Sensational Seychelles!

(This is part of a trip report, using United miles to fly business class for five flights, costing $86 and 160,000 miles, and the value of this trip was $11,758. I flew from the USA to Istanbul to Africa to Seychelles to Greece!)

Seychelles (pronounced “say SHELZ”) is a group of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, 932 miles from the east coast of Africa. Most of the islands are uninhabited and designated as nature preserves. We visited the two bigger islands, Praslin and Mahe.

In Praslin, we stayed at the Exotic Guest House – it was a nice place and included a kitchen area. We met friends that live on the island and spent the day with them. They took us all over the island, and it is amazingly beautiful, so I will let the pictures do the talking, and all photos are unedited and no filter…

One day we went to Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, where we saw the coco de mer, the largest seed in the plant kingdom, and it only grows in the Seychelles. Our guided hike through the palm forest took us to the top with fantastic views!

We spent one afternoon on the beach, just lounging…and later, enjoying those beautiful sunsets! 

In Mahe we stayed at the Hilton Northolme, the smallest Hilton in the world, with just 56 villas, but one of the MOST picturesque! This was Ian Fleming’s haunt and the inspiration for his James Bond books. We used points for this stay and got upgraded to a king oceanfront villa, value of $692 per night!

We spent most of our time in Mahe with friends and enjoyed touring the island…

Island paradise in the Maldives is next…

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda!

What can I say about my summer trip?! It was over the top and absolutely fantastic! We went to Rwanda for gorilla trekking, Seychelles, Maldives, and Greece! I flew United and their partner, Turkish airlines, business class for five flights, costing $86 and 160,000 miles, and the value of this trip was $11,758 (priced right after it’s booked)! I flew from the USA to Istanbul to Africa to Seychelles to Greece! I transferred Ultimate Rewards from the Chase Ink card for this redemption. I was also able to use the “Excursionist” loophole and got one segment free, using no miles. This is a great bonus and something to research if you use United miles. And another thing to note is these trips with miles are booked one year in advance (fortunately I’m a good planner)!

Because I was on a business ticket, I could use the new United Polaris lounge in Chicago and it was wonderful! They had nap rooms, showers, a restaurant with a menu…it really is one of the best US airline lounges.

Turkish airlines business class was fun and after our stop in Istanbul (and the lounge there, which is HUGE), we were on our way to Rwanda!

Our first night was in Kigali at the Marriott, which was booked with points. This was a beautiful property with amazing baskets! Before we left Kigali, we went shopping for baskets – I just love African baskets! And I absolutely loved the country of Rwanda – I always felt safe and the people are industrious, friendly, and ALWAYS busy!

The gorilla trek included a driver and the gorilla trekking permit. Since we’ve been, the permits have actually doubled in price. We used Africa Tours Adventure and Nicholas was our contact person via email. Although our driver didn’t pick us up at the airport as promised, everything else went smoothly throughout the trip, and I would recommend them. Our accommodations were basic, nothing fancy.

Central Africa is the only place where mountain gorillas exist, in three parks and three countries. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has ten gorilla groups, and only eight people allowed to view for one hour. Each of the “families” has distinct and unique characteristics and we visited two different families each of our two days. The park is very concerned with conservation and I was impressed with their love and care for the gorillas. Rangers go out early in the morning to locate the families and keep in contact with the guides via walkie talkie. When the gorillas have a stomach ache, they go closer to the villages to eat the eucalyptus leaves! The villagers don’t bother them, even though sometimes they are destructive to their crops. They’ve come to understand their value to tourism. 

Our first day visit was a very strenuous trek to reach the Pablo family. We climbed 500 meters and hiked 4.5 hours round trip. The Pablo group used to be for research only and they are from the Susa family, which was made famous by Dian Fossey and her research. We were in a clearing the entire hour we watched them. They had a five month old baby, which you can see in the middle of all these adults.  Enjoy these photos of these absolutely amazing creatures! (Photos are from two cameras and my phone, all untouched, no filter).

The second day was much less difficult, with a three hour hike and not too much climbing. We visited the Agashya family, with one silverback of the same name. This group went five months without a male and gorillas came from other places. The silverback came, stayed two weeks, and returned with his family. While we were watching them, they moved a lot, so we climbed and slid down mountains, while the rangers cleared paths with a machete! This family had a ONE DAY OLD BABY, born the previous day!

These last photos were not taken by me, but a man from Brazil who was in our group shared them, and you can see the new baby very clearly!

Next up, Seychelles…

San Antonio via SW Comp Pass + Hyatt free nights!

Long time, no see! Sorry I’ve been gone so long, I had a super busy summer after NYC, and Fall is always busy for us (gone or had plans every weekend in September and most of October).

But I’m back and here to tell you about an awesome Labor Day weekend to San Antonio! 

My hubby couldn’t go, so I called a friend, and it was a simple matter to change my SW companion pass (you can only change three times in a year). The Hyatt free anniversary nights from our credit cards were already booked. This property is a great deal for a category 4 hotel, they even included breakfast and waived the resort fee for us! The Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa was part of the Rogers Wiseman Ranch and is more than 300 acres. It includes trails, pools, waterpark, lazy river, and is VERY family friendly! We had a wonderful stay…we went to the adults only pool, ate smores with the kids one night at the firepit, and just relaxed! Here are some photos, all taken on my iPhone…

Of course, if you are in San Antonio, you need to go to the Alamo, which was our first order of business. And the Riverwalk is a must, which we did multiple times and ate outside on the river twice!

A friend had suggested the Pearl, and we did that one afternoon and it was such fun…a really neat place and you can ride a water taxi all the way downtown!

 

Our last morning, we went to a hidden gem – the Japanese Tea Garden. It’s absolutely beautiful, so restful, and free! I will let the pictures do the talking.

 

I’d delayed getting a rental car because I wasn’t sure about going because of the hurricane and there were NO rental cars available. Then my son told me about Turo, like Airbnb for cars. It worked perfect and since there was no gas available (three hour waits, stations closed), our Turo renter just had us pay a bit extra when we turned it in. Good info to know…

Next up, my summer trip…here’s a hint, we share 98% of the same genes!

NYC for $200!

My girlfriend and I LOVE NYC, so this was a fun trip for both of us! My flight on American was booked with half price Amex points (you pay with points and get 50% back). But I had to make a change, so it cost me $200 for the fare difference. We stayed at the Intercontinental on Times Square, which cost $415 per night but we paid with IHG points. Going for four nights to NYC for about $200 sounds good to me!  (:

Here’s our hotel with a view of the Hudson!

I’d never been inside the iconic New York Library, which is the 2nd largest in the US, with 53 million items! The year before it was finished (1910) 75 miles of bookshelves were built and it took one year to move all the books!

Regardless of your politics, a visit to the Trump Tower is interesting…it reminded me of the Middle East, with glitz and gold.

We both have visited before, so we wanted to do some different things this time. I’ve always loved the structure of the Brooklyn Bridge, which is 134 years old, so we walked across it one day. Here are some fun facts about it: each tower weighs 90,000 tons, it rises three inches when it’s cold, and there are 14,000 miles of wire used in the bridge!

The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, and we did this one day. 

 Of course, when in NYC, you must go to a Broadway production, so we went to see “Beautiful,” the musical about Carole King’s life and it was excellent! And a visit to Times Square was easy because our hotel was right there. Did you know Times Square is not a square shape, but a bowtie with two triangles meeting?!

And the food in the city is extraordinary, so we ate and ate and ate! We also walked and walked and walked, so it all balanced out! Some places we ate: Juliana’s Pizza in Brooklyn, Sarabeth’s for brunch, and Eataly for fantastic Italian food!

Central Park is a must visit also…

 Next up, my summer trip…