Grounded in Iași

So I’m staying, reluctantly, overnight in Iași. I’m in Little Texas (www.littletexas.org), which is kind of ironic, given that my VPN’d proxy usually reports my IP as being in San Antonio.

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I’m staying here an extra night because of an undisclosed technical problem with the Austrian Arrows plane that arrived late from Vienna this afternoon, intending to scoop up passengers and return with them to Vienna.

After it arrived in Iași late, we boarded and then proceeded to sit. And sit and sit. Then, from my choice seat under the wing, just across from the engine cowl and landing gear on our Dash-8 turboprop plane, I saw some ground crew pointing and gesturing at a growing puddle on the ground and drips coming out of some kind of exhaust port on the plane. Eventually the pilot left the cockpit and came out to check it himself and touched the fluid, sniffed his finger, and returned to the cockpit.

Not too long after that, we deplaned and started making plans for the night, since that was the last flight of the day in a direction useful to me. Austrian Arrows tried to convince me to get on a bus to Bucharest (5 hour ride to catch at least two more planes? No thanks!) so that I could take a plane from there. I said “What else you got?” When he tried to offer me a stay overnight and some more Austrian flights out of Iași in the morning, I said “I’d rather fly Carpatair tomorrow at 07:30. Can you make that happen?” He swallowed and reluctantly made me a reservation for flights home to Munich and an overnight stay and dinner at Little Texas on Austrian’s Groschen.

I have never had anything but pleasant prompt service from Carpatair. I have always had complicated, delayed, stressful travel with Austrian Arrows — including sprints through the lousy Vienna Schwechat airport and luggage arriving days later than I did, which is why I didn’t bring a suitcase on this trip. I’m thinking this was Austrian’s last piece of business from me.

WEBMU 2011 Lodging Recommendations are up!

We’re moving right along with the Whiny Expat Bloggers Meetup for 2011, hosted in Cologne by the lovely and talented publishers of the blogs Resident On Earth, Germany Doesn’t Suck, Cheap as Chips and Musiköln Media. If you’re a member of our WEBMU discussion board, click here to jump in and see the recommendations for lodging. They range from hostels to budget rooms to swanky luxury joints and include hints about the neighborhoods and experiences of those in the area. I’m already comparing several promising places’ websites with their listings on booking.com. Often a reservation made there can be canceled hassle- (and penalty) free with very little notice, so even if booking.com doesn’t have a lower price than the one advertised on the hotel website, it might be worth it to be able to reserve and then cancel easily if something better comes along.

The official event doesn’t get underway until the morning of Saturday, October 22nd, 2011. Some folks like to arrive about a day early for a day trip to another attraction in the area. For the Bremen WEBMU in 2008 we checked out the Deutsches Auswanderer Haus. In Munich in 2009, one of the gracious hosts led a biking tour around the city. For the Hamburg meetup in 2010, we trained it south to Lüneburg to admire that city’s salt mining museum and charming Altstadt.

We haven’t decided exactly where the side trip this year will be yet. The candidates are the Aachener Altstadt and the Palaces of Augustusburg and Falkenlust palaces in Brühl.

If you live in Germany (or plan to in the imminent future) and blog in English, and are not a member of the WEBMU discussion board…why not? Head over to http://www.expatbloggersingermany.com/meetup and register yourself. Don’t forget to mention your blog’s address and give us a real email address to which we’ll send your password.

See you there!

The Light

The Joint

20 Church Street
Manchester
M4 1PN

Phone: +44 (0)161 839 4848
Fax: +44 (0)161 833 4898
Web: http://www.thelight.co.uk

Cliff

We arrived in Manchester for a long weekend a few Thursday nights ago to attend the Travel Bloggers Unite conference there. We followed the organizer’s recommendation to stay at The Light, since it’s located so centrally and within easy walking distance to all the conference venues and meeting points.

Walking in off the street, it was hard at first to match the images from their website to reality. But just past the reception desk, snapshots from different phases of the building’s obviously recent renovation project helped us understand the depth of transformation.

We split a two-bedroom suite with our travel buddies the Zurikas and discovered ours was a one-bathroom suite (we thought we’d reserved a two-bath unit). No matter though, we checked the pricing and found we were paying the appropriate amount, and we were pretty sure we could make the one-bath thing work between the four of us — even six had worked previously, but that was pushing it.

Our balcony afforded us a view of Manchester’s skyline — at least as much as you can make out through the haze.

Our suite was tastefully furnished and clean. I had high hopes for the kitchen, with its sleek black stone slab countertops, microwave, dishwasher, and generous refrigerator/freezer combo, and a Tesco Express market just one door down from The Light (Cheddar! Crumpets! Clotted cream! Full English! You get the idea.) There was a water boiler, French press coffee maker, toaster, and a few dishes, but absolutely no condiments (not even salt and pepper), dangerously dull knives (which mashed fruit rather than slicing it), and a ragged frying pan, threatening to donate its non-stick properties to my digestive tract. Quickly we realized that the all-metal utensils were to blame for the condition of the frying pan. I asked for a replacement and got another cleaner, but equally shreddy one a short time later. The photo is of the replacement. Jul gave them another chance to replace the frying pan after this failure to solve the problem and another one never arrived. So we left a comment with the front desk upon check-out that we’d really have loved to make more use of the kitchen, but couldn’t for lack of appropriate cookware.

I’d stay again at The Light for a long weekend or even for a long-term stay. I imagine it’s perfect for someone staying in Manchester on a business trip for several months. I’ll just make sure to inspect the cookware the night before I plan a fry-up next time. I would love to hear how anyone has solved the dilemma of having decent knives around to cook when you’re at a rental kitchen!

Sarah

Cliff covered the major issue with the kitchen. I think we were all pretty disappointed in the non-handling of that, but the griping ends there. The apartment itself was very clean, comfortable and attractively designed. The bedrooms were small, but the bed was generous and comfortable. The bathroom was actually pretty roomy and had some shelf space (a counter would have been best, but you don’t often find that). Here’s something important to a bunch of bloggers: there were enough outlets to plug in computers, devices and hair-styling tools. And the desk staff was unfailingly pleasant and friendly.

Provided you’re not going to need to use the stove, the Light is a great place to stay – centrally located, well-staffed and competitively priced. If they get the kitchen situation sorted out and equip a minimal pantry (salt, pepper, olive oil), I would unreservedly recommend staying here if you’re spending time in Manchester.

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Hotel Alminar

The Joint

Álvarez Quintero, 52
41004 Sevilla, España
Phone: 954 293 913
Email: reservas@hotelalminar.com
Web: http://www.hotelalminar.com

I was very pleasantly surprised by this hotel. After looking at several options on booking.com, the Hotel Alminar had the combined advantages of great location (one minute walk to the Cathedral), great rating on booking.com and TripAdvisor and the right rate. That said, I don’t put that much stock in TripAdvisor reviews, but it’s useful for cross-checking.

Arriving in the early evening, we found the hotel pretty easily and were greeted by the very friendly desk staff, who got us checked in and gave us some good dinner suggestions. The hotel itself is in a small building in a very small street and the “lobby” and breakfast rooms take up as little space as possible. We went up to find out why – the modern room with dark wood ceiling beams and white and beige decor was quite generously proportioned! There was plenty of room for us to take off backpacks and put down our suitcase without jockeying for position. It was even easy to walk around the bed. The amazement continued into the bathroom – a nice, roomy shower cabin, fully enclosed with glass wall and door, a spiffy sink, all made out of one piece of transparent glass and pretty beige and gold tilework. The room also had a good-sized closet with safe and minifridge in it and a small bench, perfect for holding the suitcase. The bed was just okay – two twins pushed together – and the pillows were a little meager. To our delight, though, there was in-room wireless, easy to connect to with a strong signal. The room was immaculate and very comfortable.

The next morning, we went down to the breakfast in the tiny breakfast rooms. Again, given how generous the guest rooms are (and there are some located on the ground floor), I understand why the breakfast area is so small. They manage to provide seating for up to 12 guests at once. There was coffee available from an automat (not adequate), juices, milk, cereal, bread, sliced meats and cheeses, yogurt and fruit. They also had a very strange “toaster” that consisted of a carousel part and a grill-like part, neither of which toasted the bread beyond “tastes sorta stale.” So, we were less than impressed with the hotel’s spread. Luckily for us, it cost guests 6€ each for breakfast, so for the following days, we just opted out.

We asked one of the desk attendants for some help in planning our time in the region and she truly went above and beyond. We told her about our plan to go out to Granada to see the Alhambra, a three-hour train trip each way. In spite of having repairmen there asking her questions, answering the phone and working with a trainee, she took the time to really lay out the pros and cons of our plan and even told us that the information we’d picked up at the tourism office was 3 years out of date! Given our short stay, she suggested Córdoba as an alternative day-trip. It was only one hour each way and, in her opinion, the town itself is nicer than Granada. All in all, she must have spent 20 to 30 minutes with us just going over our options and said over and over again, “Please come to us with any other questions! We are here to help!!”

I would definitely recommend the Alminar to anyone staying in Sevilla. The rate we paid for a double was 90€/night, not including breakfast. Checkout time was noon and the desk staff was happy to hold our bags until we were ready to head for the airport. Another important point – the building is accessible to the disabled. There are no thresholds on the floors, there is an elevator and a gentle ramp at the street door. In Europe, this is a rare find in a medieval core.

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Hotel Löwen

The Joint

Klosterhof 41, Ulm-Söflingen, Germany, 89077
+49 (0) 731 388 588 0

Heading further South and East from Burg Hohenzollern towards, we stopped in Ulm for the night at Hotel Restaurant Löwen. Sarah found it through booking.com. Our expectations were rather low, since we just wanted a place to sleep, and initially didn’t plan on eating there or exploring Ulm (native Franks and Bavarians had warned us that Ulm is not worth exploring), but I guess we were just lucky because this place was super. The price, at 112€ a night for a double with breakfast the next morning, was a little more than we like to spend, but just having cheaped out at Hôtel Aux Trois Roses, we could afford it. And it seemed like it was worth more than 112€ anyway.

Our room was very modern in design — lots of ultra-euro shapes and angles and surfaces, including a solid glass sliding door for entry into the bathroom, a fixed glass sprayguard half enclosing the shower cabin. When we asked about the WiFi network, the reception clerk apologetically handed us an ethernet cable (haven’t seen one of those in awhile!), because the signal wasn’t strong enough in our room. I thought that was a nice touch; usually you just get “well, it works in our Lobby…”

We ended up eating there that night and were very impressed with the atmosphere and attitude of the staff and quality and value of the food. This was my favorite breakfast spread of the road trip; a waitress came around to ask if we were sure we wouldn’t like some individually prepared eggs. And when I said “yes, thanks, one over-medium for me please,” she whispered in a mock-conspiratorial tone “Two is customary…are you sure you wouldn’t you like two?”

I like that. I’d stay there again for sure.

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Hôtel Aux Trois Roses

The Joint

7 Rue De Zurich
67000 Strasbourg
France

http://www.hotel3roses-strasbourg.com/

The location of this hotel is pretty great – right across one of the myriad bridges leading into the heart of the old town. The gentleman at reception was very patient with our questions and even let us check in early, as our rooms were already prepared. I find in French city hotels, the rooms tend to be very small, and Trois Roses lived up to my expectation. Our double room was dominated by the double bed. Affixed the wall at the foot of the bed was a set of two large shelves – one high for the TV and one low for a small suitcase. Given the tightness of the room, the suitcase shelf was an absolute necessity. My brother’s single room down the hall was similarly cramped. When I walked in, he said “It feels like an airplane.” He wasn’t wrong. Here’s the kicker – the bathrooms were of normal size!

The stay was comfortable enough and the breakfast and parking were NOT included in the room rate (69€ for the double, 51€ for the single). Which was fine – what fun is it to stay in France and not go croissant hunting? I would consider staying there again if we go back to Strasbourg due to the price – but a little more elbow room might be worth a little more cash.

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Hotel & Boarding House Deutscher Kaiser

The Joint

Hotel & Boarding House Deutscher Kaiser
Mühltalstr. 41
69121 Heidelberg
Germany
+49 (0)6221 71495 00

We were immediately intrigued by the logo. Who wouldn’t want to sleep over at Snidely Whiplash’s grampa’s house? As we rolled up into the Innenhof, the innkeeper, greeted us warmly from smoke break porch perch. She was extremely friendly — the kind of friendly that normally makes me suspicious, but this was genuine — and helped us out with some tips for getting to the Hbf to meet CN&D. There was apparently a SNAFU regarding our booking.com request for a third bed; she was only aware of two guests, but it all worked out swell in the end. I think we even got a sort-of-free room upgrade out of it.

The room itself was spacious and comfortable. I noticed it could have used a touch-up paint job in a few places, but for 120€ total for three adults per night, I can overlook that. The breakfast spread the next morning was nice. I’d stay there again the next time we arrive in the Heidelberg area by car (kind of out of the way for a train trip, but it’s still doable with the #5 or #23 trams out to Handschuhsheim).

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Casa Garzotto

P6061607Casa Garzotto
Via Garzotto 8
52210 Rovinj, Croatia
Tel: +385 52 811 884
Mobile: +385 98 61 61 68
Fax: +385 52 814 255
caragarzotto@gmail.com
http://www.casa-garzotto.com

This was a great find by our traveling buddy Jul for our Istrian Road Trip. We were a little disoriented upon arrival — the Altstadt confused us, and our GPS, and we were unsure parking in the big city lot outside the the old town was a good idea or not.

But it all worked out for the best. The location is ideal. The price was reasonable. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly, and never steered us wrong with recommendations for gelato or restaurant meals. We had a nice breakfast in the main area, just around the corner (≤10 second walk) from our rental apartment and were charmed by the apartment’s old-world, multi-level design (kitchen and one bath on the ground floor, loft bedroom up the right-side staircase, 2nd bedroom and bathroom up the left-side staircase).

I’d stay there again in a minute.

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Hotel Sully Saint-Germain

The Joint

Hotel Sully Saint-Germain
31 Rue des Ecoles
75005 Paris – France

http://www.sully-saint-germain-hotel.com/

Sarah

We reserved this hotel due to the price, location and wireless connectivity. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. The price was fixed and the location (a short walk from the Maubert-Mutualité Métro station) was ideal. The design of the lobby and the rooms is quite attractive. The basic double room is fairly small by American standards, but has lots of storage space (closets and drawers, etc.).

Unfortunately, the promised internet was not accessible in the rooms. To use it, you had to bring your laptop and other materials down to the lobby, then jockey for position with the rest of the hotel guests set up for surfing. We like to bring our laptop with us to help with planning our outings, so reliable, room-accesible internet is important to us. We were a little disappointed on that score.

There were a couple of other odd occurrences. There was a brief power outage one evening – about 30 seconds with no lights. Not a big deal to us, but we did overhear another couple complaining to the concierge about another outage the previous evening that happened while the woman was in the shower. So I guess that happens with some regularity. Also, on the morning of our checkout, I couldn’t get the water temperature to cooperate. It started out normal, but then started switching between burning hot and freezing cold. It made rinsing my hair an adventure.

The breakfast included in our rate was adequate, except for the coffee (it was dreadful). The elevators are extremely small, so occasionally taking the stairs is the best option. Generally, it was a pleasant experience. It is by no means a luxury hotel, but as a place to sleep, shower and keep your stuff while you’re out experiencing Paris, the Sully Saint-Germain is a good choice.

Cliff

Sarah hit all the points I’d make. Location was the most important aspect for me — it’s an easy walk to the Ile de la Cité or the Louvre or just hop onto the #10 Metro line to get out to other parts of the city or a bigger train station.




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