Argentina – Tango, Waterfalls, and Malbec

On March 22nd of this year, American Airlines put into effect a new mileage award chart that had some pretty significant changes. I was still sitting on quite a few of their miles and thinking about where and when I could go. So, on March 20th, I booked a trip to a part of the world that was on my list to go to while it was still a pretty good value. Tomorrow, I will start the trip by flying round trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. On the overnight trip down, I will fly first class for 62,500 miles and return in business class for 50,000 miles. By comparison, those trips now cost 85,000 and 57,500 miles, respectively, and would now be 30,000 miles more than when I booked. Very savvy move on my part, no doubt.

This will be a fairly quick trip as I will only be there for a week but have plans to get in a couple of stops in addition to the capital city of which I’ve heard many positive reviews. I haven’t packed yet, but suspect I will be going fairly light as the weather will be consistent and there will not be any formal occasions to worry about. Argentina is now coming into the spring season and weather looks like it will be in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s most days with a good chance of avoiding rain.

Voy a actualizar pronto de América del Sur!

Trip Recap – Miles, Points, Costs

After my visit to Venice, it was back on the train to Milan Central Station and then onto Milan’s Malpensa airport on the Malpensa Express. I was able to get a great overnight rate at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport for only 30 euros plus 8,000 HHonors points. To return home, I was able to book a one-way business class fare on Delta for just 62,500 and, unlike my experience with American on my flight to Vienna, got the promised flight configuration with Delta’s excellent lie-flat product on a 767.

No doubt that I’ve had a great trip and really enjoyed seeing some new places.  After all is said and done, I logged the following mileage:

  • Plane – 9,693 miles
  • Train – 570 miles
  • Bus – 621 miles
  • Ride-share – 305 miles
  • Bike – 26 miles
  • Walk – ???

This is not a trip that I could ever imagine affording if I was paying the full, retail cost. Of course, frequent flyer miles and hotel points are not “free” in the sense that they represent previous expenditures of time and money, but they can be heavily leveraged if one has flexibility of dates and destinations.

Here were my final costs:

  • Flights – $343 / 65,000 Delta points / 50,000 AA points
  • Hotels – $733 USD / 176,412 HHonors points / 4,000 SPG points
  • Trains/Buses – $255
  • Local Transportation – $100 (approximately)

Business class flights round-trip to Europe can run from $3,000 USD on up to $8,000 and these mileage redemption levels were steals. I averaged less than $50 per night on hotels, out of pocket, by using points pretty much everywhere  but Milan and Venice. Many of the rates were “cash and points” which offer some of the best values. My travel on bus and train was ridiculously cheap and almost always a good experience. I was doing great on my local transportation costs until my hotel selection in Ljubljana, which incurred 24 euros for two round-trips to city center, and the water taxis in Venice that were 8.50 euros for each trip.

As far as food, I’m not sure there was much more expense than when I’m home. Breakfast was included almost everywhere either in the rate or due to hotel status. Dinners were taken in Executive Lounges when staying at the nicer Hilton properties. I got two lunches and a dinner provided during my business meetings in Prague. And, I don’t tend to eat very expensive dinners on the road by myself.

In total, I got to visit 9 cities in 8 countries, most of which I had not been to before. Of the 9 cities, six of them were country capitals. No doubt it was a great trip and I hoped you enjoyed following along. If you ever decide to do this type of trip, I hope that this blog helps.

Venice – A City of Tourists

I had a couple of days to kill after my futbol weekend in Milan, so took the train over to Venice for an overnight visit. It was about a two hour trip and I think I paid something like 22 GBP for the round-trip – going in first class and coming back in second. That is a great price, believe me, so booking in advance was a good move.



On arrival in Venice, a huge thunderstorm was coming through the area which I got to experience on the water taxi. Unfortunately, I turned what should have been a 12 minute ride into an 82 minute once by rushing up and hoping on the number 2 line without paying attention to what direction it was going. It did not occur to me to check if I was on the right boat for about 30 minutes and I was far away from city center.

But, once I found the right direction, I found my hotel – the Hotel Serenissima – which I booked through based on the ratings, location, and price. It really is hard to imagine a better location situated between the Rialto bridge and St. Mark’s Plaza. The staff was great. Wi-fi not so great. At 110 euros with breakfast included, I felt like it was a good value.


As far as Venice itself, it was lovely and a bit sad. It has become a city where nobody lives. Its entire industry is simply tourism and the total population of the city is only about 250,000 and one gets the sense that none of them actually live in the city center area. The courtyard that my hotel room looked out upon was surrounded by dark rooms that showed no sign of inhabitation. The streets are charming to stroll around but filled with mostly the same chain shops you can find anywhere. Gondolas fill the canals by day so tourists can clamber aboard and spend the entire ride taking selfies but there is nothing about it that looks the least part romantic.

On the second day, I did take a tour of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace and the tours were quite good and the mosaics of the church impressive. The two hour tour to visit both places cost 59 euros and was quite well done. I certainly learned more history about Venice than I would have otherwise.

After the tours, I had hoped to take in the art at the Accadamia but did not realize they close at 2:00 p.m. on Mondays.

Perhaps travel fatigue colored my view of Venice – after all, I had been in Europe for two weeks at this point – but I couldn’t really see spending more than two nights in this location.

Milan – Champions League Final Weekend

When originally booking my trip, one of the low miles options for flights was to come back home from Milan. It just so happens that the Champions League Final was scheduled to be played just around the time I was going to be here. Being a Barcelona fan and considering they were playing some of the best football in the world at the time, I thought it was very possible they would be in the championship match.



Of course, this is one of the biggest events in the world, on par, and some would argue bigger, than the Super Bowl. Tickets are not easy to come by but I entered the official lottery process hoping I would maybe get a ticket as a single buyer. Alas, I did not. And, Barca did not make the championship game but the final was between two Madrid teams – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – which are also some of the finest clubs in the world. As someone who watched a lot of La Liga, I was still excited to see the final knowing that for the third time in as many years, the champion would be a Spanish club.

Hotel rooms were not easy to come by even a few months out so I ended up in a bed and breakfast in the suburbs. I’ve never really understood the attraction of a bed and breakfast. When I’m done walking around all day in a foreign city, I really like having my own space, not having a bedroom in someone’s house. But, it was fine and the metro connections for both the train station and the main square were easy.

In the main square by the Duomo, there was a festival all week and it was packed on Friday and Saturday when I was down there. Fans were waiting for over an hour to get a picture with the championship trophy, for instance.



Milan is sometimes maligned as more like New York City than Italy but I have never found it to ring true. I like Milan. If you visit you must visit the magnificent cathedral, eat a meal at an elegant trattoria in the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II, see the Last Supper by Da Vinci (you’ll only want to do this once), visit the fashion shops in the Golden Quarter, and have a pizza at Pizza OK.



Great pizza, terrible branding.

GoOpti – Ride-sharing the Long Haul to Milan

One thing that Ljubljana does not have is very good travel connections to Italy. When researching, flights were not real practical as they almost always connect through some other European capital and there is not direct train service between Ljubljana and Milan, my next destination. But, in checking on TripAdvisor’s forums, I found mention of a relatively young company called GoOpti which is a ride sharing service based in Slovenia.

Here’s how it works. You put in your desired route. If they serve it, you have a few options. First, you can pay the lowest amount and tell them when you want to arrive at your destination “no later than.” They will give you a four hour window when you might be picked up and you will only have a better idea of actual time one day before departure. For a bit more, you can buy a shorter, two hour window for pick-up. For even more, you can be the last person picked up and know your exact time. And, finally, you can pay a huge amount for private transfer where only your party will be on the vehicle.

I opted for the two hour window – between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. – and paid 114 euros. Perhaps because of the location of my hotel by the highway and well out of town, my 24 hour notice told me that I would be picked up at 7:30 a.m. so I got that benefit without paying for it.

Now, the downside of being the last one picked up is that you get whatever seat is left. For me, this was the middle passenger in the front seat. I don’t believe I’ve sat in that spot since I was 8 years old and driving with my family across the vastness of the U.S. Back at that age, it was a real treat, liberating one of the three children from sharing the back seat with their siblings.

This wasn’t so much of a treat. All was okay if I held my arms out in front of me and remembered to move my left knee to the right when the driver needed to shift the manual transmission. It wasn’t quite a full seat so not all of my arse was ever on the seat at the same time. But, I did have an air conditioning vent right in front of me, so that was nice.

I only had to ride this way until Treviso, Italy – about 2.5 hours – where we let a few passengers off. After a further stop to let a couple of more passengers off, we were in Milan at the central train station right at 2:00 p.m., the promised time. Everything ran exactly on time and the driver could not have been more professional so I would definitely consider this again.

One note to the Spanish speaking lady on the trip..if you want to primp your hair and face for over an hour, that is your prerogative but please don’t use hairspray when doing a ride-share. It is rude.

Ljubljana, Slovenia – Compact, Charming Capital

I really did not know anything about Ljubljana before I got here. I had read a few tidbits here and there that were, generally, positive although there does not seem to be any advocates out there for this being a “don’t miss” attraction in the area. But, I found it to be another charming compact city with a decent amount of history, including a castle on the hill, a nice river running through Old Town, and an energetic, positive vibe on the streets.

Old Town with Castle Tower looming high above

Old Town with Castle Tower looming high above


I find myself saying just about the same thing for Bratislava, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. They are each quite lovely but there really isn’t much to do for more than a day and a half each. But, don’t get me wrong, I think Ljubljana is a real charmer. Now, if I were back in this area, I would certainly do a side trip into the countryside – maybe Bled.

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana


After spending my first half day hiking to the hotel, visiting the Castle, and walking around Old Town, I rented a bicycle for the second day. The Tourist Information Center near the funicular rents bikes for two hours or all day but they were completely booked. However, there is a nearby hostel – H2OSTEL – that rents bikes for the day for 6 euros.


I didn’t really have a destination in mind by started following the river out of town based on a few thoughts. First, there were nice pedestrian and bike paths along the way that meandered along with the river. Second, I figured that they might go on for as long as I wanted to ride. Three, if I was right about the previous point, I figured I would eventually come to some small, quaint village.

The reality of it is that I ended up going through a somewhat industrial area before ended up in fields when the paths ended about 9 miles downriver. For the trip back, I crossed over and ended up cycling more on city streets before being deposited right back in Old Town. After a break for lunch, I huffed and puffed my way up to the top of the hill where the castle is situated for more gorgeous views of the area. After an hour or so of riding around town, that was enough and I returned the bike and enjoyed a gelato.

Huffing and puffing to Castle on single gear bike

Huffing and puffing to Castle on single gear bike


As for the hotel, we now know that the Four Points by Sheraton is nowhere near city center. But, it really is a nice hotel and the staff was great. They do have a contract with one of the local taxi companies to provide a flat rate to city center for 6 euros. It is a flat rate of 9 euros to the bus station. This was nice but did mean I ended up spending 24 euros over the course of visit for two round-trip visits to town. I was able to use 4,000 SPG points for my two nights but would have to consider whether this would be the best location for a visit to the city if I were to return.

An Unplanned Hike in Ljubljana – Sometimes I Don’ t Plan Well

Okay, I was back on the bus this morning for a two hour trip from Zagreb to Ljubljana – the capital city of Slovenia. The bus trip, which cost something like $7 USD, was fine. Comfortable and with good wi-fi. But, I had not really looked at my plans for how to get from the bus station to my hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Ljubljana Mons.

Once we arrived, I checked to see if Uber was in operation in Slovenia. It was not. I checked Google maps and it showed walking to be a bit over an hour, public transport to be about 40 minutes, and a taxi about 15 minutes. This should have sent warning bells off in my head, but it did not.

When planning a trip like this one, there are a lot of variables that have to be dealt with:

  • Dates of travel
  • Award flight levels and cities where best deal can be scored
  • Pay cash flights, use miles, pay for economy and use upgrade certs, etc.
  • Time to spend in each location
  • How easy it is to move between cities
  • Hotels for each city – costs, award options
  • Visa requirements and any special considerations
  • Family calendar

It’s complicated.

When I was planning this trip, I was largely looking for value from hotel points for my lodging to keep costs down. So, Hilton, Starwood, Marriott, and Hyatt were all in play. In some cities, like Milan and Venice, they were not realistic options. But, in other cities I was able to find properties that worked but, in retrospect, I was more concerned about the cost/points issue than anything else and didn’t really do enough research on location.

That worked out fine in Vienna, Bratislava, and Zagreb even though I was out of the city center in each case. But, in each case, I had very convenient public transport. But, my lack of planning, bit me in the backside in Ljubljana.

Given that I was not sure to trust the taxis and the public transport seemed too complicated, I set off on foot for the 3 mile + hike to my hotel. Somehow, it did not dawn on me how far this was and the implication for how far out of the city that my hotel is located.

After 10 minutes of walking in the city, I turned right into Tivoli Park and there was no turning back. Now, I like hiking. Luckily, my ultralight packing plan allowed this option. The fact that it was in the high 70’s and very sunny and I was in long, black slacks, made it a bit warm. But, it became pretty comical.

I wasn’t anywhere near a city or town. Here are pictures I took along they way..


It is my understanding that Ljubljana was recently voted the “Green City” of Europe and that is where I was walking. After a little over an hour of walking, I was near the hotel that is located near the highway that runs in the outskirts of the area and a technology park.  After all that walking, I was afraid I was going to be killed in the last 800 meters when I had to go along a busy two lane road with no sidewalk.



But, I did make it to the hotel. I was a sweaty mess and the front desk personnel affirmed that they were unaware of anyone ever walking to the hotel from the bus station, so I have that going for me in addition to total consciousness on my death bed.