In-and-Out: The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

I headed to Denver to see friends and as luck would have it, an afternoon in Estes Park was in the books for me.  I would have about 3 hours to spend in Estes Park so I checked TripAdvisor for some quick ideas on what to see while there.  I had driven through Estes Park multiple times a couple of decades ago when I spent two summers in Boulder, Colorado to get to the Rocky Mountain National Park but I had never stopped in Estes Park.  I had no memory of it.

So, The Stanley Hotel came up in the search and it offered a 1.5 hour tour.  My local friends briefly shared about the hotel so I made up my mind and bought my ticket ($23 since I was not a guest at the hotel) for the 11 AM tour.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, facade, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

Grand hotel indeed!

I made it with barely a second to spare before the tour began.  Scary Mary saw me walk in and asked if I was Mr. Pino.  I said yes and immediately asked her if I could run to the restroom – I could not fathom an 1.5 hours waiting to go…  (did I share too much?)  She allowed the extra minute and I was glad.

Stanley Hotel, Scary Mary, Estes Park, tour, The Shining, Stephen King, photo

Scary Mary introduces us to the tour

Scary Mary, her self-proclaimed name, was funny and quirky and made for a great tour guide mixing deep knowledge about the place with humor and the dramatic touch when it came time to talk about ghosts and other supernatural stories.

The Shining and The Stanley Hotel

The hotel is more famous not for the quaint story of its birth but because of its ties to the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, facade, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

Art based on The Shining

It seems the hotel was the inspiration Stephen King needed when he stayed at The Stanley back in 1974.  The hotel was about to close for the season but King convinced the staff to let him and his wife stay overnight.  Maybe they pranked him when they placed him in the haunted room 217… (We also hear Jim Carrey should be asked about his stay in this room…)

Room 217, Estes Park, Colorado, Stanley Park, The Shining

Haunted Room 217

While the hotel was the inspiration for the movie, it was not the actual location where that movie was filmed.  Most was filmed in a studio set and exterior shots were done at a lodge near Mt. Hood.  Of lesser fame than The Shining, perhaps, is that the hotel was featured in “Dumb and Dumber” – especially a run up its main staircase by the two principal characters of the movie!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, architecture, photo, Dumb and Dumber

The main staircase

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, staircase

Looking down the main staircase

A little of the history of the place

The tour begins with the story with how Freelan Oscar “F.O.” Stanley and his wife Flora got to settle there.  The Stanleys were an East Coast couple who had taken a trip to Colorado to help F.O. recover his health.  He was pretty much almost at the brink of death as he left Denver for a time in the mountains at Estes Park.  He made an incredible recovery and proceeded to build the hotel there as a way to have something comparable to the East coast life they were used to when they came out West, a place they had grown to love.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, lobby, keys

Registration counter in the lobby with photos of F.O. and Flora (I presume…)

There are a few stories about supernatural events but those are best heard from Scary Mary, not me 🙂  But I will say there is a special force right smack in the middle of this staircase on the 217-side of the building…  Some kind of vortex if I understood right.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, architecture, photo, vortex, supernatural

The vortex staircase

The Stanley Hotel today

The lobby clearly retains a feel for the past with the heavy woods and furniture arrangements.  While the setting of the hotel is spectacular, and the lobby and its spaces feel special, the main guest room floors do feel a bit drab.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, lobby

Lobby

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

Guest room floor

The maze in front of the hotel was an ‘add’ to the grounds after throngs of visitors kept asking about the maze that shows in The Shining.  The hotel owners, I suppose, decided to play along and installed one (in its early stages of vegetation growth at the moment…).

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, maze, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

The maze at the front of the hotel

Back to the interior, the hotel has good touches in the decoration using vintage artifacts from an automobile to mirrors, large and small.  Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, mirror Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, lamp, light fixture Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, piano Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, automobile, vintage car

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, hose fixture

Old fixture for fire hose

The views from the front porch – and I presume, the rooms – are pretty spectacular with the town below and the mountains beyond.  A key selling point to the hotel, I am sure!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Rockies

Views of the Rockies from the front porch

The bar is pretty cool in its design, decor and feel.  There is an outdoor restaurant in the back.  I did not get to try neither the food nor the drinks so that may be left to a future visit!  I would love to stay there in the dead of winter sometime!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar

I leave you with some other photos of the main building and the second guest room building.Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7 Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

 

 

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Exploring Food and Lodging in Lake Placid

cinnamon roll. strawberries, maple syrup,, Generations, Lake Placid, foodie, cooking

While visiting Lake Placid earlier this year, I spent a day exploring this northern New York town.  Because it was a rainy day, we skipped some of the outdoor activities but we got to visit some neat places and enjoy good food and drinks (of course!).  I shared already about the very well set up Olympics Museum, my “adventure” at the luge training facility, and my skating at historic Herb Brooks Arena (check it all out here).  Having covered those sites so tied to Olympic history, I should probably share with you more of what Lake Placid has to offer.  In this post, I will share about some of the lodging, food, and drinks that I enjoyed checking out during my visit.

A lodge you can dream of – and then go see for yourself!

One of our stops was the Whiteface Lodge. I had heard it was an incredible place and it did not disappoint!  I was staying in the town of Lake Placid proper at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort which was ideally situated close to many places I visited and with a great restaurant (Generations) right on site (more on the restaurant below).

The Whiteface Lodge consists only of suites, and there are suites of every size.  Even the “small” ones are well-equipped with nice kitchens, fireplaces, large screen TVs, and balconies.  Some of the suites are outright “owned” by private individuals who may live there, visit there, or partially rent them back to the Lodge to then put into its reservations system.  The most amazing suite was the Presidential Suite which the General Manager of the resort kindly showed us since it was unoccupied that day.  I can safely say the Presidential Suite is bigger than my house!!!

Lake Placid, Whiteface Lodge, Presidential Suite, decor, travel, accommodations. lodging

The living and dining room areas of the Presidential Suite

I was impressed by the beauty of the outdoor areas and how the space is well-laid out for different activities that guests may opt to take part in.  For example, there is a fire pit for making smores (I didn’t get to eat any!).  The resort also has indoor spaces for every age and interest.  From a two-lane bowling alley, to its own movie theater, to a game room, and to a phenomenal spa for lots of R&R.

While I did not stay at the Whiteface Lodge, I can assure you I was not going to miss its bar (open to the public) to check out its specialty seasonal cocktails and tasty appetizers while chatting with friends.  Though they had a series of interesting martinis, I opted for a specialty cocktail (as I seem to have become a specialty cocktail adventurer) named Jacob Marley’s Return:  Bourbon infused with apples, cinnamon, and cloves with Frenet Branca, and maple water.  All these ingredients came together excellently for a cocktail perfect for the season and area of the country.

cocktail, Whiteface Lodge, Jacob Marley, Bourbon, maple syrup infused, Lake Placid

Introducing… Jacob Marley’s Return!!

As part of my visit, I was invited to try the thermal pools which was great as it was snowing and being outside in hot waters watching it snow was priceless.

Whiteface Lodge, Lake Placid, heated outdoor pool, jacuzzi

The steam from the heated pool makes for a slightly less than excellent photo but you get the point!

A different lodge

Lake Placid is big enough for more than one lodge and certainly for different kinds of them.  The Adirondacks Loj, operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club,  is perfect for those wanting a more basic place to stay.  Sitting at the edge of Heart Lake, the Adirondacks Loj offers also more of a communal feel with shared dining room and even shared rooms (you can have a private one).  The Loj seemed like a great base for hiking and its staff clearly was eager to help with information or anything else.  It may be a great place to use as a base but I think I would also enjoy cold winter nights in front of the massive stone fireplace!

Photos of Adirondak Loj, Lake PlacidThis photo of Adirondak Loj is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Great food everywhere.  I am not complaining.

No visit to a new town is complete without sampling the food on offer.  The night we arrived we went to a pub which was perfect for the mood after a five-hour drive in from the outskirts of New York City.  The Lake Placid Pub & Brewery was packed yet we had no trouble finding a spot to perch ourselves on.  I drank some pints of the oatmeal stout which was perfect to help me recover from the long day.  That stout and a delicious flatbread pizza of the many on offer and ilivetotravel was a happy camper that night!

The next night we went Lisa G’s known for their excellent chicken wings.  I had some as an appetizer but dove in for an incredible chorizo risotto with Manchego cheese that was out of this world.Lisa G, Lake Placid, restaurant, food, cuisine, cooking, foodie, chicken wings

Lisa G, Lake Placid, restaurant, food, cuisine, cooking, foodie

The chorizo risotto

For my beverage, I kept up the theme from the cocktail I had had earlier that evening at the Whiteface Lodge and chose a Bourbon-based cocktail:  The Sassy Cider – Bourbon with maple syrup, lemon juice, some cider, and a little cayenne pepper – perfect to warm me up after a cold and wet day!

The morning I was leaving, we went for brunch at the Generations Restaurant associated to the Golden Arrow (where I stayed this weekend).  With a great view of Mirror Lake, we enjoyed all sorts of good and impressive stuff, local-sourced and fresh.  The cinnamon roll with strawberries and maple syrup clearly hit the right spot for my sweet teeth (in plural, because I have more than one sweet tooth).

cinammon roll. strawberries, maple syrup,, Generations, Lake Placid, foodie, cooking

Mmm!!!!

Everything we tried was great and then the piece de resistence came to us:  bison burgers cooked on a Himalayan salt block.  I had never heard of the concept but a large salt block is heated to high temperatures and then brought to your table.  The bison burgers are laid on it and you let them cook until your preferred level of “cooked”  Ir was amazing to see this salt block cook my burger.  Here are the before and after pictures of this neat trick!

bison burger, Generations, Lake Placid, Himalayan salt block, foodie, cooking

Before…

bison burger, Generations, Lake Placid, Himalayan salt block, foodie, cooking

After!

Now that I have shared all this with you, I am developing quite an appetite…  I think you get the point:  Lake Placid offers great experiences beyond its Olympic history and outdoor activities (which I hope to experience in the near future!).  It sits in the beautiful Adirondacks, a blessed corner of our country and one I am glad to have discovered!

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My activities in Lake Placid were facilitated by its Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, and local businesses.  Opinions my own!

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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

Lobby space

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

Lobby space

… or have a drink.

Manila, Marriott, Philippines, bar, light fixture, lamp, art, interesting, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

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

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

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.

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

tents, Rummana camp, Jordan, Dana Biosphere Reserve

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!

Honey Badger Anyone?

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Moshi, Honey Badger Lodge, children, special, vista

If you are a regular visitor of this blog, you know I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this past February.  It was a fantastic experience that I am glad I was dared to do.  Before we embarked on that hike, we spent a few days in the town of Moshi visiting and working with a local orphanage, Kili Centre.  A great couple of days to set us off for our hike.  But those couple of days allowed me to meet the honey badger of that viral video.  The reason the topic the video came up was not just because we were in Tanzania where likely there are honey badgers.  It came up because we stayed at the awesome Honey Badger Lodge outside of Moshi!

We arrived around 2AM at the lodge due to a flight delay leaving Amsterdam.  Obviously, everything was pretty dark and quiet when we got there and we were eager to get to our rooms and bed.  We were all sharing rooms with other trekkers but my roommate was arriving the next night so I appreciated having the room to myself that first night.  My room was in a standalone cabin whereas some other rooms were adjoining rooms in small buildings.  My cabin was super spacious with two queen beds (with mosquito nets).  No fan though…  Oh, and it had separate shower area from the rest of the bathroom.

cabin, honey badger, lodge, moshi, tanzania, olympus, lodging, accommodation, hotel, tourism

Half of my cabin!

The hotel grounds had a lot of nice vegetation and monkeys too.  There was a nice sized pool with a great area around it to sit and a few steps down from it was the dining area full of picnic-like tables and the bar.  It all felt very close and convenient yet I felt there was a lot of space and openness.

Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania, lodging, accommodation,

Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania, lodging, accommocation Olympus

Monkey Grounds of the Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi, Tanzania lodgiing accommodation

Notice the monkey?

One night, there was a show with local music and dancing that was quite enjoyable; I think this is done often for the benefit of the guests.  The lodge can also arrange any number of activities for the visitor including climbs of Mt. Kilimanjaro – even if you don’t use them for that, I highly recommend staying there before and after!

But the good news about the Honey Badger Lodge don’t end there.  The lodge makes a serious effort to to contribute to the local community.  A portion of the profit goes to support local education and other projects and they strive to train staff and give them a good situation for employment (read more in their website).  The current owners, Joseph and Jenny, do this but this started when the owner (and founder of the lodge) -the mother of the current owner- decided her business could be more than just to make a living for her and her family.

I enjoyed my stay there because of the nice layout and the knowledge that our giving them our business would have more of an impact.  But, as a final word, I will say that I enjoyed my stay there because the staff was very friendly and made an effort to call us by our name.  I was impressed.  Clearly management knows what it’s doing and I like that in every which way!

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Moshi, Honey Badger Lodge, children, special, vista

Neighbors of the lodge and the roof of Africa behind them

On the Shores of Lake Victoria in Mwanza and on to the Serengeti

Mwanza airport in Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria

In early 2007, I went to Tanzania for work reasons and I was excited to get to this part of Africa.  Two other entries in this blog cover the trip over and  some observations about Dar es Salaam.  This entry will share more of the logistical items about my visit to Mwanza, the actual stories of what I saw once there (field visits, the city, and the Serengeti) merit their own to-be-written entries and I don’t want to make this entry too long!

Part of the reason to be sent to Tanzania, as I may have mentioned in earlier entries, was to better understand my organization’s operations in the developing world.  I was fairly new to the organization so this was to be part of my onboarding, if you will.  There were a few places in Tanzania to potentially visit but we settled on a 1-day visit to Zanzibar and a 4-5 day visit to Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Getting to Mwanza

To get to Mwanza, I flew Air Tanzania as land travel is extremely slow (there is a train and some sort of road but nothing that would make for an easy and speedy trip; the latter being more important due to time constraints).  The plane was brand new and very well kept.  I was not sure what to expect but the service and the food were quite good and I felt quite safe flying the local airline.   I landed in Mwanza and, though I have flown to a smaller airport (Contadora Island in Panama), I was amused by smallness of the airport and the baggage claim area:  a wall divided the area where the plane was from baggage claim and a big rectangular hole in the wall was where the baggage handlers placed the luggage to then be claimed by the passengers.

Mwanza airport in Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Victoria

Mwanza airport

Lodging in the City

I was picked up at the airport and taken to a hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria, named Hotel Tilapia (http://www.hoteltilapia.com/).  There were different types of rooms  and over the few days I was there,  I got to try one of the rooms in the building and one of the rooms on the docked boat (the Buganda, which appeared in the movie the African Queen!).  (I didn’t stay at the bungalows, the 3rd type of room.)

Tilapia Hotel House Boat Buganda in Mwanza, Tanzania

The Buganda

The one on the Buganda was rather interesting as the boat (which was well docked and tied up so it didn’t move) was sort of tilted.  Also, my window to the water wasn’t really sealed so I wondered what creatures would come in during the night…  Actually, both rooms were well fumigated so I actually saw no critter in either one (a key success factor for me even if the spray they use daily in the rooms is toxic to ANY living creature!).

The best feature of this hotel was being on Lake Victoria.  There was an outdoor bar and restaurant area by the water which, as long as you had put on some mosquito spray, was quite enjoyable.  Clearly, there are other hotels in Mwanza and I didn’t get to see them so there may be better options but this one worked well for me.

The Tilapia Hotel's bar area right by the shores of Lake Victoria

The Tilapia Hotel’s bar area right by the shores of Lake Victoria

Mwanza

Mwanza is blessed to be located on Lake Victoria and not terribly far from the western entrance to the Serengeti.  It is the second largest city in Tanzania after Dar es Salaam (located on the Indian Ocean coast).  I traveled the Mwanza region visiting projects with work which was a neat way to see the area. Some of the projects I visited had to do with village savings and loans (economic livelihood improvement projects).  Everyone was very friendly to this visitor!!

Village savings and loan group in Tanzania

Village savings and loan group 1

Village savings and loan group in Tanzania

Village savings and loan group 2

Being on the lake, it is a port (other countries bordering the lake include Kenya and Uganda).  One of the natural features of the lake are the rock formations which you also see on land.  The most famous of the rock formations is Bismarck’s Rock right by the shore.

Bismarck Rock in Mwanza (Tanzania), by Lake Victoria

Bismarck’s Rock

The city of Mwanza was very manageable and there seemed to be a  lot of economic activity at the time.  It was a great base to explore the lake area and enter the Serengeti from the west.

Downtown Mwanza, Tanzania

Downtown Mwanza

Downtown Mwanza, Tanzania

Downtown Mwanza

Lodging near the Serengeti

I did overnight in another part of the Mwanza region because I was going into the Serengeti (from the western entrance) the following day and since you want to be there at the crack of dawn, driving from Mwanza was not going to work.  So I stayed at the Speke’s Bay Lodgehttp://www.spekebay.com/ ), run by some Dutch (if memory serves me right).  They built the lodge area (bungalows and tent area) and they cleared the reeds/bushes from the shores of the bay and actually created a beach (which apparently is very difficult to keep clear of reeds so it is a labor of love, I suppose).

Speke Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Speke Bay Lodge – my lodge

Speke Bay Lodge room by Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Speke Bay Lodge room by the shore of the lake

The “beach” looks very nice but not a beach you would walk around at night – the hippos are not far away and may meander through the beach!  I stayed at a bungalow by the lake (the ground where the bungalows are is at a higher level than the beach so I assume the hippos can’t get up there, or so I hoped!).  All night long I could hear the hippos – I could have sworn they were right outside my window!  (They were not.)   The hotel shuts off electricity at some point in the evening so it was an early night which suited me fine because of the early start.  However, it was a very hot night and I didn’t think it wise to open the sliding door…  One good thing was that the bed had a mosquito net and was quite comfortable.

View from Speke Bay Lodge in Tanzania

Lots of wildlife around Speke Bay Lodge

Sunset on the shores of Lake Victoria at Speke Bay Lodge

Sunset on the beach at Speke Bay Lodge

Unfortunately, I did not spend too much time at the lodge because of all the visits on the day on my check-in and because of the very early check-out the next day.  However, I had a great meal at their restaurant where a group of Canadians were nice enough to ask me to join them since I was on my own and the grounds were very beautiful and well kept.

There are likely other options (the lodge was on the more expensive side) that may make more sense but I generally went were I was taken so cannot offer other suggestions.

The area around Lake Victoria is beautiful and the memories of nature and people will last me a lifetime…

Sunset on Lake Victoria in Tanzania

Sunset on Lake Victoria

Does someone else have insights into other hotels in the city of Mwanza and accommodations near the western entrance to the Serengeti? Can anyone comment on traveling by road or train instead of flying there?

A short happy life on the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB)

Mont BlancA guest post by Chris Sanders.

Ok, I confess – this post has almost nothing in common with Hemingway‘s short story about Francis Macomber… and that’s probably a good thing!  But I thought a “short happy life” was the best way to describe a recent adventure that ended all too soon…

Last August, my wife Wendy and I embarked on a three week vacation to the Alps, with the full intention of hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc.

The tour de Mont Blanc (or “TMB” for short) is a spectacular Alpine hike on trails that circumnavigate Mont Blanc – Europe’s highest mountain. Over the course of ~12-14 days, hikers venture across ~ 100 miles of trail and traverse parts of three countries: Switzerland, France, and Italy. The TBM is demanding (the accumulated height gain and loss is ~32,800′) but the views are spectacular and the experience exhilarating! Nearly 10,000 people complete the TMB every year – the majority of whom are European.

TMB

Although Wendy and I trained (I use that word loosely) to complete the entire TMB, sadly, we only hiked for 4 days – 4 long and arduous days – before succumbing to a variety of ailments including tendinitis, sprained knees, and the unexplainable desire to lounge around in the vineyards of Switzerland… we do plan to return one day and complete the TMB – it is truely unique and wonderful experience – plenty of “the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music” type moments, but next time, we’ll hike much slower and travel much lighter!

Anyway, here are a few memories from our short happy life…

  • Getting there and getting started – Most people begin the TMB in Les Houches, France (not far from Chamonix). Les Houches is most easily accessed by flying into Geneva and taking a ~45min-1 hour shuttle bus to Les Houches. There are several shuttle bus services that pick up from Geneva airport you can book ahead. Wendy and I did not book ahead but easily found a ride with a shuttle that was going to Chamonix and had only one person aboard. Les Houches is a small village but given its popularity as a winter ski village and its connection with the TMB, there are plenty of accommodations.
  • The accommodations – for our first night in Les Houches, we booked ahead via the internet at a cozy place called Hotel du Bois (http://www.hotel-du-bois.com/). Our second night was our first in a refuge – a dormitory style accommodation in the mountains called La Roselette. We shared a dorm room with two large families who were traveling via van with their children – actually, it was pretty quiet as the children went to sleep early. At La Roselette, we ate dinner at a communal table, which consisted of soup and turkey curry (not exactly typical regional food, but good nonetheless). Our third night was in a nice and cozy refuge called Nant Borrant (http://www.lescontamines.com/refugenantborrant/). The owners – an older couple- were super nice, the place was packed. Wendy and I enjoyed a couple of beers in the outside garden. At dinners, again served in a communal setting, we met an older couple from Montserrat – they invited Wendy and I to visit them… The forth night we opted for a small hotel outside of Les Contamines called Le Mont Joly (http://www.montjoly.com/). We recommend all the places we stayed!
  • Chamonix and Courmayeur– Both of these towns are on the TMB, though we arrived via bus on the fifth day of our trip. We could have done without Chamonix – ultra touristy and teeming with Europeans on holiday…in the winter time, Chamonix is a great ski resort, but in the summertime, its a “tourist trap” kind of place – where all the restaurants are the same, the food is mediocre, and so on…Now, Courmayeur- which is just a short bus ride through a tunnel under Mont Blanc is a totally different scene! Courmeyeur is in Italy – in fact it is an elite Italian resort village that was  largely undiscovered by the common man until the recent tunnel highway. Wendy and I stayed in Courmayeur a few days in order to get our Italian fix.
  • Mont Blanc– Ok, so we didn’t hike up Mont Blanc, but we did something almost as spectacular – we took the cable car (actually three of them) up to a look out station just below the summit! Truely incredible..freezing cold up there. We took a hot chocolate in the tiny bar at the lookout station…there was a picture of Pope Benedict, who had recently made the same cable car trip! This is one activity you must do if you ever find yourself anywhere near Chamonix or Courmayeur!

Ok, so I have many more memories of the short happy life on the TMB…if you want to know more, just ask! Or better yet, share your memories from the TMB…Ciao for now!

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