Tim Foolery

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Austrian Airlines VIE-IAD (OS93)

My flight to Vienna was direct on Austrian, but they don’t offer a direct return on Sundays (at least during the off season), so I had to connect.  I found a connection through DC on Austrian in Business Class (with a return to Vienna a few months later in coach) for only $1,300.  It was a great deal and since I’d be flying Business, I’d be earning double elite qualifying miles which is a great leap to retaining Platinum Status on United.

I arrived at the airport for my return flight home to Chicago after my quick and wonderful weekend in Vienna.  The morning was a bit snowy but because I was taking the CAT (City Airport Train) I had no issues with traffic or timing.  The CAT is really the best way to and from the Vienna Airport.

Arriving at the Airport, walking up the stairs into the main terminal where Austrian operates, you could easily miss the Business Class and Elite (HON Circle Members, Star Alliance Gold, etc) check-in area.  While it is well marked, it is something you could just walk by and never notice.  Not all of the check-in lines were open, but the ones that were had only about 4-6 people in line. Unfortunately, those lines didn’t move very fast and each  person in front of me had more luggage than a refugee.  Again, I decided to check my roller suitcase, as Austrian can be sticklers when it comes to hand luggage rules.

The elite check-in area for Austrian Airlines. Business Class, HON Circle and Star Gold Members can use this area.

The elite check-in area for Austrian Airlines. Business Class, HON Circle and Star Gold Members can use this area.

I made it through security and immigration pretty quickly and found my way to the Austrian Lounge – there are two lounges, one for Business Class Passengers and one for Star Alliance Gold.  I was very disappointed when I was told I couldn’t enter the Business Class Lounge, because I was a Star Gold Member, even though I had a paid Austrian Business Class Ticket.  The Star Gold Lounge was completely packed – not a single seat was available, people were standing around, it was miserable and reminded me of the Swiss Lounge at O’Hare.

I decided to pop over to the Priority Pass Lounge a few meters away.  It sure wasn’t fancy, but I managed to get a seat and had a couple tomato juices and a bloody Mary before heading off to the gate.  I left the lounge about 20 minutes before boarding and as I walked to the gate, I snapped the Boeing 767 that would take me to Washington.

Austrian’s Boeing 767 parked in Vienna.

The gate area was blocked off into a standard economy section and the business class section – you were put into your section after your passport and boarding pass were checked again. Boarding began about 25 minutes before our scheduled departure.  There were about a dozen people who hopped on the plane before me.  We boarded through door 1L.

Flight: Austrian Airlines OS93 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 7K
Departure: 10h35 (11h50)
Arrival: 14h30 (15h31)

I was seating on the other side of the plane this time, in seat 7K – again, the seat closest to the window with the side table on the aisle, really, the best of the seating options on this flight.

As soon as I stowed my briefcase and sat down, I was approached by the flight attendant with water, apple juice and champagne as pre-departure beverage options.  Of course I enjoyed a lovely glass of champagne while the rest of the plane boarded and our menus were distributed.

Pre-departure champagne.

Pre-departure champagne served in a beautiful Riedel Glass

Like the previous flight, the chef came by and took our orders for lunch and the pre-landing snack while we were still on the ground, and I was served another glass of champagne.  Unfortunately the snow had picked up and we were told we’d need to head over to be de-iced and we were fifth in line for the procedure.  I started to get a little nervous since I did have a connection in DC and I really didn’t want to get home too late as I had to work the next day.

We waited on the de-icing pad for about 45 minutes until it was our turn.  15 minutes of de-icing and we were ready to take off.  The snow was really limited and I was surprised that we actually needed to be de-iced, I think we’d have just taken off if we were on a US based flight, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

An Austrian Airbus painted in classic livery.

The business class cabin was quite full and some people tried to take a nap before take off.

About two hours after our scheduled departure time and about 45 minutes after we actually took off service began.  I had another glass of champagne with some mixed nuts.  The nuts were ice cold, which was a little disappointing – I think the warm airline nuts are a nice treat.

Continuation of champagne and fresh nuts. Cold Nuts.

The meal service moved quite quickly.  The antipasti trolley made it’s way down the aisle and I picked one of everything, excepted for the smoked salmon – I am really not a salmon guy.  The octopus was quite good, and no one else on my aisle seemed to like it, so the flight attendant returned and offered me a substantial refill.

I sampled most of the antipasti from the trolley.

The next course was a very lovely tomato soup that was a little smokey and had a few small pieces of bocconcini mixed in.  I was very nervous about eating this soup – a deep red tomato soup on a plane always makes me think I’m going to be wearing the soup with just a touch of turbulence.  Luckily, I wasn’t covered in this tasty soup….this time.

The smoked tomato soup with bocconcini.

For my main course, I had the Viennese style veal goulash, which had a shockingly sweet sauce.  It wasn’t bad per se, it was just not at all what I was expecting and it actually paired horribly with the red wine the flight attendant suggested I have with this course.  The sauce was sweet and the wine was extremely dry, making for a cloying combination.  The spaetzle was really done perfectly though.

Viennese style veal goulash with homemade spaetzle

I was utterly stuffed after this course and couldn’t even bring myself to have cheese or dessert on this flight.  Take a look at my previous Austrian flight review to see how that turned out – the desserts were exactly the same (which is why I chose to steer clear this time).

After lunch, I decided to watch some movies on the in-flight entertainment (IFE). Again, since I had just flown this product 4 days earlier the movie and (dismal) TV selection were unchanged.  As I rewatched Murder on the Orient Express, I napped for a few hours.  I didn’t want to get too much sleep because I had to work the next day, I tried to focus on getting reacclimated to the Central Time Zone.  I also spent much of the flight watching TV shows on my tablet.

We ended up landing in DC about an hour later than scheduled, which meant we picked up about 30 minutes in the air.  Many passengers had tight connections and deplaning was a bit of a mess.  I got off pretty quickly, but then remembered the awful part of Dulles – those people movers that look like they belong on the moon.  I don’t know if you can bypass these monstrosities and just walk, but I boarded these futuristic contraptions and waited.  And waited. AND WAITED.  It took about 30 minutes from the time I hopped aboard until we started to move, then once we stopped everyone began pushing to get off.  Often times I’d rather have a long walk – at least I’m in control of that situation. Being at the mercy of these Star Wars style people movers just made my frustrated.

This was my first time flying Austrian Airlines westbound.  Heading this direction you aren’t focusing so much on sleep as you are on the eastbound journey, so I was able to slow down and enjoy the product and the service of it all.  I really do think that Austrian offers the best Star Alliance Business Class Product out of Chicago to Europe.  I’ll have to expand my horizons and try British, Iberia, Air France or KLM soon though.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines in Business Class?  Which direction is your favorite?  Don’t you just love the onbaord chef and the BLAZING Red Uniforms of the cabin crew?

The Bristol Lounge

We made the mistake on our first visit to Vienna of not eating dinner before the opera – thinking we could grab a meal nearby afterwards.  We were sorely mistaken – we ended up at an awful tourist trap with mediocre food and a surly staff.  This year, we decided to eat before the opera and then grab a simple dessert afterwards.

We had eaten an enormous and long dinner the night before at Steirereck and weren’t interested in another 700€+ dinner, but I really wanted something traditional and Austrian.  We hadn’t planned on dining in our hotel, but after a rain soaked afternoon of exploring the city, we found ourselves back in our hotel grabbing a drink at the bar.  While relaxing we were researching restaurants and the Bristol Lounge (the very place we were sitting) had many good reviews about their creation and presentation of Austrian Cuisine.  Plus it was right across the street from the Opera House.  But could we get reservations?

At first the restaurant was sold out, but as we left, we walked to the concierge at the hotel and asked if he could get us a couple of seats and we reminded them that we were going to the opera (I’d been working with the concierge staff trying to get tickets for weeks) and that we’d be out and they could reseat the table by 19h00.  The concierge hooked us up.

We ran upstairs and changed into our tuxes then popped right back down for our dinner.  We arrived a little before 18h00 and were escorted to our table in the Winter Garden, which is just a glass enclosed area of the restaurant that is fully heated and covered, so it didn’t feel like you were outside at all.  The stylish Art Deco design made for a comfortable place to dine.

The menu was full of great traditional Austrian courses, but also with more classical fine dining options as well.  As we were in black tie, the waiter immediately confirmed that we were going to the opera and he guaranteed that he’d pace everything to get us out on time – but we had to put our order in within 15 minutes or he couldn’t guarantee our timely departure.  Fair enough.

We had already scoped out the menu and decided on our selections before the menus were even delivered.  We also ordered a bottle of Austrian Pinot Noir, which was light and delicious – it even had a little of that dirt/soil flavor that I love so much from Oregon Pinots.

The bread course came out with the wine.  The breadboard was great – with a small cutout for the butter, which was topped with pink salt flakes – we devoured the bread, which was served very warm.  God I hate when you get a cold piece of bread and cold butter – you just end up tearing it to shreds.  Everyone should serve bread like they did at the Bristol.

The bread course was served piping hot with rich olive oil and creamy butter topped with pink salt.

Dinner started with an amuse bouche chilled beets, which was surprisingly tasty.  So often, I find the complimentary amuse to be…well, not amusing, just forced and wasteful — or at worst, designed poorly and can start to wreck your palette.  This was neither – I did want another bite though.

The beet amuse bouche was quite chilled and refreshing

The beet amuse bouche from elevation.

I continued on with the Champagne Risotto, which had great flavors with mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, but was piping hot.  When I make risotto at home, I always make mine nice and creamy, which is easy to do with Arbolio Rice.  This risotto was pretty dry – it wasn’t quite a pilaf, but it felt closer to the pilaf side of the spectrum than the risotto side.  After it cooled quite a bit, I dug it.

The Champagne Risotto with mushrooms and tomatoes tasted great – it wasn’t a creamy risotto which disappointed me.

Finally, the entrees arrived – my Weinerschnitzel almost covered the whole plate and was served with half a dozen small potatoes with parsley.  I really hate when you get a schnitzel larger than your plate and find that the meat somehow shrunk and mostly what you have is breading.  This wasn’t like that at all – every bite had a lovely thin slice of veal and with the lemon juice sprinkled on top, made for a perfect dinner.

The Weinerschnitzel was the best I’ve had and the parsley potatoes were perfect.

We wanted dessert, but didn’t have time.  Unfortunately we still had about a third of our bottle of wine left too.  Our server suggested he reserve a table for us after the show so we could have dessert and finish our wine.  Stellar idea!

After seeing Carmen, we walked back across the street, in the snow and wind, to the Bristol Hotel to find the Lounge completely packed.  The opera let out and people flooded into the lounge for a cocktail.  We found our server who greeted us with a big smile and a hearty handshake.  Leading us to a corner table that would seat six (but just for us two), we found two wine glasses and the dessert menus waiting for us.  We had just walked past three couples waiting in line too.  It was a wonderful way to close out the day – a delightful chocolate cake and finishing off our Austrian wine.

The service and the food were really top notch.  Unless I have a compelling reason to eat in our hotel’s restaurant, I’ll usually skip it and explore more of the city – in this case, I recommend you stop by the Bristol Lounge for a wonderful dinner and if you are heading to the opera afterwards, even better.  Just be sure to let the server know you want to come back for dessert and they’ll take care of you.

What are your thoughts on dining in your hotel’s restaurant?

Westin Riverwalk San Antonio

Those who follow me on other social media outlets know that I recently spent time in San Antonio. It was my first visit to the nation’s 7th largest city – yeah, I was shocked by that stat too (New York City, LA, Chicago, Houston, Philly, Phoenix then San Antonio). There were just a couple of Starwood properties in this city and since I was there for a major conference most of the hotels were going for about the same price. I chose the Westin on the Riverwalk, it looked nicer than the Sheraton must down the street.

We arrived around 22h30 and were greeted by the signature Westin scent (White Tea) that is piped throughout the building. I always love this smell when I arrive and after I return from a long day but it does start to wear on me after a while. Two people were working reception and as we made our way through the lobby they turned on their huge smiles and both welcomed us.

I didn’t get the 10 minute run down of all the hotel amenities, which I appreciated. We were offered breakfast or points as our welcome amenity, I chose points as I’m not really a breakfast guy and since I was traveling for work, I could expense the breakfast, if I chose to take one.

We were offered a standard king room on the 15th floor, so I asked about any Platinum Upgrade options. She typed a way for a bit, wrinkled her nose and said she had a Studio Suite on the 4th Floor, but the street noise may be annoying. Since I was going to be here for six days, I really wanted a bigger room. I told her we’d take the bigger room and if it was too loud we would change – she had no issues with that plan so she gave us our keys and as we walked away told us the hours of the pool, the gym and the spa, all located right next to our room. This gave me more pause as I don’t want a loud gym crowd keeping me up, but it ended up being a total non-issue.

The room was exactly as she described – a King Studio Suite. As you walk in, the bathroom is immediately to your right. The bathroom was large with a single sink in the vanity, a separate tub and walk-in shower. The toilet was tucked into a little alcove – not completely separate or private, but tucked away.

The bathroom was quite large, but I really don’t dig the sliding door.

Large separate tub and walk in shower – the tub didn’t get used this trip though.

Single vanity with standard Westin amenities.

The toilet was secluded in a far corner.

As you enter the main room, you find a ton of space. There was a sitting area with a couch, side chair and a coffee table, positioned so you could watch the TV.  The furniture was a bit old and rough, but was comfortable enough. I ended up working from the couch as often as I worked from the desk area.

The couch looked a little grungy, but it was comfortable enough – we may have put towels down when we sat on it.

The seating area was a nice touch in this large studio suite.

The desk area was quite large and allowed me to get a lot of work done in this trip – I was even able to have my papers strewn all over the place. There were a ton of outlets on the desk too – a power strip on top and another affixed to the side. It was easy to keep all my devices charged and close at hand while working.

The bed was a proper king bed, unlike those false queen beds I had at the Embassy Suites O’Hare a few weeks ago (those were full/standard, definitely not a queen). The bed was relatively comfortable, but the pillows were utterly awful. They felt like feathery bricks. I asked twice for the pillows to be swapped out for different feather free pillows, which never happened. There weren’t any accessible outlets near the bed either, which is definitely one of my big pet peeves at a hotel.

The king size bed with feather/brick pillows.

I visited the pool a couple times on this trip too and despite the pool bar using mixes for the piña coladas, they were really great. I asked for double dark rum floaters on each beverage and they really made the pool all that much more enjoyable. The bartender at the pool even came out to see if we needed refills while we were in the water. It was lovely.

The only other thing of note was the hotel internet. I got back to my room one evening and wanted to get some work done, but the internet was down. I called the front desk and they said that they do a nightly audit on internet access (basically making sure that people using the network are still staying at the hotel). This process takes a few hours and access is restricted. I have never heard of this before. A late night internet disruption likely doesn’t impact many people but it sure is frustrating. When I checked out I commented on the internet issues and the woman working reception said she never heard of such and audit, but they did have some frequent internet outages. Which is more frustrating, I don’t know?

All in all, I would return to the Westin Riverwalk during my next visit to San Antonio. It was centrally located, had a lovely pool and pretty great service. The main hiccups are the pillows and the internet.

Where do you stay in San Antonio? Do you think the Riverwalk is a bit overrated too?

Hotel Bristol Vienna – A Luxury Collection Hotel

My flight on Austrian Airlines landed a little late, but since I couldn’t be guaranteed check-in at the hotel until 15h00, I didn’t mind.  I hopped on the City Airport Train (CAT) and made my way from the Airport through Wien Mitte to Oper/Karlsplatz U-Bahn Station.  Last time I visited, I left the underground from the wrong exit and wandered aimlessly trying to find the hotel. This time I followed the signs to the Opera House and emerged exactly where I needed to be.

I’ve stayed at the Hotel Bristol before and really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to stay again and I found that the price was a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I used Starwood Preferred Guest Cash+Points for the two nights – which cost 110USD+6,000 points each night.  The value was there for me on this stay.  I also used two Platinum Suite Night Upgrades to move us from a standard room to an Opera Suite – the same room type I had last time.

I walk into the hotel lobby at around 10h15 and was greeted with a cheery “Good Morning.”  After my relative success on the Austrian Airlines flight, I attempted to continue my German language practice.  I was tired and it fell apart pretty quickly.  The folks working at reception did try to play along, but my mind just wasn’t in it.  We finished the check-in process in English.

I was surprised that my room was ready for me immediately. So often, when landing early in the morning in Europe your room isn’t ready for hours – which just makes that first day a struggle. I want a shower, I want to take a quick nap – I don’t want to sit in the lobby and wait and I don’t want to go exploring while feeling all dingy.  I was escorted to my room by the bellman and the receptionist.  I didn’t need two staffers helping me – I had just a briefcase and a roller bag, but the service was a nice touch.

Our Opera Suite was on the fourth floor of the hotel, looking directly out onto the beautiful Opera building.  The huge suite is perfectly appointed to entertain before the opera.  As you walk in, you encounter various hallways, leading to the bedroom or the salon.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The main seating area was enormous and filled with classical music our entire stay.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – Main Seating Area in Suite

The salon is large with multiple seating areas, including a small dining area, perfect for a morning breakfast or an afternoon tea.  The fireplaces were all faux, but still gave the warmth (both because they hid a radiator and the style) of a bygone era.

When we entered the salon, a Mozart CD was playing.  A fitting accompaniment to the room, the view and the overall vibe of the hotel.

The salon has a small, but full bathroom attached (sans bathtub, but with a full shower).  This is excellent design when hosting a pre-Opera party, no need for your guests to traipse through your bedroom.  It is truly a luxury to have a hotel room with two bathrooms – I love it.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The second smaller bathroom

Moving back through the salon to the bedroom, you immediately see how grand the sleeping quarters are. The king sized bed does not dwarf the room itself.  An additional sitting area, writing desk and huge closet system also fill this room – but with ample space to maneuver – and to try on various outfits before the opera.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Bedroom with King Bed and seating areas

Bristol Hotel Vienna – faux fireplace in the bedroom

Bristol Hotel Vienna – Bedroom Desk

The main bathroom, off the sleeping area, was quite large with double vanities, a walk-in shower, a large separate tub and the requisite toilet and bidet.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Main Bathroom with double vanity

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Main Bathroom with separate shower

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Main Bathroom, with toilet and bidet plus a huge bathtub

There was also another hallway and closet area – you can never have enough closet space when you are hosting a pre-opera party, I guess.

Bristol Hotel Vienna – The Hall Closet

The Hotel Bristol is truly a five-star luxury hotel and one of my favorite Starwood properties in the world.  I sure wouldn’t want my home decorated like these amazing Opera Suites, but I do love the opulence and splendor whilst on vacation.  The Hotel has quite the history too – as it was first constructed at the end of the 19th Century and hosted many of the world’s most famous people, including Teddy Roosevelt and George Gershwin – who was working on “An American in Paris” while staying here.  Most famously the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson stayed in 1936 during their affair.

It wasn’t always sunshine and luxury at the Bristol though.  In the early 20th century, Samuel Schallinger, a Jewish businessman, owned a stake in the hotel, but was forced to sell in 1938. He was then deported from Austria to Germany where he died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  A horribly dark part of the rich history of this magnificent hotel.

Vienna is an incredibly easy city to get around – with so many things within walking distance, and a really great transit system – this hotel couldn’t be situated in a better spot.  Being just meters from the Vienna State Opera, the U-Bahn, Streetcars, the City Park and countless museums, you’d be hard pressed to find a better hotel.

Hotel Bristol – View from our Opera Suite

Hotel Bristol – View from the Opera Suite. The State Opera is a magnificent building.

When I return to Vienna – I don’t know when that will happen, but I know it will soon – I will definitely stay at the Hotel Bristol again.  The space is beautiful, the service team is truly stellar and it feels like my home in Vienna.

Where do you stay while visiting Vienna?  Which Starwood Property is your favorite in the world?

A Weekend in Vienna

Having no real travel in the first quarter of 2018 really started to wear on me.  I decided to take a long weekend (Thursday through Sunday) and visit Vienna.  I had been to Vienna once before, also for a long weekend and will undoubtedly have more opportunities to visit in the coming years – so I don’t feel obligated to hit it hard and see everything on one trip.  The purpose of this trip was to escape from the daily winter work life in Chicago, cash-in some miles and points and get away.

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Vero you’ve seen some of my time in Vienna (and if you don’t, you should).  This trip was like almost all of my trips, centered around good food, exploring a city, experiencing it’s art, culture and history — and finding a nice glass of wine along the way.

Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be posting about key parts of my trip, including:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my trip and get suggestions from you all for my future trips to Vienna.  What am I missing?  What shocks you that I haven’t seen?  Do you have a favorite dessert place you always go?