Last month my wife and I got to see Adele in the SPG suite at The o2 Arena in London. For me this was an incredibly decadent way to redeem my SPG points for an event that I would normally not be able to buy tickets for. Starwood, has a really cool redemption option called SPG Moments where you can redeem your points for concert tickets (like these), baseball, hockey and even other events. Two years ago I even redeemed them for two luxury box seats at Wrigley Field to see a Giants game and it was INCREDIBLE. Continue reading
Posts Tagged With: Europe
13 months after my first visit to Dublin, Ireland I went back for one glorious day. Yes that’s right one day. While wandering the city, here are some of the sights and foods I had that I just had to go back and do again.
As part of my trip to Dublin, I had the opportunity to fly British airways from London to Dublin and back. This was my first short haul experience on British Airways. In fact I’ve been racking my brain as to when I’ve flown them before, and I can only recall one flight about three years ago from Singapore to Sydney. If I flew them as a youngster when making infrequent trips to India, I’m going to have to guess it was 1980 or earlier if at all.
British Airways a320
The horror of it all, to have to sit in coach on an international flight. Am I sick? Ha just kidding. In my almost three years of flying American Airlines or one of its partners in the One World Alliance, this was my first international flight in coach on American. I think I’ve logged in close to 200k miles in that time mostly domestic but have had an opportunity to fly them to London roundtrip 2x and one time each to Santiago, Japan, Nicaragua, and China.
I was flying to Dublin for a very short weekend trip via JFK and London, and I played the upgrade lottery and lost. At the beginning of the day I started at number 10 on the list and by boarding had dropped to 15, they had three open business class seats and sadly I was not in one of those. But hey that’s ok, I had a chance to try out coach class on their newish Boeing 77W, their long range aircraft that they started delivery on early last year.
Sadly all good things must come to an end and for me the Year of Rahul is about over. Wow what a year my 39th was. Without trying to brag, I’m going to take a moment and relive an incredibly fun and amazing year I had. But before I do that I must thank my beautiful and AMAZING wife, which if it wasn’t for her none of this would have been possible. Granted no matter how enthusiastic she was about the YOR, she probably regrets, even suggesting it. Needless to say w/out her encouragement and blessing I never would have had the opportunity to as many really cool things as I did.
So I’m going to start with something that falls just out of the range of my 39th year, but by only three small days. The family went to the Maldives for the second time, and we had an amazing time. It was as magical as the first and exceeded any and all previous expectations. We again got to fly Singapore Airlines First Class, and it too was even better than the last time. Wow, I just can’t get enough of that carrier and relish another opportunity to try them again. I’ll have to wait till they release a massive lot of award tickets by mistake like they did this time. I also got to swim with Whale Sharks, and got probably within 20 feet of one. They are incredibly majestic and to this day I think about the good fortune I had in seeing two of them.
There was no official kick off per se, but March was really when the festivities really got going. That month I had a trip to Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand for work that would span an open weekend. Besides getting an opportunity to visit to really amazing cities again, I had the opportunity to visit Fiji on the free weekend. Yet another place on my lifelong bucket list. As usual for me, part of the fun is the journey there and in this case there was no exception. I had an incredibly circuitous journey to the Southern Hemisphere and back. I flew to Auckland via Narita Japan, then direct to Fiji and on the return I flew via Bangkok,, Beijing and Japan. Nothing like a diversion right. On the return I used my miles to get a pretty comfortable ride on Thai Airways first class, and that was truly a treat.
That month I also had the luck of going to Spring Training in Scottsdale Arizona, with my buddies to root on the San Francisco Giants 2010 and 2012 World Series Champions. This was our fourth trip down here and boy was it fun. Sadly for us the team was not as good as either year’s winners, but hey there’s always next year, and if they keep this new string up it’s their year again.
Later this year I took advantage of a screaming Business Class deal on American Airlines and flew to Santiago Chile via New York and Miami, and had a great time. All be it, only 12 hours, but for me although a very cool city and one that I must take the family back too and spend more time in, was about going to South America. I’ve always wanted to go to all seven continents and know some day I will, but with all the travel I had booked this year thought I might be able to visit all of them except Antarctica on 2013. Alas, I didn’t make it to Africa, although I tired, but ran out of time, I did make it to five this year and even visited a new one, South America. Santiago was beautiful and had that old world charm of Europe, but with a Spanish feel. It was really really great. If you’re looking for someplace to go, this is somewhere everyone must visit.
Additionally I was able to “travel” with the team to Colorado and Cincinnati to root on the Giants. My buddy “T” and I have done this three years in a row and although we have a great time, the team sucks when were on the road with them. After this year’s 0-4 stretch we’re now 2-10. Yes that’s right two wins in three years of road trips!!! And the kicker, this year we saw the Giants get no hit (my first time at one of these), and the one game we missed on this road trip, cause we had to travel to Cincinnati, they won. How is that for irony.
There were three other great trips I had this year, one to Oktoberfest in Munich Germany, Thanksgiving in New York so my wife could march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the other was a real family trip across the Atlantic on a cruise. All of these have been written about here, here and here. So I won’t drivel on and on about them, but I just must say that I am blessed. I have an incredible wife that lets me travel a lot. Not only for my work obligations, but in this year and many past ones the ability to experience some pretty cool things along the way.
My 39th year on this planet was pretty spectacular and I had many many gifts along the way. If you’re going to crass that magical threshold into the 40’s you might as give the 30’s a pretty good send off and that what I think I did.
One final note, I wrote this whole post a week ago, and the weekend before my 40th birthday, my wife surprised me with the MOST AMAZING surprise party, she’s been planning since March. She gathered up my closest friends and surprised me with a really great dinner. Not only did I get to see all of my friends, but she celebrated my year by making the most amazing world map display of all the places I went to this year. Besides that the place cards were airline tickets. For the airline junkie like me, this was a super cool treat, and I just needed to make sure I took this opportunity to thank her for all that she does for me and our little family.
Whew, we had a 14 night trip two continents (sort of), 10 nights at sea crossing the Atlantic on a very BIG boat. So we needed a ton of luggage. As I mentioned in a previous post we had four of us travelling, so with such a long trip a 2 1/2 year old, we knew this would not be a chance to pack light. We had 12 pieces, yes that’s right 12, eight were suitcases, three backpacks and one stroller. Thank you American Airlines Executive Platinum status for free checked bags. Otherwise, who knows how much we would have paid for luggage.
Sure it’s nice to pack light, but when you need to pack for two different climates with the big unknown, of when the weather would change in the Atlantic from cold to warm. There was also that one small issue, of what do we need for our little princess. To run out of pull ups or diaper cream somewhere in the Atlantic would be awful. Imagine going to a deserted island w/out sunblock, that was our worry.
Our trip started out in San Jose, California with a connection in Dallas on American Airlines. We were lucky to fly on their brand spanking new 777-300 ER, these are really wonderful planes and it really was a happy moment to spend nine hours on a new plane that has helped start the revitalization of the American premium cabin. They offer a business class cabin with four across in a reverse herringbone configuration, which allows direct isle access to everyone. Hurrah for all. In all seriousness, not having to climb over someone to use the bathroom or just move around is just wonderful. These seats are super private which is great for the single traveler, but when you’re traveling with anyone isle, it makes it hard to communicate. Let alone deal with your little 2 1/2 year old who is more than arm’s length away during takeoff and landing. First world problems huh. On this trip since we didn’t need a car seat on the cruise we just took her CARES harness, which is a super safe way to strap monkey into the seat. It’s super easy to install, it just loops around the seat and then threads to the belt buckle. It’s a four point harness, so they’re really strapped in. Sure a car seat is even better, but I just could not justify bringing it. In any event thankfully little “S” was an angel during takeoff, and landing so being that far away was not as much of an issue as we thought. Besides having her favorite animal with her didn’t hurt either.
As I mentioned before traveling with a kid can be challenging, but hey if you love to travel you’ve just got pull off the band aide sometime, in our case it was at seven weeks old when we took the kid to Texas and Alabama. Two and a half years later we’ve taken the kid to four continents and upwards of 70k miles flown. Wow just crazy, that being said we’re by no means are we kid travel experts, but there are a few important things to remember, for the trip and the plane. Bring lots of diapers/pull ups, you don’t want to run out, Ziploc bags in case of wet messy situations, snacks, forget airplane food (if they serve it) you need to bring something you know they will eat. Additionally, entertainment, in our case we let her pick a few out she loves, plus books and of course coloring books and lastly a few new ones she had not played with before. That’s the ace up your sleeve sometimes.
Stay tuned for a few more posts on our trip across the Atlantic on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas and the adventures we had.
Well the final leg of our journey was Dublin, Ireland. I thought since we were ruining our livers anyhow, we might as well do properly and visit the home of Guinness, Jamison’s Irish whiskey and many other fine spirits.
We only had three days in this fine city, and basically our plan was to see the aforementioned breweries and distilleries and then spend the balance of the time find which pub served the best Guinness and offered the most potato side dishes on one plate. I think this was our winner. It was our first meal at a pub called O’Neil’s close to Grafton Street and Temple Bar. This awesome beef stew came with potatoes, carrots, onions and beef plus sides which consisted of roasted, mashed, sweet mashed, and French fried potatoes. I guess these guys really like their potatoes.
In any event we visited Jamison’s first, the tour was not that bad. Unfortunately unlike the States where most beer and wine tours are mostly free or offered at a very minimal charge, this one was 15 euros per person. The distillery has actually been closed for many years, and they now manufacture in County Cork, in Southern Ireland, but hey this is where it all started. The 30-45 minute visit, consulted of walk through the entire process, as well as a guided tour. My favorite part besides seen “G” get to do a taste test sample between Jamison’s, JAW black and Jack Daniels, was seeing actual barrels that were aged to various years. I believe 1, 3,5, 15 the color difference was truly amazing. Sadly we only got to sample the three year standard variety.
Eventually we stumbled over to Guinness, and ended up signing up for two different tours. The first was the standard self-guided. They’ve done an amazing job to create a tour you can do at your own pace and see how the product started back in 1779 right at St. James Gate, and how they get to producing in for today’s market. Sadly back in 1981 this facility was closed to brewing, but besides tens of thousands of tourists that descend upon this place to drink, I think they use for distribution.
The seven story tour facility, had several bars serving what else but the lovely black elixir, we are all familiar with but also a few other versions, I had no idea existed. Of course there is Guinness original, Stout, Draught and Foreign Extra Stout. And for all of you that are curious as to whether the draft tastes different in Ireland or is served at room temperature, both of these are myths. Now frankly I don’t have the best palate, but I think the beer tasted exactly the same as it would at my local bar except for two huge exceptions, the first of which is I was drinking it in Ireland and second, it was poured correctly here. Which by the way is exactly 119.5 seconds, sans cloverleaf too.
Our second visit was for the connoisseurs tour, which has to be booked in advance and is a with no more than 25 guest at a time, ours only had six. Plus it’s with a Guinness beer connoisseur, of which they have only six of. Needless to say this is really where I learned about the four main versions of Guinness, some really great history, and of course got to taste them all. Since it was such a private tour, it really helped me understand how important the Guinness family was and is to the city of Dublin let alone Ireland. The family still donates money and land to help better the community, and they really helped shape the city. To top off the visit was a final drink at the Gravity Bar high atop this building, with 360 degree views of the entire city very fitting end to a very very iconic place.
The factory has several restaurants and bars so you won’t go hungry or thirsty, although you need a ticket to get in and they are 15 euros and come with one beer. Oh yeah they have the biggest souvenir store devoted to Guinness I’ve ever seen. If you wanted something emblazoned with the logo, the toucan, or any other iconic figure you’ll find it here. Check out these crazy underwear, and no I didn’t buy them.
Man cannot live on beer alone, although we really really tired, we also took the opportunity to visit a few sites in central Munich. We visited my favorite beer garden at Viktualien Markt and also Ratzkeller (Der Glockenspiel). Marienplatz is always fun, there’s always something going on whether it be tourists hanging out, people shopping or just enjoying a beer at 10 AM in the beer garden. I still can’t get over that aspect of German life, beer before water and at such an early hour. Viktualien Markt is a really great open air market with tons of food stands (think farmers market) and lots of handy crafts, it’s just a fun place to visit.
After that we went back to Wiessen, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, “G” and I went back for seconds and even thirds on our quest to drink our way through Oktoberfest. With 34 tents after day two we realized there was no way we would get to see them all so we just focused on the ones we wanted to see and enjoyed the most. That meant we kept ending up at ***it was the best combination of music and revelry that we found. The crown was a mix of young and old, but it was the band that just kept the place rocking and by about 3 PM you found yourself standing on the table with the rest of your new friends singing and drinking along with the other locals and tourists. What a blast.
Although most of our trip was centered around Oktoberfest and beer culture, I really wanted to also explore other parts of German history and on this visit we decided to also see Dachau, the first Concentration Camp, created for the impressment and extinction of enemies of the state and eventually a World War II prison camp. Although I was not alive during World War II, nor did I have any family that was directly involved, I’ve always thought it was important to learn about the history of this world event, tragic war and massacre.
Dachau is only 20 minutes by Ubahn from the central train station of Munich, and then a quick 10 minute bus ride from the Dachau Hauptbahnhopft. It cost about $10 roundtrip, and was very easy to get too. Once we got there we had the option of renting an audio tour for 3.50 Euros, or just wandering around, otherwise the visit is free for everyone.
The facility originally consisted of two barracks that was used to imprison about 400 people in the mid to late 30’s and a central processing building, but then as the war escalated they added another 34 barracks, built by the prisoners. At the end of the war the facility reportedly held over 30,000 prisoners when the full capacity was to only be 6,000. Today there are two barracks that were rebuild for our viewing and for preservation of the history of Dachau, otherwise the cement foundations for the other 34 units still exist. As well as the main processing center, the gas chambers and crematoriums. It’s hard to imagine that these relatively small living quarters 30×100 meters(27,000 square feet approx.) could house so many prisoners. I can only imagine how deplorable the living conditions must have been.
Visiting the site was a pretty sobering experience. They have done a great job preserving the integrity of the place and keep lots of artifacts, propaganda and history of what tragic events occurred here. Helping us see and understand what happened here and get an idea of the atrocities that were committed here and through Eastern Europe by the Nazis. I walked away from visiting Dachau with an even greater respect for what Allied troops and any other freedom fighters did during WW II to save so many people and save our world. I’ve been lucky enough, if you can say that to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and although it was also a very sobering experience and does an excellent job of showing us what happened during the war, physically being on the site of such a tragic time in our history was way more moving.
Remnants of the railroad tracks that brought in the prisoners
The Main Gate “Work makes you free”
One barrack, built for 200 people but at times held over 2000
The other aspect of the visit that was so polarizing was looking at the map of Germany and Eastern Europe and all of the dots that represented concentration camps, extermination facilities, ghettos, transfer stations and facilities that were created to basically eliminate Jews and any other person, race or culture that was deemed by the Nazi’s as enemies of the state. I had no idea how many cites and places were involved in these events. The other part was looking at the guard tower, culvert, razor wire fence and cement wall that if you were brave enough to attempt to escape was your obstacle to freedom. I have no idea how someone could have ever even made it to freedom, let alone know that beyond the prison was a forbidding country with all of its additional obstacles to get through.
The breakdown of where all the prisoners came from
The badge classification
Prisoners uniform and their single food tin
The border of the camp no mans land
Foundations of the old barracks
Sinks and toilets for 200 but at times up to 2000
Crematorium and Gas Chambers
I was really glad I had an opportunity to visit Dachau, and see some of the history of our world. Visits like this remind me how lucky I am to be alive and live in these times, yes there are tragedies around us every day and people are fighting for their lives still. I just am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had thought my 39+ years on this rock. Sure I’ve had some tough times, but not as tough as others out there. And visits like this remind me to be thankful for the freedom we all enjoy. If you’re ever in Germany I recommend visiting Dachau or any other site like this to gain perspective on our world and to see what tens of thousands of brave men and women fought for to preserve freedom.