Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: June 2018

Lozerkasteel – Kruishoutem Hotel

Knowing that we had dinner reservations at number 50 of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants on our final night in Belgium, we decided to stay at Lozerkasteel in the town of Kruishoutem. We knew we would select the tasting menu and the wine pairings, so we knew we couldn’t drive to and from the restaurant, so staying nearby was required. There aren’t many hotel options in this town of 8,000 people, but using Booking.com we found this stunningly picturesque property just a few kilometers from the restaurant.

After we left Ghent in the mid-afternoon, the drive took us 30 minutes. We actually drive right past the property initially. then decided to drive up to the restaurant to see where it was and how long it would take us to get there. Upon returning to the hotel, we passed it again! Finally in the third time, we managed to find the driveway and arrive at 17h02. We told the hotel that we’d be there between 16h and 17h.

We arrived to find the innkeeper on the front patio reading the newspaper with his dog. We pulled in front and he welcomed us to the property. Immediately showing us to our room and giving us the quick tour.

The room wasn’t huge, but it was quite comfortable, the bed was surprisingly great. The room didn’t have many luxury amenities, but was perfect for what we needed – which was a safe, clean place near our destination restaurant.

The bed was stark, but surprisingly comfortable.

The room was tight, but we did have a small seating area.

The “minibar”

The bathroom was large and had small supplies of toiletries. Usually I don’t travel with shampoo or soap and rely on the hotel’s supply to get me through the stay. We had enough for showers before dinner and before departure, but that was it.

A double vanity sure was a surprise at this property.

The toilet was in the main bathroom, not separated like you often find.

While the room was nothing spectacular, the grounds were a different story. Nestled in a secluded area surrounded by rolling fields, a small pond and a working farm, you felt like you were in another world. You could hear no road traffic, no sounds save the braying of a donkey or the flapping of a goose’s goose wing. You could feel any stress you had just melt away.

There were dozens of geese milling about, but they kept to themselves.

The barn was a surprising addition, with loud donkeys.

The picturesque pond was just meters from the main house.

This was the main house next to our guest house. We did not get access to this part of the property.

A serene scene

A friendly two toned goat – white pants are acceptable in summer though.

One of the several curious outbuildings.

I sat outside and read the final pages of War and Turpentine in the seats previously occupied by the innkeeper and his dog.

As I was reading the innkeeper returned and asked if I had prepaid the room, which I had as it was required through Booking.com. he leaves and returns a few minutes later, saying I hadn’t paid. I showed him my paid receipt with the large Booking.com note saying “Show this confirmation to the front desk”.

Paid Booking Confirmation

My receipt did nothing to persuade the innkeeper, who demanded that I pay another 140$ to stay the night. Failure to pay immediately meant we had to leave. I protested again to no avail. I decided that I would just pay again, then work with the property, Booking.com or worse case scenario, my credit card company to fix the situation.

We returned to the hotel after midnight and found no other cars on site – we must have been the only guests. The innkeeper said that traffic into Brussels can be a bear in the morning and could take 60-75 minutes to go a mere 26 km. We decided to leave the hotel at 06h45, three hours and 45 minutes before my flight. Traffic was horrendous and I arrived at BRU at 09h00,just 30 minutes before my flight was to board.

Upon arriving back home, I emailed the hotel with a copy of my prepaid receipt and my strong armed double charge, asking for a credit. A second email was required before getting a response, they were on holiday for a week and would look into upon their return. Nearly a week after their supposed return, and having still heard nothing

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Ghent

I will be the first to admit that traveling to Ghent was never on my short list of travel destination. You know, it wasn’t even on my long list of destinations. It never even crossed my mind as a place I’d visit. But we did. Going in, I had really no expectations about the city of Ghent. I figured it would be a city that had a rough industrial feel, like a Manchester or a Pittsburgh I was so pleasantly surprised upon arrival too.

These working class town homes are now high rent areas.

I didn’t do any specific research on Ghent, other than finding its exact location on the map and the distance and direction between it and Bruges and Brussels. I didn’t even research the hotel until we were leaving the American Cemetery the day we were checking in. My husband did that research and booking. Yes, I was going in almost completely blind.

H.E. Dirk Wouters the Belgian Ambassador to the US was asked to provide guidance to American travelers visiting Belgium for the first time – what is the ONE BOOK they should read before arrival. He suggested War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. I did buy this book and read it almost fully before we landed in Belgium. It is the story of a man, and his father and grandfather who were from Belgium. The story is a fictionalized account of their lives based on stories and journals. It begins before the First World War and ends in the late 20th Century. I highly recommend this book for anyone traveling through Belgium or other areas impacted by WWI. It was an entertaining and moving story that consistently held my interest. Plus, parts of it take place in Ghent. This was the research I did on this city.

A park near the University in Ghent, which is often packed with people enjoying nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This unsanctioned public art was so loved by the public the city decided not to remove it.

Ghent is a small city that is easily traversed by bicycle or a relatively extensive public transit system. The day and a half plus one night we stayed had us encountering only a handful of people in which we interacted with directly. Those people were warm and friendly and proud of their city – and rightfully so.

Bicycle parking at the main train station.

The new modern design of the library juxtaposed to the classic industrial buildings.

Ghent is home to classic architecture as well as modern.

Does Ghent measure up to other cities in Europe like London, Barcelona or Paris? I’d say no, but it shouldn’t be measured that way. It’s of a different caliber. It is, in my mind as worth a visit as much as Prague is though. If you are traveling through Belgium, you must spend a day or two in Ghent, it is a beautiful and welcoming place to be. The summer days we were there were absolutely stunning. Go. Go now.

AC Hotel Portland Downtown

For frequent readers, you’ll know I’m a Starwood guy. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum Elite (staying 50+ nights a year) for the past 6 years (Gold for even longer), so I try to remain loyal for the benefits and the requalification. I needed to spend a week in Portland, Oregon and the Starwood selections are pretty slim. The Westin recently changed hands and the only other Starwood Property downtown is The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which I’ve stayed in at least half a dozen times and love it. Unfortunately, The Nines was going for $600+/night, which is well outside of my company’s expense policy and honestly, just outrageous.

Since Marriott acquired Starwood and is slowly integrating the business, I decided to extend my hotel options to the Marriott brand. Stays and points will be combined between Marriott and SPG later this year, so I won’t be losing any elite qualifying credits by jumping ship. Based on the pricing of the properties and the location, I decided to stay at the AC Hotel Portland Downtown. This hotel is just a couple blocks from our office and is relatively new. Plus, the AC sub-brand has a bit more character than traditional Marriott Properties, in my opinion.

I enjoy clever decor…

…and perfectly curated bookcases.

We arrived at around 16h00 after taking an early morning flight and working a good portion of the day. Moments before we arrived, the hotel called me to confirm I was actually going to show up, which I thought was strange. They didn’t do this for my colleague who was staying as well. I thought it was because I put in a special request and they were going to ensure that it was acted upon before my arrival. Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t.

We chose to park across the street at a Smart Park location, in lieu of valeting with the hotel. The self-park option was only $10/day while the valet was $45. Yes, the company was paying for it, but this doesn’t make sense for me to spend an extra $35/night on parking.

Strolling into the lobby, we were greeted by three reps at the check-in desk. Two were helping a confused and angry woman who was arguing about something – I never could figure out what her problem was and I think the Marriott folks were having the same issue. She’d complain about something, they’d offer a solution and she’d poke holes in that solution with a completely separate and distinct problem. She was an angry and toxic guest and the Marriott folks were doing everything they could to satisfy her – no one could make her happy.

Check-in was relatively smooth, if not a bit robotic. After I checked in, I wasn’t given my keys until they could confirm that my room had been de-feathered. I loathe feather pillows in hotels. I have a very mild allergy that makes me quite congested while I sleep. Swapping out he pillows is an easy fix that gives me a pretty good night’s rest. My allergy isn’t catastrophic, but the hotel staff always treats it as such and won’t let me enter the room if there is a feather pillow in the area. So I waited about 15 minutes while they confirmed the room was feather-free. I appreciate the effort, but I just wanted to sit down and relax after such a long day. Kudos for heading THIS request.

I was given a room on the 12th floor, away from the elevators, which is also my preference (high floor, away from the lifts). The room was pretty modern with a king bed and a pull-out sofa.

The room wasn’t huge, but had ample space.

The desk was big enough for me to work and spread out all of my papers. The desk chair was like a dining chair, it wasn’t on wheels, which I think is the first time I’ve come across this in a hotel. It was perfectly fine, just different from what I was expecting.

The desk area – without my special request

The bathroom was big and bright with a very large walk in shower and single vanity. The room was very well lit and had great water pressure and ample hot water.

Lovely large walk in shower.

 

Sleek and modern vanity and super modern toilet.

The minibar was stocked with a single small bottle of complimentary water. I do love an ice cold water, but I’d rather have two bottles a day. The chill was nice though.

Less stocked minibar, but with chilled water.

The view was unobstructed, not all that inspiring. Some views in Portland are absolutely stunning – the mountains or the river and bridges, but the big windows brought in a ton of natural light.

My view wasn’t too shabby.

The room did seem a little bare though, with only one piece of wall art. I’m not expecting a miniature museum, but it did strike me as odd that there was so much blank space.

The single piece of art on the wall.

Each time I interacted with a staff member on the main floor, I was addressed by name – which never happens at a Marriott for me. I get this at a St. Regis or a Parker or the Ritz…never at a Marriott. I asked for a couple recommendations from staff members too on this trip and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get awful recommendations for common chain restaurants. Every time I asked for something, I was offered a local option, within quick walking distance AND most importantly a personal anecdote about a recent experience at these restaurants. SCORE.

I’ve stayed at the AC chain by Marriott a couple times before and have enjoyed it. This stay in Portland was really quite lovely and I’ve already booked a return stay in a few weeks because of my experience. I slept really well (the bed was surprisingly comfortable too) and had very positive interactions with the staff the entire stay.

The hotel is located in downtown Portland, just a couple blocks from the Willamette River, the MAX (light rail system) and hundreds of amazing restaurants and shops. You really can’t go wrong with the location and if the service stays at this level, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Marriott in the area.

Where do you stay when visiting downtown Portland?

Hotel Special Requests

I recently spent a few days in Montréal, celebrating a friends 40th birthday. There were 18 of us, staying at various hotels downtown and the Village. I chose to stay at the Le Meridien Versaille. The other Starwood loyalists stayed here and at the W.

One of the guys at the W realized that he may have had a bit too much to drink when he originally booked his room. In the “Special Requests” section of his booking, he asked for “A framed picture of Kenya Moore, Miss USA 1993 on the night stand”. He didn’t remember this until he received an email confirmation that they had delivered.

Be careful when booking rooms while drunk.

When staying at the W, their motto is “Whatever/Whenever” and boy did they deliver. I can’t imagine what the hotel staffers were thinking when they saw this request. I’m not sure if they thought it was a joke and they had a good laugh about it, or if they thought it was an extremely creepy request…maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Miss Kenya Moore

Since this guy was so lucky with this oddball request, I decided to try something similar during my next hotel stay. I was not staying at the W – there aren’t any in Portland, but I was staying at the AC Marriott. I went back into my reservation and asked for something simple: A Framed Photo of Barrack Obama on the desk. The day of check in, I received a phone call at around 16h00 asking if I was going to actually check in and stay at the property that night – I totally thought they wanted to make sure the photo was in the proper room. I was stoked.

I get to my room, throw open the door and what do I find?

The desk area – without my special request

Nothing. They did not fulfill my request. There wasn’t a note or a comment about this request either.

Sure, I’m disappointed. Was it a crazy, silly request that really meant nothing – absolutely. Will I continue to try for something like this in the future – without a damn doubt!

Do you ever put in special requests like this? What’s your hit rate? Any suggestions for a future stay? I’m going to make this part of my normal hotel reservation process.

Ghent by Bike

Exploring a new city is best done by bike, don’t you think?  This holds especially true for a city like Ghent that has more than 400 km (248 miles) of cycling paths and more than 700 one-way streets where bikes can travel in both directions.  While the city of Ghent may not be as well known as a cycling city as Amsterdam, but is a huge part of the Ghent lifestyle.  I mentioned that our 1898 Post Hotel was surrounded by car-free streets – you’ll only find pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and trams.

We’ve had some amazing bike tours in ParisLondonBarcelonaMexico CityVietnamShanghai, South Africa, and Bruges. Most of these tours have been spent with us riding to, from and between some of the most famous sites in the area.  We’ve seen Notre Dame, Big Ben, the Gothic Quarter and the Bund on these rides, but in Ghent it was a little different.

First off, we didn’t book this tour until we were a day away from Ghent.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I was booking this tour while we walked around the Flanders Field American Cemetery on Memorial Day.  I found Bike Ghent on TripAdvisor and was impressed with the reviews.  Unfortunately the website wasn’t working properly when I tried to book, so I shot the owner, Christophe a quick email, which he responded by calling me back almost immediately.  He had another private tour planned for the day I wanted, but he offered to try to reschedule the previously booked tour, which was quite surprising.  He called back a few minutes later – SUCCESS.  Instead of meeting at his normal pickup point, we’d meet at the main train station.

Instead of touring the main historic cites, which are all centrally located in Ghent, Christophe took us around different parts of the city that tourists usually don’t see.  We left the station and traveled to Citadel Park, where Christophe told us that it was a pretty popular gay cruising park – a strange non-sequitur.  We continued along bike paths and main arteries learning the history of the area and how Ghent is transitioning into a modern 21st century city with co-work spaces and tech hubs.  The university system is large and diverse driving additional innovation.

The real focus of our tour also included the amazing street art scene in Ghent.  It was vibrant and diverse.  The murals were inventive added a fun level of whimsy to this urban space.  There was even a practice area near the old port where taggers can practice their trade, which was great to tour.  I was really digging the art – but if I had read this was a street art bike tour, I wouldn’t have signed up for it, but I’m so glad I did.

When you visit Ghent, do yourself a favor and call Christophe (the owner operator) of Bike Ghent, you won’t be disappointed.  He has a wealth of knowledge and makes the ride really fun providing a view of the city that you can’t get on your own.