Monday, August 25, 2014

Germany Austria Vacation

MapIn a great turn of events my parents have agreed to take over our kids for a week in late November allowing Alёna and I to take another what we hope to be a great vacation for our eighth wedding anniversary.

We had an approximate plan in our head for a while now, but this week we actually did a good amount of preliminary research and have finalized our core itinerary. After having done that we have booked the plane tickets and our hotels.

We have a pretty good idea of what we want to see at each destination and how we are going to get around. Trains will be the main form of transportation. However we are planning to rent a car for one day and have a side trip as we did in Italy.

It seems that train pass doesn’t make sense for us yet again, as we’ll only be taking the train two times. I looked at approximate pricing of train tickets on the routes that we have to take to make our plan more solid. Same with the car rental.

Now in the coming month we’ll just do a lot of reading to make sure we don’t miss something interesting as well as what food we should try beside the obvious bratwursts and beer. Basically we’re going to start building on our initial plan. One thing that we know we want to try avoid is anything related to World War II. But I think that will be in our minds anyhow throughout this trip.

The short summary of the plan is as follows. We leave on late night of Friday, November 21st. We fly1 to Berlin with a change over in Frankfurt on our way and land on November 22nd. We couldn’t find a decent direct flight. However I finally do get to fly Lufthansa and Boeing 747! We’ll be coming back on Monday, December 1st on a direct flight from Vienna with Austrian Airlines.

We were thinking of which cities to visit and ended up decided not to spread ourselves to thin and limit it to only 3 cities — Berlin, Munich and Vienna. As before we’re going to stay in Hilton hotels. At this point we booked hotels for a combination of points and euros, but by the time November rolls around we plan to have all of them upgraded to points exclusively.

By taking advantage of our Hilton Diamond VIP benefits we expect to get rooms upgraded, access to executive lounges, free breakfast and Internet access.

Our trip will start in Berlin. We’ll spend 3 nights2 in the city. Judging by our Italian vacation the first day we’ll feel very much like zombies, so we’ll just grab some dinner and go to sleep.

Our hotel is located right in the center of the city. Guides suggest that people visit Gendarmenmarkt square and it’s right across the street from us. Brandenburg Gate is also within a walking distance. We also want to visit Fernsehturm — a TV tower built during soviet times. Also we will possibly visit Tiergarten — Berlin’s Central Park. And we will try to climb to the top of Reichstag.

On Tuesday of November 25th we take a train to Munich. We’ll spend 3 nights3 there. In Munich we plan start start with Marienplatz (the main square), climb to the top of the tower at Rathaus (city hall), visit Frauenkirche (Munich’s largest church). We will also try to visit the English Garden and have some beer at the world’s most famous beer hall — Hofbräuhaus am Platzl.

One of our Munich days we’ll dedicate to renting a car and driving south to visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles.

On Friday, November 28th, we will depart to the final stop of our trip — Vienna, Austria. We’ll also spend 3 nights4 here as in the other cities. Our hotel is located right in the city center, so we’ll be mostly walking around without having to use any transportation. We’ll try to visit Hofburg Imperial Palace, 12th century St. Stephen’s Cathedral and we’ll try to climb to the top of one of its towers.

We still need to do a lot of reading about other places that we want to visit in these 3 cities and build out a more detailed plan of getting around the cities and from city to city. We made the reservations in the beginning of April, but still have not made a lot of progress as far as t he exact plan goes. Hopefully it will be another great trip filled with memories.

  1. Round trip tickets came out to $2,155 for the both of us. Very expensive this time around. But we do get to fly Lufthansa and Austrian. []
  2. Hilton Berlin — 60,000 points per night. Expensive! []
  3. Hilton Munich City — 60,000 points and €195 for all 3 nights. []
  4. Hilton Vienna — 48,000 points and €149 for all 3 nights. []

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Italy Vacation

ItalyIn light of the fact that our Grand Canyon and Las Vegas vacation fell apart due to the fact that we were unable to obtain a visa for Alёna’s sister we decided to stay positive and still plan a vacation even though it was not what we originally hoped for.

We asked my mom if she would still stay with Arosha for the duration of our trip and she very graciously agreed. She has to take time off work herself for us to be able to make this vacation happen so we appreciate this very very much.

We did some initial research and based on this outline we booked the whole trip already. We know the route that we want to take, but now we need to fill in the gaps and build out an exact plan for each destination and means of getting from one place to another — trains and car rental. The list of things that we made certain decisions about and things we know already follows.

On late night of Thursday, November 15th we fly out on a direct flight1 to Rome and will be coming back on Sunday, November 25th on a direct flight from Venice. Thus we’ll be able to have our 6th anniversary dinner in Venice — one of the most romantic places in the world.

We, again, are taking advantage of our Hilton points and our Hilton Diamond VIP status to get the best bang for the buck. Hilton points are better used if they are being spent in one place at once. Since it was not really possible with a trip like this we took an advantage of a new program that Hilton recently introduced — an ability to pay for the room using points and money.

The hotel portion of the trip ended up costing us 215,000 points (free portion) and €428. We’re getting a room upgrade, access to executive lounge, free breakfast and internet as benefits for our Diamond status. If we were to book the same hotels without points it would amount to €1,627 and everything I mentioned above would cost additional money. Needless to say we’re quite happy with how this program has been working out for us.

We will spend 2 nights2 in Rome. We’re assuming that even though we’ll get to Rome somewhere around noon on Friday we will be very tired, so we’re not making any complicated plans for the evening. We’ll do something simple based on how we are feeling. On early Saturday morning we are going to explore the Colosseum and its surrounding, eat lunch and spend the second half of the day exploring Vatican.

On Sunday morning we’re planning to catch a train to Florence where we will spend 3 nights3 and rent a car. We’ll spend one day exploring Florence itself and another day we’ll drive out to Pisa and take a look at its leaning tower and drive through Tuscany back-roads.

On Wednesday, November 21st we leave for Milan. We will spend 2 nights4 there. We will try to make a short stop at Bologna on our way. In Milan we plan to explore a huge Milan Cathedral and go up to its roof. We also would like to explore Lake Como if weather permits it and if we’re in the mood.

And on Friday, November 23rd we’ll drive to our final destination — Venice. We’ll spend 2 more nights5 there, making stops along the way at Verona and Vicenza. We haven’t yet decided where exactly we will have our anniversary dinner, but any place in Venice should be quite romantic. Our final Saturday we’ll dedicate to exploring Venice with Piazza San Marco being one of the main objectives.

As always it sounds like it will be a great vacation, but how and where exactly we’ll end up going we’ll only find out after it’s over. Now we need to start the work on researching our destinations.

Update: We ended up reshuffling the days a bit. Rome and Florence portions stayed exactly the same as listed above. However we spent 1 night in Milan and 3 nights in Venice. We also ended up having enough points to full pay for those 4 nights — 40,000 for Milan and 150,000 for 3 nights in Venice. The final total cost for the hotels came out to €232 and 275,000 points. Points worked out great again. The suite that we stayed in in Venice, for example, would’ve cost $1,100 per night if we didn’t have our points.

  1. Alitalia to Rome and Delta from Venice non stop flights for $886 per person. []
  2. Hilton Garden Inn Rome Claridge — 20,000 points, €56 and taxes per night. []
  3. Hilton Garden Inn Florence Novoli — 15,000 points, €40 and taxes per night. []
  4. Hilton Milan — 40,000 points per night. []
  5. Hilton Molino Stucky Venice — 25,000 points, €98 and taxes per night. []
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Japan Planning

Japan Rail Pass exchange orders.Chances are that in two weeks time we’ll be somewhere 30,000 feet above ground on our way to Japan. We’re reading and planning and reading and planning. We have a write up for a good number of days already. We have a detailed plan for Tokyo and Kyoto which should cover half of our vacation. We know how we’ll get around (subway, buses, trains) and we know what we want to see.

The night of our 5th anniversary we’ll be spending in Kyoto, in a traditional Japanese ryokan — Nishiyama Ryokan. It includes a traditional dinner and a traditional breakfast. Should be a very memorable day and hopefully not in the way that 2009th one was.

Also we still have to plan out our trip to Hiroshima and a nearby island of Miyajima, a trip to Nara and what we want to see in Osaka if anything. Only 2 weeks left and still a lot of reading and research to do. One of the great resources turned out to be japan-guide.com — wealth of information.

P.S. We already got our Japan Rail Pass exchange orders in the mail — not cheap at all, but should make things easier and save some money for us overall. These are only available for foreign tourists.
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Monday, October 31, 2011

Our Tiger

Arosha being a tiger.Today is the last day of October, and more notably, the Halloween. I am quite ambivalent to this “holiday”, but I think as Aroshka will get older this day might get more fun. I do enjoy seeing people in costumes though, so any trick-or-treaters are very welcome at our home. Too bad none actually came, which means that I’ll have to eat that big bag of chocolate candies all by myself.

A tiger or a pirate? Both?We did not dress Aroshka up last year, but this time around Aroshka’s grandma got him a tiger costume. If it was a tad warmer, I would have dressed him up for the morning playground walk, but with weather being in the high 40s I did not want to risk it. We dressed him in the evening though, and Danya took a few pictures. Look how adorable!

Lost something.On a different topic — I seem to be unable to keep Aroshka from getting little scratches, bumps and such. I noticed on Saturday evening that a small piece of his front upper incisor is missing. I think it was all fine in the morning, and then it just happened at some point during the day. I felt pretty upset about this and I really hope that it will have a minimal effect on his dental health.

Flash is exciting.He also fell down on his scar on Sunday (while squatting and picking up sticks on the playground), but again — I hope it’ll heal in a few days and will not make the scar worse than it is. I keep wondering from time to time if this happens because Aroshka is such an active baby, or because I am more lax with him than many other people with their babies. I just hope that these little things will somehow magically keep him out of big harms ways, and that scratches and bumps are parts of growing up anyhow.

Loading up the car with dad's photo gear.Our Japan trip is coming up. I still can’t fully believe that we’re living in less than 3 weeks. I am really looking forward to it, even though I worry about how both Aroshka and t. Oksana will handle our absence. I mean, people do leave their babies for a short while even at much earlier age, right? From what we read, mid to end of November is actually a perfect time to see the fall colors near Kyoto and Tokyo. Exciting! Danya is doing the majority of our research, but I chipped in a bit on the list of places that we want to visit in Kyoto.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

California Road Trip

California trip plan diagram.We have booked1 yet another one of our mega-road-trips. This one is going to be our first official2 visit to California. California is where we’ll spend 90% of our time and about 10% we’re going to spend in a neighboring Nevada. We spent several days looking for the best route, picking out the hotels and lodges and reserving3 everything.

On early morning of Saturday, April 24th, we fly4 out from JFK to Los Angeles. We rent5 a car at the airport and proceed to check out the city and its neighborhoods. Then we drive out east in the direction of Joshua Tree National Park and spend our first night6 in a hotel located in an adjacent town of Yucca Vallley. Continue Reading

  1. Full diagram of our route is available. Blue pins stand for the places where we’re spending a night and green ones for our planned destinations. Full driving map is also available via Google Maps. []
  2. Four of us. Alёna and I have changed planes several times in CA, but that doesn’t really count. My parents have been to California before. []
  3. All reservation prices in the list below include the tax. []
  4. JetBlue, non stop flights, $269 per person, round trip + $15 insurance per person. []
  5. Fox Rent a Car, $478 from LAX to SFO, Jeep Patriot or similar. []
  6. Best Western, $154 total, 2 rooms with king size beds. []
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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Happily Ever After

I’ve been thinking about making a post for quite some time now, about Palms, Treos and other PDA stuff, but currently there more important things on my mind that I want to write about.

It’s a bit early for congratulations, but it looks like there is nothing more in the way of us getting married! There is still a small formality that needs to happen, but it is only a formality, and nothing else. Needless to say, all this makes me quite happy. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time now!

We’ve been engaged since October 15th, 2004. We decided long ago that we would want to get married during the summer. It’s actually quite fun to be able to pick a date which you will celebrate through the rest of your life. So we had several dates in mind:

  • June 6th, 2006. June 6th is exactly half an anniversary of our first date, which we had on December 6th. June 6th, 2006 is 6/6/6, which is a fun number, but Alёna says that it is way to evil looking for a marriage date. Either way, we missed the date. Actually we thought that there is no way anything can happen in time for this summer.

  • July 7th, 2007. Nothing special about this date except for the fact that it is 7/7/7. 7 is considered to be a lucky number, and 3 of them is even better.

  • August 20th, 2006. Now there is chance that we might be able to actually get married this summer. August 20th is the date of my parents’ marriage. They got married on that date back in 1977, which makes it 29 years this year, and 30 years next year.

So if everything goes well, we’ll try to do it on August 20th, this year, 2006. Now that’s where my head starts spinning. There is so much to think about. Where do want to do it, how do we want to do it, who do we want to invite, will they be able to come and so on and so on.

August 20th falls on Sunday this year, and from what I understand, civil marriage offices are closed on Saturdays and Sundays in NYC.

Also before you can get married you need to get a marriage license. In NY it is valid for 60 days. We would like to try to invite Alёna’s sister to come join us for this celebration, and it would be a good idea to include the copy of the license. I figure there are more chances that she’ll be able to get a visa this way, but there is not much time left, and we know how bureaucratic things are.

We were thinking of renting out some restaurant maybe (a very small one at that), but we don’t know of any good places that we would like to rent out.

So I got to thinking, maybe Las Vegas isn’t such a bad place to get married after all, even though we were joking about it before. Flamingo has some really nice places for those ceremonies. They actually have 6! And we could have our little honey moon there too, since I will not be able to take a full week off in August.

Then the question is will other people be able to fly out and take a day or two off as well? We would certainly want to invite Eldar’s family from Colorado.

I have chosen Eldar to by my best man for the wedding. He’s been a great friend for many years to both myself, and Alёna, so I’m really glad to have him to help me out with all this.

Anyhow, I guess that gives you a good picture of why my head is spinning. But I think collectively we can stop the spinning process and resolve all this.

“And they lived happily ever after!”
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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Vacation — Part 2

As it often is the case it played out completely differently from what I said in the post above. It’s not even close.

I spoke with Eldar on the day that I made the post it isn’t clear weather he’ll be able to take time off. This same day I started thinking — if we go to Vegas it might not be as much fun this time. What else is out there within U.S. borders? Well, how about Hawaii? )

Spoke with Eldar’s parents about it. They enjoyed it very much and said that there is no need for any kinds of documents besides regular ID. Asked them for information on hotels, while looking at Expedia. Saw Hilton, asked about it, and in their opinion it’s one of the best places to stay at. We figured we’ll try to go for it.

Lots of pictures coming up! )

Tried to price it out – came out to about $3K with many different flight options. So I figured I’ll read about it some more, and book everything tomorrow.

Next day, checked in the morning — far less options. Did manage to find a good one, figured that’s what we’ll do. Went to lunch, came back — every thing’s gone. The price for the flights jumped from $750 to over $800 and the time of departure from NYC was around 12pm to 2pm on all of them. Two days of complete frustration – looking everything I could think of (Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, CheapTickets, PriceLine). I even tried to combine my own flights. Nothing. Flying out in the middle of the Saturday was really a bad option — Saturday would be completely wasted. I think I about gave up at that point.

Then on Saturday morning I checked Expedia again. Flight showed up – leaving from NYC at about 8am in the morning, stop midway in LA (as opposed to Detroit, Chicago and such), and costs $754. Tried to add it to the car, and it tells me: “the price just went up to $803″. Tried to start over, same thing. Checked Orbitz — even worse. Tried Expedia again, same thing. I figure, OK, $803 is still better then anything we saw. Tried again, no “price went up” message. ) Expedia gave up. I got 2 tickets for $754 each. Nice! )

On to the hotel — Hilton was available all this time without problems. I checked their site — cheapest room with Kind size bed came out to about $1400.

Oh, forgot to mention that Alёna also tried 2 travel agencies for the plane tickets. They couldn’t offer anything at all (nothing better then I could find myself). But one agent said that she could get the Hilton for us for $1350. So we waited until Monday for that. When I checked the Hilton site on Monday I was able to get a room for $1330. ) What’s the point in those agencies again? Hmm.

Hawaii flight.Anyway, that’s the story. We’re going to Hawaii now. I think it’ll be great, and we have a bit more then 3 weeks to wait now.

Lots of pictures’ coming up! )
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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

June 2005 Vacation

New vacation coming up!

Сначала короткое предисловие. On April 27th Alёna finally had an asylum hearing (the judge promised us victory — hope she doesn’t forget), ) and the prosecutor took away her passport and forgot to return it. In addition to all that we thought that the passport expires on May 16th. Anyhow, the lawyer managed to retrieve the passport. And it also turns out that it expires on November 16th, luckily. The next hearing is on June 21st, which means that we can’t go to Vegas on the same week with Maruks. That sucks, but there is nothing we can do about that.

We figured that the best time would be to go a week before the hearing (after the hearing there will be more court appointments for various things). Yesterday I asked Brian for a week off starting from June 13 to June 17th. Along with the weekend that makes it June 11 to June 19.

The plan is still Vegas though. Seems like the “funnest” place to go to. ) Hopefully Eldar will be able to get a vacation too. Not sure where we’re going to stay, but both Bally’s and Flamingo have good prices for that week. Flamingo is even cheaper that Bally’s. However if Eldar goes we might try HGVC again. The bad thing is that it costs twice as much, and there is no room available for Friday (we’ll have to fly in on Saturday this way).

And for the flight Jet Blue is the most likely candidate.

We’ll see how it all plays out.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Summer Vacation

Woohoo! Looks like I will be able to take a vaction at the end of June, or beginning of July.

Total of 9 days! Imagine the possibilities.

The plan is to take a drive somewhere. Things to remember are that we can’t take planes, and cross borders.

Possibilities:
  • Southern Florida (beaches)
  • Colorado
  • Maine (Cape Cod)


Some problems with timing.

Alёna can’t take time off in June, and first 2 weeks in July. I for sure can’t take it any later. I’m hoping that July 12 – July 20th won’t be a problem for me.

Some more about possible destinations:
  • Orlando, Florida is a great place, but I’d rather go there during the winter. Now it might be too hot to be going around parks, and too many people, so lines could be enormous. Southern Florida would be to hot too.
  • Maine — as opposed to Florida, considering the weather Maine could be too cold. We are just having first warm days, and we’ll still get rain.
  • Colorado — seems like the best choice, since it’s out to the west. What are we going to do there though? Are there places for swimming? What else?
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