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Archive for July, 2012

December hotel in Jeju island in Korea Jul 29

P1000709My wife and I stayed at December hotel in July 2012. We booked the hotel online on Agoda and we had to pay 170 USD for the room for three nights. When we booked the hotel we were not familiar with the island so we didn’t really know where to stay but we decided to stay near Jeju-si as it seemed central. Taxi from the airport to the hotel only takes 5-10 minutes and it was about 3000 W. Check in was fast and we got room 305. The guy who checked us in was not very fluent in English but he managed to explain the basics of our stay and to explain the remote control (as this controls TV, aircon and light). When we got out of the lift on the third floor we became a bit skeptical as the carpet seemed stained or really dirty. But the room was far nicer than expected. When we entered the room there was a tiny room to leave your shoes and to put on the slippers – one door leads into the bathroom and one into the main room.

IMG_3314The main room contained a bed, two big chairs, a table, a small fridge that was empty apart from two bottles of water (complimentary each day), a desk and a TV. Let’s start with the king size bed: it was brick hard and not the way I like it! And to make it even more challenging the pillows were huge and also very firm! I don’t think I have ever tossed and turned that much during sleep as I did at this hotel. So if you like your bed soft, this is not the hotel for you.

 

IMG_3316The remote control gives you access to control the TV, air con and light. There were some problem with the light and the guy in the reception tried to explain it to us and we did manage to turn of the light but we did experience that it came on automatically a couple of times. The air con was OK but it was a bit tricky to get the right temperature at night and it became pretty freezing at night. IMG_3317And we only got a thin sheet at a duvet for the bed – I like it better when the blankets are covered up by a sheet. The TV contained a lot of Korean channels and only a few English ones. There were not that many amenities in the room but there was a water boiler and some bottles. One was with a gel called Exciter Superhard – with a lot of Korean signs on the back. I thought it was hand sanitizer gel to start with but in the end I think I came to the conclusion that it was hair gel!

IMG_3321The bathroom was actually quite nice with light tiles and a decent shower. The only “problem” was that the drain was in the middle of the room so when taking a shower it would get kind of wet in the room. There was also a drain for the air con and that would leak water all the time on to the floor and it is kinda annoying with a wet bathroom floor. But I guess that is why you have bathroom slippers. The decorations in the bathroom were also a bit cheesy (with decorations on the toilet seat) but maybe that is common practice in Korea? Bathroom amenities included dispensers for shampoo and body wash.

The location of the hotel is very good – when we walked out of the hotel we could walk to places like FamilyMart and GS25 (places like 7Eleven) within seconds and nearby there are lots and lots of restaurants and bars. It is close to the airport and a taxi to Jeju-si bus station is about 4000 W in a taxi. If the taxi driver doesn’t know where the hotel is, ask him to take you to Grace Hotel – it is just around the corner.

The lobby has a selection of pamphlets for the main attractions of Jeju. The hotel also has free wifi which seems to work well. Note that there is not safe in the room so we just used a suitcase to lock up our valuables.

Conclusion
IMG_3320Due to extensive business traveling in the last few years, I have gotten a bit spoiled when it comes to hotels as I have stayed at very nice 4 and 5 stars hotels all over Asia. December hotel in Jeju is a pretty basic hotel and my main problem was the bed and pillow that were brick hard and due to this I had a hard time getting decent sleep in this hotel. But the room is pretty cheap at least compared to some of the big chain hotels that you find around the island and the location is quite good. So if you can handle the bed it is not a bad place to start exploring the island of Jeju. But as the island is bigger than you think I would advise you to get a hotel on the different parts of the islands if you want to explore it in an effective way. I’m not sure the hotel has a homepage but you can find some more information on the Agoda page for the hotel.

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

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Air Canada Executive First Class– tried & tested Jul 21

IMG_7612In June 2012 I went from Stavanger in Norway to Calgary in Canada. I started on a Sunday morning from Stavanger and there was only 1 row (3 seats) for business class passengers and I was seated by the window. On the way to London I was served a warm lunch of salmon and pasta and the salmon was pretty good. When we were getting closer to Heathrow it was of course very busy and we had to circle for like 15 minutes before we could approach the airport – at one point we got pretty close to another plane!Both SAS and Air Canada are a part of Star Alliance and in London I stopped by the SAS lounge on Terminal 3 while I was waiting for my next flight and I only had a 1 hour wait.

IMG_7613The next flight was the Air Canada flight directly to Calgary on a Boeing 777-300ER. On the business class (or Executive first class as Air Canada chooses to call it) they have a 1-2-1 seat configuration but they are angled. You can see the same configuration on some of the Thai Airway flights these days (on the planes that they have leased from Jet Airways). The seat itself was not bad as you can recline it all the way down and it connects with a small foot stool in the front to form a horizontal bed. But I’m not sure about the angled configuration. If you travel alone it feels a bit weird as you are looking over to what 2-3 other passengers are doing. And if you are traveling as a couple you get a bit too far from each other to really talk without raising the voice. And if you have a window seat it is a bit tricky to look out the window as the seat is facing in towards the aisle.

IMG_7628When I got to my seat 3D the blanket and amenity bag had already been handed out. The amenity bag was not very impressive as it only contained socks, eye shades, ear plugs and a toothbrush – but then again, what more do you need? J There was also a headset in place and it was actually non-detachable IMG_7622and I think it is the first time I see that on a flight. They didn’t look that great and I was glad I was bringing my own BOSE noise reducing headset. But the sound quality was not great and I’m not sure if it was because of a problem with the socket or the quality of the actual movie. The TV folds out from the side of the seat and I would guess it was about 15” – for me it was a bit on the small side as it was not possible to bring it closer. The screen is a touch screen but I still think there is room for improvement as it was very slow to navigate around the system. But the selections of movies were quite good but games were not working. The TV can also be controlled by a small remote and this contains a small joystick that was not very easy to use. And I think it is the first time that I have seen commercials being shown before a movie on a flight!

IMG_7630We had to wait almost two hours onboard the plane before we could finally take off – Heathrow can be really busy! When I first got on board the plane I was offered sparkling wine and not champagne. I’m not sure why they do it like this as flight attendants were very generous with the champagne later on. The meal was served after a while and the starters were a green salad with tomato and parmesan cheese and with the olive oil/balsamic vinegar it was delicious. The IMG_7631smoked salmon was also served at the same time and that was also quite good. While I was enjoying the starter, the main dish was prepared. There was a choice of 4 main courses and I went for the rack of lamb which was simply excellent. I don’t think I have ever tasted so juicy meat on a flight in a long time. After the main meal I got some cheese and it was fun to try some Wensleydale cheese after seeing a Wallace and Gromit movie on a flight home from Asia recently. To round it of an apple pie was served together with coffee – all in all I have to say I’m impressed by the meal. It must have been one of the best meals I have had on a business class flight.

I took the same route back from Calgary and check-in at the airport was uneventful. The Maple leaf lounge at the Calgary airport looked a bit tired to start with but when I walked around it was quite big with various seats and it also had a nice view towards the planes parked on the outside and towards the city center. There were food, fruit, soft drinks, wine etc on offer.

IMG_7684Going back I had once again a Boeing 777-300ER and I had picked seat 1G. Once again amenities were already laid out on the seat when I got there but this time the toiletry bag was different. I guess it makes sense to have a different toiletry bag on a night flight compared to a day flight. Once again the service was good and I enjoyed the salad for starter together with a small dish including scallop and tiger prawn. There were several options for the main meal and I was tempted to go for meat again but as I had eaten a bit of meat during my stay in Calgary, I went for risotto instead. As I love risotto it is always a potential for disaster. The risotto served on this flight was not great in any way but it was lighter than then meat option. The meal was rounded off with a selection of cheese and a toffee apple cranberry cake.

IMG_7688As this was a night flight I got to test out the seat for real and when reclined all the way down it forms a more or less flat bed that provided a good place for a few hours sleep. I did wake up in connection with breakfast and got served an omelet, sausage etc. After we had landed in London, one of the cabin crew asked me if I wanted to see the cabin crew resting area on the second floor and I have never been offered this before so I said yes of course. There was a small staircase leading up to it and on the second floor there were two beds and two comfortable chairs. After a short stop in London I took a SAS flight back to Norway.

Just a few things that I didn’t like about the flights/planes/service on board AirCanada:
First of all it is a bit strange to be seated at an angle. The seat itself was pretty good but if you are traveling with someone this is not an ideal configuration. On the way over the TV that you fold out was a bit loose and the menu system on the inflight entertainment is not very good. Games did not seem to work at all both ways. And when using the BOSE headset instead of the headset that was supplied, there was a constant cracking sound. Going to Calgary there was a toilet in business class where the sink was not working.

But all in all: the service and food on board the flights were quite good and as the seat provides a flat bed for sleeping.

All in all I would rate the Air Canada Executive First Class higher than e.g. Scandinavian business class as they do provide a lay flat seat and the food is a bit better but it still does not compare with the seat and service from Singapore Airlines.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Westin Calgary–good hotel location if you are working downtown Jul 03

IMG_7636I stayed in Westin Calgary in connection with a work trip there in June 2012. I chose this hotel as the location was very good and it was possible to walk to where I was going to work within minutes. I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this review. I do admit that I have been a bit spoiled by staying at some very nice hotels in Asia and due to this I do have high expectations when I stay at nice hotel chains like Westin. I booked the hotel through t a travel agency in Norway.

IMG_7638The taxi from the airport to the hotel was about 35 Canadian dollar (about 35 USD these days) and on a Sunday afternoon it only took 15 minutes. Check in was fast and I got room 551 – to my surprise the internet was included in my business room rate which is great. I was also offered more Starwood points if I could do without room service during my stay and I think this is a great idea. The internet worked pretty good and when logged in I did not have to log in again every time I got back to the hotel – excellent! I was also able to log in with several devices which is also great.

IMG_7674The room I got was located on the 5th floor and from the hall there was a view out on a huge construction area. I think they are putting up a large building here so it might create some noise for the next few years. The rooms at Westin are refurbished recently but I have to admit that my first thought when I walked in was that it was a bit outdated. The carpet was dark brown while the curtains where dark greenish in color. Due to this the whole room seemed a bit on the dark side. The lighting in the room was not very modern either as there were no master control for the lighting – IMG_7640each of the lamps had to be switched on individually. The walls in the room were covered in a mustard colored wall paper and there where dark furniture. The flat screen TV was mounted on the wall and it was possible to pull it out to face it towards the chair in the room and that is a great feature. Under the TV was a rather big dark furniture of drawers and a cupboard. It was totally empty so I guess it at least provides space if you unpack your entire suitcase. In many other hotels this normally contains the mini bar and the amenities that you need in connection with that.

IMG_7642The mini fridge was located by the entrance in the room and it was totally empty which seems a bit weird but maybe that figured that they don’t sell anything anyway as prices are normally too high compared to prices on street level. But at least there were two wine glasses and two regular glasses and a bucket for ice (there was an ice machine on the floor). There was also a coffee maker but there is a Starbucks in the lobby so there are also other options for coffee. The wardrobe included quite a few hangers, two robes, iron and ironing board and a small safe – but no slippers. The desk had a pop up plug stand but it did not have international sockets – but luckily I could borrow a plug adapter from the reception.

There were two queen sized beds in the room and the bed was quite comfortable. But I’m not sure I understand the lack of a proper bed linen around the duvet – instead the duvet is just placed between two sheets – not a very good system for the guests in my opinion.

IMG_7646The bathroom was partially tiled and included a bathtub with a shower option. The shower curtain was on a curved bar so at least it didn’t stick to me while I was showering. But it did splash a bit on the floor anyway as it was hard to control the water pressure in the shower. I was very disappointed by the amenities as there was only shampoo, conditioner and a bar of soap – but then again I’m not a big fan of the Westin products. I did get a few more amenities after a couple of days at the hotel e.g. mouth wash. There was a bit of noise in the room – the aircon was not very quiet kind even when running it on low. The traffic on the outside also created a bit of noise but luckily there is not that much traffic at night so it was not a huge problem. I was also in a room close to the elevators and that is never a good idea as you get quite a bit of noise when the lifts go up and down.

IMG_7670The location of the hotel is good for work as it is located close to many of the main office buildings in downtown Calgary. There is also direct access to Calgary +15 from Westin which is great – the +15 is the skybridge system that connects many of the building together in the downtown area. Note that the downtown area is pretty dead after like 6 pm as most shops and food courts close about this time so just finding a 7Eleven around the hotel was tricky. Breakfast at the hotel is served at Essence restaurant and it had a pretty decent selection of food. I enjoyed the cereal on offer but they also had an egg station and a selection of bacon, sausages etc. The pool and gym is located at the 20th floor but the gym was smaller than I had expected. But if you want to go jogging you can easily walk over to Prince’s Island to go jogging there.

Conclusion
The Westin Calgary had a great location for me as I was basically working next door. But I was not that crazy about the room itself. There was quite a bit of noise from the lifts next to the room and the room was a bit on the dark side and not very cozy. But thanks for providing me with free wifi and complimentary drinking water. I don’t have experience with other hotels in Calgary so it is hard to compare how Westin is to other hotels – so if I go there again I might try a different hotel.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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