Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Text by: Albert Rodriguez
I mentioned at the launch of my blog over a year ago that I'd alert readers to travel-related contests, and 13 months later (apologies, sincerely) I'm posting a couple of them. Not everybody wins, but plenty of people do - and there's no cost for entering, so it's worth a shot.
Both of these contests are sponsored by Hawaiian companies and each requires that you like their Facebook page, which I personally have no problem doing if they're offering free prizes.
This contest ends very quickly, at the end of November, and includes:
Roundtrip airfare to Oahu for 4 on Hawaiian Airlines
· 7 nights for 4 at Outrigger Reef on the Beach hotel in Waikiki
· $500 activities credit from Outrigger Activities
· $200 gift certificate for dinner at Kani Ka Pila Grille
· $440 gift certificate for spa treatment at Serenity Spa Hawaii
You need to "Like" OutriggerHawaii.com's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/OutriggerHawaii and click on the "Sweeptakes" box, then fill in the entry form.
The second contest is called "Surf's Up" from Hawaiian Airlines, which is rapidly expanding their service to destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines and Japan. It's a great airline; I've flown them at least 5 times to/from Seattle and also inter-island. They are the only US-based carrier that serves a free meal for coach passengers.
This contest also ends soon and requires a Hawaiian Airlines mileage number, which you can get for free by registering on their website, and includes:
- 80,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles grand prize
- 20,000 Hawaiian Airlines miles weekly prizes
You need to "Like" Hawaiian Airlines' Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HawaiianAirlines, aside from being a mileage awards member, and click on "Sweepstakes, then fill in the entry form.
Friday, November 8, 2013
|Aer Lingus counter at Dublin Airport.|
Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Flight notation: Aer Lingus, Dublin to Amsterdam (KL 3152, KLM codeshare ticket)
I understand some airlines are having tough times financially, but I was utterly surprised when my 6am flight aboard Aer Lingus this summer wanted to charge me for a cup of coffee. Yes, really.
|On-board, Dublin to Amsterdam.|
I didn't buy a cup of coffee at the airport because I knew it'd be served on-board our flight. Plus, I exchanged my remaining Euros for American currency because I was on my way home. Shortly after takeoff, an announcement was made by the flight crew to glance through the in-flight menu for a list of beverages. So I did. Then I noticed they each had prices next to them. About 10 minutes later, the flight attendants came up the aisle selling coffee and morning goodies.
|Post-arrival in Amsterdam.|
Sure enough, we had to pay for items on the cart. Moneyless, I couldn't purchase anything. Even stranger was that soon thereafter the flight attendants came through the aisles selling Duty Free products.
|Air France complimentary snack to Dublin.|
By comparison, Air France served complimentary beverages and a meat-cheese sandwich from Paris to Dublin during a flight a week before (that clocked in about 15 minutes longer).
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Hotel review: Conrad Seoul
If the sign of a great hotel is one that you'd easily go back to and stay at all over again, then book me for a long-term stay at the Conrad Seoul (http://conradhotels3.hilton.com/en/hotels/south-korea/conrad-seoul-SELCICI/index.html).
This hip, almost year-old property in the bustling Yeouido business district will impress you immediately as you step through its grandiose lobby with 10 meter-plus high ceiling (over 30 feet), spiral staircase, marble floors and polished appearance. Its sleekness goes hand-in-hand with a city that is surprisingly more modern and cosmopolitan than most Westerners figure it to be.
Here are additional details on the Conrad Seoul.
|View from Room 2814|
|Foyer of Room 2814|
The Conrad brand, a luxury cluster of Hilton's international line of hotels, is well-known for its contemporary elegance with locations throughout Asia, and in North America, South America and the Middle East. The Conrad Seoul is no exception; it's stunning from all angles. Rooms are generous in size; large enough to be called apartments in some cities and come with common amenities - robes, slippers (disappointedly plain, no logo), premium coffee and teas with personal brewing systems, walk-in closets, flat-panel TVs, glass-door shower stalls with rainwater shower heads and double-sink bathroom counters with illuminated mirror TVs. Also included in my room was a foyer with framed art, soft-cushioned day lounger, built-in beverage/snack cabinet, curved work desk and picturesque views of the Han River. Hand-sized bathroom products from Aromatherapy were a nice compliment, as were new loofas and bath salts.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
|Canal in Glenarm, Northern Ireland.|
Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
I just returned from an amazing trip to Northern Ireland, where sheep outnumber vehicles and where the word "fries" means absolutely nothing. One night was spent in Belfast, the largest urban area of this region. Four nights were spent deep in the Roe Valley, near the city of Derry and where the latest Dracula was just filmed. The final night was spent in Dublin, a different region altogether and where I flew in/out of.
If you're looking for a real authentic Ireland experience with sloping green valleys, scenic coastal drives, barley fields, meat n' potato dinners, Celtic music pouring out of downtown pubs and the backdrop for countless Game of Thrones episodes then I strongly recommend Northern Ireland.
Here are 10 things you might want to know before going there. For trip assistance, go to http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/.
1) Surprise, you're in the UK!
Northern Ireland is technically part of the United Kingdom, so even though Belfast and Dublin are just 90 minutes away from each other, they are not in the same country (politically speaking, that is). Geographically, everyone in Northern Ireland considers themselves of Irish nationality, yet they are governed by UK laws for the most part. Open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland make it very easy to access either when visiting the European island.
2) How many POUNDS does it cost?
Because you're in the UK, the official currency is the Pound, not Euros. I made the mistake of exchanging all my American dollars for Euros before departing Seattle and found myself without any money upon landing. Fortunately, my hotel room was pre-paid and I was able to find a pub that took Euros, plus the hotel front desk exchanged a small amount of Euros for Pounds.
|Cube-shaped chips, in back.|
Want fries with that? Ask for chips, as in fish n' chips. The Irish, those in the North and South, do love their side of fries - uh...chips - with hamburgers and steaks and other meat dishes, but get used to calling it what they call it, or you'll be out of luck. Also, their 'chips' can take on various shapes depending on the restaurant - sometimes they're string-shaped (like ours) and sometimes they're cubed and other times they're sliced. If you want chips, such as the bagged savory snack, they're called "crisps".
4) Can I have pouring cream for my coffee, please?
I'm a coffee addict. I drink it morning, noon and night, and all times in between. Americans are used to drinking it with half n' half, especially at coffeeshops. In Northern Ireland, it's more common to drink tea in the morning, but for those who lean towards coffee they either have it black or with milk. When I asked for cream, I got a few variations of it - whipping cream, clotted cream and an interesting sweet cream that I suspect is used for baking. I was finally told by a restaurant server to ask for 'pouring cream', and I never had a problem after that.
5) What did you just say?
English is the native tongue, of course, yet the folks in these parts have a very thick accent. I had to ask people, like the taxi driver, to repeat what they had just said. There are also words pronounced differently, such as 'film', which they pronounce "fill-em" (two syllables), or the word 'schedule', which is pronounced "shed-uel".
6) Mash vs. champ
|Champ, served with steak pie.|
7) Brrrrr...it's cold up here
I was in Northern Ireland just a week ago, in the middle of August, but it felt like October in the Pacific Northwest. The days began with sunshine and mild temperatures, but by afternoon the clouds rolled in and brought chilly winds with them. Evenings were quite cool with one particular night being so cold that I wore a winter coat over a wool sweater and made good use of a knit cap that I packed at the last minute. It rained sporadically during my trip, as well, which caught me off-guard. Definitely pack a mix of clothes when headed to Northern Ireland, including a well-lined water-resistant jacket, sweaters, socks, toe-covered shoes and warm hats. Most hotels will have umbrellas on loan.
|1st class on "Enterprise".|
As I made my way back home, I left Derry en route to Belfast by taxi, then took a train from Belfast to Dublin. Northern Ireland has its own rail system, Translink NI Railways (http://www.translink.co.uk/Services/NI-Railways/), and the actual trains they use between Belfast and Dublin are "Enterprise". It's around £45 for 1st class one-way seating and trains run every two hours. I missed my first train because the cab driver picked me up late, but the station attendants permitted me to take the next train without any hassle. There were two 1st class cars, and ours had just 3 passengers for the whole ride. I was greeted with chilled orange juice and a menu once we got underway - the OJ was complimentary, but the food (sandwiches, salads, etc.) and other beverage items were individually priced. I ordered coffee for about £3 and to my surprise it was French Press, so it produced 3 to 4 cups (a good deal). Seats were really comfortable and although WiFi was advertised as a free amenity I couldn't get my phone or laptop to synch with the signal. The lavatories were ample and clean with buttons to both open and close/lock the automatic door.
9) Tipping not necessary
Much like other European countries, tipping isn't customary in Ireland. Expect gratuity to already be added to your bill at casual and fine restaurants, and I was specifically told to not tip at bars/pubs. According to my tour guide, who works for the local Northern Ireland tourism department, you only tip if you feel the need to give someone an extra bonus for exceeding their service requirement(s), or if it's someone you continually do business with (hairstylist, etc.). You don't have to tip taxi drivers either.
10) Finally, some recommendations
|Room at Roe Park Resort & Spa.|
I stayed at Malone Lodge in Belfast (http://www.malonelodgehotelbelfast.com). It's a standard hotel, nothing above average, but I did appreciate its location - on a residential street in Queen's Quarter, within walking distance of Queen's University and numerous restaurants, pubs and the lovely Botanic Gardens. In Derry, I stayed about a half-hour away in the Roe Valley, at the Roe Park Resort & Spa (http://www.roeparkresort.com), which was nice and peaceful with stunning scenery, though not as luxurious as I'd anticipated. It was recently dropped by Radisson and its lack of high-end amenities was somewhat disappointing. It was also a bit out of the way. The Ulster American Folk Park (https://www.nmni.com/uafp) was a delightful, educational excursion that included original and reconstructed homes, schoolhouses, chapels and street facades of Northern Ireland during the 19th Century. The new Titanic museum in Belfast (http://www.titanicbelfast.com) is not to be missed, while I emphasize how wonderful and quaint the city of Derry was. As for food, I'll be writing up a separate piece in the coming weeks with a few recommendations - seriously, I had some of the best bites on this trip to Northern Ireland.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
When traveling, the last thing I want to do is cook. But given the opportunity to flex my culinary skills, or lack thereof, in an actual French kitchen, well...no arm twisting was needed.
I participated in the "Themed Classes", which begin at 10:30am, although looking back I'm not sure our lesson had any particular theme at all. Class sizes run small, so that the chef can interact with everyone as closely as possible, and they take place in an atrium-like space adjacent to the lobby. The instructor, or chef, is the very handsome Benjamin Bonnay, who also possesses a sense of humor, so we definitely had fun as we prepared our lunch.
Myself and fellow classmates were handed aprons and clipboards with paper/pen for note-taking prior to the start of our lesson. The cooking/demonstration area has two kitchen stations with state-of-the-art appliances and a round dining table to eat your meal after everything has been prepared.
Chef Benjamin assigned each of us mini tasks (peeling, slicing, grating, etc) throughout the class, but he did most of the actual cooking. There were 3 courses to our meal - starter, entree and dessert. Our starter was poached lobster with mozarella/basil-filled watermelon roulettes and foamed basil cream, while our entree consisted of poached foie gras with steamed fresh vegetables. Dessert, prepared solely by Chef Benjamin, was poached apples (maybe that was our theme, poached) with wasabi-infused chocolate and whipped cream. Since I have a shellfish allergy, a seared rouge (common river fish in these parts) was substituted for the lobster.
Aside from taking turns to do minimal prepping, including the aforementioned tasks and stirring or adding in seasoning, we just sat and listened to Chef Benjamin talk about food. I'm not making it sound as entertaining as it was; this really was a hands-on experience to cook alongside a formally trained French chef, and he was so witty that we spent a lot time laughing. However, he did provide useful tips during his lesson, such as cooking the fish on top of parchment paper in a frying pan - this prevents the fish from sticking. He also showed us how he steams his vegetables with a disposable lid, by cutting a hole in the center of a circular-shaped piece of parchment paper, thus allowing for the water to evaporate through the hole - then you just toss the paper afterwards.
These cooking classes, called "Cote Cours", are available to guests of the Hotel Saint James and the general public. So, if you happen to be in Bordeaux and want an authentic culinary excursion near downtown (10 minutes by cab), I suggest a lesson with the talented and adorable Chef Benjamin. You'll love his French accent and quirky jokes, but most of all you'll love seeing him in action (literally) right in front of you.
Hotel Saint James is a custom-designed property, modernized from an 18th century farmhouse that was transformed into a family-owned hotel and restaurant with 18 impeccable rooms, some that overlook the city and the property's small vineyard, which produces about 600 bottles of red wine per year. Room amenities include Keurig brewing systems with Illy coffee, wall-mounted CD players, heated bathroom towel rack, work desks, Molton Brown soaps and lotions, and shelf-lined closets. On-site amenities include upscale restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows, outdoor terrace, swimming pool, intimate bar-lounge and remarkable art pieces along the main level hallways. Rooms and/or cooking classes can be booked online at http://www.saintjames-bouliac.com/fr/presentation (the English translation option is in the bottom left corner).
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Text and photos by: Albert Rodriguez
Have you ever forgotten to pack your toothbrush or toothpaste for a trip? If headed to Japan, you're in luck. Most hotels, both Western-style properties and traditional ryokans (inns w/ hot baths), supply travelers with an abundant variety of personal amenities.
Pictured at the top of this page is the amenities kit from my hotel room at Tokyo's Royal Park Shiodome Tower (http://www.rps-tower.co.jp/en/), in the city's suit-and-tie financial district, where All Nippon Airways (http://www.ana.co.jp/asw/wws/us/e/) is headquartered. I stayed in a standard Economy Double room on the 34th floor; nothing particularly fancy and one of the lower price-point accommodations in the hotel.
The amenities, usually displayed in a basket or tray, included two toothbrushes w/ mini tube of toothpaste (inside each packet), razor (unisex, but not a sensitive razor), hair brush, shower cap, facial cleansing/makeup remover pads and ear swabs. Hand soaps and lotions, hair/conditioner bottles and slippers (these are also very commonly found in Japanese hotels) were either also located in the bathroom, or another part of the room.
4 or 5-star hotels normally include mouthwash, though Royal Park Shiodome did not. When I stayed at the plush Park Hyatt Tokyo (http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html) two years ago, aside from the expected personal necessities they also provided guests with loofas and bath salts/crystals.
Friday, July 26, 2013
Text by: Albert Rodriguez
Photos by: Flickr stock photos
With Seattle being my home base, it always excites me when airlines announce new routes. Delta Air Lines (http://www.delta.com/), which has gradually been boosting its presence at Sea-Tac International Airport (SEA), will begin flying between the Emerald City and London-Heathrow on March 29, 2014.
|Newly configured 767 Business Class|
Alaska Airlines mileage rewards members can redeem miles on Delta flights, and London is a great destination to fly off to for vacation - think: Wimbledon, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, live theater in the West End, a photo moment at Abbey Road, a ride on the London Eye and day trips/overnights to Paris, Liverpool, or Stonehenge. I've been to London once, many years ago, and didn't expect to like it as much as I did - went to Wimbledon, saw two plays ("The Graduate" with Kathleen Turner, "An Inspector Calls"), stood outside Buckingham Palace, rode in an authentic London taxi and visited several museums.
|Old 767 Business Class|