Germany tagged posts

A Little Report from Berlin

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

My report from Berlin is going to be fairly brief. Not only was I just in Berlin two years ago, but I stayed in the exact same two hotels as I did last time: the Intercontinental and the Grand Hyatt.  Both were excellent last time, both were excellent this time.  The only difference was cash rates at the Intercontinental were nearly three times as much as they had been 2 years ago on the same weekend, so I spent two nights there using points.  I then used my Hyatt Category 1-5 annual Visa cardholder certificate at the Grand Hyatt Berlin for my last night again.  I’m not going to do a full review of the properties again as there was nothing appreciably different.  Check out my review of the Intercontinental Berlin here and my review of the Grand Hyatt Berlin here.  If you’re interested in more of what to see and do in Berlin, I’d recommend this post as a supplement to my 2014 report, available here.

Berlin and the River Spree

Berlin and the River Spree

As I did last time, I took the public bus from the airport to the Zoo Garden station and walked about 10 minutes to the Intercontinental.  The stay was really just lovely, and reminded me why I’ve stayed at about 20 different  Intercontinental properties (with return visits to several) over the years: the consistently good service and treatment of elites.  (And I generally find Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas underrated too!).  This stay was no exception.  At check-in, I was asked how my trip was, and told “Welcome Back.” While this should be a no-brainer at any hotel, I’m rarely asked these questions as a Hilton Diamond.  Although I was on an award stay, I received the same upgrade I had two years ago, and was proactively offered a 4pm checkout.  Just after I checked out, I realized I had left my passport wallet in the room, and the front desk clerk profusely apologized to me, as if *they* had done something wrong.  Good job, Intercontinental Berlin.  It makes me excited for my upcoming stay at the Intercontinental Wellington.  (And note, I did not have a free breakfast or lounge access, yet still came away feeling like a valued guest of the hotel.

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A Short Hop: Airberlin Copenhagen to Berlin-Tegel (CPH-TXL) and the CPH Lounges

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Despite a late night out in Copenhagen, I still made it up with my first (of 2) alarms at 7:30am, showered, had breakfast, and was on my way to the airport.   It was a five-minute walk from the Hotel Hebron to Central Station, and I had to wait about 15 minutes for the next train to the airport given it was early on a Saturday morning.  The train was an older one, so it didn’t have wifi like my train from the airport had, but it was still a painless journey and by 8:55am I was at the airport for my 10:55am flight to Berlin.

Copenhagen Central Station

Copenhagen Central Station

My Airberlin flight was pretty cheap, about $60, and I didn’t pay for any extras, knowing I’d just have a carry-on and it was a short flight.  Interestingly, when I booked the ticket, the fare class I purchased (Z) would not have earned any miles in American’s AAdvantage program.  But one strange positive change from the devaluAAtion of August 1 was that I would now receive 25% base miles and 50% EQM. (Once the EQD system kicks in, I would be credited at a rate of 5%.)  So as a 213 mile flight, that means I’d get 50 miles! Yippee! (AA doesn’t give an elite bonus on AB flights for some reason- perhaps its membership in the Etihad alliance?)

As a Oneworld Sapphire member, I had access to Fast Lane security, which went smoothly, and then dumped me into a big duty free shop.  The shop is run by Heinemann and Co., a German operator of duty free shops throughout Europe.  If you join their loyalty program, you actually get a 10 Euro voucher every year on your birthday, good for an entire year with no minimum purchase.  Unfortunately I didn’t see any toys, but I was able to buy two bottles of water and some candy for my office and for my nephews – and they actually gave me 10 Euro cents cash in change.

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2015 Index and YWW Year in Review

Category: About YWWAirlinesHotelsTrip Reports Comments: One comment

It’s a bit late, but here is my 2015 travel year in review post.  It was a huge travel year for me, as I hit 5 continents and did more long-haul flying than I’d ever done before. It was a lot of mileage redemptions, and low on the mileage earning front.  I re-qualified for American Airlines Gold status. I thought about going for Platinum but it was a busy enough fall and winter that the marginal utility was not enough to outweigh the financial and other costs.

As for the blog, I have kept it as a personal travel diary rather than changing to something else, but hopefully folks find it enjoyable, useful, or both.   My philosophy is the same today as it was in my 2013 year in review post: “I will never stop loving travel, but business class and nice hotels isn’t the point of life.”

So, what were my travel patterns and accomplishments of 2015? I’ve put indices of the places, planes, and hotels I’ve reviewed at the bottom of this post, and have some statistics as well. It was a heavy year of international travel, with only one domestic purely leisure trip.
6
Total continents visited: 5
New continents: 1 (Australia)
Total countries (excluding U.S.): 10
New countries: 5 (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil)
New states: 1 (Missouri)

New airlines: 7 (Qantas, Etihad, Asiana, TAM, Virgin Australia, Germanwings)

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The thirst is real: US Airways/AA Munich to Philadelphia in Envoy Class

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US Airways Flt. 717 Munich to Philadelphia
A330, Envoy (Business) Class
Sched. Dep. MUC 12:15PM   Actual Dep. 12:05PM
Sched. Arr. PHL 3:20PM Actual Arr. 2:45PM

US Airways A330 in New AA livery

I retraced my trip back to the airport via train, which runs every 20 minutes. Flying out of Terminal 1 at Munich, as opposed to Terminal 2 or Frankfurt, means there are very few facilities past security. Terminal 1 has 5 “modules,” kind of like wings, connected via a central shopping area, also where the train station is.   Check-in, security, and immigration are separate for each module.

Once I got to the airport, it took a whopping 45 minutes to get from the train through immigration and security, the vast majority of time which was spent on a super-long immigration line.   There were only two customs officials processing non-EU passport holders, which was inadequate for the literally hundreds of people on line.

Huge check-in line at the US/AA counter at MUC

Flying US Airways business class, I had access to the British Airways Galleries Lounge, which was not on-par with the BA Lounges in other cities. It was filthy, with dishes not cleared and stained upholstery. Bathrooms were in the hallway outside the lounge. At 11am, they had already switched over to a lunch buffet, which had sausages, mini pizzas, salad, sandwiches, and ice cream.   Due to the acoustical layout of the lounge, I couldn’t avoid listening to a group of very loud Americans talking in detail about their time in Salzburg. It was so obnoxious and loud that I didn’t stay very long, and headed to the gate.

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Exploring Munich: The city and Dachau

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My three days in Munich went by pretty quickly. Upon landing, I got the CityTourTicket, a 3-day transit pass that included the outer zones of the system. This was good, because it not only included my trip from the airport, but also my trip to Dachau on my second day.

Marienplatz

Marienplatz

The day I arrived in Munich was super hot, in the mid 90s. By the time I got out of my hotel, it was around 2:30pm. I thought about going to the Deutsches Museum, but it closed at 5pm and I figured that would be tight. So instead I figured I’d head into the Old Town center and explore a bit...

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Hotel Review: Hotel Munich Palace

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Upon landing at MUC and collecting my bag, I headed to the S-bahn station, where I purchased a Munich City Tour ticket, giving me unlimited travel in the network for 3 days – which was worth it based on the airport ride and my planned trip to Dachau. It was about a 35 minute ride to the Munich Ost station, where I was supposed to transfer to a bus for a short 10 minute ride to my hotel.  I could not for the life of me find where the correct stop for my bus was, and neither the maps in the station, Google Maps, or my GPS provided any assistance. But Google Maps did show me the route of the bus, so I just walked along the route in the 97 degree weather to the next stop, which was probably only 1/3 of a mile, but felt like a marathon. Finally, I found the next stop and waited a few minutes for the next bus, which dropped me off across the street from my hotel.

Originally I had planned on staying at one of the Hiltons in Munich, but my growing disappointment with the chain led me to pursue a cheaper option of booking a hotel through Skyauction.com. Skyauction is a transparent auction site, where you bid on nights at a specific property – mostly independent boutique hotels— and submit your preferred travel dates and pay after you win. You have to be careful because there is a $49 tax and fee charge added per night to whatever your winning bid is, in addition to a $20 processing fee per stay. Some properties will also put you in really subpar rooms.   I’ve had great experiences on stays in Hawaii, Del Mar, and Florence, and a terrible stay in San Juan at the horrendous Verdanza hotel. I’m happy to say this one was a great experience.IMG_4006

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Onward to Bavaria: Airberlin from Cologne to Munich

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To get from Cologne to Munich, I used some orphan Airberlin miles I had. At the time of my Etihad mistake fare trip to Abu Dhabi, you couldn’t credit US-AUH flights to AA, though now you can. The trip was about 6000 miles (I think, the receipt nor the website shows how much you paid) plus about $40 in taxes and fees. Granted, the flight wasn’t that expensive on its own, about $90, but the extra miles I would have earned wouldn’t be of much use, so I considered just an additional $50 back from my Etihad mistake fare. (Either way, much faster and cheaper than the 4.5 hour train.)

My flight was at noon, which meant I could take my time in the morning. I hit the gym, packed, and walked about 10 minutes from the Radisson to the S-Bahn. The Radisson ended up being much more convenient to the airport than the Artotel – only 3 stops on the S-bahn, taking about 30 minutes (including the walk) and costing only 2,80 euros.

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More Cologne and a Daytrip to Bonn

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My first full day in Cologne was a Monday, which was not the best planning on my part. As with many places in Europe, most museums are closed on Mondays. I’m not a huge museum goer, but on a grey day in Cologne there really isn’t much else to do.20150720_123954

Koln Rathaus

Koln Rathaus

I took the tram from the Radisson into the city, and meandered over to the Rathaus– the city hall – which was not particularly scintillating, but interesting in that the compound reflects 4 different architectural styles – from the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 20th centuries.   I had a schnitzel lunch outside on the Alter Markt, a cute square with lots of restaurants and bars.  

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Hotel Review: The Radisson Blu Cologne

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I was worried about my choice to spend 2 nights at the Radisson Blu, as I hadn’t quite paid attention to its location – on the other side of the Rhine from the Aldstadt and not in walking distance to much except the Convention Center. Still, I figured I should spend my Club Carlson points before the devaluation and 2 nights for 44,000 points was a steal.

Radisson Blu Cologne

Radisson Blu Cologne

But I felt better about my choice when I got to the hotel, about a half block from the tram. The hotel has a lovely front entrance with fountains, and a modern expansive lobby. And although the German check-in clerk was hardly warm, she at least asked how my trip was and welcomed me to the hotel, unlike her Art’otel colleague. Even though it was still morning, I was able to check in, and the clerk told me I was upgraded to a Business Class room. And unlike some other Radisson Blus, she said breakfast was included with the upgraded room.   It felt good to be at a real full-service hotel.

Lobby, Radisson Blu Cologne

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Day 1 in Cologne and the Art’otel Cologne

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It was nice to land in the gleaming modern Cologne-Bonn International Airport, though I was a bit surprised how much walking was entailed to exit (although no bus this time). The walk to baggage claim was quite long, and there was a substantial wait for my bag. Then it was a good 15 minute walk through other terminals to get to the train station.

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S-Bahn trains run to Cologne’s main train station every 30 minutes, and it’s a 15 minute ride for 2,80 Euros. Pretty easy. Once I got to the rather busy train station in the center of town, I stopped at a cell phone store and picked up a German sim card for my phone, as I suspected there wouldn’t be a lot open on a Sunday in the city. From there, I got on a bus for a 8 minute ride to the Art’otel Cologne, where I was spending my first of three nights in Cologne.

My hotel plan in Cologne was strategic. Initially I was going to stay at the Hilton and/or the Hyatt, but then Club Carlson announced its elimination of the best benefit of its US Bank Visa Card – the last night free on multi-night award stays – while also announcing increases in award rates at many of their top properties. Hotels in Cologne weren’t super-expensive, but I had a lot of Club Carlson points and not much travel to Club Carlson cities scheduled, so I booked two nights at the Radisson Blu Cologne. US Bank/Club Carlson then announced a good points bonus on paid stays for its cardholders, so I figured I’d book the third night at the cheaper, but more centrally located and well-reviewed, Art’otel Cologne, at a prepaid rate of about 90 Euros.

Art'otel Cologne

Art’otel Cologne

At first, I thought I’d regret doing one night at the Art’otel and two at the Radisson, since the Art’otel was much more in the heart of the city. But my stay was not particularly good. Art’otel is a newish brand of Carlson, and each hotel has actual art in each room. Here, the art was all done by a Korean painter. Its kind of a limited service brand, think Four Points or Aloft. The hotel was actually a former Park Plaza, another Carlson brand, and had some Park Plaza-branded stuff throughout.

Remnants

Remnants

Check-in was strange, as not only was the...

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