Archive for March, 2013

Itinerary of the Month: Berlin, Germany

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

If I had 36 Hours in Berlin, I would…

On my recent visit to Berlin, I didn’t have too much time to sightsee as I was mixing business and pleasure.  The nice thing about traveling from the US over to Europe is that you can take a red-eye flight and arrive at your destination with nearly a whole day intact.  It’s on this first arrival day that I like to get to know a city, taking in the sites and immersing myself in its culture (if only for a day).

Day 1:

Embrace your inner-tourist and take a Berlin Bike Tour.  You get a thorough overview of the City while making great use of your sightseeing time.  If you start with a good overview then you can spend time on the areas that interest you most.

If you aren’t on a tour, then you can begin your visit at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of Berlin, and then walk down Unter den Linden and find yourself a café for some coffee and a pastry.  I have to admit that I can spot a Starbucks a mile away – even in Germany.

You could go to Checkpoint Charlie on your first day.  During the Cold War, this was the famous border crossing between the American and Soviet sectors. Today, what remains is a replica of the official checkpoint – but the museum, the House at Checkpoint Charlie, adjacent to the outpost is well worth your time.  I found it fascinating!  One warning: the fake American and Russian Army soldiers will want you to pay them for any photos that you may take of them.

Not too far from Checkpoint Charlie is Gendarmenmarkt. After you take in the beauty of this historic square, you can visit the nearby chocolatier, Fassbender & Rausch.  You’ll be as amazed as
I was by the hand crafted chocolate sculptures… and the assortment
of sweets waiting for you to take them home!

Day Two:

Located just two minutes from the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag is the modern meeting place of German Parliament and one of Berlin’s ‘must-dos’.  Its glass dome is a nod to the country’s commitment to transparency and has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. You must register in advance to tour the dome and learn more of the building’s tempestuous history.

If you have the time, visit Museum Island, a unique locale of five internationally renowned museums. The Pergamon Museum has one of the world’s best archaeological collections, and the Neues Museum houses the Egyptian bust of Nefertiti among other gems.

There’s not much of the Berlin wall near the checkpoint.  However, artists from around the world have turned the biggest remaining stretch of the Wall into “the world’s longest outdoor art gallery.” Called the East Side Gallery, it stretches nearly a mile and makes for a colorful stroll.

Souvenirs and Sustenance

You’ve gotta eat… and shop. Try KaDaWe! Its Berlin’s mega-shopping experience and it is fun. All the little bistros on the sixth floor of KaDeWe are a great treat! Everything is super fresh and the Oyster bar is a constant favorite.

If German cuisine doesn’t sound enticing, it’s not all brats and beer in Berlin.  Dining out is much like being in any major city – lots of choices from the Michelin-rated to the late-night lounges.

  • If you want a once in a lifetime fine dining experience, dine at Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer, located in the famed Hotel Adlon Kempinski. (This restaurant will be closed March 31st – April 8, 2013 for vacation).  Select a multi-course meal complete with wine pairings, which will be equally executed by an attentive and personable staff.  Don’t take my word for it – just read the restaurant reviews on this gem!
  • Caffe Bocconi is the most surprisingly authentic Italian restaurant in the heart of Germany. Located on the West side of town.
  • Want a good American Burger? Try Burgermeister!  It’s a great local burger spot located under the railway.  Don’t let the location fool you; the smiles on customers’ faces should be all the endorsement you need.

Nightlife in Berlin

It’s the eastern part of the city that keeps the evening activities going. And nightlife starts late in Berlin – close to 1AM  – not closing at 1AM.  You can celebrate the sunrise at many a late-night spot in this German capital city. Try the Puro Sky Club, a very stylish club set high up on the 20th floor with a spectacular 360-degree view over the city.

There you have it, 36 hours in Berlin, Germany! Any other must-see spots you’d suggest in Berlin?


 
 

 

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City of the Month: Berlin, Germany

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Walking through the city is a like taking a trip through a virtual history text book.

I recently returned from a week in Berlin. I have to admit that I had some preconceived notions about Berlin that led me to believe that the German capital city would be big, busy and boring. In reality, Berlin is twice the size it was just 23 years ago and yet moves at a comfortable pace. The city is an eclectic mix of the historical, cultural, and artistic… and it’s far from boring.

Berlin was devastated by World War II and then divided by the “Iron Curtain”. Being in Berlin is like walking through a virtual history textbook; and the city is still re-building. I was struck by the contrast of the bland construction of the former East Berlin (the leftover effect of communism) with new architectural wonders. Add in a few legacy monuments, estates and fortifications from the Prussian Empire as the ornamental accents that tie it all together, and you’ve got a city with many a story to tell.

When to visit
Berlin has a moderately cool climate and is generally comfortable to visit any time of year. My visit in early March was no exception. I enjoyed walking the city in the brisk morning air in search of a great cup of coffee, touring by day comfortably warm, and then in the evening cool partaking in the active nightlife. If you are looking for a late spring or early summer international getaway, then its time to book your trip to Berlin.

Things to do in Berlin
Many Berlin museums are free on one particular day every week or month. Most of the memorials and museums to WWII, such as the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, the East Side Gallery, and the Topography of Terror, are FREE. The Nazi regime, one of the worst things to happen to the world, was based in Berlin. The city does not hide from its past and, admirably, does not profit from it either.

Did you know Berlin has more bridges over water than Venice, Italy? With so many waterways, visitors can take a scenic boat ride for any desired length of time – a private sojourn to the Baltic Sea or perhaps just a group tour through the historic waterways. Public transportation in the city is excellent. You can get around very affordably and efficiently. I really enjoyed learning my way around through the city’s underground trains, which popped me up in another part of the city just waiting to be explored. The occasional taxi, best paid in cash (euros), will not set you back too much either.

What's left of the Berlin Wall? Only pavers that mark where the iconic structure once divided Berlin.

Hotels in Berlin
There are a variety of lodging options from the luxurious to student-hostels. I found them more affordable than in other European cities such as London or Munich. Rooms in Europe are typically on the smaller side but amenities can be plentiful so read the guest reviews before you book.

Hotel Adlon Kempinski – The five-star Hotel Adlon Kempinski is as historic as it is famous having hosted political leaders and celebrities for more than a century. And the location, right outside the Brandenburg Gate, cannot be beat!

Hotel Berlin, Berlin – Near the Berlin Zoo and Potsdamer Platz, other benefits include free WiFi, many room categories and even a spa.

Hotel Gat Point Charlie – I stayed here on my recent visit. Affordable, free WiFi, conveniently located for walkers to Checkpoint Charlie, the U-Bahn, and other sites.

Tips for traveling to Berlin
There are some great FREE smart phone travel apps that you can download, here are three must haves:

  1. Berlin Subway by mxData: You’ll need a map of the U-bahn, the underground train. It is the most affordable and efficient way to get around the city.
  2. Berlin City Travel Guide – City Pal: Choose a virtual tour guides that function offline – without internet access. I used this one throughout my trip.
  3. Learn German – Phrasebook for Travel in Germany: Remember to turn off your cellular data and data roaming to restrict all data to Wi-Fi when traveling to avoid charges when web browsing and using email and other data services. Yes, all Starbucks, even in Berlin, offer free Wi-Fi to help you stay connected and save on the cell phone bill.

Money Matters in Berlin

  • Don’t buy foreign currency in advance. Some tourists just have to have euros in their pockets when they step off the airplane, but smart travelers know better than to get lousy stateside exchange rates. Wait until you arrive at your destination; ATMs are not hard to find in Berlin (or most European cities).
  • Use local cash. The exchange rate when you use dollars and not the local currency is really BAD. Don’t do it! Without knowing it, you’re changing money, usually 20% worse, every time you buy something with dollars.
  • Get back to dollars at the end of your trip. If you have any foreign cash left before you fly home, change it into dollars at the European airport or simply spend it at the airport.

Check out Thursday’s post for a “36 hours in Berlin” itinerary complete with what to do, where to eat, and what not to miss!

 
 

 

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Affordable Vacation Recommendations for Spring and Summer

Monday, March 18th, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent the weekend skiing with the family in Keystone, CO.  I have to give the resort major props for it’s “something for everyone” village.  We spent two nights in the River Run Condominiums located right at the base of the mountain, mere steps from the Gondola.  It wasn’t our first visit and it certainly won’t be our last.  What keeps us coming back for more? From the ski lessons for my three year old niece, to the ice skating, parades complete with apple cider, dancing and smiles, leprechauns (it was St. Patrick’s Day) and more…Keystone resort makes it easy for visitors to have a great vacation.

Whenever I am on one trip, regardless of its length, I always find myself planning the next one. Where can we go? What will we do? Who can come with us?  Of course, as I was riding the ski lift this weekend, I was already pondering what we will do for upcoming trips during Spring Break, Memorial Day Weekend, and our summer vacation.

Late March through early June is an ideal time to travel if you can swing it.  Travel prices for hotels, car rentals and airfare are generally lower than the peak prices of summer for many destinations.

Hotels.com recently ranked San Diego, California, San Antonio, Texas, Portland, Maine and Charleston, South Carolina as top affordable picks for spring and early summer travel.   The rankings were based on the Hotel Price Index™ (HPI®), which tracked real prices paid per room by Hotels.com customers during 2012.  I couldn’t agree more. Additional benefits:  temperatures will be mild, and crowds will be smaller.

Consider these destinations, too, when planning Spring Break and early summer vacations:

Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi happily entertains its guests (for less) in the spring. That is, if you don’t gamble your savings at the casinos. Stay at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino where you definitely stay and play. Rates from $79/night can’t be beat.

Phoenix, Arizona

Spring break is good timing for dude ranches in Arizona, which typically shut down during the heat of summer months.  You’ll want to saddle up for a stay at the Rancho de los Caballeros.

For a little spa and golf getaway, check into the Arizona Grand Resort has a convenient location just 15 minutes from the Phoenix airport and a full-fledged water park with waterslides, wave pool, river float, and kiddie pool. Golf is a highlight too with a golf course right at the resort and a high-tech learning center. Guests can also do beautiful hikes or mountain biking in the adjacent 16,500 acre South Mountain Park/Preserve.

San Luis Obispo, California

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo has low-cost attractions plus free fun at beaches with tide pools, or piers, or sand dunes. From wine-tasting, to biking, hiking, and even antiquing, you’ll enjoy this California central coast destination.  It’s a great spot for day trips to other pricier CA cities.

Already planning your next vacation? Where will you go? Share it here on Travel Smart Blog!

 
 

 

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Slice of the Good Life – The Scoop on Luxury Travel

Friday, March 15th, 2013

While chartering a private jet or yacht may not be even remotely in reach for your average traveler, there are still many other unique vacation options that are trending among affluent jetsetters that everyday vacationers can gain inspiration from.

You don’t have to be a billionaire to take a cue from the world’s “High Net Worth Individuals” whose ultimate vacation goals have been identified in the below infographic from Going Global TV as being focused on family and multi-generational trips, as well as distinctive experiences like those delivered by luxury cruises and adventure/expedition packages.

Planning for a once-in-a-lifetime experience doesn’t necessarily mean saving up for your own private island. Meaningful travel experiences and experiential offerings at hotels are becoming increasingly mainstream in 2013 as more standard travelers rediscover the emotional and physical benefits of a quality vacation.

What’s more, you don’t have to spend beyond your means just to enable your whole family to  participate in the fun either. Affordable luxury options exist worldwide you just have to be aware of them and know the right tools to help you find them. For example, The Hotel Price Index from Hotels.com has an entire chapter on best 5-star room rates around the world and best star-rated values (i.e. 5 and 4-star rooms for $125 and under!).

So, tell us, if you were a “High Net Worth Individual” where would you plan your next vacation and what would you do? Leave a comment below!

 

 
 

 

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The Top 10 Irish Pubs… and Hotels Within Stumbling Distance

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

You don’t have to wait for St. Patrick’s Day to get your “green” on and celebrate Irish style. The US has some of the best Irish pubs around that are neighborhood staples; legends in their own right. You can also count on the fact that these bars will all be celebrating this weekend what is now a global Irish holiday! So, if you are looking for a great St. Paddy’s Day party, check out the Travel Smart Blog list of Top 10 Irish Pubs and the cities that play host to them- (I wouldn’t begin to rank these top contenders).

I also took the liberty of finding the closest hotel within stumbling distance (and in some cases, a brisk walk) of each of these fine establishments. It’s worth noting that all of the hotels listed are worthy of a visit for their own reasons, not just the proximity to one of the best Irish Pubs around.

Rí Rá Atlanta
Atlanta, GA

Meticulously restored in Ireland and shipped to the US, Rí Rá embodies everything that you would expect from a genuine Irish pub. Speaking from experience, this bar has it all from the Irish staff down to the delectable Irish fare- not to mention the perfect pint of Guinness. Here you’ll find families celebrating, friends collaborating and an altogether good time.

…and for the stumble- Loews Atlanta.

Kevin Barry’s
Savannah, GA

Grab a couple of pints after a day of sightseeing at this authentic Irish Pub. Located on Savannah’s River Street, don’t let the surrounding tourist traps fool you – this bar is the real deal. For more than 30 years, Kevin Barry’s has been home to many US Armed Services members. Be sure to check out its Hall of Heroes.

…and for the stumble- Andaz Savannah, a Hyatt Hotel.

Molly Malone’s Pub & Snug
Los Angeles

Owned and operated by the same Irish family for more than 40 years, the pub serves up great food and ales. Molly Malone’s has an impressive movie resume as well as playing host to an impressive local and Irish music scene in “The Snug”. As the 5th most popular destination for foreign travelers according to the Hotels.com Hotel Price Index, Los Angeles has been making travelers feel at home in this Irish pub.

…and for the stumble- Wilshire Crest Hotel Los Angeles.

The Irish Oak
Chicago

A truly traditional age-old Irish pub located just one short block away from the Friendly Confines, otherwise known as Wrigley Field – Home of the Chicago Cubs. Irish Oak is a mixture of Old World atmosphere in a contemporary, vibrant setting. With most of the interior imported directly from the motherland, its two full bars are as authentic as the Guinness they pour. Don’t miss the Signature Whiskey Still Room and dine on Gaelic specialties like fish-and-chips, Irish Stew and Corned Beef Sandwiches. It’s also the official bar of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Go figure!

…and for the stumble- Old Chicago Inn.

Kelly’s Irish Times
Washington D.C.

Read the visitor reviews on this one to know just how special it is. Kelly’s Irish Times is known the world over, not only for being one of the most celebrated Irish Pub’s in America, but for Kelly’s famous wall of history. You’ll find details such as 1930’s Dublin Police Patches; one-of-a-kind unopened beer bottles from the 1800s; antique galvanized ice buckets from Glascow; torn Redskins Super Bowl tickets, Sonny Jurgensen autographs and a multitude of celebrity/politician what-nots. Kelly’s Irish Times is a popular bar for politicians, Irish and otherwise. It was even a St. Patrick’s Day favorite of President Ronald Reagan.

…and for the stumble- The Hotel George.

McGillin’s Olde Ale House
Philadelphia

The beer has been flowing since 1860 (the year Lincoln was elected) in this Philadelphia Irish establishment. It was opened by William McGillin, an Irish immigrant, who owned the bar and raised his 13 children upstairs. The list of famous visitors is long and storied but what keeps McGillin’s running after all these years is its high standard for good food, good friends, and good beer.

…and for the stumble- The Independent Hotel.

McSorley’s
New York City

McSorley’s boasts that it is New York’s oldest operating saloon, but this traditional pub has so much more to be proud of. For 150 years, this establishment has been the backdrop to many an important happening; like the subject of an E.E. Cumming poem or a John Sloan painting.

…and for the stumble- The Standard.

Harp and Hound Irish Pub
Mystic, CT

The Harp and Hound proprietor, Leo Roche, hails from Glin, Co. Limerick and is dedicated to keeping a fine “public house” with good food, good drink and good times. Situated in one of the oldest buildings in Mystic – dating back to the early 1700s, the Daughters of the Revolution had some of their earliest meeting within its wall.

…and for the stumble- The Steamboat Inn.

Finn McCools
New Orleans

Named after Finn McCool, the legendary giant of Irish Folklore, this New Orleans Pub battled its own giant, Hurricane Katrina. Its Irish community helped it to rebuild and Finn McCools reopened its doors on St. Patrick’s Day 2006. Since then, the bar has become a major part of the Mid City community and won awards for “Best Bartender in New Orleans” every year since re-opening along with “Best Neighborhood Bar”.

…and for the stumble- 1896 O’Malley House.

Four Green Fields
Tampa, FL

Voted one of the ten best Irish pubs in the world by the Dublin-based “Ireland” magazine, Four Green Fields has become a Tampa treasure over the past 20 years.  Enjoy a good Irish sing-a-long on most nights – crowd participation is encouraged. The thatched roof is truly unique, and the selection of Irish fare is as delicious as the Guinness is plentiful.

…and for the stumble- Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

How will you be celebrating this St. Paddy’s Day?



 
 

 

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The Delicious Food Trucks of Austin, TX for SXSW

Monday, March 11th, 2013

The growing foodie and food truck scene in Austin is both overwhelming and amazing. With so many options, we thought we’d take a few moments to point out some highlights for SXSWers taking on the streets of Austin this week. Looking for a particular food to cut your craving? Make sure your smart phone is equipped with apps like Austin Food Carts or Roaming Hunger which provide menus, location and hourly updates.

Hey!… You Gonna Eat or What?
One fan raved about this truck’s specialty – gourmet sandwiches, “I would wait an hour in this 100 degree weather or stand alone in the pouring rain for another one of these. It was that good.”  Menu favorites and its best known sandwiches include the Lonestar BLT and the Shiner Monte Cristo. Check the truck’s Facebook and Twitter pages for locations and daily specials.

East Side King
Paul Qui, executive Chef at Qui and one of Austin’s up-and-coming celebrity chefs, is partnering with SXSW to curate several food trucks for SXSW attendees called the SouthBites.  Nibble your way through “Qui’s Corner” by trying DUK Truck, Chi’lantro, The Butcher’s Son, The Seedling Truck and more. SouthBites is conveniently located close to several SXSW venues at the corner of Rainey and Driskill streets and features a full bar.

Via 313 Pizza
With two separate truck locations on Congress and East 6th streets, travelers can sample “Detroit-style” pizza at Via 313 Pizza. This less well-known pizza is square, made in industrial steel pans, and features semi-thick crust (similar to focaccia bread texture).  Look for updates, specials and hours during SXSW on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Holy Cacao
This dessert trailer brings chef-created, tempting and portable treats to the streets of Austin for all to nosh on. The menu features Drinking Chocolates, Drinks and Cake Balls, a chunk of freshly baked cake mixed with frosting, rolled into balls, dipped in chocolate and perched atop popsicle stick. Their hot chocolate is a must try and has been named by Travel & Leisure as one of its kind in America. For the latest updates, deals and location check out Holy Cacao’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Ms. P’s Electric Cock
Fried chicken lover? Then Ms. P’s Electric Cock is a must try for you. This mouth-watering food truck combines fresh, local free range chicken with fresh herbs, 12 spices and top quality peanut oil to create some of the best fried chicken in Austin. Pair your fried chicken with a side order such as a waffle, truffle mac & cheese, farm frites or soco slaw. This place is so good that even Ryan Gosling and Thrillist rant and rave about it.

So if you’re in Austin for the music of SXSW this week, be sure to help #KeepAustinWeird, by supporting local businesses and eating at these fantastic food trucks!

 
 

 

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Hotel Price Index- Travel Hacks Infographic

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Take a look at this infographic from this season’s Hotels.com Hotel Price Index. These “Travel Hacks” are a great way to take advantage of travel trends seen in 2012!

 
 

 

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Hotel Price Index Fun Facts

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

What are the latest travel trends for 2013? What are some of the must-see, up-and-coming destinations travelers should check out this year? Today the latest edition of the Hotels.com® Hotel Price Index™ (HPI®) was released, providing all of this great insight and more.

The HPI tracks real prices paid per room by Hotels.com customers at approximately 200,000 properties within the Hotels.com network in major destinations around the world. This year’s report looks at the full 2012 year and reveals lots of interesting facts to aid globetrotters around the world in their travel decisions and to make the planning process a little bit more fun.

Here are a few of the most fun facts we found this time around:

  • Big Sur made its debut on The World’s Most Expensive Cities list – most likely tied to its desirable location, extremely expensive land and the cost of building and various posh, luxury properties.
  • Eight of the 10 most expensive cities are located on islands
  • Texas is growing in popularity among U.S. travelers, as San Antonio and Austin both moved up on the list of Americans’ most preferred domestic cities.
  • Internationally, Tokyo continues to rebound and see more American travelers, while Istanbul has been rapidly growing as a popular destination
  • Warsaw and Marrakech both offer travelers the highest star rating under $125. Five-star hotels in Warsaw average at only $125 a night, and four-star hotels in Marrakech offer rooms at $104 a night.
  • Top Domestic Destinations for Americans were Las Vegas, NYC, Orlando, LA, Chicago
  • Foreign travelers from Japan, South Africa and Norway spent the most on U.S. accommodations
  • Top International Cities for Americans were London, Paris, Rome, Toronto, Vancouver
  • More and more hoteliers are making Wi-Fi available at no cost throughout the hotel, or at least in the public areas of the property as they are beginning to realize that it is a number one priority among customers. Travelers can even anticipate the ability to log-on while en route to their destinations as select limos and airlines are also jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon.
To view more of the Hotel Price Index, visit us at www.Hotel-Price-Index.com - Happy travels!


 
 

 

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In Search of GOLD: A St. Patrick’s Day Travel Adventure

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Leprechauns aren’t the only ones to enjoy all things gold. Embrace your inner Irish and check out these spots where gold is a given:

gold panningPutting for Gold

You may really feel a bit Irish if you enjoy all things emerald green and gold with a visit to… Scottsdale, AZ! At the Gold Canyon Golf Resort you’ll experience some of the best golf in the US and truly amazing views. The small city of Gold Canyon sits at the base of the Superstitions, one of Arizona’s most amazing mountainscapes. Finding it may feel like you are searching for that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow… but trust me this treasure is worth the effort!

Feel like Eating Gold?

At one of my favorite dessert spots, Serendipity 3, in New York City you can order the Golden Opulence Sundae complete with edible gold-coated almonds and gold shavings.

Personally, I’ll stick their frozen haute chocolate. With a price tag of $1000, this super sundae requires a 48-hour reservation in advance.

The Gold Coast (Barbados)

Some of the finest beaches in the Caribbean lie along the so-called Gold Coast of Barbados (sometimes upgraded to the Platinum Coast). It’s also home to some of the swankiest hotels, including The House by Elegant Hotels and The Fairmont Royal Pavilion Hotel.

Mining for Gold

Golden, CO – This town that claims to be “where the West was settled” is just a golden nugget away from Denver. You can pan for gold in Clear Creek, stay at The Golden Hotel and even tour the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum. This museum has more than gold dust. It’s also home to one of the state’s two Goodwill moon rocks collected during the Apollo 17 mission, was started in 1874 and displays mineral, fossil, gemstone, meteorite and historic mining artifact exhibits on two floors.

Need more golden inspiration? Try:

 
 

 

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