Friday, May 31, 2013

I Spy Friday featuring Rotterdam

And once again, it's Friday.  The weeks are just flying by, aren't they?
It will be June tomorrow.  (How did that happen and where the heck is Spring?)

And June means that it has been one year since I've seen my daughter Jessica which really stinks. It's the longest we've ever spent apart.  And this has put me into a bit of a funk, if I'm honest.  I miss that child of mine more than I can ever express. Hopefully, we will get her over here for a visit SOON!

We've also given notice to the landlord and it's official.  We are on the hunt for a new home in London.  We've enjoyed living so central for the past year, but are looking
forward to finding someplace with a little more rural, village feel.
It's very exciting but also a bit of a challenge.
I'll be glad when we are on the other side of the move.
I'll keep you posted as we proceed.

Gee, aren't you glad you stopped by?
You pop in and I greet you at the door in tears and ratty pajamas.
(You should have been here yesterday for the full on hissy fit.)

Let's just move on, shall we?

RotterdamFor today's I Spy Friday, I'm going to share some more photos from Rotterdam.  

It's not usually the first place people visit when going to HollandAmsterdam and The Hague are usually at the top of the list.  But, Rotterdam shouldn't be missed.  

I was completely charmed by the city.  I loved that it wasn't completely overrun by tourists.  It's a city where people are living and working and going to school.  

I want to go back with Matthew and rent an apartment for a few days.  I'll never ride a bike in London.  Even Amsterdam, with all of its bike lanes, is a bit scarey for me.  But, I think Rotterdam is someplace where I could try riding a bike again.  It's been years, but I'd love to try it.  Rotterdam would be the perfect place.

Here are two of the places we visited on our post conference blog trip hosted by Rotterdam Marketing.   We started with a Tuk Tuk ride.  To be honest, it sounded much more fun than it actually was. 

Tuk Tuk Rotterdam 
The weather was not cooperating and we crowded in six people per TukTuk.  One of the drivers got completely lost.  And I swear our driver got ours up on two wheels at one point.  I was holding on for dear life.  But, I guess that's part of the experience, isn't it?.  I'm sure they are much more fun when the sun is shining. 

Our first stop was the Blijdorp Zoo.  We had a quick tour of a few highlights and a bit of behind the scenes stuff.  It's a great zoo and I'd love to go back on a sunny day to stroll through to see what we missed.  

Polar Bear Biljdorp Zoo Rotterdam

Totem Pole Biljdorp Zoo Rotterdam

Tropical Enclosure Biljdorp Zoo Rotterdam

The Oceanium was a definite highlight and a favorite photo spot for the bloggers.
A little peak behind the scenes also added to the experience. 

Oceanium Lab Biljdorp Zoo Rotterdam

Oceanium Tunnel Biljdorp Zoo Rotterdam

Shark Oceanium Biljdorp Zoo Rotterdam

Our next stop was the SS Rotterdam which was like going back in time. 
The ship was put into service in the 50's by the Holland America Line and once hosted iconic stars such as Frank Sinatra and the Dutch Royalty.  
It is now a hotel with restaurants and bars.

We had a great tour with Frank who spent 7 years in his 20's working on the ship and now volunteers to show people around the grand vessel.  It really got me excited about our upcoming cruise.

Gangway SS Rotterdam

Bartender SS Rotterdam

January 1959 SS Rotterdam

Ship Model SS Rotterdam

Couches SS Rotterdam

SS Rotterdam

Map Tools SS Rotterdam

Menu Plate SS Rotterdam

Bridge SS Rotterdam

50's Radio SS Rotterdam

I think "I Spy" some blue skies appearing outside which is quite wonderful.
Matt's parents are coming to visit this weekend to celebrate their 50th Anniversary!
And we are having dinner with some friends tonight.
I can feel my melancholy lifting as we speak.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tips for Finding the Right Hotel

Since I posted a few hotel reviews yesterday, today I thought I'd share some tips for finding the right hotel for your stay.  

"Tell me what you want, what you really, really want."

What's important to you besides just location?  Are the hotel amenities as much a part of the destination?  Or do you just need a clean, comfy space to drop your bags and sleep?  How much of your travel budget are you willing to spend on accommodations.  We usually go for a mid-priced hotel that is clean and comfortable.  One extra we usually look for is a restaurant/bar on site or within walking distance (no driving after a nightcap.)  We also typically will pick someplace unique over a mundane chain hotel.

"What do you think?"    " I don't know.  What do you think?"

We always go on the recommendations of others.  Our first stop is TripAdvisor.
I heard recently that TripAdvisor is a place "to either rant or gush", so you have to throw out the worst 5% of the reviews as well as the best 5%.  Then you can usually get a pretty good idea about a place.  You also want to pay attention to the dates of the reviews.  Things can change quickly with new management or new construction.  Another positive sign, is if managers are responding to reviews in a proactive way. 

"Location. Location. Location."

Along with TripAdvisor, when selecting a hotel we always have a tab open with Google maps.  Nothing is worse then being so far away from all of the activity that you can't pop back to the room to freshen up or grab something you forgot.  You should also take into account how close you are to public transport stops, just in case the weather turns on you.  (Side eye London.)  Street View is also very helpful as it shows you the surroundings.  Before we went to Paris we took a virtual walk around the hotel to see what was close by.  You can even use Google Earth to see if that pool really is as big as the brochure indicates and just how far is the walk to the beach.
"You paid how much for that?"

Perform a little internet magic to get yourself the best rate.  There are all sorts of discount websites that will give you a deal. But don't forget, that sometimes a direct phone call to the hotel might get you an even better price. And bundle deals with hotel and airfare, may not necessarily get you the lowest price.  Calculate it out both ways.  Also, if you are staying in hotels often, take advantage of the loyalty plans offered by most chains.  (But, read the fine print.  We missed out on some loyalty points because we booked through a discount site rather than direct.)

And one last random tip...

In the US, Best Western has a reputation of being one of the many middle-of-the-road, cookie cutter, highway hotels.  But in the rest of the world, it's completely different.  Most of their international hotels are boutique hotels that may have been privately owned for years.  They've met a standard of service, taken on the Best Western name and become a part of their franchise network.  We've always been very pleasantly surprised with a Best Western in Europe.  They have the amenities and standards that we like in a unique local setting.  So don't let the chain name, scare you off.  (I have absolutely no affiliation with Best Western.  I really just think it's a good tip.)

Do you have any good tips for finding the right hotel?

I've linked this post up The Expat Diaries!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Hotels in Rotterdam

My stay in Rotterdam included two very different hotels both with an international theme.
(Pretty appropriate for a travel blogger conference, right?)
But the theme is about all they have in common.  They couldn't be more different.

The first is the newly opened, luxurious Mainport which is where I stayed for the first four nights.
It's a very beautiful, modern Design Hotel located in Leuvehaven near the Erasmus Bridge.

The 215 rooms are spread over six floors each themed with a different continent.
(I was on the Orient Floor.)  The restaurant "Down Under" and the bar "On the Rocks" both with an Australian theme are on the lower floor.    And "Heaven" awaits you in the eighth-floor spa facility complete with a Turkish steam room and a hammam. 

As a delegate at the conference, we were offered a deeply discounted rate of €90 per night with breakfast.  I was upgraded to a Waterfront Sauna Room which was huge with a lovely view of the harbor.  This room would normally book for about €250 per night.  As the Mainport had just opened on the Monday prior, I was probably the first person to stay in the room.  It had all the extra little details that you'd  expect in a five-star hotel (not that I've stayed in many).

King Size Bed Mainport Rotterdam

Mainport Hotel Rotterdam Waterfront Sauna Room

Coffee Maker Mainport Rotterdam

Whirlpool Tub Mainport RotterdamSuana Mainport Rotterdam

 The whirlpool tub was wonderful.  An added little bonus was the TV within easy view hidden in the bathroom mirror.    Of course, I tried the Sauna.  It was a little scary as I've never used one and I was basically pouring water over an electric heating element.  (I had visions of electrocuting myself and not being found for days.)  Safety tip:  The water leaks right through to the floor making it slippery, so be careful.  

The conference was held on-site each day and the facilities and service were great, including lunch.  The only glitch was that the wifi wasn't quite up to speed.  You can imagine with 150 bloggers descending on them, they weren't quite prepared.  I quickly learned that nothing makes a travel blogger grumpier than spotty wifi.

When the conference ended, I packed up and moved to a different hotel for two nights for the post conference blog trip hosted by Rotterdam Marketing.

Hotel Bazar couldn't be more different from the Mainport.
They call themselves "one of the most unusual hotels in Rotterdam."
I'd call them the most unusual in Europe.
It was certainly the most unusual one I've ever stayed in.  

Hotel Bazar Rotterdam

Hanging Lanterns Hotel Bazar Rotterdam

Hotel Bazar Reception

Hookahs at Hotel Bazar

The hotel has just 27 rooms and is located above the Wereldeethuis Bazar which is very popular restaurant established in 1997 in a listed building.  The three levels were packed full every night.  And the breakfast that was included with the room was amazing.

Breakfast at Hotel Bazar

Now here is where Hotel Bazar gets pretty, well... bizarre.  Each floor is again a different theme... Orient, Africa and South America.  (The industrial lift only goes to the third floor, so if you're on the fourth be prepared to lug your suitcase up an extra flight.)

Staircare at Hotel Bazar
Colorful hallway at Hotel Bazar

South American Decor at Hotel Bazar

Ceiling Fan at Hotel Bazar Rotterdam

I was on the fourth floor which is their "South American" floor (I think they might mean Latin America rather than South America) and here is my room...
Frida Kahlo Room at Hotel Bazar Rotterdam

Frida Kahlo Room at Hotel Bazar

  First Communion Dress and Mask Hotel Bazar RotterdamRoom at Hotel Bazar Rotterdam

Frida Kahlo Room at Hotel Bazar 
Bathroom at Hotel Bazar

Isn't it wild?  It was just a mish-mash of stuff.  I was stunned when I walked in to see the multiple colors, fabrics, patterns, prints and textures.  One wall was papered with Mexican newsprint and was covered with prints from Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.  I love Mexico, so felt right at home.  There was a shrine with a little girl's first communion dress and a mask.  (Okay, that did creep me out just a bit.)

There was a poster of Fidel Castro above the toilet, because, well, why not?  The door opens out onto a stone balcony that is open all the way across.  (It had a good lock.) It was just the wackiest room.  

And the other blogger's rooms were just as crazy, all with a different theme. It was just wackadoodle and a bit wonderful.  It's probably closer to a hostel, than a hotel.  The single rooms are extremely small and they have a few very, large rooms that were quite exotic and just as unique.

The two nights accommodation was a complimentary part of the post-conference blogger trip, but this room usually goes for about €80.  Besides just being so bizarre, things were a bit shabby and rough around the edges.  But it was very clean and it was the best night's sleep I had.  I closed the black-out curtains, cracked a window and put the fan on and slept like a baby in fluffy, clean white bedding. 

Can you believe how different these two hotels are?
They are both terrific with something special to offer.

I would definitely stay at the Mainport again, if we were on that kind of budget.
But we usually stay someplace less expensive and spend the bulk of our travel budget on getting out and exploring.  We rarely use the spa facilities at a hotel.

I would stay at Hotel Bazar again just because it's so different and fun.  Plus the terrific restaurant downstairs is a definite bonus.  (Apparently, during the Summer this area of town is great for nightlife, so probably not the best choice if you want quiet.)

So, that's the tale of two hotels in Rotterdam.
Which one would you prefer?


Monday, May 27, 2013

Never Forget

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What I learned at TBU Rotterdam

Picnic Table Hostess at TBU Rotterdam

I usually try not to blog about blogging, but I really want to tell you about my experience at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Rotterdam. I had such a great time and met some fascinating people. 

Oh, the places we will go! started out as my personal little scrapbook.  We're traveling more and more and I'm writing and sharing photographs of our adventures.  I've had friends mention that I've inspired them to go to a certain place.   And I've had readers say they felt like they were right there with me while reading a post.  That's one of the best feelings ever.  I love to inspire people to travel.   

Blogging and travel were meant for each other.  Blogging is creative and interactive.  Travel is exciting and life-changing.  So when I read about TBU Rotterdam.  I thought... Why not?  If I want to be a better travel blogger, then I should go where they are gathered and see what I can learn. 

There were three full days of speakers, sessions, panel discussions and networking for the 151 participants.  I got just the inspiration and information that I needed.  At times it was like drinking from a fire hose.  There were discussions about Creating Content, Finding Your Niche, Social Media, and How to Tell a Good Travel Story.  They had some outstanding speakers. 

Welcome Reception for TBU Rotterdam Maritiem Museum
Welcome Reception at TBU Rotterdam Maritiem Museum

Welcome Reception for TBU Rotterdam Maritiem Museum

Fresh Oysters at TBU Rotterdam
Fresh Oyster?
There was also an awful lot of discussion about the professional aspects of travel blogging: Marketing, Branding, How to Cash in on Your Content, Sponsored Travel, and working with the Travel PR Industry. 

There are some really amazing things happening on a professional and commercial level.  But all of it was a little daunting.  I can't run with the big dogs and I don't even want to. But I do want to grow my blog and expand what I'm doing.

And I learned a lot about travel bloggers.  For instance, they can't live without wifi.  Social Media is king.  They will do just about anything for that perfect shot.  And they are extremely passionate about travel and blogging.  (You have to be passionate because making a living of it is rough.) 

The conference also got me thinking about what kind of blogger I am and where do I want to go with it.   Here's my simple takeaway.  

As with any creative outlet, there are a wide range of travel bloggers.   A blog is a meeting place.  So what kind of meeting place is it?  Maybe it's the School Gate where you share travel tips with other Moms.  Maybe it's a Reference Desk where people come for information and resources.  Or a Podium, where a blogger tries to influence opinion and change the world. They are all something different and special. 

I see Oh, the places you will go! as a little cafe table in a foreign place where we meet up to share a bottle of wine.  I tell you about my latest trip and you give me ideas for where I should go next.  We talk about travel or being an expat.  We share crazy stories and bitch about public transport.  We do that European double kiss thing as we part and make plans to meet up again soon.  At another cafe table in another place.  That's what I want this blog to always be. 

I'll be honest and admit that I would love to find a way that I can use writing and photography to bring income into our household.  It's something that I absolutely love doing.  If I can find a way to make money without jeopardizing my voice or alienating you, then I'm willing to put in the effort.  (I promise to be completely transparent and honest if I  ever do bring the commercial aspect into the blog.)

Besides all of the introspection and inspiration, one of the best parts of the trip was being able to join in on one of the Post Conference Blog Trips.  For two days, 10 of us were guests of Rotterdam Marketing and taken on an "Off the Beaten Track" tour of Rotterdam. 

Travel Bloggers and Rotterdam Marketing

 We had a blast and I can't wait to tell you all about Rotterdam.
It really is a great city.

As always, I value your input and would love to hear your comments.