Logistics & Operations Day, London…Plus…I Turn, uh, 40

Posted by Krista on April 26, 2014

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I’ve written before about my logistics and operations days. Today was one of them. I did really important stuff. Like LAUNDRY. I found this place on Yelp that washes your clothes for 10 GBP a bag. It’s called Marshall’s Laundry Service and it’s in Soho. And it was awesome. I dropped my stuff off around 10:30 and by 1:30, it was all done. 20 quid for a week’s worth of laundry. (It would have been 10 quid but I wanted the lights separated from the darks. If you think this is expensive, imagine how much my hotel would have charged me. 6.50 GBP for a pair of DRAWERS.)

I also did other really important stuff today. Like get my nails done. Sorry…you can take the girl out of Long Island, but you can’t take the Long Island out of the girl. I found this other place in Soho — also on Yelp —  that does manicures and stuff and I walked in at 10:45 am and they took me immediately and did a shape and polish for 13 quid. They also did my eyebrows. Totaly cost? 19.99 GBP! A huge bargain, by London standards. (Normally, I go to Selfridges for my eyebrows where it costs about 20 quid.) This Soho place isn’t fancy but it does the trick. It’s called The Beauty Lounge and it’s at the bottom of Kingly Court in Soho. They might try to sell  you all sorts of other things, but just say no.

Other things…I went to M&S and bought some new black tights, because M&S is where I get all my black tights. I also went to Boots and bought a million things I really don’t need. Boots is my favorite place.

What else? I checked my blog email. Words really cannot describe how much email I get via my blog. But then again, I just did the math and maybe it’s not that bad. So far, in April alone, my main blog account received somewhere in between 300 and 350 emails. (Sorry, I don’t feel like counting them all to find the number in between…maybe it’s 330?) I haven’t read my blog email all month — bad blogger, I am — but now I am caught up back to April 1. No, I still haven’t ready March or February. (Yes, LIFO.)

In between all this operations and logistics, I had a nice lunch at Antidote, also in Soho. A nice lunch, but that’s all. (Can you tell this was a Soho kind of day?) Oh wait…I should mention…the service was very French and VERY lovely.

Most time-consuming? Finding somewhere to have my 40th birthday party! (Yes, I’m 40. I still feel like I’m the 29 year old that started this blog — or, well, the precursor to this blog — back in 2004 but I will actually turn FORTY next week.) I called and e-mailed every place I could think of in London — with the exception of my favorite, Bob Bob Ricard, because the bar downstairs is apparently closed. The places I called told me to email them. My hotel concierge told me I should have my party at Sketch or Navikov. !!! I said nothing and instead sent all the places I wanted to go the same message:

I am looking to organize birthday drinks on Wednesday, April 30th. Probably 20ish people.I’d like to do something pretty easy and informal…some wines, some snacks, etc. 6:30 to 9:30 pm. (Worried about the tube strike so would like to keep this easy.) Can you oblige?

 No one has responded! I die.

 

Sojourn in Exuma, Bahamas

Posted by Krista on April 24, 2014

I like being an expert on something. I’ve decided to become an expert on THE BAHAMAS. I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve been to this island nation of 300,000, but the first few times were to the easier parts. The parts easily accessible from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and West Palm Beach. If my memory serves correctly, the most western parts of the Bahamas are only something like 45 miles from West Palm. So now I’m trying to get out there more in the Bahamas…go east and east and east.

Last year, I went to the Abacos. The year before, it was Lucaya. This year, it was time for Exuma, a long stretch of land surrounded by the most gorgeous of shallow turquoise water. I hope to share some of my photos of Exuma in the coming days and weeks.

While in Exuma, we stayed at the Grand Isle Resort & Villas. And many people will like it here. Our three-bedroom villa had everything you could ever want: a huge kitchen and breakfast bar, good (not great wifi), Netflix — don’t try to get your older relatives into Orange is The New Black —  and comfortable beds and linens.

There were a few things that niggled at me though for the price we were paying at this resort. Firstly, the stairs in the villa were poorly constructed. I should have taken photos with a ruler. The steps were really uneven, which was made all the more terrible because my mother has some motor control issues. I didn’t like her on these stairs. Secondly, the wifi didn’t cover my bedroom, which as I hope you can imagine, was supremely annoying for someone like me. And thirdly, we had this very odd incident with our boat tour and I still don’t understand how it happened.

When we checked in, the resort confirmed that on Tuesday morning, Exuma Water Sports would pick us up at 8:30 am. I have a typed confirmation that says this. Imagine our surprise on Tuesday morning when we get a call from the front desk at 8 am. “The bus is here!” So we all run out and get on the bus and in the process, we are super apologetic and show everyone how our paperwork says 8:30.

The bus drops us off at the office for the tour. Only problem? IT’S THE WRONG TOUR. This is an all day tour with another outfit. So we were put on the wrong bus — why they let us on, I don’t know — and we ended up in the wrong place.

In the end, it all worked out, but as the responsible party in the group, I was a little more than stressed. Add 90 degrees and super sunshine, and this is all a bad scene.

So…would I stay at this resort again? Hmmm. Not sure. Would I go to Exuma again? Hmmm…not sure. Although maybe I would go back if I could live on a boat and float on the endlessly turquoise water. Abaco to me is more of a sure thing. I loved the Abaco Club at Winding Bay — enough to go back and I never go back to anywhere — and I loved going into Hope Town and zipping around on a golf cart and eating ALL THE FRIED CONCH. So right now, that’s my vote. Abaco, not Exuma. But please feel free to change my mind!!

 

Town Hall Hotel, London

Posted by Krista on April 23, 2014

Boy did I get lucky. A few days ago, I wrote about my experience using Expedia’s Unnamed Hotel feature. Well, here is the result. I got a three-night stay at the gorgeous Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green in London. Now, for someone like me, who loves East London and the 55 bus, the location is perfect. BUT! If you are here for the shops and restaurants in West London and you want to walk out the door and have London right there in front of you, The Town Hall is probably not for you. But check out my room! It is awesome. Seriously beautiful. What’s not pictured? A WASHING MACHINE. Yes, I was able to do laundry, TWICE. (I had arrived from Chicago on Saturday morning, but I was in the Bahamas up til late Wednesday night, so I was still a little behind on things. Plus, I know my other hotels won’t have washing machines so lest I get swindled at $6.50 a pair of drawers, best to arrive with all clean laundry. I made good use of this washing machine.)

What I liked…

  • I loved my room. It was super-spacious — unbelievable so — and I appreciated the kitchenette and the washing machine. Honestly, I might not even call the kitchenette a kitchenette. It was very functional. The bathroom was gorgeous. I took a ton of pictures so that when I make the millions I deserve, I can reproduce this box of white and glass.
  • Free bottled water (still AND sparkling) and lots of it. I vaugely remember that Town Hall has a natural spring on site, but don’t quote me on that.
  • Free wifi.
  • The design-ness of it all. This is a really beautiful property.
  • My dinner at The Corner Room. Delicious, delicious lamb.
  • The cool bar area and Filipo from Florence who I spoke to at length in the bar.

What I didn’t like…

  • The wifi was super-slow. Trying to upload the video above took about 90 minutes.
  • Dearth of nearby amenities, restaurants, cafes. Everything was a short bus ride away.
  • My server at dinner at The Corner Room. Kind of a jerk. Seemed surprise that I wanted to sit down and actually EAT.

So in short…would I stay here again?? My heart says yes, my wallet says yes, but the logical person inside me wants to be closer to a Boots (the UK drugstore chain that has everything you can ever imagine). Does that make sense? I am on the fence!

The Money Situation…

  • What I paid all in, using Expedia’s Unnamed Hotel Service: $215 a night, USD.
  • Price of the hotel the day I booked it all in, for the same room and same nights: $321.22 USD.
  • Price of the hotel for the actual room I received (upgraded to a suite) as of the day I checked in: $393.84 USD.
  • Overall savings: 45.41%

Eating & Drinking in New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 22, 2014
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Bartenders at the Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt

I had no set expectations of food in New Orleans. Drinks, sure. I thought everyone would be wandering around with Hurricanes. Also, I thought I’d see a lot of women taking their shirts off on balconies. (Do not Google Girls Gone Wild.) And a lot of Ann Rice fans dressed like vampires. Those were my preconceptions.

But actually, New Orleans was a lot better than I imagined. Very good actually. It has this old/new thing going on and I kinda liked that. Here’s where I ate and drank.

Sylvain, 625 Chartres St, French Quarter. Mary on Twitter recommended this dark and romantic little gastropub and we were glad she did. Great, personal service and nice food. Then again, I think we were all starving so we would have eaten anything. But really, this was very nice. 

Emeril’s Delmonico, 1300 St Charles Ave, Garden District. I made a last minute OpenTable booking and figured that while we were in New Orleans, we might as well eat at an Emeril’s restaurant. This was the surprise of the trip. I loved my spiced duck and our server was funny and personable. Also, the space was gorgeous. I would go back here. And no one said Bam! Yes!

Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville Street, French Quarter. I took myself on a little oyster tour of the French Quarter one night. I didn’t expect to like Acme Oyster House. It’s loud, there’s neon, and there is a huge queue to get in. Plus, it’s a little dirty. And they skipped over me in line multiple times while they seated parties of two. (I hate that. How many parties of two do you have to seat until you seat the solo diner?) But my server Pam was fantastic…a true veteran…and the baked oysters were garlicky and delicious. Thinking back on all the oysters I ate, these were my favorite. Hot, garlicky and pure unadulterated fun.

GW Fins, 808 Bienville Street, French Quarter: I waddled into GW Fins after Acme and appreciated the change of pace. GW Fins is large and airy and quiet and the bar was empty when I arrived. I ordered some smoked oysters, which arrived almost poached-like, the shells piping hot. I took my server’s recommendation on the wine and passed an enjoyable 45 minutes chatting away about restaurants in New Orleans. It was she that sent me to R’evolution next…

R’evolution, 777 Bienville Street, French Quarter. Dark and rich feeling. Everyone looked expensive and slightly famous. I sat next to a journalist and his wife, who’s skin had been preserved through the blessings of modern medicine perfectly and eerily well. R’evolution served me their fire roasted oysters, but I think they had been left too long to cool before they arrived. Either that or I was still thinking about those oysters at Acme. I liked the ambience of R’evoluton and the service and the wine list, but the oysters left me wanting. So too the Death by Gumbo I had the next day. (Why I went back twice, I will never understand.)

Verti Marte, 1201 Royal Street, French Quarter: The woman who had had all the plastic surgery done told me to get a Po’Boy at Verti Marte. She had seen Angelina Jolie there once. (“Her arms are like toothpicks.”) So I dropped in in between tours and ordered a fried oyster po’boy and the guy behind the counter looked at me like I was 1. crazy and 2. speaking a foreign language. They get zero points for service here, although the woman at the register was nice. The sandwich though was delicious. Five or six really fat fried oysters and some delicious sauce and salad on a pretty good baguette.

 Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, French Quarter. Everyone told me I would love it here. Everyone is wrong. This is a tourist trap. Sit on the carousel bar stools and watch the bar spin around. I left without ordering anything. Full of tourists. 

Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt, 123 Baronne Street. One of my favorite stops of the trip. I really loved the vibe and the fittings and the bar tender. Am I a sazerac fan? Probably not. But I still enjoyed my drink. Also full of tourists, but a different sort of tourist. Highly recommended.  

At the end of my time in New Orleans, I found myself wishing I had more time to see and explore. It’s a unique American city. I put it up there with Boston and San Francisco as cities foreigners should really visit to get a sense of the different cultures of different places. You should go.

Tours in New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 21, 2014

Somewhere in my late 30s, I became a fan of city tours. In the old days, I would just hang out with a guide book. But now, everywhere I go now, I look up all the city tours available and sign myself up for anything that sounds remotely interesting. BUT…the tour must be less than four hours long. I really lose interest at that point. Actually, I think that 2 hours and 30 minutes is my max…unless there is food and drink involved. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE STUCK ON A TOUR BUS FOR FOUR TO EIGHT HOURS. Here’s who I toured with while I was in New Orleans.

Ghost & Vampire Combo, French Quarter Phantoms. NOT RECOMMENDED. First, you have to go to a totally sleazy pub to meet the tour group. Not my kind of place. I mean, I like a dirty bar, but this was just awful and unsafe feeling. Then, our tour guide, Tess, was the most boring tour guide ever. She seemed annoyed to be taking us around and was just reciting things. A good tour guide makes all the difference. Tess was not it. This group is a machine…there were three or four tours that went out at the same time, given the number of tourists. I wish I had one of the other tour guides and desperately wanted my time back at the end of the evening. I remember nothing. $20.

St. Louis Cemetery #1, Free Tours by Foot: Recommended. Great tour guide (Elizabeth B) who was passionate about New Orleans and knew all the stories. And it’s a free tour, so there’s that. (I gave her $35 at the end because she was really good and knowledgeable and passionate and interesting.) You get a little New Orleans history, a little Katrina, a little voodoo, a little religion, a little Nicolas Cage. The one thing for me is that after 90 minutes in the cemetery, I was ready for a chance in scenery. This is a HIGHLY focused tour. But still short in comparison to what else is out there. And still good and interesting.

Drink & Learn New Orleans: HIGHLY Recommended. I really loved this tour. Our tour guide was funny and informative. She had all sorts of great stories about New Orleans and its cocktails. PLUS…you get a saddle bag of cocktails at the beginning of the tour. That’s the schtick…drink your cocktail while Elizabeth tells you the history of New Orleans as you wander through the French Quarter. In contrast to French Quarter Phantoms, the bar you start and end at during this tour is quite pleasant. At $50, this tour was worth every penny.

So…those are my tours…I’ve neglected food and drink though and hope to get to it in a later post!

My Stay at The Ritz Carlton New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 20, 2014

I had a conference to go to in New Orleans earlier this month so I made a weekend out of it and stuck around. I had never been to New Orleans before and was excited to see what the city had to offer. Plus, at various odd times, the Floridian in me wants some Southern food. GRITS!!

Well, unfortunately for me, what the city had to offer that weekend was WRESTLEMANIA XXX. Yes, the 30th anniversary of Wrestlemania with Hulk Hogan coming out of retirement and everything. Wrestling fans from all around the world — who knew this was such a global empire! Hotel rooms were hard to come by, especially central ones. For my conference, I was staying at the iconic Hyatt from Hurricane Katrina. 1000+ rooms! And they couldn’t accommodate me for the weekend, just to give you an idea. So The Ritz it was. Not many wrestling fans stay at The Ritz, apparently.

Not that I was complaining, of course. You could do worse than The Ritz for a stay in New Orleans. Here’s what I liked and disliked:

What I Liked…

  • The location…just two blocks from Bourbon Street, The Ritz was super easy to walk to/from with most of the things I wanted to do for the short amount of time I had. You might know I love walking, so this was awesome.
  • The bar…live music most nights I was there! Great bands too.
  • The spa! I didn’t use the spa for any beauty treatments, but after a day of a lot of walking, I really needed a hot tub. The Ritz has one! It was great. Although they wouldn’t show me to the locker room because I wasn’t using the spa so I had to get changed in the bathroom. Annoying.
  • Room service. Biscuits and gravy for $10. Pretty fantastic.

What I Disliked

  • The whole “you can have free Internet because you’re a Marriott Rewards member but only on so many devices” thing.  I have A LOT of devices. Also, even though I was a Marriott Rewards member and I was supposed to get Internet for free, they still charged me for it so I had to deal with that at check-out.
  • The distractedness of the check-in staff. It was like my desk clerk had memorized a script. It was off-putting. I expected better of a Ritz…something more personal and welcoming. He was talking so fast I had to ask him to slow down.
  • The lack of security cameras. Maybe they were super-secret-hidden cameras but there were a couple of times where I came in off the street and there was no doorman to greet me. And no cameras. (Again, unless they were very well-hidden.) Call me a wimp but because New Orleans has its unsavory bits and there are A LOT of drunken louts, I did feel a little unsafe in and around the hotel at times.

Would I stay here again? Maybe. It was expensive. I was trapped into it because I booked my plane ticket to New Orleans before I booked my hotel room and when I booked the plane ticket, I didn’t realize that Wrestlemania was in town. I am sure there a are places to stay in New Orleans that are just as nice as well as cheaper, so I might look at those first before I commit to The Ritz again.

Using Hotwire to Book Hotel Rooms in London, Part I

Posted by Krista on April 19, 2014

I just arrived in London this morning! Yes! I’m ridiculously excited. And the best part? I am not here for work! I am here for FUN. So I can just hang out  all the time while I am here and wear big sunglasses all the time. Awesome.

For this trip, I experimented with something that I’ve always wanted to play around with: Hotwire. More specifically, I wanted to play with the “Secret Hot Rate Hotels” functionality. This is where you commit to an unnamed hotel during the booking process. You get a great rate in comparison to the hotel’s advertised rates, but you could honestly end up staying in Timbuktu and you need to be fine with that. You can read more about “secret hot rate hotels” over here on the Hotwire site.

Because I know London pretty well, I figured I had a better chance of this “unnamed hotel” thing working for me. I knew I wanted to stay somewhere in between Marble Arch and Shoreditch, and I knew my budget and was being pretty strict about it. So off I went. To be clear, for this first booking, I booked through Expedia, which uses Hotwire for its “unpublished rate” hotels.

Strategy:

  • I focused on five-star hotels, just to be “safe.” There are too many definitions of what constitutes a four-star, whereas a 5-star is clearer.
  • Then, I looked at areas and selected my favorite areas to stay in London: Mayfair/Piccadilly/Soho and then Hackney/Islington/Shoreditch/Whitechapel.
  • Lastly, because I was wary this wasn’t going to work out, I limited myself to a 3-night stay so I wasn’t stuck somewhere terrible for days and days and days.

Boom. Expedia/Hotwire suggests a five-star property in Hackney/Islington/Shoreditch/Whitechapel. Expedia/Hotwire only wants $214.92 USD a night, including taxes and fees.  I went ahead and jumped on it and immediately received an e-mail confirmation with the hotel’s name. I then went to the hotel site and checked the price there. If I had booked through the hotel directly, I would have paid $321.22 a night, including taxes and fees. So I saved one-third by using Expedia’s Hotwire service! Score.

Fast-forward to this morning when I checked into the hotel around 12:30 pm. The front desk tells me that my room is not available yet. I am a little bummed because I am tired and I really would like a shower. I make a comment about how beautiful the hotel is and how much I’ve always wanted to stay here. I take a few photos while she sorts out my room. Before I know it, I’ve been upgraded to a massive suite! I just checked the hotel’s site and these rooms are going for $393.84, making what I paid a 45.4% discount! 

So this is all working out…for now. More to come when I talk about my second Hotwire booking, where things may not have worked out so well…but for now…for now, I am very happy. Happy to be in my 45% off hotel room after a great lunch at Song Que and a visit to the Oasis Exhibition and a general stroll around Shoreditch, and most of all, happy to be IN LONDON.

Getting a Visa to Vietnam (Don’t Make the Mistakes I Did!)

Posted by Krista on April 1, 2014

Vietnam PhotographerAlthough I loved my time in Vietnam, I learned a few hard lessons. Lest you make the same mistakes I did, let me tell you about my visa situation first and then share some of my other mistakes in other posts.

Should I get a visa on arrival in Vietnam? Or should I apply in advance for a Vietnam visa?

U.S. citizens, U.K. citizens, French citizens, German citizens and it would seem all sorts of nationalities need a visa to enter Vietnam. There are two main ways to obtain this visa: apply in advance to a local embassy or consulate, or go the “visa on arrival” route. Because I had to leave my passport at the Chinese consulate in Chicago for a few days to get my Chinese visa, I figured that for Vietnam, I would go for “visa on arrival.” I did some research, but apparently not enough. Because…

GETTING A VISA ON ARRIVAL IN VIETNAM IS LIKE STABBING YOURSELF IN THE EYES.

Have you ever tried to buy a train ticket at the train station in Italy while the Italians are striking? Go to a U.S. grocery store the morning of the Superbowl? Visit any post office around the world three days before Christmas? This is what it’s like to get a visa on arrival in Vietnam. Do not do this to yourself. Really. Don’t. Let me give you the logistics of my experience.

Firstly, IF you go the “visa on arrival” route, you apply for your Vietnam visa online in advance through a 3rd party provider. I used Vietnam-evisa.org and I had a good experience.  It cost me $18 to use Vietnam-evisa.org. I submitted my application online at 8:28 a.m.m on Sunday, February 16th. I received my visa approval letter on Monday, February 17th at 4:26 a.m.  which was earlier than they told me to expect a response, which was nice. (They had said  Feb/18/2014 at 18:00 GMT+7)

No matter what, you will need two passport photos. Get those in your offline world.

The Vietnam approval letter is a bit strange in that you will get a letter that includes your name and a bunch of other people’s names from all over the world. My inner stalker kinda wanted to try to find them all on Facebook. OK, no problem. I can print all that. HOWEVER, also in the e-mail was something I missed. It said…

This link is for you to download and write down visa form at Airport: http://www.vietnam-evisa.org/template/document/formxnc.jpg

Yeah, I didn’t do that. So when I finally got to the window (more on that in a bit), I got sent to the side because I hadn’t filled out the stupid form. But here’s the thing…because I had filled out a form on Vietnam-evisa.org, I thought I didn’t need to fill out another form that included similar information. Call me a dumbass. I am a dumbass.

Here’s the part that I totally regretted later. On Monday, February 17 at 2:29 a.m., Vietnam-evisa.org emailed me and said this. (This is their English, just to be clear.)

Dear Sir/Madam:

Thanks for choosing http://www.vietnam-evisa.org/

After taking a long flight, do you feel very tired to get the line to get visa stamp at arrival airport?

You do not want to wait a long time at arrival airport to get line visa stamp, you want to get it ASAP and go to hotel to relax?

Many customers said that it is very uncomfortable to wait for a long time to get visa stamp because there are many people also get visa on arrival like them and it is also very hard to take back their passports because the differences about pronunciation

Many people is very confused at arrival airport in the first time they use visa on arrival because they don’t know where the Immigration Department counter to get visa stamp is

To avoid wasting your valuable time, especially after having a long flight or other personal reasons. We establish additional services to assist you at the airport when you arrived, and will bring to you with the  highest satisfy. You are welcome as highest VIP person, and you don’t need to get line for pick up visa stamp at the airport, let our staff do it for you.

We offer 2 options for you to chose, and let us do the rest for you:

A. Fast Track at the airport  

·         Fast Track: Welcome and help to get visa stamp without get line. More details

·         VIP Fast Track: Welcome and get visa stamp without get line at Immigration checking desk, then staff will escort you to luggage lounge and help you passing the customs checking counter, and after that we will take you to the car park. . More details

*** OK, back to me again ***

Yes! I was very tired! No, I didn’t want to get the line to get the visa stamp! No, I don’t want to wait a long time to get line visa stamp! Yes, I want to go to my hotel and relax! I want highest satisfy!!

But no…I didn’t pay for the Fast Track. I wasn’t highest VIP person. I did not use my personal reasons. I WAS NOT HIGHEST SATISFY!!!

Instead, I chose to STAB MYSELF IN THE EYES.

OK, so I got off my flight from Singapore in Ho Chi Minh Airport and me and a million elderly French hikers and a dozen or two total stoners in flowy pants and flip flops from all over the world all tried to get visas on arrival at the same time. Just like in Italy during a train strike or at a U.S. grocery store before the Superbowl or that day when you decide to go to the post office THREE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It was chaos. I was lucky in that I had most of my information ready and got up to the window relatively quickly…but that’s when I learned I didn’t have that stupid form so I had to go fill that out, bring it back and wonder how the two guys behind the window kept track of everything.

And then I had to wait. And wait. And wait.

Then I had to listen to the poor Vietnamese woman try to pronounce all these Western names. And you know, the French only respond when you pronounce correctly, so that worked REALLY well (sarcasm font).

Tip: Make sure the back of your passport is easily recognizable. I’ve been a member of Global Entry for a long time, so I have the old CBP sticker on the back of my passport, along with a lot of general airline security stickers. The only thing that kept me sane was seeing my passport there on the desk and knowing that I was just waiting for them to call my name.

90 minutes later, I had everything I needed and the immigration queues had died down enough that I slipped quickly through. But they were a very painful 90 minutes and I really regret not paying the $40 for VIP Fast Track or even just the $20 for regular Fast Track. Also, by the time I got through to baggage claim, my suitcase was one of five sitting next to our baggage claim. Everything else — and everybody else — was gone.

So…Should you get a “Visa on Arrival” in Vietnam? NO. Apply in advance!! If I give you nothing in life, let me give you this. UNLESS YOU WANT ME TO STAB YOU IN THE EYES. (That is a joke. I would never stab anyone and especially not in the eyes.)

Or, well bring a good book.

Staying on Points at The Westin Bund, Shanghai

Posted by Krista on March 30, 2014


Two weeks ago, I was hanging out at The Westin Bund, Shanghai. You know, like in China. Thanks to my Starwood American Express, I had enough points for three free nights. Not bad, particularly in an expensive city like Shanghai.

I’m a little torn about my stay here. On the one hand, I loved the staff and the facilities. The staff were cheerful, knowledgeable and helpful at all times, day and night. The facilities offered everything the modern business traveler could want: there were multiple restaurants, a dark and smoky bar, a nice food/wine shop, and a great gym and pool. Also, the hotel VPN got me around the Great Firewall of China, and I was able to access Facebook from my hotel room.  And room service was relatively inexpensive. My breakfasts were about $10 USD, where the equivalent in the U.S. would be more like $34 USD. I should also note that the hotel’s location was great. Just a few blocks to The Bund (the riverfront) and a few blocks to East Nanjing Road, where all the shopping is.

But the room…the room left me wanting. The closet area was super dark and the shower boasted a light dusting of mold. Also, it cost $6.50 to launder each pair of my underwear. Many people would really be happy here, but it all felt a little…worn. Nice, but worn. Definitely in need of an upgrade.

Would I stay here again? If I had the points to do it, sure. But otherwise…maybe not. I’d look for something a little newer and nicer. So should you!

Sojourn in Palm Springs

Posted by Krista on March 26, 2014

My friend Julie just celebrated the 19th anniversary of her birthday. What better way to celebrate than rent us all a house in Palm Springs, California where it is HOT and DRY and NOT SNOWING?  We booked Villa Moda (pictured) through LuxuryRetreats.com and couldn’t have been happier with the price, process and the service. The first morning, we had a little trouble with the hot water and our concierge was out at the house in 20 minutes. I would definitely use them again. They have properties all over the world.

While we were in Palm Springs, we got up to some mischief and mayhem. Here are some of the places we visited that you should consider too:

The Spring Resort & Spa, 12699 Reposo Way, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240: We loved the natural hot springs at this compact but peaceful little spa. I met an older couple in the 104 degree pool who had visited earlier in the week and liked it so much that they were back for another visit. The nine of us enjoyed massages, scrubs and other treatments with dips in the pools in between. Highly recommended.

In & Out, many locations: Double-double Animal Style. My first time. (Hey, I’m from the East Coast and live in the Midwest! I don’t get out west much.) Delicious. Highly recommended.

Copley’s, 621 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Dude, Cary Grant used to LIVE HERE. So that’s awesome. We sat around the fire and enjoyed our very inexpensive California sparkling wine. Definitely worth a visit. Although I did definitely feel young…

Trio Restaurant, 707 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. Very welcoming to our large party. The food was good and the sparkling wine was VERY affordable. (God, I love California.) Popular with bachelorette parties, just so you know. Would I go back here? Maybe. But they did very well by us.

Birba, 622 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262. We had some competent cocktails here while I forced everyone to play a gazillion rounds of Heads Up on my iPhone. We had fun here. I’d go back.

Norma’s at The Parker, 4200 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264. What Norma’s lacks in taste, it makes up for in style. This place has a good vibe, but the food is just okay, in my opinion. I’d still go back just so I can feel cool. Robert Downey Jr. was arrested here, fyi.

Dessert Hills Premium Outlets, 48400 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230: Prada! Gucci! Everything. Totally under construction so not very peaceful, but I think it will be awesome when it’s done. We enjoyed the ride through the dessert to the outlets and all the big windwills along the way.

I really enjoyed my time in Palm Springs. I would totally go back. You should too. And use LuxuryRetreats.com! (Seriously not getting paid or otherwise in saying that, just to be clear.)

 

Hotel Review: Intercontinental Asiana Saigon

Posted by Krista on March 24, 2014

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Let me cut right to the chase. I loved this hotel. I loved my room I loved the staff. I loved the Club Lounge. I loved the location. My only complaint was that sometimes, the wifi was iffy. But really, this was a great hotel. With my Club Room package, I was gifted eight pieces of laundry for my stay. That alone made the Club Room worth it because if you’ve done laundry in a hotel lately, you know that eight pieces of laundry is basically like five hundred fifty million dollars. I am trying to think of anything else I didn’t like and I honestly can’t come up with anything. The safe was at EYE LEVEL. (I’m going to start a new movement…the “hotel safe at eye level” movement.) There was nightly turn-down service. Bottled water was plentiful, and the food in the lounge was absolutely fantastic. (And Vietnamese! Unlike my stay at the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi, where they kept trying to give me eggs for breakfast and baguettes (not bahn mi) for lunch.) Is The Intercontinental Saigon super trendy? No. Is it super luxurious? No. But it’s pretty generally great. So if you’re looking for a business class hotel in Saigon, this is it! And book a club room!

Funny part…I asked one of my tour guides to take me for a fresh beer at a place where locals drink. “People who stay at the Intercontinental never ask to go for fresh beer,” he said. (Vietnam makes this beer every day without preservatives. It’s pretty cool.)

Moment of Zen, Shanghai

Posted by Krista on March 23, 2014


I spent my last night in Shanghai in my hotel room at the Mandarin Oriental Pudong. Shanghai’s smog had really gotten to me — my lungs were burning — and a 90 minute massage followed by a 90 minute facial had knocked me out. But that was okay. I sat there at the window and watched the boats go by and thought about the quote I’ve seen on a building in Chicago…a building somewhere around Lake & Wells. There’s a gold plaque at street level and it says “With gold, commerce was carried across the sea.”