Europe

Review: Westin Hotel Long Beach

I recently stayed at the Westin Long Beach for a couple days while in LA on business. I’ve stayed here once before, but I didn’t review the hotel since I was only there one night. This time I thought it was worth it for me to review it since I actually got to spend more time here than I expected. More on that later. The hotel is situated almost across the street from the Long Beach Performing Arts Center and a very short walk to the water too. It’s on the main drag in LBC too so there’s plenty to do and eat around here.

I checked in around 6 PM and the lobby was very quiet it was just the two check in agents, a couple bellman and one other guest also checking in. I love being a Starwood Platinum because most of the time I get an upgrade to a non-standard room. A couple times I’ve even been given a presidential suite or some other pretty cool rooms. In this case I didn’t get the presidential suite but I did get a corner room on the 5th floor. The last time I was here I got a two room suite, and it was nice, but this one was nice too. The check in desk called it a junior suite. It was very spacious and had plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the room.

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Lobby Area

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Categories: Europe, Review, Starwood Hotels, Travel, Travel Blog | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Review: British Airways shorthaul London to Dublin

As part of my trip to Dublin, I had the opportunity to fly British airways from London to Dublin and back. This was my first short haul experience on British Airways. In fact I’ve been racking my brain as to when I’ve flown them before, and I can only recall one flight about three years ago from Singapore to Sydney. If I flew them as a youngster when making infrequent trips to India, I’m going to have to guess it was 1980 or earlier if at all.

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British Airways a320

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Categories: Airlines, British Airways, Europe, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: American Airlines Coach Class – JFK to London

The horror of it all, to have to sit in coach on an international flight. Am I sick? Ha just kidding. In my almost three years of flying American Airlines or one of its partners in the One World Alliance, this was my first international flight in coach on American. I think I’ve logged in close to 200k miles in that time mostly domestic but have had an opportunity to fly them to London roundtrip 2x and one time each to Santiago, Japan, Nicaragua, and China.

I was flying to Dublin for a very short weekend trip via JFK and London, and I played the upgrade lottery and lost. At the beginning of the day I started at number 10 on the list and by boarding had dropped to 15, they had three open business class seats and sadly I was not in one of those. But hey that’s ok, I had a chance to try out coach class on their newish Boeing 77W, their long range aircraft that they started delivery on early last year.

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The back of the bus literally, 4 rows fro the back

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Categories: Airlines, Airport, American Airlines, Europe, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

My goodness my Guinness, visiting Dublin

Well the final leg of our journey was Dublin, Ireland. I thought since we were ruining our livers anyhow, we might as well do properly and visit the home of Guinness, Jamison’s Irish whiskey and many other fine spirits.

We only had three days in this fine city, and basically our plan was to see the aforementioned breweries and distilleries and then spend the balance of the time find which pub served the best Guinness and offered the most potato side dishes on one plate. I think this was our winner. It was our first meal at a pub called O’Neil’s close to Grafton Street and Temple Bar. This awesome beef stew came with potatoes, carrots, onions and beef plus sides which consisted of roasted, mashed, sweet mashed, and French fried potatoes. I guess these guys really like their potatoes.

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In any event we visited Jamison’s first, the tour was not that bad. Unfortunately unlike the States where most beer and wine tours are mostly free or offered at a very minimal charge, this one was 15 euros per person. The distillery has actually been closed for many years, and they now manufacture in County Cork, in Southern Ireland, but hey this is where it all started. The 30-45 minute visit, consulted of walk through the entire process, as well as a guided tour. My favorite part besides seen “G” get to do a taste test sample between Jamison’s, JAW black and Jack Daniels, was seeing actual barrels that were aged to various years. I believe 1, 3,5, 15 the color difference was truly amazing. Sadly we only got to sample the three year standard variety.

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Eventually we stumbled over to Guinness, and ended up signing up for two different tours. The first was the standard self-guided. They’ve done an amazing job to create a tour you can do at your own pace and see how the product started back in 1779 right at St. James Gate, and how they get to producing in for today’s market. Sadly back in 1981 this facility was closed to brewing, but besides tens of thousands of tourists that descend upon this place to drink, I think they use for distribution.

The seven story tour facility, had several bars serving what else but the lovely black elixir, we are all familiar with but also a few other versions, I had no idea existed. Of course there is Guinness original, Stout, Draught and Foreign Extra Stout. And for all of you that are curious as to whether the draft tastes different in Ireland or is served at room temperature, both of these are myths. Now frankly I don’t have the best palate, but I think the beer tasted exactly the same as it would at my local bar except for two huge exceptions, the first of which is I was drinking it in Ireland and second, it was poured correctly here. Which by the way is exactly 119.5 seconds, sans cloverleaf too.

Our second visit was for the connoisseurs tour, which has to be booked in advance and is a with no more than 25 guest at a time, ours only had six. Plus it’s with a Guinness beer connoisseur, of which they have only six of. Needless to say this is really where I learned about the four main versions of Guinness, some really great history, and of course got to taste them all. Since it was such a private tour, it really helped me understand how important the Guinness family was and is to the city of Dublin let alone Ireland. The family still donates money and land to help better the community, and they really helped shape the city. To top off the visit was a final drink at the Gravity Bar high atop this building, with 360 degree views of the entire city very fitting end to a very very iconic place.

The factory has several restaurants and bars so you won’t go hungry or thirsty, although you need a ticket to get in and they are 15 euros and come with one beer. Oh yeah they have the biggest souvenir store devoted to Guinness I’ve ever seen. If you wanted something emblazoned with the logo, the toucan, or any other iconic figure you’ll find it here. Check out these crazy underwear, and no I didn’t buy them.

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Categories: Beer, Europe, Food, Life, Photography, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oktoberfest: Day 2 and 3

Man cannot live on beer alone, although we really really tired, we also took the opportunity to visit a few sites in central Munich. We visited my favorite beer garden at Viktualien Markt and also Ratzkeller (Der Glockenspiel). Marienplatz is always fun, there’s always something going on whether it be tourists hanging out, people shopping or just enjoying a beer at 10 AM in the beer garden. I still can’t get over that aspect of German life, beer before water and at such an early hour. Viktualien Markt is a really great open air market with tons of food stands (think farmers market) and lots of handy crafts, it’s just a fun place to visit.

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After that we went back to Wiessen, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, “G” and I went back for seconds and even thirds on our quest to drink our way through Oktoberfest. With 34 tents after day two we realized there was no way we would get to see them all so we just focused on the ones we wanted to see and enjoyed the most. That meant we kept ending up at ***it was the best combination of music and revelry that we found. The crown was a mix of young and old, but it was the band that just kept the place rocking and by about 3 PM you found yourself standing on the table with the rest of your new friends singing and drinking along with the other locals and tourists. What a blast.

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Categories: Beer, Europe, Food, Life, Oktoberfest, Photography, Review, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report, Wandering the city | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A day of rememberence: Dachau

Although most of our trip was centered around Oktoberfest and beer culture, I really wanted to also explore other parts of German history and on this visit we decided to also see Dachau, the first Concentration Camp, created for the impressment and extinction of enemies of the state and eventually a World War II prison camp. Although I was not alive during World War II, nor did I have any family that was directly involved, I’ve always thought it was important to learn about the history of this world event, tragic war and massacre.

Dachau is only 20 minutes by Ubahn from the central train station of Munich, and then a quick 10 minute bus ride from the Dachau Hauptbahnhopft. It cost about $10 roundtrip, and was very easy to get too. Once we got there we had the option of renting an audio tour for 3.50 Euros, or just wandering around, otherwise the visit is free for everyone.

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The facility originally consisted of two barracks that was used to imprison about 400 people in the mid to late 30’s and a central processing building, but then as the war escalated they added another 34 barracks, built by the prisoners. At the end of the war the facility reportedly held over 30,000 prisoners when the full capacity was to only be 6,000. Today there are two barracks that were rebuild for our viewing and for preservation of the history of Dachau, otherwise the cement foundations for the other 34 units still exist. As well as the main processing center, the gas chambers and crematoriums. It’s hard to imagine that these relatively small living quarters 30×100 meters(27,000 square feet approx.) could house so many prisoners. I can only imagine how deplorable the living conditions must have been.

Visiting the site was a pretty sobering experience. They have done a great job preserving the integrity of the place and keep lots of artifacts, propaganda and history of what tragic events occurred here. Helping us see and understand what happened here and get an idea of the atrocities that were committed here and through Eastern Europe by the Nazis. I walked away from visiting Dachau with an even greater respect for what Allied troops and any other freedom fighters did during WW II to save so many people and save our world. I’ve been lucky enough, if you can say that to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and although it was also a very sobering experience and does an excellent job of showing us what happened during the war, physically being on the site of such a tragic time in our history was way more moving.

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Remnants of the railroad tracks that brought in the prisoners

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The Main Gate “Work makes you free”

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One barrack, built for 200 people but at times held over 2000

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The other aspect of the visit that was so polarizing was looking at the map of Germany and Eastern Europe and all of the dots that represented concentration camps, extermination facilities, ghettos, transfer stations and facilities that were created to basically eliminate Jews and any other person, race or culture that was deemed by the Nazi’s as enemies of the state. I had no idea how many cites and places were involved in these events. The other part was looking at the guard tower, culvert, razor wire fence and cement wall that if you were brave enough to attempt to escape was your obstacle to freedom. I have no idea how someone could have ever even made it to freedom, let alone know that beyond the prison was a forbidding country with all of its additional obstacles to get through.

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The breakdown of where all the prisoners came from

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The badge classification

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Prisoners uniform and their single food tin

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The border of the camp no mans land

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Foundations of the old barracks

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Sinks and toilets for 200 but at times up to 2000

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Crematorium and Gas Chambers

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I was really glad I had an opportunity to visit Dachau, and see some of the history of our world. Visits like this remind me how lucky I am to be alive and live in these times, yes there are tragedies around us every day and people are fighting for their lives still. I just am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had thought my 39+ years on this rock. Sure I’ve had some tough times, but not as tough as others out there. And visits like this remind me to be thankful for the freedom we all enjoy. If you’re ever in Germany I recommend visiting Dachau or any other site like this to gain perspective on our world and to see what tens of thousands of brave men and women fought for to preserve freedom.

Categories: Europe, History, Photography, Review, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report, World | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally here Oktoberfest day 1

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I finally made it to Mecca. Oktoberfest , Munich Germany. We arrived in Germany on the second weekend of this amazing festival of beer. I really really didn’t know what to expect except that I knew there would be a lot of people and a lot of beer. This was the 173 annual festival of Princess Therese’s marriage to King Ludwig.

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I was just amazed at the nationalism that the German locals showed. It seemed most were in lederhosen and dirndls. It was just really really cool to see the pride of a nation at a festival. I really just can’t think of anything here that comes even close. Sure there’s fourth of July and yes fireworks, but people don’t get dressed up in a national outfit let alone just a sense of pride. Even though is great emphasis to beer drinking here, there’s also a huge fair, festival and lots and lots of food too. Think of the state fair times 10.

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Inside the tents was still a pretty crazy site. Most tents hold over 4000 people, although I think there are a few that hold well over 10,000 and many tables are reserved one year in advance for a meal. So when we tried to rent a table for any time during the Wiessen, we were shut out. Which meant we had to find a table that was not reserved and either empty (never such luck), or ask people if we could sit with them. Thankfully we were always able to find someplace to sit, we may have had to ask 3-4 times at different places, but every time we went into a tent we were eventually successful.

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Every tent had an oompah band, and they play classic German songs and even in some cases 80’s one hit wonders too. It was funny though the band really set the mood for the tent. Of the 8-10 tents we checked out, there were 34, the more festive tents were the ones that played a great mix of oompah and songs from Neil Diamond, Gloria Gainer and Credence Clear Water. It was really funny to hear some of these songs in English and then sung in German, I don’t speak a lick of it, but could sing along in English it was just great.

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There was also the occasional person that would stand up and shotgun a Mas of beer (1 liter), in this case the crazy guy finished his first then put the Mas down and grabbed number two, and downed that one with authority. All I can say is wow.

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Paulaner seating chart

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Categories: Beer, Europe, Food, Life, Oktoberfest, Ordinary Life, Photography, Review, The wish list, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report, Wandering the city | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oktoberfest or Bust

Oktoberfest it’s finally here!!! I’ve been anticipating this trip for almost 10 months, although I’ve had a visit there on my bucket list forever. I mean something about the celebration of beer, that brings a whole country together is just cool. I know that Oktoberfest is not only about the celebration of beer but also a celebration of a marriage King Ludwig and Princess Therese, but man when 7 million people come together to have a 16 day party they don’t mess around.

We’ll there was a little business about actually getting to Munich to celebrate, and travelling from the West Coast to Munich offers a lot of options, but on my carrier of choice United Airlines, there aren’t any non-stops to Munich. Although their partner Lufthansa has one daily flight direct, but since I was hoping to use my upgrades coupons to fly in business instead of coach who doesn’t like that. In my case I needed two tickets so that “G” and I could both travel in style, I could not let him sit back in steerage while I live it up with Kanye and Kim up in business (yes they were on our flight sans baby). Anyhow the only option that allowed immediate confirmation to business was San Francisco to Charles De Gaulle (Paris, France) and then onto Munich on Lufthansa. The configuration of this plane was a 767-400 two class with lie flat seats and a large individual personal TV, with a pretty decent selection of entertainment. I believe that this configuration was a holdover from the Continental days. Needless to say I was looking forward to the flight almost as much as the beerfest that was about to happen.

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Upon arriving at SFO we quickly checked our bags at the counter and went off to security which at noon on a Friday was a zoo. There’s a large bank of international flights between 12-4 so lines were the pits, even the premium line was out the door. Thankfully we had time and by some miracle a TSA agent walked up to us and a few people in from of ours and ushered us to the other side of the security section. Not really sure why but it easily saved us about 30 minutes in line, yes that’s really how bad the premium security line was. I’m not exactly sure how we got where we were but out wait was no more than 10 minutes, it was great.

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Now we had a dilemma get food or get a drink in the lounge. Well cooler heads prevailed and we chose the latter, and quickly headed to the Untied Club, we quickly made our way to the bar and started our journey off proper with cocktails. I was on vacation!!! We had about one hour in the lounge to imbibe in many adult beverages, and snack on “lunch”, and enjoy the cool tarmac views of a very busy International Terminal. Finally it was time to head off to the gate and ensconce myself in my chair for the next 10 hours.

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The flight itself was just great, I know I was on a euphoric high, but the crew was just top notch, and really did a great job. We were really well taken care of from the moment we took off to the moment we landed in Paris, sure the crew was all over the celebrities, but really they made everyone feel special. Besides that though the food was outstanding, I know I only took pictures of the Sunday and the entrée, but overall it was an amazing meal. All totaled it was a five course meal, and by the time it was over I was stuffed to the gills, even passed on breakfast because of it. I know the horror of it all.

Just as quickly as we boarded our flight was over. I was able to catch up on almost all of the summer blockbusters, that I had missed such as Superman, Star Trek, GI Joe, and Iron Man three. Sadly they all sucked except Star Trek which kicked ass. Not sure what made me watch GI Joe, but I just had too, I must have had one too many gin and tonics.

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Once in CDG, we had a quick layover and onto a quick 1 hour flight on Lufthansa to Munich. Although a very very tight squeeze it was a quick and enjoyable flight, with a meal and a beer. Yes they serve glass bottles, in coach. US based airlines, take note. Here’s a few picks from the flight, and stay tuned for a few postings on Oktoberfest.

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Categories: Airlines, Airport, Europe, Lounges, Lufthansa, Oktoberfest, Photography, Review, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report, United Airlines | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

T-Minus Four Weeks

Looking forward to a few of these.

Looking forward to a few of these.

Well drinking season is almost upon us. In T minus 4 weeks I’m heading for Munich and Oktoberfest. As a lifelong lover of hops and barley, going to the ultimate beer celebration has always been high on my list. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited Germany many times over the years (thanks to having In-Laws that live there), but have never been in town for Oktoberfest. As I’ve mentioned a few times in my blog, the big four oh is coming up in December, and my wife suggested that I make the pilgrimage. There was no way I was going to turn that offer down.

So once the dates were settled upon I started making plans. You see I’m really good about making travel arrangements, but not so great at deciding what to do while on vacation. I’m the kind of person that spends hours if not days making sure I have the optimal routing, seats and hotel but not the type of person that does tons of in city research. Usually I’ll read Lonely Planet or Fodor’s on the way there, and plan the vacation accordingly. Although in this particular case it’s extremely difficult to get evening tickets to one of the beer tents. You either need to know someone at the brewery or pay through the nose to buy a seat or a table. Even with the local hook up, and planning almost a year in advance, we were not able to get a table, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to get in a tent. It just means possible line standing and going early in the morning and hanging out all day. How bad could that be? Right? I mean it’s only Oktoberfest and all they sell beer all day. So besides spending a couple days at the Munich Oktoberfest Fairgrounds, I know I’ll get to hang with family, but I also wanted to check out Olympic Stadium the home of the ‘72 Summer Games. Although I was not born till December of ’73, I’m sort of an Olympics nut and the events surrounding those games would be interesting to see up close. I’ve seen a ton of documentaries and movies about the events, but I think getting up close will be worth it. I’d also like to visit Dachau. I know not the most uplifting experience, but again, I think it’s important to sometimes take a moment and reflect on what makes our world what it is, and to see another event in our history books up close and personal would be very enriching.

After five days in Munch, my buddy “G” and I will then head over to the Scotch and Whiskey capitol of the world and spend a few nights in Dublin. I’ll do my best to give my liver a rest, but the home of Bushmills and Jameson’s may have other plans. Plus being the home of my favorite beer, do I even need to say it’s name will have to be tested at many pubs too. I’m told that is just tastes better here. I’ll be sure to report my findings. In any event our plan here is to check out many Irish pubs, the Jameson’s and Guinness factories. And to boot “G” has a hook up who works for Jameson’s so we’ll see what that gets us.

So with just a few weeks to go before the big trip, I’m jazzed and ready to go.

Categories: Europe, Food, Oktoberfest, Travel, Trip Report, Wandering the city | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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