Perfect Petra

Hello All!

I visited Petra! (Again!). I had an amazing time, but I’m going to let the pictures speak for themeslves. Most of these photos are courtesy of Besnik (in the blue shirt) and Yahya, who I adventured with all day. It was hot, exhausting, and tons of fun!

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

Diamond Status Challenge Success!

Hello Everyone!

Remember how I wrote a couple months ago about doing a Diamond Status match? Well, today, I received great news!

IMG_0492
I’ve gotten so much value out of this status already, and now I have almost two more years of it- for free!

I’m going to go happy dance away now.

-Carissa

Generous Jordan

Hello Dear Readers! Does it always seem like I’m saying I’m going to write more trip reviews for you guys? I realized yesterday perusing through my posts that I’ve promised a thousand and one stories…so I guess I’d better start making a dent. I told you all that I spent four days at the Dead […]

Hello Dear Readers!

Does it always seem like I’m saying I’m going to write more trip reviews for you guys? I realized yesterday perusing through my posts that I’ve promised a thousand and one stories…so I guess I’d better start making a dent.

I told you all that I spent four days at the Dead Sea, and I invited Alaa and his family to come hang out the pool. He showed up on the last day, but unfortunately his family couldn’t make it. We still had a great time! He was suitably impressed with my suite, and when check-out time came, we loaded up the car and took off for Amman.

FFCBE5C3-C552-44AF-82D2-7834B6A0EE98
In case you forgot what it looked like

Along the way, he invited me to his son’s birthday party. How cool is that?? His son, Yaseen, was turning two, so we spent the whole rest of the day going around getting ready for his party.

I even got to pick out the cake!

Though I’m not going to lie to you guys, 100% of people were extremely confused by us walking around speaking in Arabic. Hanging out with a Jordanian gives me some serious street cred. Also, having Alaa with me means I don’t have to pay the tourist tax anymore! This means everything  costs about 98% less- from coffee to french fries.

We stopped off at his sister’s house (he has five), and drank some coffee while we chatted. His sister scrolled through the photos on my phone (danger!), telling me how pretty I was, and, matter-of-factly, that I used to be fat.

Thanks.

CF1BBC02-E998-4B1F-ABE8-7EBF856F1F58
She wasn’t wrong, per se’

After everything, we headed to Jerash for the party. It was at his mom’s house, where his whole family was waiting, including his mom, dad, two of his sisters, wife, and all three kids. You guys saw a photo of his daughter, Sally, before. She’s my new best friend, though literally impossible for me to understand. If you thought learning a foreign language was hard, try to understand it coming out of the mouth of a squeaky tiny little kid. Luckily she’s small so I can just laugh and ignore everything she says!

IMG_0489

Since I was the guest, I got one of everything, despite my protests. So, I had a piece of cake, some dessert I don’t know the name of, another dessert I don’t know the name of, some Jello-y dessert, and several drinks. I nearly exploded.

Honestly guys, I’m so happy. Nothing will ever replace the look on Yaseen’s face when I gave him his present (joy, combined with his intense fear of me), or the warmth I felt at being so welcomed into this family. Their generosity is profound, and I am so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to spend a little time with the people in this corner of the world.

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

Going Native: Having the Time of My Life

Hello All!

It’s been a few days, hasn’t it? You can always tell when things are getting adventurous because my blog posts decline accordingly. After all, who can write when they’re exhausted from tramping around all day?

Luckily, I have some spare time now to write, and boy do I have stories to share. I suppose the biggest news is that I’ve decided to stay my full time in Jordan, rather than leaving and going to Germany for a few days.

I’ve told you guys in the past that a lot of the reason I decided to go to Jordan was to improve my Arabic. I also told you that I was having a lot of trouble communicating because the Arabic I learned is not even comprehensible to the average citizen. Imagine trying to speak King James’ English to someone from the backwaters of Louisiana. It doesn’t work out well.

Well, I mentioned a few posts ago that David and I met a really nice Uber driver, who could not only understand us, but was really nice and even loved Americans. He ended up taking David to the airport, and even offered to drive me to and from the Dead Sea. (I mean, did you guys see that suite??) I’ll tell you guys later about our awesome trip to Jerash and Ajloun, where Alaa (that’s his name) showed us around, but long story short we also got to meet his family and have coffee at their house.

So I invited Alaa and his family to hang out at the Dead Sea with me (after all, what’s luxury if you can’t share in it?). We had a total blast, and I was even invited to Alaa’s son’s birthday.


If you guys ever wanted to learn a language, try sitting in a room full of people shouting during a birthday party. It’s…educational. And fun! I’ve been hanging out with them ever since, and have been having an absolutely wonderful time.

I’ll have detailed posts for you guys about the birthday party, and my trip to Aqaba, and my forthcoming trips all around the rest of Jordan with my new awesome friends.

People always talk about meeting others as being the most satisfying part of their trips. I had hoped to make tons of friends while traveling, but for the most part hadn’t managed yet, possibly due to language barrier, or maybe because I’m actually kind of shy, but now I have, and they’re right. This is so rewarding, so cool, and so totally what I was hoping for. Talk to you guys soon- going to hang out!

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

The Suite Life

Hello Dear Readers!

I have lots more trip things to tell you about, but today I have something awesome to share with you. Remember how I’m always talking about getting status (whether airline or hotel), and how much it can benefit you?

Weeeeell yesterday I checked (back) into the Hilton Dead Sea, to find out that they had upgraded me to their best available room!

I had booked the cheapest rate available for $184/night, using my Citi Prestige card to get the 4th night free. After taxes and all, my total came to $871.53, of which $197.39 Citi refunded back to me. Thus, my total for a 4 night stay was $674.15. A quick look at the rate for a 4 night stay here in this room shows a total of $1784.99.

Yes, they gave me an $1100 upgrade. Simply because I had status with the chain. I’m over the moon about it! And not to sound like a broken record here, but I also get free breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, extra bonus points just for being me, and this totally awesome welcome amenity:

6821F04B-AFFD-442C-910F-482126CF6F98
They were all peanut butter filled??

Status is so worth it! If you guys want a quick refresher on how I got it (without staying in the hotels because come on, that’s expensive), simply click here.

I’m off to enjoy my balcony.

8F9CA17A-1DD1-4AC2-A89C-A61F2F2719B8

-Carissa “I’m basically a celebrity” Ragland

Weekly Inspiration: Paris on Points and Miles

Hello All!

It’s time for another installment of weekly inspiration! Now, I know my travel style is probably a little bit different than a lot of you- that is, I have apparently unlimited free time and go wherever whenever (not totally true, to be fair). However, I realize most of you have productive, working, lives, and some fairly limited time off. Thus, I’m working on making real, sensible, recommendations for you all.

How thoughtful of me! (Sorry, I’ll try to be less sarcastic.) Anyway, this week’s focus is Paris, the city of love. Voted the most romantic city in Europe, Paris is jam-packed with famous landmarks and tons of things to do. I know Paris tops the list for many of us, so let’s figure out how to get there for free- or at least really cheap, eh?

B3233E14-C194-4C3E-9C15-F616D0524079

Flights

Now, there are tons of ways to get to Europe. In case you guys haven’t been keeping up this last year, airlines are going full-warfare on flight prices, which means we’re seeing some incredibly low prices:

IMG_0439

A quick look at November shows us that several different carriers are willing to sell us tickets from New York-Paris for a total of $511 per person. That’s ridiculously cheap all by itself, but we want it free.

So! The American Express Business Platinum is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 points. One of its perks is a 50% refund on points you spend for airfare on an airline of your choosing. That means, looking above, that you can choose Delta, Air France, Iberia, Finnair, or British Airways, and pay a total of 25,600 points per ticket. That means you’ll be able to enjoy three roundtrip tickets to Paris with just one sign-up bonus!

Now, the American Express Business Platinum spend threshold is pretty high (10k for 50,000 points, and 10k for and additional 25k), so if you’re not looking for a heavy investment, that could be problematic.

In that case, I would recommend the British Airways Visa Signature from Chase, which will give you 50,000 points after spending just 3k in the first three months. (Or even up to 100,000 points if you put enough spend on it).

IMG_0437

Using British Airways Avios, you can then fly New York-Dublin for a mere 26,000 points + fuel surcharges roundtrip. (After meeting your spend goal, you’ll have 53k points).

IMG_0441
Flying on BA’s partner, Aer Lingus

From Dublin, flights to Paris are cheap. Airlines such as Ryanair can get you there for around $20 bucks, or, flying a nicer carrier will cost you around $100 roundtrip. Not bad, not bad at all.

Hotels

So you’ve managed to make your way all the way to Paris, now what?

You could spend two nights at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, which is one of the best hotels in Paris, using the two reward nights earned with your Chase Hyatt Visa:

IMG_0444

Or, you can transfer points from one of your Chase Ultimate Rewards cards (such as the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, which each have a 50,000 point sign up bonus after 4k spend in 3 months), and snag 3 nights at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile, which costs a mere 15,000 points a night, or over 1,000 Euros for your three night stint.

IMG_0442

If you get both cards, you’ll have enough points for a full week at the Hyatt Regency, saving yourself 2,200 Euros.

IMG_0443

But Carissa, you say, this all seems like a lot of work. And you’re right, Paris is a notoriously expensive city, and hotels there cost more than almost any else in the world. So what if you don’t want to sign up for a couple different cards just for your hotels?

Well, my friends, I give you Airbnb. No, Airbnb is not free. And you won’t even use points for it. (Or at least not most traditional points). But it is dirt cheap, and cards that give you bonuses based on travel purchases (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, and a whole host of others) will give you the reward bonus for booking with Airbnb. Check out some of these rates for a stay in November:

IMG_0445
These are all full apartments

So if you ever wanted to stay in a chic Parisian apartment for really cheap, Airbnb is going to be your best friend. In fact, it’s what I used during my trip to Paris last year, and I find that it really has outsized value in such an outrageously expensive city.

IMG_0448
Now, if you really don’t want to pay for the Airbnb, you can get yourself the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which gives you a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points (after 3k spend in 3 months). These points can be used to erase charges off your card, so your stay above there would cost 39,200 points, and you’d still have some left over for other fun stuff. (Souvenirs!)

Ok! I know this has been a lot of information in a short post, but I’m hoping I got it all out there pretty clearly. Paris doesn’t have to be unaffordable if you know how to play your cards right, and saving money on airfare and hotels leaves room in the budget for other fun stuff, like shows and ridiculously fancy dinners.

0B7D4A80-AC64-4522-9A6F-A6F02757C033
Like the Moulin Rouge!

I hope you liked this post! Let me know if there’s somewhere you guys would like me to write about!

-Carissa “Fancy Pants” Ragland

And Then There Was One

Hello All,

David went home today, due to some unforeseen circumstances. Does it suck? Yeah. Will I survive out here alone?

Not sure. So! We have a slight change of plans here. Rather than spend a few weeks out here alone, I’m going to spend a couple nights at the Dead Sea (because I already paid for it and I’m totally cheap) and then I’m flying to Germany.

You guys remember Sarah, right? And the hysterical necklace shenanigans we had in Rome? Well! I’m staying with her out in Germany for a while. This even means I get to see my dog! (Though now I realize I probably didn’t explain that she took Nala while David and I were out here in Jordan. But she totally did). After that, it’s business as usual, with a flight back to Madrid, some time spent out there, and then Bali!

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

IMG_0432
Look at this cheerful photo!
IMG_0431
Such distractions!

-Carissa

When Things (Don’t) Go Right: Minibussing Through Jordan

Hey All!

I’ve been frolicking away the last few days here in Amman, Jordan. (Ok, and the Dead Sea) and I have so much to tell you!

So, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you guys, but the place we’re staying in is a little…cold. It’s in the nicest part of town (which I did for safety reasons, obviously), but is…a basement. Yes, it’s a very nice basement, and has lots of hot water and also a gas stove, but it’s a little like putting lipstick on a pig.

Thus it was that yesterday, David and I (ok, I) decided to make a spontaneous trip to the Dead Sea. The Hilton Dead Sea just opened there a few weeks ago, and I was pretty anxious to get my grubby hands all over the awesome new stuff there.

We were one second away from ordering an Uber out front of our apartment, when our overly zealous host offered us tea and lemon juice. Thus, we found ourselves engaging in awkward small talk in his really rich, really nice, house.

Pause here for a moment, because I feel like you guys need to know something. Half the reason I came out here was for the opportunity to practice my Arabic skills. And you know what? Almost no one can understand me. This isn’t just because of the crap way they taught me Arabic. (Modern Standard) This is full on proper speech and everything and still, everyone looks at me like I’ve grown three heads. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it has something to do with my particular skin color and gender. Very frustrating. Such was the nature of this conversation.

Anyway, since we didn’t want to be rude, we spent a half hour drinking lemon juice, at which point our host told us not to bother with a taxi, because the minibuses were so much cheaper and more effective. Do you see where this is going?

He drove us clear across town, and insisted on speaking with the bus driver himself in order to ensure that we were taking the correct bus. (We were planning on just waving goodbye and taking an Uber anyway). Thus, we found ourselves crammed in the back of a minibus, where I self-consciously held my shirt closed and still 10 Arab men stared lustily at me.

F29E6552-29BC-4CD6-9899-A66EF760E744
After the bus emptied out

After two more hours, we finally found our resort, and things smoothed out from there, which I will illustrate to you in a series of photos, because let’s be honest, I’m lazy:

3A53EC3B-2375-4A0B-9E5A-6C7C2CF5D959
Breakfast with a view
02E21BD8-D086-4DE1-9455-EC46DC7CCEE7
Because dignity is overrated

Now we’re back in Amman! And looking forward to more fun times ahead.

-Carissa “Black Beauty” Rawson

Cow Feet and Fried Pizza: Street Food in Napoli

Hello!

Today I wanted to talk about my time spent in Naples. Now, this may come as a surprise to no one except me but Naples is generally not considered a safe city. I found this out once I told Joni we were headed there, and she regaled me with tales of caution from her accountant, who insisted that Naples is one of the worst places in Italy.

Well crap.

Somehow, we managed to avoid getting robbed, harassed, hustled, or even hollered at, and had a wonderful time while we were there.

We spent our first day on a food tour, which took us through the streets of the city. Now, after reading the generally positive reviews of this tour, I felt pretty good about it. Everyone had really positive things to say, right?

Right.

It started out innocently enough, with our guide taking us to a coffee shop to enjoy Cafe’ Napoletano (espresso with whipped sugar and coffee), and then to enjoy some fresh Napoletano sweets. Delicious, and not at all a foreshadowing for what was to come.

You see, as our guide explained to us, Naples used to be a poor town, full of army folks and prostitution. These people just couldn’t afford to eat. So poor, so starving, so sad, etc etc.

Instead, they turned to the kinds of food others wouldn’t eat. Ya know, things like stomach. And hoof. And cheek. This, they boiled until all the fat melted off and it became somewhat chewable. Then, they doused it in salt and lemon and choked it down, a tradition which they continue to this day.

IMG_0417
Look at this stuff

You see where this is going, right?

I’m just going to pause right here and tell you that I wasn’t even going to eat this stuff, until Joni looked me squarely in the eye and declared “I’ll eat it if you will.” And guys, I can’t back down from a challenge. So we did.

We “enjoyed” cow udder, intestine, hoof, cheek, and stomach. It was…interesting.

I think my favorite part had to be when Joni attempted to chew her hoof. You see, a hoof is all cartilage, right? And whenever you chew cartilage, it doesn’t really break down. It just turns into smaller and smaller bits of cartilage. So, after a few minutes, Joni was still sitting there with a mouthful of hoof and looking increasingly queasy. I took the coward’s route and nearly swallowed it whole.

My second favorite part would have to be the hair still attached to the cow cheek, which my guide assured me was sanitary because ‘it was all boiled anyway.’

IMG_0415
Delicious cow cheek.

We finished up the tour with fried pizza and seafood, which I turned down because I may eat cow hoof, but I draw the line at shrimp, dammit.

6094F230-9514-4194-8B72-6D99E59320E3
Gross.

More about our adventures tomorrow.

-Carissa “Cow Foot” Rawson

Awesome Amman

Hello Friends!

So I wouldn’t say that my time in Jordan got off to a…good…start. As you guys read previously, almost everything went wrong immediately. However! We’re both fully recovered and have spent some fun time wandering around this city.

I told you guys that I lived here before, so there have been lots of things I wanted to show David. It’s surreal being back. We’ve been making the rounds, climbing up to the citadel:

IMG_0405

Checking out the Roman Theatre:

And eating at every restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s been a stomach-busting adventure, and we’re having a lot of fun.

In fact, yesterday we made some new friends! Basically as soon as people figure out we can speak Arabic, we’re instantly 100% more interesting. (Me, mostly. It’s the hair).

IMG_0402
Look at this stuff. So hairy

So we spent the entirety of our Uber ride yesterday chatting with our driver, who declared us his new friends from California, and asked if he could climb into our checked luggage back to the US. Something…tells me that wouldn’t work out.

And oh my god.

While we were at the Roman theatre, we made friends with a couple of kids who were there hanging out. Now, I don’t know if you guys know this, but the Jordanian concept of personal space is very different than in the US (for men only). Thus, we found ourselves sitting at the top of the theatre with a couple of 17 year-olds, who immediately started hanging all over David and asking him to sing.

So he did. He obliged them with a rap.

Have you met David?

It went a little something like this:

“My name is David and I’m in the city of Amman, sitting here with my new friends- I forgot your name- what’s your name? Kasm! Yeahhhhhhh”

I actually doubled over in laughter. And no matter how impressed they were with our American-ness, they were not impressed with this rap. The disbelief, doubt, and confusion ran across their faces as they stared at him, wondering if he was joking.

He wasn’t. He’s just not…uh…adept at rapping.

After this debacle, we headed to a rooftop bar, where we enjoyed amazing Arab food, including mansaf, which is the official dish of Jordan. It’s a sour yogurt, rice, and lamb dish, and pretty good if you like Arab food overall. (Which we do).

IMG_0410
Mmmm

It was a great day with a beautiful ending.

6BAC4BAF-CD38-455D-A66E-C30D1714E89D

Today we’re heading out the the souks for a little shopping and hopefully more new friends.

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson