I am looking forward to the opportunity: On March 5 and 6, 2008 I will be meeting a couple of fellow Travel Bloggers (T-Listers) at a Travel bloggers Summit at ITB Berlin (International Travel Boerse (or Fair), Berlin.
More about the Summit itself later. For now a link to the Blog that has been launched to keep the community informed: ITB 2008 Tips From The T-List
In December 2006 I started my Zen series as a sort of status report about how the Internet is developing to help you with planning and booking a trip. Nothing better than to report about your own travel preparations to see how advanced or not the Internet is with respect to DIY Travel.
My 5 Areas of Interest
As I said earlier traveling is about 4 distinctive areas of interest, but actually there are 5 (I now have added as nr 2: “Where to stay in B?”, because that is also the main focus of this blog). Here is the list:
How to travel from A to B? Like: by plane, train, car or by boat? (I hate buses).
Where to stay in B?
How is B looking? Maps, pictures and descriptions (what you usually look for in a paper guide)
How are the people of B?
Things to do in B? Bars, restaurants, theaters, musea, scenic parts
1) How to travel from The Hague to Berlin?
Well this one is simple this time. First, as a hotelier, it is always difficult to plan well ahead of time as there are always last minute guests and/or last minute changes of guests. I have a decent car. The trip to Berlin is 703 km according to my Tom Tom. Main part of the trip is over German motorways without speed limits, so I can burn the rubber a bit. I also like to tour around a bit by car at destinations, because it gives me a better feel of the geography. I have a laptop and some camera gear to take with me which would be a lot of weight for an airplane and last, but not least I like to smoke which is not allowed anymore in planes and trains. Finally, with the very low level of service at airports (I always feel like being in a lorry of pigs heading to the slaughterhouse) and in airplanes and all the delays, there is not so much time to gain when you travel up to 700/800 km. So I decided to go by car.
More to follow, because I hit the “Publish Button” far too early this time:-)
Istanbul: View of the Golden Horn.
A Turk singer and three Derwish
dancers preparing for a video shoot
I just returned from a week’s trip to Istanbul with a group of 26 and a lot of information to share with you.
Trip and organization
First I would like to address the actual travel details.
We flew with KLM (a flight shared with KLM’s partner NW) directly from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Istanbul Attaturk Airport without any delay.The fact that KLM is now a subsidiary of Air France apparently did something good to KLM: Flying in time. Flight attendants who behave much more gracious and hospitable and even the food simple, but better than I remember from years ago, when I used to fly business class and decided not to fly KLM anymore due to exorbitant rates, very unfriendly flight attendants, and horrible food and had handed my frequent flier card in. Kudos for KLM!
The trip was partly booked through a Travel Agent No Beach. They also did a wonderful job in getting the group transferred by private couch from and to the airport, provided two nice guides fro some sightseeing, fully bilingual in Turkish and Dutch (to be more precise: one was speaking with a Flemish tongue, the Belgian version of Dutch). They organized some intermediate transport by coach and ferry to a nice restaurant at the Asian side of the Bosphorus and finally the transfer back to the airport. They made the hotel reservations solved some issues arising from an an overbooked hotel. All in all very conveniently organized. Once more the experience convinced me that for a group you should rely on an experienced travel agent and not on your own time consuming Internet rummaging and the hassle of negotiating with hotels you don’t know. Kudos for No Beach!
As the frequent reader may remember from the two previous posts in this series, Part 1 in January and Part 2 in April, we had arrived at a shortlist of a couple of hotels:
It turned out that part of the group stayed a couple of days in Lady Diana and I would suggest that as the hotel to stay in when you like to be in the old center and in the walking vicinity of several of Istanbul’s highlights, several good restaurants and in the vicinity of a very easy cross city tram by which you can avoid the car congestions you will face when taking a taxi (apart from the fact that almost every taxi driver tries to make enormous detours to jinn up his bill).
I myself stayed in The Celal Sultan Hotel fro the whole week. The owner lives in Belgium (hence the Dutch spoken) and the hotel has being decorated by a Belgian interior decorator. This is a very nice hotel, very nice staff, good service and good amenities, a cozy lounge and two nice roof terraces with view on the Aya Sophia, but we stayed in a standard room which is more the size of a room in a Pod Hotel than of a decent hotel room, which is a bit too much if you are used to 75 sqm suites in your own hotel. Their superior rooms have the usual 4 star size and are acceptable.
The main reason for my verdict in favor of the Lady Diana is that their roof terrace is much more spacious and spectacular than that of the Celal Sultan with a far better view over the city, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara with the possibility to have breakfast on the roof. The Celal website is the best of the three. It gives good photo impressions of its interior, but is scarce in giving rates and prices. They should upload newer photo’s of their renovated roof terraces. At least the rack rates I saw announced in the lounge of the Ceal Sultan are higher than the rack rates of the Lady Diana published on their website. As everything in Istanbul one should negotiate the best rates.
The Kybele Hotel is just located between the two others and is also a very nice place for a drink, a lunch or a diner. It has a street terrace and a nice and cosy inner court terrace, without view, and is probably the cheapest of the three. I did not actually see their rooms, but I like the owner who decorated the hotel with thousands of small Turkish lamps (which he sells off course) and who, when we were looking at an Europa Cup football match between Istanbul’s Fenerbace and AC Milan, wore an AC Milan shirt, but was very satisfied that Fenerbace won 1-0 against AC Milan, the 2006 Europa Cup winner.
We are taking a couple of days off after five months of 7/7 and 24/24 service to our dear guests. Destination: French Riviera. Just a couple of days on the board of a private swimming pool or a beach. Late breakfast, rest, lunch on the beach, rest, read a book, rest, small dinner, maybe some sightseeing, maybe some boating.
We put our plans for a trip to Copenhagen on the back burner as May, June and July gave us mediocre weather after an unusually hot April.
Where to stay?
First: where not to stay:
Not in Don Cesar, Cap d’ Antibes
We have stayed a couple of times at 4 star Hotel Don Cesar. Nicely located on Cap d’Antibes and near to one of our favorite beaches. However, the last time we stayed there, it proved more and more worn out. It doesn’t particularly look inviting to go back. This observation seems in line with those of Tripavisor reviews.
[Update: after a refurbishment the hotel is now know as Hotel Vogue] Nor in Domaine Cocagne, Cagne sur Mer Domaine Cocagne originated from a camping with some holiday apartments. It has Dutch owners and was not so long ago thoroughly and very nicely refurbished under guidance of a well known Dutch Designer, Jan des Bouvries: It has good location, a nice restaurant, nice beds and clean and almost white interior. However the guests that frequent there do not fit with the quietness and rest we are looking for. Especially since I had breakfast there with the pleasure of looking out over the swimming pool with a couple of ladies in a string only already loudly occupying their day beds (afraid as they were the beds would be gone for the day) while their figures would only be flattered by a bathing suit (even a bikini would have looked gross)….This view didn’t go well with the excellent shambled (pardon: scrambled) eggs I had for breakfast. In addition the owner made it very rudely clear to a couple of dear Gay friends of us who planned a stay for 2 or 3 months in the hotel, that he didn’t like gay people. Thirdly we noted a very high alcohol consumption of several hotel guests. These issues make me think twice to go there ever again. Hm they even have no reviews on Tripadvisor for this hotel.
True to my own principle I started browsing some trusted sites with hand picked accommodations.
Hotels of the Rich and Famous is easy navigable. Its map is excellent and combined with its listed properties it is quick and easy navigable. Certainly not so cluttered as some other sites. It comes up with: Chateau Eza in Eze (between Beaulieu and Monaco. Definitely a possibility as it is close to Bealieu where we like to visit friends one day and very close to Chateau de La Chèvre d’Or where a dinner or lunch has been on my wish list for quite some time already. It appears Chateau Eza is a Stein Group Hotel which operated the Dylan (formerly Blakes and now up for sale by owner Apollo Group) and The College Hotel, both in Amsterdam. I also didn’t know yet that Chateau de La Chèvre d’Or is a hotel as well. Alas it looks much more stuffy than Eza.
Les Rosees[not in their collection anymore (Les Rosees (own site))
Chic retreats could use maps on its site or give the urls of the property. However Lulu herself recently promised me to do the urls soon (she recently had asked the member hotels to provide them, but did get only one reply).
XO Private Collection just sent me an invitation by e-mail to join their XO Private Insider. I thought for a moment “Wow am I privileged”, but I now see you can click on it from its Main Page. I still do wonder from where the invitation came. I like the fact that they provide all info in a write up and simply link through to the website of the accommodation itself. It has (in addition to Eza and Cap d’Estel):
Another travel blogger in the know, Blog on Travel, suggested go to Clos des Arts from the SLH portfolio in Colle Sur Loup.
Then a very good friend of us mentioned Hotel Welcome in Villefranche sur mer. Oh I like that location: It is the second Bay west from Monaco and has a lot of shipping movements as it is frequented by mega yachts and by large cruising vessels who can anchor for free during a couple of hours or waiting until their berth in Nice is free to proceed or are seeking a nice location for a hop of for a stroll or a lunch ashore.
I have split our stay over two hotels: Bastide Mathieu and Hotel Welcome.
Stay tuned for my reviews.
At least for future visits I can rely on this post which will help to save some time…
After publishing part 1 of this story, I asked my friend the frequently traveling CEO, for suggestions, but alas he had no other suggestions than only Istanbul’s most expensive and luxury top hotels. So there I go with my conclusion in part 1.
My lady friend who organizes the trip for “Art en Route” came up with a travel agency that suggested following hotels:
Finally, however, on suggestion of the travel agent, a reservation has been made at the Celal Sultan Hotel.
We will see what will happen and I will keep you posted later this year.
Just for now I would like to conclude that at least for group travel a travel agent still seems a better bet than a DIY reservation. Especially because various hotels put only a small number of rooms available through travel portals or even through their own website, or have no possibilities to book well in advance.
I am starting this post at the end of 2006 because a journalist of the Guardian has asked me to give some insight comments about booking your travel via Internet. Well, what better answers to such question than to describe what you do on the Internet to get some answers while it is for real?
Once a year, in September, we use to travel with a very heterogeneous group of Baby Boomer friends to a city to experience Modern Art. The name of the loosely organized association is aptly chosen “Art en Route”. It even has its own logo. Art en Route has its own Small-Museum-of- Modern-Art-director who gives the group lessons in Modern Art and prepares briefs about places to visit and artists to see and acts as the Art guide in the city. He is very well humored and has to be, because the group often gives its cynical comments about the “Artsy” character of what is displayed. We (he and Art en Route members) learn a lot!
Earlier trips were to Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, and Venice. The Berlin and Venice trips I attended, The rest I had to forgo, as I had to look after our own hotel guests.
In 2007 we are to visit Istanbul for the Istanbul Art Biennale.
The frequent travelers of Art en Route and I -as the Hotelier and Internet geek- of Art en Route are asked for Hotel suggestions. After I had suggested Propeller Island City Lodge for our September 2006 trip to Berlin, I am afraid some members of the group will vote against any of my suggestions.
However, I should mention that I suggested this Hotel only after my DW called me up in the middle of the night when the trip went to Barcelona in a prior year (2004): She had just checked into the group’s hotel of choice and very much to her dissatisfaction. The room had only one window that looked out on a blind wall of an in-house light shaft and the pipes of the hotel kitchen and various air conditioners were blowing their air and stink with a lot of noise into the shaft. She demanded me to look for another hotel on the Internet immediately. Also the hotel was very shabby and located in the center of the ”Quartier Des Madames”. Hence she wanted to move out and check in into another hotel immediately. Apart from the fact that then it took even more effort to find a suitable hotel, I didn’t succeed to find any other hotel room at all for her, as Barcelona was fully booked, at least according to the consolidators and very few hotels had their availability accessible through their own sites in those days. Therefor I am always hesitant to book last minute, whatever the deal may be. Unfortunately on the other hand my DW and I are usually forced to book last minute by our work.
Internet is more about randomly than scientifically approaching such questions. Therefor I describe my rather random (in earlier years the buzz word would be fuzzy) approach while avoiding the Five Star Alliances of this world.
My first inclination is to go to the site of Bookings, already because, originally, it was set up by a couple of Dutchman and because it is a fast loading site and has a lot of useful content (good maps!) and added somewhere in 2005 or 2006 user generated hotel reviews to it. It comes up with 102 hotels in Istanbul….now where to start…..leave it for the moment. By the way: They changed their name into Booking.
Mr and Mrs Smith? I red somewhere (yes it was in The Guardian) that the couple behind the guides and the site got married very luxuriously. They have only the Sofa Hotel. I discussed this already with the lady in charge of booking for Art en Route, but it is probably a bit to far away from the city center.
The Kiwi collection comes up with the first useful hit that draws my attention: Sumahan on the Water on the board of the Bosporus, about half an hour from the city center by water taxi. I would love to stay at this place as I know where it is and know (because once I made a trip on board of the US Ambassador’s motor launch “Hiawatha” over the Bosporus) how beautiful the scenery is there and how you can be sensationally surprised if a Russian Mega Crude carrier comes along when you potter on the Bosporus in a relatively small motor boat. It is even more sensational than when from Rotterdam Centrum you want to visit Hotel New York in Rotterdam. The river Maas is very busy there with a lot of Big Barge traffic up and down the River.
A drawback of the Kiwi Collection is that it lists few hotels and gives Istanbul and Marmara as location result: Marmara is approximately 100 miles apart from Istanbul, i am not searching for Marmara.
Then I look at Tripadvisor phew, 344 hotels…Again: Where to start…?
Once I got the tip for Travel Intelligence [ed: diascontinued since publishing this post] from a Dutch guy who takes 2 to 25 Euro cents from a respectable number of Chinese travelers pouring over Europe whereby he acts as an intermediary for booking them cheap hotel rooms. Probably he is wiser than I am. Hey! They revamped the Travel Intelligence site: Not so much faster loading, but definitely a better look and feel and a map! They also mention the Sumahan. It is probably a bit too expensive for the group. It is located in an old Raki distillery. That is interesting.
I turn to Expedia.com and see that a couple of hotels offer up to 25% early booking savings and other hotels have probably not set their availability correctly.
I am definitely avoiding the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) booking site as I recently found out that before you know how, you make a decently priced reservation but forfeit your up front payment if you want to change your date of booking or just made a simply made error in the booking.
A couple of hours went by. Now, like another Blogger, Heather Green at BusinessWeek put it eloquently recently: I should take a walk around the block to let my brain do something else than troll: surf and read and read without my brain taking anything in….on the other hand: I use to surf as an alternative way to walking around the block thinking about issues that come up in my work…
My first conclusion is: Look at various dedicated hotel sites, be it luxury, design, romance or whatever you have in mind and then check back with the bigger sites as Booking, Expedia and the like.
I look further:
Why not turn to the Guardian Travel site itself? They redid their travel site and opened it further up for comments and people’s suggestions. They are an example of how a newspaper should run a site.