Friday, April 29, 2016

It's A Small World After All

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It's day twenty one and the last day of the A-Z blog challenge (for me)! This month I shared all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is Z for Zonked, the feeling we experienced as our trip came to a close and the revelations I had about my trip after we returned home. :)

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Here are a few things I learned during my time there –

1. I am not the most important.

Yes, I have a blog. Yes, I write about myself. A LOT. But then I see a woman huddled up on an awning on the Paris streets trying to keep warm and get some sleep in the blistering cold using a plastic bag as a blanket. And an older man in tattered jeans that just crumpled to the ground near the Christmas Market in Dresden.

It really made me think about blogging and the luxurious life I live. I have access to whatever I need and people who support me no matter what. I have the opportunity to travel. What do those people have? Are their circumstances a result of their life choices?

And then I started wondering: What can I do with my blog to give back to the world? I provide reviews and help people with first world problems, but is that enough?

These are difficult questions, and ones, even months later, I don't have answers to. :(

2. We all share similar dreams of travel … and circumstances holding us back from achieving those dreams.

So, in case you haven't realized, I have friends that live in Germany. We've known eachother for about sixteen years (2000-ish). One in particular always talked about possibly coming to the US at some point. Then, while we were visiting, his parents mentioned going to Africa. So, my takeaway, was that Europeans travel a lot and don't think twice about it. It's like it's second nature to them.

Then Justin and I talked to an older cab driver in Paris. He mentioned having dreams of traveling to the US. "Someday," he said.

And you know what?

I could totally empathize!

I feel like, at least in the US, there is this stigma that you must have money to travel. And not a small amount. We are talking upper class. Or your job pays you to travel.

So when this middle class cab driver uses "travel" and "dream" in the same sentence, I totally understand. It's not that I still believe that you have to have money to travel, but I understand where that mindset comes from.

3. Learning a language is hard!

When we were in Europe the first time, I remember our friends going seamlessly from one country to the next, spouting the new language(s) as if it were their first. "Un macaron s'il vous plaît!" Whereas me… "Ein macaron bitte? … Oh wait! Wrong language! Ummm… Un… ummmm…" ;)

So, when our friends went with us to Prague and my husband spoke more Czech than them (even if it was only two phrases), is it wrong for me to say that I was elated? It was like "Score!" (with fist pump). "You don't know all of the languages! I'm not an idiot! Woot!"

Because as it turns out, learning a new language is hard. It's so unfair that those people who seamlessly go from one language to another make it look like child's play. It's not!

There are times when you zone out while trying to listen because you are overwhelmed, stressed, and trying so hard to get it right. Then there are those moments when you confuse a word from your first language with a word from your second (when listening or speaking). And what about the times when you know all of the words being said but it takes an additional 10 seconds (or more) for your brain to catch up?!

Of course, my friends still know more (languages) than me, but still. It was comforting to see that I'm not the only one to struggle with language-learning. 

In the meantime, practice makes perfect. :)

4. New places provide a great opportunity to reinvent yourself.

When I was in Germany trying to use my left hand to hold my fork and my right hand to hold my knife during the entire dinner, it just felt wrong. In the US, eating like that, or shoveling food in your mouth, would most likely be considered rude. After all, the food isn't going anywhere! And the use of two tools, one so you can cut your food without ever putting the other down, implies that you need to eat your food fast! And while we do take our food to go and are known for having "fast food", we don't necessarily consider eating fast to be considerate or thoughtful, especially when others are at the table.

So here I am at the table of German friends with this conflict going on in my head. If I eat like them, I'm not being rude because that's how they eat. If I don't, I am potentially being rude. BUT that's how I eat. Even more: I am an American tourist and don't necessarily want to fit in. I don't want to be rude, but I like using one hand during meal time?

So I decide to compromise! I'll cut my meat and then just use the fork like normal. No one can complain about that, right?

Except that they can. Turns out that's rude too. :( Unless there are children around. *sigh*

My point: As a tourist, you get to choose which aspects of the culture you want to take on. You aren't expected to know all of the rules and customs. Does that make it right to break the rules that you do know? No, not necessarily. But it's up to you to decide which ones you follow and which ones you don't. You have to take into consideration not only your own feelings on the matter but also those of who you are with. Eventually you'll be able to determine exactly how much culture you need to acquire so that you don't offend the people you are with. :)

5. Understanding and empathy from both parties is imperative (if you are traveling with someone from another country and want to get along).

Remember how I said that it felt wrong for me to eat with two utensils? I meant that I was bringing an emotion into the situation. You know, like what happens when you do your budget and realize you overspent, or you get fired from your job. It's not necessarily something you are suppose to take personally but sometimes do. While it would certainly be understandable if the other party were to get mad at me for not conforming, I've gotta admit it made me more anxious to please when they weren't pushing me to conform. I appreciated that they understand how difficult and complicated it can be to fit into a new culture.

Just keep that in mind when you visit another country … or you have friends from another country visit you. Don't be quick to judge. If you "invite" them to dinner and they get up after the meal and just leave, it could be that they assume you were offering to pay for them. If they refuse to eat with both hands during the meal, it might be a mental or emotional struggle rather than a simple refusal to conform.

Have you ever believed something about another country or culture that you came to realize at a later time wasn't true? Have you ever believed something about yourself or your own country/culture that, as it turns out, is actually a worldwide thing?

ACDE F IJKLMNOPQRSTUVWX/Y

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hyatt Regency – Jersey City, New Jersey

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It's day twenty (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letters are X and Y for the Exuberant and Youthful Hyatt Regency in Jersey City. Feel free to follow along as I make my way through the alphabet! Only one more day left! :)

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Destination: Jersey City, New Jersey
Date: January 2016
Hotel: Hyatt Regency Jersey City
Brand: Hyatt
Elite Status: Platinum
# of travelers: 2
nights: 1

Hotel: Making the Decision

Out of all of the hotels I stayed at in New York City during the holidays, choosing the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City was one of the easiest and most complicated hotel decisions I made. For one, I was looking for hotels with Christmas trees and views, but I was also trying to save money. At the point in which I booked this hotel, I had myself convinced that I would be staying 2 nights in both NYC and Paris for free and paying for one night; then I just had to decide which night would I be paying for?

Many variety of Hyatts, just like in Paris, were recommended for NYC. People on the travel forums that I look at for advice suggested staying in the financial district or at Chelsea… But when I looked on Tripadvisor, none of these expensive, point costly hotels offered any of the things I was after – mainly a view. When I spotted the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City and began researching it, I discovered that I could get a view for nearly half the points (15,000 vs. 30,000) and a view if I was willing to stay outside of the city. Considering my husband and I would be flying back home from EWR, this didn't seem like such a bad idea. The biggest complications we would run into would include getting in and out of the city; I figured for one day we could handle that.

So, the decision was made. 15,000 points from our Chase Ultimate Rewards account was transferred and we were guaranteed a room in Jersey City. And if we were lucky, we'd find ourselves with a sweet view! :)

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Getting There/Location

Getting to the Hyatt Regency ended up being incredibly complicated. My husband and I took a bus from JFK to EWR and then cabbed over to our hotel. I think it took nearly 2 hours or more? It was ridiculous. I don't even know that it saved us money.

HOWEVER, you will be glad to know that the Hyatt Regency is located right next to the Jersey subway (PATH). And even better, PATH connects easily to the NYC subway (MTA). In fact, you can buy tickets for both at the one station (Exchange Place).

Another option: because the hotel is right on the Hudson River, you can take the ferry from Manhattan to Jersey City. A fun experience for the kids and certainly a different way to arrive to the hotel than the usual!

Cabs may or may not be an option for you. According to what I've read online, cabs from LGA and JFK don't have a set price for going into New Jersey. Usually the route is very long, crosses under a tunnel, and has a toll. Some cab drivers will work out a deal with you, but you will have to figure this out before leaving the airport. Uber or Lyft might be better options, but they could still be costly.

If you are a good planner and nervous about having transportation, the Hyatt Regency offers a car that you can reserve to pick you up up from EWR or take you there. My husband and I paid a flat fee of $70 for the service, but we were glad to know that when we woke up the next morning a car would be there waiting for us and we wouldn't be 1) ripped off (because we knew the fee upfront) and 2) late to the airport for our early morning flight home.

NYC also offers various buses to get around the city (which you could take to the subway, ferry, or airport), or you could potential rent or drive your own car for a $38 overnight parking fee.

Because Jersey City and NYC are so close to one another, you have a plethora of options to consider. It really just comes down to what is best for you and the people you are traveling with.

Checking In & Porter

When my husband and I arrived to the hotel, exhausted from a full day of transporting, we were crazy happy when the porter took our luggage from us so that we could check in. He went up an elevator around the corner, that we couldn't see from where we were, and we went up an escalator to the front desk. We were warmly greeted by the staff who helped us get situated as quickly as possible. The sun was setting outside and, with views of the sunset over the Hudson, I was desperate to get to a position where I could photograph the last bits of light before it disappeared over the horizon.

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Room, View, Amenities

When we finally got to our room, I threw my handbag down and flew to the window. We had received an upgrade as Hyatt Platinum members, so our window view was looking out over the Hudson River at the Manhattan skyline. We had a couch on which I could perch as I shot picture after picture of our amazing view.

The room itself wasn't half bad either. We had a king bed big enough for … well, a king. :) And the room was a decent size too. We felt as though we could spread out and be comfortable. Even the furnishings were nice and updated. Even though we were staying uncomfortably outside of the New York City limits, our room and view definitely made up for it.

After showers using hotel provided shampoo, soap, and conditioner, in a desperate attempt to wake up, the porter finally arrived with our luggage. It's not that he had taken his time, but it was more that we were in a hurry to get out and enjoy the rest of our night in the city. Plus, we had to buy a bag from Macy's before they closed!

So off we went! :)

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Lobby & Bar

At the end of the night, before retiring to our room, despite how tired we were, I asked Justin if we could get a drink from the bar and enjoy the lit up Manhattan skyline from the hotel lobby. Justin agreed, so that's just what we did. :)

He ordered a local beer and I ordered a lime rickey. We just sat for… well, as long as we could keep our eyes open, drinking, and, every now and then, talking about our whole experience of traveling to all of the places in the two weeks following Christmas. Overall we had a wonderful time and this chance of taking the opportunity to drink yummy drinks while looking at the night skyline gave us the chance to relax and reflect on that before we headed back home and into a crazy, work week.

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Ballroom & Balcony View

As we got into the elevator to head to our room, rather than press the number for the lower level that our hotel room was actually on, I asked Justin if we could go to the floor directly above ours, the highest one, just to see. :) Being Justin, he said yes and up we went!

We weren't too impressed when we got off the elevator. There were chairs and tables galore and the room looked fairly unused. We walked up next to the windows, as close as we could get, and marveled at the various views from the different sides of the hotel, some of which were views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline that we couldn't see from our room.

Then, Justin found a door that led to a balcony! Afraid we'd get locked out, we tested the door first. One of us went outside while the other stayed inside: would it work? In fact, yes it did! :) So on a chilly night in December Justin and I ventured out onto the balcony of Hyatt Regency Jersey City and received a marvelous 180º view of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. With the weather so nice that night, we almost didn't want to go in. However, I was desperate for pictures, and both my DSLR and Nexus 6 (to get a 360º view) were in the hotel room; I asked Justin if we could go get them.

Leaving the balcony for our cameras was where we made the mistake. I'm not sure if we had gotten in just the right elevator to get to that top floor or what, but, after collecting our camera equipment, when we pressed the button again, the elevator didn't go anywhere. :( And so we went looking for stairs only to find the top level locked for every door we tried. Apparently we had one opportunity to see that fantastic view, and that opportunity was now over. Time for bed.

Check Out

Come the next morning, as you can imagine, we didn't want to wake up. Luckily, we didn't have to wait any time for a taxi since we had reserved the hotel car to take us to EWR that morning. From the cab, I sadly watched as the sun rose and I was, yet again, not in a position for photographing it.

When we got to the airport, we pulled out croissants we had bought the night before from a vendor near Bryant Park the night before and grabbed some Starbucks to drink at LGA. The whole experience was quick and easy.

In fact, we were boarding the plane ready to return home in hardly any time at all. Our 17 day adventure had finally come to an end.

video
Never in a good place to view the sunrise or sunset!


Overall Review
★★★(above average)

The Hyatt Regency Jersey City went above and beyond my expectations by giving us an unexpected room with a view on a high floor. Unknowingly they also gave us the opportunity to see the Manhattan skyline from the balcony of the hotel, which only added to our enjoyment of staying here. We also really liked the size of the room and the bar's location next to panoramic views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. The hotel was also really close to the subway making it super easy to access public transportation. And when public transportation just wouldn't do, they had a driver you could schedule to take you to the airport. Altogether, the hotel seemed to have thought of everything! I truly can't imagine a better experience from this hotel … aside from …

The hotel didn't offer breakfast … or free drinks … or much of anything.

Yes, I understand that I'm spoiled. :) I also understand that I've probably already paid for those little extras when I get them, but… they are nice. They add to the overall customer experience. They make me feel special. :)

(And don't tell me you have to be Hyatt Platinum to get free breakfast. I already knew that!)

Also, the hotel was located outside of the city limits. It didn't really affect my stay here, but given the length of time it can take to get from Jersey City to Manhattan, I could see how this could be a (small) problem.


Would I recommend this hotel?

Absolutely! In fact, I anticipate returning here in the summer and potentially watching the July 4th fireworks while there. It's a fantastic hotel, and I don't say that lightly. With a free breakfast, I would have definitely given this hotel a 5 star rating!

Your Turn

Have you ever considered staying at a hotel slightly outside the city limits of a place you are visiting just so that you can pay less? If so, was it a good experience or did you wish you had been closer? If not, would you consider doing it in the future? Does easy access to public transportation play a role in where you choose to book hotels?

ACDE F IJKLMNOPQRSTU • V • W


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Homeward Bound & the Ten Steps of Doom We Encountered Beforehand

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It's day nineteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is W for feeling wronged and weary in New York City. Feel free to follow along as I make my way through the alphabet! :)

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After staying up late wandering around Paris, dealing with a cab driver that was ripping us off, and trying to arrive early to the airport for catching our flight home, we were more than happy to be headed back to the US. Our thought was: Europe, if you're done with us, we're done with you! Only … we had no idea what lurked ahead…

It all began the moment we stepped foot into CDG…

1. Do you know how hard it is to find a decent croissant in CDG? And if you do, the lines are crazy long!!!! 

I can function without breakfast.

My husband, on the other hand, cannot. Well, more so, he can't function without coffee. 

Buy mug here.

Yeah, that's him. :)

And sometimes it takes two cups before it's acceptable to talk!

2. After you've found a sufficient breakfast, then you can sleep on the plane, right?!

Except not if you have had your two cups of coffee. ;) Or so Justin found out.

I had no problem relaxing for the six hours between Paris and New York City. I even fit in a few episodes of "Two Broke Girls" which oddly enough I was introduced to by a German.   

My husband, on the other hand… :)

When the plane landed before it's scheduled arrival time I was ready to go! He, however, was not. :-/

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3. That's when we decided to save money and take our luggage to the Newark airport (where we would be flying out the next day) and rent a locker for our luggage. We thought it might save us time and money. Only…

As it turns out, the information I was viewing online was old. :( There were no lockers available at EWR for rent.

And just like that, noon became five o'clock. The bus ride to EWR had taken all afternoon and we still hadn't gotten to our hotel. :(

4. So we hopped in a cab and headed to the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City.

First of all, I only have good things to say about the hotel; it was amazing! I had missed a beautiful sunset view from the pier, but it didn't matter. I quickly fell in love with the hotel anyway!

But by this point, the paper bag I had been using to hold various items (so we wouldn't be charged an overage fee on our luggage from our flight to NYC) had broken, so we knew the first thing on our to do list was to head to Macy's to get a new bag.

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5. First I wanted to go to the fabric district and find fabric for my grandmother though. It was suppose to be a late Christmas gift.

I had fully intended on buying fabric in Paris, but I didn't want to carry it around Europe so we decided to wait until the last day before we returned to the US to shop for it. Unfortunately, I underestimated how long the train ride would take between Germany and France. So that didn't happen. :( 

As it turns out though, even in NYC we were too late to buy fabric. Just like in our hometown, stores close early on Sundays. We made it all the way to the correct district only to find shop after shop closed. :(

I guess it just wasn't meant to be?

6. So, then it was on to Macy's, which we knew had an early closing time.

We roamed the entire luggage collection over and over again trying to pick the cheapest bag that we would also get the most post-trip use out of. If you know my husband at all, you would realize that by this time the lack of food and sleep was leading to something even beyond hanger. There would be no arguing with him. My luggage choices and his weren't going to align, so, rather than fight it, I agreed to settle. Whatever made him happy. (Because at some point, it just doesn't matter!)

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7. As we headed away from Macy's and through Times Square, some jerk with a bag of broken glass decided to hit my hangered husband's newly acquired luggage piece.

Maybe we looked like we had money?

Or?

Me, who hadn't been paying attention, stopped, looking very confused at the two men. This is when the guy took advantage of the situation and complained that Justin had broken his just bought, very expensive Whiskey. 

I think my first thought was: "There's no liquid on the ground? And the glass in the bag sounded literally shattered into thousands of pieces. Not like four. And how in the world did a piece of soft luggage manage to do that?"

Justin said he only had $10, which the guy took readily.

And then we left truly feeling taken advantage of. :(

But what were we suppose to do? Get into a fight? Go to jail? 

This was the first truly depressing experience I have ever had in NYC. I'm just glad nothing worse happened. :-/

8. Finally food.

We made our way to a local pizza shop far away from Times Square. The pizza was amazing! But while we were eating, you'll never guess what happened!

It started raining. :( 

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9. So we raced to the subway! 

Only Justin was so tired that he wasn't paying attention to the stops and we missed every. single. one. And me? I was trusting him. :( Needless to say, it was another late night. This time, not on purpose.

10. As if all of that wasn't enough of an ending to what had been a delightful holiday, we found out the next morning that David Bowie had passed. :(

I think that was a sign that our vacation was officially over. It was time to get back to real life. :-/

Have you ever had a wonderful vacation only for it to end in a less than pleasant way? 

ACDE F IJKLMNOPQRSTU • V


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Georgia Gems

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Even though I'm not quite finished with April A-Z, I decided to write a special post (my second for today!) on Georgia gems for #TravelTuesday. Really, it's just a mash-up of posts I've previously shared on the blog, but I thought it might be helpful for those planning a trip to my home state some time in the future.

First, my Georgia A-Z from last year. I came up with a list of places and experiences to have featuring every letter of the alphabet covered in 8 posts.

A-DE-GH-KL-OP-STU-WX-Z

While I covered a lot of territory in that series, here are some other Geogia posts I've put together over the years:

Savannah Georgia Bucket List
Stone Mountain Georgia and discussion on the potential loss of a monument
Another list of Georgia cities and attractions
• the small town I once called home: Dacula
Awesome ice cream in the Southeast
Captive, the true story of a man who broke out of jail and held a Georgia woman captive, against her will, and how the experience changed her life for the better
Atlanta Botanical Gardens Christmas lights 2015
Final Cut, an Anthropologie/Urban Outfitters/Free People discount store in Augusta, GA
• And a few Savannah, GA hotel reviews: Doubletree Historic District Holiday Inn Express & Suites Midtown; & Hampton Inn: Historic District

Finally, some fun links to help you learn more about Georgia and its main city Atlanta. These are the links we pass around on facebook, so you know that all these facts are true!

35 signs you grew up in Atlanta
10 Atlantan Stereotypes That Are Completely Accurate
25 Things You Might Not Know About Atlanta

I'm still in the process of learning more about my state and the states surrounding it. Sometimes it feels like every day I learn of a new place to visit or sight to see. Right now Justin and I working our way through visiting all of the Georgia parks and down this list of the best Georgia breakfast restaurants.

Are you making an effort to get to know the place you live any better? Have you ever visited Georgia or seen any of the small towns or attractions I've mentioned in this post?




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Westin Vendôme – Paris, France

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It's day eighteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is V for Westin Vendôme the name of the last hotel we stayed at in Paris before returning home. Feel free to follow along as I make my way through the alphabet! :)

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Destination: Paris, France
Date: January 2016
Hotel: Westin Vendôme
Brand: Starwood
Elite Status: Preferred
# of travelers: 2
nights: 1

Hotel: Making the Decision

If you recall from my Paris hotel stays in December (here and here), I was particularly interested in staying at the Hyatt Vendôme. When that didn't work out, my next choices were: a room with a view or Christmas decorations. Being January, I didn't expect Christmas decorations to play into my choice, so then it became about the view. And, perhaps lessly, the location. The Westin Vendôme is located in arrondissement one which basically put us in the center of town.

Getting There + Location

Justin and I took the train to Paris center and from there grabbed a cab, as we had become used to doing. The cab ride to our hotel was quick, easy, and painless, but I do want to mention that the cab ride from our hotel back to the airport was a bit of a pain.

On the way to our hotel, Justin made conversation with the driver a third in French, a third in German, and a third in English. It was great fun as he was an older man who had only recently moved to Paris and dreamed of coming to the United States; there was a lot to talk about! And a lot of laughter as the three of us tried to work through language barriers …

But our ride from the hotel to the airport was not quite as nice. We had only enough money to get us from the hotel to the airport, and because we had made a similar drive before (to the Intercontinental Le Grand), we had a rough estimate of how much the total should have been. Of course, we were also very tired from staying up waaaaayyyyy too late the night before. (It was our last night in Paris! We had to!) So when the driver picked us up, we didn't confirm that he took credit card; we should have. We got to the airport and were told a fee much higher than we could have ever expected! And, of course, as we pull out the Euros we have to pay it, the driver sees Justin's American dollars in his wallet. :( He then explains that he will take American dollars in exchange for what we don't have in Euros; he's going to the US to visit his brother and they will come in handy. Of course, his exchange rate is far above what the current exchange rate is, so we lost a good chunk of change in that transaction and ended up leaving the country feeling screwed over by the French. :(

But no worries though! I'm not easily diswayed; I will return again!

Anyway, assuming you feel like dealing with cab drivers (who may or may not rip you off), that is always an option. Or you can get lost on the Metro … Ride in a bus … or take a train. There are a myriad of ways to get to the center of Paris! You just have to pick one! :)

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Checking In & Porter

As we arrived to our hotel, the porter was there to greet us and take our luggage. He then waited off to the side while we spoke with the front desk clerk. She said there was one room with a view available on a higher floor, but that the room was awfully small; did we maybe want a room on a lower floor? Because we wanted to take advantage of our remaining time in Paris, Justin said that we would go take a look and let her know if we changed our mind after that.

So, that's just what we did!

The porter led the way through a lot of winding halls (the hotel was a maze!) until he got to our room. Holding the door open with one hand, he ushered us in to take a look around.

We decided the room was fit for a king (or us) and decided to stick with it.

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Room, View, Amenities, & Lobby

The entrance to the room had very tiny halls that made it difficult to get our luggage into the room. Somehow we managed though! Once you got past the tiny hall with a door leading to a decent sized bathroom (with all of the hygienic goodies you could possibly desire – soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, iron, etc…), the hall funneled out into a larger room leading to … A BALCONY! Woot! :)

And lucky us! We made it just in time to see sunset!

Only, unfortunately, we had to move a large desk to get to our balcony view. (Did the room really need a desk?!)

Overall I'd have to say that the room we received was probably larger than what you would typically find in Parisian hotels, but not nearly as big as the room we received at The Brighton, a hotel just down the street. And the view was very similar to The Brighton as well. For the money, it's possible that The Brighton is a better fit for my husband and myself, but I could see the Westin Vendôme being great for people with status in the SPG program and for those wanting to rack up or use up points. The rooms were very nice and much prettier than anything The Brighton had to offer.

Even the lobby had lots of room to spread out at tables and on couches.

Chandeliers, flowers, and decorative architecture made the hotel seem incredibly grand and perfect for a person who is visiting the hotel on a fancy holiday or for a honeymoon.

Be sure to join the SPG program before visiting this hotel if you want access to the free wifi!

view from room

Checking Out

Justin and I didn't stick around the hotel for too long; we had Paris to explore! We found ourselves back at Galeries Lafayette where we bought Justin a fancy French coat on sale and ate a small dinner of macaroni, a hot tomato and cheese croissant, and … something else (Obviously it wasn't good; otherwise I'd remember what it was!) before going to a show at the Moulin Rouge, getting a late night dessert outside of the Eiffel Tower, and taking in the delicious stars as we made our way back to the hotel.

Packing was less than fun. We had to somehow get all of our newly acquired French souvenirs equally separated among three bags for our flight. Paying an extra baggage fee that we could (not so) easily avoid sounded like a better option… Only as it turns out, we had to pay it anyway. *shrugs*

But overall, the checking out itself wasn't bad. We were in line behind one person and while we were waiting a porter came by to grab our luggage. When our turn came, Justin handed over our key to the front desk, settled our bill, and then we were on our way! There was a cab waiting right outside the hotel to take us directly to the airport. :)

Sidenote: We were told it takes approximately 45 minutes to get from the hotel to the airport, so keep that in mind if you visit this hotel. :)

A big building and a crazy amount of rooms as well!

Overall Review
★★★ (average)

Customer service was handled excellently at this hotel. It was nice being given room options and having the opportunity to view our room choices before we settled on one that we might not be (as) happy with. The rooms were large and spacious, but not nearly as big as what The Brighton offered just a hop, skip, and jump away. Plus, the hallway maze we found particularly confusing; it was like (shock and surprise) their goal was to fit as many rooms as possible into the building to make as much money on guests as possible with less emphasis on room size comfort. (Crazy assumption, right?) The Brighton, for a lower price, provides approximately the same view and a much larger balcony that you don't have to move a desk to get to. (That was frustrating!) However, The Brighton does not offer the opportunity to earn or burn points, does not focus on making the rooms look fancy, nor does it offer an upscale restaurant, pool, spa, or a large lobby with ballrooms for parties and celebrations. So, basically, it comes down to what you are wanting from your money. I have a feeling though, that if you go during an off season (like we did in January), you are more likely to get the customer service you desire and an upgrade that you might during other times of the year.

Your Turn

What is your experience in traveling during the off-season? Have you noticed you are more likely to get upgrades and better customer service? If you've never traveled during what is considered the off-season, would you consider it if you thought you might get better customer service or upgrades?

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Train Uncertainy

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It's day eighteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is U for the Uncertainty we felt on the train as we headed back to Paris. Feel free to follow along as I make my way through the alphabet! :)

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(source)

By day fifteen of our vacation, it was time to start the long journey home. Luckily, we did that journey in spurts rather than going straight back which made it a lot more fun and less daunting. Instead of returning sad that the trip was over and exhausted from all that we had done, I returned home feeling invigorated and ready to go again! (Because when am I not?!)

Just prior to leaving Germany, I decided to take advantage of our friend's internet connection and order tickets to the Moulin Rouge. And then, inevitably, we needed to borrow their printer and steal a sheet of paper from them as well. *le sigh* If you give a mouse a cookie… ;)

Finally, after breakfast, they were able to be rid of us. One stayed at home cleaning up from the disaster we had left them (Sorry!) while the other drove us to the train station and performed one last nicety (by not making me carry my, at that point, 40 pound luggage).

We boarded the train and said goodbyes at which point, I'm sure, the friend that had dropped us off went to 1) wash his car and 2) celebrate! (I know this, because it's what I would have done. :-P)

And just as sadness began to wash over us (saying good bye is always hard), the train started up and we were on our way.

video

Now, at this point, let's back up a bit.

Before Justin and I had left the states we had not bought train tickets to return from our friend's home to Paris. I had been emailing said friend back and forth planning the trip and while we had gotten most of the details worked out, this was one I never received a response to. Because we were relying on these particular friends to get us to the train station, I didn't feel comfortable just booking a random ticket. And then which station would they be taking us to? They were meeting us in Stuttgart when we arrived, would they be taking us there at the end of our travels? Without answers to these questions, I knew we would be arriving to their home without return tickets. We would have to ask in person what the plan was.

If you have travelled in Europe (or live there), you know train tickets go up in price the closer you get to your date of travel. I should have known this, I remember reading about this prior to making travel plans, and yet I still didn't fully comprehend it … until we were there actually making plans to return from Germany to Paris…


And so before we went to Prague, our friends sat us down (thankfully) and said "when are you going back to Paris?" At that point I think the correct answer would have been "never". ;) So they helped us look up train tickets mentioning how some tickets were for pauses (like a minute or less to board) and some were for actual stops (providing a few minutes to board and get settled). Our friends made sure we had the correct tickets and set us up for our return to Paris using a German site and printing our tickets in German.

This wouldn't have been a problem, and it still really wasn't, but I can't read train tickets. I've ridden a train once in the US and there were no assigned seats. And all of the train tickets I purchased for Europe were in English … and, as with the US, I had only had to deal with train tickets, myself, once in Europe. So when we were handed our "German" tickets I had to get some confirmation on what everything meant. Easy enough, I suppose, when you have a German translator standing right there next to you.


We didn't actually run into any problems with the translation, but we did run into other problems…

For one, our friend had said, as we were boarding, that our stop would be the very last one.

What did my husband hear?

I'm not entirely sure…

One stop before Stuttgart and Justin has us disboarding. I'm following his lead, because he's my husband. Surely he knows what he's doing!

I get off the train, look around, and say "This doesn't look like Stuttgart?"

And my husband responded…

"Sh*t!"

(or something like that)

and we quickly attempted reboarding. Except for my husband grabbing the 40 pound bag and leaving me with the 70 pound bag?

Do I look like I work out in the gym?

Knowing that there was no way in heck I'd be able to drag that thing onboard (OK, I might could have but it would have been a slow and painful process), I just got on the train expecting him to jump back off and grab the heavier bag. Shock and surprise though when an Italian man, who had made the same mistake as us, reached down, grabbed the bag and, after heaving the bag aboard exclaimed, half out of breath "Das ist schwer!" (That is difficult! or, in this particular case, heavy!)

And his girlfriend snuggled up to her big, strong man. (Because duh. Who wouldn't? lol.)

And my husband exclaimed "Vielen dank!" (Many thanks!)

Because that's what you do when you are short on time, your wife leaves the suitcase on the platform, and the train is about to pull away. :)


We weren't having much luck with the whole train thing!

In Stuttgart we spent an hour in the train station. I went into gift shops and looked at books and gift cards while my husband guarded the luggage. Then we grabbed a disgusting croissant from a local French café to munch on while we waited.

Finally, our train arrived. We went to find the correct train car only to discover the door was locked!

The way the trains are set up in Europe, you can enter a car from another car, but it's a long and complicated process. So we went to the car right before ours and immediately climbed the steps straight up walked our luggage through the car, and then we were suppose to take our luggage down the steps and then back up a few so that they would be positioned near us on the bottom level of the train car.


If you've been following my blog closely, you've discovered that:

me + heavy luggage + lots of steps = :(

So I had the bright idea of leaving the luggage on the top floor of the train despite our seats being on the bottom. Carrying luggage up one flight of steps was more than enough for me! … Justin agreed.

So right before we arrived in Paris, we climbed the steps, grabbed our luggage, and went to stand at the bottom of the steps for our arrival into Paris so that we could get ourselves and our luggage out of the way and onto the train platform as quickly as possible


And it worked!

But I still think it seems like a good idea to blame our friends for picking a car with a train door that didn't work, especially since they knew how much I hated carrying my luggage. ;)


A few Notes to Make Your Rail Experience Better:
• Top floor provides more scenic views than the bottom floor. Tourists are typically on the bottom floor because they don't know any better. :) (Or they booked late.)
• You can only book train reservations 3 months in advance. The earlier you book the cheaper your trip will most likely be.
• If you aren't familiar with rail travel, I recommend checking out Rome2Rio. Not only does it suggest where to get your rail tickets, but it also gives you alternative transportation information (like how much and how long it would take to drive, if that's what you wanted to do). Supposedly Google Flights now also offers information on rail travel and shows you which websites provide the cheapest tickets.
• If you go through enough train cars, you will most likely find a dining car. Of course this depends on where you are traveling and how long the train ride actually is.
• There is a difference between train stops and train pauses. Know where you are getting on and how fast you will need to board.
• Like in the states, the board in the train station doesn't update until a few minutes before arrival, so arrive early and watch the board to know where your train will depart from.
• Some trains (like the ones going between major cities) have seating assignments, some don't. Know how to read your ticket and find the correct seat/rail car.
• If you are traveling between countries, make sure to have your passport, tickets, and card payment source ready for inspection. Of course, even if you aren't going between countries, they may check your tickets, ID, and payment source.
• Officers often speak a bit of English, and even if they don't, you'll see what's going on as they walk through the rail cars. Just be ready to give them what they need.
• There are places for large suitcases in the front and back of the train cars and, for smaller bags and coats, you can put them over your seat.
• Bathrooms are available for use on the train cars. If you need to go, go! While train stations also have restrooms, they typically cost one euro or less. Take advantage of the free bathrooms while you can! :)
• First class rail tickets provide a free drink for your ride as well as, if you sit on the bottom floor, a ramp to carry your luggage on instead of steps.

Have you ever traveled by rail anywhere? Is this an experience you like and enjoy or do you prefer to travel another way? If you haven't traveled by rail, would you consider it in the future? Or am I making it sound intimidating? ;) Feel free to ask me any questions! Even if I don't know the answer, I'm sure I could find a way of getting you one!

* Images are mostly random shots from the train ride between Germany and France.
•• My tips are based entirely on my experience riding DB. I do not live in Europe, and I've found there is always something more to learn. If I got anything wrong in this post, feel free to let me know so that I can correct. Ideally I would like this post to help those who are planning or anticipating future rail travel in Europe, and it won't help if I've gotten anything wrong. :-/ <3

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