I last left you all with tales of my and Harrison’s trip to Lithuania, where we spent three wonderful days exploring the country before returning to Israel.
You all know I don’t rest on my laurels for long though, as immediately after I got home from Israel my friend Carlos came for a visit. (I mean literally the next day. We suffered from jet lag together). We met in Scotland during our Arabic Programme and I haven’t gotten rid of him since.
Carlos was in the US for a total of three weeks, two of which were with me (yay!) and I made the most of it by showing him all around California.
What did this mean? Well our itinerary looked a little something like this:
Yucaipa -> Las Vegas -> Ventura -> Pismo Beach -> Monterey -> Santa Clara -> Los Angeles
While we certainly kept busy, the slow pace of our travel meant nothing felt too rushed, and we spent quite a lot of time wandering around exploring the culture (and by that I mean food. All of it. Everywhere).
I’m writing to you from the balmy climes of Nebraska, where I’m helping a friend film a documentary about Native American veterans. But I digress. I’ve got one last post for you guys about Lithuania before moving on to other trips.
We had an action packed few days during our little weekend trip, and the crowning moment (in my humble opinion) was arranging a home cooked meal with some local Lithuanian folks in Vilnius.
Now, you’ll likely recall that Harrison and I have done this before, in Georgia, over New Year’s. We had an amazing time and I swear I didn’t drink all the alcohol.
Ok I lied.
Still, we had such a good time during our first adventure that I decided we had to do it again. This time I booked via eatwith, and we were neither shoved in a trunk nor drugged and sold into slavery, a possibility I never even considered until my family brought it up.
This time around we had a luxurious Lithuanian meal, and we weren’t alone!
We had a wonderful time enjoying a three course meal inside their insanely fancy home.
Now, dinner was at the end of our day, which we had spent wandering throughout the city. One of the coolest locations we ended up going? Užupis, a commune-esque neighborhood just outside of city central with its own laws, edicts, and constitution.
The neighborhood itself is very cool, with tons of unique features, including some awesome graffiti and picturesque sites.
All told, Lithuania was an unexpectedly awesome trip. We packed it full and enjoyed every minute of it- from the good food to the pleasant people to the cheap as hell cost.
-Carissa “Not Quite a Victoria’s Secret Angel” and Harrison “He Totally Deserves It!” Diamond
I’m writing to you from the desolate depths of an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, courtesy of my extremely generous parents and American Express points.
We last left off with my description of Kaunas, which was essentially ‘here’s some food let’s eat it- wait here’s some more let’s eat that too- wait hold on I didn’t have enough give me that donut.’
You may laugh, but that’s basically what happened. And why would it be any different in Vilnius? The capital of Lithuania was a mere two hours away via train so after spending a single night in Kaunas, we hopped aboard and made our way to Vilnius.
By the way, planning all this without spilling the beans to Harrison was extremely difficult. I am a notoriously poor liar, so it was to my benefit that he never actually guessed the location of our trip.
Case in point, the night before we were due to leave, he announced that he had figured out where we were going.
“Estonia!” he declared happily, at which point I replied “Oooh not bad, you’re very close.”
Why, guys, why in the world did I tell him that? I spent the entire rest of the night praying he didn’t mention any of Estonia’s neighbors and silently kicking myself for basically giving the game away.
Since we only had two nights in Vilnius, I made sure to action pack them with as much awesome stuff as possible. This started with a dinner at Lokys, an awesome old-time restaurant that had rave reviews. Think medieval times, only way cooler and better.
Once we were comfortably seated in our authentic Lithuanian basement, I made short work of ordering mead, which I thumped down enthusiastically on the table much like a Lord of old.
I’m kidding, kinda.
The menu at Lokys is dedicated to serving food as it would have been some four hundred years ago, which is how I ended up devouring boar and Harrison enjoyed beaver stew. No, really.
Afterwards we walked around Old Town Vilnius, one of the largest and best preserved examples of medieval architecture in Europe.
I’m not even gonna lie here, I had quite a lot to drink at dinner (that damn mead!) and I thoroughly enjoyed my tipsy, careless stumble throughout the town. Whether or not the locals appreciated it remains to be seen.
Now that you all know how Harrison and I managed our stay in Jordan, it’s time to talk about the trip itself. I was only in Israel for one night before we were due to fly to Amman, but very unfortunately for me, it just so happened that I got extremely horrible food poisoning. I’m talking can’t-stand-can’t-eat-can’t-leave-the-bathroom bad.
This first started at around, oh, seven in the morning, and our flight was at midnight that night. Right around 4pm Harrison turned to me sternly (while I lay helpless in bed) and told me in no uncertain terms we were not flying to Jordan that night.
So when we got to the airport at ten I rallied and managed to keep from vomiting at any point before or during our flight. It was a real struggle, but no way was I going to miss the opportunity to take Harrison to Jordan, one of my favorite countries on the planet.
Luckily, the next morning dawned and I felt much better, though my stomach was still in shreds. But who cared? I was in Jordan!
We had only one full day in Amman, where I took Harrison to all my old haunts, starting with breakfast at the Waffle House.
One awesome thing? I hadn’t been to Jordan in two years, and since then I’ve spent tons of time and effort on my Arabic (MS in Advanced Arabic, anyone?). Well, the previous times I’d visited, everyone refused to speak to me in anything but English, despite my attempts to communicate. This time around I managed to hold my own completely in Arabic and the one time somebody tried to switch to English I took great joy in chastising him about my ability to understand him. That’s progress!
I also took Harrison to my favorite rooftop bar downtown, which has an amazing view of the amphitheater and is full of bunnies, chicks, and turtles. No seriously, they roam about freely for you to pet and feed. There I got to have my favorite Carakale beer, direct from the only microbrewery in all of Jordan.
Best of all? We made our way to the gold souks, where hoards of lavish jewelry beckoned invitingly from behind dozens of shop windows. And there we found Harrison’s wedding band, beautiful and luxurious and immensely more awesome that we got it while traveling.
We spent our evening at Mijana, an amazing Arabic restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor terrace and live music.
Before too late we headed back to the hotel, tuckered out and ready to prep for our extremely early trip to Petra the next day.
It’s been a hot few years since I’ve been home for Easter due to one reason or another (just kidding. It’s travel. It’s always travel). But! This year I finally managed and let me tell you something. I have been Missing. Out.
So I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is my family, which is why I never really made such a big deal out of Easter. Sure, there’s some chocolate, and some good food, but nothing too crazy.
What I neglected to realize was that my family celebrates Easter like a boss. You see, all the kids are grown up now, with my two younger cousins 19 and 21 and myself 29. But rather than stopping Easter egg hunts, which let’s be real are ridiculously fun, the Easter Bunny has instead evolved the process.
In addition to booze, we hunted Easter eggs containing the best surprise ever- money!
After entirely way too much fun, we then moved the party to Disneyland.
Now, if you’ve been following my saga, you know that our flight cancellation led to a complete desertion of our plans (do you know how many hours I spent on those??) and the snap decision to head down to London for four days instead of staying in Scotland. Joni had already visited Scotland, you see, but still had never been to London.
So it was that after our very long day in Inverness, we again woke up at oh God help me o’ clock, and started the train ride from Edinburgh to London King’s Cross. In all actuality, it wasn’t so bad, as traveling by train is decidedly less stressful than flying. We merely showed up a few minutes early, got on, plugged in, and watched an entire season of Outlander. Easy peasy.
I’ve been to London quite a few times before, but somehow there’s still always so much to see. This trip I took Joni all around to the usual tourist things, but this time was also the first time we ever had a London Citypass, which meant we actually ended up doing tons of stuff I’d never done before.
After our initial snafu with the flight situation, Joni, Brit, and I all arrived safely to Scotland. Since all our original plans were a bust (luckily most everything was refundable), we decided to make new, better plans.
And what better than going and visiting all the Outlander sites we missed the first time around?
And although essentially all of our plans were canceled as a result of the flight changes, we still reaaally wanted to go on the private Outlander tour we had booked up in Inverness. So it was that we got up before the crack of dawn to board the three hour train to Inverness:
And spent the day wandering around the highlands going to visit different Outlander things. This tour was actually pretty cool, as we didn’t go just to filming locations- we also saw actual clan Fraser lands and real Scottish history.
We boarded the train late back home to Edinburgh, exhausted but totally happy. Next stop? London, baby!
It’s been a busy few weeks here in Carissa-town. Joni and I just got back from a week long trip to the UK, I renewed my annual pass to Disneyland, and- oh yeah- I worked at my job.
As always, my life is hectic to the point of chaos, but I’m used to it. Comfortable with it, even. I find peace on long-haul flights with nothing to do but watch movies and blog. It’s my safe zone.
But you know what isn’t my safe zone? Airports. More specifically, the Los Angeles airport. Have any of you ever flown through there? The place is a nightmare, a sprawling mess of dysfunctional security lines and angry customers, sprinkled all over with the dust of its constant construction.
So it was that Joni and I left five hours early for our flight to the UK, laden with luggage and bleary eyed, ready to spend three hours in LA traffic.
To our immense surprise, the drive took only a little over two hours, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. In fact, we boarded our plane on time (me in peasant class, Joni flying fancy up front) and took off right as we were meant to.
Shortly thereafter, however, the pilot landed again, citing a “small engine issue.” An hour later, they had us deplane and bussed us back to the terminal, telling us to come back in two hours to board again.
At this point, we already knew we’d miss our connection in Amsterdam, so both of us were on the phone with KLM, who insisted that the plane had taken off as scheduled. You know, despite the fact that we were on the phone, talking, from a terminal in Los Angeles. The call ended with them doing a virtual shrug and advising us to call back later.
Ok, sure. So instead we headed back to our deplaning area, where a few harried gate agents were still typing furiously at their computers.
Why were they typing furiously? Well, it turns out that our entire flight was canceled, and rather than updating the system, they were instead rebooking every single person on the flight right then.
So it was that we were booked on a flight- not to Inverness- which was our original city, but to Edinburgh. And Joni? She was bumped from business to the back with Brit and I.
Ah well, at least we were going to make it? *foreshadowing intensifies*
By the time we made it out to the British Airways check in desk, which was our new airline, the entire airport was jammed full of angry re-accommodated passengers, all jostling each other for elbow room. Not to be deterred, Joni and I entered the special assistance line, which we were quickly dragged out of as British Airways informed me they ‘don’t accept dogs.’
Long story short, I ended up in a massive argument with the British Airways people, we nearly canceled our trip, and at the end of it all I ended up on an Air France flight connecting via Paris in premium economy, and Joni routed through London Heathrow on British Airways in sad regular economy. (Ok, she did purchase an upgrade to economy plus).
We met up in Edinburgh, our entire trip in disarray and zero plans left with what to do.
Annoying? Also yes.
But the redeeming factor? Since we were flying to the EU, our canceled flight fell under European flight delay jurisdiction, which meant that they owed Joni and I $682 each.
Considering I paid under $400 for my round-trip flight, how mad can I be?
It’s been a long time since I’ve written specifically about credit cards and reward travel, and for the first time in a long time, I’m actually caught up on my trip reviews.
So today I’m going to talk to you about a credit card I’ve been lusting after ever since it was launched in January 2018. The card, the American Express Hilton Aspire card, is an ultra-premium credit card that combines a disgustingly high annual fee ($450!) with some of the best benefits available in the credit card business.
What Do I Get For All That Money?
• 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
• 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
• 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other purchases
•Hilton Honors Diamond status
•One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership
• A second weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year
• $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
• No foreign transaction fees
• Access to the American Express concierge
•150,000 point sign-up bonus
What’s the Big Deal?
1.Hilton Honors Diamond status– this is the highest status Hilton offers, and provides tons of benefits for elite members. The Aspire card is the only card on the market to offer top level elite status simply for holding a credit card.
2.One weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new card and each year of card Membership– this free night is unrestricted, meaning you could use it at the Conrad Maldives if you so please (which costs $2,000/night). It’s very easy to find a hotel that will cost more than your $450 annual fee.
3.Priority Pass™Lounge Membership– if you aren’t interested in getting other premium credit cards, like the American Express Platinum Card, then this could be a good option for you as Priority Pass has airport lounges all over the world. It’s awesome to get away from the stress of the terminal.
4.$250 Airline incidental fee annual statement credit– this credit can be used on the airline of your choice for things like: purchased upgrades, purchased seats, bag fees, and an annual lounge membership.
5.$250 Hilton resort annual statement credit– use this at your free night for the ultimate in smug satisfaction.
6.150,000 point sign-up bonus– 150,000 bonus points is nearly enough for two free nights at the Conrad Maldives. Combine it with your other free night for three completely free nights at the best hotel in the world. If that’s not your jam, 150,000 bonus points also equals 30 free nights at Hilton’s category 1 hotels. Enjoy the upgrade your Diamond status brings you.
I actually recently applied for this card myself but was turned down due to having too many American Express cards. Yeah, that’s a thing. I have an offer to upgrade from the lower tier American Express Hilton Card, but it comes without the sign-up bonus, which is really kind of crappy. Let’s be realistic though, once my Diamond status runs out in March, I’ll probably head right over to this card.