February 26, 2016

Two day business trip to Basingstoke

I am quite fortunate that my job sometimes requires me to travel. I enjoy this as then I can often combine business with the pleasure of seeing new places and meeting new people.

I was in for a true treat as I was to go to Basingstoke from 23-24 Feb for business and the hotel suggested was Tylney Hall. I have stayed at many different hotels in Basingstoke over the years, however this time was special as Tylney Hall is a true historic gem situated in the countryside of Rotherwick, just outside of Basingstoke. It is just as beautiful as the pictures show.

The hotel has a long and interesting history going back as far as the 1700's. The mansion was used as a hospital during World War I, a business headquarter for Lord Rotherwicks famous shipping line,  Clan Line Steamers Ltd, and between 1948-1985 Tylney Hall was used as a school. It re-opened on October 1st, 1985 as an hotel and Restaurant after extensive refurbishment.
For more history click here

While I was here visited the Oak Room which served the breakfast buffet. Great selection of hot and cold food, toast freshly made by the staff as well as fresh coffee/tea served at the table by the pot.

I also had the pleasure of a private group dinner in one of the private dining rooms. The meal was truly a michelin star worthy and was perfectly made out local & seasonal produce.

At Tylney Hall you won't be bored as the hotel has plenty leisure activities for you. I didn't have time to use the pool but the hotel boasts of having both indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, tennis court, golf course, croquet lawn, snooker room, and mountain bikes for hire. Besides they will even arrange clay pigeon shooting or hot air ballooning if that's what you're into.

I had booked a Deluxe Room which is a bit expensive but for the hotel standard I would say it is worth it. The room was tastefully decorated, not too modern but still contemporary in classy way. The room has a bath and a view to gardens on one side, a small river on the other. The bed was a queen size and slept like a baby in it. The room had a Nespresso machine as well as flatscreen TV with all relevant channels.

From a business perspective the hotel is ideal for external meetings and dining. The mansion and grounds would impress anyone. The staff are quick at checkin/out as well as courteous and friendly.
If I had one regret it would be that I could only stay here for a single night. The stay here was really pleasant and it will not be the last time, as I plan to return in the future. Maybe with the family.

January 3, 2016

Lübeck - for an extended weekend break

There are many good reasons for visiting Lübeck. In my case we had a few extra days during Christmas vacation so why not visit the charming medieval town which is only 3.5hr drive and ferry ride from Copenhagen. We visited Lübeck from 28-30 Dec 2016.

Lübeck is situated northern Germany, and has one of the major seafaring ports of Germany. Located on the river Trave, it dominated Baltic maritime trade (c. 1400–1800) along the coast of Northern Europe. In fact it was the leading city of the Hanseatic League an old commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns.

The history of the merchant town is visible in the layout of the city, which basically consists of a fairly small inner city on an island, surrounded by the river Trave. The inner city is very small and is easily accessed by foot. Actually parking within the inner city is both difficult and expensive. So use the designated Parking lot by the "Musik- und Kongresshalle" or parking garage the "Holstentorplatz".

Lübeck is surprisingly charmingly decorated for Christmas. The main walking streets are covered with swinging garlands and filled with small wooden shops selling everything from sweet smelling "Gluhwein" to handknitted mittens. Finding potential Christmas gifts is easy here. The town has a good combination of department stores as well as local shops.

Be sure to visit the Christmas market next to the "Rathaus" (town hall).

We stayed at the BEST WESTERN Nordic Hotel Luebecker Hof during our stay as my in-laws had a gift certificate for the hotel chain. The hotel is rated as 4-star but in my opinion it is more like a 3 star hotel. The entire hotel experience was mediocre. Furnishings very dull with wooden paneling and  furniture. WIFI was non-existant in the room as our room was away on one of the wings. The best part of the stay was the breakfast buffet and the room cost. We payed a mere 168 EUR for 2 nights. Breakfast buffet is €13.50 EUR which is worth it. Also it is worth mentioning that the naboring Italian restaurant is quite good. If you choose to stay here be sure to take into account that the hotel is situated 4.5 km or 10 min by car. The hotel charges for using their lot so find a spot down the street where it is free.

Tips of the trip: 
For those lingering for a small snack while strolling through the town, I can recommend the small donut shop "Springfield Donuts & Coffee". They make the tastiest donuts and just selecting between all the colorful treats will leave your mouth watering.

Springfield Donuts & Coffee
Königstrasse 100
23552 Lübeck


Restaurant worth visiting:
If you're looking for a traditional German restaurant be sure to visit the "KartoffelKeller". It is charminly situated in a basement of bricklayed building with beautiful arches. Food is traditional, so treat yourself to a jägerschnitzel while here. Service could sometimes be slow due to the high number of guests. Just be patient and enjoy a beer in great surroundings.

Koberg 6-8
23552 Lübeck

August 15, 2015

Luxurious summer break in Warsaw

My wife and I had originally planned to visit Budapest, Hungary this summer in order to be sure to get some sunny and hot weather. We were looking for great SPA hotels and Budapest is famous for their many SPAs and hot springs. However to my big surprise, my search led me to the luxurious and beautiful Doubletree by Hilton in Warsaw, Poland.
The hotel was perfect...situated in tranquil suburbs of Warsaw, this hotel had it all:
  • Spacious and elegantly decorated rooms
  • Amazing SPA and pool area
  • Great restaurant and Executive Lounge
  • Unbelievably value for money
With the right hotel selected, it suddenly was less important if the weather was 30 degrees celsius or if the city of Warsaw was big enough to spend 12 days in without being exhausted of sites. We had found our base.

We arrived in Warsaw Modlin airport around 10pm so the family were eager to get to the hotel as fast as possible. We had rented a car online, and it was ready for pickup at our arrival. A short 2 min was spent signing a few forms before we were on our way past downtown Warsaw to the southern suburbs. With a little help from our GPS we spotted the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel after a short 35 minute drive on the east side of the Vistula river. We loaded off our suitcase in front of the hotel, and I parked the car in the adjacent parking lot. The hotel has both indoor parking (for a cost) and a complimentary parking lot next to the hotel with plenty of spaces. Throughout our visit we parked in the outdoor lot and there were plenty of luxury cars and no issues, so no reason to spend extra cash to park in their garage.

Passing through the revolving door to the grand reception, we could see the online hotel pictures were not exaggerated. We were welcomed by the friendly staff at check in, and given a freshly baked signature cookie each. A clever gesture that really makes you feel like coming home and at the same the perfect late night snack. We checked in and received our key cards to our King Executive Room on the 3rd floor. We stood outside our door and were excited to see if the room was as spacious and as beautiful as the pictures from the hotel website. When we stepped in we were not disappointed, the room was not only spacious, it was huge. The decor was tasteful, the King-size bed was big enough for three, and the bathroom had a separate bath and shower. All of the furniture was tastefully colormatched with the carpet and drapes, and the room was so clean you had the impression you were the first guests to stay in the room. It didn’t take long before we got in bed and fell asleep to the sound of 40” flat screen mounted in the center of the room. Fortunately it was easy to find out how to switch the polish voiceover off, so the English speaking programs made us even more tired and finally lulled us to sleep.

Next morning we were surprised to see we had slept until 9.30. This is pretty late for us as our daughter is normally an early riser, but in this case it must have been the late bedtime combined with the comfortable bed. We hurried out of bed in order to have breakfast in the Executive Lounge which is available until 10.00am. The executive lounge serves continental breakfast and refreshments

throughout the day so is well worth the upgrade if you are looking for to spend a lot of time on the hotel grounds. The staff are very attentive and ask you if would like some breakfast made to order, for example our daughter loved the waffles with fresh fruit. I was impressed with their scrambled eggs which is hard to serve right in a buffet...not too watery, not too overcooked, just creamy and tasteful. If you are more to the healthy options there is also bountiful choice of muesli, yogurts, fruit and bread. If there is anything that can be improved I would suggest to make their bacon more crispy. Personally I am not a fan of soft bacon, but I guess that is up to the each individual. Besides providing a breakfast for champions the executive lounge is just a nice place to hang out, with access to a large terrace. We often spent some time on the terrace, playing cards while have a drink and snacks. There isn’t a selection of food for lunch, only some cakes and fruits, however the evenings you’ll find some hot dishes, typically either beef and fish, or chicken and fish. We really enjoyed the lounge and it served all our needs from early morning espresso to late night dessert. Oh and I almost forgot, it does also have a business station with both PC and MAC where we were able to print our boarding card prior to our checkout.

After our breakfast we decided to check out the pool and SPA area so we packed our swimwear and went looking for the pool. The SPA has it’s own lounge area and an exclusive entrance on the 1st floor. They offer a wide variety of seasonal and relaxing treatments.

The entrance to the pool and gym are located on the ground floor. The entrance to the pool and gym is serviced by a receptionist who hands out a locker room key and towels. The changing rooms are just as beautiful and clean as the hotel rooms. Nice touch with individual shower cabins for those who appreciate their privacy. The pool area consists of a baby pool, large main pool and jacuzzi hot pool in a separate dark room. There are 2 saunas, 2 steam rooms (aromatherapy), as well cold showers, crushed ice sink, and a overhanging bucket that fills with cold water which was our daughter’s favorite. Perfect for trying out her own “ALS Ice Bucket” challenge. 

The pools have direct access to the terrace and garden area where there are plenty of sunbeds, perfect for those hot summer days. They also offer refreshments from the hotel bar, and let me tell you that a Strawberry Daiquiri has rarely tasted as good. It was served in a proper margarita cocktail glass with sugarcoated rim. Our daughter enjoyed a virgin cocktail, strawberry milkshake. Yummy!

We spent many days just hanging out by the pool, swimming and relaxing. It was perfect for our need, so when we needed a scenery change we took our rental car into downtown Warsaw and went for a walk. The whole town was more or less demolished during 2nd World War, making it an interesting mix of modern high-rise buildings and old town charm. The town has plenty to see for tourists and kids a like. Below is list of recommended things to do or see:

1. Museum of the Polish Army (www.muzeumwp.pl)

Next to the “National Museum in Warsaw” you’ll find the Museum of the Polish Army. Indoor you’ll find a collection that illustrates a thousand years of Polish military history - from the 10th century to the Second World War. But the real treasure for kids and war history fans is the outdoor collection  of planes, tanks, cannons, vehicles. Here you can get up close to the vehicles and even get inside some of them. The outdoor collection is free of charge when accessing from the street - just remember the Museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  

2. Copernicus Science Center (www.kopernik.org.pl)

This is an interactive museum with 450 exhibits that enable visitors to carry out experiments and discover the laws of science whether you are interested in chemistry, biology or robotics. If science of this world is not enough they even have a planetarium for those interested in the solar system. This museum is great for small kids and teens as well. Just be sure to plan enough time to see it all.

3. Warsaw Uprising Museum (www.1944.pl)

This museum displays the history of the Uprising, and the history and possessions of the Polish Underground Movement. It collects and maintains hundreds of artifacts, ranging from weapons used by the insurgents to love letters, in order to present a full picture of the people involved. An interesting  museum which can also be visited with children. 

4. PM Shooter Indoor Gun Range (www.pmshooter.pl)

One of the great things of travelling is experiencing things you can’t try at home. In this case a gun range with a wide variety of weapons to try in a professional and safe environment. I tried something like this during a trip to Budapest, but my wife had never tried shooting any type of firearm so this looked like the perfect opportunity. We just went to the shop and were advised they could take her in 30 min. In the meantime we were handed a menu card filled with weapons and prices. Try your fun with anything from pistols, revolvers, submachine guns, assault rifles to shotguns. You just pay for the gun range and the bullets so in theory you pick and choose whatever you’d like to try, which makes it a cool concept. We chose the preselected package of weapons below for my wife so she could try a bit of everything. However not really being a gun enthusiast she let me take over when it was time for the AK47 assault rifle. Even though this is good fun it admittedly is not for young kids. You do get proper safety instructions and guidance throughout the shooting so we didn’t feel anxious at any time.
I can really recommend this place as they are very professional and friendly (and good at English).

Tip: Book a time in advance so you don’t go only to find out it is fully booked.  

Weapons Package 1

10 shots - CZ 75 kadet pistol
15 shots - Glock 17 pistol
10 shots - AK 47 assault rifle
5 shots - XDM 0.45 ACP pistol
5 shots - shotgun 

Cost per person: 135 pln


January 24, 2015

Paris in January

January may not seem like the most obvious month for visiting Paris, but this month is actually one of the best for a visit! The main reason is that the city is not yet overrun by tourists allowing you to see and experience the city like the locals. 

The weather is cool yet there is freshness about it. Cafes and bistros still offer outdoor seating and  the heat from the terrace heaters almost draw you in as you pass by. The cafes are the life nerve of the city and where life is lived. It is clear that the Parisians don’t let the winter keep them at home.

To help you get the most out of Paris in January, here is a list of experiences you should not miss when visiting the city.

Something not to be missed in January and at the top of my wife's “Must See” list is bargain hunting during Paris’ large post-Christmas sales. Just watch for signs stating "Soldes"

And because tourism is less intense it allows excellent opportunity to enjoy the most famous museums which normally are packed with tourists: We have visited the Louvre many times in the past, but this was our first time in January. This was the first there was no queue. We could quietly linger around the museum, and we also got to see some new areas of the museum we hadn’t seen before. It was the first time for our daughter so to make the museum more exciting we had taken a map and drawn in the highlights, then it was up to her to find each point of interest as if it was a treasure map.

The Eiffel Tower has always been fascinating to me. It is always quite exceptional to visit the tower and see this impressive city from above. This time was extra special as they had built an ice skating rink on one of the platforms. It was free of charge to borrow some skates making this an unforgettable experience for not only us but also for our daughter. How many can say they actually skated on the Eiffel Tower?

Our family has always loved theme parks. We always try to plan our visit so it allows us to visit one if available. And this city is famous throughout Europe for Disneyland Paris. I have visited Disney both as a child and with my girlfriend (before we were married) and now we had the chance to show our daughter the place. We were always forced spend hours queuing for the rides and this time there were so few people that we could try rides continuously. This alone is reason enough to travel to Paris in January! Oh and the winter parade with characters from Frozen was amazing for our daughter who is true Elsa and Anna fan.

Wining and dining in Paris is a chapter of it’s own. We visited many places but really only one stands out. This was Restaurant Bouillon Chartier

Chartier is over 100 years old and still in the very prime of life. The restaurant is dear to native Parisians, which might help explain why it is just as beloved by tourists from the world over.
In 1896, the Bouillon Chartier was born out of a very simple concept – provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and give customers good service in order to earn their loyalty. 50 million meals, and only four owners later, the recipe is still every bit as much a success.
This place has known and been touched by all those, the many famous and anonymous faces, who have dined there, on romantic dates, as a family or with friends. It has developed more than a personality; they have given it a soul.”

Besides being a good eatery this place was authentic...at the table next to us sat three young american girls (assuming they were in their late teens). In comes an elderly Parisian female, she is politely seated at the same table as the three girls, even though there are plenty of available tables. The girls are in total shock and stop speaking making the situation completely awkward. So be warned, if you eat here you risk of having to mingle with locals as the waiters fill up the restaurant from one table to the next.  

August 3, 2013

Urban camping Gothenburg - Swedens second largest city

13-19 May
Destination: Gothenburg, Sweden

Type of vacation: Urban camping
 Budget: As low as possible

  1. Camping experience
  2. Close enough to drive to
  3. Big city feeling
Now I know camping and big city feel can be a contradiction in itself, but let me prove that taking the best from both concepts actually can work. Let me start by explaining what the idea behind this trip was.

Camping: My daughter loves it. Last year we went on our first full blown camping holiday to beaches of Jutland (western part of Denmark) where we stayed 10 days at a camping site Saltum Strand Camping in a tent. It wasn't just my daughter who liked it but my wife and I could also see the see the benefits of camping. Besides the obvious of saving a ton of money on hotel rooms, the kids love being close to the parents where they can be the center of attention (rather than the laptop). Also camping is treasured in Sweden as they have something called 'Allemansretten' which basically is a law that states you can setup a tent (almost) anywhere in the nature.

Big city feeling: What I love about big cities are all the new and different impressions. Walk a block and you'll see different people, architecture, sounds, smells and in Gothenburg's case good looking women (I know my wife will be reading this but don't worry she actually agrees). Anyway, I thought that mixing something that my daughter loves together with something my wife and I enjoy turn out to be a pretty good time.

Gothenburg is Swedens 2nd largest city and only a 4hr drive from our home. There are 2 ways of crossing over to Sweden and that is taking the ferry from Helsingør-Helsingborg or by taking a bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo. We chose the latter as we have a chipcard (Brobizz) for the crossing the bridge that gives us a decent discount.

Although Gothenburg is fairly short drive away we thought to spend the first 2 days making a camping stopover on the way, preferably at a remote forest lake with a picturesque view to of an elk/moose.
Now I can already reveal that it didn't happen. Before we left I went online, went to Google maps zoomed in on the an area south of Falkenberg, not too far from the freeway, where there I saw some forest lakes from the Google Sattelite and loaded the destination in on my GPS. Easy and simple, I thought. A few hrs drive later we came to the destination and to my surprise the lakes were not only dried out, but the forest path leading to the lakes almost tore off our car's exhaust pipe due to high grass and bumpy road. Not exactly what we expected so we decided to continue on in search for an ideal camping spot.

We ended up in a forest  with a view to lovely open fields, but best of all the spot was WAY OFF any road so we had the place to ourselves and could setup our camping gear undisturbed.

Now as cozy and fun it is to camp in the outdoors, after a day of cooking all meals on a bonfire, washing up with water brought from home, and being bit by mosquitoes I started longing for some civilization. My daughter was also easily persuaded to move on as her IPAD was almost out of battery.

Breakfast that would make any urban cowboy jealous

As we approached Gothenburg we all agreed our first priority was to get a proper shower so first stop was the Valhalla Swimming Hall. Not only could we shower but we swam in the indoor pools and enjoyed the different dry/wet saunas. All though we were now were clean and refreshed I wouldn't recommend the this swimming hall for kids. It was mainly used for swimming laps, and although there were multiple diving platforms (1m, 3m, 5m, 7,5m and 10m) they were all closed as the pool was used for swimmers. Could maybe just be due to the early time but still a bit boring swimming hall for kids.

After our swim we needed to plan what we were going to see while we were in Gothenburg so we stopped at an 'Espresso House' (equivalent to Starbucks) as they had free WIFI and power outlets. Yes!!! Finally we could recharge our phones and IPAD. We also looked for camping sites but as we called around to check for vacancy we discovered we had hit the busiest week of the year in Gothenburg. Not only was the city  hosting the Womens European Football championship, but they were also hosting the Gothia Cup. The worlds largest internation football tournament with 37.400 participants, consisting of 1545 teams from 75 different nations. It was evident that we were going to spend the rest of our trip as urban campers and we were confident that we were still going to get to see all the sites and attractions that Gothenburg has to offer.

We quickly discovered that with a Gothenburg City Card the entrance to all the major sites were included. As well as other benefits like free parking, free public transportation, and discounts. This was really good value so we got got a card (valid for 48hrs) but would wait to activate our cards until the following day. The rest of the day was spent walking around the city, eating out, making ourselves familiar with the different areas. As the darkness set in we had to find a place to sleep, so we drove around looking for a suitable place to park our car...we ended up in a local residential area. As I didn't quite find the area suitable for setting up a tent we instead moved around our bags and put the down the backseats and slept in the back of our stationcar. Not exactly the best sleep my daughter thought it was cool!

Day2 in Gothenburg:
• Alfie Atkins´ Culture Centre
• Universeum (low-/high season)

• Paddan sightseeing boat
• Guided tour by mini-train

The town was buzzing with excitement as young football players filled the streets. Gothenburg is the perfect place for shopping and store browsing as there are several large malls seemlessly tied together by an outdoor walking street also with shops. The Nordstan Mall has all the typical chain shops while you'll find some more local shops when following the main walking street (VasaGatan = Vasastreet).

Day3 in Gothenburg:
• The Maritime Museum 
• Liseberg Amusement Park

The Maritime Museum 'Maritiman' was a MUST SEE for me as I love war history and have always wanted to see the inside of a submarine. At this museum they had a whole fleet of ships you could walk around on and kids could even go on a treasure hunt, so this was not only interesting for me. As I saw the destroyer and submarine my childhood dream of being a submarine captain was finally shot down as I saw how little space the crew had to live on. This was definately not designed for a 'big' guy like me. Just climbing down proved a challenge as I was banging my knees against the ladder climbing aboard. It was however really cool and the crew were literally sleeping next to the torpedoes. How cool is that?

Next stop was Liseberg Amusement Park. You can easily spend the entire day at Liseberg. Amusement parks are always good fun and this park was no exception. In fact it is much better than our Tivoli in Copenhagen. Good variation of rides, high chances to win at the gaming stalls (never seen so many winners walking around 2kg of chocolate), and good variation of restaurants. The most unique thing I saw was actually a dancefloor with livemusic and guests were couples-dancing. Reason I highlight this is that in Denmark people are usually quite shy or conservative and it is unusual for us to dance in public spaces (except for nightclubs). But it was nice to see and as a long as the Mrs, didn't get any ideas of us joining in!

We stayed in the park until they practically had to throw us out when it closed at 23.30. This being so late we slept in the car again, this time just crashing in the parking lot with the windows covered with blankets for privacy.

I woke up before the rest of the family and noticed that there was a football match starting right next to the parking lot, so I might as well check out some ball. When the rest of the gang was awake we had the typical city breakfast latté and croissant at the local 7eleven. Since our Gothenburg City cards had expired we just agreed to take it easy and start by checking out the local skatepark for my daughter.

We found it close by and it was pretty decent. It was very bowl oriented but unfortunately it was mainly dominated by kids on scooters. While they did try to give room for my daughter they were just riding too fast and too close to her so she couldn't really relax and learn the lines of the park. In fact she took a nasty beating from the concrete. To our luck the park has a small shop where you can buy a few snacks and an ice cream that did wonders to cool down the bruise and lift her spirits. I sure am going to worry when she gets better and starts doing serious tricks.

We considered if there were any sites we had missed on our visit, but agreed that we had seen and experienced what we came for so we would turn the car towards home and enjoy the last of our vacation days in Denmark. As I recap I am impressed with layout of the city. It has a good mixture of shops, walking areas, canals, parks, and cool buildings.

Bonus tip:
If you are seafood lover you gotta visit 'Feskekörkan' or the Fishchurch which is an indoor fish market. It has it's name from resembling a Gothic church. Although the food is delicious and super fresh, be warned that prices are in high end.