The 51st and Green Lounge at DUB and American Business Class Dublin to Chicago, Chicago to DCA

Category: Uncategorized Comments: No comments

Dublin Airport

This is the conclusion of my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

I left the Radisson at 6:30am for my 9:25am flight.  Despite it only being a 10-minute walk to Dublin’s Terminal 2, given the rigmarole of US preclearance processes, I figured the extra time was well-advised.   The check-in lines for AA were loong, such that I overheard one agent say “I’m going to see what’s going on over there, these queues are too long.”  There were three separate lines:  New York, Chicago, and Priority.  (Presumably the 9:55am Charlotte opens later, Philadelphia doesn’t leave until 11:20am).  The Priority line was long, although not terribly slow-moving...

Read More

Aer Lingus Bilbao to Dublin and the Bloody Radisson Blu Dublin Airport

Category: AirlinesHotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Radisson Blu Dublin Airport

This is part ten in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

20160730_164542

Aer Lingus A320

The business class fare that I had booked home was out of Dublin. I thought that flying from somewhere in Basque country to Dublin would be pretty cheap.  Alas, it wasn’t; the only nonstop was on Aer Lingus from Bilbao.  (After I booked, Aer Lingus added a second weekly late evening nonstop on a wet-leased BA Cityflyer Embraer regional jet.)  And it wasn’t that cheap; I booked a “Plus” fare, which included a checked bag, advanced seat assignment, and the ability to earn miles (Aer Lingus ended up delaying the launch of its own Avios program, so I’ll be crediting to British Airways Executive Club (how many remains to be seen, as I’ve had to manually request after they didn’t automatically post)), it came to 150 Euros.  But hooray for trying a new airline!  (Fun fact- it’s my 57th airline, not including regional/express carriers flying for mainline carriers.)

Although there is a bus from Bilbao to the airport, it would have had me heading out of my way, taking the metro downtown and then turning around.  The Holiday Inn was on the way to the airport, so the ride took less than 15 minutes and was worth the 25 Euros.

Main Hall of Bilbao Airport

Main Hall of Bilbao Airport

Read More

A Short Stay in Bilbao and the Excellent Holiday Inn Bilbao

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

20160729_163414

This is part nine in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

My last stop in Spain was Bilbao, where I had about a day and a half.  So after breakfast, I checked out of my hotel in San Sebastian and headed to the new bus station, an easy 15 minute walk along the river, where a “Peace Mile” exhibit was being set up.   I got the station at around 10:45, aiming to get a ticket for the 11:30 bus to Bilbao.   (There is a train that goes from San Sebastian to Bilbao, but it’s the local light rail and takes twice as long.)   Unlike the trip from Bilbao airport, you have to buy your ticket ahead of time and can’t buy on the bus. I got my 12 EUR ticket on one of the companies, Pesa  (there are cheaper, slower options) and then headed to the nicest bus station cafeteria I’ve ever been to, which, yes, had pintxos.   For my 3,60 I got a cappuccino and a pintxo of a small turkey, tomato, and lox sandwich which was a good complement to my no-protein early breakfast, and would tide me over for the 75 minute bus ride to Bilbao.

Pretty good bus station food!

Pretty good bus station food!

Read More

2 Days in San Sebastian and the Hotel Astoria7

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Late afternoon in San Sebastian

This is part eight in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

(Note: Beware of food porn.)

Lots of times when people tell me a tourist destination is beautiful, I take it with a grain of salt.  It’s not that I usually disagree, but there are enough times I have, and having been fortunate to see so many different places in the world, there are fewer and fewer unique ones.  But as soon as I started walking from the bus station in San Sebastian, I knew exactly what people meant.  The city is beautiful and charming, and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been – with a slight Spanish flavor but more like a German or French city.  It reminded me a lot of Salzburg, Austria, except with better food and on a beach.

Arriving in San Sebastian

Arriving in San Sebastian

There aren’t a lot of large hotel chains in San Sebastian.  The main big chain property is the Hotel Maria Christina, a Starwood Luxury Collection property.  But rates there were going for about 600 Euros a night, so, yeah, not my price range.  There are a lot of other well-reviewed mid-price options in the city, though it is definitely an expensive hotel city in the summer.  The hotel I selected, the Astoria7, was an independent property on one end of town, away from the beach and the old town.  I was initially worried about the distance, but it ended up being fine.  It took about 25 minutes to walk from one end of the town to the other, and I took one of the frequent, easy buses at night.

Read More

Vueling BCN to BIO and onward to San Sebastian

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

20160727_085933

This is part seven in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

After spending a week in Catalonia, I headed to Basque Country for the rest of my time in Spain.  You can take a train from Barcelona to San Sebastian in about 5.5 hours, but I decided to fly instead in order to maximize my time.  While Vueling, a low cost carrier owned by IAG, the owners of British Airways and Iberia, flies BCN to San Sebastian, there is greater frequency in flights to Bilbao, which is a larger airport and has easy connections to San Sebastian, and the flights are also cheaper.   My “Optima” fare, which included a checked bag, seats in the front of the plane, and the ability to earn Iberia Avios points, came to 57 Euros with all the fees.  Paying for the Optima fare is a no-brainer if you’re checking luggage; not only does it include baggage but also the ability to earn Iberia Plus Avios points (500 for me).20160727_085933

Despite several public transit options, I took a taxi from the Melia Sarria due to my 9:50am flight and wanting to maximize sleep. The cost estimate of the app and Google was a bit off, though, probably mostly due to surcharges, and it came to over 30 Euros for the 20 minute ride.  But it was still probably worth it rather than an hour trip with changes of buses and trains.

Vueling check-in at BCN T1

Vueling check-in at BCN T1

Read More

Mini-Review: Melia Sarria Barcelona, Quite Different from the sad Hilton Barcelona

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Basic room, Melia Barcelona Sarria

This is part six in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

My last night in Barcelona was at the Melia Barcelona Sarria.  I didn’t spend a lot of time there given an early morning departure, and didn’t even get a lot of pictures (the horror).  So this is a mini hotel review.  Let me start by saying I probably wouldn’t stay at the Melia Barcelona Sarria again. The rooms were pretty dated and it was a bit overpriced. BUT, the service was fantastic and the attitude of the staff was light years ahead of that of the nearby Hilton.

So, why did I pick this hotel? I had expiring Melia Rewards points and used them to knock about 20 Euros off of the rate, though it was still about 130 Euros.  The hotel was about a 10 minute walk from the Hilton Barcelona, closer to the center and in a more interesting neighborhood – actually walkable to things.  It isn’t as close to the metro as a Hilton, but it’s still on the bus and tramlines that run down Avenida Diagonal, and is actually walkable to things.  It was about a 20 minute walk to the heart of the L’Eixample.

Lobby, Melia Barcelona Sarria

Lobby, Melia Barcelona Sarria

The difference in service from the Hilton was apparent the moment I arrived at the hotel.  Right at the door was a bellman and also a security guard, both of whom welcomed me to the hotel.  The agents at the front desk all smiled and welcomed me as I approached the counter.  The agent who was checking me in asked how my trip was.

Read More

Three Days in Barcelona: Back Where I Started

Category: About YWWTrip Reports Comments: No comments

20160726_123800

This is part five in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

Thirteen years ago, in the summer before my junior year of college, I got off a plane from JFK to BCN (on Delta, paid for with my parents’ Skymiles), and started my first solo adventure, and my first trip to Europe. (I made my way from Barcelona to Valencia, then Valencia to Madrid.  I then flew Spanair from Madrid to Copenhagen, where I was studying abroad.)  In Spain, I stayed in a dirty hostel on a sketchy street, carrying my massive laptop, huge suitcase, and a Let’s Go Europe guide. I went to (and got freaked out at) my first sleazy gay bar. It was hot, crowded, confusing– and I loved it. I’ve been to countless cities and 37 new countries since then, but Barcelona will always have a special place in my heart, something I was reminded of when I returned – my third visit — as I strolled through the crowds of la Rambla, meandered through the side streets of el Barri Gotic, and gaped at the only in Barcelona architecture and design that made a 19 year old fall in love.

One thing about visiting a city like Barcelona for the third time is there’s a lot less pressure to see things, because you’ve already done them.  So this post in no way reflects the “must sees” of Barcelona. I’ve been to la Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, Casa Batilo, Park Guell, and Montserrat before, all of which I recommend.  When I was 19, I had planned out every activity down to the hour, and made sure I saw everything I wanted to.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate a more leisurely pace, and the simple joy of wandering a foreign city.

There were still plenty of sights I hadn’t seen.  Given that it was peak tourism season, it was great that I was able to buy timed tickets online for a few of them.  On the day I arrived from Sitges, I had a ticket in the afternoon for the Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall built in the early 20th century by Catalan modernist architect Montaner.  The ticket includes a guided tour and a brief movie about the history of the concert hall and was pretty enjoyable, getting up close to the auditorium and some of the funky design elements on the outside of the building.  It is definitely a unique space.  One of the coolest parts of the tour was getting to listen to the computer-controlled organ, a video of which I tried to post on here but failed.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

Palau de la Musica Catalana

20160724_173223

The Palau is a short wa...

Read More

Don’t Stay at the Hilton Barcelona, or, Hilton Status is Meaningless

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Hilton Barcelona

This is part four in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

I stayed at six different hotels on my Spain trip.  Three I would stay at again in a heartbeat.  Two I would consider again.  And one I regretted and put a damper on my stay in Barcelona.  That hotel was the Hilton Barcelona.

Hilton Barcelona

Hilton Barcelona

I’ve been a Gold Hilton Hhonors member for several years now.  Free wifi used to be the most valuable benefit that offered, but now that’s standard for all bookings made on Hilton.com.  Other than free breakfast, it didn’t provide much value in practice – particularly given the low value of Hilton HHonors points.   At the end of 2015, though, Hilton offered a status match program, which I took advantage of, and became a Hilton Diamond member – Hilton’s highest tier. (Note the fact that I was status matched doesn’t make me a low-value customer.  As of today, I’ve spent 35 nights this year in hotels. Last year was 54, and I’m on track to beat that.)

So far, my experiences have been unimpressive.  At 4 properties in the first half of the year, the only real upgrade was at the Doubletree in Little Rock, where I had a funky loft suite, and access to a lounge with $4 glasses of wine.  But at least at most of these properties they acknowledged my elite status with a note listing benefits and a smile at check in.

Hilton has three properties in Barcelona, and they all seemed to be rated fine.  The best and most expensive is the Doubletree Alexandra, which i...

Read More

Exploring Sitges and the Avenida Sofia Hotel

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Sitges

This is part three in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

Sitges is a beach town in Catalonia, about 20 miles to the southwest of Barcelona.  It has a bit of an artsy vibe, but its main industry is tourists.  It’s developed a particularly large gay crowd, with multiple gay beaches, bars, clubs, and other businesses.  I’d never been, and don’t know a ton of people who have.  There were not many Americans there, but loads of Brits, Scandinavians, and other Europeans.

One of the draws of Sitges is how easy it is to get there.  There is a bus that runs directly from Barcelona’s El Prat airport, and then a cheaper train option.  Since I was in no rush, I went with the train, which involved taking a short bus to the other terminal at BCN, which is where the Renfe commuter rail stops, then taking the train from there one stop to El Prat Llobregat, before changing to the direct train to Sitges.  It was a really pretty ride, though even more so on the way back.  All in, including ticket purchase, transfers, and walking the 10 minutes from the train station to my hotel, it took me an hour from the time I left the airport til my arrival at the Avenida Sofia Hotel.

En route to Sitges on Renfe

En route to Sitges on Renfe

There are a lot of hotels in Sitges.  Some of the big resorts are located on the ends of town, farther from the main beaches and nightlife, and some are deeper in town.  I was generally happy with my choice, which was one of the nicer and newer boutique hotels in town, the Avenida Sofia.  The hotel was a block from the beach and a few blocks from the gay beach.  There are no oceanfront rooms due to its location, if that matters to you.  I paid about $160 a night after a 20% off Cheaptickets coupon.

Avenida Sofia Hotel, Sitges

Avenida Sofia Hotel, Sitges

I arr...

Read More

Barcelona Bound:  AA Business Class DCA-PHL-BCN

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

20160721_025323

This is part two in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, visit this post.

I was scheduled to fly from DCA to JFK on a Tuesday evening, then on Wednesday evening fly JFK to Madrid on American, followed by Madrid to Barcelona on Iberia.  Not an ideal route, but not terrible for an award.  I had set an alert on Expertflyer, though, for AA’s JFK-BCN, CLT-BCN and PHL-BCN flights, and sure enough, on Monday availability opened up on all three.  DCA-PHL-BCN all on Wednesday was a no-brainer to switch to; it wouldn’t be on AA’s newest business class product, but the pre-merger US Airways Envoy A332 seating is perfectly fine, as I had flown it last summer on PHL-ATH and MUC-PHL.

Arriving at DCA was frustrating.  I was checking a bag, so appropriately went on the First Class line.  Unfortunately, it was not moving at all after 7 minutes, as there was one agent and one customer who seemed to have a complicated problem.  The for-some-reason-separate Priority line was moving at a normal pace, though, with two agents, and only 3 customers in line, so I switched to that queue.  Although she hadn’t approached anyone else, an agent came over to me and said “Can I see your record locator?”  How friendly.  I had checked in on my phone so pulled up my boarding pass, and she said “Come with me,” and then just pointed me to the self-service kiosk.

If I had wanted to use the self-service kiosk, of course, I would have.  But I didn’t.  And there’s no reason an agent should have forced me to do so (it wasn’t like it was a long line on the Priority queue).  Moreover, I was the only one she pulled out, and she was rude in doing so.  Had she said “If you’d like to save some time, you’re welcome to use the self-serve kiosk,” that would have been totally fine.  I asked “Why do I have to use the kiosk?”  “That’s the first step in the process.”  Incorrect.  It is the first step in a process, but not the only first step and one I was entitled not to use.

Read More