One Spectacular Pool in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

As someone who likes to read about travel and far-away places, I come across many places around this planet which I hope to see someday (and some perhaps that are not as interesting to me…).  Sometimes I think I will never get to see places that catch my eye because my imagination fails me:  I fail to picture the how and why of me getting to those places.

One such place for me was an iconic hotel structure in Singapore:  the Marina Bay Sands.  You may have seen this hotel in a magazine or a travel show on TV.  You know, the one with three tall towers holding up what looks like a surfboard.Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoWhile Singapore seems an interesting place, it is certainly too far from my home to go on a whim just because this hotel caught my eye.  But, as things sometimes unfold, what seems a random window of opportunity opened up for me to go to Singapore.  If you have been following my recent writings, going with a friend to a wedding in Bali took me to -what to me is- a far corner of the world.  The happy couple actually lives in Singapore so the chance to see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel came up.Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoBut just seeing it was not enough – I had to stay there:  I wanted to enjoy the 57th floor infinity pool!  And so I did.  Sadly, my visit to Singapore was only over two nights and one day (Bangkok and Angkor Wat were also on the itinerary) so I only got to relax poolside one long afternoon.  But it was WAY cool and well worth it.

We arrived at the hotel at night and we learned the pool was already closed but that certainly was not going to keep me from going up there to see the view!  The gentleman had just closed the pool area but was kind enough to let us walk in.  Check out the amazing night view!Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

The next day, when we got to the pool in the early afternoon, the skies were incredibly dark.  I expected the storm to come our way and the pool summarily closed.  So with no time to waste, I urged my friend Phil to jump in quickly so I could snap his photo and then we would swap places and at least we each would have “the” picture of the city behind the edge of the infinity pool.

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Dark skies! (Me on the right… thanks Phil I. for the photo)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, storm, photo

My quick jump in the pool (thanks again Felipe!)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoGod smiled upon us.  Not only did lightning NOT strike while we were in the pool for the prize-winning photos, but the storms stayed away and we got to enjoy a whole afternoon poolside, even if under a cloud cover.  Lunch and drinks were part of the picture as was people watching – and some pretend-jumps off the pool into infinity.

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Great seating all around

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Chill time!

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Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Great place to teach a kid to swim!

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

One of the many “great” jump-off photos (because no one else thought to take one before)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

He was never seen again after this jump-off…

I have to say that those few hours may have been short and the day may not have been picture perfect but I would not trade a minute of enjoying that pool and those views!

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Spectacular view of the city

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Look at all those ships!

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

View of old Singapore

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

View towards the financial district

What to know about the hotel

  • The hotel is conveniently located across casinos and a luxurious shopping mall, if you are interested in those things.
  • A neat pedestrian bridge can be accessed from the shopping center to get to town.  It offers great views back towards the hotel.
  • Only hotel guests can enter the pool area; they control access which makes sense as space is limited.
  • There are a few different seating areas poolside.  I enjoyed the pool chairs right at the edge of the pool but you can be further removed from the water action (yea, we got splashed a couple of times by kids playing in the pool but no big deal).
  • There is a kids’ pool.
  • There are restaurants and bars up at the top of the hotel and those are accessible to non-guests.  It is enjoyable up there!
  • You can choose city-viewing rooms or sea-viewing rooms (where you can see all the ships going through the straits or going to port).
Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

One happy puppy!

I paid for every penny of my stay (no discount or freebie or anything else from the hotel) – I just wanted to share this amazing place!

 

The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa: Something for Everyone!

Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, view, vista, hotel, travel, photo, blue sky, East Grand Traverse Bay

I had the opportunity to head north to Michigan recently to explore the town and area around Traverse City.  Mind you, I had only learned about Traverse City a couple of years ago when I read about it from one of my favorite travel blogs, The Working Mom’s Travels.  So, always ready to explore new places, I did not hesitate to make the trip even though I could only go for a weekend.

Getting there required a connection for me coming from Atlanta but, frankly, it was easy as a Michigan cherry pie as Detroit is a great airport, easy to navigate and with many flights in and out to my place of origin and my destination.  Traverse City is but 10 minutes away from the airport, a straight drive in.

I arrived at my place of stay, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in no time.  The courtesy airport pickup was excellent and my driver, Aaron, did a great job of giving me an intro to the area.  His friendliness was just the first one I experienced after arriving but it was not to be the only one at the GT Resort and Spa!  (I like the GT abbreviation they use because I went to university at another GT:  Georgia Tech!)Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, view, vista, hotel, travel, photo, blue sky,

When I arrived, the place was packed as there was a convention that weekend but everything flowed smoothly, with check-in being lightning fast.  The Grand Lobby is large and has multiple seating areas (so many hotels these days forget to make their lobby inviting; I like it when they feel almost like a living room) including one in front of a fireplace, another in front of a piano, and a couple of others, including a small bar area.

Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, view, vista, hotel, travel, photo, blue sky,

Lobby at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa

The hotel has about 600 rooms, a combination of standard hotel rooms, suites, and condos, some privately owned.  Wifi is free and it’s everywhere – now THAT scores high on my list of amenities, as I am sure does for everyone.  It gets so old to go to a hotel where you have to pay for it…  Come on, people, move on to the 2010s before the 2020s get here!

Since I arrived later in the afternoon, I decided to stay in and not go into town (I knew that would be on my agenda on the next day anyway).  So I opted to check out the health club facilities and explore some of the resort.  I guess I am not surprised their health club was larger and more complete than a standard hotel as this is not a standard hotel.  Plenty of treadmills, elliptical, rowing machine, etc. and not of the archaic kind (mental note:  add this to my hotel pet peeves list…).  The health club overlooks a large indoor tennis facility that apparently is well known.  I didn’t count how many courts but at least 5, if not more.  So if you pick the right piece of equipment and your timing is right, instead of watching TV, you may be able to watch a live tennis match!  Next door is a large indoor pool entertainment area with stuff for kids of all ages to enjoy.  Pretty neat place.

Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, hotel, travel, photo, pool, recreation

Pool area

With the workout done ahead of eating a big meal (see how I plan ahead??), it was time to shower and get a cat nap in.  The bed and pillows were so comfortable it took me no time to get to that nap.

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Look at that bed!! All comfort!

Recharged, I decided it was time to discover some Michigan wines since I had never tried one before.  Yes, I had planned to taste some wines the next day as part of Leelanau Peninsula’s Sip & Savor festival but I am nothing if not a student and a learner, so no harm in pre-research 🙂  The resort’s up-high restaurant and bar, the Aerie Restaurant and Lounge, sits on the 16th floor of the tower at the Grand Traverse.  I really liked the openness of the bar and restaurant with great views of the East Grand Traverse Bay and the golf course at the resort. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that day so the setting’s incredible sunset views were not going to happen for me but I can only imagine how spectacular the sunset must be from up there.

Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, view, vista, architecture, hotel, travel, photo

The Aerie offers great vistas 360 degrees

Having sampled a couple of wines, I proceeded to have dinner.  There is not bad table at the Aerie since they all have a window view.  In the area where I sat, the booths away from the windows are slightly raised above the floor so you also can get a pretty unobstructed view from them – and so I did.  I enjoyed a blackened trout and a spinach salad that were tasty and fresh.  I capped the meal with their version of a bananas foster which consisted of a small scoop of cinnamon ice cream, dark chocolate pot de crème, chocolate mousse chips, bruleed bananas, and banana cheesecake.  Pretty.  Dang.  Delicious.  I got to my room and in no time I had fallen asleep fully clothed…  That’s a good night!

Aerie Restaurant, dinner, bananas foster, chocolate mousse, Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, hotel, travel, photo, bed

The awesome dessert that closed up my meal

Though some signs of the age of the wing I stayed were evident (other wings are newer), for the most part a good effort has been made to update the spaces, especially the rooms and bathrooms.  The room I stayed at had two double beds and was quite large with a side view towards the East Grand Traverse Bay with Old Mission Peninsula in the background – not bad!

Though I am not a golfer, if you are, this may be a perfect place for you.  Their main golf course, aptly named “The Bear,” is a Jack Nicklaus signature course and I hear it is for those who like a good challenge!  They have two other golf courses in the 900-acre property, one a Gary Player signature course (“The Wolverine”) and another designed by William Newcomb (the more pleasantly named “Spruce Run”).  Looking out the window of the Aerie, I was begrudging not having pursued learning how to golf!  (I did briefly try in the late 1990s but if you keep missing the ball when you tee off, you know it is time to pursue other interests…)

On the day of my departure, I went for a massage at the spa.  Work had been hectic the week before and my last massage was four months ago so I was overdue for one to help set me right.  A mid-morning massage, a couple of hours before heading to the airport, was the right thing to close up the weekend visit.  Using cherry infused oils (I was worried the smell would be too much but it was actually subtle), the relaxation massage was just what I needed before returning home to face the work week after such a fun weekend.

I am glad I invested my time and money to visit Traverse City and in an upcoming post, you will see what else contributed to making this such a fun and excellent weekend!

Have YOU been to Traverse City and its vicinity?  What is your favorite spot?  I leave you with the view from my room towards the East Grand Traverse Bay!

Grand Traverse Resort, Traverse City, Michigan, view, vista, hotel, travel, photo, blue sky, East Grand Traverse Bay

View towards East Grand Traverse Bay

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I was hosted at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa during this visit.  Opinions all ilivetotravel’s.

2013: Oh, The Places I Stayed At

bar, Minneapolis Hotel, Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, architecture, Olympus

OK, ending with a preposition is not proper but to make it sound Dr. Seuss-ish I hardly could have made it “Oh, the places at which I stayed.”

In any case, I shared my year in food and beverages in an earlier post.  But 2013 was also a good year in terms of exploring places to stay.  Here are the highlights of my year in accommodations!

Moshi, Tanzania

While in Moshi working with the Kili Centre orphanage, we stayed at two different hotels:  one before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and one after.  Each is special for different reasons.

The Honey Badger Lodge had a great feel in the grounds and other public areas (bar and pool area) as well as spacious rooms / cabanas.  The owners and staff were incredible.  It was amazing to be greeted by the friendly wait staff by name every day!

Honey Badger Lodge,Moshi, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, lodging, hotel, travel, photo, Olympus

Notice the monkey out for a walk in the beautiful gardens of the Honey Badger Lodge

After coming down from the mountain, we went to the Springlands Hotel.  This place was special because it is where we got to celebrate our success in climbing the mountain (100% of our group of 16 summitted!).

Springlands Hotel, Moshi, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro, lodging, hotel, travel, photo, Olympus

The ground of the Springlands Hotel

Mt. Kilimanjaro

One of the biggest pulls on me to consider doing Kili again are some of the great views afforded by some of the camps in which we stayed.  Shira Camp on day 2 and Karanga Camp on day 4 were just stunning for me.  Tell me what you think!

Shira Camp, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru, cimbing, hiking, photo, beauty, Olympus, Africa, Tanzania

Shira Camp with the summit and a nice set of clouds behind it

Karanga Camp, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru, cimbing, hiking, photo, beauty, Olympus, Africa, Tanzania

Looking at the top of Kili from Karanga Camp

Washington, D.C.

I stayed at a few different hotels over my two years of constant travel up there for work.  The Mayflower definitely was my number one choice though some of that is because it was the closest one to work.

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

The newly renovated lobby and new restaurant bar: Edgar. A place I enjoyed hanging out at

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

Elegant main corridor by the ballrooms

Mayflower, hotel, Washington, DC, hotel, lodging, travel, photo, architecture, historical, Olympus

Rooms were spacious and with the right amount of furnishings – not overdone

The Sofitel D.C. was not usually in range of my approved budget but even if I did not get to stay there, I loved trying the specialty cocktails of Le Bar.  I got to check out the W Hotel, right near The White House.  Though the room’s window did not close properly and it took a while to resolve the situation, the hotel was gracious in making it up to me.  It was a nice touch.  I love the modernity of the rooms (as with any Ws) and the great view from the room I finally got settled into!

W Hotel, Washington, D.C., lodging, accommodations, travel, photo, Olympus

View towards the Dept of Treasury (right) looking towards the south lawn of The White House

W Hotel, Washington, D.C., lodging, accommodations, travel, photo, Olympus

Great lines and furnishings in the room. And the translucent shower wall.

Other mainstays of my time there were the Renaissance on 9th St NW, near Chinatown, and the Renaissance in New Hampshire.  Of the former, I really liked the lobby, a space where I would happily sit for happy hour or a Friday night out with friends.  It also had the nicest executive lounge in the U.S. properties of hotels affiliated with Marriott.  Of the latter, I loved its location: closer to Georgetown, right by residential areas, walking distance from the Kennedy Center, and easy access to running trails without having to deal with too many street crossings and heavy traffic.  Also, very close to Dupont Circle which was nice in terms of having a broad range of dining options – and watching the unique character of the area!

Jordan

In Jordan we stayed all over the country and in many different types of accommodations.  I wrote specifically about all these different type of accommodations experienced here so I will not duplicate here what I have already shared (but do check that post out!).  However, I will share here more about the Six Senses Spa where we stayed two nights because I don’t feel I shared how unique a place this is, in the middle of nowhere (it feels), nestled in a narrow canyon that hosts the hot springs the place is known for.

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

The lower hot springs are behind the building on the picture (taken from the hotel)

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Looking at the hotel from the entrance to the area

While management’s attention to the guest needed a little bit of polishing, the staff itself made every effort possible to deliver a great experience.  The rooms’ use of wood panels instead of curtains on the balconies’ doors was very unique and provided a warmth to the room that I really liked.  But take a look at the spa area from behind the falls!

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

The public hot springs

spa, Jordan, Six Senses, Evanson, hot springs, travel, relaxation, photo

From behind the waterfall in the public hot springs

Manila, The Philippines

In my short trip to Manila, I stayed at two hotels, The Bayleaf Hotel and The Manila Marriott.  I wrote previously about how the former provided the best location to explore the Intramuros district of Manila whereas the latter was a paradise of relaxation. While The Bayleaf had less glamour than the Manila Marriott, its convenience to learn about Manila’s history was great.  Both shone because of the incredible attention to service and the customer by their staffs.

Minneapolis

While visiting Minneapolis, I stayed at The Hotel Minneapolis, from Marriott’s Autograph Collection.  It was my first time trying a property from the Autograph Collection so I was curious how it would be.   I really liked its spacious lobby and its location, close to the river, the theater district, and the business district. I walked everywhere downtown from the hotel.  The rooms, though not huge, were well-enough sized.  The building dates from the earlier 20th century when it was built as a bank.  I was really impressed by how cleverly the time and function of the building were tapped and applied to create great public spaces in the hotel.  If I were there on a business trip, I would definitely enjoy lounging in the lobby spaces after working hours.  The friendliness of the staff topped off what was a great stay.

Minneapolis Hotel, Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, Olympus

The lobby is a comfortable space to lounge around after work or during a weekend stay

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Some original details of the bank, like this vault, are preserved

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Bar design takes advantage of the original architectural details

Minneapolis Hotel,architecture,  Autographi Collection, hotel, lobby, historical, Minneapolis, travel, lodging, accommodation, Olympus

High ceilings and marble columns add a lot of character to the lobby spaces

Hope everyone has a great holidays and I wish you the best in 2014!

I was hosted at the Jordan, Minneapolis and Manila hotels.  All opinions are my own based on my experiences and observations.

Manila Relaxation

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, beautiful, decoration, furnishings, , Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

I love to travel and explore new places.  I enjoy it a lot.  But I also like to relax and do not much of anything worth writing about.  Yes, I have been known to cram a lot into a trip when I set my mind to it (like my Croatia/Bosnia & Herzegovina/Montenegro chaser to my week in Rome a year ago).  But the diversity of experiences is what draws me to travel and that does not just mean different geographies and cultures – that also means pace.  While I am not much of a beach bum (a couple of hours and I am itching to do SOMETHING), I appreciate what people find in just laying about and letting the world go on.

In my short visit to Manila I was intending to see all I could about the city in 3 days.  However, there was something liberating in knowing that I could not experience all that the city is in three days so that gave me the opportunity to take the pressure off myself to do all I could (and especially after day one when I realized this is a place I would want to come back to).  But what really sealed the deal was my hotel.  It says something when a hotel makes you want to stay in and, I imagine, many hotels aim for that.  The Marriott Manila had that effect on me.  Amazingly, I was not jet lagged and needing to rest.  (Jet lag actually did not affect me with sleepiness or confused time zones, something confusing in and of itself.)  I. Just. Wanted. To. Be. There.

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, chocolate, sculpture, carving, art, interesting, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

They love chocolate carvings/sculptures at the hotel – here one of the current President

The spaces

The room was spacious and comfortable (without being a suite).  All the offerings/amenities of the room worked without a hitch (yes, EVEN the wi-fi).  There was actually great lighting in the room (read #4 in my top 5 hotel pet peeves).  The shower/tub combination was quite unique as was the division between it and the main room – clever.

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, luxury, interior design, photo, Olympus, travel, innovation. comfort

Look at the white half-wall in the background…

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, luxury, interior design, photo, Olympus, travel, innovation, comfort

… and all of a sudden it opens up to “connect” the room to the shower!

The Executive Lounge, unlike most U.S. Marriotts, was huge.  At non-peak times, it is easy to find a spot and feel like you are on your own, which is nice if you have work to do.

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, luxury, interior design, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, lounge, comfort

The lounge

The lounge faces the golf course which gives it a great view…

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, room, hotel, lodging, view, interior design, photo, Olympus, travel, lounge, comfort

View of the city from the lounge (unfortunately, on a rainy day)

The lobby is a series of spaces designed to flow well and pull you in.  The main seating area seamlessly integrates into the bar.  You just want to hang there.  And do people watching…

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Lobby space

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, beautiful, decoration, furnishings, , Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Lobby space

… or have a drink.

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The bar area faces the edge of the golf course. I like the light fixtures

Finally, facing the golf course, there are nice outdoor areas for those times when you get cold indoors (the A/C really is PUMPING!) or want to jump in the pool.

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, outdoor area, relaxation, comfort, hotel, lodging, travel, Olympus

Outdoor seating area right by the bar

Manila, Philippines, Marriott, outdoor area, relaxation, comfort, hotel, lodging, travel, Olympus, pool

Though a rainy day, a nice pool area

The food

On my first full night in Manila, after having done a walking city tour in the rain, I decided to eat in at the hotel.  Since I had a slight sore throat, I asked for some chicken noodle soup.  Boy, was that a chicken noodle soup!  It was beautifully served and was delicious: with noodles, greens, diced up chicken, and carrots.  I don’t think I have used the phrase “beautifully served” before but the solid ingredients were nicely set up in the main oblong bowl with the broth actually brought in a separate teapot-like container.  I especially appreciated it because I wanted to shower before eating and the way they served it allowed me to not have to eat it as soon as it was brought to my room.

The next day, I had the choice of taking breakfast in the Executive Lounge, a hangout spot for a regular like me (the one in Santiago’s Marriott, I called my living room when I stayed there most of 2010!), or go to the Marriott Café.  I opted for the latter to see what food they would offer in the buffet.  It did not disappoint as it clearly had many local specialties some of which I tried and some that I did not want at breakfast (e.g., anchovies).

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, delicious, food, cuisine, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Kakiage (like tempura, in the back) and chicken tonkatsu (on the front) – delicious

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On the fishier side of breakfast…

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, delicious, food, cuisine, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Some good-looking sushi

Location

The Marriott Manila sits very close to the Manila airport in an area called Resorts World.  I am not 100% clear on the plans for the area but there are other hotels, shopping center, etc. and a lot of development going on in the area; it looks like a small town is actually sprouting.  While one half of the hotel looks over the domestic part of the airport, the other half overlooks a very nice and lush golf course with the Manila skyline in the distance.  I am not sure how it is during regular weekday hours but my ride to the business center of Makati was pretty easy and fast on mid-day Saturday.

I have to admit that before I came, I assumed that given its location (near the airport and not far from the Makati business district), the Marriott would mainly appeal to business travelers.  Once I stepped in it, I saw how off my assumption was.  Lots of leisure travelers AND many locals coming for events at the hotel.

Service – leaving the best for last (but proverbial “not least”!)

I mentioned earlier my slight sore throat.  I stopped at the front desk and asked when I came in from sightseeing to find out where I could get some lozenges or something to alleviate my discomfort.  The informed me that connected to the hotel, right after the entrance to the mall was a medical clinic.  I thought to myself how convenient that was.  Not only convenient but freeWith a doctorOn a Saturday evening.  Yes, indeed.  Imagine that ANYWHERE in the U.S.!  They really are prepared to take care of guests!  The doctor just recommended something to gargle which the hotel concierge went to get for me.  It really says something about a hotel when they can handle not only the “normal” stay but when something like this arises.

Which leads me to my top takeaway from this stay… The amazing staff at the hotel.  They are well prepared to make you comfortable and assist you.  They smile and it actually feels genuine.  No wonder I just wanted to stay in, right?!

I have stayed at many Marriotts in my work life and logged many “career stay nights”.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, one of the things Marriotts do best is give the business traveler a consistent experience so that you feel you are somewhere familiar.  But the Manila Marriott simply blew me away.  Few hotels have made me feel so welcome, comfortable, and cared for.  You can bet that if – no, when – I return to Manila, I will be making a stop here!

Thanks to the Manila Marriott for hosting part of my stay.  Opinions are my own as always.

How Best to Explore Intramuros in Manila

Palacio del Gobernador, Governor's Palace, , Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Intramuros is the old district of Manila, the capital of the Philippines.  It carries a lot of history and meaning within its walls as I shared with you in a prior post.  Though it is quite distinctive and historic, it is not your typical tourist haven.   That is actually what makes it an appealing place to visit for me:  it is first and foremost a national treasure for the country itself, not just for tourists.  As a national treasure its reconstruction and growth are managed by the Intramuros Administration (IA).  Maintaining the integrity of the district is very important to the IA and that is a good thing for current and future generations.

Some of the highlights of Intramuros

The first thing that will catch your attention is the city walls and all the forts, gates, bulwarks, ravelins and redoubts (clearly, I picked up some words related to military fortifications!).  A good starting point in this network is Fort Santiago.  The fort was built by the Spanish starting in the late XVI century.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

The entrance to Fort Santiago from the land side, repaired after WWII

Through the centuries it has changed due to earthquakes, attacks, or modifications.  During WWII it suffered great damage.  Today, it is set up well for visitors.  You first enter a plaza or park and then cross the moat (which is an arm of the Pasig River) to enter the main part of the fort.

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The moat in front of the entrance to Fort Santiago

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You can walk along the walls and look across the river.

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Walk along the walls of the fort!

And you can see the place where the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal, was imprisoned right before his execution in 1896.  A poignant detail you will notice is that his footsteps from his prison to the place of his execution are marked on the ground.

Jose Rizal, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, history, national hero, Filipino

Lifelike statue of Rizal in his former cell

Jose Rizal, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, history, national hero, Filipino, footsteps

Rizal’s walk to his execution

After you are done in Fort Santiago, a short walk takes you to the Manila Cathedral, which has been destroyed and reconstructed more than a handful of times since it was first built in the late XVI century.

Manila Cathedral, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

The Cathedral

The Cathedral shares the Plaza de Roma (used to be called the Plaza de Armas, a key spot in any Spanish colonial town) with the former Governor’s Palace (also destroyed in the past) which now houses government offices, including the Intramuros Administration.

Palacio del Gobernador, Governor's Palace, , Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

The Governor’s Palace

San Agustín Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines, is one of the few buildings still standing in Intramuros that pre-date WWII.  Though it suffered a little damage, it is mostly still the same structure.  Along with three other churches in the Philippines, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Legazpi, the founder of the city of Manila is buried here.  And if you get to visit, check out the ceiling – it plays a trick on the eye:  though it looks elaborately decorated, all that you see is painted on a smooth surface!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Interior of the church – everything on the arches and ceiling is painted on!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Detail in the interior of the church

Though I call out Fort Santiago, the city walls with all its different components are good places to explore and get up on to check out the views.  Worth noting that right outside the city walls, the former moat was reclaimed during the American period and a full 18-hole golf course established!

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, Olympus

City wall fortifications with the golf course in the background

How to see Intramuros

Depending on the reason for your visit to Manila and how much time you have,  how you do Intramuros may vary.  But whether you only have half-a-day or two days to spare, you should find a guide to show you around for 2-4 hours.  There is a lot behind what you see in Intramuros and you will miss more than half of the story if you only walk around without a guide.  I had a neat tour guide who, though a little too freely-sharing and opinionated, nevertheless presented Manila’s story in a very compelling way.

You can walk the district (it is not too big) or use a calesa to get around a little more comfortably, especially on a hot day.  The good part about walking is that you can meander around with more freedom and take better pictures!

Calesa, Manila, Philippines, Intramuros, transportation, local, travel

Calesas on the run

Finally I would recommend not only visiting Intramuros but staying there one or two nights to soak in the district.  While it is not the most lively area in the evening, there is a perfect spot to explore the old town, watch the sun set, and enjoy the evening breeze:  The Bayleaf Hotel.

The unique Bayleaf Hotel

The Bayleaf is unique in several ways.  For starters, it is actually the only hotel within the city walls.  Secondly, it is the tallest building in Intramuros.  Thirdly, it is well-known to be very welcoming:  I researched the hotel in TripAdvisor where it had the top rank from other travelers’ reviews, always a nice benchmark for me especially with so many reviewers opining.  In fact, the Bayleaf also received TripAdvisor’s 2013 Circle of Excellence award.  Finally, it is one of the best spots to watch the sun set in Manila (even locals suggested we go there without knowing I was staying there!).

Manila, Bayleaf Hotel, Philippines, Intramuros, hotel, lodging, modern, Olympus

Lobby of the Bayleaf

The Bayleaf is a boutique hotel, well-priced, and possessing a neat color scheme indoors as you would expect in the tropics (my floor and room were my favorite color:  orange) while the outside of the building maintains the exterior that makes it a clear part of Intramuros.  It sits right by the city walls and Victoria St., a very colorful street worth walking.  So clearly this is where I would recommend staying when exploring Intramuros both for the convenience and charm.

Manila, Bayleaf Hotel, Philippines, Intramuros, hotel, lodging, modern, Olympus, orange

My room at the Bayleaf

A sunset that never happened but I did get a good view

I was a guest of the hotel for one night to see how great its location is and, hopefully, get one of the best sunset views in Manila over Manila Bay from its Sky Deck rooftop terrace.

Bayleaf Hotel, Sky Deck, rooftop terrace, Manila, Philippines, sunset, Intramuros

The terrace and part of the view

Unfortunately, watching the sunset from the Sky Deck became impossible as it rained really hard that day so not sunset to be seen (so the photo above is not mine but from the hotel’s site).  While the sunset was a no-go, I enjoyed an adobo (a typical Filipino dish of pork and chicken in  soy and vinegar sauce) at the 9 Spoons restaurant which sits right below the Sky Deck terrace.

Manila, Bayleaf Hotel, Philippines, Intramuros, hotel, lodging, modern, Olympus, food, cuisine, adobo

The adobo dish (garnished to the left with a fried egg)

I did go up the next morning to the Sky Deck terrace to soak the awesome 360 degree view it offers.  Being the tallest building in Intramuros, the view is spectacular.  You can see the golf course built in the site of the moat outside of the city walls.  You can see the tall Manila Town Hall right outside the walls, then the National Museum.  And then you can turn around to see all of Intramuros right below you.

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, clouds, sky, Olympus

Looking from the Bayleaf’s Sky Deck towards the Manila Town Hall (notice the golf course)

Manila, Intramuros, Philippines, view, vista, Bayleaf Hotel, cloud, sky, Olympus

View over Intramuros (the Cathedral to the left) towards Manila Bay

I only wish I had been there on a clear sunset, with some tropical beverage and camera in hand…  I guess there is always a return to Manila.  If MacArthur did it, why not me??

Boarding Pass Stories: Little Rock, Arkansas

boarding pass, delta, airline, travel, Little Rock, Arkansas, hotel

Boarding pass series goes to:  Little Rock, Arkansas!!!

boarding pass, delta, airline, travel, Little Rock, Arkansas, hotel

The destination, the when(s), and the reason(s)

A pretty unlikely destination, you may think, but I went there for a few months for business around 2001.  Bill Clinton’s presidency had just ended and the presidential library would be located in this town which seemed to have gotten on the “national mindset map” when he first ran for President.

The airline

Delta was graced with my “passengership” as it was the only airline offering a direct flight.  And ilivetotravel is fond of direct flights!

What fascinated me about this experience

Well, small town as it was relative to Atlanta, Little Rock positively surprised me (fascinated may be too strong a word).  We stayed at the Doubletree downtown and it was neat to be able to run downtown by the Arkansas River and around the Central Business District early in the morning.  The commute to work was not bad and we found a great place to eat Mexican food and enjoy margaritas.  So, though not Paris or DC, we managed to find a way to enjoy this southern town while business took us there!

My Top 5 Inflight Pet Peeves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, sunset, airplane, flying, airplane engine, reflection, sun, plane, flight

As I flew back from a recent trip, having experienced a few random annoyances, my mind immediately sought to mentally catalog all my pet peeves about flying (I did have nine hours to kill…).  A few months ago I shared my hotel pet peeves.  I greatly enjoyed hearing from you on your own hotel pet peeves, so I thought I’d share what came to mind during that flight – and I hope I hear back from you on yours as I am sure five pet peeves cannot be all there is!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, flight, plane, flying, blue sea, flyover, view, view from plane, Tampa Bay

Flying over Tampa Bay, Florida

Nota bene:  I will even skip the obvious one:  what passes for food (or snacks)…  Too easy.

Let’s work our way to the number one pet peeve…

5.  Poorly engineered entertainment systems

Ahhh… I sit down and get comfy.  I turn on the entertainment system.  How cool, I get to watch some movie I have not watched that I have been wanting to see.  And then takeoff rolls around.  Blip.  Entertainment system turns off and when it finally re-starts, we start from scratch.

I have never really thought there was ANOTHER WAY.  Until a recent flight where that did not happen.  I was blown away!  I was able to pick up the movie where I had left off.  What a frigging concept!  And then the system did not shutdown 20 minutes before landing – all that time to kill until I could get up to exit the plane.  I have never understood why the cursed system could not keep me entertained up until the rows ahead of me had cleared out and my turn to walk out had come.  Soup-to-nuts entertainment is what I want on a flight.  Is it THAT hard?  Some engineer somewhere must have the answer!

4.  “8-track age” PA systems

Those public announcement (PA) systems on the plane used by the flight attendants to tell you 100 times during boarding to stow one carry-on under the seat in front of you to save overhead bin space…  Is it impossible in this day and age to get clear sound coming out from speakers???  Please, give me a break!!!  Feedback and noise are easily solvable these days, folks, come ON!  Spend some money on engineering please!  And then the pilot comes up during the flight and you can’t hear a thing.  Really???

3.  Continuing the entertainment theme

My next pet peeve applies to airplane configurations where there is a personal TV screen in the back of a seat and where said screen is a touchscreen.  I imagine you can guess what this one is about… It’s about the fact there always seems to be a boxer behind me who thinks the touchscreen is a punchscreen.  PUNCH.  PUNCH. PUNCH.  Hey, idiot, the force of the punch makes no difference.  TAP IT!  I normally do not confront people when they are being inconsiderate but on this one, after a few rounds of PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH, I will turn around and inform them tapping is preferred.  I have a lot of patience to be sure it was not a one-off PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH but after a round of these, I do turn around…

2.  Slingshot seat

Oh, boy, do I just HATE this…  Especially when I am FINALLY asleep (it is hard for me to fall asleep when flying) and the moron behind me thinks the back of the seat in front of them is PURELY for leverage when they get up.  It is one of the most inconsiderate things in a plane in my book…  Added propulsion as I sit placidly, in turn, in a propelled metal tube…  I will give said fellow passenger a look on the second or third incident and after that, if it is a long flight, I do speak up because I don’t want this game going on for hours…

And, drum roll please, …. the number one inflight pet peeve…

1.  Parents behaving badly

Even more than the slingshot seat, parents behaving badly is about the most intolerable things in a plane.  It is not the screaming child that annoys me.   OK, that does, but I understand that toddlers are not always controllable and I can deal with it.  However, it’s the dumbass parents who think the time we are all trapped in a metal cylinder being propelled through the atmosphere by combustible fuel is the time to demonstrate the ideal child-rearing parental behavior are just FREAKING RUDE.  What do I mean about the ideal cihld-rearing parental behavior?  Well, it is that behavior in which you don’t tell the child “no.”  You just let them go on and on yelling (not crying) though it is an overnight flight because you don’t want to “traumatize them.”  Well let me tell you, some day, someone will step up and yell at them and traumatize that child.  It will not traumatize the child if for once you act like a mature adult and be considerate to others around you!

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So, there they are.  What do you think???  But I don’t want to leave just thinking about why flying can be so annoying.  Because flying also affords us great opportunities to see the world and some magical images of our planet and our sun – as this picture shows!

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One amazing sunset and my plane all captured on the engine!

From Suite to Tent: What Made Accommodations Memorable in Jordan

sunset, Jordan, Dead Sea, birds, palm tree, golden, travel, photo, Olympus

Throughout all my travels, I have experienced different types of accommodations.  A rented apartment in Tuscany, Krakow, Paris and SofiaNo-frills basic hotels in Stone Town, Moshi, Aswan and Brasov.  Bed & breakfasts in Sonoma, the Dordogne, and Tavistock.  Middle-of-the-road hotels in Reston, Stellenbosch and Venice.  Top-of-the-line in Santiago de Chile, Mykonos, Boca Raton, and Washington D.C.  And a camping tent in Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The type of place I stay at is not happenstance – though staying at a youth hostel in my very late 30s in Oslo was due to no hotels being available for my business trip…  quite the experience!   I select the type of place I stay at based on many factors, such as:

  • am I going solo or with others
  • nature of the trip (business or personal)
  • am I staying in one place for the most part or roaming
  • what I want to spend,
  • what am I looking to experience in this vacation (I may only need a bed or I may want to enjoy a royal experience in my lodging).

But seldom do I experience many types of lodging in one trip.  And that’s exactly what I did in my recent trip to Jordan.  My trip to Jordan confirmed for me that that special something is what makes accommodations truly enjoyable and memorable (which is just as important as enjoying them at the moment!) regardless of the type of accommodation.

Here are the places I stayed at and why they each became as memorable a part of my trip as the many of the sights and sites I got to see in awesome Jordan.

Standard nice hotel

I got to continue my Marriott stays quite accidentally (as I did not have a hand in choosing this time), in both Amman and Petra.  Marriotts give you that standard feel that provides continuity for the very frequent traveler who moves around towns and hotels.  I can count on standard amenities, service and comfort in these.

The Amman Marriott first surprises because it feels like it is in the middle of a neighborhood.  Then you have to go through security – and odd thing but one that I am sure they do to keep me safe and unconcerned.  I felt both.  The restaurant offers a great breakfast buffet.  The outdoor pool area is spacious enough but there is ALSO an indoor pool and and jacuzzi so something for everyone’s water preferences.  The hallways in the room floors feel very luxurious and the rooms are nicer than the regular Marriott I have experienced and I separate this from the room I actually got which was an upgrade due to my Platinum Elite status with the chain:  I got quite a nice suite!!!

Marriott Amman Jordan lobby photo Canon EOS Rebel

Amman Marriott: A great lobby to hang out and read your paper

The Petra Marriott is a smaller hotel than the one in Amman – but what it lacks in size (no executive lounge, for example) it makes up for in the view.  The hotel faces the mountains around Petra from a high vantage point which makes it a great place to watch sunset as well!  The breakfast buffet was also smaller when compared to the Amman one and the staff not as “going out of their way” but it was still a good breakfast.

Lobby of Petra Marriott in Jordan

Lobby area

Atrium in the Petra Marriott in Jordan Olympus

Atrium

Beautiful sunset looking towards the mountains by Petra

Sunset view towards Petra and the hotel’s pool area

Clearly the view from the Petra Marriott made it most memorable but that feeling of arriving at a “second home”-type of place was also pretty darn cool.

Roughing it in a camp

One night we actually “roughed” it at Camp Rummana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve where one can see nature at its best is this part of Jordan.  I put rough in quote because, though sleeping in a tent and using a common bathroom facility are not high-styling it, these tents beat the tent I slept in while climbing Kilimanjaro for sure.  The tents were spacious and they had mattresses on the ground.  There was a common bathroom facility (a hike away if you woke up in the middle of the night and “had to go”) with showers and also a dining area where we had our meals.  Closer to the sleeping tents, was a set of large tents to hang out after dinner before bedtime – true to the Bedouin way.

Inside of a tent in Camp Rummana in the Dana Biosphere Reserve Olympus

A mattress and the basics

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The sleeping tent area of the Rummana camp

Dining area in Camp Rummana in Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

The dining area. No, he is not a giant.

Nothing like being so close to nature to make a place memorable and the Rummana Camp definitely connected me with the great setting.

An ecolodge

After the hike through the Dana-Feynan canyon, we arrived exhausted at the Feynan Ecolodge, right in the heart of the Dana Biosphere Reserve.  It has been rated one of the world’s top 50 ecolodges by National Geographic’s Adventure magazine. A partnership between the Royal Conservation Society of Jordan and EcoHotels, this lodge seeks to fit in not only with the terrain but also by respecting the local traditions and culture and providing the opportunity for an economic livelihood for the locals of the area.  There is a LOT that is done right by this ecolodge, so remote from main roads and anything urban yet surrounded by some incredible landscapes and skies as well as by the welcoming Bedouins of the area.

Feynan ecolodge, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan, desert, lodge Olympus

The ecolodge as one approaches it – unassuming!

Feynan is an ecolodge which means little or no electricity available (you can re-charge your device on one of two power outlets in the lobby) which is tough but, at the same time, we are too connected some times so maybe this is a good break?  It also means it only offers vegetarian fare as meat would require refrigeration.  But the food was delicious and quite diverse much to my surprise!  The rooms are very nice; no frills but nice.  Each has its own bathroom.  Oh and water is free – straight from a mineral spring so it is safe to drink!  Now, if it is a hot time of the year, know that the rooms have no fans or A/C (of course) – but you are here for the adventure, right?  Finally, it also has a rooftop telescope – a great place to explore the skies at night.

Room at Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan's Dana Biosphere Reserve Olympus

Room at the ecolodge

Earthen jar or pitcher in the Feynan Ecolodge - mineral watier

Earthen pitcher of mineral water awaits in the room

The ability to get close to the locals without being taken to a “shop” definitely made the Feynan Ecolodge quite memorable to me as was the interesting sunset I got to watch.

A place with an experience

After exploring the Wadi Rum by pick-up truck well into the evening, we arrived at a Captain’s Desert Private Camp to spend the night.  But it was not just to have dinner and spend the night.  There was to be music and more of a soirée experience.  The tents were different than the Rummana Camp‘s but no worse, no better.  There was a nice area to have dinner and hang out, and, in fact, some folks opted to sleep there under the stars.  What was really cool about this place was that it was nested in canyon walls and it was beautiful in the morning.

Captain desert camp in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Tents in Captain’s Desert Camp

Captain desert camp in the Wadi Rum, Jordan

Hanging out at the camp

The Bedouin experience and the setting made the Captain’s Desert Camp quite a memorable place to stay.  I wish I had been feeling 100% that night to enjoy it more!

A hideaway

We got to stay at this hideaway two times each for one night.  The Evason Ma’in Six Senses hotel may have some details to work out, mainly in its managerial/front office efforts, but the place is in an idyllic and very secluded setting.  Further, it provides great comfort in its rooms, offers great views, and is around hot springs that offer great relaxation.

Room at the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Room. Really like the wooden shutter doors and spacious comfort

Lobby of the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Lobby area

Lobby of the Evason Ma'in Six Senses hotel in Jordan

Detail of the lobby area

The uniqueness of the setting and the proximity and relative isolation of the hot springs as well as the inviting rooms made this place a memorable part of my trip.

And the “living-it-up” resort

My last night in Jordan was by the Dead Sea, where great resorts are located.  I stayed at the Mövenpick, a 5-star resort with a great view, a great offering in terms of food and fun, and an interesting design whether in architectural details or in the concept itself.

Movepick resort Dead Sea Jordan luxury comfort

Incredible details in the decorations at the main entrance

The room was not as luxurious as I would have expected but it was comfortable and spacious for sure.

 

The hotel grounds had several pools including one only for adults (closest to the Dead Sea).

Pools Movenpick hotel resort Dead Sea Jordan Olympus

One of the all-ages pool overlooking the Dead Sea

The main hotel building had many different areas to lounge in with very nice decorations and details.  The restaurant was outstanding in the diversity and quality of the buffet it offered for dinner and breakfast.

Room at Movenpick resort Dead Sea Jordan Olympus

Room

Lounge Movenpick resort by the Dead Sea in Jordan Olympus

One of the many sitting areas

At night there was an area that offered music and belly dancing without the corniness typically associated with belly dancing in the U.S. (where there HAS to be audience participation); you could just really appreciate the art form here without worrying you were going to be called upon to make a fool of yourself…

Movenpick Dead Sea Jordan resort outdoor Olympus

Outdoor area for drinks and entertainment in the evening

What made this place the most memorable was the amazing sunset I got to live through and watch…

Sunset Dead Sea pool Movenpick resort Jordan amazing awesome infinity Olympus photo

The lowest of the pools, closest to the Dead Sea during a GREAT sunset

Glorious, eh?

Sunset Dead Sea birds tree Jordan Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Is this a sunset scene or what??!!

Nuff said!

 

During this trip, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

My Top 5 Hotel Pet Peeves

I have stayed in way too many hotels over my professional lifetime and over my pleasure travel lifetime.  A good hotel is a good thing when one is on the road, clearly.  I don’t need perfection – though I know it when I see it and love it – but I also have some pet peeves that REALLY turn me off to a property or even a chain. These are by NO MEANS the biggest problems in the world but, with that, what follows are, in no particular order, what ilivetotravel finds annoying in a hotel experience. 

  1. Bath robes for giants.  Either giants are the vast majority of hotel guests or hotels are slightly clueless.  Yes, I am a short guy but some of these would be evening gown length for most people.  And the average height for a man/woman in this country is not 6′ – that I know of anyway.  I understand a 6’2″ giant needs to cover his/her modest parts to avoid catching a nasty cold but these are below the knee even for them!  The W Hotel in DC did really well in this category with reasonable length robes.  Thank you.
  2. Dark carpets.  No, I have no skills in terms of interior design so this is not an opinion based on the look of the room.  This is about dark carpets affording a hotel the opportunity to be a little more lax with cleaning carpets.  I am not saying hotels with dark carpets do not clean as often as they should BUT why stay somewhere where that opportunity is a little easier?
  3. Drafty windows.  You’d think that this is not a common issue.  And you are right.  But in January this year I had TWO back to back hotel stays where the windows did not properly close.  These were in Chicago and DC during very cold spells.  But besides the cold, I could hear street traffic late at night so I dreaded what it would sound like in the morning.  In both cases, the windows were not closing properly, something I would expect someone would have caught before me.  Both times, I called to have it looked at.  In one case, the hotel immediately just changed rooms for me (giving me an upgrade in the process – GREAT customer relationship building move) and, in the other, I had to call a second time an hour later because no one had come to take care of things… (bad customer relationship building move).
  4. Poor lighting.  This really gets me.  I NEED to see.  I know you are trying to create a mood.  Ever heard of dimmers??  Or at least offer some lamps with good strong light and others without it.  I stayed at a VERY nice DC hotel where none of the lamps seemed to have much of a light bulb making my ability to read anything impossible.  Come on!
  5. The waste culture.  One of the largest hotel chains I have stayed at, across all their brands, seems to do a poor job of minding waste.  That I know of, they don’t participate in any program to recycle used soap, for example.  Or when I hang my towel back, it still gets replaced the next day.  But what really takes the cake is how they take my still half-full little shampoos or lotions and replace them.  I understand you want me to have enough and not run out (thank you for that).  Go ahead, add the new bottle but LEAVE the half-full one there so it doesn’t go to waste.  One little bottle doesn’t make a difference but add this up across all their properties and rooms and nights, and that’s a heck of a lot of not caring about being wasteful.  This chain is not the only one doing this, sadly.

I would love to hear YOUR pet peeves when you stay at a hotel!

Photo of the Week: The Mayflower Hotel Decked out for Christmas

I wrote in an earlier post about this grand hotel of Washington, D.C.:  The Mayflower, a Renaissance Marriott hotel.  I just stayed there again and got to see it decorated for Christmas.  I’d though I’d share this beautiful photo of its lobby area decorated for the holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all!

Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. decorated for Christmas

A Historical Landmark Welcomes Me in Washington, D.C.

Luxurious lobby at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

As I often travel to Washington, D.C. for business, I seek a place to stay where I find both convenience (including very close to work), comfort, and an overall great experience.  The Mayflower Hotel, a Renaissance hotel, is one of my favorites as it combines all these key aspects.

Mayflower Hotel logo in Washington, D.C.

The Mayflower logo!

I normally do not write a post focused only in a hotel but since I have stayed here so many times, and since I enjoy my stays there, I decided it merited a post.  (This is an unsolicited and non-compensated post in any way, shape, or form!)  There are many good reviews of hotels in D.C. out there so if you are looking for more info (the real scoop) on a hotel, all you need to do is a search!

Mayflower Hotel entrance in Washington, D.C. - a Marriott Renaissance property

Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., a Renaissance hotel in the Marriott family

Facade on Connecticut Ave. just north of L. St.

History

This hotel, the longest running hotel in the capital, has quite a story.  Located about four blocks away north of the White House, it was built in the 1920s and opened in 1925.  It is supposed to be the largest luxury hotel in D.C. and that is quite impressive given some other strong challengers in the category that I have not explored.

Many famous events have taken place here or many famous guests/residents have stayed here.  The hotel has signs in many places outlining some of its history – it is pretty neat to read them.  The hotel used to have a part that was dedicated to apartments where, for example, Sen. John F. Kennedy stayed.  Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Ball was held here and, since FDR days, the hotel has hosted inauguration day parties.  Truman stayed here as President during some of the repairs of the White House that took place during his time.  J. Edgar Hoover had lunch here regularly during his prime.  Lots of history make this hotel quite unique.

Mayflower Hotel signs sharing its rich history

There are signs everywhere in the hotel highlighting its rich history

Of course, some of the history is notorious… including that it allegedly hosted JFK’s mistress, where Monica Lewinsky stayed at some point when the scandal with Clinton was unfolding, and where then Governor of NY, Eliot Spitzer paid for a high-end prostitute’s services…  These don’t have signs around the hotel – that I have found anyway!

Around the ground floor of the hotel

The hotel, currently in the midst of major renovations in the front of the house (the new check-in counters are finished, now they are working on the ground level bar/café), has a style that does take one back to the glamor and style of the era in which it was born (or thereabouts).  Nothing like the ground level of the hotel or the elevator area to the former apartment section of the building to appreciate the elegance characteristic of this hotel.  A lot of these details were hidden in renovations done a long time ago as an effort to modernize the hotel but, fortunately, the beautiful original details have been uncovered and restored.

Lobby area of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Luxurious lobby at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Area on the ground floor where the main ballrooms are

Elevator lobby at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. in the former apartment tower

The rooms, though renovated, are detailed to connect well with the rest of the building.  A great example are the cabinets around the bathroom sinks.

Hallway at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C., a Renaissance property

The Executive Lounge

One of my most prized features as a frequent business traveler is access to a nice lounge where I can get water, perhaps a simple breakfast, and if I am lucky free drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  The Mayflower’s has most of these but, like other Marriott chain hotels in the U.S., wine and beer are not free (this is different than international properties and, for that, I am thankful!).  But then the hors d’oeuvres sometimes are like a real meal.  So, on a busy day, I don’t have to bother going on or ordering from the room service menu (which gets rather repetitive).

But my favorite part about this lounge versus others is how large it is!  As large as it is, some mornings it can be hard to find a table to sit at but more often than not, that is not a problem.  The spaciousness of the lounge makes it a great place to hang out as it also has a couch and couple of related chairs.

I will never forget that after the quake of 2011, when the office building I worked at closed, it was the lounge I came to to avoid sitting around in my room for more hours than were necessary!

The gym

One of the features that most hotels get so wrong is their gym.  I can count with half the fingers in one hand hotels whose gyms are better than the average hotel.  Granted, this does not mean they are gyms I would choose to normally go but it is certainly nice to see hotels that beat that nasty stereotype of a gym hotel (usually a former room converted by placing mirrors on all the walls and then having exercise equipment from the times before exercising was important!).

The Mayflower’s gym is certainly spacious.  While the aerobic equipment (treadmill, bikes, etc.) could be better, it is adequate and there are plenty – all with TVs.  There are also a number of weight training machines and equipment.  Finally, there is space to place mats and stretch, do abs, etc.  Apples, water, towels, and -for the really daring- a scale!

The food

I have not actually tried the main restaurant itself but have sampled the room service menu which is consistent with the menus in other Renaissance properties in the U.S. (I do wish for a little more variety or at least a re-do of the menu every few months… However, the hotel’s chef is more than ready to take special requests and I am forever thankful!)

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The Mayflower is most definitely a landmark in this city of landmarks.  If you have a chance, stay.  But, if not, walk in, check it out and imagine all the history this magnificent grand dame has seen!!

Logo in the Mayflower Hotel door (Washington, D.C.)

Note:  I paid a public rate for my stay.  I received no special services or attention in return for this post.  I wrote it because I like this hotel.

Finding a Gem in Chicago – The Palmer House

I discovered a hidden gem in Chicago:  The Palmer House!  After the neat architecture boat tour of the city that my fellow travel bloggers and I did in our tweeetup, and after walking through Millenium Park admiring the Cloud Gate, the water statues (whatever they are called), etc., one of our local tweetuppers suggested that we headed to the Palmer House to give our legs a rest and have a drink in a unique place in Chicago.

Of course, that sounded good to all of us so we said yes not fully knowing what to expect (blessed ignorance!).  We were in for a REAL treat.  The Palmer House has one of the more elegant hotel lobbies I have seen in a while!  Sitting there to have drinks (and people watch) was a nice break from the more visitor sightseeing we had done that day.  It was elegant, magnificent, and alive – tons of people either for the wedding receptions going on, guests of the hotel, or short-term visitors like us.  It is the third reincarnation of the hotel originally built by someone rich for his bride-to-be.  The first building burned down in the famous Chicago fire days after opening…

Chicago's Palmer House bar

The ceiling of that lobby area is a delight to look at and, to me, the centerpiece of the place.  It reminds me of the ceilings around the Vatican Museum or The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  I wish I knew where exactly the building’s architect/designer got their inspiration from.  I felt a little inspired myself…

Chicago's Palmer House lobby

Chicago's Palmer House ceiling

… so I ordered rye Old Fashioned.  No, the drink is not on the ceiling but on a mirror-top table – it made for a great contrast with the ceiling as well as for some neat pix of the folks around the table.

Drink and ceiling at Chicago's Palmer House

While it was definitely great to discover a gem like this without any research (thanks Pola from @jettingaround!), it does highlight a couple of things:

1.  Serendipity can lead to great experiences – not having hard plans for every hour of the afternoon, we allowed for opportunities like this to come based on the mood of the moment; or serendipity in other cases can be just simply meandering the lesser streets in a city and pop in to any establishment that catches your eye!

2.  Locals can give you some of the best insights on those places off the beaten path!

I don’t know that we found this gem.  I certainly didn’t find it.  But it “found” me!  If you ever go to Chicago, put this on your list of places to sit at and chill – and admire.

Read more about the good times we had in Chicago and how I got to high places.

Do you know other gems like this in Chicago?  Please share!

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