Follow me and my friends on our adventures outside.

OuterBanks, how I have missed you.

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OBX                     

 

 

                     

 

 

 

                                         

Bodie Lighthouse pictured above.

I haven't been to the OuterBanks since I was in college, over 10 years ago. My family, like many from western PA, spent a lot of our summer vacations in this beautifully wild, yet over developed area. We always headed for the area around Cape Hatteras, where there was a lot less development and people, and more wide open beaches. This year my parents, with the help of my brother and sister-in-law, planned a late September vacation with my father's side of the family, who would usually join us on these summer trips.
When you visit the OuterBanks in late August and September you gamble with Hurricanes, and this time we lost to Maria, oddly similar to past vacations. This time instead of leaving the OuterBanks all together, we found a house in the north end of the islands, near Corolla, a place none of us had spent any time at before. My parents and brother's family had just settled into the house in Cape Hatteras when the call was made to evactuate any non-residents from the island, so they packed it all back up and drove the slow crawl up the only road that would take them north, along with everyone else being forced to leave the island. I was lucky enough to have missed this whole ordeal since I came midweek, once the evacuation was over. Unfortunately our house no longer had an elevator, so my Grandfather who had made it all the way to Virginia beach from Pittsburgh, along with my Uncle, turned around and went home after they learned the news of evacuation, a cousin from Florida also decided not to make the trek, since he had just been through a hurricane a few weeks earlier in Orlando.

Despite the loss of family members on the trip, we still had a full house, and a good time. It was nice to be back in the OuterBanks, even if it was an unfamiliar part of them.

When I got to the Outer Banks, instead of driving north to the family house, I took a drive south, to the Bodie Island lighthouse, for a sunset photo safari. The sky was dark and moody, with the outer bands of Maria quickly passing over head and the wind was howling, but it made for a spectacular sunset.

The sun dropping over the horizon.

Moody clouds quickly moving through.

Windswept sea grass as Maria sits offshore.

An angry ocean.

I couldn't bring myself to leave the beach, the scenery was changing by the minute and I ran back to the car to grab a beer while I took in the last light of the day. As I sat in between two dunes, drinking my beer, hiding from the wind, and enjoying the fact I had finally made it back to the OBX, one of the dark clouds above me suddenly exploded with rain, and I had to make a hasty retreat back to the car. I drove for about an hour an a half north to Corolla and made it safely to the beach house to have some dinner and enjoy some family time.

We spent the next few days driving onto the beach, and hiding behind the cars from the wind. It was relentless, but thankfully the sun was out to help keep us warm. We were visited by some of the island's wild horses the first day I was there, and the girls were pretty excited to see them, and to be honest, so were the adults.

Brenna and the ponies.

Sisters.

The abbreviated family.

Mom and Dad with their grand babies.

Our evenings were spent at the house visiting, drinking, eating, and sitting in the hot tub. It was fantastic. On our last full day at beach, the weather finally called for calm winds and seas in the morning, so I took a stroll out to the water. It was eerily calm, with zero wind.

First light on our last day.

Sunrise over the Atlantic, Maria had finally left the area.

Our neighborhood had this awesome little lake, and a trail that went around it. It had white caps on it the previous days, but this morning it was like glass.

I got back to the house to find my amazing Aunt making her famous biscuits and gravy - which we all love so much, but for some reason don't have the ability to make on our own. Breakfast was eaten, sandwiches were made, coolers were packed. We made our way to the beach, excited to have a day without wind. Unfortunately, by the time we made it there, the wind had once again picked up. Oddly enough, it ended up being the windiest day of the trip.

My lovely niece's cheesing for the camera.

My lovely niece's cheesing for the camera.

Dragging their mom back into the chilly water, which was made even colder by the wind.

We called it an early day on Saturday, it was just too windy to hang out anymore. We enjoyed the hot tub at the house, ate as much of the leftover food and we could, and began packing for our trip home the following day. Corolla was great, and I'm really glad we still got to spend time together in the OBX given the fact a hurricane was sitting off shore almost the entire time. It was a somewhat triumphant return to the OuterBanks. Next time, hopefully we can hang out in Cape Hatteras.

A Campfire Feast Prepared in the Pine Barrens.

Cowboy cooking peppers over open flame.

My buddy Matteo and I have been talking about getting together in the woods and cooking some serious food for quite a while now. Last month, on an oddly warm late October weekend, we finally made it happen.

Sunset from our lake side campsite in the Pine Barrens.

We decided on Wharton State Forest, as usual, since it is halfway for both of us, and since the weather was so fair we were able to convince our significant others to join the party as well. I showed up first, around 4pm and began setting up everyones sleeping quarters. Sloane and I were in our hammocks, and Mateo and Nicole slept in my tent.

I got a fire going and cracked a beer waiting for the rest of the crew to show up - Sloane had to work late, so we drove separately - which worked out, since my car was full to the brim with all our camping supplies and a ton of gear from the studio.

While I sat silently, watching the fire, I noticed some dark figures lurking around my neighbors campsite, who were being a bit on the loud side, and were in general, pretty obnoxious. It was the state police, in full out swat gear. All of a sudden flashlights were everywhere, and the police poked around their campsite for illegal activities. After 20 minutes or so of hassling, the police left and I approached the neighbors, who I had met when I pulled in, announcing I was not a policeman. They said that they had been told to take all their alcohol and other party supplies for a ride, but they most certainly did not, as they were up until 2 AM that night, and good and drunk when I went back over for a quick visit before I turned in. 

Matteo and Nicole arrived around 730, and after our brief hellos we got to work cooking dinner. When I say we, I mean Matteo. I boiled the water for the pasta, and got drinks for everyone.

King Trumpet Mushrooms and scallops cooking over the coals.

While we cooked, Sloane arrived and there were more hellos. Everyone was good and hungry, and Mateo did not disappoint with his first dish of the trip. Pasta with scallops and and king trumpet mushrooms. A sauce was quickly made in the pan and it was time to eat!

We finished up dinner, washed the dishes and sat down in front of the fire to catch up and drink some more booze.

Matteo and Nicole were up first the following morning and got a fire burning. Matteo quickly requested I set up the tripod cooking device I had built with his instruction, and I happily obliged. I had figured we would cook breakfast on my camp stove, but he was committed to the campfire cooking, which made for some good early morning images. I again boiled water (my specialty this trip) to make coffee for everyone and grabbed the camera to document what Matteo was preparing. 

One dish breakfast in the works

Morning fireside chat with some warm coffee.

Warm hands and good food.

Time to eat.

Matteo working hard.

Getting some insta images for Gotham Greens.

CPC. Clean Plate Crew. Breakfast was so good we ate the whole thing.

After breakfast we slowly cleaned up the mess that was made, and got ready for a quick hike. We drove to the park office to register our site and hop onto the Mullica river trail. We had a leisurely walk in the pines, and after an hour or so, turned around so we could get back to camp with enough light to cook and photograph the feast that Mateo had come up with for us. Sloane and Nicole prepared us this beautiful cheese plate for lunch, which we picked at as our chef prepared the main meal.

Fireside cheese plate.

All the cheeses.

We had the fire burning by 2:30 and Mateo prepped the chicken and ribs to slowly cook on the highest tiers of the tripod.

The meat stacking begins.

Prepping the chicken suspension, we used wire coat hangers, since I didn't have meathooks.

Fennel and eggplant were cooked and charred over the fire

Egg plant and fennel roasting.

Egg plant

Chef action shot. Bird was moved closer to the fire for quicker cooking.

Matteo found these incredibly beautiful Corbacci peppers at his local market in Brooklyn. They were the star of the cooking show as he tossed them with olive oil over the open flames. He also added in a couple sliced zucchini squash in a cast iron skillet, directly on the flames. Then some incredible little enokitake mushrooms that he later added to the salad.

Corbaci peppers, they look hot, but they are sweet and delicious.

Open flames and olive oil make for awesome photos.

Corbacci close up.

Chicken, corbacci peppers, enokitake mushrooms and squash.

Grilling some fresh Gotham Green's romaine for the salad, and you can see the butternut squash that he roasted for about 3 hours, which was part of our desert.

Smoking hot corbaccis. 

Pieces of monkfish were added to the peppers, along with some wine. 

Monkfish and corbaccis

Monkfish and corbaccis

The set, I had to add in some dappled sunlight, it was disappearing fast.

Matteo in his "kitchen"

The chicken looking handsome.

Shrimp added to the squash.

Tuna steaks on the grill.

Tuna steaks.

Nicole in her instagram mode.

Finishing off the ribs on some direct flame.

All the meats.

Flank steak was the last item to be put on the fire, and we were all getting pretty excited to stuff our faces.

Keeping the food warm while Mateo prepped the salad, and quartered the chicken.

Everyone had to get in on the staging of the food.

Discussing food placement.

The final feast all laid out and ready to go. From left to right : Romaine salad with enokitake mushrooms, pork ribs, a full chicken on top of roasted eggplant and fennel, fresh tuna steak, shrimp and squash in a tomato sauce, flank steak, monkfish with corbacci peppers cooked in white wine.

Time to dig in!

This was hands down the best meal I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying in the woods. Many thanks to Mateo and Nicole for sourcing all the food and coming up with the menu for the weekend. Gotham Greens for all the, well, greens - their packaging also makes great storage containers for leftovers we found out. There was no way we ate all this food in one sitting! We finished up with our meal as the darkness settled in around us. The fire was stoked, wine was poured, pots, pans and utensils were washed, and dessert was served. The final dish of the evening was yogurt with honey and the butternut squash that Mateo had been roasting all afternoon, it was ridiculously good. We drank wine and ate s'mores (with Nutella instead of chocolate bars!) late into the evening, and turned in quite happy with our fireside feast. The following morning I was up early with the sunrise, I'll leave you with some foggy morning views from our last day at Wharton State Forest.

Autumn in the pine barrens.

There were some pretty amazing dew covered spiderwebs along the water.

Fog burning off the lake.

Spiderwebs and fog.

Dew drops and spiderwebs.

European Vacation Part 3

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Prague.

Our train arrived in Prague around 7:30 on Saturday. After purchasing tickets for public transportation, we walked around the train station like lost tourists (which we were), until we finally were able to get our bearings and find the correct tram stop. We contacted our AirBnB host to let him know we were close and hopped onto the tram which delivered us to Mala Strana, with a short 2 minute walk to our door. Our host met us and led us up what seemed like 8 flights of stairs, in reality it was 3. He gave us a quick tour, a recommendation on where to eat, and left us to get settled in. I didn't get a chance to photograph our apartment, but if you are looking for a great place to stay in Prague check it out here. We had 360 degree view of the city from our 3rd floor apartment, which was super modern with huge wooden beams throughout, and a private balcony overlooking the US embassy and Petrin hill park.

We had an OK meal that evening at a restaurant in our neighborhood - I had a fried pork chop, which I had hoped would rival my favorite BBQ joints version in Charleston, but no dice. Sloane had risotto that was just ok, the best part of our meal though was the price. We both ate and drank for less than thirty dollars US, including tip. We were spent from our long day of travel so we returned to our apartment, climbed the stairs and quickly found ourselves asleep in the comfy bed.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I was up early at 6AM to wander around and take in the tourist attractions before the crowds hit. We had heard Prague was a popular place, but we had no idea just how popular. I walked down to the Vltava river and across the Charles Bridge, one of the main attractions in Prague. I expected to be alone this early in the morning on a Sunday, but instead found myself the background subject in at least 4 different photoshoots and plenty of other people who had my same idea.

Fashion shoot early morning on the Charles Bridge.

I didn't stick around on the bridge very long given the amount of activity already happening. I crossed to the other side of the river and found a quiet little corner to photograph the bridge from. Just as I had set up my tripod and began taking long exposures, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a large group of tourists. They silently swooped in and began posing on the railing right in front of my shot, with out a second thought. I would find out later that this was quite the norm here. I politely asked them to clear out of my shot, but they didn't seem to understand and simply smiled and nodded at me, some of them coming to close for comfort to my tripod legs. By this time it had started to rain lightly, so I packed up my gear and walked quickly up river to the next bridge crossing.

Vltava river and the Charles Bridge. Directly to my right were 20 Asian tourists.

I had planned to scout some places to photograph the Charles Bridge from at dusk, so I popped open my little travel umbrella and made my way to the edge of Shooters Island in the Vltava river. I quickly explored the area and decided this would be the place for some dusk shots. I made my way back to the bridge, crossed the water over to "our" side of the river and wandered around aimlessly until I found my self back at the base of the Charles Bridge. At this point it was 830 or so and I was hungry. I was in need of some sustenance and ahead of me lay the golden arches. I knew Sloane would want coffee so I saddled up for my first European fast food adventure of the trip. It was the nicest McDonald's I have ever been in, and the menu was pretty much the same as it is in the US. I took our breakfast and coffee back to the apartment to find Sloane just stirring. Although she laughed at me for getting McDonald's, she was quite happy to have black coffee and and egg sandwich. We ate and made a plan for the day, which would start with a free walking tour of old town Prague.

Sloane in Old Town Square, patiently awaiting our tour to begin.

The rain let up just in time as we joined up with a free tour group from Sandemans, on a recommendation from a friend who had just visited. The tour is free, and at the end they ask you tip what you thought it was worth. I am not the kind of person who likes group tours of any sorts, but it was actually very informative and they kept the groups to under 15 people which was great. Clocking in at just under 3 hours, it was a little longer than I had hoped for, but we had a great guide who kept it interesting.

I can't understand why the US doesn't implement better looking sewer covers, Europe knows how to cover a manhole!

I didn't take many photos on the tour, we mainly just listened and asked questions. 

Havel's Market, in Old Town

Highlight of the tour - this guy stole the show. Passed out in the middle of the afternoon - evidence suggests he may have taken a dump nearby, given the toilet paper strewn about.  Prague Castle in the background.

After our tour ended, right near the infamous man in yellow above, we headed to a cafeteria where our tour guide said we could find some real authentic Czech food at a good price. I forget the name of it, but it was quite the experience. You take a tray and select which ever foods you want from a few different stations - with legit sweet but stern lunch ladies. You hand them your ticket and they scribble down what they have given you. We ended up in line with some other folks from the tour and sat down at a communal table along with them to enjoy our meal. The were both from England and had been traveling for 2 weeks already, their next stop was Budapest, so we filled them in on what we thought were the highlights and best places to eat. When we finished our meal we cleared our table and paid the woman at the door on the way out. We said farewell to our friends and made our way back across the river to Prague castle.

A view from the gardens of Prague Castle.

We found our way to a very long road/stairwell, which led up the hill from the riverside, to the castle grounds. As we slowly climbed upwards, there were hundreds of people heading down, which we realized when we arrived at the top was because the grounds were closing within the hour. Our travel guide/book told us we would want two days to explore this area, so we decided to take advantage of the end of the day and explore what we could. We walked around the gardens surrounding the castle and found our way inside the walls through an entrance on the side. It was quite pleasant strolling around and staring at the amazing architecture and gardens with barely any one there - the following day would be a different story. We stayed until it was closing time and found ourselves on the opposite side of the castle than we had entered through, which was much further away from our apartment. We hopped on a tram and were back to our apartment in less than 20 minutes. We took quick showers and headed back out on the town so I could take some photos of the bridge and castle at dusk.

One of the many great views from our apartment

Prague Castle lit up for the night.

Charles Bridge and old town as seen from Shooter's Island in the Vltava River.

Charles Bridge at dusk.

The Kampa Museum and Prague Castle.

Prague National Theater and the Prague film school on the Vltava River.

After a long drawn out photo safari, which caused some tension between me and the now very hungry Sloane, as it usually does, we ended up at a Mexican restaurant. We both agreed we had enough of trying the local food and wanted to feast on some cheese and salsa. We went to a spot that our host recommended, and it was killer. The only down side was they didn't take credit cards, which we didn't find out until it was time to pay the bill. I ended up having to sneak into a nearby hotel's lobby to use the ATM and got reprimanded by the staff for not being a guest, but was able to grab the cash before being booted out. We made our way back home, and crashed quickly due to our extreme over eating.

Monday September, 11th 2017

I woke up early, of course and found the sky much clearer than it had been the day before. I didn't have enough time to get down to the water for sunrise, so I quickly climbed out one of our windows and scaled the roof scaffolding that was permanently affixed for maintenance. It was a perfect spot to set up a tripod and watch the fog burn off as the sun rose.

Sitting on the roof during sunrise.

St. Nicholas Church and Prague Castle in the background.

Super Shaky video of my sunrise view.

After the successful sunrise adventure on the roof, I carefully made my way back down to the safety of the apartment. All the noise I had been making climbing down woke Sloane up, so that task was taken care of. We showered and prepped for the day, which started out as any normal American day, at starbucks right down the street. After Sloane was caffeinated and we had some grub, we hopped on a tram and made our way to the rear entrance of Prague Castle, hoping to beat the crowds. We failed at that. We stood in line, sandwiched between two tour groups. One group, whose ancient members were loudly passing gas and pretending that it never happened, and another group, whose leader didn't stop talking the entire 20 minutes we were there, unfortunately in Russian, so we didn't get any free information. This was quite a different scene than the one we had encountered the day before in the late afternoon, where we were basically alone. If you don't like crowds, this is not the place for you.

Sloane at the side of St. Vitus Cathedral.

We made our way through the security line, and found the ticketing office, where there is a seriously confusing menu of what you can buy tickets to. We ended up with tickets to see the church, the old living quarters, some exhibit on the history of the castle and a few other things. A lot of stuff you can view the outside of for free, but to get into them you need the special ticket. Turns out, the church you are allowed to go into withoutd a ticket, but you need one to walk around the inner perimeter - we would have been happy just poking our heads in, but since we paid, we followed the mass of people around the edges, pushing and straining to break free from the large group ahead and behind us.

This is what is was like inside the cathedral. Pushing your way through tourists is a necessary skill - these folks had zero awareness of personal space.

An amazingly huge space, filled with people and smart phone photographers.

An amazingly huge space, filled with people and smart phone photographers.

Believe it or not, more people!

This guy was really putting his beer gut to good use here, polishing one of the many artifacts at the church.

An oddly quiet hallway, amongst the crowds.

After surviving the cathedral, we made our way to a much less visited exhibit - the history of Prague castle. This one was a bunch of reading, and slightly interesting, although sleepy. The nice part was there was a total of 8 people in there with us, not a popular one among the tour groups. We had our fill of reading and decided to join back up with the masses in visiting the old Royal Palace. The architecture here was stunning, I managed to find some shots not full of people.

A doorway in the old Royal Palace.

Some serious detail on the ceiling.

A view from one of the bed chambers, overlooking the river and city.

"Hurry up and stand here before 300 people fill this walkway." Sloane in the old dining hall, they actually used to have jousting matches in here.

Coats upon coats of arms.

Some mural, somewhere, in a castle building.

After our quick tour of the old palace, it was almost noon, and time for the changing of the guard. We had heard it was popluar, but had no idea just how popular. Sloane found a royal guard who didn't seem too busy and inquired where the best place to see the ceremony was. He instructed us to look through a gate from inside the castle walls. We decided we didn't quite understand what he was saying, and exited the castle instead, to a sea of humanity - a now normal sight. We found a place near a fence where we could see a little, but after being swarmed by a large group, I decided to take me leave and left Sloane to fend for herself. I found a place at the back of the crowd, where I tried to capture an image of the humanity that was pointing selfie sticks and tablets at the ceremony. Sloane joined me shortly after I left, saying she had a good view, until someone from behind her stuck a tablet on a selfie stick over her shoulder and basically planted it in front of her face. No respect for personal space.

All of our closest friends recording the show for their families.

We decided to make our way back into the castle before the ceremony had ended, so we didn't have to wait in a huge line for security yet again. Our tickets still gave us access to 4 or 5 more things, so we found a few of them and checked them out. The most exciting part was a row of old homes that used to serve as shops and homes for the castles non-royal residents. It would have been even cooler if these tiny little homes were not over stuffed with people. We had enough and made our way back down to the main street in MalaStrana, where we hopped on a tram to take us to a very late lunch at an amazing Thai restaurant. After a relaxing lunch, we walked our selves back over toward the Charles bridge, stopping at a famous graffiti area, known as the Lennon wall - pretty boring stuff there. We paused for a few minutes on the bridge to take a selfie with all the people, who were great at photobombing.

Charles Bridge with all the people.

Our plan was to go see the Jewish Musuem, so we walked to the Jewish quarter, which we had been to the day before. We chatted with a woman at the ticketing booth who instructed us that it wasn't one building, it was a walking tour of 5 or 6 different places - something we had no interest in doing. So - we made our way to a tram, which then took us to an area of town called Karlin with almost zero tourists, it was lovely. We had some fancy coffee - I even drank some, the Thai food lunch was lulling me to sleep. After our coffee break we checked out a local design shop, but it paled in comparison to our Scandinavian experience, so we didn't stick around very long. We opened our tourist book, in the non-tourist area and found what was suppose to be a happening bar (U Slovanské Lípy). We were the only people there, but we had a few pints anyway - killing some time before heading back to the tourist spots. Our plan was to meet up with a local guy who had been a professor of a friend back in the day. We had a hard time connecting with him, and it turned out he couldn't make it to us. We found ourselves a public toilet, in an odd little shopping mall, and sat down to figure out our evening. We took a detour back to old town to see the Astronomical Clock once more - click this link if you haven't heard of it - pretty damn cool, but again, all the people. I took zero pictures because the entire building was under renovation and it was very unimpressive covered in scaffolding and safety netting. We ended up having dinner at a cool little place called Mistral Cafe near the old town square, and the food was on point.  We slowly walked home, stopping to take a few more photos of the Prague Castle from the riverside, and listening to some live music on the Charles Bridge. We poured some wine and went out to our patio to enjoy our last night. Turns out it was September 11th, and we had a view of the US embassy from the patio - they had two spotlights pointed upwards in remembrance. Our intentions were to finish the bottle of wine we had purchased in Krems, since we couldn't take it home with us, but we ended up showering and promptly going to sleep.  

Septemper 11th memorial at the US embassy.

September 12th, 2017

Sloane and I both slept in a little, but were up by 8:30 or so to begin the epic chore of packing our belongings for our trip home. After we had located all of our stuff and smashed it back into the suitcases from which it had exploded one last time, we made our way outside to find a spot for breakfast. After lots of wondering around and finding a lot of places closed - we ended up eating a quick meal at the restaraunt that shared an entrance with our apartment building. We had a nice little meal and climbed the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment one last time, to fetch our luggage. We called an Uber and waited sadly for him to arrive on our corner, soaking up the last of this fairy tale town. Our flight home was a bit of hassle. We had booked flights from Prague to Boston, and then separately flights from Boston to Baltimore to save ourselves some money - this of course ended up costing us more money. Our first leg was relatively easy, Prague to Oslo, Norway. Here we had a 3 hour layover, and enjoyed the incredibly well designed Scandinavian airport while we killed time. We purchased food to eat on the plane, as well as some little bottles of wine, since I was positive I didn't book us meals. Turns out I did book meals, and we got free booze to go along with it, and they airline stewards would not let us drink alcohol we purchased elsewhere - waste of 30 bucks. 

Our 8 hour flight from Oslo to Boston boarded on time, and then we sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for other flights who were connecting with this one to arrive. Sloane and I were very nervous - we had to clear customs in Boston, collect our luggage and go back through security to our domestic connection. We had 2.5 hours to do this if we were on time, but our flight didn't leave on time of course, it was about 1.5 hours behind by the time we were in the air. Our plane was a new Boeing 787 dreamliner, and it was the nicest plane I've had the pleasure of flying on for 8 hours. We fought sleep on the way home, since we were time traveling, it was waaaaay past bed time for us in Europe, but in the states it was 8 PM when we landed. We were the first few off the plane, and hurriedly made our way to customs, to stand in line for what seemed like an eternity. We tried to check in for our flight online while in line for customs, but it was too late to do so. We tried calling Southwest, but no luck Once we cleared customs, I bolted for the ticketing counter to see if we could make our flight, while Sloane waited for our luggage. Turns out the Domestic terminal was almost a mile away from the International one, and when I showed up the security lines had all been shut down. I made my way to the SW counter and made plans to reschedule our flight for the following morning. 6 AM flight sounded great to me, we could crash in the airport for a few hours, get breakfast and be home by 8 AM, but Sloane was the voice of reason and decided we needed a bed to sleep in. We re-booked our flight for 10AM and found a somewhat affordable hotel outside of Boston. After a long Uber ride, we made it to the hotel and crashed, real fast. Morning came quick and we were soon back at the airport, and soon after that we had landed in BWI, found an Uber, and were finally home just in time to get back to work.  We definitely ended up paying more for the hotel and Ubers than we had saved booking travel separately, certainly won't be doing that on an international flight again - lesson learned!