Croatia tagged posts

Croatia Trip Report: Homeward Bound: Lufthansa from Zagreb to Munich in Coach and the Zagreb Dump, I mean Airport

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Lufthansa 1713 Zagreb to Munich
Dep. 1:30PM Arr. 2:50PM
Embraer 90

From the Westin Zagreb, it was an easy trip back to the bus station, reversing my trip back on the tram.  On my way to the hotel, I hadn’t known that paper tickets had to be validated in the front of the tram.  This time, I was prepared, which was a good thing, as ticket control officers boarded to check tickets.

Zagreb Bus Station

Zagreb Bus Station

Once at the bus station, there were clear signs leading to the Croatia Airlines bus, so I went through and got on line to buy my ticket.  There’s no true public transportation to the airport, which is a ways outside the city.  But Croatia Airlines runs a bus every half hour during the day from the central bus station, taking about 30 minutes for about $5.  There were lots of Croatians on line at the ticket counter, which was for bus tickets to all destinations it seemed, and each seemed to have 1000 problems and questions.  10 minutes before scheduled departure, a man came in to usher people onto the bus, and I was starting to get worried.  But he then said – “for airport, buy tickets on the bus.”  A sign would have been helpful.

Airport Bus

Airport Bus

The bus was about half-full, and left a few minutes ahead of schedule.  As we drove through the southern, more suburban part of Zagreb, I saw a lot of Communist-era apartment buildings, which I had been surprised not to see in the city in the previous days.

As much as I liked Zagreb, the airport was a surprising dump.  (Though a major new construction project is supposedly in the works.) I was pretty surprised how much smaller and less full-service than the Belgrade or Dubrovnik airports – surprising given that Zagreb is comparable in size and is a Star Alliance hub.   There was one check-in area for all Star Alliance flights, which led to lots of lines, as there were flights on Croatia, Lufthansa, and Austrian all leaving in the next 3 hours.  I saw that my inbound aircraft was running about thirty minutes late, so was a bit worried about my connection, but figured I should still be fine.

ZAG Check-in Area

ZAG C...

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Hotel Review: The Westin Zagreb, SPG Preferred Rooms, and Sudden Whooshing

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Let me preface this post by staying that the Westin Zagreb is a perfectly fine hotel.  It provided the basic amenities that the Maistra Park Hotel Rovinj did not, and at less than half the price.  People were friendly, and the one problem I had was rectified immediately without any problems and with apologies from the staff.  It’s not the newest property, though, so those expecting a modern cosmopolitan property might be disappointed.

As a reminder, I booked my entire Croatia trip in a day, which I do not recommend doing.  In picking a hotel in Zagreb, I looked at four large chain properties in Zagreb – three Starwood (Sheraton, Westin, and Four Points), and a Doubletree by Hilton.  None were right smack in the middle of the tourist part of town, but both the Sheraton and Westin seemed close enough, and had good reviews– with the Westin having slightly better ones, and was seen as the more luxurious option.  I didn’t drill down the options with any detail, figured a Westin is generally a safe choice, and booked a buy two nights, get one night free prepaid rate that came out to about 75 euros a night.  Though the Westin was fine, in the end the Sheraton would probably have been a better fit for me now that I know a little bit more about the city.

It was an easy tram ride from the bus station to the Westin, only five stops.  At check-in, I was stuck behind a man collecting two dozen Qatari passports of his group from the agent, and individually reviewing each passport (there’s a nonstop DOH-ZAG on Qatar).  The super friendly front desk agent asked if the man could step aside so she could check me in, and I was checked in quickly and efficiently. She explained wifi was free for everyone, and asked how many codes I needed as it was one per device. (Take that Maistra.)  Since wifi was free, she asked me if I wanted points or a welcome drink as my SPG Gold member amenity.  When I chose points, she responded “good choice.”  Oh, and as a Gold member, I had been “upgraded” to an “SPG floor.”

Now, here is an aside that ha...

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Croatia Trip Report: Rovinj: The Disappointment Capital of Croatia

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Rovinj Sunset

Rovinj Sunset

Putting aside my horrific hotel stay, Rovinj was disappointing overall, and I ended up regretting making the schlep to that part of Croatia as opposed to just going to Split or Slovenia.  It started out poorly when I arrived at the airport, and my pre-arranged transfer was nowhere to be found.  I went with the 40-minute, 40 dollar ride, as opposed to a bus into downtown Pula, followed by a second bus to Rovinj.  I waited about ten minutes and was about to hire a new transfer when a disheveled man came running over to me, “Mr. Adam!” He explained there was terrible traffic, oh, and he couldn’t help me with my luggage into the car because he was all bandaged on his face and hands from a fall. He was actually quite entertaining in his messiness...

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The Worst Hotel of 2013: Maistra Hotel Park Rovinj Review

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Worst Hotel of 2013: Maistra Hotel Park Rovinj

I have stayed in over 35 hotels so far in 2013.  They haven’t all been fancy, and have included a number of Holiday Inn Expresses, Courtyard by Marriotts, and the like.  And while plenty have not been perfect, most were comfortable places to rest my head, even if they had some minor snafus.

But that being said, we have a new leader in the race for worst hotel of the year.  Previously, this honor would have gone to the disappointing Eaton Hotel in Hong Kong, reviewed here, where the foibles included a tiny “deluxe” room in which I couldn’t fit in the shower, a failure to recognize elite status, and receiving a handwritten note from hotel staff meant for another customer.  But the Eaton in Hong Kong sadly cannot come close to competing with the Maistra Hotel Park in Rovinj, Croatia.

Not worth half the price

Not worth half the price

Before I go into detail about why this hotel was so horrible, I want to make clear that this is not a small independent hotel upon which I am foisting unrealistic expectations.  This is a hotel owned and operated by Maistra, a large company that owns 5 or 6 other properties in town, and more in other parts of Croatia. It is an international hotel, and very few of the guests (if any) were Croatian; mostly German, Italian, Russian, and British.  Second, Rovinj is not a small, undiscovered town without a significant tourist industry.  The town is packed with tourists in the summer, and there were dozens of positive reviews of this property online before I booked it.  Finally, Rovinj is not Santorini or even Dubrovnik.  Things are not super-expensive here, and there were numerous hotels in town at around the same price point, though Maistra has close to a monopoly except for guesthouses and apartments, which perhaps explains why they can run such a junky property.

I booked the hotel on Hotels.com at a rate of about $195/night – not cheap.  The Maistra Hotel Park was rated as either a 3 or 4 star property on every major website, and the description included all of the standard facilities one would expect with a 3 or 4 star property in a resort-type town.  Nothing high end, but fine.  A bit of a walk outside the Old Town.  Okay.  I booked a single-occupancy room, since I was a single traveler, for about $10 less a night than the double-occupancy room for 2.  I looked on the hotel’s website, but couldn’t find any descriptions of the actual rooms (which have since been updated).  I couldn’t find information about the hotel’s internet availability, so I looked under FAQs, and found this:

“Internet access is available in all hotels and resorts. Internet access is wireless in most of the hotels, while the resorts mostly offer high local speed Internet. Each facility has an internet point.”

While vague, that certainly seems to suggest there is internet access at the hotel.

The car dri...

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Trip Report: Flying Jat Airways/Air Serbia- Dubrovnik to Belgrade to Pula: Oy

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Flying Jat Airways/Air Serbia- Dubrovnik to Belgrade to Pula: Oy

Jat Airways Flt. 721  Dep. Dubrovnik (DBV) 10:10AM Arr. Belgrade (BEG) 11:15AM
ATR72, Economy
Jat Airways Flt. 740 Dep. Belgrade (BEG) 12:50PM Arr. Pula (PUY) 2:20PM
ATR72, Economy

In planning my Croatia trip, I wanted to go from Dubrovnik, in the south on the coast, to Rovinj, a town due east of Venice on the Istrian peninsula in the north.  Alas, there were not a ton of sensible options for transit, and I thought about skipping Istria.  Aside from flying, one could take an overnight ferry or a loooong overnight bus ride.  Croatia Airlines does not do much flying directly between  Croatian cities other than Zagreb.  To get from Dubrovnik to Pula, the airport closest to Rovinj, on Croatia, would have been a nine hour journey, flying from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, and then on to Pula with a stop in Rijeka.  I found an intriguing option, on Jat Airways – which has as of last week become Air Serbia – connecting in Belgrade with a total travel time of about 4.5 hours for about $180.  So while it seems a bit out of the way to fly from Croatia to Serbia to Croatia (it is), it was the most efficient in this case. And despite my concerns about Jat, and the lack of mileage earning, it was really the only thing that worked for my travel, so I went for it.

Jat Airways is/was an interesting carrier, with a history as the flag carrier of Yugoslavia.  Its website was a joke; forget about online check-in or seat selection. Although Jat used to have a relationship with  Lufthansa’s Miles & More program, no more, and the only miles available were in Jat’s own (now defunct) program.  A few weeks before my flight, Etihad announced it was going to be buying an equity share of a new corporation, Air Serbia, that would purchase Jat’s assets.  There was conflicting information about when the change would be taking place, with some reports suggesting it would be before my flight.  But, alas, Air Serbia did not take flight until late October, complete with some new planes.  This is an interesting move by Etihad, particularly in light of its recent purchase of a large stake of Air Berlin.  Etihad already flies a nonstop from Abu Dhabi to Belgrade, and there are also direct flights from Dubai on flydubai and Doha on Qatar Airways, in addition to multiple flights to Turkey and Tunisia.  The new airline has announced service to Cairo, Beirut, and Monastir in Tunisia, starting next year, making Belgrade a potential major connecting hub for the Middle East and North Africa.

My flight from Dubrovnik to Belgrade was at around 10am, so I figured I’d take the airport shuttle bus around 8 from Old Town. The schedule for the shuttle is only released one day in advance, but there was a bus scheduled to depart at 7:55. Alas, due to one way streets, the pickup location is not as close to the Hilton as the dropoff location. I asked the front desk at the Hilton how long a walk it would be, and they said 10-15 minutes, so I left the hotel with plenty of time.  The walk was shorter than they suggested—only about 7 minutes – but straight uphill.  Thankfully it was early morning so I was only slightly drenched with sweat by the end of the walk. The bus ended up being very crowded, standing room only, but I managed to get a seat.

Dubrovnik Airport

Dubrovnik Airport

Check-in at DBV

Check-in at DBV

The Dubrovnik airport is pretty small.  All airlines except Aeroflot shared check-in counters, staffed by airport employees.  My bag was checked all the way through to Pula, but I’d have to pick up my boarding pass for the next flight in Belgrade.  Not a big deal, as I didn’t have a super-tight connection.

Even though there were...

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Trip Report: Trying to Ring them Bells, or Two Days in Dubrovnik

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Trying to Ring them Bells, or Two Days in Dubrovnik

Please forgive my absence from the blogosphere.  I’ve been dealing with a difficult personal situation that puts travel, points, and blogging in their proper perspective.  But I’m hoping to catch up and churn out posts from my August trip to Croatia this week.

Pile Gate, entry to Old Town

Pile Gate, entry to Old Town

Dubrovnik has long had a reputation of being a gorgeous waterfront escape, with a rich and historic old town.  Unfortunately, that reputation has gotten out, and, at least in August while I was there, Dubrovnik’s Old Town resembled the Coliseum in Rome, or the Parthenon in Athens – wall to wall tourists.  The city is still beautiful, though.

Old Town Dubrovnik

Old Town Dubrovnik

The Old Town itself is very small, and very walkable.  I did a walk around the entire area in about 15 minutes in the afternoon after arriving.  Even the smaller side streets were non-navigable, as tourists from Europe and several German cruise ship excursions flooded the streets, with their shops of overpriced tourist shlock and underwhelming pizza places.

The side streets of Dubrovnik

The side streets of Dubrovnik

The streets of Dubrovnik

The streets of Dubrovnik

On my second day,...

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Hotel Review: Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik

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In my time in Croatia, I stayed at three different hotels. The most expensive, and the nicest, was the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik.

Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik

Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik

The highlight of my stay in Dubrovnik was definitely the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik. Humorously, it appeared I was one of two gay travel bloggers staying at the hotel while I was there. Unlike said blogger, I am a lowly Hilton Gold member so didn’t get quite as VIP an experience, but I did have a nice stay.

I booked my stay relatively close in, and was impressed by the Hilton’s location, steps from the Old Town, and figured I’d splurge on what was one of the most (if not the most) I’ve ever spent on a hotel. After Hilton Hhonors massive devaluation of its program, one night in a regular room was going for 70,000 points, which is insane. I was able to get an advanced purchase rate for an Executive Room with club access for about 225 Euros. So I decided to split the reservation into one points night, and one cash night.

It was about a 3 minute walk from the airport bus to the hotel. The hotel is beautiful, overlooking the sea, although unlike properties a bit further from Old Town does not have many outdoor facilities (with only an indoor pool). Overall, I think the hotel is great for a short stay, but if staying in Dubrovnik more than a few nights, it might be better to stay at one of the resorts outside the city, like the Radisson Blu, as there isn’t much to do in the Old Town to entertain you for more than a day or two and it is so, so crowded.

At check-in, the staff ...

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To Croatia!

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Oy, I haven’t finished blogging our Austria/Finland trip and I’m off to Croatia in just two days!  But a  good excuse (again), as I’ve spent the past week relocating to DC and setting up my apartment down here.  Hopefully my flight over to Europe will allow me to finish up the drafts of the remaining blogs from that trip:  the Radisson Blu Plaza Helsinki, Exploring Helsinki, Tallinn and the Radisson Blu Tallinn, and Aeroflot from Tallinn to New York via Moscow.

But for those interested in what’s coming up next, here’s a brief overview of my itinerary for the next week:
–  Austrian Airlines Business Class JFK to Vienna, connecting to
– Croatia Airlines Business Class Vienna to Dubrovnik

– Dubrovnik and the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik

– Jat Airways Coach Dubrovnik to Pula via Belgrade

– R...

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YWW is Moving . . . to the Capital – and Croatia

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YWW is Moving . . . to the Capital – and Croatia

No, the blog will stay at this web address, but, as alluded to in a previous post, I’ve accepted a job offer in Washington, DC, and will be moving there later this summer.

How does this affect you, dear reader?  Well, first, I am not sure whether my new position will allow for as much long weekend travel.  But time will tell.

Second, relocating from New York to the DC area will likely result in a change of airlines for me.  Right now, Delta and the Sky Team are my primary carriers, with United and Star Alliance as secondary.   I have been living in Queens as opposed to Manhattan’s West side for the past few months, and this has caused United to fall far behind, though, as Newark is a PITA to get to.   I’m not sure what I’ll do once I get to DC.  US Airways is dominant at DCA, which will almost undoubtedly be my preferred airport for domestic travel.  And United dominates at IAD for international travel.  Until this year, this worked great, as you can credit US Airways flights to United and vice versa.  As US Airways merges with American and leaves the Star Alliance, though, this will change within the next 12 months.  Whether I focus on United or US Airways/American will likely depend on where my work assignments take me, but I am leaning towards focusing on United miles for the rest of the year, as I already have 8000 premier qualifying miles.  Then, in 2014, I can try for a status match or challenge to US Airways/American.

Finally, I’ll have about a month between jobs, and will use the opportunity to take an unexpected second summer vacation.  I was late to be booking, either a cash flight, or a mileage award, but I was able to find award availability on dates that worked in business class going to Croatia – a country I’ve never been to, that combines cities and beaches. 

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