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Shangri-La Sydney: amazing view and amazing staff Jul 01

IMG_6086We decided to stay at Shangri-La in Sydney as it looked like it had a good location and as we are Golden Circle Jade members. We took a taxi into the hotel from the airport and in the lobby area there was a long line of people waiting to check in and out. But we asked one of the staff and we were sent to the horizon lounge on level 30 were we got a great welcome by the lovely Emily. There was a line of people waiting there as well but at least there we could sit down after a long flight and relax while waiting for the check in. And what a view there is from the Horizon lounge on the 30th floor! I think this must be one of the best locations and views in Sydney as we had a great view to Sydney Harbor Bridge and the opera house from the lounge. We enjoyed some coffee and juice in the lounge while Emily checked us in and I got room 3417. I booked this online and I had to pay 305 AUD for the room – as we were booking my colleague got the last room on the Horizon level (executive level) but when we checked in I got a complimentary upgrade to Horizon level. It was also possible for me to pay to get access to the horizon lounge but as I where there with a colleague it was sufficient that he had access.

IMG_6088My room was located on the 34th floor and it looked good at first glance. A hallway lead into the room and the bathroom and wardrobe was to the left. The room had a soft and light brownish carpet and the main item in the room was of course the bed with a golden bedspread. There were two chairs with a small table and on one of the walls there was a desk for working and a small desk that contained some fruits that I got and underneath was a small fridge. The wardrobe contained hangers, a safe and a robe.

The bathroom was old school with yellowish tiles and patterns on the floor. But there was both a shower corner and a bathtub and the amenities included shaving kit, toothbrush, emery boards, bath salt etc etc. The shampoo and shower gel was very nice and I enjoyed them during my stay. The best part of the room was maybe the incredible view. Located on the 34th floor I had a view towards the harbor including the opera house and I could see the sun rise every morning – just incredible.

IMG_6089The location of the hotel was pretty good at least for me as I was working in the city center. And from the hotel it is only a couple of minutes walk to “The rocks” area and down to the harbor.  We used the lounge quite a lot as we were working there after the regular work hours. The staff in the lounge on the 30th floor was just great – we experienced service that we normally just experience in Asian countries. A bit thank you to Emily, Jasmine, Jerry, Alexis and so on for being so generous to us. At night there is complimentary drinks and snacks from 6 to 8 and it is always a bit tempting to have some – the stuff they had to eat was quite delicious so be careful to not eat too much if you want to enjoy a dinner later on. They were also very, very generous with the drinks and they had various wines to offer – but a word of advice to the staff: you should be careful calling the Australian sparkling wine for Champagne ;-). We also had breakfast in the lounge and they had a small selection of stuff that you need for breakfast there.

We had to leave the hotel early one morning to fly back home and we left at 5.30 AM. When we came to the lobby they said that we could get the hotel car to take us for 50 AUD in a big BMW X6 – we used this offer as it was the same that we paid the taxi when going from the airport to the hotel.

IMG_6097But there are always some things that can be improved. The lounge is located on the 30th floor and stretches up to 34th floor. I’m not sure if this was the problem but it was more or less always freezing in the lounge and we were sitting around with jackets on. We told the staff several times but as it was central heating there was not much they could do about it. The lifts were also a bit moody – some would read the cards to get to my level and some would not, some would indicate when arriving at a floor and some not. And I did not get the small things that I’m entitled to as a Jade member but it didn’t really matter – I was just happy with the room upgrade. All in all this was a great hotel experience. The rooms might be a bit too old school for me but they seemed to be in good condition. I also enjoyed the view, the complimentary wi-fi in the room and lounge and the incredible staff in the lounge. Travels would be so much fun if all hotels were like this.

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St. Regis Bangkok: new luxury hotel with quality in all the details Jun 25

IMG_6023I have been to Bangkok a few times and I have stayed at hotels like Plaza Athenee, Sheraton Sukhumvit, Westin, Lebua, Centara CentralWorld, Le Meridien etc just to give some sort of idea of my experience with hotels in Bangkok before reading this review. I normally try to stick to Starwood hotels these days as I have a Starwood gold card and that can of course bring some benefits. This time I choose to stay at St. Regis as they had a special opening offer as the hotel opened recently and because the location seemed pretty good. As usual I booked the hotel online of Starwood Preferred Guest and the rate was 7300 Bath excluding taxes. This offer also included breakfast for two or dinner for two, complimentary internet and a 1000 Baht voucher for Elmis spa.

IMG_6007Getting the airport taxi staff to understand where we were planning on going was not easy. First of all it is a new hotel in Bangkok and Thai’s normally struggle with some of the sounds in the St. Regis name. But we explained that it was on Ratchadamri road and next to another hotel. At the hotel we were welcomed and a woman took us to the reception on a higher level. Check in was not done in the regular way standing at a desk – instead it was done by sitting down in comfortable chairs while getting everything sorted out. Check in went fast and I was taken to my room 2005. The room was very impressive at first glance – IMG_6006the floor being with white tiles to start with and the rest in darker wood. To start with there were the usual wardrobes with lots of hangers, a small safe, robes etc. There was room enough for my large Samsonite suitcase to be placed between the wardrobes and I appreciate that. There was a large Samsung TV and in the furniture underneath it there was a fridge that even included a half size bottle of champagne – you don’t see that every day in hotel fridges.
IMG_6008The bed was huge and quite comfortable but the pillows were a bit too big and hard for my liking. There was also a desk with two chairs and a two seat sofa with a small table. And then there was a beautiful view of “The Royal Bangkok Sports Club” from windows stretching from floor to ceiling. The bathroom was set up it a genius way – there were sliding doors between the bedroom and the bathroom and hence it was possible to make it into a full room with 4 walls. The bathroom was tiled with light tiles, included huge mirrors, a modern style bathtub, two sinks and a large shower with a huge rainforest shower head. There were also very good amenities and the shower soap even included some scrubbing grains. There were also tooth brush, shaving kit, mouth wash etc. The towels were huge and soft. The toilet was in a small separate room in the bathroom and I think that it a good idea.

IMG_6012The breakfast was included in my room rate – I normally don’t eat that much breakfast but it is always interesting to take a look at the selection. Some of the Bangkok hotels have an enormous selection of food at the breakfast buffet. At St. Regis it seemed to be toned down a bit and hence it was not as impressive as other buffets. But the hotel did have all the stuff that you normally need – bread, selection of cereal, various fruits, various cold cuts of Italian ham and sausages, a selection of eggs in various ways made according to your order. I did not try the restaurants at the hotel but they have a hotel bar with the same great view over the sports club. There was even a sword on the bar and it seems like they use this every night when opening the champagne bottles.
The pool area was not huge but it actually looked like there was quite a lot of sun during the day in the pool area. In addition to this it seems like they also have a nice spa and exercise room at the same floor.

IMG_6011Location of the hotel is very good – as you have the skytrain station right outside the door it is easy to get around. But you can also walk if you can stand the Bangkok heat. It is only about 700 meters to CentralWorld or a bit longer to the start of Silom road.
But there is no such thing as a perfect hotel and here are some of the things that can be improved or things that didn’t work out quite as I expected at the hotel.
The internet was complimentary in my room rate but normally this is something that costs like 500 Baht per day. In these modern days I would like to see the internet for free at hotels. The internet also stopped the second I checked out of the hotel!
I also had free pressing of 4 items in my room rate and I got in touch with the butler service to get it picked up. But when I came back to the hotel at night the shirts had not been picked up and were never picked up at all.

The shower was great but the problem was that it was leaking out on the bathroom floor – I hope this is fixed soon as it is annoying with water splashing around on the floor.
When I booked the room online I got e-mails from both the reservation desk and the butler service asking me the same questions. This shouldn’t be necessary.

Conclusion
IMG_6005Despite of the few problems that I have mentioned above, I have to admit that this is one of the best hotels that I have stayed at in Bangkok and even around the world. The reception was great and the staff seems to be highly focused on giving the customers an exclusive experience. The room itself was beautiful and there seemed to be quality in all the details ranging from furniture, leather casings for everything to the great amenities. When I checked out I mentioned some of my “problems” as a feedback to the hotel and this was picked up by the assistant manager. She gave me her card and took the time to listen to my feedback and I appreciate that. I would not hesitate to stay at the hotel again if the price is right. It is a true luxury hotel! You can find more info on the hotel homepage.

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Things that annoys me just a bit.. May 22

I travel a bit both for pleasure and business and there are a couple of things that annoys me just a bit. It is not like I loose any sleep over these issues but they do puzzle me. First up…picture that you are landing with a plane somewhere. After the wheels touch the ground the flight attendant normally starts announcing “Welcome to [the city you are landing in], please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened…etc etc” You know the drill if you have been on a few flights. In Norway they also announce that cell phones should be remained switched off (as e.g. SAS does not allow flight mode during take off and landing) until the fasten seatbelt sign has been switched off. So what is the first sound you hear while the announcement is in progress? Of course it is the start up tune from various Nokia, SonyEricsson and other cell phones. I’m not sure it would kill people to just respect the rules and keep the phone switched off for another 60 second (it doesn’t take long to park at the gate at e.g. Stavanger airport) – is it really that important to switch on the phone to check your messages? Most of the time the passengers have to wait a bit inside the plane after it has been parked as it takes a bit of time for passengers to disembark. This means that you actually have a chance then to switch on the phone.

The next thing that puzzles me is the situation around the baggage belt. For some reason people rush to the baggage belt and most of the time they get there before their luggage. So where is the natural place to park your trolley? For most people this seems to be right next to the belt…as close as possible so that no one else can squeeze between the trolley and the belt. I’m not sure why people do this…it is not like the baggage will come any faster due to this. This wall of people and trolleys makes it almost impossible to see when the suitcases comes onto the baggage belt and when it does, you have to break through the wall of people to get it. And even if the people are about to get a 25 kg heavy and huge Samsonite suitcase right into their legs, they still don’t want to move as they want to make sure that they occupy the little space next to the belt. This has been mentioned on various travel sites and this normally sparks a debate. In the debates almost everyone agrees that this is annoying – so how can it be that 99% of the passengers coming out of the plane is squeezed into the baggage belt? I guess we will never know Winking smile

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Best travel apps for the iPhone May 09

I love the iPhone as a travel gadget – there are lots of very useful tools (and quite a number of rubbish tools as well) that you can download as apps. AOLTravel has looked into that and here is their list of the 11 best travel apps. One of the apps on the list this year is Gowalla , the app that allows you to check in at places when you travel, write something about them and build a sort of virtual passport as you go along. I think it is a fun app and you can see my profile on http://gowalla.com/users/gardkarlsen . I think Google MyMaps is probably the best travel tool on the iPhone but note that accessing the internet and using apps that require data traffic can be very, very expensive indeed (I experienced this in 5 minutes in Shanghai). The solution can be to buy a new sim card when you travel as that is normally not that expensive. What are your favorite travel apps?

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TripAdvisor Travelers’ Award 2011 May 05

It is that time of the year again. Good old TripAdvisor has published the list of the best destinations – the Travelers’ Award 2011. But let’s not beat around the bush – the winner this year is Cape Town in South Africa. I have had the pleasure of visiting this city a few times and it is a beautiful city indeed. It can offer spectacular mountains, amazing views from the top, beautiful beaches, excellent wine districts close by and great restaurants at affordable prices. So if you have a chance to visit Cape Town don’t hesitate – it is recommended. Here is a Cape Town trip report with photos, links and maps that I made after our last trip there. This list continues with places like Sydney, Machu Piccu, Paris, Rio, New York City, Rome, London, Barcelona and Hong Kong – many of the usual suspects in other words. Click on the links on the various cities to read my trip reports. I also had the pleasure of visiting Sydney twice last year but that was more or less “all work and no play” so I don’t have the same feelings for that town as I have to Cape Town. Well, click on the TripAdvisor logo on top to get to the Travelers’ Award 2011.

Sauna experience in the room at Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes London Apr 26

We stayed at Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes during Easter of 2011 (from April 19th to April 24th) and I booked it online. We were a bit in a hurry when checking out so I totally forgot to take photos of the room – what an amateur. Anyway, we found the hotel without any problems (after all we use Google StreetView for what it is worth) but entering the hotel is a bit weird – you enter right into a small desk and a bar and I was a bit confused at first. But then I looked further into the room and noticed the check in desk was further in. Check in was fast and we were assigned to room 310 – there is just one small lift that can be slow but at least you don’t have to carry the suitcase to the room. I normally just used the stairs when coming down as I didn’t want to wait around for the lift but note that the stairs are a bit steep and narrow.

The room we got was a pretty decent size compared to other London hotels we have stayed at. The walls were painted in light yellow and there were light wooden floors. All in all the room looked pretty new and fresh so first impression was very good. The king-size bed was not too bad but it was a bit “springy” but at least soft enough for me – it only had one duvet but that didn’t turn out to be a problem – I’ll get back to that later on.

In the room there was a flat screen TV, there was a minibar that we didn’t use, a desk and chair – the desk had lots of plugs for charging our phones and stuff and we actually didn’t need to use the converter as one of the sockets fit to our Norwegian plugs. We had a window to Baker street and there was a bit of noise from the street but it was not a huge problem. There was enough light in the room but it was a bit weird that the switch to turn on my reading light over the bed was located at the other side of the bed – and vice versa. I think they must have done a mistake with the wiring ;-)

The wardrobe contained a few hangers but it was a bit on the small side for the two of us as it also contained the ironing board/iron and a safe. But it was at least great that there was an iron in the first place. I like the fact that the floors are wooden compared to carpets but it also introduce a few other challenges – our floor seemed to make a bit of squeaking noises when we walked around in the room. There were also some squeaking noises from our desk when the people in the room next door were walking around.

The bathroom was quite stylish – a bit on the small side but with tiles on floor and walls and with a proper shower corner that avoided splashing and good towels. The shower pressure was very unpredictable – one second I was blasted with great water pressure and the next there were hardly any water – I guess that happens when many take a shower at the same time? The amenities was limited to shampoo, shower gel, lotion and shower cap but the shampoo and soap was not bad at all. One thing that was a bit unorthodox was the door between the room and the bathroom – it is a glass sliding door. It is more or less frosted but it doesn’t provide 100% privacy.

The hotel had a pretty good internet policy – you could get an internet connection for free via wi-fi but it was a slow line or you could pay for it to get a better connection. Not a bad solution in my opinion. There are also a couple of PC’s located in the lobby area near the elevator and it seems like the user there was free of charge.

The location of the hotel is quite good – located on Baker Street it is only a couple of minutes away from the Baker Street tube station and this station has a couple of good subway lines to get around London (see location in this Google map). It is also possible to walk to Oxford Street in like 10 minutes. There are lots of places to eat in the area – we did not have breakfast included in the hotel but we could get breakfast at places like Eat, Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Canteen etc.

But I also have to mention things that were not that great. The room was quite warm when we checked in but I adjusted the air-con to 15 degrees as I thought that would solve the problem – but at night we woke up and we were soaking wet and the air-con did not seem to have any effect to the temperature at all. Some friends of ours also stayed in the hotel and they had the same problem and on Gowalla I saw a comment about the same thing (and that comment was given in the middle of winter). So in the end we have to turn off the air-con and open the window but that resulted in a bit of noise from the street. I see this is a problem noted several times in other TripAdvisor reviews and the hotel has an explanation but it doesn’t really matter – if you have an air-con you expected to work not to turn the room into a sauna.

The squeaking noise that I have mentioned already was also a bit annoying.

Conclusion
All in all this is a pretty decent hotel and the room looked quite new and fresh. The location is also quite good and it is easy to get around from here. But I’m not sure I would stay there again – the sauna experience in the room combined with the fact that it was kinda pricey for a room with no breakfast. Note that the frosted bathroom door can be a bit of a problem if you want some privacy from your fellow roommate. But kudos to General Manager Pascale Fioretti for taking the time to give feedback on reviews posted on TripAdvisor.

I paid 710 GBP for 5 nights (including taxes but excluding breakfast) – that is about 235 USD per night. You can read more about the hotel on the hotel website.

The London trip report will be posted later on on http://gardkarlsen.com Winking smile

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Free wi-fi on Norwegian airports Apr 10

wifi-iconGood news people – according to Norwegian newspapers, Avinor will introduce free wi-fi on Norwegian airports very soon. The rumor says that the free wi-fi will be available already in May/June 2011 on the larger airports in Norway.  I was just at Geneva airport and I was happy and surprised to see that they had a free wi-fi network and hopefully the setup will be as easy on the Norwegian airports as well. But I guess time will tell ;-)

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British Midland opens London-Stavanger route Apr 02

Another airline will start operating on the London-Stavanger route. This time it is British Midland (BMI)that opens a new route from Heathrow to Stavanger airport at Sola and according to their press release you can get an economy ticket from 120£ for a return ticket. Flights started on April 1st 2011 and it looks like it will be daily flights. BMI is also a member of the StarAlliance.

At the moment there are also routes from Stavanger to London being served by SAS (to Heathrow) and Norwegian (Gatwick). At least this is making it even simpler for Londoners to come over to see our fjords (e.g. the Pulpit rock) and it makes it even simpler for Stavanger people to go shopping in London Smile. You can find some information about British Midland’s flights to Norway on this page.

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The world’s tallest hotel opens: Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong Mar 22

It seems like hotels are opening in tall buildings around the world…Armani Hotel in Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Grand Hyatt at Jin Mao building in Shanghai etc. But now there is a new hotel that takes the title as the world’s tallest hotel. During these days the Ritz-Carlton opens in the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong. The building itself is about 490 meters (1590 ft) tall and it is at the time the 4th tallest skyscraper in the world and the hotel itself occupies the floors from 102nd to 118th floor!! If you get a room with a view towards Hong Kong Island the view must be just spectacular – and there is even an indoor pool on the 118th floor. But staying at the hotel will of course come at a price – the rooms seems to start at about 4500 Hong Kong Dollar when looking at the hotel homepage – about 600 USD. But if you can’t afford staying there you can always go to the observation deck on the 100th floor called Sky100 Winking smile. Check out more information on the hotel homepage.

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All seats available for points on SAS? Mar 08

SAS_addMy feelings when it comes to SAS has gone  up and down over the years – I have been furious with them (like when I had to fly on economy from Asia to Europe even if I had a business class ticket – and I had to pay business class price as well) and I have been very happy with them when flying business class to Asia. I’m a pretty loyal StarAlliance and Eurobonus member and in 2010 I flew 43 SAS flights and in total I flew about 150.000 km (with various airlines) so I think I fly a bit more than the average passenger. The following is not meant as a whining note – just a feedback from a loyal StarAlliance member to SAS as I have mixed feelings with them.

I have been fortunate to fly to Asia on business with SAS a few times and for the price they are…well, not maybe a bargain but at least an affordable alternative when looking at companies like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. The business class service is quite good, the food is not bad at all at least you get a sort of flat bed (even if I can’t understand why it is not possible to get the bed completely horizontal). But their product is getting a bit outdated…the entertainment system is a bit of a joke these days compared to what you find on e.g. Singapore Airlines and Emirates both in terms of size of screen and selection of movies, games and music and the StarAlliance business lounges are not amazing. But I guess it is the lack of some sort of recognition that annoys me a bit. I’m not expecting to be carried on board the plane just because I I have been a Eurobonus gold card member for several years but it would be great to see that they appreciate that I’m loyal to them and StarAlliance.

When going from Stavanger to Geneva on vacation I asked at Stavanger airport if it was possible to upgrade from economy to business and how many points it would cost – after all the add says “All seats available for points”. The lady at the check in counter had no clue and she called the ticket office and they had no clue either. But she told me that she had put me on standby upgrade and I could check at the gate and they would provide me with all the info. When boarding from Stavanger to Copenhagen I asked at the gate and the guy was like “No, I don’t think that is possible and why would you?…you don’t get more legroom” So this is how the ground staff promotes one of the advantages of being a Eurobonus member (upgrading with points)? But he told me to check at the gate in Copenhagen when boarding for Geneva. When boarding in Geneva I asked again if it was possible with an upgrade and how much it would cost and finally I got a clear answer “No, it is not possible to upgrade from Economy to business”. I’m fine with that but wouldn’t it be great if the ground staff at Stavanger airport had this information and could have informed me from the very start? So I got onboard the flight to Geneva and was seated almost at the very back of the Airbus A321 and as far as I could tell there were still seats available on Economy Extra and business. There are more and more ways of earning Eurobonus points (SAS Mastercard, Trumf points etc) and yet it seems like there are more and more restrictions on how to use them.

On a two hours flight it is not a big deal where you sit in the plane and what kind of service that you get – but I just find it strange that SAS doesn’t do anything to reward loyal members. Wouldn’t it be great if they tried to put in a bit of extra effort for Eurobonus goldcard members? I would have been thrilled if they said “As you are a loyal member, have a gold card etc of course you can upgrade with the following amount of points” Today it just seems very random – like when I was upgraded without warning or asking on a short flight from Berlin to Copenhagen.
Over the last couple of years I have had a couple of long flights with Emirates and on my second trip I reached Silver status. On my next flight the flight attendant came to me and carefully tried to pronounce my name. I confirmed that it was me and I was wondering what I had done wrong but then he greeted me and said welcome back on Emirates….and that is “just” as a Silver member.

Well, maybe this just makes me sound like a spoiled brat and maybe I’m just expecting too much out of SAS these days. I’m honestly really happy with the perks of the Eurobonus gold card (the lounge access, the extra baggage etc) but sometimes I just get a bit frustrated as I feel like SAS is not really going out of their way to take good care of their loyal customers and the information that I get from SAS employees can be vague or even wrong. But rumor has it that even with a SAS Pandion card you don’t get that much recognition – maybe that kind of service is not a part of the Scandinavian culture. But the conclusion after this trip is…all seats are not available for points.

Regards
Gard
at the very back of SK617 bound for Geneva

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