Moving

I’ve put enough time and effort into the blog that it felt like time to take it to the next level with its own domain and custom design.  The new address is hopstrains.com Let me know what you think.  In the future, all new content will appear there, so update your bookmarks. All old content will…

How I got 21% back towards travel (Really)

I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (referral link) card this past year to take advantage of the 50,000-point sign-up bonus, plus an additional 5,000 for adding an authorized user ($1155 at 2.1 cents per point !). It’s a good card that I use on a daily basis for most purchases, and it gives…

Amtrak Guest Rewards, Best Deal in Travel, Gets Better (for Most)

Photo: Amtrak’s California Zephyr (Source: Wikipedia) Time for some train travel talk. Dollar-for-dollar, Amtrak’s Guest Rewards (AGR) program remains one of the best redemption deals in travel rewards. AGR has undergone some changes recently that have shifted, and in most cases improved its value for those looking to redeem. At 2.9 cents of value per point earned, its eclipses…

Experiments in Extreme Weekend Travel

We just returned from a weekend getaway to Barbados, and I wanted to share impressions on what I’ll term our first experiment in “extreme weekend travel”. To fit nearly a week of travel time into one weekend, all you need are the following: two vacation days that connect to the weekend or a three-day weekend…

Hydration and Fermentation: The Beers of Barbados

In Barbados it may be expensive to get a bite to eat, but the same can’t be said about a cold beer, which is never more than $1-2.75 US. The taste is reminiscent of Mexico or other Caribbean countries: brands that I have never seen or heard of, yet flavors that I definitely have. On…

Ranking 11 Breweries in New York (The first half)

It’s been a while since I’ve indulged the hops side of Hops, Trains, and Backpacks: it’s New York City Beer Week and here’s the run down of the breweries we’ve visited over the course of the past year. I’ve graded each on a 1-5 star scale on three points (beer-ambiance-fun): Beer: Quality and inventiveness of…

The Way to the Top of the World

I’ve enjoyed staring at maps since I was a little kid, pulling the inserts from National Geographic. I’ve always been curious what was out there at the fringes, at the distended top and bottom of the map, rotating close to the poles of the globe, out there at the edges of the country, the continent,…

January’s 10 Best Stories in Travel

Photo: January at Labrador Mountain, Truxton, NY I’m here to share with you my favorite stories of the month from around the web. All have an international flavor, many explore the unseen side of the places we hear about in the news. If you’re wary of traveling there, at least you’ll be able to visit…

Volkswagen Beetles Live on in Mexico

Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked the VW Beetle: small, cartoon-like, and iconic of ’60s culture and music that I grew up with, thanks to my parents. I was further fascinated when, back in college, I found that the Beetle was produced in Mexico all the way up through the millenium, with production…

Making it Mexican Street Food

Mexico, despite popular misconception, is not the land of crunchy tacos, ground beef, and shredded cheddar cheese. It is the land of chili, lime, cilantro, and onion. Lime, chili, cilantro, and onion (and meat) on a tortilla are the essence of a taco. Likewise, in Mexico, lime and chili (hot sauce, especially Valentina brand) can…

Xochimilco, Mexico City

Xochimilco is known as the Venice of Mexico for its picturesque canals. It also happens to be the hometown of my wife and thus our home for the holidays during the last week of December and first week of January. The photos included here are from the streets, market, and and show my take on…