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Pratic Hotel, Le Marais 

You can read all about my first visit to Paris here, basically, I fell in love with this city the moment we touched down at Charles de Gaulle in 2011. The past couple of visits, our time has been short in the City of Lights – often just a day or two. We would use points and stay in a beautiful Starwood property on Avenue George V, just off the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. For this trip, we wanted to be more frugal and wanted to get back into the neighborhoods.

Our first thought was to revisit our first Paris hotel, the Jeanne d’Arc, unfortunately, this specific weekend, that hotel was going for more than  €200 a night, which is nuts. In general, I say Paris is like New York or Las Vegas (huh? I know, bare with me). I’m not spending much time at all in the room, so I don’t need anything fancy. I need hot water in a private bathroom (I’m not walking down the hall and waiting in line to use the bathroom, fuck that), a door that locks and a bed that is comfortable enough.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do love the 180 square meter suite with two bathrooms and a fire place, but I’m here to see the city. I’m up early to get a pain au chocolat and I’m out late drinking wine in a cafe, watching the people. I just need a few good hours of sleep and a hot shower…and of course, I don’t want to get murdered as I sleep.

We chose the Pratic Hotel, which for four nights cost just €580 in total.  The hotel is just three minutes from the St. Paul Metro Station (Line 1) and surrounded by a young, vibrant neighborhood. This formerly Jewish neighborhood of Le Marais, is more of the gayborhood now, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Yes, there are same sex couple walking around holding hands, but you aren’t being kept awake by any loud clubs. It is a perfect little neighborhood with great restaurants, fun bars and it is so centrally located, you can literally get anywhere in the city in minutes.

The Pratic Hotel is small. There are six floors, each floor with four rooms. The rooms have private baths. The hotel has been renovated recently and is very clean – it has a sleek, modern feel.  The rooms are tiny. Our room was about four meters by three meters (likely less, you had to walk sideways to get by the foot of your bed (there was probably 10 centimeters (6 inches) of clearance.

The beds were firm yet, quite comfortable. The bathroom was new as well and had a small sink, a toilet and a shower. The shower reminded me of the room in Bolivia. The shower itself was so small, I dropped the shampoo once and had to get out of the shower to pick it up. I’m not a small guy by any means, but that is ridiculous (I’m 5’11 and 185 pounds). I even got the shock of my life as I turned around in the shower and I accidentally bumped into the faucet, turning the warm water icy. Now that’ll wake you up, and make you a little more mindful of your surroundings.

Our room – fourth floor – quite a tight space, but worked well for us.

The hotel has no elevator, so walking to our room on the forth floor (room 418) was tiring at the end of a long day. Paris was blazing hot when we were there.  The high temperatures were consistently around 30C-32C each day. Our hotel didn’t have air conditioning. We felt like we were cooking at night. We slept with our window open, which faced Place Saint-Catherine. The Place was busy until 02h00 each morning and was really loud. Interestingly enough the noise  didn’t bother us, despite the wide open window drawing in all of that party sound.

The beautiful and vibrant Place Saint-Catherine in the 4th.

We chose not to take breakfast at the hotel. This decision was made based on two factors 1) The hotel was going to charge €7/person and 2) There were dozens of great boulongeries in walking distance, where we could get a stellar meal for much less.

The breakfast room – we didn’t eat here, nor did we see anyone else during our stay.

The Pratic Hotel was nothing to write home about, but it met all of our needs, including 1) Reasonably Priced 2) Perfect Location 3) Safe and 4) Comfortable. I would consider staying at this property again, but it all comes down to price. If it is cheaper than the other options, book it.

Where do you stay in Le Marais? Do you have a go-to hotel, or do you reach for the best prices property? What other hotels do you recommend?

The Sights of Stockholm

I didn’t have much time to spend in Stockholm so I put together a list of things that I just had to see before I boarded my return flight home.  The first thing on the list was the Vasa Museum, which I wrote about recently.  I had also heard many good things about the ABBA Museum, but I’m not a huge ABBA Fan (perish the thought, I know) and the museum entry was quite steep – I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

Interestingly enough, Stockholm was dramatically warmer than Chicago the week I visited.  Chicago was -40C (-40F) when I left and Stockholm was 5C (41F), which was downright balmy!  By my second day in Stockholm the temperature had dropped closer to freezing and a bit of snow dropped overnight.  Despite the weather change it was still quite comfortable and didn’t impact my plans at all.

My visit list included a walk around Gamla Stan – or old town Stockholm – and while there I visited the Royal Palace and Museum and the Nobel Museum (which was undergoing some reconstruction work).  In addition to these main attractions, I wanted to get a better feel for the City – see the architecture and learn more about the people and history of the City.  This last goal required me to just wander around the City, turning down streets that looked interesting, popping into bars and restaurants that had an appeal and chatting it up with the locals.

The view of Gamla Stan from my hotel room…before the snow came in.

Old Stockholm. Despite being a bleak and dreary January day, the colors of these buildings and boats just popped.

The Nordiska Museum is dedicated to the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden. A truly stunning piece of architecture.

The Royal Guard – all buttoned up and warm. Unlike the Beefeaters, he was very friendly and we chatted for a bit.

The canons standing guard at the Royal Palace Museum with a fresh blanket of snow from the previous night.

My appetizer of herring with a potato, cheese and crackers.

Proper Swedish Meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. What trip to Sweden would be complete without eating your weight in the delicious meatballs.

I will usually check out TripAdvisor and see if there are any places that hadn’t made my list, but should have – or to check out the self-guided walking tours offered on the TripAdvisor App.  There was an interesting one for Stockholm – a tour of the various art pieces found in the Stockholm Subway Stations. Yes, I used my three-day transit pass to schlep between stations to checkout the modern and classical installations.  At a couple stations, locals asked me what I was photographing – so I told them about the self-guided tour I was on, and talked to them about the object I was there to see.  It was a really unique way to explore the art of the City.  At each stop, I also made sure to go above ground and at least take a walk around a block or two to see where I was and what the neighborhood was like.

Station Art depicting the devastation of the natural environment.

Ancient statuary adorned one of the Subway Station Art Stops.

Portuguese tiling surprised me at one of the stations. Beautiful, but completely unexpected.

The people of Stockholm were very welcoming and anytime I had a question (if I had gotten myself lost or needed a recommendation, for example). Even when I was just walking around the City, I didn’t hear Swedish being spoken – only English – which was a little disappointing.  On the flight the announcements were only in English and not Swedish.  I understand that everyone (or nearly) in Stockholm speaks English, but I was hoping to hear some of their native tongue.

What was the thing you just loved about Stockholm?  What did I miss on my visit?  Am I nuts for going to Sweden in January?

The Vasa Museum – Stockholm

The one recommendation that EVERYONE I talked to about Stockholm gave me was to visit the Vasa Museum.  The Vasa was a Swedish warship built in the early 1600s.  It actually sank on its maiden voyage after sailing a bit more than a kilometer.  Some items of value (cannons and other weaponry) were salvaged later in the 17th century, but the ship was basically forgotten until the middle of the 20th century.  It was raised in 1961 and housed in a temporary location until it moved to its permanent home in 1981.  The Vasa museum is dedicated to the history of the ship, the salvage efforts and the period in which it was constructed.  

I decided to visit the Vasa Museum my first day in Stockholm and I figured I’d spent about 90 minutes exploring the museum, maybe grab lunch at the museum cafe and then head on out to make headway on my to do list.  That plan fell apart pretty quickly, once I arrived at the museum.  I was enthralled!

I was utterly surprised at how interesting the museum actually was.  The Vasa was so much more grand than I was expecting.  While you can’t actually go on the ship itself, you can walk around it getting amazing views of the craftsmanship.  The brackish water really preserved the ship – 400 years underwater and the boat looks amazing.  The museum worked with craftsmen to repair parts of the ship that were damaged while it was submerged or during the recovery process.

The aft section of the Vasa – enormous in scale and history.

The intricate carvings transfixed me.

While you couldn’t tour the boat itself, the museum did have a ton of interactive exhibits where you could see what life would be like on board.

A sampling of the ornate carvings that adorned ships of this era.

I ended up spending nearly four hours exploring the Vasa Museum.  I did also grab some Swedish meatballs and a beer.  I’ve recommended this museum to others, with the simple comment that you’ll need more time than you initially think and everyone tells me that the did indeed spend hours longer there than they anticipated.  Who knew a 400 year old boat that sank immediately upon completion would be so fascinating?

Swedish Meatballs, Potatoes and Pickles at the Vasa Museum. Really great for Museum Food!

Have you been to the Vasa Museum?  How much time did you spend there?  The meatballs were pretty tasty too, weren’t they?

Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum Benefit Selection

As 2018 begins, I take stock of my various point and loyalty programs and realized, I just barely squeaked by, keeping Platinum Status with Starwood Preferred Guest – earning exactly 50 nights this year (with 24 stays).  With the recent merger of Starwood and Marriott hotel chains and the upcoming merger of their loyalty programs, I’m concerned that the new SPG Program will not be as lucrative – it will be more akin to the Marriott Rewards Program.  Friends who stay a ton with Marriott talk about never getting proper room upgrades or any other material benefits for their Platinum Status – which is why, I will likely stop chasing Platinum Status once the two programs fully merge – although the exact timing of that change hasn’t been announced yet.

That being said, I do find value in Platinum status with SPG.  No only do you get an additional point per dollar spent on SPG stays (compared to Gold Status), I find that when traveling outside the US, I will often get a nice room upgrade.  I almost never get a room/suite upgrade in the US though.  When you earn Platinum status by staying 50 nights (vs 25 stays) you get to select a special Platinum Benefit.  Historically, you’d just be gifted 10 Suite Night Upgrades (basically, an upgrade instrument that when used on an existing reservation, would increase your likelihood of getting a swanky Suite), but a couple years ago, SPG started to give you a choice between several options, including some Uber Credits (not worth it), gifting Gold Status to a friend (depending on the friend, it could be worth it) or donating to Charity.

This year the choices have changed a bit and include: One Free Hotel Night (Category 1-5); Five Elite Qualifying Nights (for current year!?); 10 Suite Night Awards; 40% Off Hotel Bed; Gift of Gold Status; Donation to UNICEF.

While I will never say I have enough hotel points, I’ve got plenty, and I figured choosing the Free Hotel Night wouldn’t work out properly for me – I’d either forget about it, or if I did remember it, I’d end up frustrated because the hotel I wanted to stay at wouldn’t accept the free night (nothing firm to base this on, other than my cynicism).

The Five Elite Qualifying Nights sounded intriguing at first, then I realized they were only for the 2017 qualification year and not for 2018.  This would ONLY be helpful if you were within five nights of the next status level – earned at 75 Nights.  I’m far from that threshold so this makes no sense for me know.

40% Off Hotel Bed – well, we already have a Westin Heavenly Bed – and I’m not really digging it.  This could be a good benefit for you, if you were looking to get a new bed.  This really isn’t helpful for me now.

Gifting Gold Status to a friend.  Years ago, United use to allow you to gift Silver status to friends and I got a lot of benefit out of this.  The friends I’d gift this to just loved it.  Gold Status with SPG could be good for a friend, but you only need to have 10 stays or 25 nights – which isn’t all that hard to get.  Plus, if you have Status with United, you can get some Status with Marriott (RewardsPlus crossover program), which will transfer directly to SPG.  If you have the American Express Platinum Card you also are granted Gold Status.  This benefit doesn’t really do anything for me now.

Finally, the UNICEF Donation…don’t get me wrong, I’m all about UNICEF, but I’m also selfish and want something for ME after staying so many nights at Starwood Properties.

That leaves me with just one choice – the 10 Suite Night Awards.  I’ve stayed in some amazing suite in Europe and Asia with these Awards and I want to continue that trend.  I don’t ever NEED a suite, especially when I’m traveling around Europe or Asia because we aren’t often in the room, but it is nice to spread out a little bit and not be as crowded.  As has been the case for several years now, I’m choosing these Suite Awards and hoping that my luck continues during my upcoming travels.

What would you choose?  Do you get many upgrades in the US or are you usually racking up the suite stays in Europe too?  What’s the favorite SPG Suite you’ve stayed in?

Popular Blog Posts

A couple weeks ago I posted my 2016 Travel Year In Review and I’ve done so for the past several years (2015, 2014, 2013, 2011 – yeah, I don’t know what happened with 2012).  I thought I’d share with you my most popular blog posts from 2016.  Let’s look at that metric two ways 1) The most popular post that was issued in 2016 and 2) The most popular post from any period in 2016.

Interestingly enough, both of these posts are reviews of premium cabin airline travel.  First, let’s take a look at the most popular post I wrote and released in 2016.  This post comes from February 2016 and goes into the details of my flight in Business on Austrian Airlines from Chicago to Vienna (OS66).  Such a great flight and a perfect way to kick off a long weekend in Vienna.

Austrian Appetizer

Austrian Appetizer

The most popular post of all time (and the most popular post viewed in 2016) is another airline review.  This time it is on Asiana’s unfortunately named Business Class called Quadra Smartium from Seoul to Chicago (OZ236).  I had two disappointments on this flight – they weren’t serving bibimbap (breakfast service only) and the outlandish fact that they ran out of champagne midway through the flight).

ROSSINI BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH DEEP FRIED POTATO AND MADEIRA JUS ON ASIANA OZ236 IN BUSINESS CLASS

Rossini Beef Tenderloin with Deep Fried Potato and Madiera Jus on Asiana OZ236 in Business/ Quardra Smartium Class

I’m not sure why these two posts are the most popular – I figured my flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok (TK 941) in First Class would have been the number one post.  They were some of my favorite flights I’ve taken and perhaps they are more approachable – business class seats cost fewer dollars and fewer miles than first – plus usually there is more availability for award seats in business class than in first.