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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Dinner in Zürich

The concierge at the Park Hyatt Zürich eventually found an authentic Swiss restaurant that had space for two people on such short notice on a Friday night.  Reservations were for 20h00 and the concierge indicated the restaurant was authentic and a jacket was required, but it wasn’t fine dining.  Got it – blazer, no jeans – perfect.  He also told us that it was about a 20 minute taxi ride – so when we are ready to leave, the hotel puts us in a taxi…and we drove….and drove…and drove.

If we weren’t in Switzerland, we might have thought we were being taken out into the sticks and hunted for sport.  It actually wasn’t that far out — it felt pretty dense and suburban still – it was just much farther than we expected.  The restaurant was actually in Herrliberg, Switzerland (still in the Canton of Zürich though), but was 15 km from the hotel.  It was an $80USD car ride out there (which makes me think that even though we asked for a taxi and were put in a car with a taxi placard on top, we were actually charged black car service prices).

The restaurant is called Restaurant Buech and is the second highest rated restaurant on TripAdvisor — for Herrliberg.  The building itself is like an old ski lodge and sits atop a hill that could lead to spectacular views of Zurich and the lake – but it was dark and cloudy — and we were seated far from a window, so we saw nothing).

The service was great – everyone was so personable, but they were all wondering why we were wearing jackets. Everyone else was quite casual with sweaters, jeans and boots.  Looks like the concierge was mistaken on the dress code.  No matter – better be overdressed than underdressed.  We started off, like we did EVERY meal on this trip, with an aperitif – we each had a Kir Royale (of course we did…) then moved on to a nice Burgundian wine.

Unfortunately, none of my photos turned out from this meal, so you’ll have to use your imagination.  MS started with the Pumpkin Soup and I had an heirloom tomato salad – both were fantastic.  MS loves pumpkin more than anyone I know and I have never found a tomato that I didn’t love.

For our entree, MS had the venison special, which he enjoyed and I had the Veal Schniztel.  We hardly spoke at dinner because we were so enamored without food.  The wine we chose (which I forget what it was specifically, but I do know it was a 2011 from the Côte de Nuits).  I opted not to have dessert – nothing jumped out at me, but MS had the Karamell Köpfli auf Birnencarpaccio (flan with a pear carpaccio).  We finished off dessert with a glass of champagne.

Getting back to the hotel was going to be a problem — there were no taxis and we were long way from the main road.  Luckily, Uber is in Zurich — and even better, UberX is an option too.  I requested a car, which had to come from Zürich, so we waiting in the restaurant watching the progress our driver made.  He picked us up and we quickly made our way back to Zürich.  The driver was great – a 19 year old man who was going to University.  The ride back to the hotel was only $45USD – double confirming that we had gotten the screwjob in the taxi to the restaurant.

All in all, the restaurant was good. It was a bit pricey for what we got.  The food was good as was the service, but it was quite off the beaten path.  I don’t think I’d schlep all the way out there for a meal, but if I were in the area, I’d eat there.  Their website shows some great photos taken during the spring/summer.  The grounds look beautiful – it may be worth a drive out there during that time of year.

Where should we have eaten in Zürich?

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Tour of Zürich

We only had one afternoon in Zürich and we wanted to maximize our time.  After we checked-in at the Park Hyatt, we headed out and decided to use a self-guided walking tour we found in the Frommer’s Guide Book.  I like these tours because you can move at your own pace, learn a bit of info about a handful of locations and the best part, if you see something interesting, you can veer off course as you like then return to the tour (if you want) – unlike an official guided group tour.

We headed off across the river and started at he base of Bahnhoffstrasse looking out across Züricksee.  It was a very calm day – almost no wind, but the clouds were low and obstructed the mountain views a bit.  Evidently they are stunning if weather conditions are a bit better.  While it was cold, there were still quite a few people hanging out along the water front.

Tour of Zurich - Zurichsee

Tour of Zurich – Zurichsee

Before we made it to our second stop, we smelled brats cooking and we realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet.  We just had a quick pastry in the mall connected to the Holiday Inn Bern-West Side, while we waited (in vain) for the Sixt Car Rental Road Side Assistance.  Six hours later, with the smells of the brats wafting our way, we became famished!  We hurried over and each order a sausage and a bottle of water ($25USD total). The sausage was served in a piece of paper with a small roll accompanying it (it wasn’t served in the roll).  We were given a small container of mustard and we stood at a highboy table and ate.  The sausage was spectacular.  I would have ordered another – and quite honestly, I would have been happy eating that for dinner, but the hotel had made dinner reservations for us, so I didn’t want to spoil my appetite.

We continued along the route Frommer’s suggested – actually, we took the tour route backwards, starting at the lake and ending a the Bahnhoff.  This tour was quick and had a few interesting sites, but wasn’t one of Frommer’s better tours.  It did what I wanted it to do – it got us out of the hotel, gave us an interesting path to walk to the Bahnhoff (since I’m a big transportation nerd and trains are a critical part of European transport, the Bahnhoff is an important destination) and left me wanting just a bit more of Zürich.

Here are some of the highlights from our walk:

Tour of Zurich - View of St. Peter Church Clock Tower

Tour of Zurich – View of St. Peter Church Clock Tower

Tour of Zurich - Grossmünster

Tour of Zurich – Grossmünster

Tour of Zürich - Zürich Hauptbahnhof

Tour of Zürich – Zürich Hauptbahnhof

Tour of Zürich - Paradeplatz all decked out with Christmas lights

Tour of Zürich – Paradeplatz all decked out with Christmas lights

Zürich is a pretty small City, very walkable full of very nice people – people who speak more languages than you’ll need (English, German, French, Italian are all very common, we also easily found people in shops or on the streets using Russian, Mandarin and Arabic).  I would have enjoyed another day to explore the City — and another few days to explore the neighboring countryside (I’m not sure if there is enough to keep you occupied in Zürich for more than 2.5 days).  I think it would be a great jumping off point for dozens of hikes in the Swiss Alps.  The food was great (do me and yourself a favor – grab a brat from a street vendor and enjoy), the urban transportation amazing and the chocolates were top notch.  I will definitely return to Zürich.

What was your favorite part of Zürich?  Since we had such a short stay, I know we missed a ton – what should I add to my list for my next trip?  What should I avoid?

Park Hyatt Zurich

The final stop on our Thanksgiving trip was Zurich.  We arrived a bit later than we intended, thanks to the helpful people at Sixt Car Rental.  We drove straight to the Park Hyatt, where we’d be spending our last night.  I had never stayed in a Park Hyatt before and was very much looking forward to seeing what this property had to offer.

As discussed earlier in this post, we booked this hotel by transferring Chase Ultimate Reward Points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account.  30,000 Ultimate Reward Points was pretty steep, but using these points saved us about $750 – that’s about a 2.46 cents per point, which in my book is a pretty good rate of return.

We snaked our way through Zurich to Beethovenstrasse, which is just across the river (5 minute walk) to Bahnhoffstrasse with great shopping.  We valeted our rental car and handed off our luggage to the bellman.  We had many shopping bags that we picked up from our stops in Paris, Beaune and Bern — all of which needed to be packed into our already overloaded luggage for our return flight the next day.

We approached the front desk and were greeted by a woman who was more interested in her internet activity than checking us in.  She asked if we had stayed at the hotel before and if we were familiar with the property – to which we responded no.  I was expecting her to tell us about the restaurant, the bar, the gym, the wifi and anything else pertinent.  She did not.  She told us if we needed anything just let her know.  She scanned our passports and escorted us to our room.  She was nearly silent as we walked to our room on the third floor.

She opened our room and escorted us in.  At this point she provided us so much detail on the room.  She showed us the bed, the windows, the closet, the min-bar, the safe, the bath tub, the shower, the WC, the coffee station.  She showed us how to access the wifi, how to use the phone and told us that in a few minutes the butler service will be by.  It was nice to have the in-room service, but the details were a little excruciating.  She was very well prepared and once we got to the room she was very warm and lovely.

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room - View from our 3rd floor window

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room – View from our 3rd floor window

About 5 minutes after she left both the valets with the luggage and the butler service arrived.  The wrong luggage was delivered but a lovely fruit platter was delivered.  The luggage snafu was fixed within 15 minutes with heartfelt apologies from the valets.

Fruit Platter

Fruit Platter

The room was quite large, even for two guests.  We had a nice little sitting area, for one, near the window and a large desk with a glass top (making the area seem bigger and airy than it really was) – there was even a little vanity area with a mirror so you could apply makeup and occupy the bathroom.

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room - Seating Area

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room – Seating Area

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room - Large Desk

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room – Large Desk

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room - Vanity

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room – Vanity

The king sized bed was very comfortable and much to my surprise, the room had ample electrical outlets near the bed.  One of my hotel pet peeves was not found here – that’s a major win.  One thing I didn’t like was the sliding panels that separate the bathroom from the main part of the room.  These panels, which I see more and more now, and I just loathe them, are to allow extra light into bath and lets you watch the TV while in the bathtub.  This is nice in theory, but I prefer more privacy for the bathroom than these panels provide.

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room

Park Hyatt Zurich - Sliding Panels - God I hate these

Park Hyatt Zurich – Sliding Panels – God I hate these

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room - View from the Bath

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room – View from the Bath

Park Hyatt Zurich - Standard Room - Separate Shower

Park Hyatt Zurich – Standard Room – Separate Shower

We headed downstairs to begin our quick self-guided tour of the City and stopped off at the concierge desk asking for help for dinner reservations.  We had a list of 5 different restaurants – all traditional Swiss, ranging from very high end to middle of the road.  The gentleman who was working the concierge desk was a bit short with us – he seemed frustrated that we were looking to book dinner reservations only a few hours out on a Friday night.  After about 15 minutes of discussion with him, I realized he wasn’t frustrated with us, it was more of a language issue (we were communicating in English, not German).  After realizing this, I was much more understanding.   None of the restaurants we wanted to visit were available the night in question.  The concierge recommended another authentic Swiss restaurant a few miles away- around the lake from hotel.  He warned us it would be a 15-25 minute taxi ride.  More on that restaurant later.

The next morning, we were up early as we had to head to airport, drop off our rental car and return home.  We had mostly packed the night before.  We had slept pretty well as the room was quite quiet and the bed was one of the more comfortable ones on this trip.  I hopped in the shower, which as you saw above, was a separate shower and not a shower-tub combo.  The water pressure was great, as was the temperature — but that shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, since we were showering at 06h00 on a Saturday morning.  The bath products were by Laura Tonatto, which I will admit, I was not familiar with.  They were perfectly fine – not worth seeking out or even taking home, in my opinion.  I’m sure others love it though.  It got the job done.  We did not eat breakfast in the hotel – it was available for an extra charge and those who read this blog regularly, know I’m not really a breakfast guy, so unless there is an unlimited Bloody Mary or Mimosa Bar, I’m perfectly content grabbing an orange juice and a croissant and heading out the door.

Many hotels have a “signature scent”, a smell that when you walk in, you know you are in that brand of hotel. Both the Westin and the W have such a scent.  I’ve noticed it less frequently at the Peninsula and Waldorf though.  The scent at the Park Hyatt Zurich was a bit off putting.  I don’t know if it is the same at all Park Hyatts or just in Zurich, but it had citrus floral notes coupled with a bit of cat pee.  Honestly, when we got home Saturday night, and I had to clean the litter box, the smell reminded me a bit of the Park Hyatt.  It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but it brought back the memories of our trip.  This smell wasn’t in the rooms or even in the lobby, it was just on the guest room floors (it was on 3 of the floors, as I stopped off on different floors to see if it was just a 3rd floor issue or a consistent issue — it was consistent).

So, after only staying one night, would I return to the Park Hyatt Zurich?  Let me start off by saying (again) that Switzerland is expensive.  Even the lower end hotels were over $300USD/night.  This is a great City to use miles/points to get a free stay.  Nothing about the Park Hyatt wowwed me.  It was in a great location, the service was a bit above average (but below my expectations — although, my expectations were set in a complete vacuum, so I blame myself, not the hotel).  The room was nice, the bed comfortable and the water temp/pressure great — all things that are critical to me — plus there were ample outlets near the bed!  If I had 30,000 points/night to spend in Zurich, I would probably stay here again.  It isn’t a slam dunk return for me, but I’d see what other options were available, but I wouldn’t hesitate in returning.

This isn’t a winning endorsement, I know, but all-in-all, I was pleased with my stay and with my miles/points redemption.

Have you stayed at the Park Hyatt Zurich before? What did you think?  How was the service?  Did you notice an odd “signature scent” – or was it just me?

Fly to Select European Cities on United and Earn Bonus Miles

United is offering a promotion now wherein if you fly between the US and select cities in Europe you earn 7,500 bonus miles for your first roundtrip and another 7,500 mile bonus for your second roundtrip.  You have to register before you fly (not before you buy your ticket, mind you, but before you fly – your ticket has to have been purchased after December 4, 2014 though) – Register Here.  You must also fly non-stop to the following cities:

  • Amsterdam (AMS)
  • Brussels (BRU)
  • Copenhagen (CPH)
  • Frankfurt (FRA)
  • Geneva (GVA)
  • London (LHR)
  • Munich (MUC)
  • Paris (CDG)
  • Zurich (ZRH)

As you can see, this isn’t for every destination United visits in Europe (missing quite a few actually).  As always, you need to book a certain fare class to get this bonus as well — no-cheapo tickets allowed on this one.  You’ll need to book in Global First (F, A), BusinessFirst (J, C, D, Z, P) or Economy (Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, or W).  W fare isn’t necessarily too expensive though.

This promotion is only open for travel between January 16, 2015 and March 10, 2015.  You also need to fly on United (or Air Canada, see note below) and not on any other codeshare flight – Flying Lufthansa first won’t net you this bonus).

Bonus Miles - United to Europe - Graphic Courtesy of United Airlines

Bonus Miles – United to Europe – Graphic Courtesy of United Airlines

So how do you use this information?  Well, I sure wouldn’t be planning two trips to Europe in W fare or higher just to get 15,000 bonus miles (remember, these are redeemable miles, not Elite Qualifying Miles, which likely would have me reevaluating this bonus, but it’s not).  Go register for the promotion – just do it.  Do it even if you aren’t planning to on going to Europe in Q1/2015 – you never know if your plans may change. Do it even if you aren’t going to spend a bit more on a W fare ticket either – you never know if by the time you book that’s all that’s available.  Bottom line – this isn’t something you should mileage run on, but it costs nothing to sign up.  You’ll be kicking yourself if you could earn 15,000, but don’t because you’ve failed to click a link.

Also, for all the AirCanada Aeroplan folks out there, this promotion is good for you too. You can fly United or AirCanada, still to the listed cities above.  The full terms and conditions are listed at the bottom of the registration page.

Good luck and happy flying.

Discover Burgundy Wine Tour

We knew we wanted to do a wine tour while in Burgundy and we also knew that France has some very strict drunk driving laws – not that that really impacts us because we have a no tolerance rule on drinking and driving ourselves. We needed someone to drive us and someone to coordinate the various winery visits. After a few minutes of Google and TripAdvisor searches we found Discover Burgundy Wine Tours. Robert and Joy are ex-pats who run this shop and were a pleasure to deal with. We opted for the Premier Cru Tasting. This choice had us being picked up at our Hotel (the Abbaye) along with another couple, who were a bit obnoxious (Australians living in Singapore) and driven north to Côte de Nuit to view the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vineyard, one of the best known Monopole Vineyards in the Region (perhaps even the world). We just viewed – we didn’t taste, unfortunately. There were a handful of people standing along the stone fence taking photos and selfies – this really is a destination in and of itself.

We learned about the geography and the geology of Burgundy – I personally had no idea how small the Region was (in some parts it’s just a couple hundred meters wide) and discussed the history including the former Duke of Burgundy, how the Region fared during the various wars (100 years, French Revolution and WWI & WWII specifically).

Beautiful Vineyard Views - Burgundy.  Horse drawn vine work.

Beautiful Vineyard Views – Burgundy. Horse drawn vine work.

Beautiful Vineyard Views - Burgundy

Beautiful Vineyard Views – Burgundy

Beautiful Vineyard Views - Burgundy

Beautiful Vineyard Views – Burgundy

Beautiful Vineyard Views - Burgundy

Beautiful Vineyard Views – Burgundy

We stopped at three wineries and tasted the following at each:

Domaine Michel Noellat & Fils (Vosne Romanée Côte de Nuit)

2011 Vosne Romanée
2011 Vosne Romanée Premier Cru “Les Suchots”
2011 Vosne Romanée Premier Cru “Les Beaux Mont”
2011 Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru

Domaine D’Ardhuy (Clos de Langres Corgoloin – Côte de Nuit)

2010 Premiere Cru “Petit Clos Blanc de Teurons”
2011 Meursault – Les Pellans
2011 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru La Niger Deiu
2011 Clos de Langres (Monopole)
2012 Chorey-les-Beaune Les Peuillet

Domaine Henri de Villamont (Savigny Les Beaune – Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuit)

2010 Chassagne – Montrachet
2011 Meursault Les Clous
2011 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru
2008 Volnay Premiere Cru – Le Ronceret
2007 Chambolle-Musigny Premiere Cru Les Feusselottes

We didn’t buy anything from Domaine Michel Noellat & Fils, but did end up making some purchases from our other two stops. We ended up just getting a single mix and matched case from Domaine D’Ardhuy and Domaine Henri de Villamont.

Clos des Langres

Clos des Langres

Our favorite was Domaine D’Ardhuy, equally because of the wine and the woman assigned to walk us through the tasting. Emma was knowledgeable, funny and personable. She’s the type of person that you meet and immediately want to sit and talk to for hours. Domaine D’Ardhuy is a completely biodynamic winery – everything from the vineyards to the cellars. My first run-in with biodymanic wine making was during the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) a few years ago. We visited a biodynamic vineyard called Maysara – so I knew the basics. Like Domaine D’Ardhuy, Maysara had a charismatic and entertaining winemaker. Emma explained more about the cycles of the moon and how it relates to the harvest and well, everything that you do on the winery.

Clos des Langres - After spending some quality time with Emma. Go visit!

Clos des Langres – After spending some quality time with Emma. Go visit!

Around 13h00, between our visits to Domaine D’Ardhuy and Domaine Henri de Villamont we stopped off for lunch at Le Gremelle Hotel and Restaurant. The meal was included in the price of our tour and it was a very acceptable meal. Since we were on a specialty tour, we weren’t allowed to order from the full menu. Our guide, Patrick, gave us three options for a starter and three options for our main and two for dessert. I had a quick peak at the full menu while we were at the restaurant and there were several other items that looked pretty good on the full menu. While I wasn’t wowed by my lunch selection, there were a few other items that I would have loved to have tried. That’s what you get on a tour like this though.

We were given the opportunity to buy up to do a Vintage tasting or add on a nicer restaurant, but we elected to stick with our main tour – the Premiere Cru. The tour itself was 250€ per person and I think it was definitely worth that price – as it included all the tastings, the transportation, the English speaking guide and the lunch. Adding a nicer lunch destination would add 30€ per person and adding on the Vintage tasting the cost would increase by 120€. I love the idea of tasting French wines dating back to the 1960s, but on this trip, I couldn’t pull the trigger. We need to save something for our next trip to Burgundy, right?

Burgundy Discovery was a really good group to work with – starting with the initial inquiry to the pickup all the way through the tour and the drop off. I wouldn’t hesitate in coordinating another tour with these folks again. I’m sure there are several other equally qualified and professional guides in the Region, but why fix it if it isn’t broken, right?