Ten Tips for Planning an Oktoberfest Trip to Munich

My favorite trip  of the year is always my annual pilgrimage to Munich for the World’s largest festival — Oktoberfest!

This coming year will be the sixth year in a row that I’ve attended the Wiesn in Germany, so I’ve learned on the fly, but at this point,  I think I know what I’m doing pretty well.

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that runs every year,  from the late September to the first full weekend in October.  Plan these dates accordingly.

Planning a trip to this foreign festival can be a daunting task, but here are ten tips along with several guides and recommendations: Continue Reading →

Ten Tips for Planning an Oktoberfest Trip to Munich

My favorite trip  of the year is always my annual pilgrimage to Munich for the World’s largest festival — Oktoberfest!

This will be the fifth year in a row that I’ve attended the Wiesn in Germany, so I’ve learned on the fly, but at this point,  I think I know what I’m doing pretty well.

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that runs every year,  from the late September to the first full weekend in October.  Plan these dates accordingly.

Planning a trip to this foreign festival can be a daunting task, but here are ten tips along with several guides and recommendations: Continue Reading →

24 Hours in Anchorage

I’m posting this after completing a short, weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska as part of a mileage run to hit the American Airlines Executive Platinum Status Challenge. Anchorage is a great place to spend a day, and obviously a fantastic hopping off point to explore more of Alaska, including Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, or even an Alaskan cruise. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you actually spend some time in Alaska – certainly more than 24 hours. I’ve been fortunate enough to take two cruises to Alaska, so I’ve been able to experience the majestic scenery of the Last Frontier. I also spent a couple days in Anchorage last summer for a quick, weekend trip.

With that said, there’s no shortage of things to do if you have a short time in Anchorage – whether it’s a free day after a cruise, a hopping off point before or after a fishing trip, or if you find it amusing to fly almost 10,000 miles in a weekend, like me. Continue Reading →

A Weekend Trip to Alaska

Two weekends ago, I booked an impulsive, last-minute weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska on a Wednesday night — my flight was scheduled for first thing on Friday morning.  After a late Thursday night out in DC, I found myself at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport for an early-ish 7:45am flight to Chicago.  Before I booked this trip, I was sure that all my segments would upgrade to first class by using some Regional Premier Upgrades that I had on United.

The path of my journey

The path of my journey

My flight to Chicago and then on to Anchorage were both uneventful, but about as good as it gets for domestic first class on United.  The Chicago to Anchorage leg was a cool 6.5 hours, but DirecTV and movies, along with a proper meal and ice cream sundae helped pass the time pretty well.

I arrived at Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport at around 1:30pm and immediately took a cab downtown for about $20.  I planned to do this trip without a rental car, since the prices on rental cars were astronomical, and I was trying to do this trip on a low budget.  Another cheaper option to get from the airport to downtown is Anchorage’s People Mover Bus system.  The 7 Bus runs hourly between the airport and downtown (and vice-versa) for only $1.75.  This takes about 30-35 minutes instead of the roughly 15 minute cab ride.  Keeping with the low budget theme, I planned to stay in a hostel in Anchorage given the notoriously high Anchorage hotel prices.

Humpy's Halibut n Chips with a flight of Alaskan Brewery Beers

Humpy’s Halibut n Chips with a flight of Alaskan Brewery Beers

I arrived at my original hostel — The Alaska Backpacker’s Inn — and had an immediate, terrible first impression.  It was several blocks away from central downtown, it was filthy, and the girl at the front desk advised me that check-in was not allowed for another couple hours.  So I stored my bag, and briefly considered just booking a hotel for the weekend, but cooler heads prevailed and I just walked to a bar instead. Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse in downtown was highly recommended by some friends, so I went there.  I had some great halibut fish n chips, as well as several beers from their solid beer selection.  I also go to talking to some folks at the bar who advised that I check out the Bent Prop Inn, Downtown — a hostel just a block or so away, which they said was much nicer.

So I did just that — the guys who run the Bent Prop Inn could not have been any more kind.  The place was much cleaner, and they were able to accommodate me for the weekend.  It has a fantastic location right by the Marriott, and the price was right — $30 for the first night, and $25 for the second night for a bed in a 8-bunk bed dorm.  By the time I’d gotten my things and settled down back at the Bent Prop, it was past 10pm Alaskan time (2am Eastern), and I needed some sleep.

I was up early the next morning for breakfast at Snow City Cafe.  This place is a must for breakfast in Anchorage.  The line was out the door at 7:15am, but I was able to get a spot at the bar after about ten minutes.  I ordered the Kodiak Eggs Benedict, which featured King Crab, and was freakin’ amazing.

For the day, I’d arranged a trip out to the Alyeska Resort in nearby Girdwood, Alaska.  As previously mentioned, I did not have a rental car, so instead I booked a round-trip on the Alaskan Railroad for about $46 each way.  This provided a relaxing 90-minute train ride along Turnagain Sound to Girdwood.  Once in Girdwood, the Alyeska Resort has a shuttle that picks passengers up and takes them to the resort.

Above Girdwood and the Turnagain Sound in the distance

Above Girdwood and the Turnagain Sound in the distance

The Alyeska Resort is the premier ski resort in Alaska.  With it being Summer time, it was prime for hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoors activities.  I decided to give the mountain a climb.  There are very defined hiking trails up Mount Alyeska, and since there was a race going on that day, there were  a good bit of people making the climb.  Because of this, my concerns about bear encounters were significantly diminished, and I managed to hike up to the mid-mountain tram station where the uber-popular Seven Glaciers Restaurant is located.  I had lunch at another location, since Seven Glaciers is only open for dinner.  Everyone I’ve talked to highly recommended Seven Glaciers, and it did indeed look amazing.

After lunch, I proceeded to hike up as far up the mountain as I could.  I made it quite a ways up when the hiking trail basically ended just short of the glacier atop Mount Alyeska.  I was ready to stop hiking at that point due to exhaustion and the fact that at this point I was the only one up there — it was a tad creepy, and I couldn’t help but worry a bit about bears.

So down I went back down to the mid-mountain tram spot.  I went ahead and trammed back down the mountain and hopped the shuttle to the nearby town of Girdwood, where I had lunch and some drinks at one of the resort bars called the Sitzmark Bar & Grill.  This was a ski-lodge type bar at the base of a couple ski runs that were being used as mountain bike tracks that day.  After several beers, I again hopped the shuttle back to the Girdwood station for my return train ride to Anchorage.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening

I really enjoyed the Alaska Railroad, and found it an very relaxing and scenic way to travel around.  Though a car would have been twice as fast to Alyeska, one was also much more expensive.  I arrived back in Anchorage at 9:45pm, and of course the sun was still up.  That didn’t matter much to me, as I was exhausted and headed to bed.

Sunday morning I once again headed to Snow City Cafe, but this time ordered the Crabby Omelet.  Again, it was amazing.  As I said before, this place is a must visit breakfast place in Anchorage.  It was rainy that morning, and I had several hours to kill before I had to return to the airport for my flight back home.  I spent that time walking though town and observing the Anchorage Marathon, which was happening that morning.  As lunchtime was upon me, I headed to F Street Station for a helping of beer battered halibut and some beers.  Wow, this halibut was fantastic — highly recommended.  Apparently F Street Station is also quite the hangout late night for locals.   After a quick nap at the hostel, I hopped on the 7 bus to the airport and then boarded my United Airlines redeye flight back to Chicago and then to DC on Monday morning.  Being the good employee that I am, I proceeded directly from Dulles Airport to work.

Overall, this was a helluva way to spend a weekend.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  As my third trip to Alaska, it was the first time that I got to spend some time in Anchorage.  While there honestly isnt’ much to the city itself, the surrounding area is absolutely beautiful.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Two Days in Santiago

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago was relatively uneventful.  I had a standard economy seat on a TAM Airlines A320.  The legroom was quite restricted, and it was not the most comfortable 4hr45minutes of my life.  But I dealt with it like a champ.

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

The highlight to of the flight was the meal.  While it was only a standard economy meal, it was very different from any economy meal that I’ve had.  I chose the chicken pie, and it was very good – probably one of the best tasting economy meals I’ve had on any flight, actually.

Chicken Pie... seriously... it was good!

Chicken Pie… seriously… it was good!

I also recall the catering from my flight from Rio to Orlando last March to be quite good too, so maybe I’m having luck with the catering out of the TAM Rio de Janeiro station.  It’s much better than what I’ve had from JFK.

I arrived in Santiago just around 7pm on Friday night.  Before the authorities were able to process me through immigration, I had to pay the reciprocity fee at a very clearly labeled kiosk.  This reciprocity fee sets Americans back USD$160, but is good for multiple entries for the life of your passport.  Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment for the fee.

After passing through immigration, I headed to the taxi stand inside the terminal where they advised me of a rate of 19,000 (~USD$38) Chilean Pesos for a cab to my hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood.  This was a bit high, but after traveling for the previous 24 hours, I went ahead and went with it.  For what it’s worth, most in Santiago advise not to pay more than 15,000 pesos (~USD$30) for a cab to the airport.

I pulled up to a non-descript entrance on a dimly lit street in Bellavista after about a 30 minute ride from the airport.  After buzzing the gate, I proceeded through the front door of the La Chimba hostel.  I had decided against staying at a chain hotel like the Grand Hyatt or one of the many SPG properties simply to save some money on this two-week trip.  The place was an eclectic little hostel with a main common area and several dorms that house anywhere from one to four.

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba hostel common area

La Chimba hostel common area

I pre-booked a single dorm with a shared bathroom for the princely sum of USD$30 per night (4 person dorms were available starting at USD$16 per night).  The room was small, but was all I needed.  The bed was a spring matress with plenty of bedding to keep me warm during the cold nights.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Without a doubt, the highlight of the property is its location.  It is situated on E. Pinto Lagarrigue in Barrio Bellavista, which is one block off of Pio Nono – the primary restaurant and entertainment artery in the area.  Furthermore, it was less than a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown at Bella Artes and less than fifteen minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Barrio Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista

Bellavista at Night

Bellavista at Night

The location of this place alone made the $30 per night a no-brainer.  I really cannot imagine a much better location for touring Santiago and for being in the middle of the action.

After checking in and taking a much-needed shower, I met up with an Australian friend who I’d met last March while staying in Buenos Aires.  A group of us went out for the evening to a couple bars – first, to Bar The Clinic (near Bella Artes) and then to Onaciu in Bellavista.  It was an extremely fun night out on the town where I was introduced to the national drink of Chile – the Pisco Sour.  Though it’s a little sweet for my tastes, I really didn’t have a choice but to try one (or two… or three…) of these things.

A Pisco Sour

A Pisco Sour

I awoke Saturday morning to a somewhat clear morning as the fog receeded.  The entrance to the funicular at San Cristobal hill was a whopping two blocks from my hostel, so I proceeded there and bought a 2,600 peso round-trip ticket on the funicular to the top of the hill.

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular from up top

Funicular from up top

The views from up here were awesome!  Unfortunately, the smog / fog held around a little bit too long that morning, and I was unable to see all of the the Andes mountains, but I was able to see some vistas of the mountains – the first time I’d ever seen the Andes!

Statue of Virgin Mary

Statue of Virgin Mary

Smoggy View of Santiago

Smoggy View of Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

My first view of the Andes Montains

My first view of the Andes Montains

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

After walking around for about an hour, I grabbed an empanada and a Gatorade and headed back down the hill on the funicular.

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Llama!

Llama!

My next stop was Plaza de Armas downtown, where I met up with a free walking tour.  The group consisted of about ten tourists and our guide, Felipe.  Felipe gave a wonderful 3.5-4 hour, narrated tour of the city.  I feel like this tour enabled me to see all of the important landmarks in the city during my short time there.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valaparaiso

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valparaiso

La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace

Universidad de Chile

Universidad de Chile

"New York Street" in Santiago

“New York Street” in Santiago

The Santiago Stock Exchange

The Santiago Stock Exchange

Parque Forestal - The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal – The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal at dusk

Parque Forestal at dusk

One of the millions of "street dogs" in Santiago.  The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

One of the millions of “street dogs” in Santiago. The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we stopped at a coffeeshop in the LaStarria neighborhood for a Pisco sour.  The tour ended up in Bellavista, about three blocks from my hostel.  Felipe gave me all sorts of great recommendations for dinner and for lunch the next day.  As with most “free tours”, the tour guides operate on a tips-only basis, and in this case it was well-deserved.  This walking tour leaves daily from Plaza de Armas at 10am and 3pm.  I highly recommend it for a cheap, easy, fun, and informative way to see the sights in Santiago – it would especially be a good way to orient oneself with the city on their first day.

Per Felipe and my Aussie friends’ suggestion, I had a late dinner Saturday night at Galindo in Bellavista.  This restaurant is well known in Santiago amongst both tourists and locals for its Chilean food.  I was starving after a long day of touring, and ordered the empanada a pino to begin, and the “Pastel de Choclo” for the entrée, along with a couple of beers to wash dinner down.

Empanada a pino

Empanada a pino

Pastel de Choclo -- Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

Pastel de Choclo — Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

It was fantastic.

Dinner no doubt left me in a food coma, so I back to the hostel and called it a night.

Sunday morning, I awoke in time to shower, re-pack my things and check out of the hostel.  I stored my luggage there and had them order me a cab for noon.  Meanwhile, I trekked to the Mercado Central where I intended to have an early lunch, and oh, what a lunch I had!

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The Mercado Central is the main fish and seafood market in Santiago.  I really enjoy going to markets when I visit varous cities, and this was no exception.

Fresh Seafood!

Fresh Seafood!

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I ended up eating at one of the many restaurants around the Mercado, and ordered the Paila Marina – a local specialty that translate literally to “seafood soup.”  It was amazing, and extremely filling.   This set me back only about 3,500 pesos.

Paila Marina for lunch

Paila Marina for lunch

According to Felipe, the many restaurants in the Mercado rotate chefs on a continual basis, so they all have basically the same food.  The restaurants on the outer ring of the Mercado are much cheaper, while the ones in the center are more expensive for essentially the same food!

After this amazing lunch, I walked 20 minutes back to the hostel, where my cab was waiting to take me back to the airport for my flight back to New York via Sao Paulo.  All in all, Santiago was a fantastic city, and my big regret was not spending another day here.  I usually like to spend three days in a new city, and this was no exception.

Simply put, I needed another day.