Sunday, September 18, 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016

That's a wrap....the takeaways #FranciscosGoneEurope4

I’m about to end my Europe 4 blog, but before I do, I’ve gotta share my takeaways. Three weeks is a long time. But the takeaways are not only from the nearly three weeks that we vacationed all over Europe. The takeaways include everything I've learned from the planning stages all the way through post-vacation. I started blogging about my takeaways when we went to Maui in 2014. I have since gone through quite a few places in and out of the US and here's a collection of my takeaways. Click on the destination for details:

Here now are my Takeaways from #FranciscosGoneEurope4

Our vacation by the numbers:

  • 4 travelers (2 adults, 2 kids)
  • 3 Carry On luggage
  • 1 Regular sized luggage
  • 2 backpacks
  • 2 smartphones
  • 1 MacBook Air
  • 1 GoPro
  • 3 countries - Portugal, Spain, France
  • 6 cities - Lisbon, Cascais, Barcelona, Sitges, Madrid, Paris
  • 8 Airports
  • 6 plane rides
  • 14,214 airline miles
  • 240,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Used
  • $528 Total Airline Fees
  • 500 high speed train miles
  • 5 hotels (4 and 5 star hotels)
  • 17 Hotel night stays
  • $0 Hotel costs
  • 19 travel days
  • 100 miles of walking (avg 5-7 miles per day for 19 days)
  • Countless rides with the Metro, Buses, Uber, Taxis, Trams
  • Dozens of Facebook Live videos
  • European memories....PRICELESS

Let's revisit our goals. During the very first blog entry for this trip, what were the goals and how did we do?

Goal # 1 - Minimize paying out of pocket cash expenses
Our airfare and hotel stays would’ve cost us $20,000 but we only paid $528 total for the 4 of us. We are talking about all our flights from LA to Lisbon, Lisbon to Barcelona, and Paris to LA. The flights alone were valued at over $14,000. Our hotel stays for nearly three weeks were all FREE. The total value on our hotel stays? $5,000.
  • Lisbon - Doubletree by Hilton Fontana Park
  • Barcelona – Four Points Sheraton Diagonal
  • Madrid – Hotel Indigo
  • Paris – Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and Radisson Blu Hotel Champs-Elysees

Goal # 2 - Maximize our stay by picking the best of the best properties

While I’m not opposed to staying at 2 or 3 star hotels, thanks to my hotel points, I was able to take advantage of finding the best properties that suited our needs (mostly 4 and 5 star hotels, and they were located close to the city center). I also checked on the promotions offered by the hotels, for instance, Sheraton and Hilton brand hotels (Doubletree)
offered the 5th night for free. So our 5-night stays in Lisbon and Barcelona, the 5th nights were free. In Paris, we could’ve splurged and stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome for 4 nights. Each night was valued at $1,000 USD. But I had 3 other free nights with Club Carlson (Radisson brand 5 star hotel), and the 3 free nights were due to expire at the end of August. Solution? We used them all in Paris.

Goal #3 - Utilize the airline routing and stopover rules
Before I got in to earning points, I already knew I loved to travel.  However, it was very cost-prohibitive especially since we have 4 kids. I also did not know all the insider tricks. Prior to this, I probably would've just flown to Lisbon and fly back to LA out of Lisbon. But I learned the following...connecting flights vs. stopovers vs open-jaw. When booking a roundtrip ticket with United Airlines, they allow 1 stopover (Barcelona), and 2 open-jaws, Paris to LA. How the heck does that work? (Check the map below)

a & b. To get to Lisbon, we flew from LA to London (via United Airlines) and took a connecting flight from London to Lisbon (via TAP Portugal). In my past life, I thought that was a stopover. But I learned that Lisbon was my stopover. But it does not mean that I'm only stopping over for a few hours. For a stopover, I'm allowed to stay there for days or weeks.

c. Then we spent 6 days in Lisbon, and on the same roundtrip ticket, we flew from Lisbon to Barcelona (via TAP Portugal) - Barcelona was my destination. Again, we stayed there for 6 days.

d. The 4th part of our trip was our flight to go back home from Paris back to LA. This leg was called "open-jaw" - it means I flew in to one city, and flew back home from another city. In this case, I stopped over in Lisbon, flew in to Barcelona (destination), and flew out of Paris via Lufthansa (open-jaw), connected through Munich, back to LA.

Looking at the red dotted was up to me to take care of my own travel arrangements in between, I somehow needed to find my way to Paris. I can walk, take a cab, fly, hitchhike, drive, take a bus, swim, ride a didn't matter as long as I get to Paris. So in our case, from Barcelona, on our own dime, we added a separate leg to our trip, Madrid (shown in red dotted lines). This was NOT part of the airline ticket deal. Instead of flying to Madrid, we took a 3-hour high-speed train ride, and stayed in Madrid for 3.5 days. So how did we get to Paris? I booked us on a flight with a low-cost no-frills airline, Ryanair. For four of us, we paid $83 USD per person to get us  from Madrid to Paris (also shown in red dotted lines).That's how we got to Paris where we stayed for 4 nights. We could've easily just gone straight from Barcelona to Paris....but we took a side trip to Madrid....why not?

Goal # 4 -  Go somewhere new, somewhere different 
If you've read my blog in the past, Nancy has this thing about going somewhere new. During our trip to Maui last summer, it wasn't really our first choice since we've been to Maui and all of the other Hawaiian islands quite a few times. So it was imperative that we go somewhere new for this European trip. We've been to Paris, Rome, London, Budapest, Prague, Milan, Lake Como, Venice, Florence, and Pisa.

So the new places we went to were:
    1. Portugal - Lisbon and a beach town outside Lisbon (Cascais)
    2. Spain - Madrid, Barcelona and a beach town outside Barcelona (Sitges)
Goal #5 - Visit/Revisit a dream destination by request
Of the four times we've been to Europe, we've now visited Paris three times. The first time was just me and Nancy back in 2007. In April 2015, we took Ethan and Madison to different cities in Italy and to Paris, France. Now in 2016, Caitlin, our 10-year old requested Paris. Whenever we talked about Europe, Paris came to her mind. So yes, we visited and revisited a dream destination by request....Paris. As Audrey Hepburn once said, "Paris is always a good idea."

Cell Phone vs Wi-Fi Only

Back in 2007, when Nancy and I went to Europe for the 1st time (Paris and Rome), we struggled with communicating back home. We didn't bring our cell phones (calling plans were absurd). We had to use "phone cards" to call back home, and with the time change and all, it was difficult to get in touch with everyone. Fast forward to April 2015 during our trip to various cities in Italy and Paris, we used Facetime to get in touch with family in the US. In November 2015, when Nancy and I went to London, Budapest, and Prague, we used Facetime and Viber to call home, but we could only do so whenever we had access to Wi-Fi. Using a cell phone plan with international coverage was something that I just didn't plan for....not this time.

After careful research and advise from different members of Tripadvisor, I subscribed to T-Mobile's pay-as-you-go plan that offered Unlimited High Speed Data, Calls, and Text back to the US. If you're on the Wi-Fi, you can call at no extra charge. If you're not on the Wi-Fi, the rate was as low as $0.20 cents per minute. I had to get a SIM and used my unlocked iPhone 6 Plus. The SIM was $20 but I got it for free by using their promo code. The actual coverage fee that I paid was for 6gb at $80, and that got me through the 3 weeks in Europe. I was able to get LTE speeds 95% of the time. Without hesitation, I used Facebook Live and was able to share my experience..LIVE. I flagged Uber cars as needed. I did not have to look for the nearest Wi-Fi area, I had access everywhere. Why the epiphany just now? This was especially important knowing that we had 2 little kids with us. It was just much more convenient to have access to the internet and the phone whenever it was needed. Now that I'm back home, all I did was call T-Mobile to "suspend" the service. I have another upcoming trip later this year, and will most likely take advantage of this Unlimited Global Data and Text plan.

The Weather

I kept referring to "the weather" during my Facebook Live videos. We had temperatures in the high 90's to low 100s plus humidity. It was EXTREMELY hot, uncomfortably hot and humid. I had no idea it was going to be like that. Hawaii could be in the high 80's into the 90's, but there's the ocean breeze that compensates for the heat. Europe was tough. I could only compare it to the humidity whenever we travel back to the Philippines.

This was our first time to go to Europe in the summertime. I'm not sure I'll plan another summer visit, UNLESS we plan something coastal, laid back. For instance, I've been meaning to go Croatia, Cinque Terre in Italy, Santorini in Greece. The weather was a huge factor during our exploration. We resorted to taking breaks during the day by heading back to our hotel to rest, relax in an air-conditioned room, and come back out in the evening. Then again, in the evening, it was still quite warm in the low 90s minus the sun. The weather was another reason why we escaped Lisbon to go to Cascais beach, and Barcelona to go to Sitges and swam in the Mediterranean Sea.
If not summer, then when? I'd consider going back to Europe during the Fall or Spring, that might work out best weather-wise.

Public Transportation

I stuck with the plan of taking public transportation in Europe. We used the Metro (subway), buses, trams, and cabs. I also have a newfound appreciation for Uber. I liked the fact that I knew what we were getting in to when we flagged an Uber car. No second guessing. All the payment was made via our credit card. No handing off payment to the 
driver. We used Uber in Lisbon and Paris. In Barcelona and Madrid, Uber did not work. I downloaded the HAILO app in Barcelona and used that to hail a cab. In Madrid, it was easier to get a cab so there was no app needed. BTW, we only used cabs or Uber as needed. But in between, we walked and walked and took the local public transportation.

We walked and walked and walked   
I knew that we'd be walking a lot. I didn't know how the kids were going to deal with it but they hung in there. In the nearly 3 weeks in Europe, we walked an average of 5-7 miles per day. That was close to 100 miles of walking during our entire trip. It was insane from my perspective. 

I don't even get to walk that much when I'm in the US. The only time I walked that much is whenever I'm in NYC. But when I'm at home, I've got my car. You will see in the picture the # of miles we walked prior to the trip (Aug 8 and 9), and you'll see how it doubled/tripled beginning Aug 10 (day one of our trip). Days before our trip, I did not even walk 2 miles.  That number dropped again on the day that we left to head back to the US.

What shoes did we wear
This one's a biggie. I learned from my last trip in November to wear comfortable shoes. I became a fan of Skecher's Go Walk3 shoes. For this summer trip, I bought another Skechers that I occasionally used in Europe, but for the most part, I used my new Nike Free 5.0 Running shoes. These Nikes were my best friend. Nancy on the other hand bought a new Skechers Go Walks as well. I kept telling her about it and she gave in and got herself a pair. Evan also wore Nike and Caitlin wore Skechers as well...Skechers Sport. None of us...and I mean none of us complained about our legs hurting or had issues with our footwear.

Don’t be a tourist. Plan less. Go slowly. I traveled in the most inefficient way possible and it took me exactly where I wanted to go.National Geographic’s Andrew Evans

It wasn't about crossing things off our checklist. Typically, when we go on vacation, we have this goal of visiting all the famous spots. It wasn't the case with this trip. We went with whatever made sense, or whatever we had access to. We didn't pack our days with dozens of locations. We gave ourselves lots of breaks in between. It was all about what was livable that our kids could do, and once we noticed that they were getting tired or bored, we'd stop and find a place to rest, recharge, or eat.

The Golden Arches

I'm not here to advocate going to McDonald's on your next vacation. But, I have a new found appreciation for McDonald's. It's so global. It was "home" to Evan and Caitlin. Since they have lots of allergies, getting their fries and ice cream sundaes at Mickey D's worked out just fine. Thankfully, their chicken nuggets were not the type we get in the US. They were actual chicken wings. Oh and I also liked the ATM/Kiosk type ordering system in Europe. Once I placed my order, I just went directly to the line to pick up my food.

Stopping at McD's also allowed me to plug-in, and connect to their Wi-Fi. It gave me a chance to charge my phone or Go Pro. I can't say anything bad about the Golden Arches other than many thanks for being in all of the places we went to.

Traveling with a 7 and 10 year old   We've traveled many times with our 4 kids. This was our first time to bring our youngest kids to Europe. They've never been to Europe ever. They've never taken heavy public transportation. They've never walked so much in their lives. And you know what? They did perfectly fine. Of course there were times when they'd rather just stay in the hotel room. But we took a lot of little breaks. Visited toy stores, candy stores, libraries, places with free Wi-Fi...that allowed them to do something in between our hops from one tourist attraction to another.

We gave ourselves a break by taking the Hop On, Hop Off tour bus in Barcelona, we went to a couple of beaches, one of our hotels had a rooftop swimming pool...we did everything we could to incorporate things they liked to do and we all survived.

Facebook Live   
Prior to our trip to Europe, I've used Facebook Live a few times in Hawaii, but I used it to show the beauty of Hawaii. In Europe, I had a crazy good time using Facebook Live. I started with my Pastel de Nata where I referred to my segment as my attempt in having my own Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but I'm no professional by any means. But with my love for food, I used the Live posts to share what we were about eat. I shared how it looked, and tasted. I also used FB Live and shared a few key tourist spots. It was a whole lot of fun. I laughed at my own videos. I cracked myself up. That's just me!

Google Maps  
I have to give props to technology. Once I had an idea where we'd go for the day, to go from one place to another, I used Google Maps. It gave me an idea regarding my transportation options. It specifically stated which train or bus # I should take, what time they're expected to arrive, the amount of walking required, and if I changed my mind, it also gave me an alternative to use Uber or a cab which also gave me an idea as to how much the fare would cost. There was no second guessing. For the most part, it was on point. When we chose to walk instead of riding public transportation, the app gave us verbal instructions to turn right or left. I really love this app. There's another app that Nancy used and will give it a try during our next trip.

I didn't speak a word of Portuguese, nor was my French close to being admissible. My Spanish? Well since Spanish is somewhat close to Tagalog, I got by. But it was also mostly thanks to iTranslate, an app I downloaded. I entered a word or phrase in English, and it gave me the equivalent Spanish, French, or Portuguese. It also had a button for me to press and listen to the spoken sound of the phrase. When it was too difficult say, I just showed my phone to the person I was talking to, and case solved!

Fighting Jet Lag

We arrived on US soil around 3pm on Sunday afternoon. We got home by 5:30pm. Caitlin and I did not have the energy to stay up so she and I went straight to bed. I woke up a few times after 2am...4am...6am. I was perfectly fine all day Monday. I did find myself sleeping early again on Monday evening, which then led me to waking up at 3am and 5 am. Still not bad.

As far as jet lag effects from this Euro trip, it wasn't as bad. I think the jet lag whenever we came back from a Euro trip has been in our favor. It's the trips to Asia that gets us the most. I haven't been to Asia since 2007, we'll see what happens when I go back to that side of the world.

So did we beat jet lag from this trip? We just slept as early as we could right when we got home. The kids especially, they did perfectly fine when they started their first day of school last Tuesday.

Gained weight? No, I gained perspective. 

I love to eat good, interesting food and I shared a lot of those during my Facebook Live posts. But as I had mentioned, we walked close to 7 miles per day. When I got home, I checked my weight, and I actually lost 1 pound. Go figure! With all the walking, and the sweat....I can see why.

But it's not the weight I gained or's the perspective, the enrichment gained from traveling. The priceless moments I spent with the family. The appreciation gained from looking at various city lives, their architecture...that's what I gained.

And now for my final takeaway....

Don't be terrorized

When I came back to work this week, one of my co-workers asked me if I had to look over my shoulders while in Europe. Interesting because in those three weeks, not once did I fear for our lives. Don't get me wrong, I am very sensitive to all the wrong doings regarding all the many terror attacks, but it wasn't until I came back to the US soil when I started to think about it again. I told him that I felt extremely safe while in Europe. There were a couple of places that caught my attention when I saw a presence from the local military, they carried guns with them. Other than that, not once did I observe any kind of concern for our safety. 

I had very many reasons not to go if I let fear prevent us from traveling. Just a few weeks prior to our trip, there was a terror attack in Nice, France. Last year, a few days before we flew to London, there was a terror attack in Paris during a concert. But not once did I think of canceling our trip. I didn't want to be terrorized and be stuck at home. If we stayed home and canceled our plans, we just allowed the terrorists to win. But we didn't. Now, here I am sitting with my laptop, reminiscing, reliving all the fun things that took place on our vacation.

So I'll end with that note, with a quote from Rick Steves, a quote I used from one of my previous takeaway blogs..."keep on traveling." It doesn't have to be a trip to far off places. It could be a trip within your own city, or state. Find new adventures that will allow you to leave your comfort zone, and hopefully, you'll find appreciation with the place that you've visited and an appreciation for
the things that you have back home.

This is Jason aka DaddyTravels signing off...until my next trip.

Paris: The Wrap-up (Days 3 and 4)

Friday - Day 3
Breakfast with breathtaking views
Before we went to bed on Thursday night, we all planned to grab breakfast in the morning. Nancy and I took the kids to Printemps located near the Opera area and Galeries Lafayette. We were here in April 2015. Printemps from the outside was this huge department store, however, there's a rooftop restaurant that's accessible to all. The restaurant was more of a deli-type where you pick what you want to get, put it on your tray, and then pay for it. We ordered a croissant and Pain Chocolat...brought it outside that gave us views of Paris. It was breathtaking, we ate our very simple croissant and pain chocolat with the views of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Sacre impressive 360 degree view of the beautiful city.

Purses, purses
Shortly after, since we were already in a huge shopping area, we took advantage of taking the kids to Galeries Lafayette. Nancy also visited Chanel and Louis Vuitton and had her eyes on a few bags. She didn't have her passport with her (to take advantage of the tax refund credit), so she didn't get to buy anything that time. Oh darn!

More ramen for me
Lunch came and I remember that there was a Higuma ramen restaurant in the area. Aaaahhhh that's where we had lunch. I had the Chashu Ramen, Nancy had the katsudon, while the kids shared a bowl of chicken teriyaki. Again, Higuma is the place to be for no frills Japanese restaurant in the very heart of Paris.

Back at Louis
It was already 2pm, and it was another scorching hot day. So humid....and I just couldn't see us exploring the city in the heat. We went back to our hotel. I stayed in the room with Caitlin and Evee and we got our much needed rest. Meanwhile, Nancy strolled down a couple of blocks to shop around Champs-Elysees  Oh darn for me!

Brasserie Lipp
The much needed rest worked well for me. By the time that Nancy got back, it was dinner time. We headed towards Saint Germain area and I had my eyes on Brasserie Lipp. Our Uber driver mentioned Lipp, it's where the President goes. Not fancy, just good ol' fashioned French food. 

We sat outside. Everything on the menu was in French. But, Fred, our waiter gave us his very best English description on what might work for us. We went with Cod Fish and Mashed Potatoes, green salad, while Nancy went for the steak and fries, and the kids ordered Grilled chicken.

One thing I won't forget about this place was the classic service. It was one of those old memories where the waiters really took care of us. Fred was the one who not only served the food, but actually prepared and cut the chicken for the kids. It was something else!

Oh when life gives you lemons
Funny tidbit. So I have this impression of Europe where serving ice is not a given unless you ask for it. So for a change, I didn't order water, but I ordered Coke, and Fred said they don't have coke but offered different types of juices, one of them being lemon. So even at 7pm, it was still in the 90s and we were seated outside and all I could think of was this tall glass of ice cold lemonade. The drinks were served and while I was given a tall bottle, only half of it was the lemon juice....I tried it, and it was tangy, sour....pure lemon juice. To our right was this French couple and I felt like we were in a totally hidden video segment. I didn't want to make a scene so I casually asked Fred for ice cubes and sugar. We slowly made our own glasses of lemonade from there. It could only happen to me! After dinner, we thanked Fred for his great service and took pictures with him.

That was our Friday, our 3rd night in Paris.

Saturday, Day 4
From Mercado to Marche'
This day would be our last full day and night in Paris. Nancy wanted to check out local markets. So I called the concierge downstairs and he suggested Marche des Batignolles. Upon arrival, it wasn't really the market we had in mind. It was an indoor wet market, and we were looking more for an outdoor market. But since we were already there, we stopped at a bakery stall and I ordered their Kouign Amman, this flaky, crispy French pastry that I remember having in NYC at Dominique Ansel's bakery.

I asked the baker in English (since he spoke to me in English earlier), if he had any outdoor market suggestion for us. The customer he was helping answered and gave us directions to Boulevard des we thanked her and started our way there. Somehow, she crossed paths with us and offered to walk us. She was headed that direction. Her name was Corinne. She was so sweet. 

Finally, we found an outdoor market. It wasn't that big by any means. But it was what we had imagined. The locals going about their early Saturday by buying fish, meat, flowers, bread, etc. Merci, Corinne!

Le Marais
We decided to grab our lunch in the Le Marais area of the city. We took a train to get there and walked 10 minutes to get to Marches de Enfants Rouges. It wasn't crowded when we got there. What got our interest was this unassuming stall. Chez Alain Miam Miam was a one-man show. He made us Crepe Sucre and this fabulous sandwich (a grilled sandwich) with beef, avocado, salad greens, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and onions, and local cheeses....he had no timer, nothing....he just knew what needed to be done. For $8 Euros, it was a hearty, flavorful, righteous, mouthful sandwich.

Notre Dame
Shortly after lunch, we decided to head on over to Notre Dame and the Seine River. It's one of my favorite places to visit whenever we go to Paris. I honestly don't remember ever being inside this cathedral. But Nancy said we've gone inside before. But for me, it was all about the intricate details that was so visible outside. Plus, there was that whole link to a very popular movie/story of the hunchback.

On a Chanel and Louis Vuitton mission
We went back to our hotel to rest for a bit, and then we went with Nancy to Chanel. She had her eyes set on a couple of purses at Chanel, and she decided to go with the one that she saw yesterday while we were in Galeries Lafayette. It's her first Chanel bag, she always wanted one, and there was no better time than getting it then...where else? In Paris. Our sales associate also gave Caitlin her first Chanel bag....for was a Chanel paper bag with Chanel floral stickers  :-)

From Chanel, we headed to Louis Vuitton. This was to finish what she started yesterday. She knew the model and the size that she needed to get. Unlike Chanel where you can easily count the number of customers inside the store, the LV store was crowded like Costco. Okay, so maybe I went overboard but that's the best analogy. It was so crowded that it was difficult to get assistance. We were told to go upstair as there would be fewer customers upstairs. So we did. Since Nancy was on a mission, we got the purses she had in mind, and we were in and out of there within 15 minutes. Louis Vuitton and Chanel missions were both accomplished!

La Fontaine de la Mouffe
Since it was our last night in Paris, we wanted to have one last good dinner and decided on La Fontaine de la Mouffe. It was on Rue Mouffetard. One thing I like about Paris was their set meals. No shock when you get the bill. We ordered prefixe menu items.....French onion soup, Walnut Salad with Roquefort cheese, Lamb chops and Mushrooms, and Beef Bourguignon.....and for dessert, 2 scoops of sorbet (lemon and raspberry) and creme brulee. All of that for $36 Euros! It was delish. They didn't rush us. They took care of us and the kids. They made us comfortable and we truly enjoyed our last dinner.

Pont Alexandre III
After dinner we decided to go to Pont Alexandre III Bridge. Why? It's one of the most iconic and picturesque bridge in Paris. Owen Wilson's movie, Midnight in Paris...the very last scene was shot here. It's just gorgeous beyond words, especially in the evening where the night sky shimmers on the Seine River....and from not too far of a distance is the Eiffel Tower.

So that's it....that was our last tour stop. We headed back to the hotel and got ready. We only had a few hours to pack before our ride in the early morning towards the airport.

Homeward bound
We had a 5 am cab ride to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Just FYI, if you take a cab from the city center of Paris to CDG, it's a flat fee of $50 Euros plus fees of $7 Euros. Knowing that there's 4 of us makes this worth it. We had 3 carry on luggage, plus 1 regular sized luggage, 2 backpacks, and this large Louis Vuitton shopping bag where Nancy placed her Chanel purse. We had a choice to take the train to CDG, but with two little kids and at 5am, not sure it would've been fun to go up and down the Metro.

The Tax Free Refund Process
Once we arrived at CDG, we checked in 2 of our luggage and the other 2 carryons stayed with us. We went directly downstairs and Nancy took care of the filing for the tax free refund. There are items that you buy in Paris that allow you to get a tax free refund (in this case up to 12%). 

About the refund, there are two ways of getting the refund:

1. In cash - you get it on the spot at the airport (but not the full percentage)
2. Via Credit Card - while it could take a few days to a few weeks, you get a better/bigger refund when you opt to get the refund via credit card

This was now our 4th visit to Europe and each tax refund procedure was different. In the past, we had to sign all these different forms and had to go through different rooms at the airport to process the paperwork. You have to remember that we were just in Europe twice in 2015 (April and November), and each process was different. 

This time was far different. The paper work that we received from Chanel and Louis Vuitton came with bar codes. We had to scan the bar code at the kiosk, and voila....done. There was another piece of paper that Nancy had to sign and seal, and place in mail bin...and everything was done. It was that simple.

One more thing we learned from our last trip. Some credit cards give the refunds much quicker. We learned that American Express took the longest in issuing the refund, while our Visa and Mastercard purchases were credited within a few days.

Although our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:50am, another reason why we wanted to be early was because we didn't know how long this refund process would that it's simpler, we had more time. We went straight to the Star Alliance Lounge, an access we had by using our Priority Pass. We stayed there for a good hour, had breakfast and relaxed. I, on the other hand, slept.

The flight back home

We boarded our Lufthansa flight from Paris to Munich, a one-hour flight. The plane was half empty. It was a quick flight. Upon getting to Munich, we had to pass by the border police to get our passports stamped and off we went to our terminal. Our long flight to LA was waiting, a 12 hour flight. No issues there. It actually went quick. We were able to sleep on and off during the plane ride. They fed us with lunch and dinner and snacks and drinks in between. I've flown Lufthansa before and would fly them again.

Our flight arrived by 3pm at LAX and to get home, we took the Roadrunner Shuttle. We were the only passengers so it felt like a private shuttle just for us. We were home by 5pm.

That was our Europe trip...our 4th trip for me and Nancy and the very first European visit for Caitlin and Evan. We are glad to be home and ready to tackle life as we know it. I have already written a takeaway blog....what I learned from this will be published shortly in my next blog.

Thanks for joining.