felt in between a boutique and large property, which was good. I’m not sure how long it has been part of the Accor family, which also has a traditional large Sofitel on Copacabana, but there were some things in the lobby which suggested it was formerly part of the Starwood-owned Design Hotels group.

Cesar Park lobby

Cesar Park lobby

Check-in was smooth, and but for a long wait for the elevator, the room was quite lovely — not huge or spectacular, but definitely nice and not small. Although it was not one of the true oceanfront rooms in the hotel, it did have a side view of the ocean and Morro Dos Irmaos (Two Brothers peaks) which was pretty darn lovely.

View from my room, Caesar Park Hotel Ipanema

View from my room, Caesar Park Hotel Ipanema

The ro...

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Brazil Mileage Run Preview

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My October and November have been a little more hectic than anticipated due to my decision to buy a condo and move in between two international adventures.  But I *will* get back to blogging about my Korea and Taiwan adventure– especially given the lengthy coach flights and long layovers I have this week as I head to Brazil and back.

Final RouteIn hindsight, I probably would not have booked this trip.  While the initial ticket was pretty cheap– about $300 from New York to Rio to Iguazu and back — the routing was less than ideal, and I had mistakenly thought I had a valid Argentina reciprocity fee payment in my passport...

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I’m Never Doing That Again: Misery on Etihad Coach from Abu Dhabi to Washington-Dulles

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Etihad Flight 131, Abu Dhabi to Washington-Dulles
A345, Steerage
Sched. Dep. 11:30am    Actual Dep.  2:34pm
Sched. Arrival 4:02pm   Actual Arrival 8:45pm

My flight home from Abu Dhabi could accurately be described as an ordeal.  Now that I’ve done it, I see no reason ever to fly Etihad in coach, or any trip for 15 hours in coach, ever again.  Anytime anyone ever tells you how amazing Gulf carriers are, or that they have such stellar reputations because they have such great products and service, please show them this blog post.

We took a taxi from the Hilton to the Abu Dhabi Airport, and entered through the dedicated Etihad Business and First Class entrance, as my friend had successfully bid on an upgrade to Business Class on the flight home for $1150, leaving me alone in steerage. The agent checked me in at the same counter with no problem. I had heard that sometimes upgrades were available at check-in for less than the bidding process, but no such luck, as Etihad wanted $1400, which I couldn’t justify. I decided to check my bag rather than deal with a weighing and checking drama like I had on the outbound.

Premium Cabin entrance at AUH on the left, peons on the right

Premium Cabin entrance at AUH on the left, peons on the right

Premium cabins had a dedicated passport check and security line, which moved fairly quickly, before emptying out into the main terminal. My friend tried to get me into the Etihad Business Lounge as a guest since he had a business ticket, but apparently Etihad doesn’t do that. So I went to the Duty Free shop and waited on a long line to buy some booze, only to be told that there was no way for U.S. bound passengers to do so but for a small duty free station after immigration and customs. Then I bought a stuffed camel for my nephew, who I had heard was a big fan of the picture of me on a camel.

Business Class Check-in, Etihad at AUH

Business Class Check-in, Etihad at AUH

Abu Dhabi has a U.S immigration and customs “preclearance facility,” like airports in Canada, the Caribbean, and Ireland, meaning you clear immigration and customs before you leave AUH, and therefore arrive in the States like a domestic flight. Some places this makes sense and works out well. In Abu Dhabi, it has not. Since the facility opened, people have been complaining about long lines and poor facilities, and after doing it, I see why.

We we...

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Presidents Day in Abu Dhabi: Introduction and Etihad Coach IAD-AUH

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On Christmas day, there were mistake fares on Etihad, allowing for pretty cheap flights from the US to cities in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. A flight on Etihad’s Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi nonstop could be had for as low as $270. Nonetheless, I wasn’t planning on jumping on the deal. I had Budapest coming up in January, and Australia in March, and had made a promise to myself to travel less. Plus a 14 hour flight in coach, with no elite qualifying miles and not super useful redemption miles was not my idea of fun. (Some people manipulated the flights to add stopovers in Europe using American Airlines metal; from DC, it was not worth it.) Finally, I had (and still have) significant ethical qualms about travel in the Emirates, as the nation is pretty much based on modern day wage slavery and human rights violations. (More on that later.)

But I ended up going.

There were two reasons. One, a dear friend of mine from childhood has been living there with her husband for 2.5 years, and has been asking me to visit. Two, a friend of mine in DC went and bought tickets for President’s Day Weekend and wanted me to come along. I figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so pulled the trigger.  I also figured that visiting the place would give me additional credibility in taking to task certain bloggers who appear to travel to the UAE just to visit luxury hotels, and those who act like Etihad and other Middle Eastern carriers are God’s gift to travel.

Etiha...

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Two Days in Sicily: Catania, Mount Etna, and the Una Hotel Palace

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Catania by day

Catania by day

IMG_1948Or really a day in a half. By the time we landed in Catania, it was already almost 7:30, and it took me a while to find a functioning ATM. (Note: following the signs to “Bank” at the Catania airport leads to a nonfunctional ATM, but there’s a functioning one on the Departures level.) Although there is a bus that runs from the airport to downtown Catania, we took a taxi. Traffic was absolutely insane – even on a Sunday night – though we later realized that the drivers in Catania are all crazy, there’s always traffic, and walking is basically a game of Frogger.

We ended up not having a ton of time in Catania itself, as we had booked a Mount Etna excursion, which went from 8:30 to 2:30, and left me exhausted and in need of a nap after that. But there aren’t really any must-see sights in Catania. We ended up walking around the city a fair bit on our first night, proceeding down Via Etnea, which was packed with people even on a Sunday night.  Very different from Zurich, even some stores were open.

Catania is a univ...

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3.5 Hours in Zurich, the Zurich Airport, and Zurich to Catania on Swiss/Edelweiss

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Due to the delay of our American flight from New York, we ended up with only about 3.5 hours in Zurich, which isn’t a very long time to do anything but wander and get a decent feel for the city. We started with a walk down the Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street in Zurich. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, so nearly all the stores (even the chocolate shops!) were closed. We peeked into the one open restaurant – a McDonald’s – and noted that value meals were going for about $18. From the Bahnhofstrasse, we looped back around and into the Altstadt, or Old Town, where the streets are narrower, and the buildings a few centuries older and much prettier. It was a gray day, and there weren’t a lot of folks on the streets, so it felt like a bit of a ghost town. Nonetheless, we had great views of the other side of the city from the Lindenhof, a park on a hill at the top of the Old Town.

Zurich Train Station

Zurich Train Station

Main Sprungli Cafe on the Bahnhofstrasse

Main Sprungli Cafe on the Bahnhofstrasse

View of Zurich from the Lindenhof

View of Zurich from the Lindenhof

We then crossed the Li...

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Three Nights, Three Cities: An American Delay from JFK to Zurich

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As an extended Veterans’ Day trip, two friends of mine and I took advantage of a mistake fare from New York to Catania, in Sicily, with a fare of $270. The routing was a little bit kooky – flying American from JFK to Zurich, a 9 hour layover in Zurich, then onto Catania on Swiss for two nights. On the return, we’d fly on Alitalia from Catania to Milan-Linate, spend a night in Milan, and then on American from Milan Malpensa back to JFK. I was able to get pretty cheap positioning flights on American from DCA to JFK, and flew up the day before to spend some time with the family.

Before I even headed to JFK, our flight to Zurich was delayed by 45 minutes. The inbound flight (from Milan, actually) was arriving late, as it had left 3 hours late (as the inbound aircraft for that flight had left JFK 5 hours late the night before). Although it would shorten our layover in Zurich a bit, I didn’t really mind that short delay; I just left for the airport a bit later.  When I got there, JFK was absolutely swamped, and I was convinced that no Americans were actually flying out of Terminal 8 that night. The Precheck line was filled with foreign passengers who not only had no idea what Precheck was, but had large drinks and perfumes in their bags. But soon enough I was through and headed to the Admirals Club at Concourse A. Being friendly helped, and after schmoozing at check-in, the agent gave me two free premium beverage chits.

The Admirals Club...

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Trip Report: 24 Hours in Little Rock

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Before my excursion to Little Rock, I had never been to Arkansas before. I’ve always had an interest in seeing some of the nation’s smaller cities, particularly in the South, as they often have interesting racial and industrial histories that are more well-preserved than those of bigger cities. In addition, I will probably always have a soft spot for Bill Clinton as he was the President of my childhood. He was elected just before my ninth birthday, and left office my senior year of high school. (In fact, I played the role of Al Gore in our high school’s mock Presidential debate.) So Little Rock was a good place for me to spend a day.

After settling in at the Holiday Inn and a quick workout, I walked over to Little Rock’s “River Market” area, to explore a bit and get a light dinner. The area is a pretty recently gentrified area, centered around the city’s River Market, which was like a smaller version of Boston’s Quincy Market in my estimation. By the time I got there, most of the stalls were closed, but I feel I still got a pretty good feel of the place.

Little Rock River Market

Little Rock River Market

Little Rock River Market

Little Rock River Market

Interior Little Rock River Market (closing time)

Interior Little Rock River Market (closing time)

There were a bunch of bars and rest...

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