Monday, December 31, 2012

Why We Travel

A friend posted this essay from The Guardian (The essay is actually from 2010) the other day and as we both are starting to make our way back from another adventure it made me stop and wonder...and sit in awe of this idea that travel allows us to be free enough to get on a plane and head to the other side of the world with a whole set of people and cultures we have never seen before...or if we have, we always  endeavor to find a new side of it. I believe that the only way to really truly see a country is to dive so deep into it that you feel uncomfortable and that you fit in all at the same time. My favorite line from the essay is this quote:

"We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything."

I hope that all of you are having a great holiday season, thank you for reading our blog and we wish you and yours a fruitful and healthy new year. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hotel Review: Hilton Atlanta Peachtree

After my one night stay at the Sheraton, my cousin and I moved to the Hilton less than a block away. It turned out to be no hassle in switching hotels.

The entire hotel is an atrium with each floor containing rooms that shoot out from the center lobby. The lobby was huge and glamorous without being over the top.

We checked-in at noon and had not problem getting a room. I have Gold Status at Hilton and we were given a room on the 21st floor, but no lounge access. The Gold benefit for breakfast at this hotel is coupons for a breakfast item and drink at the cafe for each night that you stayed.

Our room was decent size:


It had two beds, a large desk and a great size TV. Here is a view from my room, during the day:

The bathroom was so much better than at the Sheraton:

The hotel had an outdoor pool. We never went to it, but it was tiny for the number of guests that could stay at the hotel.

The gym was a great size:

The hotel had four glass elevators and a handful of other elevators that were typical hotel style. The glass elevators gave great views of the city like this one at night:

Of the times, we took the elevator, we only got glass elevators 2 times.

Overall, this was a great hotel to stay at. It semi-close to major attractions and easy to get to and from places. The stay was super friendly and the rooms modern and clean.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa

About a year ago Kelsey purchased a LivingSocial Deal for a getaway weekend from DC and finally, just before it expired of course, we were able to use it.

The deal was for a night at the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. The resort is located about an hour drive to the east-south east of Washington, D.C. The deal included a night in a king suite, $50 to spend at their restaurant, $100 spa credit and a bottle of wine upon arrival.

We arrived at the hotel around 1:00 pm and the lobby was pretty empty since it was a few days before Christmas, but the staff was really nice and promptly checked us in. We were given one of the six king suites they have, they are all located at the end of the hotel property which overlooks the Chesapeake Bay.

The room was really impressive upon entry with its two-room sized layout. In one half of the room was a sitting area with a tv and views of the beach and the best part of the room, a jacuzzi tub. The bedroom portion of the room had a king bed, work station, a huge tv and a Keurig. Dividing the two portions of the room was a see-through gas fireplace, which was perfect for the 20-degree wind chill that was present when we arrived.

Desk, TV and Keurig 

Sitting Area and Tub


Full Suite 
 The hotel its self was very nice and the staff was great. Attached to the resort is a spa and as I previously mentioned we took advantage of a few of the services using our $100 spa credit. The massage was awesome and Kelsey enjoyed her manicure.

Where the property left something to be desired was in their restaurant, "The Rod & Reel." We made dinner reservations and arrived on time only to wait for at least 10 minutes for someone to recognize that we had walked in. Then when we asked if we could sit by the window overlooking the water at one of the at least three open booths we were told that they had all been reserved and we were put on an awkward raised platform in the middle of the dining room. We then sat for at least 15 minutes before a waitress came over and asked us what we wanted to drink. By this time we were ready to order and did so just in case she never came back. I ordered a seafood platter of sorts with shrimp, scallops and flounder. The flounder was pounded into oblivion and had so much breading on it I am not sure there was actually fish in there. The scallops and shrimp were just OK, but nothing great considering how fresh the seafood they get must be. Kelsey's steak was average at best and the only redeeming portion of the meal was the veggies and potatoes served with it.

Overall the resort was very nice, but the restaurant left lots to be disappointed about. If I would have been actually paying for the $50 meal in the restaurant I would have not been pleased. But, the resort is quaint and if you are looking for a quick getaway from DC, this is a great option.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Live Like A Local: Getting to National Zoo

One of the best activities, in Washington, DC, is visiting the National Zoo. This past weekend, I stopped by and even in the winter month's, the zoo is still an awesome place to visit. No trip to DC would be complete without a visit to the zoo and the most famous pandas in the US. Oh, the price can't be beat either...its free. (Your Federal Tax $$$s at work).

If you were coming to the zoo, would you get off at this metro stop:

or this metro stop:

If you choose the Woodley Park stop, you would be like the majority of visitors  However, by choosing this stop, you will encounter this long walk up a hill:

Just imagine walking up this hill in 100% humidity, during the Summer, with a stroller. Its a sight that you can see almost any day. However, I would like you to avoid this trouble.

The better stop is Cleveland Park. Once you get off the top of the Metro escalator, you will have an option to go "East" or "West":

You want to take the "East Side."Once you get outside, you should see the metro elevator and a PETCO (as of 12/2012) directly in front of you:

Walk in the direction of the Elevator to get to the zoo.

If you see a Subway and Walgreen's, you are on the wrong side of the street. Turn around and walk away from the Subway Sandwich shop towards the Uptown Theater.

The Subway Shop you want to avoid!!!

The sidewalks are somewhat small in the Cleveland Park neighborhood  but if you pass a row of restaurants and bars, you are in the right direction:

You will need to cross over a bridge into a residential neighborhood with some amazing old architecture like this building:

A few more minutes, you will be at the front of the National Zoo.

Walking from the Cleveland Park stop to the zoo took me 10 minutes (with me stopping to take photos). On the way home, walking down the hill to the Woodley Park stop took about 8 minutes (with me stopping to take photos).

I hope this tip helps make your visit to the National Zoo even better!!!

The Morning View from My Room

I woke up extra early this morning, for so reason, and was greeted to this:

I decided to spend an extra few minutes (45 to be exact) in bed watching the sunrise above Tokyo, before checking out on heaven on earth aka The Park Hyatt Tokyo . . .

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Getting to Baltimore-Washington International Airport

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is located about 40 miles to the north of Washington, D.C. and about 12 miles to the south of Baltimore. The distance to the airport can be huge and makes it a bit hard to get to even with a car, but often the fares are so much cheaper than flying out of National or Dulles that it could be worth it. But, I try to avoid going to BWI if I can.

If you have to get to BWI there are a few different options that you can use:


Depending on the day this can be the best or worst option there is to get to BWI. I have seen it take 40 minutes to over two hours to get to BWI because of traffic. On the weekend, it usually isn't too bad and can take about 40 minutes from downtown DC or northern Virginia.

If you are driving you will need to take I-95 N out of Washington, D.C. and drive 20 miles until you get to I-195 which is the direct highway route to BWI.

Super Shuttle 

As with Dulles there is always the option to take a Super Shuttle from BWI, but this method is often hit or miss. You can get the price down to $15-20 one-way in a shared ride van, but they never seem to group people in a van that are going to the same place. I once ended up going to three different part of DC before my address which meant I arrived home past midnight after landing at BWI at 8:45.

I've heard similar stories when you are going to the airport, so if you choose this method make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get picked up and allow for a few other pick ups before going to the airport.

B30 Metro Bus 

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) which operates the Metro system inWashington, D.C. operates a bus route to BWI from their Greenbelt Station, which is the end of the "Green" line on the Metro system. If you are in downtown DC you will want to board the Metro system and get on the green line and take it all the way to Greenbelt.

When you get to Greenbelt you will want to exit the station and look for the bus shelter that has a sign for the B30 bus (there will usually be fellow travelers waiting so look for the suitcases).

The bus leaves generally every 40 minutes and takes 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. The cost is $6.00 one-way.

The Marc Train 

If you are traveling to BWI on a weekday the best option you have is to take the MARC train which is a commuter train system that ferries commuters from suburban Maryland into Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

The Penn Line, which leaves from Union Station in Washington, D.C. has a stop at the BWI Train Station which will get you to the airport. To take the train you will need to take the Metro system from downtown DC to Union Station on the Red Line. From there you will want to enter Union Station and look for signs to the MARC trains. To buy a ticket you will want to find an AMTRAK Self-Ticket Machine and say you want to buy a new ticket. Now this is where you have to be really really really careful. The machine will gladly sell you an AMTRAK ticket for an AMTRAK train that stops at the BWI Train Station, but that ticket can run $20 or more. When using the Self-Ticket machine look for an option to purchase a MARC ticket and then punch in your destination as BWI Station. The ticket should cost you $6.00 and will allow you to board ANY MARC train on the Penn line, so you can then find the next train that stops at BWI Train Station and board. The ride will take about 20-30 minutes depending on how many other stops there are.

When you exit the train at the BWI Train Station you will need to go straight toward a parking garage and stop once you have crossed the bus/taxi lane into the station. There will be a bus stop at this point to the main terminal at BWI which comes every 5-10 minutes.

NOTE: The MARC train DOES NOT run on the weekend, so don't try this on a Saturday or Sunday unless you want to shell out the money for an AMTRAK train.

Hope this helps you the next time you are weighing your options on which DC airport to fly into.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hilton Crystal City AKA DCA Hilton

I had my first stay of my most recent mattress run (read about why I did this here) at the Hilton Crystal City. The hotel is about a five minute drive to the Reagan National (DCA) and about a ten minute walk from the Crystal City metro stop.

The hotel is across the Chili's

and a ABC Store (for those of you from independent liquor states, Virginia has a regulated liquor selling operation. You could only buy liquor at ABCs, wine and beer must be bought at grocery stores, CVSs etc.)

The hotel's lobby is tiny.

The check-in desk was to the right of the lobby. There was one hotel employee checking-in guest at 4pm. There was a women with two children checking-in before me. I overheard that she had Diamond Status. He was explaining all the benefits afford to her ie the lounge, free internet etc. The employee went over every detail and the poor women was in a hurry because her two kids were running around the lobby. After she left, the employee answered the phone twice, had a conversation with the post man, went to the back office to deliver a letter and 5 minutes after checking in the other women, he finally got to checking me in.

My check-in took less than 4 minutes. 2 minutes he spent on the phone trying to figure out why my assigned room was listed as "dirty?" He mentioned that "he saw I had Gold Status," and that he placed me on the 10th floor for "easier access to the lounge." My favorite part was that he said since I was "staying only one night, I wouldn't need the internet code, right?"  Not the greatest check-in experience.

The ground floor, also, has a bar area.

No Guests for Happy Hour?
I was giving a room on the tenth floor, the floor with the lounge:


The lounge is known as the Crystal Club is open 7 days a week, 6am to 11am and 5pm to 11pm

I was given room 1000, at the end of the hallway:

The room was a great size (I kind of feel bad, they gave me it and I did not stay more than a few hours. I took a nap. I don't believe its a true mattress run, if you do not sleep in the room. Others might disagree, but you need to do SOMETHING on the mattress, to make it count.)

Facing the bed, the bathroom is directly to the right of the bed. Once you entered the bathroom area, the first thing you saw was an area with a vanity.


I wondered where the rest of the bathroom was? Was I given a room with no shower or toilet? No, it was down a further hallway in the bathroom area. Another sink

There was a shower, but I did not take picture. One thing I did notice was the room was aging:

 Chipped bathroom door. No big deal.

Rusted soap holder in the shower. Maybe they haven't gotten to renovating the room yet???

What bothered me a little was the peeling wall paper. Not just a little . . . 

And not just in the corner either. In the middle of the room and large chunks too . . .

I think the room may have had a fire or at least the sprinkler had been tripped. You can see the mold around one the sprinklers and on the walls.

If none of this was evidence that the room was dated, this sealed the deal for me . . .

2009-2010 edition
The view from my room. Below is a highway, but luckily you could not hear anything . . .

Down the hall was the lounge. When I went to the lounge, there was only one couple in there . . .


There were about 15 tables and seating for 30-35 people. The food was simple. Fruit, Veggies, Cheese and Crackers, Cookies . . .

There was one hot item. Some Mexican, beef, cheese and bean item. It was not good.

There was a fridge with sodas, water and juice. The food offerings were not enough for a dinner, but one could hit all 5 major food groups!

The twelve floor had the gym and pool.

The pool is directly through the gym (I did not take pictures, as there were kids in the pool. I have a policy of not taking pictures with kids in it, for privacy reasons.) However, there was a place to sun, during the summer time???

On the first floor, there is a restaurant, Bistro Ondines. I looked at the menu and it was reasonable priced for a hotel restaurant. Breakfast menu was $7-$11 and Lunch/Dinner was $9-$17. . .

Oh and the suggested price of my room:

HaHaHa . . . I paid 10% of that . . . who would pay $499 a night for this place?

With that sad, would I stay here again? No. 

Would I put my family here? No.

 Would I recommend the hotel to you? No. 

Personally, I don't know why someone would stay in Crystal City. If you are going to visit DC, there are cheaper places to stay closer to the monuments. Maybe you might stay here to grab an early morning flight, but a cab ride from the center of DC might take 15 minutes and $20 to the DCA.

My stay was good enough for its purpose: keeping my Gold status.