Germany

Things aren’t bad in Baden-Baden… Part one

Bill and I have just arrived home after our latest and last trip from the Stuttgart area.  One week from today, the movers will come and pack up our stuff.  I recall the last time we moved out of the Stuttgart area.  It was September 2009, and we were set to move on September 15th.  The weekend before our departure, we took advantage of the long Labor Day weekend in Budapest, Hungary. We had an amazing time in that spa town, where Bill had his very first deep tissue massage.  On that trip, we stayed in the beautiful Hotel Corinthia, which at the time, was probably the most luxurious hotel we’d ever experienced.

It seems only fitting that we’d do our last trip from Stuttgart in another famous spa town, Baden-Baden.  I had been meaning to visit this splendid German town for years, but never managed it because we’ve lived so close.  On a normal day, meaning with no construction or traffic, we could get to Baden-Baden in about 90 minutes taking the scenic route.  Since there’s always the threat of having to move back to the United States unexpectedly, we’ve always opted for trips further afield.

As I was planning our 16th anniversary celebration, I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to fly to an exotic place for our four night trip.  I’ve been itching to get to a more exotic location that I haven’t yet seen.  But when I asked my well-traveled friends on Facebook where we should go, more than a few recommended Baden-Baden.  Both one of my former English professors from Longwood University and another friend, who loves historic, stylish hotels, recommended Brenners Park Hotel and Spa.

The truth is, I had been eyeing that hotel myself.  The many times I thought about taking a trip to Baden-Baden, I considered booking a room at Brenners.  But then I checked out the prices, which are eye-wateringly expensive, and thought again.  Indeed, even when I had made the final decision to visit Baden-Baden, I originally planned to book a room at the ever popular Aqua Aurelia Hotel, which seemed more modern than Brenners, but was also less expensive.  But then when I went to book, the room I wanted, upgraded from their basic room, was not available.

So then I went back to Brenners, and realized you only live once.  I booked us a deluxe double room via Expedia.com for four nights, cringing a bit at the final cost.  We made the reservation through Expedia, but paid at the hotel.  Luckily, my husband is very indulgent and has acquired a taste for luxury after sixteen years with me.

Fast forward to November 15th…  

A few shots from the road.  For most of our drive, we had lots of clouds, but there were a few sunny spots. 

Since we didn’t know where we’d be going for our trip, Bill arranged to drop our dogs off with Max early in the morning.  That left us with plenty of time to make the relatively short drive to Baden-Baden.  Check in at Brenners Park is at 3:00pm.  I thought maybe we’d stop somewhere on the way have lunch.  However, we ran into some road construction on B28  that forced us to take a couple of detours.  One detour took us on a somewhat scary mountain pass with a pretty bad road.  By the time we got to the other side of the mountain, it was about 1:00pm and Bill was a bit shellshocked.

We reached Brenners Park at just after 1:00.  Bill attempted to park the car in the hotel’s garage (26 euros per day), but was blocked by a truck that was unloading.  Frustrated, he pulled out of the garage and was quickly met by a valet, who happily unloaded the Mini and parked it for us.  We approached the check in desk, where a handsome young man greeted us.  I mentioned that we were in town to celebrate our anniversary.  He congratulated us and upgraded our room.

I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard him right when he told us we were getting a junior suite.  That was quite a leap in the rack rate.  But then he escorted us to our palatial suite, where our bags were delivered and set in an enormous changing room.  I was absolutely shocked at the opulence.  It really set the tone for a marvelous stay.

A hallway inside our 70 square meter suite.

The alcove where our bed was. 

Sitting area.

Beautiful writing desk and armoire with a television.

Huge dressing room with wardrobes.

Bathtub.  The bathroom was also huge.  I didn’t do it justice with these pictures.

The mirror had a lamp and its own light.  There was also a beautiful marble shower.

Balcony overlooking the park.

Bill collapses on the royal bed.  

Well stocked minibar.  Water and soft drinks were included in the room rate.  Alcohol and snacks were not.

A daily fruit plate with macaroons, also included.

Turn down service.

Another desk and TV.

 

A handy doorway from the bedroom through the changing room to the bathroom.  

After the shock of the upgrade wore off, we decided to go to the Wintergarten restaurant in the hotel and have some lunch.  Brenners Park has two restaurants.  There’s the Wintergarten, which is in a really pretty solarium, and Fritz and Felix, which is their new restaurant concept of “casual fine dining”.  We didn’t have a chance to try Fritz & Felix, but really liked our experience in the Wintergarten restaurant.

Bill enjoys a glass of Riesling.

Bread with pistachio spread and butter.  I liked the pistachio spread!

For lunch, I had a salad made with greens, cherry tomatoes, and huge sea scallops, seared to perfection.

Bill had a citrus cured lobster salad with melon.  This was the first time either of us had ever had lobster that was cooked without heat.  Instead, it was “cooked” chemically with citrus juice.  I really liked the tangy dressing that came on this salad and, I must admit, raw lobster has an interesting texture.  It reminded me of jelly.

For dessert, I had a Black Forest cream puff with chocolate, vanilla, and cherry.  It came with a scoop of cherry ice cream.

Bill had a lemon tart with basil ice cream and meringues.  This lunch set us back about 159 euros.

 

I grabbed a shot of these desserts on display.

After lunch, we took a short walk around Baden-Baden to get a feel for the place.  It’s quite a ritzy town.  I couldn’t help but notice how international it is, too.  We heard lots of French and British English spoken, but most of all, we noticed Russians.  Russians are everywhere in Baden-Baden!  Quite a lot of them were staying at Brenners Park, too.

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Ireland

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part three

The first time we visited Dublin, Bill and I stayed at the Marker Hotel, which is a very nice business class accommodation located near Ireland’s Facebook offices.  The Marker Hotel was, at that time, Trip Advisor’s number one pick for hotels in Dublin.  I don’t think that’s why I booked it, though.  I think it’s because the Merrion Hotel was full during the time we wanted to visit.  When I travel without the dogs, I like to stay in nice hotels.

Super nice digs!

Bill and I liked the Marker Hotel fine, but the location wasn’t ideal for us.  It’s very close to the Liffey River, kind of away from all the pubs and sights.  The Merrion Hotel, by contrast, is right in the thick of things, off Merrion Square and close to St. Stephen’s Green.  It’s directly next to a street lined with restaurants and it’s also not far from the RDS Arena, which is where Paul Simon would be performing.  The Marker Hotel’s location is a bit more residential and not as convenient to non business related activities.

The Merrion Hotel is also just plain more to my liking.  It’s more of a traditional hotel, with more of a classic feel than the Marker Hotel’s ultra sleek modern vibe.  Both hotels are expensive.  Both hotels are very nice and offer excellent service and good food.  But my preference is for the Merrion, which our cab driver assured us is the best hotel in Dublin.  I believe him.  For readers who are wondering which one they’d like better– if you’re going to splurge, that is– I’d say choose the Marker Hotel if you like modern decor and want to be close to the river and/or Facebook.  Choose the Merrion Hotel if you like a more traditional decor with character and lavish service.  Either way, you really can’t go wrong.  They are both beautiful hotels.

If your preference is more for “interesting”, I’d recommend checking out the Charleville Lodge, which is run by a hilarious guy who is very active on Facebook.  I have not stayed at the Charleville Lodge myself, but I have a feeling I would enjoy it… if only I weren’t so posh.  The guy who runs the Charleville Lodge also runs the White Moose Cafe, which was all over the news a few months ago after the owner exposed a blogger.  Hmmm…  I guess that’s another reason I decided not to book there.  Seriously, if you like cheeky humor and don’t mind some ribbing, you might want to check it out.  Maybe we’ll stay there next time we go to Dublin, but only if I’ve given up writing by that time.

So, anyway, back to the Merrion Hotel.  I had prepaid for the room, but they took an imprint of Bill’s credit card for “incidentals”.  We knew there would be incidentals, too.  The Merrion Hotel has two restaurants, a pub, and a cocktail bar, as well as a beautifully equipped spa.  I never made it to a spa treatment, but I did try out the beautiful pool and took note of the well-maintained exercise room, which, of course, I didn’t use.

We were assigned room 333, which was a standard room on the “garden” wings.  The garden wings are relatively newly built wings to the original hotel, which originally consisted of four Victorian era townhouses.  While the newer rooms lack the character of the original rooms, they are still extremely well appointed and comfortable and even come with free chocolate and water.  Below are some pictures.

They gave us free Fuji water, which we never got around to drinking, and three chocolate bars, which we brought home with us.  Chocolate is definitely a plus.

The bed.  Not sure what that stripe down the picture is.  Maybe my iPhone malfunctioned.

A tray of amenities.  If you need dry cleaning or laundry done, they have you covered.  

A huge marble bathroom with a nice shower and tub.  It also had a scale in it, which I carefully avoided.  The shower was nice, although I preferred the one at Wald Hotel in Stuttgart!

Water by Oscar Wilde!  He’s everywhere in Dublin!

 

Our room also had a French balcony, free Internet, a mini bar, and a TV with lots of channels on it.  Every night, a housekeeper brought us ice and kept us stocked with water.  We only got turn down service on the night of Paul Simon’s concert because the other nights, we were already in for the evening when it was time for turn down service.

We were pretty tired on our first night in Dublin, so we decided to eat at the hotel.  They have a pub in the basement called The Cellar Bar (which I had originally misunderstood as “Salad Bar”).  It’s a really cool place, with lots of brick rooms.  Thursday nights, they have live entertainment.  Although we didn’t see the musicians who played for a short while, we did hear them.  It was a nice treat and, unfortunately, the closest I got to live pub music during our visit.  Maybe next time we’ll have better luck and want to stay up later.

Bill peruses the menu.

He had an open faced steak sandwich with mild cheese.

I went with half a chicken smothered with barbecue sauce.  This was a real treat!  While we certainly get chicken in Germany, it’s not usually prepared in this style.  It came with a salad.

A Hop House Lager, made by Guinness.

 

Service at The Cellar Bar was cordial and professional and the food was very good.  I would have liked to have gone there a second time, but we didn’t get the chance.  However, we did have three breakfasts in The Garden Room, which is one of the hotel’s restaurants.  Breakfast is 24 euros if you just want the continental stuff and 29 euros if you opt for a cooked to order breakfast.  If you want steak and eggs, it’s another fourteen euros.  I was a little tempted by steak and eggs, but that seemed too extreme.

On our first morning, we had a nice view of the courtyard garden.

And here’s a view of the continental island, which has the usual fruits, cheeses, breads, juices, and pastries.

Bill had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

I went with Eggs Benedict.

The garden is very pretty.

It even has a fountain!

When the maid is cleaning your room, they hang these handy signs.

I liked the uniforms the staff in the Garden Room wore.  They had very nice tailored slacks and vests that appeared to be good quality.  Actually, everyone in the hotel wears very nice uniforms and they vary depending on what part of the hotel the person is working in.  We noticed at least one American working in the Garden Room. She was the chattiest of all the wait staff.  I think I overheard her saying that she was in studying in Dublin.  As a former English major, I couldn’t help but note that Ireland is kind of a paradise for former English majors…  or even well read geeks like my husband.

After breakfast, we learned more about Dublin’s rich musical and literary history.  More on that in my next post!
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Ireland

Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part one

Going back to Ireland for a stop on our year of concerts…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Bill and I have dubbed 2018 as our year of concerts.  Bill and I aren’t usually concertgoers, but we’ll definitely drop some cash on tickets for certain shows.  On June 30th, we both saw The Rolling Stones for the first time and were absolutely blown away by the experience, obnoxious as it was.  Although the Stones was the first show we’ve seen so far, it was not the first concert I bought tickets to.  I think that honor probably belongs to Elton John, who announced his farewell tour.  Bill and I haven’t seen him either, but he’s coming to Stuttgart next year.  I bought tickets to his show, then got on a roll buying other tickets.

And then James Taylor announced on Facebook that he and Bonnie Raitt would be joining Paul Simon for a few dates on his Homeward Bound tour.  Now… as a child of the 70s and 80s, of course I like Paul Simon’s music.  I couldn’t get through my childhood without hearing his greatest hits with former musical partner Art Garfunkel.  My dad was a big fan of theirs.  I have always liked Paul Simon, although at least prior to Friday night’s show in Dublin, not quite as much as I did James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt.  Of the three on the bill, I was the most excited about seeing James play again.  This was my third time seeing him play live.

The idea of seeing James, Bonnie, and Paul appealed, as did going to Dublin in the summer.  Last time we were there was my first time– back in November 2016.  The weather wasn’t exactly stellar.  We spent three nights there before we moved on to the west coast of Ireland.  The hotel I chose that first time was nice, but not in the part of the city most conducive to seeing Dublin.  Plus, our time there was eaten by trips to Kilkenny to see the Smithwick’s Visitor’s Center and doing the Guinness tour.  Bill had also never been to Dublin during the summer, although he has been to Ireland once more than I have.  With his blessing, I ordered us tickets in February… and promptly lost them by June.

We don’t usually lose things at our house because Bill and I are both hoarders.  But we’re also getting old and forgetful.  Somehow, the tickets to the show I was most looking forward to got misplaced.  I had to call Ticketmaster Ireland to get new ones issued.  Fortunately, that wasn’t as onerous a task as online reviewers had led me to believe.  We just called them on a Saturday morning and a young woman with a charming Irish lilt verified my payment details and sent duplicates.  I’m so glad we went to the trouble.  The show was absolutely incredible– as good or probably even better than the Stones’ show was.  It’s too bad Paul Simon says he won’t be doing any more big tours.

I decided I wanted this particular trip to be as comfortable as possible.  I used Expedia to book us a room at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, which is reputed to be the best in the city.  I also got us business class tickets on Lufthansa with flights laying over in Frankfurt on the way to Dublin and Munich on the way back.  We booked the dogs for four nights with Uncle Max and Bill arranged for the time off, so we could leave last Thursday morning and come back today.  Four nights made for a nice break, and gave us the chance to see a few places we missed the first time we visited Dublin.

As usual, this will be a series.  That means there will be several posts, along with lots of pictures.  I hope those who read this first post will follow along as I write up the whole weekend, although I know not everyone will be interested.  My travel tends to be very adult oriented and full of stories about people we meet and things we see, rather than stuff we do.  However, if you’re interested in reading about the hotel, restaurants we tried, and our activities, I highly recommend staying the course.

This is a concert I will never… ever… forget.  It was just awesome.  As amazed as I was by The Rolling Stones, I was even more blown away by this show, for which tickets cost me significantly less money.

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advice, hotels

Favorite hotels in Europe… the luxury lodging edition

Good morning, readers.  After a solid week of sickness, I’m feeling better today.  I think it’s because I managed to get a couple of hours of extra sleep after my husband left for work.  Those extra winks have left me energized and inspired.

Since our first Germany tour, Bill and I have been lucky enough to stay in some really great European hotels.  They’ve run the gamut from budget friendly accommodations to luxury digs.  I know people look for different things when they’re booking hotels.  Personally, I tend to like really comfortable places.  If it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, so much the better.  Here are a few of my favorite luxury hotels in Europe… the kind of places you might book if you’re looking for a splurge.

5.  Hotel Suitess zu Dresden-  Dresden, Germany

Bill and I visited Dresden in November 2008.  We were celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary, so I planned a trip to Dresden, Bolaslaweic, Poland, and Prague.  At the time, we were not as flush with cash as we are now, so money was more of an object.  Nevertheless, I love to splurge.  Hotel Suitess was one of the suggestions I got from Expedia.com and it was ranked number one on Trip Advisor.  The price was right, so I booked us.  I think it might have been our first five star hotel.

Things got off to a good start when a valet unloaded our bags and parked our SUV.  As we checked in, we sipped on a welcome glass of sekt.  I believe I booked a standard room, which was outfitted with a huge, comfortable bed, Hermes toiletries, and had a marble bathroom outfitted with gold fixtures, fresh flowers, and a television.  Donald Trump might have felt at home with all the gold in that room.  The service at Suitess was impeccable, even if it didn’t come cheaply.  I still fondly remember the very expensive but incredible Eggs Benedict I had for breakfast there.

That bed was the stuff of dreams.

 

Dresden is a fantastic city and we had a marvelous time there.  The fact that we stayed in a beautiful hotel just steps away from the famous Frauenkirche made it all the more memorable.  I would definitely recommend Hotel Suitess to anyone looking for a luxury lodging experience in Dresden.

4.  The Chester Residence- Edinburgh, Scotland

Our visit to Edinburgh in November 2012 came at the end of our fabulous tenth wedding anniversary trip to Scotland.  I booked us four nights at The Chester Residence, a swanky apartment hotel in downtown Edinburgh.  I booked The Chester Residence on the strength of many positive reviews I read about it on Trip Advisor.  Indeed, our experience there was excellent.  Located in a quiet neighborhood close to the action, The Chester Residence offers guests spacious apartments complete with kitchenettes.

We had spent the previous ten nights on the Hebridean Princess, where we were pampered non-stop.  The Chester Residence was only a slight step down from that.  It was a great way to end an amazing trip.

Plenty of room to stretch out…

 
3.  Hotel Corinthia- Budapest, Hungary

We took one last trip before PCSing from Germany in September 2009.  I decided I wanted to go to Budapest because I figured it would be harder to get there from the United States than some of the other cities I was considering at the time.  It turned out to be an excellent choice for a final hurrah before we’d leave Germany for good…  or not.  I booked us at the Hotel Corinthia, which is a fabulously comfortable luxury hotel right on the main drag through Pest.  I booked us in a junior suite, which gave us access to the excellent Executive Club.  I don’t know if things have changed since 2009 (and I’d love to find out), but a person could literally sit in that club all day and eat and drink to their heart’s content.  A lot of people seemed to be doing just that.

The very beautiful foyer at Hotel Corinthia, Budapest.

 

We were very impressed by the service at this hotel, as well as the awesome spa.  I even talked Bill into booking a treatment, which he enjoyed immensely.  I later recommended this hotel to my mom when she visited in 2015.  I think she was just as happy with it as we were.  I hope we can visit again soon.

2.  Hotel Miramar- Barcelona, Spain
 

In April 2009, Bill and I enjoyed our second blind booking trip, courtesy of the airline formerly known as Germanwings.  It was Bill’s first trip to Spain and my second.  We still talk about that trip today in reverent tones, mainly because we had one of the best meals of our lives there.  Bill also fell in love with La Sagrada Familia, a place he had never heard of until he met me and I showed him a picture of it.  I also booked us at a fabulous hotel, Miramar, which overlooks the city and offers huge, fabulous rooms.  The one I booked had a jacuzzi and an enormous terrace.  The bathroom was big enough to move into.

This hotel has a very unique outdoor pool, but it was too cold for us to use it during our visit.  No matter, because there’s also an indoor pool and a whirlpool, which we did get to use.

A lovely park in front of the hotel, complete with orange trees.  Just beyond the grove, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

The one drawback to Miramar is that it’s not located in the thick of things.  If you want to be close to the action in Barcelona, this hotel might not be for you, since it’s located in the Montjuic area of the city, which is kind of on the outskirts a bit.  It’s possible to walk to the city, but that involves walking down a steep hill.  Alternatively, you can either take the funicular, which has a station very close to the hotel, or take the bus.  I recommend both methods.  The funicular offers stunning views of the sea, while the bus offers hilarious cross-cultural experiences.  There is a funny story to go with that last comment, but I probably ought to save it for another blog post.

1.  Hilton Molino Stucky Venice- Venice, Italy
 

Venice has the distinction of being the city where I had one of my poorest lodging experiences, as well as one my very best.  In August 1997, I arrived there with two friends and we stayed in a hostel run by a convent.  I shared a communal room with a shy French woman while my friends, dating at the time and now a married couple, got a private room.  They ended up with bedbugs.  I didn’t get bedbugs, but we did endure being locked out all day.  Incidentally, the day we were there also happened to be the day Princess Diana died.

When Bill and I visited Venice in May 2013, we were on our way to Rome to catch SeaDream 1, a luxury mega yacht, that would take us to Athens via the Corinth Canal.  Because Bill had never been to Venice or Florence and we didn’t know if we’d be able to get back to Europe after he retired from the Army, we decided to get to Italy a few days early and work our way down.  Bill had tons of Hilton Honors points, so he booked us a room at the Hilton Molino Stucky.  On the day of our arrival, we took a private water taxi to the hotel, which is located on the island of Giudecca.  The lobby was positively bustling with people, mostly British.  The place was fully booked, with the exception of the Tower Suite, the second best suite in the hotel.  And that was the room we got.

The bed…  This was a first class experience!

 

Sitting room.

The view from the window.

 

That suite was amazing.  It was located in a tower and had a bedroom, two bathrooms, and a sitting/dining room with views on two sides.  The main bathroom was palatial.  A generous breakfast buffet was also included.  But the best part of all was that we didn’t pay a cent.  The room was entirely paid for with Bill’s Hilton Honors points.  They really rolled out the red carpet for us.  Now, I know we totally lucked into that room and we’ll probably never be that lucky again.  But it was definitely a memorably luxurious experience for us.  While the Hilton may not be Venice’s best hotel, it was definitely one of the best we’ve ever stayed in simply because of a visit from the upgrade fairy.

So there you have it– five of my most memorable luxury hotel stays.  I hope to update this list sometime with five more fabulously luxe hotels.  Until then, I’ll keep searching for the best in uniquely awesome places to visit.

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