Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Weekend in DC

Over the weekend, Justin and I ventured up to DC to visit some friends. As part of the October challenge, and simply because I love doing it, I decided to share our "weekend in the life" vacation part 2. (Previous weekend in the life: Chattanooga)

We will begin this post with Friday

1am: Go to sleep. (Because that's how awesome I am.)

4am: Wake up, because some people have to go to work super early. Luckily, it's not me; it's Justin. Unfortunately, due to lack of desire to have all of our cars in Atlanta, I had to get up too. This resulted in a very exhausted me. At least I got a hot, homemade croissant out of the deal. :)

6am: Arrive at Justin's office. Do all of my typical morning work including writing a blog post. (Perhaps next time I should write one in advance?!)

11am: Leave Justin's office. He surprised me by getting me a warm, just out of the oven, butterscotch cookie called Skor from a small snack store located on the lower level of his office building. Then we began the 45 minute trek to Marta.

12:30: Marta stopped just a few stations short of the airport. Our goal was to be at the airport by then… will we make it? I point planes out to Justin and comment that "there goes our plane!" as one takes off. A Marta worker sitting nearby consoled me and said that they are merely waiting on another Marta train ahead of us to leave the Airport station. This made me feel a little better.

from Let's Fly Cheaper

1:30: TSA stopped me because I used the nickname "Mandy" on my ticket rather than my full, actual name. They asked me to get my ticket reprinted. Justin gave them a problem. Security was called. Luckily, the security officer was kind and understanding; he let me through since his birthday is the day after mine. July birthdays ftw! :)

2pm: Lunch at Five Guys inside the airport, then boarding. We were one of the first on the plane. Yay!

4:30pm: We arrived in DC and boarded the Washington DC Flyer bus for our connection to the DC Metro train station. While we did not have to wait on a single connection, it still took us over an hour to get from IAD to our hotel. Meanwhile, we were exhausted and tired of carrying our luggage.

from: CP Executive

6:30pm: Finally we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Hotel; the lobby is as glamorous as it looks online. Our check-in agent gave us a map of the area, talked to us about the Metro, and provided us with a room with an outside view on the 8th floor. We were so thankful to be able to see the outside. Since most of the DC Metro is underground, it was nice seeing the sun.

from: Behance

7pm: We attempted to leave the hotel and find good food, but we were tired and in a hurry to visit with friends. Instead we ate at Cure inside the hotel. We ordered chicken, asparagus, and potatoes with a glass of red wine and sparkling water. It is the perfect meal after a strenuous day. (Sidenote: DC water is disgusting. We refused to drink it the entire time we were there.)

8pm: Before hopping aboard the Metro to head for Maryland to meet up with Justin's friends, we grabbed a strawberry and lemon crépe at a nearby créperie. Unfortunately, it just served to make me miss Paris that much more. Crépes in DC are boring and lackluster compared to the ones in Paris. As the night wore on and we finally arrived at Justin's friend's home, much drinking and talking ensued after we were given the grand tour of the humble abode. We didn't return to the Metro until 2am and by then we were soooooooo tired.

Saturday

6am: Justin woke up and tried to wake me up to go see the sunrise. I wanted to kill him. ;) Unhappily, I got up and followed him out of the hotel, getting lost more than once and missing the sunrise entirely. I was miserable, tired, and frustrated. *sigh*

8am: Given that I was miserable and wanted to change clothes, we attempted a quick return to the hotel via the Metro only to discover that the red line would only be running every 30 minutes all weekend. Argh. At the hotel we had the chance to drop off some of the heavy camera equipment. All we took back out with us was the camera and one extra lens.

from: Thrillist. Read the review; it's fantastic!

9am: We had a snack (a breakfast biscuit) at The Partisan where I got to try Elderberry lemonade. (I brought some back from France, but I never got around to drinking it. It's too pretty!) Justin bought some fresh salami to snack on.

9:30am: I got my hair done at St. Germain. It's so nice having lovely hair even if I think it is absolutely silly to get one's hair done while on vacation.

11am: After a bit of waiting around, we finally met up with Justin's friends for lunch at a gluten free Mexican restaurant called Austin's Grill. The food was not that good, and I would only recommend eating there if you have a gluten allergy.

noon: Our group of six (including 2 kids) took the hour long walk through DC to the National Geographic Museum. We had read that there were kid friendly exhibits as well as a photography exhibit. Let me go ahead and say – this museum is great for kids, but not so great for adults. Of course, we only looked through about half of the exhibits before leaving to get homemade ice cream (from a vendor outside the museum) and hot tea (from Peet's).

from: National Building Museum website

3pm: Justin's friends and their kids returned home, and Justin and I continued our journey through DC. We took a pit stop at the National Building Museum which was incredible as well as something in DC we had never done before. We also took a gander at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, which had some amazing artwork but overall wasn't as impressive as I had hoped. We walked through Chinatown and finally settled on a dinner at the Matchbox before heading to the National Mall for sunset.

8pm: By this time, my feet were killing me. We managed to find a Whole Foods where we bought a gluten free dessert and bottle of red wine to take to Justin's friends. Then, we were back on the Metro, again. Obviously, more talking and drinking ensued with friends before the night ended, a bit earlier than the night before, at 1am.

Sunday


from: Examiner; the DC Metro stations all look alike

7am: Justin and I had talked about getting up for sunrise but our late arrival back at the hotel and early departure on plane encouraged us to sleep in a bit. We considered going out to breakfast, but inevitably decided against it and ate at the hotel deli. It was expensive and the food was not very good.

8:30: By this time, we had run out of things to do. We decided to go ahead and check out of the hotel and board the Metro for our return trip to IAD.

from Wikipedia

9:30: For a fee of $50, Frontier said they would change my name on my ticket. Heck no. We tempted fate and went through security without a hitch. YAY! Then it was time to meander the airport, shop a bit, and get a drink before take off. (Who says you shouldn't drink before noon?!?)

11:30: We boarded the plane … and arrived in Atlanta around 2:30. We boarded Marta, got off to eat at Davinci's Pizza, then boarded the bus that would get us back to Justin's office. (Carrying luggage for 45 minutes through Atlanta one time was enough for me.) At 5:30, we met up with my family for a quick snack before finally heading home.

8pm: It sounds crazy, but my eyes were killing me and I had a pounding headache, so I went on to sleep. I slept for almost 12 hours straight. Justin waited 2 hours, going to bed at his normal time, and he wondered why he was so tired the next day. ;)

So… that was our weekend trip! Have you ever been to or done any of those things before? Is there anything I missed that you think I should have done?

* Taking part in October Blogging Challenge

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Portovenere, Italy – Hotel Belvedere

from TripAdvisor

Destination: Portovenere, Italy (Cinque Terre region)
Date: May 2014
Hotel: Hotel Belvedere
Brand: Independently owned
Status: none
# of travelers: 4 (2 couples) in 2 rooms

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

Before we began our grand excursion in Europe, we had to decide exactly what we wanted to see. A lover of the ocean, I pinpointed the coastal areas as my desired preference. The towns were smaller, so I assumed we would be able to see and do more without feeling the desire to return, unless of course the small cities and towns were just that awesome.

Prior to meeting up with our European counterparts, I had never heard of the five small coastal towns of Italy known as Cinque Terre. Our friends, whom I presume also had never been, were encouraged by their friends, who had actually been, to go and see the beautiful coastal cities of Italy.

I had no part in choosing this hotel off the beaten path. A lack of internet and my inability to make decisions on the fly led to the hotel being chosen for me, which I wasn't incredibly opposed to. (After all, if I had really wanted to make all of the hotel decisions, I could have easily pushed for locations and information prior to arriving in Europe. No, this was a joint venture, so we all shared in the decision making.) Crucial to this decision-making process was the location, although I am certain that a balcony overlooking the beautiful coastal waters of Italy probably offered encouragement in picking the hotel. It was an independently owned hotel, so there was no question or chance of receiving upgrade status or any benefits whatsoever to be concerned with when booking.

Getting There

We drove … and drove … and drove … until we found a parking garage that cost upwards of 20 Euros a day and required us to drag all of our luggage uphill to this tiny boutique hotel.

If driving is not your thing, you do have options but none of them include the train system which is widely used and accessible throughout much of Europe.

Location

Hotel Belvedere was located along the coast of Italy with a fantastic view of La Spezia's Gulf (aka Poet's Gulf). There is easy access to a few landmarks from the hotel including St. Peter's Church as well as closeby tourist shopping opportunities, food, and even boat access to see any of the other cities that make up Cinque Terre. While the location is in fact very good for the area, I do not mean to suggest that you can easily fill a week or longer with new and interesting locations or food options without hopping aboard a boat or gaining access to at least one (or more) of the other cities. Portovenere is NOT a large city.

Hotel Room, Disability Access, Amenities, Staff, View, & Price


from TripAdvisor

One of the first things you notice as you walk into Hotel Belvedere is the lift. Yes, HB has a lift … not to be confused with an elevator. It is a tiny lift that barely fits a single person with their luggage. To make matters even more complicated for the disabled, the rooms were so small that they barely fit a single person with one large suitcase (which is much less than a couple or family might have when traveling Europe for 3 weeks). We are going to top this commentary off with a final remark that the closest parking is first come, first serve … and after that you are parking in a parking garage with a steep hill. If you are disabled, in a wheelchair, or have a hard time walking for any reason whatsoever, I highly discourage you from going to Cinque Terre as a whole, let alone staying in this hotel. We saw people doing it, but I imagine it was incredibly difficult for those people and their families.

As I said above, the rooms were small, much smaller than any of the rooms we experienced in Venice or Paris. If Justin and I had each had our own piece of luggage, I am not quite certain how we would have fit ourselves and our luggage into the tiny room we were stationed in for the duration of our visit to Portovenere. We were practically tripping over ourselves and our luggage to just move around the room. Eventually we found ourselves moving the tv, a supposed "amenity" to the side of the one large table we had in the room to give us a bit of space for our suitcase without encouraging further tripping. We had a bit of a view of the city, but it wasn't anything worth writing home about. The one nice bit was being able to leave the window open at night to take in some of the nice, cool air without having to worry about bugs.

While my husband and I did not experience this, our friends did complain about paper-thin walls enabling them to hear nearly everything that was going on in rooms around them. This may have been due to the location of their room … or it may be the case for every room in the hotel. Without having seen it or experienced it, it's hard for me to say.

from TripAdvisor

If upon first glance you think the room is small, you don't even want to think about the bathroom, which was tiny. There was not a bathtub, and the shower almost made one feel claustrophobic. This was clearly a bathroom in which you go in, get what you need to get done, and leave. Of course, the room was much the same way.

from TripAdvisor

Amenities they have listed include a hair dryer, laundry facilities (wish I had known), free wi-fi, room service (really?), toiletries (including slippers), and breakfast on-site. The wi-fi was fast enough and worked the entire time we were there, which is better than I can say for some of the other locations we stayed at. Honestly, I cannot remember if we had to pay for the hotel-style breakfast that we were able to partake in on the hotel terrace or if we paid for it in advance when we booked the room. Either way, the breakfast was decent for a hotel. I don't remember all of the offerings, but I do know that there was cheese, pastries and bread, hard boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and hot coffee.

Given that breakfast was included in our cost, the price was great for the location but could definitely be improved if merely considering the room alone.

The staff was rarely at the front desk and occasionally we had to wait to receive help, but overall we did not have a bad experience with them. When we needed assistance, they were usually able to take care of our problems in a quick and timely manner. Of course, the only problem we really came across was the desire to check in and out. That's good, right? :)



Overall Review

★★ (below average)

The location and view were fantastic, the breakfast was good, but the room size, paperthin walls, disability unfriendliness, and lack of parking definitely influenced my rating. This hotel was, without a doubt, charming and absolutely fantastic for being small, and indepently owned, but there were (as with most hotels) definitely things that they could improve upon.

Your Turn

Do you think I am being too harsh when rating a small, independently owned boutique hotel in comparison to a large, American-chain hotel? Would you consider a stay at Hotel Belvedere? Is there anything else you would want to know before booking a room at this hotel?

*My ratings are based on the idea that all hotels are the same and have equal opportunity to impress me, the customer. However, I am basing my opinions off of American standards that are often overzealous when compared to European standards with much larger rooms, more customer service, bigger breakfasts, chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, and less need to exert oneself.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Neil Diamond Melody Road Album Review



In case you haven't picked up on it from previous album reviews (see Michael Bublé, Train and Rod Stewart), I listen to a little bit of everything. When One 2 One announced that they were looking for reviews for Neil Diamond's new album, I could not think of a single song I had heard from this guy. My first thoughts were: "Neil Diamond who?" Then I used google to find his most popular songs, and I immediately recognized them.

Obviously, there was "Sweet Caroline", a song from 1969, that I've heard on the radio more than once since my childhood.


Then, the song that stood out most was "America" from 1980. How many July 4th firework shows have included this patriotic song? I guess the real question is … how many haven't?


Given the very little I knew about Neil Diamond and his music, I agreed to go ahead and review his newest album Melody Road. My first thoughts upon listening are that this guy's time has passed. With "Sweet Caroline", the sound was very 70s-tastic; in much the same way, "America" was for the 80s what "Sweet Caroline" was for the 70s AND it had the additional patriotic theme that Americans love. What did the songs on Melody Road have to offer the 2000-teens?



Unfortunately, Mr. Diamond did not continue his trend of providing music that fits a time period with any songs that I could find on this album. Current pop music features styling by Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, all of whose music is very different from Neil Diamond's. I'm not saying I would like a similar style in Neil Diamond's music, but he would have to offer something truly amazing to capture the attention of the public. Instead the style of music he provides is very simplistic and has an old style country flair that's very similar to his songs from the 70s and 80s. if you happen to like that style, this album might be the album for you.

To find out more about the album and Neil Diamond, I recommend checking out his website, facebook profile, or youtube page. You can also buy the new album now from Amazon or iTunes.

* I participated in the Neil Diamond Melody Road album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fall is Upon Us: 5 Ideas From Pinterest

One of the best things about fall are the decorations and delicious treats that the change of seasons bring. The following ideas from Pinterest recently came to my attention, and I thought I would share.


1. 3D Paper Pumpkins


2. White Pumpkins and Pinecones


3. Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins


4. Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Brandy Soup


5. Blackberry Cobbler

Are there any flavors or ideas you've seen recently that have intrigued you? Are you as excited about the cool weather and changing of the leaves as I am?

* Taking part in October Blogging Challenge

Thursday, October 23, 2014

7 Life Lessons From 2014

Photo credit: Seyed Mostafa Zamani

1. Friendship is worth it.

2. Home is where the heart is.

3. Travel doesn't have to be expensive.

4. Debt is long lasting.

5. The truth will set you free.

6. Things never stay the same.

7. Life is nothing if not a daring adventure.

* Taking part in October Blogging Challenge

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Traveling Can Be Painful Giveaway


Over the weekend as Justin and I wandered through Costco trying to figure out if we needed anything (we had come for a 50lb bag of dog food for my parents), Justin spotted a bottle of melatonin in the healthcare aisle. Knowing that many of the people I babysit for use it for themselves and their kids … and also knowing that I have a tendency to stay up all night keeping Justin awake too… he decided to get it and try it on me, the guinea pig. I'm pretty anti-unnecessary pills; I only take what I need when I need it assuming that I can't cope with whatever is bothering me on my own. I hate going to the doctor, and I hate taking medication. Unfortunately, Justin and I collide in this perspective, because he actually likes sleep. Go figure, right?

Anyway, more or less the melatonin has been killing me. The first two nights I took 5mg of it and when I woke up to get a glass of water in the middle of the night, I could barely keep my eyes open let alone think of what it was that I wanted to do. Then the next day I was groggy as all get out. Yes, I did sleep, but was it worth feeling like that? My opinion: absolutely not.

After two nights of this, Justin dropped it down a notch. He broke the pill in two and gave me 2.5mg instead of 5. The first night on the new dosage I did not sleep at all, but the second night I slept incredibly well and had a hard time getting up the next morning. I didn't feel groggy though, so that's a plus. Perhaps I can convince Justin to cut down the pill even more to 1.25mg? It would definitely be amusing to see him break it into 1/4 for me. *evil laugh* ;)

Given that I am already anxious to return to Europe, I started thinking about the jetlag I experienced in Europe and how I perceived it to be prior to my trip. Would melatonin help on future trips?

I think, because I screw up my sleep schedule so easily, I wasn't exactly tired during my first few days in Europe. I didn't actually start to get tired until we had Germans take over our schedule having us wake up at early-o'clock in the morning to go walk up all of the stairs and climb all of the mountains that exist in Europe. (There are a lot.) No, my jetlag did not exist in an "I'm tired" form. My jetlag existed in the form of headaches and can't eat even if I'm starving form. It was great for weight loss! … Both going and coming! :) Needless to say, I never had medicine when I needed it (because I don't like taking it unless I absolutely need it) and even then I managed to run out only a few days into the trip. (It's impossible to even consider climbing mountains and stairs when your head is throbbing.)

Luckily for you, you won't have to worry about a headache or any other kind of pain, traveling or not, if you win today's giveaway! In honor of all of my friend's traveling abroad this month and thanks a billion to Crowdtap's generosity I have 3 $3 coupons toward Advil, my favorite pain reliever, to give away! :) I'm still prepping my beauty giveaway (to come soon), but I figured you all wouldn't mind a "traveling can be painful" giveaway. :) Just enter the rafflecopter below for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
* Giveaway sponsored by Crowdtap. I am not getting paid or compensated for my review or hosting this giveaway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Venice, Italy – Hilton Molino Stucky

from Tripadvisor

In following along with my Tuesday hotel reviews, today I will be reviewing the Hilton hotel Molino Stucky located in Venice, Italy.

Destination: Venice, Italy
Date: May 2014
Hotel: Molino Stucky
Brand: Hilton
Status: Gold
# of travelers: 4 (2 couples) in 2 rooms

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

The search for a hotel in Venice began much the same as my search for a hotel in Paris. I knew we would have limited time, so I wanted to stay as close to the city center (and tourist attractions) as possible. I also wanted to either stay at a cheap AirBnb or a hotel that I had status with. What I came to discover though, was that the majority of US hotel chains were actually located outside of the city rather than in it. To top it off, there would be extra costs for parking a vehicle outside the city limits. All of a sudden, picking a hotel became overwhelming and stressful. After a bit of time on Flyertalk looking at my options, figuring out how likely I was to receive an upgrade at the hotel, and discussing the subject with my husband and the friends who would be traveling with us, we decided to stay at the Hilton Molino Stucky. I was looking forward to taking advantage of the rooftop terrace for a gorgeous sunset view over Venice, and I was pretty certain we would receive an upgrade (because of my status) including breakfast.

Getting There

The hotel has no parking, so you will have to park your vehicle outside of the city in a large local parking garage before hopping aboard a boat to get to your location. Overall it wasn't too bad to do. It was perhaps a bit confusing figuring out where we were going, but if we can do it, so can you! :) Honestly I don't remember too much about the metro and getting there via that. It's possible, obviously, but you will have to speak with someone more familiar with that mode of transportation than myself. The key, I think, is not taking more luggage than you need. In fact, I would suggest minimizing your luggage as much as possible. It's much easier to trade off dragging one piece of luggage between two people than it is to have each person carrying their own piece.

Location


from Hilton's website

My cohort may disagree with me, but I found the Hilton Molino Stucky to be pretty central to everything we did. Yes, you had to take a boat from one island to the next, but we seemed to be hopping between islands anyway. The other nice bit was that the hotel had it's own boat that you could use for free. Rather than using the Venetian transportation system, if you could time it just right, you could hop aboard the hotel's boat and be dropped off right at the hotel! Who wants to drag their luggage over zillions of stairs and across all of the tiny Venetian bridges? (Not me.)

(I'd talk a bit about the tourist attractions, but I simply don't remember too much about Venice. I blame jetlag.)

Hotel Room & Room Price


from here

When I first booked the hotel room, I was trying to book with a code that would get us a stay for cheaper. I checked and the code worked, so I spoke with my husband and friends about whether or not to book it. They agreed that I should, and when I went to check again, the code didn't seem to work (or at least not for as cheap as I had originally seen which wasn't all that cheap to begin with). It turns out, the cheapest price I was seeing was for a room with two single beds, which would have worked fine if I had realized when I booked that the price difference was merely the difference between two single beds and one queen. Oh well. I booked the fancy queen bedroom, which I have to admit I don't regret in the least. :)

I didn't see any of the other rooms in the hotel, but I was enamored by the upgraded hotel room (a deluxe room with a view) that my husband and I received. It was simply enormous! It was spacious for two people, and I could easily see a family (or group of close friends) being able to fit a rollaway cot in there with more than enough room to spare. Over the bed hung a gorgeous chandelier. I promise that for a bit of time I totally thought I was staying in a castle! The room was so fancy and beautiful. Even the bathroom was amazing. To top it off, the manager had left a note on a table in our room with a free water bottle and chocolate letting us know that if we needed anything, we merely had to ask. Yes, I definitely could have felt like royalty staying at this hotel…

view from the room; from Tripadvisor

One of the coolest things about the room was that the window opened out onto the water. That is, it was a cool feature until our room was filled with pesky mosquito-like bugs that room service had to come clear out for us at 1 in the morning. Argh. About that royalty bit??! Hmmm…

The view from the "room with a view" was decent enough. I'm not sure it is worth paying anything extra for, but I'm also not sure it is worth not paying extra. Let's just say that I've had both better (Panama City Beach Holiday Inn Resort) and worse (Holiday Inn Notre Dame) views. :) One of the nice bits was that I could see the sunrise from the hotel room. When you don't go to bed until 1AM, not having to change to view the sunrise at 5 or 6 am is actually pretty nice. (Or was it 4am? It was waaaaaayyyyyy toooooo early whatever time it was!)

There were a variety of amenities available in the room as well as on the hotel property. My husband and I did not take advantage of many of them, but the room contained snacks (that cost too much), a hair dryer, iron and ironing board, coffee maker, and mini soaps/shampoos that make your stay more relaxing (and suitcase lighter if you use them rather than bringing your own). Other amenities in the hotel included elevators (which I never considered an amenity until I went to Europe!), laundry service, a fitness room, and (apparently, as seen on their website) babysitting services. Do I know anyone going to Venice that needs a night out without their little ones?! ;)

Staff, Room Service, & Member Status Upgrades

A few weeks before our trip, I contacted the concierge desk about putting something additional in our friend's room. They were on their honeymoon and I wanted to do something nice. First of all, we'll just say that room service is EXPENSIVE. It's not just expensive at this hotel, in my experience it is expensive at EVERY hotel. (Feel free to let me know of one that does not have expensive room service.) The concierge desk was extremely helpful despite their broken English and sent me a menu of options and worked with me from the day I contacted them all the way up until our arrival confirming even after checking in that my request had gone through. I cannot speak about the room service food however, because my friends did not comment on it.

I did have some issues with the hotel though. Upon booking I received not one but two emails saying that my room(s) had been upgraded. Naturally, I assumed that both of the hotel rooms I booked had been upgraded. I had status, so why not? It turns out Hilton only upgrades one room per visit. On the one hand, I understand that the hotel is trying to make as much money as possible, but on the other hand, this is incredibly stupid if one person books two rooms because they are traveling with someone else (especially if it's family!). When we booked our stay, we were booking with another couple to spend time with them … not so that we could be in a room halfway down the hall from them. On top of that, the hotel staff checking us in told us that not only had our room been upgraded but that we also had free breakfast, in front of our friends whom they had not upgraded. In my opinion, that was incredibly rude and unthoughtful of the hotel staff, who had been forewarned that the couple we were traveling with were on their honeymoon. Seriously! If anyone should get the upgrade, it should be them … even if I was the one with status. And if there was any question about which room should be upgraded, the hotel should have contacted and asked me. Argh! #petpeeve Anyway, the end result was that I felt like a terrible human being for having an upgraded room and free breakfast which made it hard to enjoy my time in Venice.

Rooftop Terrace, the Lobby, & Hotel Space


from Hilton's website

I probably am not the first to admit that the hotel was absolutely gorgeous inside. Chandeliers hanging in the lobby entryway made you feel like you were in an exquisite palace. (Yes, I love chandeliers!) There were couches all over the lobby for guests to relax on and even a spot for you to take advantage of free computers and wi-fi. Off to the left of the front desk (if you are looking at the front desk), you could find the guest lounge where customers with status could take advantage of free breakfast in the mornings and presumably coffee and cookies at night. You have to scan your keycard to get in.

from Hilton's website

The rooftop terrace was incredibly difficult to find. I'm sure the view was astounding, but given that our friends were uncomfortable, we did not take advantage of the hotel's rooftop restaurant and view for very long. Prices were expensive, as I expected, but I think our friends were hoping for a free view and/or cheaper prices, neither of which are readily available at (what I imagine to be) any Hilton hotel (or even any hotel with a view). When my husband and I decided to venture up separately from our friends so that my husband could enjoy an alcoholic beverage before going to sleep, we discovered that the staff was incredibly unhelpful and the music was far too loud for our patience. Rather than wait to get helped by staff (who seemed uninterested in helping us), we left after about 10 minutes of waiting.

Because we were at the hotel during the early part of spring, the rooftop pool was closed, but we did manage to take in a bit of relaxation in one of the empty conference rooms on the upper levels as we continued planning the rest of our trip with our friends. It was nice to relax after a long day and listen to the rain as it poured outside our window. We sipped on wine, chatted about everything, and booked a hotel all before going to bed that night. The room was a nice neutral territory for people who were still getting to know one another, but I could also see it being great for individuals (families, friends) who bring a picnic breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert and just need a place to relax before venturing out again. I'm sure that they occasionally have events where the area is needed, but I imagine that the majority of the time the rooms and tables are empty.

Breakfast. Internet, & Bugs

As a gold member, I was suppose to receive free breakfast and free internet. Unfortunately, the internet bit didn't pan out so well during our first night. We tried desperately to connect to the hotel's wi-fi with no luck. Finally, on night 2, we were able to connect just in time to book a hotel for the continuation of our trip in Italy.

I'm not sure how much breakfast would have cost us if we were paying, but it was a decent amount of food for not having to pay. We were able to pick between pastries, cheese, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, cereal, coffee, juice, and milk (typical hotel fare). Nothing was extremely amazing or extravagant, and I ended up losing any appetite I could have had when I noticed more of those pesky mosquito-like bugs in the dining room. Ick.

Speaking of bugs in the bedroom and the dining room, I have decided (and voiced my opinion to the Hilton as well) that they really need to find some sort of bug repellent to use on the hotel property. There is absolutely no reason I can think of to have as many problems with bugs as they do. At $200+ a night, hotel guests deserve a property that is bug free. Furthermore, if opening one's window can cause bugs to enter the room, then they really ought to have a sign up that says so! Anyway, you've been warned. Don't open your hotel room window if you want to go to bed at a decent time without worrying about being eaten to death while you sleep.

Overall Review

★★★★ (above average)

The hotel was gorgeous, the staff was helpful, the rooms were large, the breakfast was decent, the shuttle service was nice, and the member upgrades were fair. An open pool, a lack of bugs, empathetic staff, and a cheaper price (on anything: room, breakfast, room service, or at the hotel restaurant!) could have raised my star count. Most likely, I would stay here again if given the chance. My overall experience was very positive even if the hotel still has a few issues to work through.

Your Turn

Given what I have shared about the hotel, would you consider staying here? Do the bugs sicken you? Do the chandeliers intrigue you? Is there anything else I can tell you about this hotel before you plan your extravagant trip to Italy? ;)