DC Restaurant Week — Get It While It’s Hot

DC Restaurant Week Seafood
3 Course Lunch for $22 at Ford’s Fish Shack

Temperatures this August in Washington, DC have reached record highs.

Anyone who’s anyone has decamped to Martha’s Vineyard.

That means restaurateurs are trying to fill their tables by offering fixed price menu specials:  $22 for lunch, and $35 for dinner.

Over 260 restaurants in DC, Maryland, and Virginia are participating in DC Restaurant Week, which runs from August 15 – 21, 2016.  It’s a good opportunity to try some of the region’s highly acclaimed (and expensive) restaurants.  Several that are tempting me include:

  • Del Campo — Latin American in Penn Quarter
  • Dino’s Grotto — Italian in Shaw
  • Jaleo — Spanish in Penn Quarter
  • Oyamel — Mexican in Penn Quarter
  • Rasika — Indian in Penn Quarter
  • Zaytinya — Mediterranean in Penn Quarter

Restaurant Week at Ford’s Fish Shack

We snagged a great deal at a fabulous seafood restaurant in Loudoun County:  Ford’s Fish Shack.

A choice of three fixed price specials are offered at lunch and at dinner during restaurant week.

Naturally, we chose the “Eat Like a Mainer” lunch special for $22.

This included:

  • Jalapeno corn muffins
  • Cup of clam chowder
  • Hot lobster roll with butter and garlic
  • Cold lobster roll in mayo
  • Shoestring French fries
  • Blueberry pie with cinnamon ice cream

Highly recommended!

Amex SPG Surprise Retention Bonus

Amex Retention Bonus
It never hurts to ask.

Amex has been bending over backwards lately to encourage me to keep my Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) business credit card open.

I had been set to cancel the card when the annual fee went up from $65 per year to $95.

But American Express has been wooing me back with special offers.

First, I received a targeted offer for 5,000 bonus points if I spent $5000 on the card, and 10,000 bonus points if I spend $10,000.

Ordinarily, those spending thresholds would be far out of reach.

But thanks to a number of concurrent Amex Offers, that provide statement credits for purchases at popular vendors, such as Staples and Home Depot, I hope to qualify for these bonus points.

Amex SPG Surprise Retention Bonus

Amex is reluctant to waive the annual fee on their SPG credit cards, but it never hurts to ask!

In my case, after talking to a customer service representative, I was transferred to a “loyalty representative.”

The second representative offered me a $25 statement credit if I agreed to keep my credit card account open.  That doesn’t bring the annual fee down to the original $65, but it is close.

I believe I can more than offset the $70 fee with rebates via “Amex Offers,” but it remains to be seen what the offers will be in the coming months.  I can usually take advantage of offers for pet food or groceries, and Amex has has been pushing a number of travel offers lately.

Have you snagged a retention bonus for an Amex card?

Remember, it never hurts to ask!

How to Land A Pair of Group A Boarding Passes on Southwest

 Joel Shprentz Photo
Photo by Joel Shprentz

Here’s a tiny hack that might help you get a better seat on your return trip when flying Southwest Airlines roundtrip in a single day.

Southwest Airlines does not assign seats, and follows an open seating model.

Customers board in order of the group (A, B, or C) and number (one to sixty) on their boarding pass.  The earlier you check in, up to 24 hours prior to your flight, the earlier your assigned spot in line.

Group A boarding passes put you at the front of the line, increasing the likelihood that you can sit with your travel companions, and giving you the best chance for a window or aisle seat.

Cool Tools has a neat trick to up your chances of getting Group A boarding passes  for both legs of your trip when flying out and back on the same day.

As Cool Tools notes,

If you book a one-day round trip on Southwest, you won’t be allowed to check in for the return flight until after you complete the first flight.

However, if you book two one-way trips instead of a round trip, you can check in for both flights exactly 24 hours before the scheduled departure.

Two one-way tickets are priced identically to a round-trip ticket, so there is no extra cost to pursuing this strategy.

Turf Not Surf — $1 Filet Mignon Sliders at Morton’s Steakhouse

Morton's Steakhouse $1 Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches
Quite the deal!

Usually I am all about the seafood, but I had to pass along this upcoming deal at Morton’s Steakhouse.

On Friday, August 12, 2016, Morton’s is offering petite filet mignon sandwiches for $1!

The offer is good from opening until 10 p.m. at the bar — no takeout permitted.

The Morton’s website lists all their locations, but recommends calling your local restaurant first to see if they are participating in this special offer.

 

Forget Tokyo’s Robot Cafe; Kyoto has Roberoids!

GEAR Show in Kyoto
GEAR Show in Kyoto — Circus arts at their best

You’ve probably heard the hype about the Tokyo Robot Cafe, but did you know that Kyoto has real life Roberoids?

The Roberoids are stars of the GEAR Show, running at Kyoto’s Art Complex 1928. 

These robots perform mime, magic, juggling, and break dancing.

Art Complex 1928, Kyoto
Art Complex 1928, Kyoto

Their skills are showcased in a non-verbal performance with a story line that pulls at the heartstrings.  The show is very entertaining with lots of incredible special effects.

The production values are amazing.  The technical wizardry reminded me of the Broadway production of the The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime.

The GEAR show has been running for several years straight with a rotating cast.

The theatre is in a cool art deco building in downtown Kyoto.

Tickets are discounted if you order online in advance.  Also, you get a ticket discount any time during your birthday month.

But don’t take my word for it.  You can read all the rave reviews on TripAdvisor!

 

Wear a Kimono — Get Discounts!

2016 Kimono Passport
Wear a kimono in Kyoto!

If you see a beautiful woman wearing a kimono on the streets of Kyoto, chances are they are a tourist, not a Geisha.

The city of Kyoto, Japan is promoting traditional arts in a variety of ways, including an innovative program to encourage people to dress in kimonos.

The Kyoto Kimono Passport offers discounts or small gifts to people wearing kimonos at dozens of restaurants, shops, and museums.

At certain times of the year, you can even get free bus and subway rides and reduced taxi fares!

If you love to dress up, this may be the deal for you!

Kimonos and the necessary accessories are available to rent at lots of places in Kyoto.  For an extra fee, you can get your hair styled.

With the Kimono Passport in hand, if your outfit becomes disheveled, there are a number of places that will help reassemble your kimono free of charge.

Benefits of the Kyoto Kimono Passport

2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport
2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport

A list of all of the discounts available with the Kyoto Kimono Passport is available online.  The many dozens of places where small discounts or gifts are offered include:

  • Temples and shrines
  • Kimono rentals
  • Museums
  • Restaurants and cafes
  • Shopping
  • Experiences
  • Historic Sites
  • Hotels

The small gifts might include something like a free postcard, or a hair ornament to go with your kimono rental, or 100 Yen off a museum admission.

The more valuable savings are probably the restaurant discounts.  A huge number of commercial establishments in the Kyoto Station participate in the Passport Program.

Your best bet may be the restaurants in the Isetan department store in the train station, which offer ten percent off to patrons wearing kimonos.  The Isetan store has a large variety of restaurants in different price ranges, including nine casual ramen shops.

How to Access the Kyoto Kimono Passport

2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport
2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport App

The easiest place for tourists to pick up the passport booklet is in Kyoto Station at the Tourist Information Center.

Alternately, you can just print out a passport card online.

There is also a smart phone app available in the Japan app store.

 This year’s Kyoto Kimono Passport is valid from October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016.  Some discounts may have a limited validity period, so be sure to check the details of each offer.  For instance, the discounts at temples and shrines are only valid during the Autumn months.  

 

Win a Trip to Washington, DC for July 4 Festivities

The National Archives
The National Archives — Check it Out!

Washington, DC is blessed with so many interesting museums that the exhibitions and programs at the National Archives may not be on your radar.

We visited recently for a screening of the animated shorts that had been nominated for the Oscars, one of many free film events offered regularly.

The updated Archives Museum is an interactive display that brings the Archives to life.

Sleepover in the Rotunda The National Archives
Sleepover in the Rotunda at the National Archives

Twice a year, the Archives invites 8-12 year olds to participate in a sleepover in the Archives Rotunda.  Pretty cool!

Celebrate July 4th with a Trip to DC

The National Archives Foundation is sponsoring a  contest to fly a family of four to Washington, DC for the Independence Day celebration on the National Mall on July 4, 2016.

The contest prize includes flights, three nights in a hotel, and dinner at one of DC’s hottest new restaurants.  (Check out the Japanese-themed spring menu here!)

Win a trip to DC!
Win a trip to DC!

The contest winner will receive:

  • Round-trip airfare for four on Southwest Airlines
  • Three night stay at a local hotel
  • Three course tasting menu for four people at Derek Brown’s Columbia Room
  • Membership in the National Archives Foundation
  • VIP experience on July 4th at the National Archives
  • Private tour of the National Archives Museum
  • July 4th gift basket, courtesy of the National Archives Store, including a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence

I don’t often post about contests, but this one seems to have pretty good odds.

To enter, submit your zip code and sign up for a newsletter here!

The last day to enter the contest is June 10, 2016.

Read the Terms and Conditions here.

Know Before You Go (in Japan)

Japanese restroom pictogramIt’s a tired cliché to talk about contrasts in the context of travel writing.

But in the case of restrooms in Japan there is a huge contrast between the so-called “Western toilet” versus the “Japanese toilet.”

On the one hand you will find the super high tech Toto washlet toilet seat.

This toilet has a motion sensor that lifts the lid when you approach and a heated seat for comfort.  It has a washer for your bottom and and a dryer to boot.  You can flush the toilet by waving your hand over a sensor.  The toilet seat may even play a recorded flushing sound for modesty purposes.

Restrooms equipped with these toilets are deemed “Western.”

Kyoto's bathroom instructions
City of Kyoto’s bathroom instructions

On the other hand, there is the glorified squat toilet.

This is basically a hole in the ground dressed up with a ceramic basin.  These toilets are labeled “Japanese toilets.”  You can find a good picture of a “Japanese toilet” on the RocketNews 24 website.

The Most Important Advice You’ll Ever Hear About Travel to Japan

Japan is replete with public restrooms.  You’ll find clean restrooms in parks, restaurants, museums, department stores, train stations, and on trains.

If you want to avoid “Japanese toilets” here’s what to do:

“Skip the ladies room or the mens room and head for the unisex handicapped restroom.

The handicapped restroom is very likely equipped with a “Western toilet.”

That’s it.  This bit of information offered by my sister-in-law was the most valuable piece of advice we received about travel in Japan!

Ten Things You Don’t Have to Pack for Japan Travel

Travel light to Japan
Travel light to Japan

I ignored the guidebook advice, but you don’t have to!

We are just back from a three-week trip to Japan, where we stayed in a variety of hotels ranging from 2.5 star to 5 star properties.

Each of the hotels generously provided a number of travel essentials free of charge.

I can confirm that more likely than not, you don’t need to pack these ten items for a trip to Japan.

How to Lighten Your Load on a Trip to Japan

We stayed in nine different hotels over the course of our three-week trip to Japan.  They all provided a standard set of amenities.

Do yourself a favor and leave these items at home:

Pajamas and Bathrobe:  Hotels routinely provide fresh pajamas and/or yukatas (cotton kimono-like robes).  In hotels with spas, it is de rigueur to walk to the public bath in the yukata and slippers.

Slippers:  The Japanese custom is to remove your shoes upon entering a home.  The same is true when entering a hotel room.  Every hotel on our itinerary provided disposable slippers.

Toothbrush and toothpaste:  American hotels don’t generally supply toothbrushes and toothpaste, but we found these items were available in Japanese hotels.

Disposable razor:  Not having to pack a razor will shave a few ounces off your load.

Hairbrush and comb:  You don’t need to bring a hairbrush or comb, as these are routinely supplied in Japan.

Standard toiletries:  As you would expect, hotels provide soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and often body wash.

Sundries:  Q-tips, cotton pads, nail files were offered everywhere.

Sewing kit:  I came home with at least half a dozen sewing kits.  I love these kits because the needles are pre-threaded.

Umbrella:  Several hotels offered umbrellas to borrow.  Don’t bother packing an umbrella because if it rains, you can buy one at a subway station for about $5.00 and they may be even cheaper at a convenience store.  With amazing Japanese efficiency, the coin operated umbrella dispensers in the subway stations are replenished frequently on rainy days.

Flashlight:  All hotels provide a flashlight in case of emergencies such as an earthquake.

Other hotel room amenities that we enjoyed included water bottles, a refrigerator, coffee maker, and hot water heater for making tea.

Do you tend to overpack?  Even if you forget a few critical items like sunscreen — or run short — most everything you might need is is readily available in Japan.

“Visions of the Future” Travel Posters From NASA

NASA's  Vision of the Future Travel Poster

You’ve got to love the retro/futuristic travel posters published by NASA.

NASA’S Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) has published ten new posters in their “Exoplanet” series.

These awesome graphic posters are “out of this world.”

The new posters can be downloaded for free on the JPL website.

NASA explains their poster series this way:

“As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.”

NASA's  Vision of the Future Travel PosterFor instance, the Mars poster:

“imagines a future day when we have achieved our vision of human exploration of Mars and takes a nostalgic look back at the great imagined milestones of Mars exploration that will someday be celebrated as “historic” sites.”

Check out all the posters on the JPL website.