Thursday, April 27, 2017

A winter visit to Versailles

We were visiting Paris in January. We have visited Versailles before but let’s face it, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. We love all the opulence and being able to walk where the oh so rich and famous have walked. While I am generally quite unimpressed with this, some of my companions like it quite well.

We decided we were going to take the train to Versailles. We got a great deal; we paid 13.60 Euros for our train ticket and entrance to the State Apartments and the two Trianons at Versailles. This made the 39 cents we had to pay to use the inferior bathrooms (sandpaper toilet paper and no toilet seats) at Versailles easier to take.

The Grand Trianon has been the home to many illustrious people. First Louis XIV who used it for short summer visits, then Queen Maria Leszczinska and later Napoleon I and his second wife Empress Marie Louise. Even Louis Philippe made visits here, but it was President De Gaulle who saved the Grand Trianon by having it restored as a meeting place for the President of the Republic and other heads of state on official visits. The original furnishings were taken during the Revolution and now most of the furniture is First Empire. After the soft femininity of the Petit Trianon, it appears heavy and in some cases downright garish.

Your tour through on your own. Staff members are located in every room but they appeared uninterested in adding anything to our visit. I must say, that after almost 3 weeks the only rude people we encountered were at Versailles. I suppose you get tired of dealing with crowds of people every day but there is really no excuse for the attitude of a few of the staff.

The bedroom of Louis XIV was very impressive. The room was crimson, white and gold with a canopy over the bed and a balustrade separating the sleeping area from the rest of the room. The bed was originally in the Tuilleries Palace and was used by Napoleon. Pretty ironic that it ended up in the Louis XIV bedroom.

Connecting the two wings that you get to visit there is the Peristyle, an open porch with a roof supported by columns. You get a wonderful view of the gardens from here and you can imagine sitting out here in the summer enjoying the breeze.

You will visit some really horrible rooms in the second half. The colors are so loud and the furniture so ugly it almost hurts to look at them. A little shabby chic would go a long way here. The last two rooms, however, are quite lovely. You can imagine the ladies in lovely gowns promenading in the Cotelle Gallery.

Versailles was designed to impress and it certainly is big, gaudy and something that you will want to see at least once if you are going to be in Paris. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Planning your vacation to Austria

Austria is the home of the Alps, Viennese coffee and pastries, Mozart, The Sound of Music and Sissy. Planning a vacation to Austria is the dream of a lifetime and these websites can help you make that dream come true.

The Austrian National Travel Office has designed their website for travel professionals to help promote Austria to their clients. This can be everything from planning a corporate gathering to becoming an Austrian expert as a travel agent. Just because this is a site for professionals don’t assume it won’t be useful for the average traveler, there is still plenty of good information. One area for sure is the list of tour operators which if you need help with your planning is useful to help you choose an approved tour operator. This is where travel writers can find story ideas and make connections for possible travel assistance with a trip to Austria.

Got to Be Austria is the Austrian National Travel's official Site for travelers. The site is divided into four basic sections Discover, Plan, Search and Book and Basic Facts. You don’t have to click on any of these right away, the homepage is jam packed with articles and also activities that you may want to check out first or you can wait until a little later in the planning process.

You may want to start by signing up for the newsletter and downloading or requesting brochures, both of these can be done on the homepage as well as linking to the Facebook account. One nice thing about this website is the face that you can choose the size of the print right on the top of the header on the main page.

Clicking on discover will bring up another option, there are red slider between nature and culture, tradition and innovation. By moving the slider, different screens Slight moves of the slide move you to new pages which frankly is quite annoying, too much work and procession needed for a travel website, easier is always better. Skip this and go right on to planning and get the more typical options for searching. You will get the choice of culture and arts, nature and adventure, food and wine, people and traditions and rejuvenation. This is a very inclusive website with lots of information that will help you to make the best choices for your Austrian vacation.

If Vienna is the destination for your Austrian vacation, Welcome to Vienna will help you to get there, find your way around, book a wonderful accommodation, eat the delights that Vienna has to offer and enjoy all the entertainment that only the Viennese can provide. Whether it is music or shopping, history or pastry, you will find it in Vienna.

Salzburg is a World Heritage site and if Mozart and the Sound of Music appeal to you, this is the perfect city to provide you with a fantastic vacation. This website, will provide all the info you need to find out exactly what will make your Salzburg experience perfect.

The home page offers tabs on arts and culture, sights, accommodations, gastronomy, shopping, arrival and traffic and service. There is also a place to click for the Salzburg Card which will offer you lots of bang for your buck.

In southern Austria is the state of Carinthia and if you are considering making this your destination in Austria or even if you just want to find out if it appeals to you, this website is the perfect way to look at some of the small towns and activities has to offer. It is an area with over 200 lakes and ski slopes aplenty. Beyond just Carinthia, if you click around this site you can check on all the Austrian States and find out where to visit and what to do.

Innsbruck is the capital of the Alps and one of the most popular places to visit in Austria. 

This website has a lot of information to help with your planning. Tabs for sightseeing, events and festivals, dining and shopping, hotel rooms, winter sports, summer sports and getting there give you additional information. You will find enough information to keep you occupied for quite some time.

If Austria is your destination of choice for vacation, all of these websites can be of assistance in both choosing what you want to do and actually booking your room.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A winter's visit to the Petit Trianon

The Petit Trianon is located in the park at Versailles. It can be reached by walking or by a tram that runs about every 30 minutes. It cost us 10 Euros at the time, to take the tram, this is a day ticket, today it is 12
. While you are traveling around the park there is a running commentary in several languages, one after the other.

The Petit Trianon was designed in the Neoclassical style by Ange-Jacques Gabriel. It was built between 1762 and 1768 for the use of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. 

Unfortunately, she died in 1764 and it was her successor Madam de Berry who got to enjoy it. Here they could come to get away from the suffocating formality of the French Court. In 1774 Louis XVI gave it to his wife Marie Antoinette and it became her favorite residence. This is where she built her famous hameau (village) and where for even a short time she could forget that she was the queen of France and pretend that this idyllic rural village was real. It was turned into a museum dedicated to her memory by the Empress Eugenie in 1867.

Security is high all over Versailles and our bags and ourselves went through metal detectors at every different location. The room you enter into was the former billiard room and after passing security you go upstairs for your self-guided tour.

The ante chamber is the first room you enter and the stunning Viger Lebrun portrait of Marie Antoinette with a rose dominates the room. From here you go to the large and small dining rooms. The large dining room has a very pretty bust of Marie Antoinette. The small dining room has portraits of Louis XV and Madam du Pompadour.

My favorite rooms were the bedroom and the private sitting room. I loved the upholstery on the furniture. There is no bed in the bedroom, it has long since disappeared never to be seen again. There is a writing desk that belonged to the Queen, though.

About 10 rooms are open that you visit at the Petit Trainon. This is small but very charming. Now you wait for the tram or walk over to the Grand Trianon. We visited in January and at that time of year, Marie Antoinette’s little hameau (village) was not open for visits. During the tourist season, you can actually walk among these charming little houses and feel what made them so charming to the Queen.

You can get to Versailles on the train from Paris and it is an easy walk to the Chateau.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Summer weekend getaway: Quebec City

When it comes to a summer weekend getaway Quebec City is ideal. Heading north is always a good idea; chances are the weather will be considerably cooler than where you live.

Keep in mind that to travel to Canada you need to have at the minimum a Passport Card. The day has passed when you could dash across the Canadian border with only your driver’s license in hand. Be prepared for strong questions on both sides about where you are going, how long you are staying and the reason for your visit.

You can drive to Quebec City; it is about 9 hours from New York City. An international airport is located within just a few miles of the city if you prefer to fly. Once you are in the city, you will be able to walk to just about everything you would want to do or see in a weekend. Cabs available to hail if you want to ride somewhere.

Where to stay

The ultimate in luxury is to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. It has the premier location on the Terrace Dufferin and the views of the St Lawrence River or the city from the rooms at the hotel are stellar, they do however come at an additional price. It is a splurge to stay here but one that for a weekend is worth it. Even if you can't afford to stay here, you can stop in and take a stroll around the lobby and the shops.

If you are looking for a smaller less intimidating hotel located in the shadow of the Frontenac, The Hotel Chateau Bellevue fits the bill nicely. It is small, friendly, has abundant charm and a similarly excellent location.

What to see

Quebec City has too many attractions to fit everything into a weekend, do a little research and decided what interests you the most. If you want a little history, The Musee de la Civilisation in the lower city has several excellent exhibits that will give you a very good overview of the Province of Quebec.

If you are more interested in a quick history lesson the Musee Cire or Wax Museum will give you a brief very visual history lesson. The Plains of Abraham has an Interpretation Center which explains the history of the transition from French to English Colony which happened in the mid-18th century.

If you want to learn about the history of Quebec City from a supernatural point of view, Ghost Tours of Quebec  will take you on a walk on the more macabre side of Quebec history.

What to do

  • Walk on the Terrace Dufferin and enjoy the stellar views.
  • Take a ride on the funicular which transports you to the lower city.
  • Climb into a caleche and let your driver point out the sights to you.
  • Just stroll along the cobbled streets of the city.
Shopping is a major occupation in Quebec City and the Petit Champlain district offers great opportunities for everything from cheesy souvenirs to designer clothes.


If you want to sample the food of Quebec, Aux Anciens Canadiens is a Quebecoise restaurant where you can dine on meat pies, pea soup and of course sugar pies for which Quebec is famous. As you walk the streets find a place to sample poutine, French fries with gravy and cheese. It is artery clogging but a national obsession. Maple flavored ice cream is a personal favorite of mine. 

Quebec has several local breweries, be sure to sample some local beer and if you have the opportunity wine from the Ile d"Orleans.

You can use these suggestions for a weekend in the Paris of the North, Quebec City or you can come up with your own. The motto of Quebec is “I Will Remember” and after your weekend, you most certainly will.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Courtyard Mariott North Dayton, Ohio

 Located in the northwest of the city of Dayton, Ohio the Courtyard Marriott North has a great location. It is close to I70 and surrounded by dining options. If you don’t feel like taking out the car, you can walk to a variety of different restaurants or of course grab a bite at the Bistro in the lobby of the hotel.

The hotel has the new modern designed lobby that all the Courtyards have today but the rooms have the old fashioned type of heating and cooling units on the wall. While these are efficient and certainly kept the room comfortable, the fact that it is located near the desk means that it is uncomfortable to work with the air blowing on you. The desk is spacious and has good lighting and a comfortable chair.

The furniture is also one of the older designs that Courtyard used. It was all in good condition and our room had a king sized with a blue bedskirt and white coverlet. The bed had five pillows so surely one will match every taste. A sleeper sofa in the room allows for additional sleeping space if required. The mattress was firm enough to give a very good night’s sleep.

We had room 317 and it had a balcony. A table and two chairs were available and we actually enjoyed sitting outside even though there is no view except the hotel next door.

The sink is in the hall outside the bathroom as well as a closet. I prefer this configuration since it means that the coffee pot is not actually in the bathroom. I am not quite sure who thought having a coffee pot in the bathroom was a good idea but it smacks of being unsanitary. Starbucks Coffee is available for purchase in the lobby.

The shower has excellent pressure, however, the sink in our room did not drain correctly as there was an issue with the stopper. We let maintenance know about the issue when we checked out.

On the first floor of the building is a pool, hot tub and workout room. It was quiet when we checked in so we used the hot tub and pool. Everything was very clean and in good condition. A small store is located at the check-in desk where you can purchase food and drinks. A computer and printer are available to guests as well as a guest laundry. On the third floor adjacent to our room was an ice machine and soda vending machine.

Internet connection was strong, fast and free. I used it for hours and had no issue whatsoever. The flat panel TV had 85 channels, we loved that.  Plenty of free parking is available so no surprise charges.

I am always looking for a plug in my hotel rooms to charge the phone and computer and this room had two at the desk, two near the couch and also two near the nightstand. I was able to charge to my heart’s content.

Everything about the Courtyard North was pretty positive including the price that we paid, under $80. I would definitely stay here again and would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Crown Plaza Hotel Springfield, Ill.

Located outside of downtown Springfield, the Crowne Plaza Hotel is conveniently close to I-55. Having said that, even though it is visible from the highway it was not as easy to find as I expected, even Tom Tom was confused. South Deiker was not the street that exit 94 empties out onto. When coming from Springfield, you need to take a right off the exit and then S. Deiker is another right. I was very surprised that in this area a 14 story building was hard to see, but it was.

After the initial confusion, it is easy to spot. It is the tallest building around. The hotel has a large self-parking lot. You enter on the first level but that is not where the guest registration is, it is on the second floor. You can use the escalator or the elevator. The lobby is very attractive and I found the staff at the desk to be very friendly and helpful. They explained that if I was a Priority Club Member, Internet access would be free, that was very good news.

We had reserved a king room and we were given 1023. The room was spacious with of course the king-sized bed. The blanket was between sheets. The bedding is all crispy white and very comfortable. I loved the pillows. The mattress was firm and gives a very comfortable sleep.

When we got into the room it was a little too warm. A quick call to the front desk determined that I needed to turn on the fan and voila, the air conditioner was pumping away. I am not quite sure why the cleaning staff would have turned it off when a guest was scheduled to check into the room and the outside temp was over 90 degrees, but the remedy was easy.

Beside the bed, there were two nightstands a table and two chairs.

A large flat panel TV sits atop a dresser and inside the double doors, there is a mini-fridge. The room has two closets with mirrors, one of which faces the bed, which is a bit odd and disconcerting. Everything was very clean and in good repair in this room. It was much more spacious than many rooms we had on this trip.

The bathroom was spacious as hotel bathrooms go. It has a one piece tub/shower and a vanity that extends the entire length of the wall. The coffee pot was located on the vanity. The lighting in the bathroom was excellent and there was a makeup mirror, as well as a blow dryer on the wall.

The 14th floor is the location of the pool, hot tub, gym and the rooftop deck. What an attractive area this is. Tables are located outdoors where you can enjoy the fresh air and the best views that the hotel offers. The pool is a nice size and the hot tub looked very inviting. Unfortunately, our bathing suits remained somewhere in the minivan.

The TV in the room has Direct TV with a good selection of channels offered. The Internet connection was strong and I had no connection issues.

The Crowne Plaza is a convention hotel which offers a variety of services to large groups. It is a few miles from downtown but is well located for visiting the zoo. The hotel offers room service as well as a sit-down restaurant, a bar, and a coffee shop. There are a variety of restaurants located within a minute or two of the hotel including Outback Steakhouse, Smokey Bones, and Applebees.

We had breakfast with our rate and since the occupancy was low, there was no breakfast buffet. Breakfast was nothing special and service was slow considering the restaurant was nearly empty.

The location of this hotel makes it a good choice if you are not here to spend time downtown. It is located quite far from all the Lincoln attractions.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The enchanting Nymphenburg Palace Munich, Germany

One of the most enchanting sights in Munich, Germany is Nymphenburg Palace. It certainly is attractive enough for Canaletto to paint it in the 18th century. The swans on the man-made lake are sure to charm, no matter what time of year you visit here.

The land on which the palace was built was given to Henrietta Adelaide of Savoy, the wife of Elector Ferdinand Marie of Bavaria as a thank-you gift from her husband on the birth of an heir after 10 years of marriage and several daughters. Eleven years later, in 1675, the palace was completed and became for generations the summer palace of the rulers of Bavaria. Extensive additions were made by the succeeding generations of Wittelsbach rulers to create the palace that exists today.

The Festival Hall is the first room you visit. The ceiling is worth taking a long look at. It is decorated with frescoes done by Johann Baptiste Zimmermann, who was the most important Rococo fresco artist working in Munich during this period. The rooms to the right side of the hall are the Electors, the north wing, set up in the typical Baroque fashion and to the left, the south wing, the Electress. These include bedrooms, formal rooms and sitting rooms. In the hallway on both sides are studies of different Wittelsbach castles.

In the north wing is the famous Gallery of Beauties.This collection of 36 portraits was the brainchild of Ludwig I who had all the most beautiful women of his time painted and hung in his gallery. These are not all women of the court; one is the daughter of a Greek freedom fighter, one a cobbler’s daughter. Among the court ladies is his daughter-in-law and his mistress, Lola Montez.

The Amilienberg located in the park is a little jewel box of a hunting lodge. It was the retreat of the Electress Amalia. She was known to have hunted from the roof and the kennel room has beautiful tiles and cages for lots of dogs. It is only about six rooms but every one of them is a gem. It is the only one of the houses in the park that is open in the winter.

In the summer you can visit the Podenburg a retreat in the Chinese style, the Badenburg an early heated bath house and Magdaleneklause built as a retreat for Max Emmanuel. None of these were open when we visited in January.

The Stable Museum has a collection of carriages and sleighs. In the collection can be found two carriages that belonged to the son of the Empress Josephine, Eugene Beauharnais. He was the husband of Princess Augusta daughter of Maximilian I of Bavaria which explains how these carriages came into the collection. Of particular beauty was a carriage that could be turned into a sleigh that belonging to Ludwig II. Upstairs there is a particularly fine collection of Nymphenburg porcelain.

If you want to purchase some modern Nymphenburg porcelain, there is a store right alongside the front park. You had better have a huge credit line though the prices are quite shocking. This writer didn’t see any pieces under 100 euros, but did see a 700-Euro teapot.
The easiest way to reach the Palace is to take the S-Bahn 16 from the Haupbahnhof toward Amelianburgstrasse. Get off at the Schloss Nymphenburg stop not the Romanplatz as the tourist brochure directs.

It is an easy walk from the stop to the palace. The combination ticket at the time this article was written was eight and a half euros and will get you into the Palace, the Amalienberg and the Stable Museum. In the summer the ticket is 11.5 euros and includes the other buildings in the Park. You have to pay cash; they don’t take credit cards for the entrance or for purchases from the store, at least when we were there they didn't. For an additional fee you can take an audio tour of the palace. This gives you a lot of history and some interesting anecdotes. The rooms have a plaque telling you which number to push. Allow yourself a whole day for this excursion.