Austria, Germany, and China 2014: Part 11 – Bullet Trains and Zhengzhou

This is part 11 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

People who follow this blog know that I am somewhat infamous for missing my flights around the world.  Well I decided this wasn’t good enough for me so I decided to start missing trains as well!  I had purchased a ticket ahead of time as recommended on the last high speed train of the day from Beijing to Zhengzhou.  Zhengzhou was a city I decided to visit purely because 5000 points nights were available at the Crowne Plaza on the IHG Pointsbreak list I wrote about in this article. And I am glad I did because it was awesome! Zhengzhou was the subject of a famous documentary on Dateline on China’s Ghost Cities. Well, it is a ghost city no more!  But let’s get back to missing my train.

What I have found from this experience is you really need to get to the station about 20 minutes before your train to have time to go through security and make your train on time.  I know this because I showed up about 5 minutes before my train and didn’t make it!  I went back to the booking window and they informed me the only other train that left that night was a slow train that would take 8 hours instead of 2 and there were no seats available, standing room only!  No Thanks!  They rebooked me at no charge for the 7 AM train, with the caution that if I missed my replacement train I would have to buy a new ticket.  I quickly used my IHG App on my unlocked iPhone to find a room at the Holiday Inn Central Plaza to stay until the morning with free breakfast for CNY497 per night (about 80 USD).  This also helped me qualify for the Big Win promotion IHG was having.  Since my train left at 7 AM I barely had time to eat but it was actually a pretty great breakfast!

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I took the taxi to the train station and got there at 5 minutes until the train left and they told me it was too late but let me try and run for it, but they were of course right so I ended up having to buy another ticket for the next train which was about $51!  So don’t make the same mistake I did and show up at least 20 mins before your train leaves!

I left from the newly built West train station in Beijing and it was clean, efficient and quite busy. I was impressed by the scope and scale of all of the mass transit in China
IMG_8180These are the high speed 300 KPH CRH trains made by Siemens which are the same ones that make the ICE trains throughout Europe. IMG_8181 Arriving in Zhengzhou (pronounces Jeng-Jow) I was immediately impressed by the massive scale and scope of the city.  I noted on arrival that the city felt like the pair of shoes you bought for your children that were too big, but you knew they would grow into.
IMG_8193 I didn’t know at the time that this was one of the “Ghost Cities”, but it did seem like construction was still going about at a crazy pace even though the current spaces weren’t being occupied.  You can see two massive towers being built right beside the train station.IMG_8192Zhengzhou was a city that the Chinese government decided based on its central location to make into a high speed railway hub for the entire country.Zhengzhou Map  It was quite an ambitious decision, but one that seems to have been a good one.IMG_8194 I took the single metro line (with 4 more lines under construction) to my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Zhengzhou which I got at a Pointbreaks rate of just 5000 points a night! The lobby was very opulent.
IMG_8198 My room appeared quite nice as well.IMG_8196 IMG_8197But my room was very hot!  I ended up having to ask for a different room because evidently the air was not working on one of the floors.  But the replacement room was cool enough. There was a large swimming pool and ping pong tables as well.  The Chinese really do love ping pong!
IMG_8205I went out in search of a local specialty called yangrouhuimiman (Mutton Noodle) and ended up running into a local guy at the restaurant that spoke great English and ordered some other food for me as well.  I asked about beer since he was drinking one and he told me they didn’t serve it in the restaurant I was at since it was a Halal place but he would go buy me some from a market.  When he returned with it he wouldn’t let me pay!  He said it was his treat and welcome to China!  Wow!IMG_8199 All of this food was about $3.IMG_8200 After lunch, I walked around a bit and took pics of some of the interesting things I saw like these chickens for sale.IMG_8204All over China, there was interesting architecture around every corner.IMG_8206 I took a long walk through town down to the Ruyi lake area and surrounding art museums and convention center.IMG_8207Ruyi lake was quite impressive and there were lots of people flying some crazy kites.IMG_8212 You can see all of the high rise buildings that surround the circular lake area.  This type of master planned design is hard to accomplish without a brand new city.
IMG_8215 I then took the metro back over to the Erqi Memorial Tower area and walked around some more.  The double pagoda is the highlight of the square but there are video screens surrounding it as well that gives it a little bit of a time square feel. IMG_8218 Some of the brightly colored shops near Erqi Square.IMG_8219 Some of the fruits for sale that I came across on my walkIMG_8220 I even ran into a cyber cafe with tons and tons of people surfing and playing games online.IMG_8221 The highlight of my one night in Zhengzhou was definitely this couple.  I saw a street cart with a long line of people (which Anthony Bourdain says is always the best way to choose street food) and it looked great as the guy cooked it!

When they saw me filming them I tried to tell them that it looked good, and with the help of Google Translate, we started going back and forth talking about where I was from and why I was in Zhengzhou.  It turns out this is a husband and wife that run this stand.  Next thing I know, the guy runs off to the store and comes back with two big beers and sits down to drink with me while I eat with a tiny cup for each of us (which is how they drink in China evidently).  We finish those two beers and I tell them I want to buy some more and off he goes and comes back with a 6 pack which we proceed to drink more of along with some other chicken wing type snacks for me to try.  It is getting late at this point and I have an early train so I tell them I have to leave and they won’t let me pay for anything, not even the food!  Welcome to China they say!  What hospitality from someone who probably makes some small percentage of what I do each year.
IMG_8223So is Zhengzhou a ghost city?  Not in my book!  It does still have lots of room to grow and spaces to fill, but Zhengzhou ended up being one of the highlights of my trip because of the incredibly nice people I met.

Next stop: Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors!

How I am flying to the Riverwest Festival in Chicago for $5!

This is another article in our How I Am series that shows you the nuts and bolts of redeeming miles for Award Travel.

People who follow this blog know I love traveling, techno and deep house music.  Wherever possible, I try to combine my passions.  This is one of those times.  I just planned a last minute trip to go to the RiverWest Festival in Chicago over the 4th of July. When my friend ToDD from Chicago first showed me the flyer, I was in heaven!  He told me if I got up there I could stay in his apartment so I wouldn’t even need a hotel for this trip.Riverwest PosterPlanning this trip is a prime example of why it is important to get the miles and points before you need them so when you want to do something you have options. If you still haven’t gotten started with miles, why not check out our Getting Started page.  Everything on it is free and it will only take you about 45 mins to complete.

I was able to use points I had from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to book this whole trip.  Since Southwest and British Airways are both transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards (which is the type of points the Sapphire Preferred earns), I was able to look at both Southwest and British Airways when looking for available award flights.  And since you can book American Airlines flights using British Airways Avios and save tons of miles (see this article about when to use BA miles vs American miles), that meant I could look at Southwest flights and American Airlines flights.

On the outbound I found this great non stop American Airlines flight from Nashville (where I am located right now) for just 4500 British Airways Avios and $2!  Miami was available as well.  I transferred 5K Ultimate Rewards points over to my British Airways account to book this ticket.  I put the $2 on my Chase British Airways card since it gives me 2.5 Avios per dollar on any BA spend (hey, every little bit helps!).

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If I had booked this exact same ticket with American Airlines miles (for the exact same flight on the exact same plane), it would have cost me 12,500 miles and $77 ($2 plus a $75 last minute booking fee).  Score!

Now getting back was a little more complicated.  There were no saver American Airline seats available on Monday (which is what I need to have to be able to book the seats using British Airways Avios), so if I used American miles, it would have to be an AAnytime award.  That would mean 25,000 miles one way!  No Thank You!

I looked at Southwest going out of Chicago Midway airport (both airports are easy to get to from Chicago) and found a great award seat available late in the evening so I would have time to hit any after parties and still sleep some!MDW-BNASo for 4500+9507=14007 Ultimate Rewards points and $4.50 I was able to get this trip booked (OK, it was even less than $5!).  Keep in mind that I got more Ultimate Rewards points than this last week with the Amex Gift Card promotion I wrote about so this was a no brainer! Even better since with Southwest you can cancel any time up to 15 minutes before your flight and get all of your points back, if the American non stop opens up Saver seats between now and then, then I can book that flight back using BA miles and drop the total cost from 14K to 9K!

This little exercise is a prime example of why Ultimate Rewards points are so valuable.  If I had just had Southwest points or American Miles or British Airways Avios, then I wouldn’t have had all of the options that I did.  And having those options is what made this trip a great value! Getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best way to get started with Ultimate Rewards so click here to apply today!

Have any of you booked a trip that you thought was a good value?  Comment and show off your planning skills below!  As always, reply with any questions and follow me on Google+FacebookTwitter and Instagram to make sure you don’t miss any great info!

Austria, Germany, China 2014: Part 10 – How my Discover Card saved my life in China.

This is part 10 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

The Discover It card is one that I don’t talk about too much on the site.  When I have talked about it in the past it has been talking about the great 18 month interest free offer they have for balance transfers or in my popular article about the 3 best credit card to build your credit.  They also have a great shopping program called ShopDiscover that often has some of the best cashback rates when you are shopping online (including 10% cashback at Groupon which I use all the time). Plus, they give you a free FICO credit score on your statement every month which makes it easy to keep an eye on that all important number.  The best part is that there is no annual fee so it costs nothing to keep the card each year until you need it.

Now, back to China.  I don’t usually take a lot of cash with me on trips because I prefer to use a miles earning credit card whenever I can.  I guess being a travel guru I should have researched China a bit more before I got there:  I just assumed I would be able to use my Chase Sapphire Preferred card there since it has no foreign transaction fees and gives me double points on restaurants and travel expenses. So when I had my first nice meal and I whipped out my chip enabled aluminum Sapphire card, I was surprised when they said they couldn’t accept it.  Then I started looking around for those window signs saying Visa accepted here and didn’t find any! What I did see was the UnionPay logo.UnionPayAfter a little research I learned that this is China’s home grown payment processing system and Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are not accepted here outside of hotels and some very limited western focused restaurants.  So I was looking at not getting any miles, points or cashback on most of my spending including all those bullet train fares. That just isn’t acceptable!IMG_8181 Luckily I found that the Discover It card has a reciprocal agreement with China Unionpay!  It turns out that they also have an agreement with JCB Japan which means it will work well there too (although I didn’t have any problems with Visa when I was in Japan).  Discover also has no foreign transaction fees which means I will get the true exchange rate from Yuan to USD on my spend without any markup.Discover China

I took my Discover Card to the train station in Beijing displaying the Union Pay logo and had to convince them (via google translate) to try it since the card doesn’t actually display the UnionPay logo on the back of the card.  The charge went through perfectly in all cases but one (where I am pretty sure the attendant was doing it wrong).  Cashback Success! I ended up using my Discover Card at some tourist attractions and restaurants as well without any problems after assuring them it was UnionPay.

Travel sometimes throws you curveballs and you need to have a plan A, B, and C ready.  Discover ended up being my plan B and made me an extra 1% on a lot of my spending on this trip.  I can take this 1% cashback and use it on my next trip! Maybe it didn’t exactly save my life, but it sure saved my wallet and allowed me to buy this particle mask at 7-11 which saved my lungs!IMG_7999

If you want to know more about the benefits of the Discover card, read about it in our article about the 3 best cards to build your credit or if you just want to apply for this great no annual fee card then click here to apply!  If you get it now, it will be ready to help you out when it is your turn to visit China!

Austria, Germany, China 2014: Part 9 – The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling

This is part 9 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

When I started doing my research on the Great Wall of China, I found that while the Badaling section of the great wall was the closest to Beijing and the easiest to get to by train, the Jinshanling section was a more impressive section as well as being much less crowded with tourists.  Two interesting things about the Great Wall that I didn’t know were that it isn’t one continuous wall, but instead multiple unconnected sections of wall. It was also not built all at one time but in different times across different dynasties of China.Great Wall of China Sections

I took the public bus from Wangjing West Subway station and used my transportation smart card (which I also used to get around the Beijing subway) which gave me a discount off of the bus fare.  Check out this link for everything about the getting there by bus. I had planned to do a 12 mile hike from the Jinshanling section to the Simatai section but decided after about 6 miles that that was enough.

The 2 hour bus ride was quite scenic with mountains popping out of the mist and rice paddies on the side of the road.

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Once I got into the scenic spot (what they call the park), I saw an interesting approach to a seating problem. 🙂

IMG_8128 Here is the main entrance to the section of the wall.
IMG_8129 A very serious looking rider greets you to the Wall.IMG_8130 Almost right away you are treated with some amazing views of the wall crawling across the mountaintops.IMG_8132 You can literally see it for miles across the mountains.IMG_8133 A panorama of the wall is the best way to capture it.IMG_8135Here is a virtual walk down the wall.

The further I hiked, the better the views became.
IMG_8137 Such an amazing feat of engineering considering the time it was built.IMG_8138 Who needs a stairmaster when you have the Great Wall!?

IMG_8142 IMG_8143 A shot from inside one of the towersIMG_8144 I really couldn’t get enough pictures of this amazing spot.IMG_8146 IMG_8147 Can you see it all the way in the distant mountains?
IMG_8148 One of the older, unrestored towers.IMG_8150 I stop for a break on a rough section of wall.IMG_8152 More stairs.  This is probably the most people I saw at one time all day on this remote section of the wall.IMG_8153 IMG_8156 Another PanoramaIMG_8158 Come with me to China!
IMG_8160 The world is mine!IMG_8163 IMG_8164 Another neat shot from within a tower.IMG_8171Here is an overview of the wall experience I had.

This is near the spot where I called it a day.

IMG_8173 A Mongolian woman engaged me right when I first arrived and offered to be my guide if I bought some of her souvenirs she had in a backpack.  I told her (honestly) that I didn’t have much Yuan with me and didn’t want her services but she was persistent and wouldn’t leave me alone.  So I let her walk with me and talk and got her to act as my photographer and videographer.  At the end she offered me some kind of boring souvenirs so I skipped them and just gave her whatever small Yuan I had in my pocket (maybe $10 worth) which she wasn’t really happy with but I warned her I didn’t have much going in so I didn’t feel that bad about it. Evidently she hikes up and down the wall several times every day as a tour guide.  Talk about a hard job!

In retrospect, the Great Wall really was one of the highlights of my trip.  In particular I would recommend the Jinshanling portion of the wall to avoid the crowds and also see a more impressive section of the wall.

I know this is a lot of information but feel free to comment with any questions and follow me on Google+FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

How I am flying to Costa Rica for $45!

Costa RicaIt started innocently enough: “Keith invites you to the Facebook group Costa Rica Vacation.”  Intrigued I clicked into this group some of my friends had started and saw what they had planned.  A huge 8 bedroom house with a chef that sleeps 18 in Quepos, Costa Rica in the rain forest but near the beach.  The best part was since there were so many people interested, the cost would only be around $200 a person for the whole week!

Only $200 for a week!
Only $200 for a week in this awesome house!

But how much would it cost me to fly there?  If you read my article TWM, Take Me Away to Costa Rica for Free then you know that from Miami redeeming 15,000 British Airways miles for American Airlines flights is the best option.  I checked over the dates I was looking at and found tons of award availability over the 3 non stop flights each day.

I transferred 15,000 points that I earned by Spending Money without Spending Money with my Chase Ink Bold card (which now has a 60,000 point sign on bonus.)  You could also use miles you get from the 40,000 point Chase Sapphire Preferred or the 50,000 Avios Chase British Airways card.  The transfer processed instantly and then I was able to book my trip for just 15,000 British Airways Avios and $45!

MIA-SJOI did a quick comparison for the exact same flights if I paid cash with American Airlines and came up with $545! MIA-SJO-AA-PriceThis gives me a savings of exactly $500 and value of over 3.3 cents per point which is great! My total out of pocket cost for this trip including lodging and airfare is about $250 right now.  To that I will just have add on groceries and any excursions such as canopy ziplining or ATVing or hiking a volcano! 🙂 I’m pretty sure even when everything is factored in, it will be cheaper than Miami would have been for the week!  Having the frequent flyer miles for the flights is definitely what made this trip possible for me.

As always, feel free to comment with any questions and follow me on Google+FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Austria, Germany, China 2013: Part 8 – Beijing, Tian’anmen Square, The Forbidden City

This is part 8 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

As I arrived in Beijing, I was impressed by the wide open and contemporary airport.

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I took the airport train to the main terminal.IMG_7979 And then saw this on the way!  I always buy local SIM cards for my unlocked iPhone to save on roaming costs. Luckily there was an attendant right beside the machine that helped me choose the right card, cut it to size to fit my phone and get everything going.  150 Yuan ($24) and I was in business with 200MB of data!IMG_7980

The airport already gave off the high tech reputation that Beijing had with video and LEDs everywhere!

I had booked 5 free nights at the Crowne Plaza Zhongguancun using 5000 points a night via the Pointsbreak special I talked about in this article.  Since I am a Gold Ambassador with IHG, they upgraded me to a nice corner room and gave me a fruit basket.

I spent the first few days just going out exploring.  I saw some really neat things and some really strange things!

They even had cool video advertising in the subway tunnels!

I always thought that people with masks for the pollution were overreacting, but after my China pollution app told me it was seriously polluted AND my throat started hurting on the second day, I decided it was better to be healthy than fashionable. I read this article on pollution masks to help me decide which one to get.  I found some 3M ones at the 7-11 for about $2 for three. Pro tip: Those blue or white surgical ones don’t block the microscopic particles that are present in the China pollution.

I had to try Peking Duck in Peking (Beijing was formerly known as Peking if you didn’t know!)IMG_8001I checked out Tian’anmen Square.  It was quite impressive and much bigger than I expected. At their request, I posed for some photos with some other Chinese tourists (which would become a recurring theme for this whole trip!)IMG_8058

I even caught the changing of the guard ceremony while I was there.

I went to the street market at Wangfujing and saw all sorts of weird foods and tried some of them!IMG_8042 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo2xVkbyOIY

I made it to the historical part of the city south of Tian’anmen square.

I went to The Forbidden City and saw a 600 year old Bixi!IMG_8100

I explored the gardens around The Forbidden City to the West and North as well.

I also got to try a bunch of different kinds of street food which I love.  As Anthony Bourdain recommends when you are getting street food, always go to the one with the biggest line!  The people have spoken! Pretty much everything there is less than $1.

Whew!  That is a lot of stuff I saw!  There actually is a little more Beijing on the tail end of the trip, but that is what I saw in my first 5 days.  In the next installment I go see the Great Wall of China! As always, feel free to comment with any questions and follow me on Google+FacebookTwitter and Instagram! Today is the first posting of videos from our new Youtube channel as well so add us to your favorites on there if you like what you see!

Austria, Germany, China 2013: Part 7 – Vienna to Beijing Business Class on an Austrian Airlines Boeing 767-300

This is part 7 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

After getting “bumped” down from business to economy on the way from the states (but ending up $1000 richer), I was looking forward to a nice comfortable flight from Vienna to Beijing.  The 8.5 hour flight was on Austrian Airlines Boeing 767-300 which is the long range version of their wide body jet. These planes are being gradually replaced with more fuel efficient newer models but have lots of room inside to create a plush interior in the premium classes.

As I have mentioned before when I am flying business class, I make sure to pick a plane that was 180 degree lie flat seating instead of the “angled lie-flat” where the seat reclines flat but is at maybe a 20 degree angle downwards.  I find a night and day difference between the two if I want to get any quality sleep during the flight.  One of the reasons I picked this flight and airline to redeem my miles on was because of the seats!20140428-233313.jpgThe seats had a throw blanket and a pillow as well as a spacious table on the side.  Their seats on this plane were arranged 1-2-1 which gave every seat aisle access so you don’t have to worry about waking anyone up to go to the bathroom during the flight or getting woken up yourself!  If you are traveling by yourself, pick the single window seats for better privacy, but if you are traveling with someone else, the middle seats will allow you to easily chat during the flight.  This flight was pretty full up front in business class!20140428-233408.jpgI had plenty of leg room in the seat even though I am 6’2″. They had an average, but good 15″ AVOD (Audio Video on Demand) system with a good selection of movies and TV shows in multiple languages.  Plus it had a USB port to charge your phone / tablet.20140428-233459.jpgThey had push buttons for the different seat positions including options to make your cushion harder or softer and even a massage option!  You sure won’t find that in coach!20140428-233521.jpgThe additional space and seats in business class is one part of why I enjoy flying that way, but a close second is the food! The food is selected by DO & CO Catering.  Here was the menu they gave me.20140428-233556.jpgI was trying to decide which antipasti to try when she suggested I try a little bit of all of them, and who am I to argue?20140428-233808.jpgThe bacon wrapped goats cheese salad was my favorite I would say, but they were all quite tasty. I chose the braised veal for my main course.20140428-233830.jpgThey had a comprehensive coffee menu to choose from as well which I thought was interesting.  I tried the Einspanner since it said it was a Viennese specialty and they asked if I wanted anything to go in it.  Why, yes, some Baileys would do nicely!20140428-233913.jpgI finished off my meal service with the cheese platter and a chocolate fondant which was very rich but small enough to make it manageable.  It went great with the coffee.20140428-233930.jpgBy this point, I was stuffed and read to get some sleep so I checked out their amenity kit that came wrapped neatly in this pouch.20140428-234027.jpgIt included some face lotion by Bogner, toothbrush, toothpaste, a sleep mask, a shoehorn (do people still use those?), some ear plugs and some socks.20140428-234047.jpgI would say this is probably an average type of amenity kit but nothing to write home about compared to some i have seen. I changed into some shorts before I knocked out because I often get hot in jeans when I am trying to sleep, so no comments about my beautiful feet! 20140428-234745.jpgI think they are great, but some people like my Dad find these seats a little claustrophobic in the flat position so keep that in mind.  We had the same type of seats on our Brussels Airlines flight to Europe this summer.  I still had plenty of room to stretch out and was able to get maybe 4 hours of sleep before I they woke me up for breakfast. 20140428-234835.jpgI had an omelette and some fruit which was good and light enough after the heavy dinner service.

Conclusion

This was my first time flying in business class on Austrian Airlines and I was quite pleased with it.  The flight attendants were attentive without being overbearing and the coffee menu was a nice local touch.  I would definitely fly them again if the routing made sense and maybe would build some more time in Vienna to explore the city more next time.

As always, feel free to comment with any questions and follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Austria, Germany, China 2013: Part 6 – The Flagship Austrian Airlines Business Class Lounge in Vienna

This is part 6 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

This is another of our lounge reviews from around the world. I had another 6 hour layover in Vienna before my flight so I was looking forward to spending some time in the Flagship Austrian Lounge.  After the night I had had, I was hoping that there was a sleeping area there too!  The surly attendant at the front got a little angry when I took this picture (even though I was trying to get a picture of the desk more than her!)20140425-204848.jpg

The lounge had plenty of room and wasn’t too crowded.20140425-204925.jpg

They had a few Austrian snacks on offer and some some regular snacks as well.20140425-204956.jpg 20140425-205015.jpg

There was a nice view of the airplanes and gates from the lounge.20140425-205127.jpg

They had a business area with computers and printers.20140425-205056.jpg

And an entertainment area with some comfortable seating and a TV.20140425-205148.jpg

And most importantly they had 4 of these awesome chairs!20140425-205210.jpg  I snagged one then knocked out for a few hours, setting my alarm to make sure I woke up in time to catch my flight to Beijing.

Austria, Germany, China 2013: Part 5 – Frankfurt, Robert-Johnson, and Timewarp

This is part 5 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

We elected to get a hotel in Frankfurt instead of Mannheim because it was just an hour train ride away. We figured there would be more to do in Frankfurt since the festival was the only thing in Mannheim.  In retrospect, getting a hotel in Mannheim at least for the nights after the festival would have been a good idea since we ended up at the after party which was in Mannheim anyways.

The first thing I always do when traveling to avoid huge roaming charges is to get a local SIM card for my unlocked iPhone.  This also gives you a local number for communicating with friends and calling hotels, etc. I found a Deutsche Telekom store and took my passport and was able to get a prepaid card with I think 500MB of 3G data for €20 and then I put another €20 on there for calls and texts.

The hotel prices were really expensive the first two nights we were there for some reason and we hadn’t booked an advance reservation for the hotel so we ended up getting one of the hidden deals on Hotwire.com for $126 a night that was the Westin in a great location in Frankfurt right near the pedestrian street Zeil.IMG_7902

Since I have Gold status with SPG, they gave us an upgraded room even though they didn’t have to since it was a Hotwire booking.

There was even a mall with a neat glass climbing wall and waterfall right in the middle of it!IMG_7901

The Westin had great beds which was important so we could get a good night’s sleep and get over our jet lag.  I don’t normally get too lagged but this time with the combination of a coach flight and then our layover in Vienna, it hit me pretty hard.

Friday night, we headed to the famous Robert Johnson club for Magda and Troy Pierce with my friend Jean-Carlos who drove up from Rammstein. We were a little worried since the club is very hard to get into sometimes and we arrived after midnight, but we were able to walk right in.  Magda was playing great but we left around 5 or so to save our energy for Timewarp the next day.  Andres was excited to be back in Europe so he could have a proper döner kebap.IMG_7906.The next day we moved to the Ramada near Hauptbahnhof that I found for a rate of only E49 a night!

Jean-Carlos drove up and gave us a luxury high speed ride to Mannheim.IMG_7910

Timewarp was pretty incredible.  There are six different stages and it was hard to decide sometimes which was the best.  Here are some pics and videos that I took from the festival.

I also ran into my friend Bart from Belgium who I met at the Ibiza closing parties.  It was great to see him again!

IMG_7934After the festival we ran into some DJs I know and they told us about a semi private after party at a little club called Zimmer in Mannheim that we could go to.  We had been up all night at this point so decided to go back and shower and change before the after party.  This was when a hotel in Mannheim would have been the better option.  We walked through a bit of Mannheim and it looked like a nice little town when the madness of Timewarp wasn’t happening.IMG_7944

The after party was legendary with a who’s who list of DJs both spinning and just hanging out right beside and with you. Seth Troxler, Dubfire, Jamie Jones, Nick Curly, Mathias Tanzmann, Marco Carola, and more.IMG_7947

IMG_7951  Such an amazing experience in a small intimate setting.  The party ended at around 4 and we caught the first train back into Frankfurt where I could sleep for an hour or so before heading to the airport.  It was time for Andres and I to part ways: He was going back to Miami while I was continuing onto Beijing aboard an Austrian Airlines 767-300 in business class!

Austria, Germany, China 2013: Part 4 – 9 Hours in Vienna

This is part 4 of a series on my trip to Austria, Germany and China.

I received 40,000 of the 100,000 miles I used for this award ticket by getting the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®!  This is a great card and one I still carry.  These miles will eventually become American miles which are some of the most valuable.  Click here to apply now for one of your own!

Since you can have layovers of <24 hours for free we built in a 9 hour layover in Vienna and ended up meeting with a friend from Austria as a local tour guide!  We arrived in the Vienna airport and made our way to the train to the city center.  They had a neat flight status wall as you exited from immigration.20140417-123932.jpg

After we arrived at the city center our first stop was University of Vienna which was established in the 1500s!  It was a beautiful classically European campus.20140417-123951.jpg

Here we are with our host Nina who had come in from Salzburg where she lives to give us a tour.20140417-124359.jpg

The library reminded me of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies!20140417-124209.jpg

We did mainly a walking tour of Vienna checking out the beautiful architecture.20140417-124243.jpg 20140417-124425.jpg 20140417-124444.jpg

We ate a traditional Austrian lunch of schnitzel and some Austrian beers and then wandered around a bit more.20140417-124526.jpg 20140417-124505.jpg 20140417-124552.jpg

But then it was time to head back to the airport to catch our flight to Frankfurt. I think 9 hours was a bit tight and we were a bit rushed so a little longer layover next time would be preferred.  Now that I have spent a little time in Vienna, I do think I would like to go back for a more extended trip.  Since they are the hub for the very nice Austrian Airlines, it isn’t a bad spot to transit through either!  Next stop… Timewarp!