Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: April 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Canadian Adventures In 16 Pictures

1a2

A beautiful, snowy downtown Montreal, as seen from the Chalet du Mont-Royal.

My wife and I have enjoyed two wonderful trips to Canada within the past 12 months. They were very different: the first occurred in the height of summer, while the second let us experience a snowy Canadian winter. We have fond memories from both, and it is hard to say which was the more enjoyable. Whether we were skiing on the snowy slopes of Quebec’s Mont-Saint-Anne or taking a harbor sail in Halifax on a warm summer day, we found our time in Canada to be a delight. Our cameras can attest to that as well. We have hundreds of photos documenting our adventures and would like to share some of the best moments.

2

Houses in Quidi Vidi, an historic fishing village and neighborhood in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Newfoundland was my favorite place we visited. It is an exquisite island. The rugged terrain, superb ocean views, icebergs, friendly people, and abundant wildlife all contributed to an amazing experience. A passenger on the ferry from Nova Scotia to the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland remarked, “You liked Prince Edward Island? Newfoundland is better.” Even as beautiful as PEI is, I certainly concurred with the gentleman that Newfoundland is more enchanting. My wife may disagree. She has been a lifelong fan of Anne of Green Gables and was completely enraptured by Anne’s beautiful Prince Edward Island.

3

We had a fantastic tour with The Iceberg Man in Twillingate, Newfoundland. Iceberg sighting in July is hit or miss, but we were fortunate enough to see two on our single day in the area.

Newfoundland may be a fantastic place to visit in summer, but it would be an entirely different experience in winter. When I made a reservation with a bed and breakfast for our trip, the property owner told me that is was a frigid -20 degrees Celsius in mid-February! Stuff like this simply doesn’t compute for us Californians. At the time of our visit to Newfoundland, we did not realize that we would experience these bone-chilling temperatures while in Quebec half a year later.

6

The imposing Chateau Frontenac dominates Quebec City skyline. It houses a Fairmont hotel.

But we enjoyed winter in Canada as much as summer. It was an entirely different experience, but still a thrill. Visiting the old city of Quebec is about the closest thing to a European vacation that you can have without leaving North America. I had no idea that Canada contained such variety.

5

The end of Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland.

It is still hard to compare the two trips. The summer trip was fast-paced, full of single nights at different locations, boat tours, a little hiking, and lots of driving. The winter trip consisted of mostly leisurely walks, indoor activities such as museums and tours, and strolls through snow-covered parks. We also spent a solid 5 days at each location, Quebec City being the main highlight.

4a2

A small park in Montreal. We found our winter walks in the city to be extremely pleasant.

Quebec City had a much different pace than both Montreal and Toronto. It felt more laid back. The bustle was distinctly missing, and ‘downtown’ was a major tourist attraction rather than a commercial center. Toronto is a different story. It felt like a true city. Modern glass-faced buildings filled the skyline, and it has had an explosion of new construction in the past two decades. We also noticed that Toronto is also a very clean city compared to most we have visited.

7

Downtown Toronto.

If Toronto is too large and bustling of a city, Halifax might provide a more desirable pace. Roughly half the size of the Quebec population center, and a mere 5% of greater Toronto, Halifax has a beautiful waterfront and harbor. For our one night there we stayed in Dartmouth at the Holiday Inn Halifax Harborview, which is aptly named. The harbor sail we took was absolutely wonderful.

8

Harbor sail in Halifax, the second-largest natural harbor in the world (after Sydney, Australia).

No matter what we were seeing or doing, Canada kept us enjoying ourselves at every turn.

9

Stunning view of the vast expanse north of Mont-Saint-Anne ski resort. Taken from the lift.

We had some great wildlife sightings as well. Squirrels, birds, and seals, all made the list, but unfortunately no whales. I had hoped we would get to see a huge bull moose, but we had to settle for a cow while in Gros Morne National Park. The biggest treat were the puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, along the Avalon Peninsula south of St. John’s.

2009-12-31 23.00.00-1435

Members of the enormous puffin population in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland.

We covered so much territory in such a short time during our summer adventures that I would gladly consider taking a second trip to many of the places we visited. We had a half day in the Cape Breton Highlands, a single night in Twillingate, and a single day in Gros Morne National Park. I could easily spend another week at any of those places.

10a2

View out over Ingonish Bay, at the southern end of the Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia.

Even the places in which we did have significant time to explore, such as Quebec City, beckon us to return.

11a

Basse-Terre, the lower town of old Quebec. Christmas had passed, but decorations were festive.

We also explored a wonder that is shared by both us and the Canadians: Niagara Falls. The Cave of Winds Tour is by far the best experience, and it is on the American side of the falls, but you really cannot beat the view that the Canadians have. I would definitely suggest taking a solid day on each side to enjoy everything Niagara Falls has to offer.

12

Niagara Falls parks are better on the American side, but you cannot beat the view from Canada.

We also did splurge and get a beautiful falls-view corner suite at the Sheraton-on-the-Falls on the Ontario side. The bulk was covered by a generous gift from my inlaws, and we footed the rest to get a high-floor room. While laying in bed with a view of Niagara Falls is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we have had great views from other hotels as well, such as Le Centre Sheraton Montreal.

13

Our great view of Mont Royal from Le Centre Sheraton Montreal. The hotel was fantastic.

We really fell in love with Canada. With a land area larger than the United States and a population less than that of California, I am sure there is plenty of natural beauty left for us to enjoy on future occasions.

2009-12-31 23.00.00-1207

Brightly colored row houses in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I already find myself wanting to return. Next on the Canada list is British Columbia, but I hope we can see both Quebec City and Newfoundland a second time. And then maybe a third.

14

Me and my darling wife.

 

Will The Travel Thrill Ever Wane?

787_sunset_wing

I sometimes wonder if traveling will ever become a mundane endeavor. My immediate gut reaction is ‘no.’ I do not think that the allure of visiting new, far-off places will ever abate, but I do wonder if the much of travel will lose its charm. Will the exhilaration of airplane takeoff become a bore? Will a patch of turbulence no longer bring a thrill? Will I tire of moving from hotel to hotel on an extended trip and long for my bed at home? Will navigating train stations and airports become more of a chore than an enjoyment? Will I eventually lose the sense of wonder I get while viewing the world from 35,000 feet?

I do not think so. Even after a year in which I spent a total of two months away from home, I still feel the same about traveling. If anything, the desire has grown. Maybe it is because I am young, and I don’t want to wait until my wife and I are old to see the world. Maybe it is because I find great enjoyment in spontaneity and discovery. Travel is a an adventure. Could these feelings ever change? Time will be the real test.

Life will certainly change. My wife and I will have kids. I may not always have my wonderfully flexible job. Our family may need support and help. We do not know what the road ahead has in store. God does, and we want His plans first. Traveling is a luxury. We will welcome change, even if it means a lessening of our adventures across the globe. Whatever the circumstances, I do hope to always be content with the blessings, opportunities, and even the trials, that we are given.

My flight home this week was delayed by more than 90 minutes. A nuisance and an inconvenience it certainly seemed, but I was content with it. I did not let it dampen the travel enjoyment. I kept the positive in mind this time. If the fight had not been delayed, I would not have gotten to see a 787 Dreamliner take off into a brilliantly red Bay Area sunset. Or enjoyed a friendly chat with a fellow Humboldt County native. I am slowly learning to take the unknowns of traveling in stride, and to make the best of them. I hope to do the same with life. I really do not expect the thrill of travel to ever wane. If it does, that will be the easy road. But if it doesn’t, and the adventure is taken from me, I will still be content.

Piecing Together A Cheap Around The World Itinerary…..For Kicks

Route_plane_on_earth_GFDLWhat started as a Sunday afternoon browsing of dirt cheap intra-Europe fares on RyanAir turned into a self-instigated challenge to find a “cheap” round-the-world itinerary on cash, hopefully ringing in less than $1,000, with at least 7 stops along the way.

The problem is almost too big, and there are innumerable ways to solve it. I promptly decided that the route should start in the Bay Area, the home of the closest major airports to where I live. This made the first flight of the route pretty much a no-brainer, and I went from there:

  1. Oakland to Stockholm – Norwegian – $179 – Sometimes this flight comes down to about $150, but $179 was the current low price I could find this Spring. You can sometimes find a return for $130. This is honestly insane.
  2. Stockholm to Berlin – Norwegian – $35
  3. Berlin to Rome – Ryanair – $22 – There will be a bag charge as well for a carry-on, so I will take that into account.
  4. Rome to Istanbul – Alitalia – $69
  5. Istanbul to Cairo – Aegean – $90 – Aegean is a StarAlliance partner that I really hadn’t looked at until now.
  6. Cairo to New Delhi – Oman Air – $239 – I tried and tried options with a stop in the Middle East to get the cost below $300. The Cairo stopover was the best I could find at the time.
  7. New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur – AirAsia – $109 – Pretty good price for a 5+ hour flight. It’s nearly the same as flying SFO to JFK.
  8. Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong – AirAsia – $43 -AirAsia seems to be RyanAir’s oriental counterpart.
  9. Hong Kong to San Francisco – Air China – $484 – I couldn’t find a transpacific flight for less than this. You can snag a round-trip for under $600 at times to Hong Kong (see my thoughts on United’s goofy ticket pricing), and I was mildly surprised you couldn’t find a one-way for much less than $500.

This comes to a total of ~$1,300. It is unfortunate that the trans-Pacific flight simply breaks the budget. Still, it isn’t bad at all for a set of flights that stop in 8 different places for at least a few days in each. If you consider tacking on the trans-Pacific leg as an award flight, you can probably get the cash portion down to $850.

Flying economy around the world may not sound that appealing either, but if each flight is limited to 3-5 hours at a time (not that all these are), it wouldn’t be all that bad. The three longest legs are Oakland to Stockholm, Cairo to New Delhi (via Muscat), and Hong Kong to San Francisco (via Beijing). The transatlantic and transpacific legs would probably be the most brutal.

Also note that most of the flights were searched roughly 3-6 weeks out in non-peak season (i.e. not summer). Personally, I am not crazy about summer warmth, so I really don’t mind traveling places in so-called “shoulder” seasons, as long as there is not typically severe weather in the region, or anything that would make exploring a location sub-optimal.

In any case, with plenty of time to spend in each destination, I think this itinerary would make a great trip. I am currently in the process of planning a summer adventure in Italy, but seeing how (relatively) cheaply an around-the-world ticket can be put together makes it a tempting future option. With a little more time and research, I bet I could ring in under the $1,000 threshold.

IHG Share Forever 2016

share_forever_2016_banner

IHG runs endless promotions. I’ve been a rewards member for just over a year now, and there has basically been at least one promotion running at any given time. No sooner have I completed my Accelerate offer (thank you work travel) than another hits my inbox: Share Forever. This is some serious deja vu. Both the Share Forever and Accelerate names were used last year.

If you are an IHG rewards member, head over to the promo site to see your offer. The offers differ among people, but yours should allow you to potentially net at least an extra 65,000 IHG points. Mine is good for a single night during May, which could earn me an extra 8,000 points plus 1,000 for my wife. Beyond that, I don’t expect to go out of my way to earn the extra points. If work sends me on a couple trips, I could potentially hit the 5 night mark, but the extra rewards are still meager.

ihg_share_forever_2016

Good return for one night, meager beyond that. Maybe we’ll spend a night in SF to see the Giants.

The only confusing thing about my offer is the point totals. My Share Forever dashboard already says I earned 1,000 points (maybe for just logging in? I doubt it). The email also said “Earn 73,900 bonus points with Share Forever” while my dashboard shows a potential 67,900. I had issues with the previous accelerate offer telling me I could earn more points than were showing, so maybe it is another tech issue.

If you are not an IHG rewards member, go sign up, and then register for the Share Forever promotion. Better yet, go apply for their Chase MasterCard. The welcome bonus is currently an above-average 70,000 points, with a bonus 5,000 points for adding an authorized user.

Finishing Off My Spring 2016 IHG Accelerate Promotion

I previously wrote about how two work trips made it possible for me to capitalize on my IHG Accelerate promotion offer. Like other promotions IHG has run, each member’s offer is ‘customized’ for them, although I am sure there is a finite pool of possibilities, and each is either picked randomly or by a set of criteria. My wife and I happened to have the exact same offer for the Fall promotion last year, and also the exact same one this Spring. While the offers then were rather lousy, my Spring 2016 Accelerate offers are much more lucrative, especially when my work will reimburse me for my lodging.

I completed three of the offers on two stays back in January, and another by a single night in February, netting a total of 45,000 bonus points. My final offer for an extra 10,000 points requires a total of 5 paid nights, and I am finishing it up by a two night stay at the Holiday Inn Express Walnut Creek and a single night at the Holiday Inn Windsor.

Combining the earnings from this promotion with both the base points I earn from the stays and the points I earned from the Priceless Surprises promotion this year, I have already banked 125,000 points for a total of $65 out of pocket. This is one of the times that I am extremely glad that I have work travel at my disposal as a way to earn extra points. Possible uses for 125k IHG points range from 2 nights at a top-tier Intercontinental in Tahiti, to 5 nights at a mid-range Holiday Inn at in a major city, to a whopping 25 nights at a PointBreaks property!

Older posts