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).
If any of you are still here, you must be asking yourself: what happened to Carissa? Did she die or fall off a cliff or simply stop writing?
To that I say no. I’m still here, sans cliffs, and I’m still very much writing.
You see, June 3rd was the date of my last post. June 11th I began a new job. A new, full-time, salaried job, as a travel writer. I’m working remotely, writing about my passion, only this time I’m doing it on the world’s largest travel website- as a living!
I have tons of things written here, for you guys. I’m working on putting them up. And I’ll still post as often as I can (though perhaps more sporadically, as damn if it isn’t difficult to do everything all at once).
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
You may remember that time last year when Joni and I took a hot air balloon ride over Luxor, watching the sun rise spectacularly over the Nile as we drifted above.
I had such a great time then that when planning Harrison’s birthday trip I thought ‘Hey, I wonder if they do hot air balloons in Lithuania?’
The answer to that is yes, yes they do.
So it was that we rose at the crack of dawn to blearily drag on every item of clothing we owned (kidding, I was also wearing half of Harrison’s clothes) and hop into a van with several strangers, bound for Trakai, the neighboring city and site of our launch.
It was approximately 1 degree outside despite being April, which meant I looked like this:
I did, however, manage to thaw a little as Harrison helped to inflate the balloon:
The ride itself was very peaceful, with just three of us (and the pilot) flying over the city.
Now, I don’t know if this is a real thing, but after landing the pilots, um, said a prayer and poured champagne on the ground. They then wiped it on our head and pronounced us official hot air ballooners. No, really.
Regardless, I enjoyed the free champagne and loved being able to take Harrison (who by the way was terrified) up over the skies.
-Carissa “Officially Qualified to Fly the Balloon” Rawson
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.
I’m still writing to you from the depths of my transcontinental Alaska Airlines flight, where Brit is snuggled securely under my feet and I’ve just braggily finished my first-class steak. It was a little overdone, to be honest.
But I digress.
It was Harrison’s birthday this last April, and amongst the gifts I showered about him (I have a problem), I also decided this was the ideal time to surprise him with a secret vacation. Well, ok, he knew we were going on a trip, but he didn’t know where.
I’ll start by saying that my choice of destination was entirely dependent on the cheap-ass fare that I found, courtesy of Ryanair and its yellow plastic seats.
So it was that on the morning of our journey, he packed his bags, having attempted to guess our trip location for the past several months and having failed miserably. His only hints included, “Yes, you’ll need a passport. Yes, bring your swimsuit. Yes, bring your jacket too.”
I have to admit, I was super stoked to be surprising him with this. It’s been a long time since I’ve planned all the activities on our trips (he’s usually the doer-planner), and I had packed our itinerary with things I knew he loved.
We arrived at the airport with him as clueless as can be, knowing only that we were flying on Ryanair (never again, by the way).
He squinted up at the flight information board, staring at all the departures.
“Are we going to…Rome?” he asked, his brow furrowing at the thought of a repeat visit to a country.
“We’re going to…Paphos?” he frowned as he considered what a common destination Greece was.
With only one destination left up on the board, he read it out slowly, “Are we heading to…Ki-wan-us?”
Kaunas! Yes! I grinned triumphantly up at him, excited for his reaction.
And so our journey to Lithuania started, with bags of bikinis and rain jackets and multitudes of places to explore.
-Carissa “Help I’m on a Ryanair Flight” Rawson and Harrison “It’s Pronounced K-oh-nus” Diamond
I’m writing to you from the roomy comfort of Alaska Airlines’ first class, on my way home from an interview. Ah, the jetsetting life.
I kid, I’m actually exhausted and would like to sit down for a while.
I last left off talking about mine and Harrison’s weekend to Jordan, discussing our pleasant journey all around Amman as I showed him my old digs. But you know what I didn’t talk about?
Our trip to Petra.
This actually marked my third visit to Petra, and at a staggering $70 per entry, I’ve spent a great deal more money to look at old rocks than most people. Still, the adventure is always worth it, and it gets easier every time.
That is, of course, unless you have food poisoning. You know, like I did shortly before our arrival. And somehow, despite my stubborn insistence that I was fine, I actually didn’t happen to be fine at all.
Cue me trudging down the path to the Treasury at Petra, my head spinning and my stomach cramping, attempting to plaster on a smile for Harrison as the breathtakingly carved stone opens up in front of us.
It was busier than I’d ever seen it, with hordes of tourists crowding around the lone two camels for the best pictures possible.
Harrison and I took the obligatory photo in front of the building, before I woozily made my way to the shade. It was here that I informed him there was no possible way I was fit for the 3 mile hike up the mountain to the top, where the monastery was located.
He was very understanding, of course. He always is.
Until the glint of an idea began to glimmer in the back of my mind. Sure, I couldn’t walk up the steep stone steps of the mountain. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t ride.
I recalled my first visit three years prior, where, exhausted at the end of a long day, several friends had ridden donkeys back to Petra’s entrance.
So it was that we found ourselves ascending the steep climb up Petra’s mountainous walkways on the backs of donkeys, me attempting desperately to keep from vomiting and Harrison holding on for dear life as his animal kept attempting to plunge into ravines.
It was so bad that once we reached the top, Harrison was thoroughly infuriated, and I shamefacedly told him we didn’t need to ride back down. Truth be told, the judging stares from passerby as they watched my donkey struggle to ascend the slopes with me on his back had shamed me into the decision, food poisoning or no.
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.
I’m writing to you from the *acute* comfort of my very first Ryanair flight, a four hour debacle commencing in Tel Aviv and culminating in Kaunas, Lithuania. I’m taking Harrison for a very special surprise birthday trip- having managed to keep our destination a secret until we arrived to the airport in Tel Aviv. Pretty cool, right?
Even cooler is the fact that last weekend Harrison and I took a weekend trip to Jordan. That’s one of the nice things about Israel; it’s located in the Middle East, which means that direct flights to quite a lot of the world are extremely short.
Now, before I talk about all the fun we had, I do want to tell you guys how I managed to minimize costs for the trip. This is a points and miles (and travel) blog, after all.
In case you didn’t know, relations between Israel and the rest of the Middle East are…tense. It’s the reason I took a sketchy unmarked flight across the Sinai, and also the reason that the base price for a thirty minute flight between Israel and Jordan starts at $350. This a is a 70 mile journey, folks.
Luckily, British Airways is one of the last few airlines that maintains an award chart based on distance flown rather than ticket cost. And since the two airports are so near each other, the cost for a reward flight on British Airways is a mere 4,500 Avios (and some fees) each way.
British Airways is a transfer partner of American Express, so I transferred over 9,000 Membership Rewards (worth ~120 dollars) for two tickets for Harrison and I, meaning we spent about $250 in points and fees for our $700 flights.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t award availability for our return flight, so we used the land crossing. That story will be coming soon.
We stayed a total of three nights in Amman, and I finally, finally got to use my buy-one-get-one-free night certificate from Intercontinental (you can pay $200 for a year of elite status at IHG, which, among other benefits, gets you one free weekend night/ year with purchase of another night). With two nights covered, I redeemed 25,000 IHG points on our third night.
All told, we spent $302 and 25,000 points on three nights at the Intercontinental Amman. Even better? That aforementioned status (Ambassador) guarantees you a room upgrade, and since availability must have been good, they exchanged my twin bed room with a king size suite overlooking the city- for all three nights!
The breakdown for our costs is this:
9,000 Avios (worth $120) and $130 in fees
25,000 IHG points, one free night certificate, and $302
I’m not going to lie, seeing this breakdown makes me feel pretty awesome. And it just serves to highlight how valuable points and miles are. In case I haven’t harped on that enough.
Stories of our trip are next!
-Carissa “Queen Noor of Jordan” Rawson and Harrison “Basically Her Sidekick” Goldensteinbergowitz