Tag Archives: Hotel Review

Welcome to the Fairmont Heliopolis

Crystal Chandeliers in the Fairmont Lobby

TRAVEL THERE: MY LUXURY VACATION BEGINS

If you read this blog with any regularity then you’re well aware that I don’t spend a lot of time in swanky hotels.  I’m more the quaint bed & breakfast type, when I can find it, or I’m bragging about the huge discount I found on Expedia.  However, on this trip we were in top hotels all the way.  In Cairo, we checked into the Fairmont Heliopolis.

Leaving the Airport

One of the things I remembered from my previous trip to Egypt was the wide open spaces between the airport and Heliopolis.  Once we had dealt with the absence of our luggage on that trip, I’d sat the backseat of a car wondering just how far we were going to drive before we got to anything.

It’s not that way anymore.  It’s like the stretch of LBJ between I-35 and DFW Airport.  While it used to be out in the middle of nowhere, it’s now chock-a-block with restaurants, hotels and other buildings.  Outside the Cairo Airport was the same thing.  What’s more, I barely blinked before we were entering the main thoroughfare of Heliopolis and almost immediately we arrived at the Fairmont. So the first thing you might want to know about the Fairmont is that it’s close to the airport.

Between two lobbies

The Security Routine

Here’s the drill for most hotel properties in Egypt.  (The Cecil in Alexandria and the Dahab Paradise were exceptions to the rule, but pretty much anyplace else put you through this.)  The properties are all fenced and gated.  You pull up to a guard house with a barrier across the driveway.  Your car is thoroughly checked.

First they get the ID of the driver and question him.  Then he has to fill in a log.  Then they do a physical check of the exterior of the car which includes looking under it with a mirror.  Some places also had sniffer dogs.  The driver opens the trunk and the dogs and/or metal detectors are used to check out the contents.  There are usually a group of guards and after they’ve conferred with one another, the barrier is lifted and you drive through.  Someone is usually standing nearby with a machine gun.  Some kind of welcome, huh?

Ayman, our niece’s husband, assumed we were in the newer part of the hotel and drove through the older portico to deliver us to the Towers.  Only we weren’t in the Towers.  The bags were pulled out by the bell staff and Ayman drove away, but once inside we were directed across the way to the original part of the lobby.  It was late and I was ready for bed.

Now the reason we were staying at the Fairmont is that we were part of the wedding party and that’s where they were staying.  We like to keep our accommodations in two digits if we can, but we were splurging.  I have to confess that I was glad we stayed in the older part of the hotel.  The new part had that edgy clean look, but I’m a sucker for crystal chandeliers and other gaudy looking hotel lobby decor, like the replica of a pharaonic boat in the Fairmont lobby.

The check-in hasn’t even begun, but I’ve already run out of words, so come back next week to see how we liked our room.

 

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Egypt Here We Come

TRAVEL THERE: CAIRO, SHARM & ALEX

In less than a month we’ll be winging our way to Egypt for a family wedding.  While it’s primarily a family trip, you can rest assured that Museum Girl will be taking in the sights.  The itinerary is firming up and I thought I’d share a few highlights.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

As excited as I am about the rest of the trip, the reason we’re going is to participate in Bassem and Mariam’s wedding.  We’re all agog with excitement.  Bill and I will arrive in Cairo late in the evening on a Saturday night and be whisked away to the Fairmont in Heliopolis.  On Sunday afternoon we’ll attend a luncheon for all the families at an “oriental” restaurant.  When I wondered why we were having Chinese food, I learned Egyptians call Middle Eastern food “oriental.”  I learn something new every day.

Monday is the day of the wedding, and it is also a national holiday, so I’m told I will see the residents of Cairo enjoying themselves in parks and other areas of leisure.  I’ll spend the day getting all gussied up for the wedding.  Egyptians know how to party and they expect guests, especially the couple’s families, to get all decked out.  I’ll be wearing a long formal gown bedazzled with crystal beads.  For the church ceremony I’ll wear a sheer over-blouse cinched by a jeweled belt, which will cover the spaghetti-strapped straight bodice of the full-skirted gown. Pictures to follow.

Let the Sightseeing Begin

On the day after the wedding we’ll be transported to the elegant Mena House Hotel, in the shadows of the pyramids.  Some folks tried to convince me to hire a guide for sightseeing for the day, but 8:30 AM was entirely too early to start a day of touring, especially after partying late into the night in the ballroom of the gorgeous Fairmont.

So instead, we’ve arranged to be transported mid-day and ease into the sightseeing.  We’ll enjoy the gardens of the Mena House, walk around with our mouths agape at the splendid architecture of the place, dine around the pool and then watch the Sound & Lightshow at the Pyramids from our room’s balcony. Who knows, there might even be time for a dip in the pool.  Personally, I plan to have at least one picture of me taken in the pool with the Pyramids behind me.

Then we’ll do the Pyramids.  Since we’ve already done the Giza Plateau, I plan to go further afield and check out the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the Red Pyramid at Dahshour.  I’m also interested in the Meidum Pyramid, but I’ve been told it is too far out – drat.  Instead we’ll go back to Giza and see the Solar Boat Museum, something that’s been added since our last visit.

A Family Reunion Extraordinaire

After our second night at Mena House, we’ll head to the airport and make the short hop to Sharm el Sheikh.  Some of the family lives in the beautiful city by the Red Sea and others will have gone there when we headed to Giza.  We’ll have a family reunion of sorts for about five days along one of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

The diving and snorkeling are supposed to be awesome, but I’m not much of a guppy.  You’ll find me at the  Marriott Naama Bay Resort pool with an exotic cocktail of my choice somewhere near the waterfall.  Yes, the beach is beautiful, but no way am I going to smear sunscreen all over and then sit in the sand all day.  Not this girl’s idea of a good time.  I’ve been promised activities like a star-gazing visit to the desert, some shopping opportunities and other attractions.

In the evening, look for me along the boardwalk.  It’s one of my favorite memories of our last journey to Egypt.  Every evening the tourists come out in all their sunburned glory to stroll along and enjoy the wide variety of entertainment available on every side. On our last visit the Macarena was all the rage.  I  wonder what earworm will bite me this time.

On to Alex!

We’ll fly back to Cairo and then have a driver take us to Alexandria where we’ll be in the center of the action at the Cecil Hotel.  This elegant old dame gives a nod to Alexandria’s heyday with plenty of modern updates.  What’s more, I’m supposed to be within walking distance of many of the sites I want to see – that is if I can ever cross the street.  I remember the traffic being deadly in Cairo and Alexandria is supposed to be more of the same.  Pedestrians don’t have the right of way and stoplights are merely suggestions.  I’ll be right across the street from the beach, but may never actually get to the sand!

My wish list for Alexandria is long and includes a visit to a Coptic monastery on the way back to Cairo.  Once back to Cairo, we’ll visit Old Cairo and seeing the famous churches there, something I never got to during our other visit.  I think we’ll spend our final nights at the Fairmont.  We have to be to the airport bright and early for our return.  Then it’s back to the grindstone!

That’s it so far for Egypt.  Keep dropping by.  I’m not sure what I’ll be up to in the weeks to come, but I promise not to disappear.

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Steel City Stories

birmingham02202017TRAVEL THERE: BIRMINGHAM FOR BUSINESS

My business is ministry and that ministry targets Central Asia and the Middle East, so I can’t always be an open book about where I go and why.  However, I can tell you I made a visit to Birmingham, Alabama for business at an unspecified time for an unspecified reason.  While I can’t give you those details, I can tell you some of the stories related to the trip.

The Crack of Dawn

In the DFW Terminal

In the DFW Terminal

My traveling companion for this particular trip was my work buddy and good friend, Hannah Beth.  I’m old enough to be her mother and she’s gracious enough to treat me as if I’m her age, and I love it.  Our flight to Birmingham was ridiculously early and we had to bring along some signage, so both of us were concerned about getting there, getting checked in and getting on the flight.  In our eagerness we got to the airport hours before we needed to.  We were there so early I had plenty of time to walk around and take pictures of the mosaics on the floor.

over-easyAn Over Easy Arrival

We arrived in Birmingham in time for breakfast.  While I’m used to being the tour guide pretty much anywhere I go, I was happy to turn the reins over to Hannah Beth on this trip.  Her sister goes to school there, so she has the inside track.  She proved that when she took us to Over Easy.  She had a breakfast-something and I had lunch-something.  Both were delicious.

The decor and atmosphere was very California:  modernesque  furniture and semi-hippie waitstaff.  Because it was a late morning on a weekday, most of the clientele were students who didn’t have early classes and a few moms who’d dropped the older kids off at school.

We arrived at the restaurant via her sister’s campus.  We Uber-ed there from the airport.  I’m not a natural Uber-er, but Hannah Beth treats it like it’s her second car.  We may work together like two peas in a pod, but we do come from opposite sides of the generation gap.  At the campus, we picked up her sister’s car – another evidence of working in ministry.  No rental cars or swanky hotels.

Speaking of the lack of swanky hotels, we stayed in a La Quinta.  Don’t get me wrong.  There was nothing wrong with the place.  It was clean and convenient.  The breakfast was good.  It was a fine place to stay, but let’s face it two stars is not exactly plush.

So that’s the basics – an early morning flight, a little transportational shuffle, a hearty breakfast and an economy hotel.  The rest of the meals were either breakfast at the hotel or something served to us at the thing I can’t tell you about.  However, this was me and I had Hannah Beth with me.  Adventures are in store.  By the way, Birmingham is called the Steel City, because it used to be the home of most of the world’s steel mills.  More about that next week, so please come back to visit.

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Legends at DoubleTree Wichita KS

Your Breakfast Buffet

Your Breakfast Buffet

TRAVEL THERE: LEGENDS RESTAURANT AT DOUBLETREE BY HILTON IN WICHITA KS SERVES TASTY AND CONVENIENT FOOD

When you stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Wichita KS, you’re out at the airport and away from everything else.  The hotel is lovely and once inside you can forget you’re even at an airport.  At mealtime Legends Restaurant & Bar, in the lobby of the Hilton is a safe bet for a good meal.

Breakfast As You Like It

The Executive Level of this hotel is a sweet deal during the week, because you have a breakfast buffet and an evening social hour right there on your floor.  If you are up on the Executive Level on the weekend, breakfast is still a sweet deal, because it’s comped.  Everybody else has to either pay $12.95 for the breakfast buffet or order a la carte.  Since it was comped, we opted for the breakfast buffet.

The breakfast buffet has pretty much anything your heart desires.  There’s all the cereals, fruit, yogurt, pastries and such.  There’s a do-it-yourself waffle maker with all the trimmings.  They also have omelettes, Eggs Benedict,  breakfast potatoes, sausage and bacon.  You know, the usual.  Well, maybe not so usual.  Eggs Benedict are kind of a treat.

On Saturday, I tried the Eggs Benedict.  Everything about them was fine, except for the fact that I’m funny about eggs.  I don’t like scrambled eggs or omelettes, and any other egg should be well done.  Well, a properly cooked Eggs Benedict should be over easy, but I’m not fond of the runny yellow goo.  The sauce was good, the muffin fine and I ate my egg white.  I left a lot of yellow goo behind.

The next day was Sunday and after 10 there is a Champagne Brunch with an elevated price tag.  They had an extra buffet table all ready to fill up with additional goodies, but we got there before 10 so we could get on the road and to avoid having to pay extra.  On that morning I went for some cereal and a biscuit.  OMG, that biscuit was good.  There can be some pretty sorry excuses for biscuits on a buffet, but these were amazing.  I only ate one and since I’m not fond of gravy had no problem avoiding it, but I really, really wanted another biscuit.

Saturday Night Seafood Buffet

After breakfast on Saturday morning, I noticed on the way out of the restaurant that they had a $34.95 Seafood Buffet in the evening.  That sounded pretty darned good to me.  We’d be at the Living Proof Event all day long and I just bet we’d love to come back to the hotel and veg.  I was right.  What I didn’t know was everyone else in the general vicinity was also going to realize this was a good deal.  I’m guessing that most of the people we saw hanging off the rafters in the restaurant lived in Wichita and came out on a regular basis.  They all seemed to have the drill down pat.

There really was all the seafood you could eat.  From broiled cod to shrimp cocktail and mussels to crablegs, you could eat yourself into a stupor.  I love crab legs and they were sweet enough that they didn’t need butter as far as I’m concerned.

Oh and dessert.  There was a chocolate pie good enough for someone’s mother to claim.  It had a denser meringue than my own mother made, but the chocolate and the crust tasted just like home.  There were other delicious looking choices, like a chocolate cake, but that wasn’t as amazing as the pie.  After dinner we were glad to waddle back to our room and call it a night.

The New Year is upon us.  I hope itis going to be a good year for you and yours.  Party hardy, but get home safe.  And come back in 2016 for a little Wichita KS sightseeing.

 

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The DoubleTree, Wichita KS

It's all about the cookir!

It’s all about the cookie!

TRAVEL THERE: THE DOUBLETREE BY HILTON AT THE WICHITA AIRPORT

If you ever go to a Beth Moore Living Proof Event, book your hotel early.  I assumed we’d stay in downtown Wichita, close to the Intrust Bank Arena where the event was being held.  I even sat down to make my reservations a month in advance. We had a lovely stay at the Wichita DoubleTree, but it wasn’t our first choice.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

OK, so fine.  Our first choices for accommodations in Wichita weren’t available – at least not at the convention pricing – so we couldn’t stay there.  Next?

Hilton’s Doubletree Hotels are lovely places.  After I booked our bargain room they emailed me and told me I qualified for a standby upgrade.  It would cost $15 a day, but I would be on the Executive Level.  The Executive Level offers amenities like free breakfast and daily hors d’oeuvres in the evening, but those breakfasts and hors d’oeuvres weren’t available on the weekend.  I wasn’t sure whether it was worth it or not, but I took it anyway.  I’d leave it to chance.  If there were no upgrades available when we got there, I would be perfectly happy with a regular room.  If the upgrade was available, then we’d see if it was worth it for the next opportunity.  When we got there we got the upgrade and it was worth it.

Check-in and Unloading

Checking-in was not as easy breezy as it had been in OKC.  Apparently whoever had our room during the week had gotten a late check-out and the registration desk wasn’t sure whether or not the maids had gotten to it.  Still, the Doubletree always greets you with a seriously amazing cookie, so you can’t get too upset by anything as you enter chocolate chip nirvana.

Should you ever stay here, please note that their complimentary shuttle will deliver you to locations within the airport, but otherwise, you better have a car.  The registration desk couldn’t answer that question, so we found the bellman.  He said he could take us to the airports taxi stand where we could get a $30 round-tip taxi.  No thank you.  I was trying to avoid parking fees, so a $15 taxi wasn’t the answer, since it also came with other hassles.

So we headed to the room.  I’m sure the nice bellman would have been happy to see to our luggage, but we’re independent sorts.  We pulled around to entrance closest to our room and gathered up our bags.  Deb led the way into the building, pulling her bag behind her.  There was a pair of exterior doors and a pair of interior doors.  I negotiated the exterior doors with no trouble, but as I held them open to wheel in my bag, I backed into the vestibule and fell into Deborah’s luggage.  We found this very amusing, but a pair of maids who stood nearby looked as if they suspected we were drunk.  Then Deb asked them where the elevator was.  They pointed to our right.  We were standing right next to it, which we also thought was hilarious.  The pair of maids were then firmly convinced we were bonkers.

Up on the Executive Level

The Executive Level requires your room key to let you in.  No riff raff allowed.  There’s all kinds of amenities up there for the business traveler.  A computer with wifi, a printer, comfy chairs and a TV.  There’s a coffee bar and buffet, as well as tables for eating.  It’s all tastefully decorated in rich woods and dark upholstery.

When we got there a couple was hogging the area in front of the TV with an attitude that suggested they belonged there and we didn’t, so we didn’t try to make friends.  I’m thinking they were booted out of their room, had a late flight and needed a place to hang out.

You’ll need your room card again to get into your room.  And it’s just a room.  More luxurious and spacious than the space in OKC, but no door separating the sleeping area, so we gave a little and got a little.  The room was beautifully appointed and quite chic, but it was still just a hotel room.  Nothing about it to get very excited about.  We did have comfy robes and house shoes to use and there was a safe, but the bottles of water were strictly for Hilton Honors members.

What made the upgrade to the Executive Level worthwhile, in spite of the absence of breakfast and social hour, was that in lieu of these amenities the hotel comped our breakfasts down in the hotel’s restaurant.  The breakfast buffet was $12.95 each, so were were about one breakfast ahead each day.  We also had dinner there on Saturday night, not comped, but I’ll tell you about Legends Restaurant next week.

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Country Inn & Suites in Oklahoma City

No prickly problems at the Carlson, then on to the botanical garden

No prickly problems at the Carlson, then on to the botanical garden

TRAVEL THERE: CARLSON’S COUNTRY INN & SUITES IN OKLAHOMA CITY,OK

The primary reason we stopped in Oklahoma City was their art museum.  We also wanted to visit Bricktown and the botanical gardens.  All of these sites were downtown, but for a quick overnight stay I thought the downtown hotels were a little pricey.  So we opted for the Country Inn & Suites on NW Expressway.  Downtown was mere minutes away and the reviews sounded pretty good.

Can You Say Mustard?

Nancy the Navigator told us the Country Inn was nearby, so we started scanning the area for a sign of our hotel.  There are several in the general area.  To help Deb locate it I said, “It looked yellow in the picture.”  Suddenly a mustard yellow tower with brown mustard trim came into sight.  We’d found our accommodations.  If you have an aversion to shades of mustard, stay away at all costs.  You will see more variations of mustard yellow at this hotel than you ever imagined were possible.

However, if you just need a place to spend the night in OKC, then this is a great place to stay.  We got the room with two queen beds for under $100 on Expedia.  With the exception of the pervasive mustard yellow and some renovations, everything about the stay was fine.

Compact But Adequate 

When we first arrived all we did was throw our luggage into the room and head back out to Bricktown.  Registration had taken only seconds and they had plenty of luggage carts.  Our room was right across from the elevator.  We noticed the bathroom had been specially equipped for handicap access, which meant a roll-in shower with no bathtub.  I can’t tell you whether it’s that way in all rooms or just the bargain room we got, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.  It meant I wouldn’t be having my usual bubble bath, but I’m a big girl, so I could live without it.

The other thing we noticed was that the room was tight.  The sitting area is completely separate from the sleeping area, which was nice, but there’s not much space.  Not a problem for overnight, but I’d want more space if I were going to be there for several days with a companion.

When we got back from Bricktown we were exhausted and hit the sack pretty quickly.  I woke up about five and decided to go ahead and write the article that had given me such a fit before we left.  I dreaded fighting the log-in on the hotel’s wi-fi, which is usually a hassle, but I wanted to unburden myself from my perceived obligation.  If you want to read about the exhibition I previewed, you can do that here. Being able to close the door and leave Deb sleeping peacefully while I puttered around made things easier and that wi-fi log-in? Piece of cake.

About the time I finished my article, Deb was up and about.  We got ready and headed down for breakfast.  Breakfast was great.  The area set aside for the breakfast bar was actually quite nice.  The buffet offered everything from make-it-yourself waffles to bacon and eggs to fruit and yogurt.  I confess, I had the waffles.  Deb opted for the protein.  There was a baby who was making a lot of noise, but he was absolutely darling and it was happy noises, so we actually enjoyed him.

By nine we’d loaded up the car and headed downtown.  Let the fun begin.

 

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Hotel Contessa – Royalty on the River

From HotelContessa.com

From HotelContessa.com

TRAVEL THERE: A ROYAL WELCOME FROM HOTEL CONTESSA

Deb and I knew one thing as we planned our San Antonio Stroll: We were staying on the River. That wasn’t a very restrictive idea. The Riverwalk is chock-a-block with great hotels.

Riverwalk Hotels

The first Riverwalk hotel in my memory bank is the La Quinta Riverwalk, but that was way back in high school and the river was several blocks away in those days. I’d been selected as a delegate to a convention by my Home Economics teacher. ( Don’t laugh, I’d just won an award for a table setting.  I still can’t sew  a hem that will hold.)  I stayed at this La Quinta several times since high school, but never since the Rivercenter Mall was next door and since then the hotel has grown into a high rise.  It was once just a little La Quinta.

I’ve stayed at the Marriot Courtyard Market Square several times, because it’s convenient to downtown and the Riverwalk, without having the Riverwalk price.  (It doesn’t hurt that I can use the points from my Marriott credit card there.)  On the trip just before this one, I stayed at La Mansion and that is an experience everyone should enjoy, but I have a new favorite – Hotel Contessa.

Choosing the Contessa

As Deb and I perused our Riverwalk choices, the words “luxury suites” kept bringing us back to The Contessa.  So we booked one of their suites, but being the frugal ladies we are, we didn’t opt for a Riverwalk view.  We figured we needed to stay on the Riverwalk, but that didn’t mean we had to see it from our room.  Besides, we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom by pointing out to one another that some people had complained of the noise on the Riverwalk side.

Due to my research, I knew the only parking for the hotel was valet parking and it was quite a chunk of change.  I also read there was a huge, much cheaper, parking lot catty-corner to the hotel.  So we pulled into the big public parking and rolled our suitcases across the street to the Contessa, like paupers approaching their liege with all their earthly goods in a wheelbarrow.

Royally Welcomed

There is nothing about the outside of the Contessa to signal what’s inside.  It’s just another building.  If it didn’t say it was the Contessa, you’d wonder why someone had built a new office building right on the river.  Then you walk inside.  The bustling lobby has a cool chic that says, “You’ve arrived!”  On your left is a huge full-length portrait of a lady in Spanish-looking garb – the Contessa I presumed.  Further to your left is registration.

The registration desk was busy, but not hectic.  I didn’t have to wait long.  The greeting was cordial and the clerk asked me the reason for my visit.  I explained it was a belated birthday celebration – and then I got my birthday present: an upgrade to a River View room.  Hot diggity dog!

The elevators are glass, giving you a view of the inviting atrium as you glide to your floor.  We went to 401, a corner room which overlooked the Briscoe sculpture garden on one side and looked over the Riverwalk on the other.  Heaven!

But the view was only part of the charm.  It really was a luxury suite.  The den had a sectional sofa,a large coffee table, a tall side table with two barstools and the requisite TV.  The next room was a sort of dry kitchen connected to the bathroom, with the honor bar, frig, coffee pot, ice bucket etc.  We used this area as a second vanity, because though the bathroom is quite luxurious, it’s really not set up for two women getting ready at the same time.  That worked fine, because of the huge mirror over the honor bar.  And there was a TV.

The bedroom was functional, not palacial, but adequate.  The accouterments were luxurious.  There were lots of drawers, but closet space was limited.  And there was a TV.

Because of the other generous spaces, the bedroom seemed a little tight by comparison, but how much space do you need to sleep?  You could get in on both sides of both beds, so what more do you need?  This is not a complaint, just a description of what you’ll find.

We loved that room.  The whole hotel has a very modern feel, but on the warm side of modern, not the sterile, “”don’t-move-that-magazine” modern.  On the following night, we would come back to the hotel right after dinner, just so we could luxuriate in it.  We also enjoyed the Cork Bar, down at the river level.  Las Ramblas, their Spanish restaurant on the same level as the bar, also looked marvelous. We just ran out of time.  We also didn’t make it up to the pool on the roof or the spa.  That’s for next time – and we will make sure there is a next time!

I read a lot about extraordinary service when I was shopping the hotel.  I’d have to agree and my favorite guys were the doormen.  Once we parked the car, we didn’t go back to until we were ready to go home.  We’d set forth from the hotel with all sorts of questions and the doormen would have answers for us.  They also had a warm greeting for us every time we came “home.”  Yep, I liked this hotel.

There are great reasons to stay at all the wonderful riverside hotels, but for my travel dollar, the Contessa is the queen.

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