Adrienne’s Germany

May 16th, 2012

Berlin – Day 2

We started out the morning exactly the same as yesterday. The Cafe is way too good to be true and why mess with a good thing.

From there we walked to the Reichstag (Germany´s Government building). On top of the building is a huge egg shaped dome. It is free to go up too but you have to make a reservation a minimum of three days in advance. We were able to make our reservation on the Reichstags website and were emailed our confirmation shortly after. I would recommend being at least 15 minutes early for your appointment; we had to go through security (very similar to the airport) and a screening process. Once we were up it was definitely worth all of the hassle: the views were amazing!! We were given a free audio guide that pointed out the attractions that can be seen from the dome.

When we came down from the Dome we walked to the nearby Brandenberg Gate – very touristy but worth seeing.

From there we walked a few blocks down to the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is roughly the size of a city block and covered in square cement blocks. All of the blocks are exactly the same size and set up on a grid pattern. I didn´t realise until we were there that the blocks are different heights. The edges start at about 2 feet high and when you walk into the memorial the ground slopes down so the middle blocks are approx 15 feet tall. It was very cool! (I know you shouldn´t think this about a memorial but it would have been a lot of fun to play in.)

After we walked to nearby Potsdamer Platz, this area of the city was completely destroyed in WW2 and was recently rebuilt in the 90´s. It is now covered in very modern buildings and it the cultural area of the city. We walked around the Sony Center that is filled with restaurants, pubs, a movie theatre and Film Museum. When they were rebuilding this area of the city they tried to incorporate the old buildings everywhere they could. The Grand Hotel used to be located here before it was destroyed, a few of the walls remained standing and the builders have encased them in glass and built them into the new structure. I thought it was an amazing way to show the old and new at once.

We then took a tram to Schloss Charlottenberg (a Prussian Palace in the heart of the city). The gardens are now a public park with children’s play grounds, duck ponds (which you know I was excited about) and great walking/biking trains throughout. It was roughly one km to walk from the back entrance of the park to the formal gardens around the palace. We got to the Palace just in time to miss a small downpour.  It was 6 Euros to tour the palace and the audio tour was free. The palace is extremely beautiful and it filled with lots of art. My one complaint was about half way through I was told that I wasn´t allowed to take pictures unless I paid an additional 3 Euro free upon entering. I thought that was pretty silly to say the least…who doesn’t take pictures?

From there we had supper at a nearby restaurant. I was able to get goulash and bratwurst. More things I was able to check off of my “to eat” list. We ended the night in the Hofbraauhus in Berlin. It was very similar to the famous beer house in Munich!

May 10th, 2012

Day 1 – Exploring Berlin
I had an absolute amazing time exploring Berlin today!!

This morning for breakfast Regan and I went to a nearby cafe and we were able to get a patio table overlooking the Spree River. The views were amazing!! It was a beautiful day today in Berlin – average temp was 25C and I may be slightly tanned now. We had a traditional continental German breakfast of a three tier platter of cold meats, a variety of cheeses, dips and sauces, mixed bread basket and a boiled egg. You made yourself an assortment of open faced sandwiches which were absolutely amazing. This is definitely something we are missing out on in Canada.

From there we walked down Friedrich Strasse one of Berlins main fashion district with lots of high end fashion labels along it, (There are a lot of nose and fingers prints on the windows from me window shopping!). We stopped into Gallerie Lafayette a French mutli-level department store – this is where I would like to call my new home. The building and decor are almost more amazing then the merchandise inside.

We wandered down to the nearby Gendarmen market, with two churches and one of Berlin’s three opera houses. The square holds Berlin’s most famous Christmas market in the winter. We paid three Euros to climb the tower at Französischer Dom (one of the two churches in the square). After climbing more stairs when I would like to admit to climbing, we reached the top and were rewarded with amazing views of the square and city. Upon descending we stopped by a local Bavarian pub to quench the thirst we had acquired from all those stairs!

We walked further down to the Wall Memorial, Check Point Charlie and the Check Point Charlie Museum. Check point Charlie was the only border crossing in Berlin that Westerners were allowed to go into East Berlin from. I had my picture taken with the “soldier” on duty and my passport stamped to show that I have “been” to East Berlin.

Check Point Charlie

From there we hopped S-Bahn (the suburban subway) and made our way out to Oranienburg a nearby suburb of Berlin. The train took us 45 minutes to get there. Upon arrival we walked roughly 20 minutes to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Entrance into the camp was free but we did rent audio tours guides for three Euros each. I’m not able to describe what I saw there yesterday, I am still trying to process it. It was important that I went and would recommend if you ever have the opportunity to go see a camp to do so. I can tell you I was overcome with great sadness walking through it.

After the camp we hopped back on the train and made our way back into the city for the highlight of my day – a Football game!! This has always been on my bucket list and I am happy to say I was not disappointed. Berlin’s Hertha BCS had their first of two playoff games. We were able to purchase tickets on fairly short notice (Tuesday of this week) for a great price of 30.00 Euro each. We had amazing seats in the upper level, but they were in the first row and right in front of the center line. The subway ride there and festivities surrounding the soccer field are half the fun! Even if you are not a football (soccer for us North American’s)  fan I would recommend going to a European game if you have a chance. With over 68,000 (that isn’t a typo) in attendance the crowd is absolutely amazing – they do not stop cheering, chanting, singing and clapping the ENTIRE game. The crowd was almost more amusing then the game at times. My best description would be a Saskatchewan Roughriders game but on steroids, it was amazing. Unfortunately, Hertha lost by one point in the end but I have high hopes for their second game next week.

Hertha BCS fans!

From Hertha newest fan and the smallest football hooligan;
Adrienne

“Güten Tag from Berlin!!   I left Saskatoon yesterday at 3:20pm on-board Air Canada. I had one quick stop over in Toronto (1.5 hours) which was perfect: enough time for my bags to makes it but I really didn’t have to spend any real time in Toronto airport (YYZ and I don’t always get along). Air Canada’s international service was great!!   The staff were excellent, food was decent (a large meal after Toronto and a quick breakfast before landing) and my pillow/blankie/touch screen TV made the flight quite enjoyable. I am all caught up on my movie watching!!

I landed in Frankfurt around noon and had given myself four hours before my next flight to go through customs and re-check in with my next airline. I do still recommend having that amount of time in case of a delay but I honestly didn’t need it. It was the easiest customs of my life – in about 10 minutes – and had no problems finding my way around. Frankfurt airport is very nice; everything is clean, modern and well laid out. There were tons of shopping and dining options for me while I waited (I did my best to hold out on the shopping though this early into the trip).

My next flight was with Air Berlin, I had booked myself a short one hour hopper flight between Frankfurt and Berlin (very similar to a Saskatoon to Calgary flight). I had never booked Air Berlin before, and because of the cheap fare I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are a great airline that I would recommend to anyone bouncing around Europe. The Highlight was the fist-sized chocolate heart every passenger received upon getting off of the flight.

Once I was in Berlin I had no problems getting from the airport to my partner in crime’s house for the next few days – my step brother Regan. Berlin’s transit system is amazing: bus, tram/street car (Strassenbahn), U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train system)! Everyone I have encountered so far had been extremely nice and spoken some English (I got into a small fight with the bus ticket machine at the airport and received lots of help).

After a quick freshening up we were off to explore East Berlin, we walked to Prenzlauerberg a trendy district not far from Regan’s house. I managed to have two of the items off of my “to eat” list while in Germany: a Pretzel (amazing) and CurryWurst (sausage, ketchup and curry powder mixed in a small dish). The Currywurst was actually very good and I’m told the ultimate street food in Berlin. The locals love it so much there is even a museum in its honour but I don’t think I am going to have time to visit it while I am here. We then made our way to a local beer gardens and finished off the evening there.

CurryWurst!

The only bump in the road I have run into so far is I have no cell phone reception what-so-ever. I had spoken to Sasktel before I left and was told that it wouldn’t be a problem to text home but sadly that is not that case.

Auf Wiedersehen for now!! – I’m exhausted
Adrienne

Ed’s Barcelona and Crystal Cruise

On-board Crystal Cruises, Crystal Symphony – Part 5

Our last port of call and one of our favourites – Bordeaux!  Unfortunately the weather is the worst we have seen for the entire cruise…cool and rainy.  We are docked right in the middle of the old city and so can literally walk off the ship and start exploring the city.  As well, there is a wonderful river walk that extends a long way on either side of the ship so walking, jogging, or bike riding is very easy to do.  In fact there are rental bikes right across the street which you can use and drop off at any of the bike stations and there are lots of them.  A small video of our view when we are docked in Bordeaux – http://youtu.be/xwDKR6A2m2k

However, this first day in Bordeaux (we are here for 2 days) is spent with a car and driver we hired to explore the St. Emilion area and the town – a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The cost of the driver/guide is 425 Euro for the day but we shared him with another couple from our dinner group, so the price was not too bad for Bordeaux.  The rain held off while we visited, toured and tasted at two separate Grand Cru wineries Chateau Franc Mayne and Chateau Fonplégade.  I have been on many, many winery tours but found both of these very interesting.  These two wineries I have not heard of before but with some 800 wineries in the St Emilion appellation alone, it’s hard to know them all.  So much great wine and so precious little time  🙂

Chateau Franc Mayne

Chateau Fonplégade

St Emilion

We had a great lunch in the medieval town of St Emilion and we spent some time wandering the cobblestone streets and poking our heads into a variety of shops and wine stores with a couple of tastings along the way.  We just have to come back and spend a week or two in this area.

Day 2 in Bordeaux was very relaxed.  Today, it did rain a bit but it did not prevent us from walking on the riverfront where we did some shopping and then through the old part of town, where we enjoyed the sights and bustle of a Saturday shopping day.  Due to the rain, we didn’t rent the bikes which we did the last time we were here and thoroughly enjoyed.

Instead of meeting our group in the dining room for dinner, we first met at one of the couple’s stateroom for appetizers and to sample some of the wine we bought in St Emilion.  They are in a penthouse suite, so we had lots of room and they had arranged for some great appetizers for us.  As we cast off to leave Bordeaux, it was fun and somewhat fitting that we toasted to our time here with some nice Bordeaux wines, some wonderful food and some great friends that we have met on board.

Our ship, the Crystal Symphony docked in Bordeaux

Enjoying fine wine in Bordeaux!

Fun at the piano bar…

So, my recommendation for those that cruise, would be to try a larger table for dinner and meet some new people.  We usually request a table for 6 or 8 and we have met some wonderful people over the years.  I know the cruise lines try very hard to match at least age groups and it is wonderful to make new friends.

On-board Crystal Cruises, Crystal Symphony – Part 4

Lisboa! (or Lisbon as we know it).  We had a fabulous shore excursion Thursday of parts of Lisbon but even better, we got out in the countryside for a wine tour and tasting.  We were the hosts on this tour for our group and we were very pleased with everyone in the group – great people and very friendly.  We enjoyed a wonderfully scenic coastal drive back from the vineyard before heading back to the ship.  Here are a couple of photos of the day…

Jose Maria Da Fonseca

Ed and Karen’s wine tour group

Crystal Symphony

After our day in Lisbon, we set sail for a new port for us, Oporto in Portugal.  This is the centre where Port wine is produced and our tour today took us to one of the many different Port houses…Ferriera.  Not one that I have personally heard of before but very enjoyable tour and a nice tasting after.  As many of you know, I love Port and so bought a bottle of 2007 Vintage Port here.  Unfortunately, I will lay it down in the wine cellar for as long as I possibly can but at least 5 – 10 years before enjoying it.

Port House Ferriera

Cheers!

From the Port House of Ferriera we boarded a boat and had a wonderful water tour of Oporto from the Douro River.  It was a very hot day so being on the water and seeing the city from the river was a very nice way to do it.  It seems very evident that Portugal is suffering economically and Oporto seems to have been hit quite hard with many empty buildings and quite a few of them are in disrepair.  None the less, we enjoyed Oporto a great deal and would love to have had more time exploring it.

We did not take the tour bus back to the ship but instead opted to wander the old part of the city.  They have some spectacular old buildings and the shopping was very affordable.  And yes, I did manage to buy another bottle of Port…my suitcase is going to be much heavier coming home and another new suitcase may be in the cards before we leave to come home.

Oporto

Oporto

On-board Crystal Cruises, Crystal Symphony – Part 3

So we have been to a few ports of call since my last blog…Valencia, a day at sea, Malaga and finally yesterday, Tangiers.

We did a bicycle tour in Valencia and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The city has many bike lanes, even through the old part of the city and the pace was very manageable.  A couple of pictures appear below.  There was a river running through the centre of the city but because of bad flooding they diverted the river and made the old riverbed into a beautiful park where we spent much of our bike ride going through.  While the old city is of course very historic and beautiful with its old city gates and wonderful cathedral, what was really refreshing was their City of Arts and Sciences, a very futuristic centre with great modern architecture.  It truly reminded us of the Sydney Opera House area.

Bike tour in Valencia

City of Arts and Sciences

Us at the City of Arts and Sciences – never far from Canadian red and white!

During our first day at sea, we held office hours for our group if they had any questions and also hosted a cocktail reception for our group to get to know each other.  It was a quiet day and the weather has been cooperating marvelously.  We had requested a table of 8 at our dinner seating but only the 6 of us have shown up so we are requesting they change the table setting and size for the 6 of us.  We have GREAT table mates, a couple from Victoria, BC of all places and a couple from just outside Washington, DC and we all get along marvelously to the point we have been getting together after dinner and have had a night of partying!

The entertainment last night was a great singer who has played in the London performances of CATS, Evita and many more.  She was excellent and a high point of the entertainment so far, although I must admit the comedian the night before had us in stitches too.

After the relaxing day at sea, we arrive in Malaga, Spain.  Karen and I have been here before so we spent most of the day on board ship.

We did decide to go into town but because it was Sunday and at their siesta time, most of the shops were closed.  We walked around the Cathedral and the old town and headed back to the ship through a very lovely park.

Cathedral in Malaga, Spain

Yesterday, we spent the morning in Tangiers, Morocco.  Having never been to Morocco, I only had visions of an exotic port of call with a massive central market full of goods that you bargain hard for under flowing tented stalls.  I expected bearded old men smoking hookas/water pipes drinking sweet teas and an aura of mystery around it.  I expected too much.  What we found was an interesting area that seems very run down but to their credit there is a lot of construction and restoration.  The people were very friendly and there were a large number of people trying to sell us various wares as we walked through the Medina and Kasbah areas.  I was disappointed in the market particularly as we were herded into a commercialized store where we knew the guides were getting their kickbacks.  We did buy a couple of things as souvenirs.

The best part was the stopping for some sweet tea and pastries in a traditional style of restaurant although they did try to stuff 4 or 5 busloads of people into the place.

Traditional restaurant in Tangiers, Morocco

Tangiers, Morocco

I am happy we had the chance to visit Tangiers but next time, I think I will skip the organized tour.  It does make me want to visit Casablanca at some time though.

On-board Crystal Cruises, Crystal Symphony – Part 2

Our first day on board the Crystal Symphony was like reacquainting ourselves with an old friend.  We cruised with her through the Panama Canal a year and a half ago and even many of the staff are still the same.  Having said that, we still have to remember where everything is and how to get to all the rooms.

We are Concierge Hosts on board with a group of about 30 people, so our first couple of days have been arranging for a cocktail reception, meeting the ship’s staff, printing our letters for all our guests and calling them individually to introduce ourselves and the services we will be offering.

Despite all that,  we have met the people we will be dining with this cruise (we chose a table of 8 and a main seat dining option of 6PM so we will be dining with the same people for the entire cruise) and although the two nights there have only been the 6 of us, we seem to have hit off well.  One couple is from Victoria, BC of all places and the other couple is from Washington, DC.

I have uploaded a short video so you can see what our stateroom is like…not huge but very comfortable.  Check it out on You Tube at… http://youtu.be/j4zFSJol_mA

We spent most of the day at Palma de Mallorca on Mallorca Island (part of the Baleric Islands) off Spain today and it was a fantastic day for warm temperatures and sunshine.  We didn’t do much there other than visit the incredible Cathedral (see pictures below) and walk around the old town.

Cathedral exterior

Inside the cathedral

Some interesting shopping as well.  Mallorica is well known for their pearls.  We have a daughter getting married this summer and some pearls would look fantastic with her wedding dress, so Megan, I hope you like them!

Lovely fountain and to the right is our ship – the Crystal Symphony!

A very relaxed day followed by an hour of circuit training and a stretch class in the gym…just a little bit of exercise to try to keep off the pounds.   For dinner tonight (a formal night) I started with some fresh oysters, followed by caviar and lobster for my main course – decadent yes, but hey, portion sizes are reasonable and I only had fruit for dessert.  🙂

After dinner, it is time for the on-board entertainment which was just OK tonight.  I think things will improve during the cruise, although the guy in the piano bar was awesome and could play and sing just about anything you could throw at him.

Life at sea is fantastic…highly recommend it to everyone!

Barcelona

We have spent the last couple of days greatly enjoying the wonderful city of Barcelona.  Although we have been here three or four times before, every time we come we remark how much we like the city and all it has to offer.  This time we are seeing the city via the Hop On/Hop Off city bus tours.  It’s a great way to travel around the city seeing the sights and the price is fairly reasonable – 30 Euro each for a two day pass.

Hop On/Hop Off bus tours

We spent quite a bit of time at Sagrada Familia yesterday enjoying the interior of the yet to be finished church.  They are estimating another 20 years of work to finish this Gaudi miracle of architecture.  If you know any of Gaudi’s work, this is a magnificent church and because of all the cranes, at the church site, it is impossible to get a really good picture.  Instead, click on this link and find out more about this beautiful building… http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/

Inside the church, although it also isn’t done, you get a real sense of what the architect was trying to accomplish.  My Blackberry Torch video is on YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJOYh9-ftVU&list=UUsVdXF6U1SfMQaDpsh0nffQ&index=1&feature=plcp

In addition, we have stopped at another building of Gaudi’s (I guess we are fans)…it’s an apartment style building.  A couple of pictures appear below.

Gaudi apartment

Gaudi rooftop view

The Gothic Cathedral and the Gothic area were wonderful to roam around in, as was the beach area and the famous pedestrian street La Rambla.  Another little video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5Cl4JazHdI&list=UUsVdXF6U1SfMQaDpsh0nffQ&index=2&feature=plcp

On another note, the food and wine has been spectacular and reasonably priced.  Dinner for the two of us last night was under 40 Euros including a very reasonable bottle of wine (only 12 Euro J).  There are so many restaurants, cafes, bars and outdoor eateries; you can hardly decide where to go!

At the cafe – what a view!

We will be getting onboard the Crystal Symphony today to start our 12 day Mediterranean Cruise featuring many ports in Spain, Portugal and France…watch for some highlights soon.

Jamie’s London and Amsterdam

May 15th, 2012

Amsterdam

We flew from London to Amsterdam on a one and a half hour flight, which was quite rough. The weather in Amsterdam in early May is cool and a bit rainy. The high’s were ten to sixteen degrees Celsius.

My first impression of Amsterdam was that it a pretty city and a totally different atmosphere than London, (Quite a different feel from London which had a classier, more reserved feel).  It’s a young crowd, vibrant, busy and anything goes. At 2 AM, this city was just getting started!

The train is about 4 Euros from the Schipol airport to the central station. Our hotel, the NH Grand Krasnapolski was about a five minute walk from the train station.

This hotel is rated at a four star property. The location is excellent, as was the included breakfast, but it is an old hotel and in need of renovation. Some of the rooms have been renovated but ours was not one of them. It was big and clean but very dated.  They also charged $17EUR/day for WIFI!! 

We did a mini city tour as part of the conference, which included such fun as a canal cruise, a walk through the red light district, chocolate tasting and a beer at a local brewery. We also booked a wine and cheese candlelight canal cruise through Viator, available on our uniglobevacation.com website. It was two hours long, the guide was awesome and very Dutch, plus it included Dutch cheeses, two bottles of wine and a night walk through the red light district. For 20 dollars it was a good value.

I found Amsterdam to very expensive; more expensive than London. Coffees and pastries would be 20 Euros and the average lunch cost for two would be at least 50 Euros if you had a drink with lunch.

Amsterdam is a great walking city with most museums and tourist attraction being within walking distance if the city center. It’s known for its cheeses, chocolate, deft blue China and orange soccer gear….and let’s not forget the wooden shoes and tulips!

I really enjoyed my time in Amsterdam and it’s definitely for those who are young, young at heart and who don’t mind lots of walking.

May 10th, 2012

Well, we have just completed our three day stay in London and loved every minute of It! OK maybe not the sore feet and tired legs, but everything else, for sure!  In a nutshell, here is my official top 10 list for London and the reasons why:

1) Westminster Abbey

For 19 pounds you can enter the Abbey and have a self guided audio tour. Far and away, the most magnificent building I have ever been in and it’s incredibly to think it was built and some of those tombs were placed there almost 1000 years ago….plus let’s not forget the recent Royal Wedding of William and Kate, which adds to the star appeal for some of us!

2) Tower of London

We bought our tickets for 18 pounds each through the Hop-on Hop-off London Tour company. This saved us a few pounds and meant we didn’t have to wait in the ticket lineup. We were there for about three hours but could have easily spent a few days exploring the gory history of prisoners, torture and kingdoms being overthrown.  The best part for me was the crown jewels, which are also held there. The 52 carat diamond in the scepter was amazing!

3) Imperial War Museum

The entry was free, but the accept donations.  This was definitely the best war Museum that I have been to; great, detailed displays with the history of each item. I particularly liked the interactive displays, such as the Holocaust memorial, the Blitz display and the display showing what life in the trenches was like. We could have easily spent a full day here.

4) British Museum

This also had free entry, but the recommend a five pound donation.  We only had two hours here before the closed and we hardly touched on it. The have over 6 million items on display and many that we saw were dated back to 600 BCA to 200 AD. Amazing items and history, but it would take you a month to get through everything properly. Go when you have lots of time!

At the British Museum

5) Royal family

We were lucky enough to have our hop on tour guide tell us that the queen was opening parliament the following day at 11am.  We walked down and witnessed all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with that and it was the highlight of the trip for me. Next time, I would research if there are going to be any events going on while we are here in hopes of seeing some of that again. It doesn’t get much more British than seeing the Queen!

Queen’s Speech procession

6) Buckingham Palace

The palace itself is a site worth seeing as well the changing of the guard which takes place around 11 AM most days.

7) Pubs

We went to at least one or two different pubs each day. The food was always good, at a reasonable price and they had great atmosphere. There are at least two to three pubs on each block so it’s easy to try a new one each time.

8) Hop on Hop off tour

This is a great way to orient yourself to the city and to see the places that might not be walking distance from your hotel.  We did the Big Bus tour and the red line has live commentary which is very entertaining.

9) Covent Garden Market

Grate shopping for all tastes as well as lots of el fresco dining options and live entertainment; a busy, lively, fun area. It is also right near the theatre district the pubs and restaurants can be very busy in the late afternoon and early evening prior to the shows starting.

10) Walking

We could walk to all of these attractions from our hotel and saw so much scenery along the water, such as parliament, big Ben the Thames, the London eye, not to mention the people watching. Taking the time to wall around really gives you a feel for the city……take good Shoes!

 Next stop Amsterdam!

May 9th, 2012

Swanky Savoy! Top 10 reasons to stay here:

1)  The doorman discreetly asks your name as you pull up so the girl inside can call you by name and have your room key ready

2)  They take you to your room for private check in

3) The rooms are gorgeous

4) They have heated towel racks

5) They make the best shortbread and homemade strawberry rhubarb jam Ever!

6) The location can’t be beat -you can walk to almost anything

7) Free wifi, I dislike paying for wifi at expensive hotels when it’s now free at most budget hotels.

8) Where else in London would you go for afternoon tea, if not the Savoy?

9) When they turn down your room, they place the slippers beside the bed, ready for your use

10) Its a once in a lifetime experience and the service can’t be beat!

The Savoy entrance

Stay tuned for my top 10 things to do when you have three days in London!

Delta Premium Economy-Worth It?

We decided to try Delta Airlines Premium Economy seats for our trip to London.  The flight from Minneapolis is eight hours and we are both tall people.  The premium economy seats are $80 more per person, per direction.  The website said you would get more leg room, more seat recline, priority meal service and free spirits, in addition to free wine and beer served in all economy.  The only real selling point for us is the extra room.  I am currently on board and would say that we easily have double the leg room and 50% more recline than the seats located behind us.  Combine that with still having three available meal choices to choose from, and I’m sold!  We also chose the middle section that has three seats. We each took an aisle and hoped for the middle to remain free, which it thankfully did, giving us even more room to stretch out.  All in all, our Delta flights have been good, on time and with lots of seat-back entertainment options. A good choice for this international flight, although you have to watch as not all their 767 aircraft have been reconfigured with the seat-back entertainment and it would have been a long flight without it!

Next stop – London and The Savoy.

Heather’s Magic Mayan Riviera

May 10th, 2012

A cheap (poor) girl’s first really luxurious experience!

Yesterday mom and I were lying by the pool, fully planning to spend the entire day doing just that (OK probably not, I would have gotten bored eventually).  Along came some members of the spa team offering “five minute free massage”.  I instinctively declined knowing that it would be a trick for sure.  Mom chose the opposite, which ended in both of us getting our five minute free massage, and the two of us being booked into the spa for the promotion of the day for later that afternoon.  Apparently my mother felt the need to spoil me?  I hardly go for massages in Saskatoon and they are even covered by my health plan!  Getting my hair done more than three times a year is my level of personal pampering,  ha-ha.

One of the massage rooms

 

Later that day when it was WAY TOO HOT to sit by the pool anymore anyway we ventured into the spa.  We were greeted with Hibiscus Water while we filled out our forms and then taken to the change room with lockers.  In each of our lockers was a towel, robe, pair of sandals to wear inside the spa, a basket to put your valuables, a bag to hold your wet garments and the key on a fancy little bracelet.  WOW!  After we changed we were led to the “relax” room which was a room with some comfy chairs and sofas and quiet music playing (relaxing right?).  We were given warm shoulder bags (bags filled with beans or something, and they smelled like tea… I don’t know what it was but it was nice) and offered something to drink.  After a few minutes we were led to the room for our massage.   It was beautiful.  This picture is what it was like but not necessarily the exact room (from my hotel tour earlier this week).  We were told to sit on a sofa and warm towels were placed over our faces.  They did some aromatherapy stuff, rubbed our feet and wrapped them in warm towels and let us relax there a while.  Then we moved on to the actual massage.  It was lovely very relaxing and far more enjoyable than anything I have experienced at home (less therapeutic and more relaxing I guess you could say).  They even gave me a scalp massage!  After they were done they waited outside the room with tea and took us back to the relaxing room to sit with the warm bean bags again.  All in all it was just a whole level of pampering that I have never experienced before!  I’m blown away.   I wish I could say that I will be doing this more often but to be honest my “vacation spending money” tends to be saved for other things… like shopping, tipping, cabs, excursions etc.

That said; if you are spa person, or a person who isn’t interested in leaving the resort much I think it’s a great thing to do on your vacation!  I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it was truly luxurious!

Speaking of Tipping.  Just a note about the excursion we went on the other day.  Mom and I discussed how much to tip and I figured $20.00 was reasonable;  $10 for the driver and $10 for the guide.  Everyone filled out their comment forms and handed them back to the guide with some kind of tip while we drove back to our hotels.  I watched as the guide counted out the money between the two of them.  I was shocked and disappointed to see that some couples in our van honestly only tipped around $5.00.  It was really sad to think that these people (some staying at the RIU Playacar Palace) didn’t feel that these men deserved more than that.  They had a really long, hot day and did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained, fed, comfortable and informed.   Anyway, there’s my rant.

Yesterday we went shopping in Playa del Carmen.  I am pretty sure we walked the entire 5th Avenue.  The cab cost us $15.00 and we were dropped off right at one end.  We were there by 10 AM and it was very quiet.  There is a TON of shopping here so it’s hard to know where to start.  We found that the shop owners were quite a bit more aggressive than the ones in Puerto Vallarta this past February.  They also were a lot less willing to barter,  (I’m sorry if I paid a certain price for the same type of knock off sunglasses or bracelet in Puerto Vallarta I expect a similar price here!  They actually tried to tell me it was a different country; ah no I’m pretty sure it’s still Mexico!).  There were a handful of other shops (Roxy/Quicksilver, miscellaneous shoe shop, a sporting goods shop, some name brand kids clothing etc.) if you wanted to shop for that type of thing, but for the most part it was either small souvenir shops where you bartered or giant souvenir shops where the prices were posted.  You will pay less in the store with the posted prices almost every time so if you don’t barter for fun, don’t bother.

I returned to the hotel with what I had set out to get.  A new hat (it was necessary), new sunglasses (because I’m addicted), a key chain with my Mayan zodiac symbol and a Christmas ornament.  I somehow also have acquired new earrings, probably because mom was spending too much time in a jewelry store and it was TOO hot to wait outside.  Or maybe the guy selling them was ridiculously cute… oh well supporting Mexico’s economy is all part of being a tourist!

We had fun in Playa del Carmen and did see the beach (personally I am not a fan of crowded public beaches so we didn’t hang out there).  Mom commented that she wouldn’t like to stay right there because you would constantly be badgered by the people trying to sell things whenever you left your hotel.  I have to agree but can see a lot of benefits to being that close to shopping, bars, other hotels, etc. too.   I guess it just depends on the type of vacationer you are.

Alright, off to supper.  (Oh and in case you were wondering about the salmon and spinach perogies, I totally DID have them again last night!!!)

 

May 9th, 2012

Hola, blogging by the pool! Its ultra hot out already, actually I don’t think the heat really reduces in the evenings….

Imagine me on a bike riding through the jungle full of Mayan Ruins! For anyone who knows me they know this is the very best moment of my life (so far). That was me Tuesday. We purchased the Mayan City Tour for a little under $100 per person and it was fantastic! We were picked up at 7:10 AM and joined by 3 couples from other hotels then continued on to Tulum, a Mayan Village, Coba and Akumal. I love history that I can feel and this was definitely one of those days!  The moment we arrived at Tulum and our guide brought us through the wall I was completely pumped by what I saw. So many of the buildings are still in really great shape considering Tulum is an ancient port city on a cliff. Think about how many hurricanes must have smashed through there.

Tulum

The Mayan Village was a really interesting experience. The community that we stopped at was a couple of houses on the side of the road in the jungle. One family lived there. This family had six daughters and eight sons. Of all of the tours I’ve been on that have stopped at a “typical farm” this was by far the poorest. They did have a creepy monkey as a pet though. The monkey wrapped itself around the baby sleeping in a hammock to protect him from us.

The amazing view from Tulum!

Coba was HUGE! This was where I could really feel the history all around me. I could see the place where human sacrifices were made and the temple where the very important people went to be closer to the Gods. It was so big that we had to rent bikes (or you could have someone drive you on their passenger bikes) to get from the main temple and ball field to the infamous tower that you can climb. The ride was great, the path only has other cyclists and people walking on it so you don’t have to worry about traffic really (AKA I was a far calmer driver than I would be in Saskatoon). It was a beautiful ride with the occasional temple along the way. The 40 degree heat didn’t seem so bad in the jungle. Then we turned a corner and there was this giant temple. I climbed about 4 steps and remembered my extreme fear of heights (more like extreme vertigo). Perhaps if it had been cooler out I would have made it higher, I’m sure the view from the top was outstanding.

Me in Coba!!

It was an extremely long day and the heat made it difficult at times but it was well worth it. For anyone who is interested in Mayan history I highly recommend doing the Mayan City Tour. They claimed to be the only tour that did two of the sites in the same day. I wonder if I can convince mom to do Chichen Itza tomorrow…

Some Tips

– If you are going to visit Tulum, try to do it as EARLY in the day as possible.  There is very little shade and it is blazing hot there.  It also gets ultra busy so the earlier you’re there the less people in your way

– If you visit Coba, get a bike.  It is not a short path to the pyramid and you don’t want to waste your energy, in case you are a climber.

– Use bathrooms when your guide suggests, obviously they are hard to find at ancient archaeological sites!

May 6, 2012

Hola Amigos!

I am hanging with my mom at the Azul Fives by Karisma in the Mayan Riviera.  This hotel is by far the nicest we’ve ever been to.  After check-in late yesterday afternoon we walked into our room (which is bigger than my apartment in Saskatoon by the way, no I’m not joking) and all we could say was “wow”!  It is beautiful, beautiful, and beautiful! This hotel offers both all-inclusive and regular accommodations so the room comes with a full kitchen, two bathrooms, a dining room table that can seat eight, two flat screen tvs, a king bed and a big couch with a pull out bed.  SO MUCH SPACE!  We saw a group of five girls in their 20s today and figured they probably are sharing one room.  Why not?  I can imagine doing it with my friends!

Azul Five by Karisma – our living room!

We’ve been here for a day and a half but here are some things that stand out so far.

The people:  Never in my life have I said “Hola” so many times in a day!  It seems that everyone employed here genuinely loves their jobs and is happy to see us.  I really refreshing change from other destinations and hotels I’ve visited.  It is such a warm inviting feeling.

The food: OMG THE FOOD!  Imagine sitting down at an a la carte and ordering something that seems like it will probably be decent.  It shows up and it is the very best thing you’ve ever tasted!  That was my experience today.  We made reservations at the Italian restaurant.   I ordered the salmon and spinach pasta – it seemed basic enough.  My meal arrived after I had filled up on bread, antipasti and wine and boy did I ever regret that!  The only way I can describe this meal is spinach and salmon filled perogies in a lemony sauce from heaven!   Yup I said perogies, I’m sure that’s not the technical Italian word for it but that’s my basic impression of them.  The most delicious perogies in the universe!  If only perogies tasted like that at home…

salmon and spinach perogie – Yum!

All of the other food has been really good so far so I can’t wait to see what else I can consume before the end of this week.

Mom is blown away with how well this hotel is maintained.  The vegetation is lush and groomed, the buildings have been recently painted, and everything is perfect!

Azul Fives by Karisma

One thing Mom is loving, and I’m not loving as much, is the heat and humidity.  I like it hot but this is HOT!  All I can say is if you want to visit Mexico in the spring/summer stay hydrated and near a pool!   I’m probably going to die or become a lobster by the end of this week, I’ll keep you posted (no burn so far but I was ultra careful today and the sun was mostly down by the time we arrived yesterday) considering we saw SNOW in Calgary on the way here I will take my chances with the heat!

~H