Tim Foolery

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Sixt Rental Car Update

I wrote about our Thanksgiving Rental with Sixt Rental Car in France and how I thought their service was subpar.  Most of the comments/emails I received were basically in agreement, but not necessarily about Sixt – just that every Rental Car Company is crap and you should just focus on the best price and move on.  I don’t disagree with that, but I still think that basics of customer service should be adhered to.

After I posted my issues with Sixt, I received a very quick tweet asking for me to DM (Direct Message) my reservation info to them and they’d do more research.  That’s one of the great things about social media – after you’ve tried traditional channels to get a problem resolved you can take to Twitter or Facebook, etc and try again.

I sent our reservation info back and explained what had happened.  Then I waited.  And waited.  I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for.  I guess I had hoped that they’d reimburse us for the road side assistance extra expense we incurred because their assistance wouldn’t help us.  At least, I thought I’d get an apology that no one had gotten back to me, but that’s all they could do. What did I get? Nothing. I sent my info, as requested by Sixt and that was it.  No further correspondence or response period.

Honestly, I would have rather just been ignored, than have someone give me the indication that they’d look into the situation and offer assistance.  Just a tease.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  Their real time customer assistance was non-existent.

We are off to Italy in a few weeks and will need to rent a car again (God I hate rental cars) – even if Sixt is the best priced, I’m going to veto that rental.  I’d rather take my chances with another company and have the hope that if we do need assistance they’ll be there to help.

I know – I just need to let it go.  This is the last you’ll hear of my issues with Sixt.

Quick Tip – Booking Awards on United.com

As you know, each year we take a trip for Thanksgiving – not a family trip, but just an “us” trip.  We’ve gone to Ireland, Mexico City and most recently France/Switzerland.  Usually we’ll wait until summer to book — or if we hear of a great fare sale.  This year we are trying something a little different  – we aren’t going abroad, we’ve decided to stay in the US – again, skipping the family events though.

Once of the reasons we love traveling abroad over the Thanksgiving holiday is that flights in the US are outrageously expensive, while trips to Europe (and even Mexico) are cheaper than usual and often just a few bucks more than domestic flights.  For example, we toyed with the idea of going to San Diego last Thanksgiving.  The airfare was going to be nearly $850 — while our flight to Paris for the same days were basically the exact same price.  I love San Diego, but I love Paris much more.

Since we are traveling in the US over a hugely busy travel weekend, we decided we’d start looking now.  We’ll be spending time in Colorado and needed to fly into a smaller airport away from Denver (we didn’t want to have several hours of driving after our flight to Denver).  We did a quick spot check on the fares — which were running about $700 for less than ideal times and $950 for our preferred times.  I can’t pay that much for a domestic flight – something in my DNA won’t allow for that.

We flipped the switch on United.com to search for award space. Our outbound flight was coming in at 12,500 miles while the return was coming in at 50,000 – a total of 62,500 in economy.  I’d rather not spend that many miles for domestic flight either.  We decided we’d just hold off and see if the cost comes down.  Then it clicked.  MS wasn’t actually logged into United.com – he was searching as a guest.

Screenshot from UAL.com -  "MileagePlus Premier members may receive better search results by signing in."

Screenshot from UAL.com – “MileagePlus Premier members may receive better search results by signing in.”

United.com even offers a warning that Premier members may receive better search results by signing in.  A little “benefit” for being an Elite Flyer that I almost forgot about.  We signed in and managed to find the exact flight we wanted for only 25,000 miles each – coupling that with our outbound for 12,500 our trip would cost 37,500 miles per person versus the 62,500.  That savings of 25,000 miles means that I can take another cheap domestic flight in the future.

My advice – always make sure you are logged into United.com when you start your search for award seats – you’ll need to log in to use your miles, so save yourself some heartache during your search.

UAL 937 ZRH-IAD / UAL 751 IAD-ORD

Unfortunately, United doesn’t fly between Zurich and Chicago – so we had to stop over at IAD.  I haven’t had a domestic layover in years!  I’m use to connecting (if necessary) in Europe then landing at ORD and heading straight home.  It is good to try new things, right?

We arrived at the airport earlier than expected — traffic in Zurich was non-existent on a Saturday morning. Even after forgetting to fill up the rental car, leaving the airport to find a petrol station and backtracking to the airport we still arrived with about 90 minutes to spare.  We quickly checked-in (and checked our bags, because they were full of shoes, cheese curlers, books and chocolates).  I had the nicest and most efficient contract worker checking me in.  He was funny and like me, he really doesn’t like obese, entitled Americans.  There was this woman, who ended up being on our flight, checking in next to me. She wasn’t going to pay for her checked extra and over-sized  bags, she wanted an upgrade the first class and she demanded a chair (during check-in) because she just couldn’t stand any more.  All of these things are unreasonable.  1) Everyone knows you pay for luggage 2) Why would you get a double upgrade to First? 3) A chair? C’mon!

She had enough, so she sat down on the luggage belt.  To be fair, I didn’t hear the conversation, but the funny contact employee told me all about it.  But I know she did plop down shortly after I left.

Just couldn't take all the standing during check-in at ZRH.

Just couldn’t take all the standing during check-in at ZRH.

We made it through security and immigration without a delay or even a question. We debated on buying a fancy Swiss watch or some more chocolates, but decided it was best just to go to the lounge and have a drink.  We spent about 50 minutes in the Swiss Lounge, drinking prosecco (no champagne when we were there) and eating pastries.  The trip from the lounge to the gate was pretty quick and we soon boarded our flight to IAD.

Flight: United Airlines 937 / 751
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300 / Airbus A320
Seat: 20 A&B / 21 C&D
Departure: 11h45 (11h44)
Arrival: 18h05 (17h55)

This was a pretty standard set of flights, so I will offer a bit of guidance for folks who are flying coach on United to/from Europe

1) Meals are free on these flights, but as expected they are pretty mediocre. I always request the vegetarian option, which is usually a chickpea/lentil curry and is quite tasty.  If I ordered it in a restaurant, I’d never return to that restaurant, but or a “free” meal in the air on United, it is definitely the best option, I think.  They don’t bring too many of these meals on board, so unless you are sitting very close to the front, you won’t be getting this option.

2) Always bring your own water, these are long flights and if you don’t drink enough water you’ll be dehydrated by the time you land.  This can be tricky though, depending on the airport, you may get searched again at boarding and your water confiscated (even if purchased inside security).  I always take the risk – worst case scenario, I’m out a few bucks on water.  Dehydration is a key cause of jet lag.

3) Get up and walk during the flight.  If you are young and healthy/fit you are less likely to have blood clot issues (deep vein thrombosis), but you shouldn’t sit in a pressurized cabin for 8+ hours without taking a bit of a walk.  If you drink enough water, the getting up to walk will take care of itself.

We had a 90 minute layover at Dulles (IAD) which we thought would allow us ample time to get through customs and immigration, grab and re-check our luggage and even grab a glass of wine before boarding our flight to Chicago.  No, not so much. Even with Global Entry we had a long wait at Border Patrol and Baggage Claim.  By the time we got to our domestic gate, they were already boarding Group 3 (and we are Group 2) — so we walked straight onto the plane.  Cutting it a little close for my taste, that’s or sure.

The other thing of note, was that this domestic flight was on a newly retrofitted A320 with the Personal Device Entertainment System.  This is United’s new BYOD (bring your own device) in flight entertainment system.  At the time it was only available for Apple devices, so I used my iPad mini and was very pleasantly surprised.  The selection was good (as good as you’d get from an International United BusinessFirst seat) and the speed was perfect – I noticed no slowdown during videos at all.

All in all the trip home was easy and since we returned on a Saturday we had an extra day to relax at home and since it was the end of Thanksgiving weekend and we had a domestic connection, we missed the mayhem that travel day would have inevitably brought.

Our week in France and Switzerland came to a close and we returned to our real world jobs.  So sad to return, but feel very fortunate that we were able to have this experience.  What did you do for Thanksgiving?

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?

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?