Getting Started With Miles — Flying

I hear it from people all the time:  “I can’t earn enough miles to do anything!”

Well, what these people generally don’t know is that there are a myriad of ways to earn miles.  And odds are, they don’t know how to effectively redeem miles in a way that offers the maximum value for those miles.  There are so many ways to earn frequent flier miles, and I try to maximize my earning to the greatest extent as possible.  In future posts, I will highlight various ways to earn more airline miles with a variety of frequent flyer programs.  Furthermore, I will detail some tricks of the trade for getting the most out of your miles.  Redeeming miles takes a keen understanding of each airline’s award charts in order to maximize the value of your hard-earned miles.  With that being said, each airline has its own caveats and “sweet spots” that one can exploit for maximum value.

In this post, I will detail what one should do, at minimum ensure that they’re getting credit for the miles that they’re actually flying.

In order to begin the whole mileage game, one needs to start with the basics:

  • Establish frequent flier accounts on the airlines that you typically fly
  • Track your miles online with a spreadsheet or an online resource such as AwardWallet.com
  • Remember:  Not all miles are equal!  Miles are only as valuable as the costs at which they can be redeemed – some programs offer much more lucrative value propositions than others.
  • Always credit your flights to a frequent flyer account – even if it’s not your primary program.  Every little bit of miles count.
  • Know your airline partners and alliances and try to stick to the airlines who partner with your primary carrier.
  • It is helpful to have a goal – what do you want to accrue miles for?  A first class trip to Europe?  A round-trip to San Francisco?  Knowing what, exactly you’re gunning for can help you focus on which airline best suits your needs.  For example, if your goal is for overseas, international travel, Southwest is probably not the airline for you, since you cannot redeem Southwest miles for travel outside the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean.  It is; however, an excellent option if domestic travel is your goal.
  • Know that redeeming miles is an art itself.  Every airline frequent flyer program features a different award chart, and has its own little caveats.

To figure out your strategy, it’s important to know how often you plan on flying.  If you fly enough to achieve elite status (generally at least 25,000 miles per year), then  it would be beneficial to pinpoint one airline where you focus your flying.  Elite status on airlines generally carries with it benefits such as priority boarding, no baggage fees, complimentary upgrades, and reduced fees for other services.  If you’re going fly enough during a calendar year to earn elite status, you should:

  • Try to stick to one airline’s mileage program.  Your hometown airport may have a significant say as to which airline you choose.
    • The major airlines in the US with connections to major, global alliances are:
      • United (Star Alliance)
      • Delta (Sky Team)
      • American (OneWorld)
      • US Airways (Star Alliance until November, and then OneWorld).
  • Know your airline partners and alliances and try to stick to the airlines who partner with your primary carrier.  For example, if you’re a United frequent flier, credit your miles to United when flying partners like Lufthansa, US Airways, or ANA.

If you are an occasional traveler, it makes more sense to simply hunt for the cheapest fares available on any airline.  You should still credit these flights to each individual airline’s frequent flier program, but since you aren’t trying to achieve status with an airline, the carrier does not matter as much — you just want to travel for cheap.  A good starting point would be my previous post on hunting for cheap airfares.

These are merely some tips to get you started.  In my next series of blog posts, I will detail some strategies for increasing your mileage balance through a variety of ways, including miles arbitrage, credit card sign ups, spending habits, and more.  Of course, I will also cover ways to derive maximum value from these miles.

Where to Find the Best Deals on Airfare

Probably the most common question that people ask me is, “how do you find such good deals?  Where do you look for these cheap fares?”

There is not a quick, simple answer to that question.  There are several different avenues that I monitor on a regular basis for good fares.  I’ll detail those later in this post, but #1 reason why I’m able to travel on such good deals is that I’m flexible.

By “flexible”, I mean that when seeking out deals, I am generally  looking for neither a specific destination, nor  date.  All I want is for the fare to preferably be leaving the DC area (DCA, IAD, or BWI), though I certainly make exceptions to that requirement, as I frequently “fly” from the Philadelphia 30th Street train station via the United / Amtrak code-share.  I’ll also consider flying from New York – especially for good international deals.  Once I see a fare to a cool place (hopefully far, far away), I check availability to make sure it fits into my schedule.  This generally means I’m looking for a weekend.  If those two criteria are met, I’ll pretty much go anywhere.

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

I know this is not necessarily the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth.  If you’re looking to travel on specific dates to any destination, you have a good chance of getting “lucky” when a good fare comes about.  However, if you are looking for a certain destination at a certain time, things get substantially tougher – you’ll actually have to search for fares, and they will most likely not be one of the crazy deals that you want.

In reality, I travel so often due to both finding great deals, and by using miles that are earned at least in part by flying far distances for cheap by acquiring airfares that I find using several of the below flights:

Below are a list of resources that I use to check for both deals, and for specific flights:

Where to hunt “deals”

  • TheFlightDeal.com – This website is an awesome resource for those who are casually browsing for deals.  It is a blog that calls out fantasic deals.  It evaluates fares on  a CPM (cents per mile) basis to show the value of the fare.  Follow this site on Twitter to stay on top of the deals.  Notice that the site has a menu option where you can select a specific US city.
  • FareMagnet.com – Similar to The Flight Deal, FareMagnet is also a fantastic resource that alerts folks to abnormally awesome airfares.  You should also follow this site on Twitter if you’re looking for deals.
  • Travelzoo “Today’s Best Fare” Airfare specials – These are not always accurate, but they do provide a nice, at a glance view of lowest airfares out of specific US gateways to various domestic and international destinations, sorted by price.  This is a good starting point for finding good fares.

    Today's Best Fares from Travelzoo

    Today’s Best Fares from Travelzoo

  • ITA Matrix —  For hardcore searching, I run searches from WAS to a list of places on the west coast on a semi-normal basis.  This tool tells me when and where there’s space, and how much it is listed for.  This is more of an advanced search tool, but it allows searching to multiple cities and returns the cheapest airfares — for that reason, it’s an invaluable resource for airfare hunting.  This site requires a bit of direction, and I will detail how to search for cities in another post.
  • Flyertalk mileage Run message boards — Though these fares are sought specifically by and for mileage runners, they certainly can be used by anyone.  It is Flyertalk etiquette to evaluate a fare on a cents-per-mile (CPM) basis.  On this site, CPM is calculated referring to Premier Qualifying Miles (generally the actual mileage flown), and not redeemable miles.  The goal is to fly as far as possible, for as cheap as possible.  Generally speaking, a “good” mileage run deal comes in at less than 5 cents-per-mile.  A very-good mileage run is less than 4 CPM, and an amazing mileage run would be less than 3 CPM.  This can be overwhelming if you’re new to it, but some threads started here regularly feature some really great deals.  Learn your airport codes if you plan on using this site!

These five resources are great, but it does take a bit of time to stay “up to date” on the fares disclosed on these sites.  Since most of these deals are so good, they rarely last more than a day or two.

The best resources to search for specific flights

  • ITA Matrix — Again, this is the most thorough search engine for finding fares between defined city pairs.  The only downside is that you cannot book directly on the website – you must go to the airline’s website, or another booking site in order to make a reservation.  There are a series of codes to return exactly what you may be looking for, and I will detail these in a later post.

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

  • Kayak.com – This is a very popular and very useful metasearch engine for flights.  It searches over 120 websites to find the best price.  It’s usually pretty accurate and gives great results.  Definitely a good site if you know what you want and need to book today.

You can search all you want for fares.  There are a few tricks of the trade, but many times it just comes down to luck.

A mistake fare put me in this seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

A mistake fare put me in this first class seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

Below are a few tips:

  • Be flexible.  As I indicated earlier, this is probably the best way to get in on an airfare deal.  The more you limit your options, the less likely it is that you’ll find a great fare.  I routinely fly from BWI or IAD instead of my preferred DCA – simply because I can get fares that are sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper.
  • Be alert.  Use all the avenues above to their fullest.  The more you monitor fares, the more likely you are to benefit from them.  This can be crazily time-consuming, but if cheap and frequent travel is your goal, this is just a fact of life.  Use Twitter, RSS readers, and online forums to better your chances at finding deals.
  • Fares tend to be re-filed by the major airlines on Tuesdays around Noon, Eastern time.  This is often a time where you can find some of the better pricing out there.  Contrarily, fares can also raise at this time, so if you’re debating a trip with what you deem to be a reasonable price, book it, don’t wait!
  • If you see a mistake fare, BOOK NOW and THINK LATER.  When I see something too good to be true, it may be.  But lots of times, the airlines let them slide because they’re a headache to deal with.  Just book the mistake fare and work out the details later.  If it doesn’t get canceled by the airline, you’ll likely have plenty of time to work out the hows and whys of the trip.
  • Make friends who seek out deals.  What’s better than monitoring fares on the reg?  Having friends who monitor fares and then alert you of them!  Since I’ve been doing this for a while and have friends who share the same interest, I’m often alerted of awesome deals that I may have missed, or that I just didn’t see.

All in all, cheap fares are out there.  It’s just a question of how much time you’re willing to put in to find them.  There’s no “magic bullet” to finding the cheapest fares all the time, but by visiting some of the sites suggested in this post, and by adhering to some of my hints, your odds are much better!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 4

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 3 

Tsukiji Market

Since this was to be my last day in Tokyo, I wanted to make it to the famous Tsukiji  Market.  This is probably one of the most famous seafood markets anywhere in the world.  Every morning, the tuna boats unload their fresh catches, and they are sold at auction.  One can witness the auction by showing up early (think 4am), but I have a hard enough time being up by 7am.  So after arriving at Tsukijishijo station (a straight shot from Shinjuku), I walked around the market a bit, and then went in search of some fresh, off-the-boat sushi!  I read the top two sushi places in Tsukiji (and in Tokyo, for that matter) were Sushi Dai and Daiwazushi.   After it was apparent that I wasn’t getting into Sushi Dai without waiting for hours, I went to Dawiazushi, which had a smaller, but still substantial line.

Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Market

The line at Daiwazushi at Tsukiji Market

The line at Daiwazushi at Tsukiji Market

I got into the line, about 25 people back and the “host / line-control / bouncer” asked how many people were in my party.  I replied that it was only me, and that resulted in me being seated immediately.  I ordered the set menu for 3500 yen, the “Omakase Chef Choice”, as anyone should, and what came out was nothing short of amazing.  It was easily the best sushi I have ever had.  I’m certainly not a sushi snob, but after eating this, I maybe ruined for life when eating “lesser” quality sushi.  I can’t describe how fresh it was — I mean, it came off the boat just hours prior to me putting it in my belly.  A trip here is a MUST-DO experience when you’re in Tokyo.  You seriously cannot skip at trip here.  If you’re a sushi fan, this is pretty much as good as it gets — probably the best sushi in the world.

Daiwazushi

Daiwazushi

asdf

Tai (Red Snapper) nigiri, Uni (sea urcin) nigiri, and Ikura (salmon roe) and magura (tuna) maki roll

asdf

Toro (fatty tuna) nigiri

asdf

Shrimp and Fatty Tuna Nigiri

asdf

Tomago yaki (egg) and Saba (makeral) nigiri

After Tsukiji, I went back to the hotel to pack my suitcase in preparation for my trip to Narita airport later that afternoon.  Later in the morning, I enjoyed breakfast at Grirandole in the lobby of the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  After finishing breakfast, I gathered my things, and headed downstairs to catch my limousine bus to Tokyo-Narita airport.  This was pre-arranged with the concierge for 3000 yen.  The drive out to the airport took over 90 minutes, as Narita is nowhere near downtown Tokyo.

 Tokyo Subway / Getting Around

Tokyo is home to the world’s largest and most extensive subway system.  It is extremely easy to use and to get around.  There are two main lines, Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway.  Together, this system is composed of 13 lines to 290 stations, with a daily ridership of over 8.9 million passengers.  The subway system is extremely orderly, though a bit overwhelming and crowded.

Orderly chaos of the Tokyo Subway

Gates at the Tokyo Subway — DC sure could use these!

Luckily, there are subway stations seemingly everywhere, and they are pretty cheap (120 – 4o0 yen, each way).  Given the astronomical taxi cab rates in Tokyo, the subway was my primary and preferred means of transportation throughout the city.  If you’re out late, its importatnt to note that the last train is around 1am, so if you miss that, an expensive cab becomes necessary.  A great refrence for getting around on the Tokyo Subway can be found on this wikihow page.

 Airport Transfers

As mentioned before, I used the Airport Limousine Bus Service for both my arrival at Haneda Airport to the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, and for my departure from the Park Hyatt to Narita Airport.  This is an extremely easy option, since the bus picks up and drops off from the hotel door.  This service is available at a number of Tokyo hotels and subway stations.  From Shinjuku, Haneda airport is about 45 minutes away, and Narita airport is 90-120 minutes — a much longer ride.

Overall Thoughts about Tokyo

Tokyo stole the show on this trip — it was without a doubt my favorite city that I visited during this fifteen day adventure.  Tokyo is the definition of a megalopolis, and there are so many different neighborhoods in the city.   I was in Tokyo for about 3-4 days, but I could have stayed for much longer.  With that said, I feel that I spent enough time here, unlike some of the other destinations on this trip.  The simple fact it is — Tokyo is so large, so expansive, and has so much to offer– that one could easily just focus on a few neighborhoods each time they visit.  There is no way you can see all of Tokyo in a week, or maybe even two.

The relatively concentrated areas I visited in Tokyo

The relatively concentrated areas I visited in Tokyo

To demonstrate this, above is a map with the geo-location tags for the pictures that I took while in Tokyo.  As you can see, I focused almost all of this trip in the west / southwest neighborhoods of Tokyo.  It’s the largest city (population-wise) in the world, and after four days here, Tokyo is certainly one of my favorite.

I will certainly be back!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 3

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 2 

Harajuku and a Ramen Lunch

I slept in the following morning due to a pretty late night out.  My two friends departed in the morning to begin their trip back to Dubai via Kyoto and Hong Kong.  It was a dreary day in Tokyo, and I was hungry.  At that point, I had yet to try some decent ramen, and I planned to visit the Harajuku neighborhood and Meiji Shrine that afternoon, so I easily pin-pointed a top-rated ramen shop called Kyusu Jangara, which is right near the Harajuku station.   Apparently, it is one of the more famous ramen shops in Toyko, and the ramen was definitely delicious.

sd

Kyusu Jangara Ramen in Harajuku

sdf

The “zembu-ire” Ramen at Kyusu Jangara

I ordered the specialty, “zembu-ire” or “with-everything” and it included Kyusu-style ramen noodles, egg, salted roe, and several large pieces of pork fat, which were amazing.   This was some of the best ramen I’ve ever enjoyed, though my favorite ramen place is still Toki Underground in Washington, DC.  If you’re ever in the District, go!

Anyway, after eating, I took a stroll through Harajuku.  The main strip in Harajuku is Takeshita Street – a pedestrian-only alleyway lined with some unique fashion boutiques, restaurants, and other shops.  The entrance to the street is located directly across from the JR East exit of Harajuku Station.  This area is the teenage fashion center of Tokyo, and it is definitely a sight to see.  This strip is a never-ending barrage of neon, anime, and oddly dressed, but supposedly fashionable Japanese teenagers and young adults.

asdf

A rainy day on Takeshita Street in Harajuku

Ummm... Japanese fashion?

Ummm… Japanese fashion?

It’s worth it just to stroll down the street and take in the sights and sounds.  One of the crazier things you’ll see are lingerie-advertisement trucks blasting pop-music driving through the streets of Harajuku — truly bizarre!

Meiji Shrine

Located on the opposite side of Harajuku Station is the Meiji Shrine.  The Meiji Shrine is located in a 700,00 acre forest right in the middle of the Harajuku / Shibuya area of Tokyo.  I took a quick stroll through the forest and made the 3/4 mile walk to the actual shrine.  It was definitely impressive, and was pretty much exactly what I had expected.  The weather was pretty awful, so I went through the area pretty fast to “check it off my list.”  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Entrance to the Park

Entrance to the Park

Long walk to the shrine

Long walk to the shrine

Sake barrels

Sake barrels

Entrance to Meiji Shrine

Entrance to Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Me at the Meiji Shrine

Me at the Meiji Shrine

 Tokyo Dome

After my visit to the Meiji Shrine, I went back to the Park Hyatt to rendevouz with another friend who happened to be in Tokyo the same time as me.  We met up, hit up the metro, and headed to the Kasuga station for a trip to the Tokyo Dome!  That evening, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters were taking on the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in a Japanese baseball game!  I am a huge baseball fan, so a Japanese baseball game was high on my list of things to do in Tokyo.  And wow, what a different experience.  Though the game is the same, the crowd is quite a spectacle.

The famous Tokyo Dome!

The famous Tokyo Dome!

Panoramic of the Tokyo Dome

Panoramic of the Tokyo Dome

We sat in the outfield with all the crazy fans — they were constantly on their feet, screaming and belting out cheers.  The environment of the almost sold-out Tokyo Dome was more similar to that of an American college football game than a baseball game.  Overall, this was an amazing experience.  Oh, and the beer girls operate at another level of Japanese efficiency!

Insane Fans!

Insane Fans!

Yup, that's a keg.  On her back!  Kirin on tap?  Yes, please!

Yup, that’s a keg. On her back! Kirin on tap? Yes, please!

Dinner at the Park Hyatt’s  New York Grill

After the game, we were pretty tired, and wanted something pretty convenient.  Becauser of the late hour that we returned from the ballgame, we decided to try out the Park Hyatt’s iconic New York Grill for dinner.

The Park Hyatt Tokyo's famous New York Grill and Bar

The Park Hyatt Tokyo’s famous New York Grill and Bar

Famous from its starring role as the setting of the 2003 Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson film, Lost in Translation, the Park Hyatt, and particularly the New York Bar & Grill feature some of the best vistas in all of Tokyo.    For dinner, I had a mixed salad and the Hokkaido Ribeye, which was excellent!

Hokkaido RIbeye at New York Grill

Hokkaido Ribeye at New York Grill

The dinner was pretty pricey, but then again, it was the New York Grill — at the Park Hyatt— in Tokyo.  So a cheap meal was not really expected.  After the meal, I was stuffed and decided to call it a night.

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

 

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 2

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


…Continued from Day 1

Imperial Palace

The next morning, we took the Tokyo Metro to the Tokyo station and made a short walk from the northeast entrance to the Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo

Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo

Imperial Palace on a moat

Imperial Palace on a moat

Guardhouse

Guardhouse

The Imperial Palace is located in a massive park in the middle of the city.  We primarily walked through the East Garden of the Imperial Palace complex.  The Garden was beautifully landscaped and is a true oasis in the  middle of the biggest city in the World.

East Garden of Imperial Palace

East Garden of Imperial Palace

East Garden

East Garden

After about an hour of walking around the Imperial Palace grounds, we decided to leave and head over to Shibuya to hit up Shibuya Crossing during the lunchtime rush.

Shibuya Crossing

After a short metro ride to Shibuya station, we emerged just a block or so away from the famed Shibuya Crossing.  This is supposedly the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world.  Unfortunately, on this particular afternoon it started to rain pretty hard.  Surely that thinned out the crowd a bit.  We zapped a few pictures and then headed up to the Starbucks for an aerial view of the crossing.

Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

This Starbucks is the highest-grossing Starbucks in the world, and it provides an awesome aerial view of all the people crossing the street.  We hungout at Starbucks for a little while until the rain subsided, and then started weighing our options for lunch.

Me in rainy Shibuya

Me in rainy Shibuya

Ebisu and lunch at Blacows

After we asked about a place to find an awesome Wagyu beef burger in Tokyo, the concierge at the Tokyo Hilton highly recommended Blacows in the Ebisu neighborhood, just south of Shibuya.  We decided to head there for lunch.  It took about thirty minutes to walk from Shibuya Crossing to Ebisu, but we took a leisurely pace as we stepped into a handful of vintage stores on the walk.  Upon arriving into the Ebisu neighborhood, I immediately liked it.  Ebisu is an upscale neighborhood lined with restaurants, bars, patiserries, boutiques, and vintage stores.  I much preferred this neighborhood to the hustle and bustle of Shibuya and Roppongi.  With minimal effort, we located Blacows, tucked away on a side street in Ebisu, a few blocks from the Ebisu station.

Blacows

Blacows

Blacows literally translates to “black cow”– referring to the legendary black Wagyu beef, which is used exclusively in the burgers made here.  This place has been proclaimed by several websites and periodicals to have “the greatest burger in the world.”  While I’m not ready to proclaim this as the best burger I’ve ever eaten, it certainly was in the top five.  After being immediately seated, I ordered the bacon, egg, and cheeseburger for 15oo yen.  Oh, man this thing was good.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Bacon, egg, and cheeseburger at Blacows

Bacon, egg, and cheeseburger at Blacows

Blacows... Nom Nom!

Blacows… Nom Nom!

If you’re a fan of burgers, definitely check this place out while you’re in Tokyo.

After lunch, we strolled around Ebisu to the Ebisu Garden Place and the area Sapporo Beer Headquarters before taking the JL train back to Shinjuku.

Japanese Kendo Fighting

After a quick nap, I hit up the Manager’s Happy Hour at famed New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. The view from the New York Bar offers some of the best views of Tokyo and the immediate Shinjuku area.

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Happy Hour at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

Late afternoon from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Late afternoon from the Park Hyatt Tokyo

I then proceeded to the Tokyo Hilton where I met my friends to embark on a visit to the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center where we arranged to sit in on  Kendo practice.  Kendo, or “way of the sword”  is a Japanese martial art based on sword-fighting.   This form of kendo features bamboo swords, or “shinai” and lightweight armor called “bogu.”  Formal competitions are judged with points, and the goal is to strike the opponent on the throat, the top of the head, the side of the head, the sides of the body, or forearms.  The kendo instructor was extremely happy to have us sit in on their practice, and it was an extremely cool experience.  For an hour, we watched dozens of Japanese kendo fighters basically whack the hell out of each other with fake samurai swords.

Kendo!

Kendo!

Fight!

Fight!

It.  Was.  Awesome!

More Kendo fighting

More Kendo fighting

A calm end to an intense Kendo session

A calm end to an intense Kendo session

I highly recommend trying to experience this while in Tokyo.  The best thing to do is to ask your hotel concierge to arrange a trip to a practice if there is not a formal fight while you’re there.  I suppose one could contact the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center itself, but there was not much English spoken there.

Shinjuku Dinner

After our kendo experience, we hopped a metro back to the main Shinjuku station in search of a dinner place.  We ended up seafood barbecue and Izakaya (bar)  place that came highly recommended by a few locals, called Marukou-Suisan in Shinjuku.

kj

Marukou-Suisan in Shinjuku

The place was packed, and we were the ONLY Westerners in the joint.  While the language barrier was a bit of a challenge, we managed to have a pretty good sampling of the menu brought to us.

Sake!

Sake!

Mussels and Squid

Mussels and Squid

Mussels

Mussels

Grilled Calamari

Grilled Calamari

Oysters

Oysters

Some dishes were good; some were pretty awful, but the overall experience was quite special.  Grilling raw seafood on the dinner table was certainly fun time.

Grilled Prawns

Grilled Prawns

Tempura fish (I think?)

Tempura fish (I think?)

Tempura peppers and veggies

Tempura peppers and veggies

We sat next to some locals who could not have been  nicer, and introduced us to a whole bunch of shochu — a Japanese distilled liquor.  We hit that pretty hard, actually…

Shinjuku Golden Gai District

Upon completing a huge dinner, we were ready to go out on the town.  This time, we decided to keep things relatively local, and headed to the famous Shinjuku “Goledn Gai” district.  This is a relatively small area of a few square blocks that features the highest concentration of bars in the world.  Most all of the bars are small, shanty-style bars with no more than 15 bar stools.

The bars of Golden Gai

The bars of Golden Gai — ha.. Baltimore!

Each bar is essentially a different dive bar that has a different theme – from jazz to karaoke to R&B to punk rock — , and we thoroughly enjoyed hopping to a number of different places throughout the night and into the early morning.  Apparently this is an area frequented by locals, and Westerners have had a hard time being welcomed, but we had no problem whatsoever (shocking, I know).

Shinjuku at night

Shinjuku at night

After a few hours in the Golden Gai district, we decided that it was time for some late-night noodles before we called it a night.  We stopped in a noodle shop in a back alley just north of  the north entrance to Shinjuku station in Nishi-Shinjuku.  This area is filled of narrow alleys that are lined with ramen and sushi shops — it’s a must see in the early evening hours, for sure.  We settled on a decent looking noodle shop, and were served a piping hot bowl of Soba noodles topped with tempura fish.  It was freakin’ awesome, and a perfect small meal to end the night.

Perfect late night meal

Perfect late night meal

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Four Days in Tokyo: Day 1

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1 (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda
Tokyo, Day 1 (Park Hyatt arrival, Roppongi)
Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)
Park Hyatt Tokyo


I arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport and headed to investigate the bus situation into town.  I had read that there was the Airport Limousine bus available to take guests directly to the Park Hyatt and other Shinjuku hotels from Haneda airport, and that I should look for the orange bus at the transportation desk.  Sure enough, this transportation desk stuck out easily.

Airport Limousine counter

Airport Limousine counter

I inquired about a bus to the Park Hyatt, and there was one leaving in 20 minutes.  Perfect.  The cost was 1200 yen (~USD$12).  These busses run between both Haneda and Narita airports and a number of Tokyo area hotels and metro stations.  It’s probably the cheapest way to transit directly between the airport and your hotel.  The important thing to remember is that it’s the orange bus that reads “Friendly Airport Limousine”.

Park Hyatt Arrival

The bus ride from Haneda took just under an hour during Monday afternoon rush hour traffic.  As I exited the bus at the Park Hyatt, I was greeted by name by a bellman.  I have no idea how they knew it was me – all I had indicated was that I was arriving mid-afternoon from Haneda — but they did.

Pulling up to the Park Hyatt Tokyo

Pulling up to the Park Hyatt Tokyo

I was escorted with my luggage up to the lobby on the 41st floor.  There, the bellman introduced me to very nice lady at the front desk for check-in.  Then, to my surprise, she escorted me, along with the bellman to my room – an “executive twin room” on the 44th floor.  There, she pointed out features of the room, setup my folio, and checked me in from the comfort of the desk in my room.

My room

My room

WOW.

This was a spectacular start to what would ultimately be the best hotel in which I have ever stayed.  I will write a separate post solely on this hotel at a later time.  But do know this – the Park Hyatt Tokyo blew away any and every expectation that I had.  The stay was simply phenomenal.

View from the Park Hyatt Tokyo lobby

View from the Park Hyatt Tokyo lobby

Roppongi

After checking in and unpacking, I was beat.  I got in touch with a friend from grad school (my old roommate) and arranged to meet him and his cousin out later that night.  I had missed them in Dubai (where they live) due to my flight issues on the way over to Asia, and instead they met me in Tokyo.  A short nap ensued, and then I walked a few blocks to the Tokyo Hilton, also located in Shinjuku, to meet the roommate.

His cousin had gone to dinner in Roppongi, so we decided to track him down — and this proved more difficult than we were anticipating.  After a brief metro ride to Roppongi, we set out looking for the restaurant where he dined called Omae XEX  to find him.  For what it’s worth, while I did not eat here, he raved about the place and proclaimed that he had the best steak of his life there.  Rated as the #10 restaurant in all of Tokyo, I don’t think he was lying.

We had limited navigation capabilities, but I used the data on my phone to navigate with Google Maps.  By the time we got to the restaurant, he was gone.  Luckily, he left some bread crumbs, as the hostess knew who we were and told us that he’d gone to a bar nearby for drinks.  We eventually made it to R2 Supperclub to meet him for drinks.  This place was very low-key and relaxing speakeasy-type establishment — an overall perfect place for drinks and conversation.

R2 Supperclub Picture from EON Holdings

R2 Supperclub
Picture from EON Holdings

After sipping on a couple Suntory Yamazaki 18 single-malts, we decided to take a walk around the lights of Rappongi to find another place.  After about ten minutes of walking around to the never-ending harassment of soliciting club promoters, we decided to go back to R2 Supperclub.

Monday night in Roppongi

Monday night in Roppongi

Eventually, we called it a night and cabbed back to the Shinjuku to get some rest.  Maybe it was the fact that it was a Monday night, and there weren’t all that many people out, but I was not impressed with Roppongi, other than the gem of a lounge that we found.

 To be continued with an installment for each day I spent in Tokyo…

Tokyo, Day 2 (Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Ebisu, Kendo, Dinner and drinks in Shinjuku)
Tokyo, Day 3 (Ramen lunch, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Baseball at the Tokyo Dome, Dinner at New York Grill)
Tokyo, Day 4 (Tsukiji Market, Tokyo Subway, Airport Transfers)

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago? Two Days in Dubai, Day 2

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


…Continued from Day 1

I wokeup relatively late on Saturday morning, and opted against breakfast since in my infinite wisdom, I’d consumed a massive cheeseburger at about 3am the night before.  At that point, I met up with three friends in the lobby of the Park Hyatt where we caught a cab to the Dubai Mall. Today was the day I was most looking forward to:

We were scheduled to SCUBA dive.

In an aquarium.

An aquarium in a mall.

With sharks!!!

Dubai Mall has a very large aquarium smack-dab in the middle of it.  It features an absolutely massive glass panel, which is the world’s largest acrylic glass panel.  The aquarium is in plain view of all levels of the mall, so it truly serves as a centerpiece.

Aquarium in a mall

Aquarium in a mall

Dubai Mall Aquarium

Dubai Mall Aquarium

The World's largest acrylic glass panel at the Dubai Mall

The World’s largest acrylic glass panel at the Dubai Mall

Me at the aquarium before my dive

Me at the aquarium before my dive

In the weeks proceeding the trip, we had arranged to dive in the aquarium with Al Boom Diving — a diving operation that runs dives to many sites in the Persian Gulf, as well as the Dubai Aquarium.  We were asked to arrive at noon for an hour orientation and about a 45 minute dive to follow.  We went through a brief orientation that went over the nuances of aquarium diving, and highlighted how NOT to get bitten by a shark.  After the orientation and signing our lives away on waiver forms, we suited up and got in the water.

It was quite an experience.  The Dubai Aquarium has an extensive collection of fish, sharks, and rays.  In particular, this aquarium has the world’s largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks, a particularly ferocious looking, but relatively docile species.

A Sand Tiger shark

A Sand Tiger shark

While a couple other friends snorkeled above, we had another friend who took pictures of us from the outside the entire time.

Relaxing at the bottom of the fish tank

Relaxing at the bottom of the fish tank

Our group diving!

Our group diving!

Chilling on the reef as a Sand Tiger shark cruises above us

Chilling on the reef as a Sand Tiger shark cruises above us

Without a doubt, the most unique and memorable part of this dive was having an audience.  It felt like I was a goldfish in a fish tank, and the humans were all gathered looking at me.  Seriously though, it was pretty cool waiving back at the little kids who ran to the glass waiving with grins ear-to-ear.

Diving with an audience

Diving with an audience

The sharks were of no concern to me, and they really didn’t want much to do with the divers, as expected.

Me after the dive

Me after the dive

We finished up the dive, dried up, and then I headed for a dim-sum lunch with a friend while the rest of the group went to High Tea at the Burj Al Arab hotel – supposedly the world’s only 7-star hotel.  After lunch, we went to check-out the Burj Al-Arab from the outside and the Jumeirah Beach Resort.  It was entirely too hot outside, so we went back to our hotel to hangout at the pool.

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab

Me in front of Burj al Arab

Me in front of Burj al Arab

Dusk over Dubai Creek with Burj Khalifa in the background

Dusk over Dubai Creek with Burj Khalifa in the background

I got a quick nap in after the pool, and then we headed to have a traditional Arabic dinner at Reem Al Bawadi.  This place did provide a good sampling of some Arabic foods, but there were also some highly Americanized selections – like fried mozzarella sticks. Unfortunately, the service was extremely slow, but it was nice to have dinner with a huge group of about 16 people.

 

Mezze at Reem al Bawadi

Mezze at Reem al Bawadi

Dinner at Reem al Bawadi

Dinner at Reem al Bawadi

Once dinner was complete, we hailed a few cabs and took them to the Jumeirah Beach Resport, where we went out to have drinks at 360, the club at the end of the Jumeirah Marina’s pier.  The views from out here of Burj Al Arab were phenomenal.

360

360

Burj al Arab from 360

Burj al Arab from 360

Burj al Arab

Burj al Arab

We had an awesome last night in Dubai out at 360 – the drinks were great, and the views of the area were just awesome.

We then called it a night and headed back to the hotel for some more fun.  It was a late night, so I slept in pretty late on Sunday.  I awoke to join some friends at the pool for a few hours before I headed back to the room to pack.  I said my goodbyes to my friends, and met my S-Series Mercedes for a lift back to Dubai International Airport, where I had a 5:25pm flight scheduled back to Hong Kong and then to Tokyo.

My sweet ride back to DXB

My sweet ride back to DXB

Overall, I really enjoyed Dubai.  It’s a shame that I didn’t get the three intended days here since I was planning to meet my former roommate and friend from Grad school in Dubai the first day before he left for Japan.  Alas, this was not in the cards due to the debacle with my outbound flights.  I also missed out on a trip to Abu Dhabi, but there’s always time for that in future trips.   The biggest takeaway from Dubai is that it’s an interesting place.  There’s obviously a ton of money here, and as a result you have some pretty phenomenal architectural marvels.  Folks over here are also pretty intent on making Dubai a true tourist destination, and they’re well on the way to accomplishing this.  I didn’t get a chance to go dune-bashing, which I really wanted to do.  I do regret sitting out the Royal Tea at the Burj Al Arab, but when planning it, I couldn’t justify paying the price for it.

Dubai from above

Dubai from above

Food and especially drinks are not cheap in Dubai.  However, cabs are dirt cheap.  Our hotel was a bit out of the way — by Dubai Creek, but this was not at all a problem since the cabs were so reasonable.  The city does have a metro system, but I never tried it.   Dubai is a city of what seems to be a never-ending number of malls, so there are retail shops from every high-end retailer you could imagine.  I’d love to come back to visit my roommate and knock some other things off my list, but honestly, there are many other places that I’d rather visit first.  With that said, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days in Dubai, as it’s a place where I’ve wanted to go for quite some time.

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Two Days in Santiago

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago was relatively uneventful.  I had a standard economy seat on a TAM Airlines A320.  The legroom was quite restricted, and it was not the most comfortable 4hr45minutes of my life.  But I dealt with it like a champ.

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

Notsomuch legroom on my TAM flight GIG-SCL

The highlight to of the flight was the meal.  While it was only a standard economy meal, it was very different from any economy meal that I’ve had.  I chose the chicken pie, and it was very good – probably one of the best tasting economy meals I’ve had on any flight, actually.

Chicken Pie... seriously... it was good!

Chicken Pie… seriously… it was good!

I also recall the catering from my flight from Rio to Orlando last March to be quite good too, so maybe I’m having luck with the catering out of the TAM Rio de Janeiro station.  It’s much better than what I’ve had from JFK.

I arrived in Santiago just around 7pm on Friday night.  Before the authorities were able to process me through immigration, I had to pay the reciprocity fee at a very clearly labeled kiosk.  This reciprocity fee sets Americans back USD$160, but is good for multiple entries for the life of your passport.  Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment for the fee.

After passing through immigration, I headed to the taxi stand inside the terminal where they advised me of a rate of 19,000 (~USD$38) Chilean Pesos for a cab to my hostel in the Bellavista neighborhood.  This was a bit high, but after traveling for the previous 24 hours, I went ahead and went with it.  For what it’s worth, most in Santiago advise not to pay more than 15,000 pesos (~USD$30) for a cab to the airport.

I pulled up to a non-descript entrance on a dimly lit street in Bellavista after about a 30 minute ride from the airport.  After buzzing the gate, I proceeded through the front door of the La Chimba hostel.  I had decided against staying at a chain hotel like the Grand Hyatt or one of the many SPG properties simply to save some money on this two-week trip.  The place was an eclectic little hostel with a main common area and several dorms that house anywhere from one to four.

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba Hostel hallway

La Chimba hostel common area

La Chimba hostel common area

I pre-booked a single dorm with a shared bathroom for the princely sum of USD$30 per night (4 person dorms were available starting at USD$16 per night).  The room was small, but was all I needed.  The bed was a spring matress with plenty of bedding to keep me warm during the cold nights.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Without a doubt, the highlight of the property is its location.  It is situated on E. Pinto Lagarrigue in Barrio Bellavista, which is one block off of Pio Nono – the primary restaurant and entertainment artery in the area.  Furthermore, it was less than a ten minute walk to the heart of downtown at Bella Artes and less than fifteen minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Barrio Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista

Bellavista at Night

Bellavista at Night

The location of this place alone made the $30 per night a no-brainer.  I really cannot imagine a much better location for touring Santiago and for being in the middle of the action.

After checking in and taking a much-needed shower, I met up with an Australian friend who I’d met last March while staying in Buenos Aires.  A group of us went out for the evening to a couple bars – first, to Bar The Clinic (near Bella Artes) and then to Onaciu in Bellavista.  It was an extremely fun night out on the town where I was introduced to the national drink of Chile – the Pisco Sour.  Though it’s a little sweet for my tastes, I really didn’t have a choice but to try one (or two… or three…) of these things.

A Pisco Sour

A Pisco Sour

I awoke Saturday morning to a somewhat clear morning as the fog receeded.  The entrance to the funicular at San Cristobal hill was a whopping two blocks from my hostel, so I proceeded there and bought a 2,600 peso round-trip ticket on the funicular to the top of the hill.

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular up San Cristobal Hill

Funicular from up top

Funicular from up top

The views from up here were awesome!  Unfortunately, the smog / fog held around a little bit too long that morning, and I was unable to see all of the the Andes mountains, but I was able to see some vistas of the mountains – the first time I’d ever seen the Andes!

Statue of Virgin Mary

Statue of Virgin Mary

Smoggy View of Santiago

Smoggy View of Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

Financial district in Santiago

My first view of the Andes Montains

My first view of the Andes Montains

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

Me atop the hill with Santiago and the Andes in the background

After walking around for about an hour, I grabbed an empanada and a Gatorade and headed back down the hill on the funicular.

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Jamon y Queso Empanada

Llama!

Llama!

My next stop was Plaza de Armas downtown, where I met up with a free walking tour.  The group consisted of about ten tourists and our guide, Felipe.  Felipe gave a wonderful 3.5-4 hour, narrated tour of the city.  I feel like this tour enabled me to see all of the important landmarks in the city during my short time there.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valaparaiso

Former National Congress Building (the current Congress is in Valparaiso

La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace

Universidad de Chile

Universidad de Chile

"New York Street" in Santiago

“New York Street” in Santiago

The Santiago Stock Exchange

The Santiago Stock Exchange

Parque Forestal - The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal – The largest park in the city

Parque Forestal at dusk

Parque Forestal at dusk

One of the millions of "street dogs" in Santiago.  The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

One of the millions of “street dogs” in Santiago. The locals care for these dogs, and they are very much a part of the city

About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we stopped at a coffeeshop in the LaStarria neighborhood for a Pisco sour.  The tour ended up in Bellavista, about three blocks from my hostel.  Felipe gave me all sorts of great recommendations for dinner and for lunch the next day.  As with most “free tours”, the tour guides operate on a tips-only basis, and in this case it was well-deserved.  This walking tour leaves daily from Plaza de Armas at 10am and 3pm.  I highly recommend it for a cheap, easy, fun, and informative way to see the sights in Santiago – it would especially be a good way to orient oneself with the city on their first day.

Per Felipe and my Aussie friends’ suggestion, I had a late dinner Saturday night at Galindo in Bellavista.  This restaurant is well known in Santiago amongst both tourists and locals for its Chilean food.  I was starving after a long day of touring, and ordered the empanada a pino to begin, and the “Pastel de Choclo” for the entrée, along with a couple of beers to wash dinner down.

Empanada a pino

Empanada a pino

Pastel de Choclo -- Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

Pastel de Choclo — Corn Pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives, and raisins

It was fantastic.

Dinner no doubt left me in a food coma, so I back to the hostel and called it a night.

Sunday morning, I awoke in time to shower, re-pack my things and check out of the hostel.  I stored my luggage there and had them order me a cab for noon.  Meanwhile, I trekked to the Mercado Central where I intended to have an early lunch, and oh, what a lunch I had!

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central de Santiago

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

The Mercado Central is the main fish and seafood market in Santiago.  I really enjoy going to markets when I visit varous cities, and this was no exception.

Fresh Seafood!

Fresh Seafood!

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I ended up eating at one of the many restaurants around the Mercado, and ordered the Paila Marina – a local specialty that translate literally to “seafood soup.”  It was amazing, and extremely filling.   This set me back only about 3,500 pesos.

Paila Marina for lunch

Paila Marina for lunch

According to Felipe, the many restaurants in the Mercado rotate chefs on a continual basis, so they all have basically the same food.  The restaurants on the outer ring of the Mercado are much cheaper, while the ones in the center are more expensive for essentially the same food!

After this amazing lunch, I walked 20 minutes back to the hostel, where my cab was waiting to take me back to the airport for my flight back to New York via Sao Paulo.  All in all, Santiago was a fantastic city, and my big regret was not spending another day here.  I usually like to spend three days in a new city, and this was no exception.

Simply put, I needed another day.