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For the last leg of our Alps-to-Atlantic Easter trip, we stayed in the Bordeaux-Medoc region for a few days. Fa and An stayed behind in Biarritz to do some more surfing.

Our last minute searches landed us at the Château Grattequina in Blanquefort, just north of the city of Bordeaux. Click here for their website.

Built in 1872, the château was surrounded by farmland at the gateway of Bordeaux (which is only about 10 km away), on the road to the Medoc. We entered the grounds through an automatic gate and can see the chateau in a distance.

The sight of the chateau is rather dramatic at night as there are no other lighted buildings in sight. The River Garonne is behind the chateau.

Looking back toward the main road (D209) from the chateau, as far as we can see, there is no vine growing here now, just agricultural land. Corn ? In the middle of the photo is the private access road.

The chateau has only 10 guest rooms, all on the upper two floors. It was restored in 1999 and took 4 years, and it was re-painted this year (we could smell it).

Our room was spacious with simple furniture. It was so quiet all around and therefore quite relaxing.

Loved the double sink in the bathroom, but we would have liked a proper shower.

Very helpful staff. They called a bunch of chateaux for us to check if we can join their tours at the last minute.

Since the chateau is on the left bank of the River Garonne, the chateau has its own private dock, in theory one can arrive by boat. In practice, the owner can take guests into Bordeaux city (upstream) or go wine tasting in Margaux direction (downstream). See boat parked on the left in photo.

The view across the river is rather uninspiring. Because the river is not far from its mouth where it enters the Atlantic Ocean, the flow is slow and the water looks muddy.

The owner lives on the property in a separate modern building, behind the tower.

Nice breakfast room. No on-site restaurant. This chateau is really a B-n-B.

“Enomatic” – wine-on-demand – eight local wines (2 Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Saint-Estephe, Pauillac, Pessac Leognan and Saint Julien) at various price points were sold by the glass. Three sizes to choose from. Pay via a special debit card from the hotel that is settled when checking out. We got several different glasses and enjoyed them with cheeses back in our room.

Next to the chateau is a building that can be used for conferences and weddings. We believe that it is probably a significant part of the business.

The pool was not yet opened but the chateau provides bikes for us to explore the grounds.

Relaxing place to stay if you want easy access to Bordeaux city. But it does not have a working vineyard, unlike those further downstream towards Haut-Medoc.

Our first night of the 2017 Alps-to-Atlantic trip was spent in Saint-Emilion.  This small medieval village is known for its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and extremely well known for its red wine.

Our hotel “Au Logis des Remparts” is located at the edge of the village center and was built using a part of the remaining defensive wall. The village is so small that the hotel’s location is essentially central.

There are three floors. There is an elevator for luggage but not people.

One can see parts of the rampart with a walkway on top and a stone parapet.

This village was recognized by UNESCO in 1999 and it was the first wine-making entity that was listed as a “cultural landscape”.

While our room is unremarkable, the garden is heavenly.

Geometrically-shaped trees in the middle.

We and our friends really like it and spent a good few hours lying on the lounge chairs, staring up at the trees, and falling asleep.

We had it all to ourselves.

Can’t remember the last time we had such a naturally serene and relaxing moment.

Since it was the beginning of the season, the owner was moving the sculptures around the garden looking for an optimal place to show them.

The pieces are apparently all available for sale.

The weather was perfect to be outside. But it is too cold for swimming.

The patio has the perfectly shaped shady olive tree (I think it is an olive tree).

We took our breakfast underneath it one morning.

Highly recommended.

We arrived at Madrid in mid-afternoon and missed lunch. So we settled for a snack at this hotel situated in the same plaza as our apartment. This was in June 2016.

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The eatery is located in the ME Madrid Hotel Reina Victoria situated in the west end of Plaza Santa Ana.

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There are several different areas – upon entry there is a bar.

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The eatery’s front door faces the plaza in the heart of the Literary Quarter (Barrio de las Letras).

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… then there is a lounge area for reading or surfing …
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There is a restaurant at the back that looked decent.

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We sat in an area where they served us snacks.

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It was really relaxing as we can watch the activities in the plaza, while sitting in the shade under a ceiling fan with a cold drink. It was sunny and quite hot outside.
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Our snacks were standards with a slight twist and they were tasty. Do not remember seeing tapas/pintxos on the menu – may be because the real kitchen is closed.
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We had quite a few of these dishes as we were hungry.

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As it got later at night, there was a velvet rope scene outside for the roof top bar next door.  But this place was packed. There was a DJ spinning, facing the plaza, so it was very lively in the evening – almost too noisy for we had an apartment facing the plaza.

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Plaza Santa Ana reminded us of Washington Square Park in NYC.

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Definitely worth stopping by for a drink, especially in the evening.

 

This building in Moscow was my hotel for a few days. My host suggested it as it is within walking distance from their office.

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The Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel (Хилтон Москоу Ленинградская) designed by Leonid Polyakov, completed in 1954 is one of Moscow’s seven Stalinist skyscrapers built in the early 1950s. The Stalinist architecture abandoned modernity in favor of a mix of the Russian neoclassicalism with the style of American skyscrapers of the 1930s.

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Muscovites call them Vysotki or Stalinskie Vysotki (Сталинские высотки), meaning “(Stalin’s) high-rises”. Some were the tallest building or hotel in Europe at that time. These seven buildings nicknamed Seven Sisters which were completed include Moscow State University, Hotel Ukraina, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Leninsgraksaya Hotel, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, and the Red Gates Administrative Building.

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This hotel is relatively small compared to the other skyscrapers. There are 26 floors, of which 19 are usable. It was built to a similar style as the Kazansky railway terminal next to it.

Reception area

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Ceiling of the reception area

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The lobby is triple-height at least, and surrounded by marble columns and stone walls. The lobby ceiling is just as ornate.

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The ornately decorated lobby is lit in part by these lights with a translucent mineral lamp shade.

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The translucent minerals have visible veins. Eerily beautiful.

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The lobby staircase features one of the longest lighting fixtures in the world—apparently it was once in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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A dramatic space to have a drink.

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I ate a couple of meals in the restaurant. Good and convenient since there are few restaurants in the area.

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The hotel completed in 1954, was designed to be the finest luxury hotel in Moscow, joined the Hilton Hotels chain in 2008 after completing a multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation.

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My room was on one of the higher floors and looks over the three main railway stations of Moscow. It snowed for a few hours.

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Same view – different times of day

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The room and furnishings were business standard – nothing special – it is a Hilton after all.

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Recommendable.

 

 

Jomon no Yado Manten (JNYM, 縄文の宿 まんてん) was our lodgings for 3 days on Yakushima 屋久島. It is 1-minute walk from the airport, basically just across the 2-lane main road that circumnavigates the island. The airport is really an airstrip and it closes after the last flight left or landed in late afternoon.

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Between the two ryokans that we stayed, Yakakutei in Kirishima and JNYM, the onsen is hotter in Kirishima. Both had an open air section. Which is better ?  It is down to personal preference.

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JNYM has better atmosphere in that the inn is more spread out, closer to nature, and feels sunnier overall. We enjoyed staying at both.

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Like Yakakutei, we had a meal plan with this ryokan – breakfast and dinner. This option is more critical here because there is not even a 7-11 in sight – only a few vending machine at best.

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At JNYM, one of the dinners is a proper casual kaiseki.

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By this time, we were quite spoiled and expected nothing less every day.  =P

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Being on an island, the fishes were unquestionably super-fresh.

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Whole flying fish deep-fried.

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Seaweed, sour – cleansed the palate it certainly did.

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Pretty.

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Yes, we know what you are thinking, but this is how it was presented to us.

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Strange looking shellfish which we found in our soup. Never seen them before.

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Nabe

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To be fair, in our opinion, Yakakutei provided better food. Click here to see Yakakutei. But this was more than adequate.

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Since this place is catered to hikers, the meals were less elaborate or fussy, and more Western, especially in the morning.

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They even gave us packed lunch one day for our hiking. We enjoyed our time there and are happy to recommend JNYM.

With this level of service and food, why would we want to stay in a regular hotel ever again in Japan ?

 

 

During our 2-week vacation, we stayed at two ryokans (traditional inn). The first is Yakakutei 野鶴亭 (wild crane pavilion) located in Kirishima霧島 (literally, fog island) in southern Kyushu. Half-board is usually the only option for staying at a ryokan and we were happy to indulge ourselves.

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And indulged we did. Every night was a kaiseki-ish feast. Not only we ate what was set on the table, we were served a few more additional dishes, typically ending with a rice and miso soup. By that time, we could barely get up from the floor.

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On the right is a little stove for making shabu-shabu or nabe.
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Another elaborate meal.

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There were 11 courses one night. Below are the dishes presented at a casual kaiseki.

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We will not bother to translate the menu which was printed onto gold-flecked paper.

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These three dishes were brought on the same tray made of woven bamboo and a wooden frame.

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Two plates of fishes – this one being quite sour …

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… and sashimi

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There was chawanmushi.

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Tasty stewed meat dish but we cannot describe what the flavor was.

kirishimadinner-29 Grilled fish – yakimono (焼物) – pretty plate !

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Something crunchy

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Personal shabu-shabu – a shiizakana (強肴)

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… started by cooking the shimeji fungi

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Salad ?  Su-zakana (酢肴)

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There were barely-cooked tuna hidden underneath the vegetables.

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Finished with mouchi and fruits. Mizumono (水物)

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The snacks and meals we had were the highlights of our trip. More posts about food to come.

Continuing with our trip to Siracusa, Sicily … the apartment we rented is situated on the island of Ortigia and overlooks one of the newer and straighter main street on the island – Corso Giacomo Matteotti.ortigia apartment-15

The apartment is located on the top floor of a relatively new, mixed-use building. There is a Zara on the street level, government offices on the second floor, and several residential apartments on the higher floors.

Entrance hallway inside the apartment
ortigia apartment-1Notice the horizontal stripes, there are vertical stripes in the apartment too. The style of the decoration is bold to say the least.

ortigia apartment-2There was a bedroom opposite these chairs that were not opened to us (the place could officially sleep at least six people).

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Kitchen – dining area

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A bottle of local wine awaited us on the dining table. Nice touch by the owner.

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The dining area is connected to the sitting area.

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One wall of the sitting area is covered by a giant poster, advertising the re-presentation of the classical greek tragedy – Oresteia  (Orestiade di Eschillo; written in 458 BC) by Aeschylus  – one of the few complete plays that had survived.

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Aeschylus is recognized as the father of greek tragedy and pioneered the concept of a “trilogy” – each play serves as a chapter in a continuous dramatic narrative.

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The sitting area faces southwest and has a wrap-around terrace. The french doors fills the room with sunlight every day (particularly in the afternoon).

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The terrace overlooks Corso Giacomo Matteotti and the Palazzo Greco across the street. The National Institute of Ancient Drama (L’Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico, INDA) which celebrates their 100th year in 2015 is situated in the palazzo (photo below). Given the poster concerning a greek tragedy faces the palazzo, someone who lived in this apartment must have something to do with INDA, we think.

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The layout of the apartment resembles that of a loft, even though there are hallways and corridors. The walls of the corridors and rooms are not structural.

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This psychedelic corridor leads to our bedrooms and the bathroom.

The rather dramatic crimson red and inky blue master bedroom.

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The boring second bedroom with three long empty bookshelves. Perhaps, it was used as a study.

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The bathroom consists of two sets of sinks and toilets at opposite ends of a space joined in the middle by a tiled shower and sunken “tub”.

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Ethnic vs modern ends of the bathroom.

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Sue found the apartment really relaxing, with the doors opened and sunlight streaming into the living room.

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The manager, Alessandra, was also very hospitable and helpful with information, and we had a very nice stay.

Back in Georgetown, Penang, among many of the heritage buildings, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (張弼士故居) is one of the most celebrated example. UNESCO recognized it with an award in Heritage conservation in 2000.

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We were treated to a glimpse of how a Chinese tycoon lived at the turn of the century (19th-20th).

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The mansion is now a boutique hotel as well as a restored cultural landmark. It served as a back drop for the French movie – Indochine, which won the Academy award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

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It can only be visited by appointment in a daily tour, unless you reserve a room under its Homestay program.

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The property has a 38 rooms and is available for themed functions like weddings.

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Compared to where we were staying –  Seven Terraces – which is also a restored heritage property –  the architecture of the place appears much more authentic. Seven Terraces is more a product of the restorer’s imagination and potentially made more dazzling. Click the link to see our pictures of Seven Terraces parts 1 and 2.

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The tour of the mansion must be a very popular item on the tourists’ map as more than 50 people showed up.

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Our tour guide is a member of the group who bought the property from the original family owners and restored it to its current state. She seemed slightly offended when someone asked if the government or a charity rescued and restored the property.

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A lot of research as well as money was expanded on restoring the property accurately.

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She also seemed knowledgeable about characters in the original Cheong family. Apparently, there were some restrictions (we forgot the details) on the disposition of the property which prevented it from being transferred until recently (somebody in the Cheong family died), and as a result, the property fell into disrepair and was for years occupied by squatters (laundry hanging from ropes draped all over the central courtyard, etc).

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The story of Cheong Fatt Tze (1840-1916) is fascinating and we are surprised that not more stories based on him are made into TV dramas or movies. He was known as a financier, tycoon, diplomat, philanthropist and minister living in splendid mansions dotted around southeast Asia with 8 wives and 14 children.

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There is a lot of information on both the architecture and history of the house as well as the life of Cheong Fatt Tze on the official website – go explore here.

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We are caught a bit off guard when the admin page of WordPress indicated that our next post will be the six hundredth (600th) that we published. As previously said several times, we are surprised that the interest in keeping up this blog has not fizzled out over the last 5 years. True it is, that we are still living in Europe and away from our friends and families, the primary reason for starting the blog. But we also find that this blog is a convenient medium to capture and frame memories of our time in Switzerland and our travels, and it became a habit and a hobby (at least for Chris).

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The blog was launched on November 4, 2009. The first trip ever reported here was our visit of Playa de Carmen, Mexico in November 2009 (click here to see). We had not yet left the US at that time but were starting to pack our belongings and worried about the move.

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Fast forward to now, posts on our quick tour of three cities – Taormina, Siracusa (Ortigia) and Catania – on the east coast of Sicily, taken during Easter, are under preparation now. Our most recent visit to Berlin and Copenhagen earlier this month has not yet been written up. Most of the photos are still in Raw format.

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Since March 2013, we have been posting a series of photos on Facebook, one a day except Sunday and Thursday when the blog is updated. There is no theme – just something random and per se visually interesting. They are essentially pictures that did not make the blog for some reasons. We gave each a serial number, a minimally-worded title and a mention of where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the location). But we wanted to share them with the readers here too – so we started showing 5 of them in a post – somewhat irregularly. This is the first of the series – #1 – “the history of cool” –  Munich.

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So far we have shown about 150 of them here, but on Facebook, we are at #444 – there is a backlog of almost 300 random photos! On days when we are not writing the blog, these photos could keep the blog going for a while. This is #443 – “dark 3” – Taormina.

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The readership of this blog has stabilized at around 50-70 views per day. Apart from posting a link in Facebook, Twitter and Google+ each time a post goes public, we made little attempts to drive up the statistics. We also signed up Pinterest but have not seen much changes (perhaps we are not leveraging the site properly). But other people have pinned our photos on pinterest.  So if you do not feel like writing a comment, pin a photo.

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Recently, we noticed that the page view of one of our posts in April on eating durian on the street of Petaling Jaya (click here to see) has gone through the roof (more than 120 views last week alone and maintaining the momentum). It must have caught the attention of certain netizens in Malaysia (as reflected in WordPress statistics), and got linked to an index or a popular site.

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The reigning champion of page views is still our first post on HSBC’s poster ads as seen around major airports in 2010 (click here). Its two siblings are receiving decent traffic too.

This blog has changed its theme (a WordPress term for the overall look and feel of the blog) only once which happened within the first month of its launch. So the appearance remains constant for the last few years and it is getting a bit aged. But we are hesitant to change to a more modern theme as it could affect somewhat unpredictably the old posts. More experimenting is needed (if we have more time).

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One day we might want to make a book (or several books) using these photos, like the ones we did for Yellowstone National Park and Iceland back in 2007.

We have been buying books showing photos of a city “then and now” or aerial views of an area.

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Before signing off, we want to thank our readers for their interest and support, and Susie who has been responding to our posts consistently and ranks No. 1 with the highest number of comments.

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Your feedback is important as it is the only way we know someone is reading the blog. So please comment, like, retweet, follow, clip, subscribe, pin, bookmark, repost or do some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. In the meantime, we will continue to share words and images of our adventures.

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Cheers.

The Heavenly Spa is located adjacent to the Westin resort with its own beachfront. One could walk over from the resort lobby in about 10 minutes or hail a golf buggy.
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Upon arrival, after passing through the entrance gate, there is a small courtyard where one faces a row of trees, the beach and the sea.
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On the left are a series of discreet treatment rooms in a bungalow and a small swimming pool.
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 In the courtyard, new Age music is piped in through hidden speakers.  Although it is probably the same type of music we hear in elevators, it did blend in very well with the ambiance here. This was my favorite space.
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A gentle breeze caused some leaves to fall and row gently down the sloping roof of the bungalows. Dried leaves rustled on the ground. Birds chirped occasionally nearby. One can become relaxed simply by being there, even without any treatment.
 On the right is the air-conditioned reception.
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There is a wading pool with platforms and beds where treatments are administered.
In a lot of places, privacy is a concern with this set up. But here, there was hardly anyone.
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Before the treatment, the staff asked guests to select a thought and to focus on it during the treatment. A bit cliché in my opinion.
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At breakfast, two different healthful smoothies-juice drinks everyday.
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 It claims to be the best spa in Malaysia several years in a row.
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We want to go back as soon as possible.

The last stop on our Malaysian trip is Langkawi (浮羅交怡), an archipelago of 104 islands in the Anderman Sea. Situated in the North West corner of the Malay peninsula, it is very close to the Thai border. The Westin resort is located on the main island – Pulau Langkawi, and just about 10 minutes away from the main town named Kuah (瓜鎮), “melon” if literally translated.

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We got to the resort a few days later than the booked arrival date, after an unexpected detour to Hong Kong. We called ahead to make sure they did not resell our room.

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The resort is somewhat commercial as it has been here for a while. Apparently, it has recently been renovated and is in the process of expanding into a convention center which is under construction behind the resort.

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In addition to hotel rooms, they have free-standing villas along the beach front.

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The resort did a reasonably good job blending natural beauty with man-made amenities.

westinresort-9Predictable but not obtrusive.

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One major feature is the jetty. Hotel guests can reserve it for a romantic dinner or social function. A wedding ceremony was about to be held there on our last day.

westinresort-4Big change in water level due to tides.

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The lights were pretty at night.

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But the jetty was a bit spooky.

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When we saw this notice on our balcony, there was not any sign of the animal.

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On our last day, when we opened the curtains, there was a troop of 10 or so monkeys just outside our window.

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We have no idea what kind of monkey it was. They are of a different species from the ones we saw in Kuala Lumpur, inside the Batu cave and temple.

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They hung around for about 10 minutes and one by one wandered off in different directions.

westinresort-16They were peaceful (unlike the ones in KL) and probably visit the resort regularly.

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A mother brought along a baby which was bright orange – there is no way one can miss that baby in a forest of dark green and brown.

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So how does the bright color confer a survival advantage to the baby ?

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The resort has a spa which is about 10-15 minutes walk away – the subject of our next post.

Continuing with our tour of the most interesting hotel on this Malaysian trip …  part 1 is here.

The hotel – Seven Terraces – has a second entrance which passes through the restaurant.

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The hotel’s restaurant, Kebaya, serves classically prepared Straits Chinese style dishes. We did not have a chance to try it.

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Bababar – the hotel’s lounge and bar – antique bar and drink cabinets

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Piano at the Bababar.

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The suites are all on the upper level and there are wooden stairs at either end of the courtyard.

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A walkway circles the courtyard.

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Old-style furniture in the living room, except flat-screen TV. Some of the smaller ceramic decorations on the sideboard are glued onto the surface. I guess it is too tempting for some.

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They served us tea upon arrival.

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The shower/toilet is remarkably installed in a converted veranda which runs the entire width of the suite. In addition to the handheld shower head, there is a rain-style shower head above. No bathtub.

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The entire floor is beautifully tiled. This is the biggest shower we have ever had.

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The converted space has windows with frosted glass on one side and traditional dark wood doors on the other side which lead into the living room.

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The bedroom is upstairs in a loft-style space.

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The four poster bed occupies more than half of the floor space.

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Here’s another example of a nice mix of the traditional and modern.

Old carved wood decoration on top of the bed, framed embroidery (possibly an antique), and sleek LED bedside lamps.

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A balcony is provided where one can relax under the sun (or in the shade).

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The balcony overlooks the historical Anglican church of Georgetown.

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The ambiance of Seven Terraces is truly unique.

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Love the courtyard.

After a series of posts on Malaysian street food, let’s see the most interesting hotel on this trip.

Seven Terraces is a spectacularly reimagined heritage hotel in Penang.  Located at the UNESCO World Heritage site, in the heart of Georgetown, the hotel is a conversion of a row of seven 19th century Anglo-Chinese terraces.

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Around the Love Lane area in Georgetown, there are several other restored heritage hotels but 7 terraces on Lorong Stewart is the most decadently restored. A 80’s-ish Rolls Royce was parked outside the entire time while we were there.

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The reception area was airy and richly decorated; instead of sofas, installed around the “lobby” area are several antique opium den beds. Each bed accommodates two who share a little table in the middle.

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The beds are made with dark hard wood inlaid with marble and mother of pearl. The marble was cool to the touch, perfect for hot weather.

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They have even laid out antique opium paraphernalia to complete the picture.

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We cannot remember her name, the girl at the concierge desk was super efficient and very helpful (she helped us tracked down someone at Booking.com when we had to postpone our trip to Langkawi).

Also on display is an antique Chinese bridal head dress. We’ve only seen them on TV in period drama or Chinese opera. The real thing looked enormous and must weigh a ton.

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The hotel has 18 suites which overlook a Chinese courtyard. I(Chris) love courtyard, any style, it’s like sunshine and nature captured for one’s private enjoyment.

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We suspect the courtyard was created by knocking down the walls that separated the seven smaller yards of the original terrace houses.

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We applaud the combining of traditional Asian architectural elements and modernism harmoniously in this hotel.

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Behind the reception is a lounge area and a lap pool. On a hot day, the water is simply irresistible.

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Swam a little bit and ate some cakes, which were served during afternoon tea time.

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As all the suites are on the upper level, a bit of 20th century convenience is provided.

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We are not sure what this metal fan was used for. It says Singapore grocery corporation. Since there were a pair of them, each with a long handle, they were likely used in a parade.

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Breakfast was served on the other side of the reception.

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This combination of papaya, passion fruit, water melon and banana was simple but surprisingly tasty.

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Check out their website here. We will post some pictures of our room in the next post.

Lanson Place was our lodgings in KL. An earlier post covered the apartment (click here) – this post is about the common areas. Lanson Place is a brand of serviced apartments and hotel suites that is run by a Hong-Kong based company. They have properties in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and KL (two locations) – see their web site here.

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Since this building was apparently intended to be used as a residential building, there isn’t a cafe or restaurant. The “clubhouse” on the top floor provides some basic hotel services.

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The 50-story building has a roof top garden and an area where they served breakfast. It has a spectacular 360 degrees view of downtown KL.

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See earlier post for views of other parts of KL.

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The garden is quite basic.

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There is a place for BBQ on the rooftop.

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The split level clubhouse also has a computer area, as well as a pool table.

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The Bukit Bintang area has the highest concentration of bars in KL (think Lan Kwai Fong except that in KL, the bars are more spacious). As residents of Lanson Place, we received coupons for some of these restaurants where discounts for drinks and meals were offered. The street famed for KL’s street food – Jalan Alor – is located nearby But we did not go there and heard that it is a bit touristy – more about street food in later posts.

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There is also a small gym just below the clubhouse.

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The building shares two swimming pools as well as a garden and car park with a sister building next door.

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The rectangular pool is truly massive. We suspect that it is longer than an Olympic size pool. Great for fitness training.

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The pools and garden sit on top of a multi-storey car park.

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We were certainly curious about the price of these apartments as many units were apparently empty (as we can see from our window). And how much would the common service charges be given all the amenities ?

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This place certainly suited us as there were an odd number of us for hotel rooms, and it provided all the comforts and conveniences. Se our earlier posts for the apartments we rented in the past in Vienna and Paris.
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Our friends M and S happen to live nearby and we met them a couple of times. We just wish that we had more time to see friends and explore KL.

This is where the three of us (including IT) stayed in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Rather than going to a hotel, like we have done in the past, we looked for an apartment. Apparently, there are quite a few choices. There is a property boom in KL and there are expats to fill serviced apartments.

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Lanson Place Bukit Ceylon Serviced Residences is located in one of a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings situated a small hill above Bukit Bintang (aka Golden Triangle, a busy shopping area in KL).

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The entrance of the building has a shallow water feature on either side of the walkway. They were no railings.

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We arrived very late and were helped by a concierge. It looks very modern but can be a bit dangerous at night.
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Our unit was a 2-bedroom apartment on the 46th floor. It was spacious and modern.

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Natural wood, muted pastel color furniture.

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One of the bedrooms has twin beds.

lanson-10Apart from the 2 bedrooms, there’s also a small study.

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The master bath room has a glass-enclosed shower-bathtub unit. There is no separate shower cubicle.

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All the kitchen appliances were very well hidden. There are no handles for any of the drawers, fridge doors, and dishwasher. Very minimum and clean looking (easy to clean too) but a bit too sterile, and one need strong fingertips (think rock climbers) to open/close all the doors.
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Since we had a rather long trip in Malaysia, a washer and a dryer were very handy.
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From our living room window, we have a view of the Petronas towers.

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The KL tower is also nearby. As you can tell, the weather was not cooperating.

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This place was just what we needed to overcome the 7-hour jetlag. More about Lanson Place to come in our next post.

 

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In October, I(Chris) attended a business conference in Budapest at the Four Seasons Hotel. Sue joined me and we stayed for a couple of extra days to see the city. Neither one of us has been to Hungary before.

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The meetings were held in this historical Art Nouveau building in the center of Budapest.  It is located along the River Danube, adjacent to Széchenyi Square and the eastern terminus of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

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According to the hotel’s web site:

In 2004, after a five-year $110-million restoration, the Hotel was unveiled. Some of the Hotel’s outstanding features are a two million-piece mosaic tile floor, a grand, sweeping staircase, stained-glass floors, and a wrought iron elevator that have each been lovingly restored or replicated when preservation wasn’t possible. In the process of reconstruction, the Hotel was also completely modernized, adding amenities like an indoor lap pool, spa, fitness facilities and all the latest internet and entertainment equipment.

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One end of the “arcade”-like lobby area is used as a cafe.

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The mosaic floor is beautiful and kept spotless. There is an art nouveau floral pattern that is used on all the floor coverings.

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The stained glass ceiling, skylight and sculpture in the lobby was stunning at dusk – the cool residual winter sunligh mixing the warmer interior lights.

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Our room was unremarkable compared to the lobby and the exterior.

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The indoor lap pool and gym are located on the “attic” floor under a sloping roof, accessible via a set of glass stairs (à la Apple store).

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This is indeed a beautifully renovated hotel with a central convenient location. One of the best places to stay while visiting Budapest.

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Ads below have nothing to do with us.

 

Our late summer vacation was spent mostly at this villa situated in the middle of the Piemonte (Piedmont) countryside of Italy. Rather than moving from one place to another several times during the week (like we did in France in June), we stayed here for a good five days.

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The approach from the automatic gate up to the main building, with a small covered shed for parking on the left, and a pool and vines on the right, was very welcoming.

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We went in early September and the grapes were still on the vines.

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This is the back of the villa. The property was totally surrounded by vines.

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The villa is located at one of the higher points in this area which has gentle rolling hills. The only higher point nearby is the church at Annuziata, which is five minutes away.

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The manageress’s tiny silver and lipstick red fiat. Very Italian.

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From our balcony, we were afforded a nice view – almost 270 degrees – and sunset.

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We could see the distant Alps on a clear day.

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Comfy common area.

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Our room is on the small side but it is adequate.

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The main attraction for me is the pool. There was hardly anyone there.

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At dusk, they pipe in light jazz to liven it up.

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The villa has a spa on the lower level, just a wet and a dry sauna and a small whirlpool. However, the fancy programmable shower did not work.

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The property is owned by a famous winery in Barolo – Renato Ratti. The villa’s web site is here. There are 13 rooms in total.

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There is a tasting room on the lower level where one can buy their wines.

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The villa is perfect for relaxing, super quiet,  hardly anyone around during the day. The only catch is that they only serve breakfast. That means we had to drive out every day in search of lunch and dinner. More about that in later posts.

If you have been following our trip to the Val de Loire, and our story about finding the chateau we booked (click here to read), this is the second place where we ended up. Because we cannot extend our unplanned stay at Chateau des Arpentis (click here to see it), the owner, Sylvie offered us a room at her other property in Vouvray,

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Domaine des Bidaudieres is a restored 19th century property located on a terrace of a vineyard. The 15-hectare is no longer producing wine. The web site has many more pictures.

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We liked the spaciousness of the entrance hall. When we arrived, a couple of potted small lemon trees with ripe fruits perfumed the glass-enclosed space making it very inviting and relaxing.

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Sylvie told us that this property is very popular for weddings and are booked every weekend in the summer. We can see that the entrance hall is really good for a reception or dining area.

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The property has a swimming pool on a lower terrace and an interesting stone staircase.

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A photogenic spot for weddings.

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There is an orangery next to the pool which can also be used as a residence with a glass-roofed sitting area.

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This is one of my favorite spot. I(Chris) can imagine having a nice dinner al fresco … watching sunset from the terrace at dusk and then later with candles on the chandelier suspended from the tree …

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We did not have time to explore the grounds of the property.

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The rooms, each named after one of the Vouvray vineyards, have a view over the pond and the grounds of the estate on one side and over the swimming pool terrace and the surrounding countryside on the other.

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Our window has a view of the pond. The water was so clear that we could see the vegetation on the bottom from where we stood on the second floor.

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Sylvie lives here with her family in a separate area.

bidaudieres-7Breakfast room

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Common room

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Vouvray is located along the Loire on the east of Tours. It is very well known for still and sparkling white wine made with the Chenin Blanc grape.

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Sylvie recommended checking out the cave of Domaine Marc Bredif. We did not have time to tour the cave but bought several bottles to take home and a magnum of the sparkling variety for VC’s birthday party. It was a really good drink for the summer.

Another place to come back to next summer.

This is the chateau we landed when the one we booked canceled our reservation. For the full story on how got here, see our earlier post here. On its web site, the history of Château des Arpentis is as follows:

The first well-known lord was Christophe Thomas in 1313. Around 1410, the chateau became the property of Jean du Bois, majordomo of the Duke of Guise. During 16th century, it became the property of the military, and then in 1612, Louis Charles d’Albert, Duke of Luynes, became the owner, and it is also where King Louis XIII was invited to dinner on the 20th of June 1619. During the 17th century, the terrace was built on the walls that surround the moat and castle. The castle was restored in the 19th century.

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In the middle of a park of thirty hectares, the castle was entirely restored in 2007-2008. The chateau has a grand total of only 12 guest rooms. arpentis -34

Like many chateau and manor houses in the area, for the nobles, hunting was the main activity. So the whole place is decorated by all kinds of hunting trophies. Some of these stuffed animals must look pretty scary at night. arpentis -41

Despite the animal heads, no guns or weapons of any kind were displayed. arpentis -44

There is a “common” room on the first floor where drinks were served at certain times during the day and the guests could congregate to chat, play pool, and socialize.  A large family of Americans were there when we arrived around 9pm the night before. arpentis -31

Above the fireplace, the metal emblem in the shape of an animal with a crown on its back is a porcupine. This animal seems to be the mascot or something of the place – there were more little sculptures of them lying around the room. arpentis -30

This room on the ground floor was not opened. But it can certainly support some social functions. arpentis -35

The chateau is a life-size Cluedo playboard, it could be a perfect place to host a murder mystery party. And the setting is authentic enough for something real to happen, given the right combination of people and motives. arpentis -36

We met the owner who bought the property several years ago and now runs it as a hotel. The couple owns another property in the area where we also stayed, see later post. arpentis -39

Except breakfast time when we saw the other guests, there was hardly any one around. arpentis -38

How big is 30 hectares of land ? Where were the animals we saw the night before ? arpentis -42

There is a stream running in front of it and a bridge that takes one to the meadow and the pond. arpentis -33

Although we were there at the end of May, it was too early to open the pool. This outdoor space must be great during the long summer days. arpentis -40

This is such an idyllic spot to linger, read a book, take a nap.arpentis -43

According to one of the guidebooks, it says that the Loire Valley has long been described as exemplifying la douceur de vivre (if we were in Italy, it would be la dolce vita). … “The overall impression conveyed by the region is one of an unostentatious taste for the good things in life.” We were curious as to what is being offered in this region to qualify such a statement.  Voilà.

arpentis -32 We hope to come back for a longer stay. In mid-summer.

Continuing with our journey in the Loire Valley …  after a few days in Saumur, we went up river to see the chateaux that made the area famous. In the countryside around the city of Tours, we visited several chateaux that are justifiably France’s national treasures and deservedly tourist magnets. We will share those pictures in later posts.

Hailstorm in Tours city center, one of the bigger city along the Loire

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As many of the smaller chateaux have been repurposed as hotels or bed-and-breakfast, we decided to book a room at such an establishment. Originally we made a reservation at Château du Paradis through Booking.com. We chose it because it had good reviews and was situated in the middle of a forest. After having slept in a cave (see earlier posts here and here), we wanted to try a château in a forest.

Deserted streets in Tours after the hailstorm

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Big problem !  We did not realize this place requires that the guests arrive before 8 pm. The owner called us while we were having dinner in downtown Tours (after a totally unexpected but spectacular hailstorm). He canceled our room reservation and volunteered to book us into a similar establishment nearby. He did not charge us because someone was waiting to take our room. This turn of event was a little disaster in the making. Apparently, the notice about the early check-in was in the original web page when we booked, but it was hidden behind a link and not in our email confirmation so we forgot/missed it when we were on the road. Booking.com need to make such special requirements more prominent in their paperwork.

Driving along the Loire towards Amboise

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We really did not have a choice at that time. So we accepted without knowing what the place looks like except reassurances from the owner of the Chateau du Paradis.

Amboise in a distance

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We finished our dinner quickly and started heading towards Amboise looking for a chateau for which we have only the vaguest directions – go to Saint–Règle.  Any more detailed address is useless in the countryside.

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Fortunately, the place was not that difficult to find. After turning off the public country road, we drove on a partially paved road for about 5-10 minutes before coming up to a gate. Et voila.

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Given the circumstances, we lowered our expectations. But we were pleasantly surprised upon arrival.

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The room afforded us this view out of the window including a horse in a meadow. Very calm and relaxing.

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The room had a distinctly home-y feel which was welcoming. It even had a working fireplace.

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Antique-ish metal bath tub and modern showers …
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It was a relief for us after the surprise and panic, and allowed us to rest after a long day of sightseeing.

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More pictures of Chateau des Arpentis to come.