Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

16 hours and counting (and still packing…)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Less than 16 hours to go before my flight to London, and I’ve just barely finished packing.  It’ll just be a 5-day trip, and I’ve got a fully loaded carry-on size bag that I won’t really be carrying on the plane. I’ll check it in since I have another fully loaded backpack — the gadget bag — to carry my SLR camera and notebook computer. I guess having all these gadgets really precludes one from traveling light.

I’m not sure if I’ve overpacked again for this trip. I consider myself a recovering overpacker as I’ve been a chronic overpacker, but for the last few trips I had, I tried to pack just enough clothes (and gadgets). For this trip it doesn’t help that I have to pack bulky cold-weather clothes so it was a little more difficult to pack in everything that I think I’ll need.

I haven’t fully arranged my itinerary. I’ll try to do that as soon as I finish this post. I do already have a general outline that includes the days when I’ll be making trips out of London, particularly for my day trip to Paris on the Eurostar. Tough luck for me if the transit strike in France is not yet over by Saturday. I’ve been checking the news on the strike everyday and frankly, I’ve never been this concerned about a transit strike in another country. I may have to junk my plan to go around Paris using the Metro. Instead, I’ll swallow my pride and get on one of those hop-on, hop-off tourist buses.

London for Thanksgiving: Applying for a UK Visa

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

A few days after my parents flew back home to Manila, the travel bug seemed to have bitten me again. I’ve been seeing ads offering relatively affordable airfare between New York and London (as low as ~$450 roundtrip with taxes). The idea of spending the 4-day Thanksgiving weekend in London came to mind.  The more I thought about it, the more the idea became attractive, and the more it became seemingly possible.

But, first, I had to get a visa to be able to enter the UK. I went to the website of the British Consulate in New York where I got the needed information on how to apply for a UK visa. The application fee was a whopping £63 plus return postage of $12 (total: $144). That is just for the regular 6-month visa. I decided to apply by mail since I’m not sure what appointment dates would be available. Applying by mail also wouldn’t require me to take time off work to go to the British Consulate.

So on the weekend of September 8, I decided to try my luck applying for a UK visa. I went through the list of requirements:

  1. Passport - Check!
  2. Passport photo - Check!
  3. Bank statements - Check!
  4. Airline reservation - Check!
  5. Certificate of Employment/Student Status - Check!

The worst thing about applying for the visa by mail is that lingering feeling that my travel documents (passport, I-20, I-94) could get lost in the mail. Replacing those documents is not only a lot of hassle; it is also expensive. I mailed the documents from the Farley Post Office on 8th Avenue. Although 1st-class Mail and Priority Mail would both take only 1-day to the British Consulate in Manhattan, I opted for the more expensive Priority Mail, hoping (without basis) that the likelihood for loss is less. I also added the Certified Mail option (not as if that would prevent it from getting lost). I could have chosen to send it using the Express Mail option, or even by FedEx or UPS, but I’m too cheap for that. I mailed it on the 10th. After checking the USPS tracking page every 5 minutes the next day, I learned that it was received at the consulate around noon on the 11th. Finally I could relax a bit. At least I know (or believe) that my travel documents are safe in the hands of the British Consulate

I was hoping to receive some kind of confirmation email from the consulate that they indeed received my documents and that they’re processing my application. That would’ve certainly added to my peace of mind. But I got not such email. I just relied on their promise that the typical application turnaround time is 5 business days, and that the passport will be returned by FedEx overnight. Counting from the day after they received the package — Wednesday (9/12), Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday (9/18) — 5 business days. An hour past noon on the 18th, I got an automated email saying my application has been approved, and that the passport will be delivered by FedEx. The tracking number was also given in the email with estimated delivery before 10:30 A.M. the next day.

Now that I have my UK visa,  I can start planning for the trip. Unfortunately, the cheap airfare offers from Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, and British Airways have expired, and the fares have risen by about $50. More on where I got my reservation in another post.

D.C. Food Trip: Ethiopian Food from Dukem

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

So here I am on my last night in D.C. before I head back to New York. I’ve tried a few cheap eats that are popular in D.C. I’ve tried burgers Five Guys, chili dog and chili from Ben’s Chili Bowl, cheesesteaks from Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory, and deep dish pizza from Armand’s. So for dinner tonight, I set out to try another cuisine that D.C. is apparently famous for: Ethiopian food.

I didn’t know about the large Ethiopian presence in Washington until my Eritrean friend told me about it. I decided that I had to try it out before I go back to New York. I browsed around Chowhound to look for restaurant recommendations, particularly restaurants that offer take-out food to bring back to the hotel, since I would just be by myself. I read favorable posts about Dukem, and that it has a separate market and carryout section aside from the main restaurant. I first saw Dukem and other Ethiopian restaurants when I went to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U St NW.

I guess the most distinctive feature of their cuisine is the injera. It is some sort of pancake-like bread, with a slight sour taste. One side of the injera has a tripe-like appearance because of the air bubbles that form on its surface when it is being prepared.

I had the Dukem kitfo

IMG_7298

and a combination meal of lamb wot and alitcha fitfit.

IMG_7299

I had the kitfo done medium-rare (I heard the lady said lebleb.) since I wasn’t brave enough to have my first taste of Ethiopian food include something totally raw. The yellowish stuff on the kitfo tray seemed like mashed potatoes or something similar. The whitish stuff on the kitfo was Dukem’s own cottage cheese.

The lamb wot of course had lamb meat, and tripe — not sure which animal the tripe comes from. The fitfit is hard to describe, but it was equally tasty. Both dishes were spicy, but not hot enough to make me perspire the way Thai green curry makes me sweat.

All in all, I find my adventure into Ethiopian food satisfying, and I’m open to try it again.

Missed the Mark (Pun intended)

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Missed the Mark

I stayed in Room 667. I imagine the AC in the other room must be totally busted.

Hotel Hopping across New Jersey Avenue

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

I moved into the Holiday Inn on the Hill yesterday. It’s just across the street from the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill on New Jersey Avenue NW. I had to jump hotels since I booked the Hyatt on Priceline. I booked the trip way back in early May, and at that time, it was difficult to get a good price for hotels in my preferred neighborhoods for this particular week. I tried a number of combinations and tried to split my stay until I got the Hyatt within my maximum bid (which actually slowly crept up).  Trying to extend it further wasn’t successful so I had to find another hotel for the rest of my stay. I found a good price for the Holiday Inn on Venere.com, and had that price matched on the Holiday Inn’s website by availing of their Lowest Rate Guarantee. It was just my luck that the two hotels were just across the street from each other.

So how do the two hotels compare?

Hotel Rating (on Priceline): The Hyatt’s a 4-star hotel on Priceline, while the Holiday Inn’s a 3-star hotel.
Internet Acces: I consider this the most important amenity. Holiday Inn wins this round as it offers FREE high-speed Internet access. Although it’s a wired connection, it’s much better than Hyatt’s dependence on the T-Mobile Hotspot service, which is NOT FREE.
Room Size: I think they’re about the same. I got a a 2-Queen Bed room at the Holiday Inn, and a 1-King Bed room at the Hyatt.  The work desk at the Hyatt is a little bigger.
Bathroom: The one at the Hyatt’s bigger, but it only had a shower enclosure, while the Holiday Inn had a tub.
Bottled Water Price: The Hyatt had a 500 ml  bottle of Poland Spring for $3.75. The Holiday Inn had a $3 710 ml bottle of Dasani. Needless to say I didn’t drink either.
Laundry. The Holiday Inn has a self-service laundry room on the 3rd floor, and, lucky me, my room’s on that floor. Since I decided to extend my stay in D.C. to do more sightseeing (I’ll have to switch hotels again.), I got to use it to wash some clothes since I only packed enough for a 5-night stay.

My Verdict: I’m leaning towards the Holiday Inn because of it’s free Internet access and laundry facility.

Day 2 in D.C.

Monday, June 11th, 2007

So the second day of my D.C. trip is close to over. There were a lot of interesting presentations at the conference, and some others that are beyond my area of research.

We had lunch at Lebanese Taverna on Connecticut Avenue. I ordered their Shawarma and unlike the typical shawarma I’ve eaten in the Philippines, their version replaces the pita bread with rice. It has onions on the side, and some kind of (I think) tomato sauce. It also has the usual white garlic sauce. It wasn’t too bad, since I’m a rice eater, and eating the regular shawarma pita bread sandwich can get messy.

Yesterday, I finally got to try the burger at Five Guys. I first heard about it from a post on Gothamist about their branch in Queens. Since I’m too lazy to hike to their Queens location, I wasn’t able to try it out. I learned from their website that they had a few branches in Washington, so I made it a point to try it out yesterday. I had the cheeseburger (with tomato, fried onions, and fried mushrooms) and their regular fries. I liked the burger, but what they call as their regular fries was not regular at all. All orders came out in paper bags. And one order of their regular fries fills up a small styro cup AND much of the paper bag as well. Pretty filling.

After the conference wrapped up for the day before 7 p.m., I went back to the hotel to drop off my bag, and pick up my camera and tripod, as I’ve decided to do a quick stroll around the National Mall before it gets completely dark just to take some pictures. Here’s a pic of the Capitol:

The Capitol

Tomorrow, I’ll move across the street to the Holiday Inn on the Hill.

Just arrived here in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

I’m writing this from my hotel room at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. A few minutes ago, a small rally passed by the hotel. I had to look out the window to find out what the noise was about. I wasn’t sure what the rally was about but they had signs with “Apartheid” and “DIVE$T” on them. I wasn’t sure if that was the entire group, or it was just another group that was marching to join a bigger rally, because I can still hear some chanting coming from somewhere after they passed by. A quick search on Google (Google is my friend.) brought me to this site. Apparently, the rally is part of a campaign to end “Israeli occupation”.

Small rally from my hotel window

I got to the hotel around 2:15 p.m., after I took the Metro Red Line from Bethesda Station to Union Station. Bethesda is one of the two new stops of Vamoose, after they were displaced from their previous stops at Tenleytown and at McPherson Square. More on that in another post.

Tickets

It was also my first time to use the SmarTrip card offered by the WMATA. I ordered it online in advance and had it mailed to New York.

And, by the way, I’m here to attend ISEC 2007.

Montauk Saturday

Monday, May 28th, 2007

It’s the last day of the 2007 Memorial Day weekend here, and I’ve decided to try my hand at Wordpress one more time.

Back to work tomorrow, but it’s been fun to again meet with fellow Filipino graduate students at Stony Brook on Saturday, before two of them finally leave campus after getting their Ph.D.’s earlier this month. I got on the 6:08 a.m. LIRR train out of Penn Station going to Stony Brook, where I met with them before we drove to Montauk.

Montauk Point Lighthouse

After we had a quick breakfast at Burger King, we went on our way (Montauk, here we come!). We just got slowed down a bit while passing through the Hamptons area. At last, I can now say that I’ve been to the easternmost point of Long Island, about 189 km (118 mi) from New York City. We didn’t go inside the lighthouse itself. I guess after the long drive, the lighthouse turned out to be pretty underwhelming. We just took a bunch of pictures of it and of the view towards the Atlantic. We had a late lunch at The Clam Bar afterwards, then drove back to Stony Brook.

Links: Montauk Point State Park, My Flickr Montauk Set