Next Stop: Turkey and Greece!

Turkey and Greece Trip Map

In a few days I will be on my way to visit the intersection of eastern and western civilization. While the trip is a short one, it is the perfect amount of time for my dad, brother and I to see what Istanbul and Athens have to offer. Something tells me we won’t have a shortage of things to do or sights to see!

What to do in Turkey and Greece?

I am intrigued by Istanbul’s history and all of the distinct cultures that call the city home. Many religions, cultures, empires and civilizations have converged into this one city for thousands of years, making the city itself a walking history museum.

Athens should be excellent as well. Our hotel room in that city appears to be super modern (not really my style, but it was highly rated) and right next to the national gardens. From there it’s only a short walk to the Acropolis and the other great sites of the town.

If you are interested in following my travels, stay tuned to my Jeffsetter travel blog where I will be offering many details of the trip, including getting there, reviews of our hotel accommodations, and pictures of some of the sites we witness along the way.

Photo Gallery: Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest Munich 2012 Pictures

While you will soon be able to read the story about the travel portion of Oktoberfest in Munich on Jeffsetter, I wanted to share the full photo set here for friends and family.

Oktoberfest was everything I hoped it would be and then some. Great beer, food and fun with all kinds of American expatriates in Munich. Amanda and I met some great new friends and have memories we won’t soon forget.

We got treated to excellent seats at the Hippodrome through Amanda’s work, with a table overlooking the main floor of the hippodrome. The table came with some great food as well.

All was great, and after our time in the tent we ended up going on a few rides and then watched the single most entertaining game I have ever seen (video below).

By the way, have you been following the honeymoon trip on Jeffsetter?  Get Caught up here.

Lederhosen Shopping

Lederhosen Shopping

[Read more…]

Virginia Tech Football Tailgating – A New Family Tradition

Virginia Tech

College football is not very important in the north, especially in Minnesota. For me, it’s because there has never been a quality Division I football team in the area. For others, it may be that they prefer to watch professional football. Whatever the reason, I never really had a team to cheer for growing up, and as a result I never really cared about college football.

Then I met Amanda and she unlocked a new world for me: College Football in the South. You see, she grew up one town over from Blacksburg, VA – home of Virginia Polytechnical Institute. Better known as Virginia Tech. She had me at Hokie.

The first time I went to a game was in 2009, when the Hokies beat Nebraska at the last minute, and I rushed the field with my buddy Jeff Taylor.  [Read more…]

Hotel Audible: St. Regis Mauritius to Four Seasons Mauritius

St. Regis Mauritius -> Four Seasons Mauritius

I recently posted a review of the Four Seasons Mauritius at Anahita on Jeffsetter, but wanted to tell the story about how we came to stay at that resort here.

I have never stayed at a Four Seasons hotel or resort before, because frankly they have always been out of my budget and seemed extravagant. Even for our trip to Mauritius, we had booked a completely different hotel for our 5 nights on the island, the brand new St. Regis on the west side of the island, and we fully intended to stay there until we learned a few weeks before the honeymoon that the resort opening was delayed until November.

St. Regis Mauritius

We were looking forward to this part of Mauritius

This was a bummer, because the St. Regis looked amazing, but they could not have been kinder in helping us find alternate accommodations. They proactively offered to move us to a similar room at one of 4 other resorts on the island, without changing our hotel rate. We let them know that our second choice would have been the Four Seasons resort, and they were able to find us accommodations at the Four Seasons in an Ocean Villa. This proved to be an excellent deal for us, because the room prices at the Four Seasons would have been well outside of our price range normally. In addition, the hotel also agreed to give us half-board accommodations, which covered the cost of our breakfast and dinners.

Essentially, this allowed us to stay at the Four Seasons in Mauritius for about half of what it would cost if we paid rack rates. An amazing deal when we weren’t even looking for a deal this time. I need to avoid mentioning prices in these posts to protect the will of our friends at the St. Regis and the Four Seasons.

The people at the St. Regis in Mauritius were very gracious and accommodating to our needs. They even sent over two branded t-shirts and some local rum as a token of apology, along with a hand written note when we would be coming back to visit them.

Welcome Gift from the St. Regis

Welcome Gift from the St. Regis

After our fantastic time on the island, we may have to go back sooner than later!

Paris Layover Photo Gallery

This was my second time in Paris, and I shared my deep thoughts on Paris back in 2007. This time I was visiting after a passport fiasco in the US and some flight re-routing, Amanda and I found ourselves in Paris with 10 hours to kill.

After showering at the Air France lounge and making sure our travel arrangements were in order, we took a train into the city to explore a few monuments before heading to Mauritius

The day was cloudy, but that didn’t deter us from having some fun for a few hours.

Read a full recap of our Layover in Paris at Jeffsetter.

Air France Business Class Review: Detroit (DTW) to Paris (CDG)

Mauritius, Munich, Oktoberfest, Berchtesgaden and Paris: Air France Business Class Review

Trip Summary: Back in January of 2012 I decided to put my frequent flyer mileage knowledge, skills and learnings to the test and book the honeymoon of our dreams for my wife and me. While it took several months for the plans to fully materialize, the result was an amazing, while not always seamless trip. This is not only a recap of the trip we took and how we got there, but also the beginning of more formal travel blogging to showcase my adventures in the United States and abroad. 

This trip will be summarized in the following topics:

This was perhaps the best flight of my life until this point for reasons outside of the actual level of service received on the flight. As explained in a  previous post about a passport scare, this flight almost never happened.  The space we were able to secure on AF377 to Paris was a blessing, and I have counted my blessings ever since.

The airplane itself was an Airbus A340-300 with 6 rows of business class seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. While I was slightly disappointed that I would not have the chance to ride across the pond in an Airbus A380 that was scheduled originally, I was simply counting my blessings that I had a flight at all at this point. My companion and I were situated on the right hand side of the plane, in row 5. This is definitely my preference for international flights – sitting next to companion with one window and one aisle seat for maximum flexibility.

Business Class Seats on Air France

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An Unexpected Passport Scare and Public Service Announcement About Passports

Passport Expiration Scare: Your Passport may not be accepted even if it has not expired yet

After a 48 hour whirlwind travel experience, I’m finally settled in to my villa in paradise – otherwise known as the Four Seasons in Mauritius. While I have already mentioned in this space that I will be writing about my amazing travels across the world, this story is about how the trip almost never happened. It may not be for the faint of heart, but as I sit here in the luxury of a tropical destination, I feel I can already look back at what happened and breathe a sigh of relief.

It all started innocently enough. Wedding reception on Saturday (blogged about here), travel plans beginning with a 7 AM flight on Monday morning, and then after 45 hours of travel, arrival in Mauritius. While I wasn’t looking forward to the time of the travel, we were able to secure business class seats for most flights, so at least we could get some sleep on the plane.

The least of my worries was the first day of travel, which featured a seemingly routine flight from MSP to Washington Dulles Airport, with a ~7 hour layover before our next flight to Paris. In fact, it was so routine that I made a list of tasks I wanted to accomplish while sitting in the Air France ‘Salon’ for that entire time. A mix of personal and professional tasks would keep me busy that entire time, no doubt.

After checking in to the Air France Lounge, the attendant asked us to have a seat while she looked made sure everything was in line with our tickets. While seated in the lounge, I was looking up information about things to do in Mauritius, trying to change our train tickets from Munich to Paris later in the trip, etc. Basically tying up last minute details.

The lounge agent came up to us and said, in her best and most condescending French accent (it helps if you read it all with an accent):

“We have a small problem. You can’t go to Mauritius and I am canceling your tickets” [Read more…]

Wine Country Wedding Video – Kunde Estate in Sonoma Valley, CA

Wine Country Wedding Video

If you know well me enough to read this blog, you know I got married earlier this year to the love of my life, Amanda, in a small ceremony at Kunde Estate in Kenwood, California. The setting was absolutely beautiful; on a mountain top overlooking Sonoma Valley, 1,400 feet above the roads below, with views all the way to San Francisco bay on clear days.

Since it was a small ceremony and I knew we would be having a reception with all of our family in friends later in the year, I decided that it would be prudent to film the video with HD cameras and create something to share with everyone in attendance. This would prove fairly easy, since our wedding was at a baseball stadium (Target Field) and we signed a contract to rent the Jumbotron for an hour during our reception.

With the pressure of seeing ourselves on a 101 foot wide screen in full HD weighing down on me, I took on the assignment of producing, directing and editing the film to be put on the screen. This was my first time being back in action since I was part of an Emmy nominated documentary team while in college in 2003. Boy was I rusty!

It’s amazing how much the equipment, technology and software has improved during my 9 years of focusing elsewhere. To get the job done, I rented a Sony NEX-FS100U camera to do the majority of the filming. With a polarized filter added to handle the California Sun, it did a great job.

In addition, the main camera was flanked by two Sony HD camcorders that also shot in 1080p, while not quite at the level of quality current professionals would use (but definitely good enough for this video).

Video Production at Amanda and Jeff's Wedding

Video Production at Amanda and Jeff’s Wedding

During the wedding, most of the video capture was done by my friend Tom, who happened to be a whiz when it comes to cameras. He picked up everything beautifully and thoroughly. So thoroughly that when I got home I realized that there were several hours of raw footage to sift through after I purchased and installed Final Cut Pro X to be my editing software of choice for the video.

I soon ran into an issue while looking at these videos – my laptop was simply not fast enough to handle 1080P video and final cut pro. The Hard Drive wasn’t big enough either, so I needed to handle the situation by purchasing a brand new 2011 model iMac desktop witha  27″ screen and 2 TB hard drive, along with a 3 TB Firewire hard drive for storing uncompressed video.

It was only then that I was able to get rocking on the video. The first cut was what I like to call our “trailer” and is what is shown above. It’s ~3 minutes of video set to the theme song for Baywatch – almost entirely for comedic purposes. The song just screams California and ended up matching our footage perfectly.

I self consciously showed the video to a few trusted friends and family members, and they all gave pretty similar feedback – they loved it. I knew that it was worthy when a friend of mine, a video production professional with major credibility, told me “Love it!! Don’t change a thing!”

With the trailer in hand, it was now time to tackle the rest of the movie and turn everything into a 24 minute video that could run twice on the jumbotron. This was not as easy as you might think, because there wasn’t a lot of footage to use. The audio from the ceremony on the hilltop was garbled and barely understandable, even after applying audio filters (it was so windy that day on the mountain top that the odds were against us).

Along with my dad, we decided to split the video up into sections – intro, photo collages of Amanda and I, the ceremony and the wedding speeches. This proved to be a perfect move, because it allowed us to control the timing of the video based on the songs we chose in our photo collages.

My dad lead the charge on the photo collages and created one for young Amanda set to “I’m too Sexy”, one for me set to “Regulate” and one for the two of us set to “So Happy Together”

The end video is far from a masterpiece, but definitely a fun way to share in the celebration of our wedding. Even better was seeing ourselves on the jumbotron with many of our closest family and friends watching.

While it was a lot of work to produce the video, the fact that our wedding will be forever documented in a high quality way kept me going when time was wearing thin.

Do you like the video? Please feel free to comment or share with your friends!

Hyatt Visa Signature Card Overnight Delivery

At any given time, I have between 5-25 tabs open in my Google Chrome browser, toggling between information, keeping track of items I want to discover, and more.

One of the tabs I had open from early March through mid July was an offer for a $75 statement credit (waives the annual fee for 1 year) when signing up for the Hyatt Visa Signature card, which is one of the better cards available for hotel programs.

Elegant Packaging

Elegant Packaging for Hyatt Visa Signature Card

Unfortunately, I was not able to apply for the credit card in time before the offer expired, and I thought I had missed out on the opportunity. I was disappointed, because I wanted this card in particular for the European portion of my upcoming trip, because it has a Micro-chip on the card, which is very important for European travel. I learned this the hard way when I was in Prague in December and most merchants were hesitant to take my credit card without a microchip.

Fortunately, I saw a post from Gary last week that announced the $75 credit offer was available again. All you have to do is visit the Hyatt website, start a reservation and you will be met with a targeted credit card offer.

Not only is the credit card completely free, but it also offers some amazing benefits for frequent travelers:

  • Instant Hyatt Platinum status (usually requires 5 stays or 15 nights in a year)
  • Two free nights at any Hyatt in the world (easily can be worth $1,000+ internationally)
  • Free upgrades for current Platinum members
  • A free night every year at renewal
  • Smart Chip on your card (big plus for European travel)
  • No Foreign Transaction fees (look at this as a 2.7% rebate traveling abroad)
  • 3 points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties
Hyatt Visa Signature - Full Package

Hyatt Visa Signature – Full Package and Letter from Chase

These are some amazing perks for essentially paying $0 to get started. There doesn’t even appear to be a minimum spend required to get this deal.

So basically, you can get 2 free nights and platinum status for free. That’s a good deal friends.

Hyatt Package Closeup

They know what they are doing… nice work Chase

Needless to say, I bit the bullet and signed up for the card on Sunday. They didn’t tell me I was approved right away, so I was afraid I wouldn’t get the card at all or at least not in time for my upcoming trip.

Boy was I wrong. The card was waiting for me when I got home on Tuesday – beautifully packaged in an overnight envelope.

The packaging was beautiful, and the card fits nicely in my wallet. It’s almost as elegant as my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but without the nice weight.

What an incredible experience signing up with this card. Chase and Hyatt have created a fantastic program.

Next Stop: Mauritius and Oktoberfest!

Man, it seems like years ago that I first blogged about our planned honeymoon in Mauritius. Come to think of it, it was nearly a year ago that I first booked the trip.

Now we are exactly 1 week away from our departure to the promised land(s)!

Since then, a lot of the details of the trip have rounded out and I plan on blogging about the aspects that my wife will allow me to talk about.

Here is what you can expect to see from me if all goes well and motivation stays high:

  • Delta Lounge at Washington Dulles (if this exists)
  • Flight Report: Air France Business Class from Washington DC (IAD) to Paris (CDG) on the Airbus A380
  • Air France Lounge in Paris
  • Day Trip to Paris
  • Flight Report: Air Mauritius Business Class from Paris to Mauritius (MRU) on a 777-300
  • Staying at the Four Seasons Mauritius
  • Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Mauritius
  • Sight Seeing in Mauritius
  • Golfing at the Ernie Els Designed Course at the Fours Seasons Mauritius
  • Flight Report: Air Mauritius Economy Class from Mauritius to Paris
  • Flight Report: Air France Paris to Munich
  • Staying at The Hilton Munich Hotel
  • Sight Seeing in Munich
  • Oktoberfest in Munich
  • Driving to Berchtesgarden, Germany
  • Staying at The Intercontinental Berchtesgaden
  • Sight Seeing in Berchtesgaden
  • Train from Munich to Paris
  • Staying at Park Hyatt Vendome Hotel
  • Sight Seeing in Paris
  • Flight Report: Air France Business Class from Paris to Washington DC on the Airbus A380

Wow, this is a jam packed two weeks of travel! 4 overnight flights and 11 nights in premium hotels (four of these using points). 7 Total flights, a train ride and two car rentals. 4 Hemispheres.

I can’t wait for this trip and I hope you stick with me as I share the details (once again, as long as my wife allows it).