Saturday, December 10, 2016

Living Dutch art

Stop at the Rijksmuseum to admire masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer or head to a street market (markt) to buy tulips.

I was able to stand inside the Nightwatch painting, created as sculptures in Rembrants Plein Amsterdam. I discovered this living art when I walked from the tram stop to my hotel, The Waldorf Astoria. There are many other hotels near the Rembrandt's square. The N H hotel has a view of this sculpture. NH Hotels are quite a big, “mid-priced” brand, in Europe. They have 400 hotels in 30 countries offering free Wi-Fi  me in nightwatch

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas in Europe

Amsterdam is beautifully lit up with Christmas lights during the Light Festival. I make sure that I am in Holland on the 5th of December every year for the wonderful celebrations with family. In the USA, there are no businesses open on Christmas day and then we hit the store sales the day after, but in England, Xmas extends to “Boxing Day”. Over the past few centuries, servants served the gentry, then on the 26th December, they boxed up the leftovers and took them to their relatives for their day off.
In Holland and in Germany, the “second Christmas Day” is a time to treat your family to dine in a restaurant. I had a wonderful breakfast at my hotel, the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. Librije's Zusies is a Michelin star Restaurant at the Waldorf, with delightful cuisine, so I may take the family there as a treat.

The legend of the kindly Pope’s representative, (The Bishop) arriving, is played out with much pageantry in Holland to this day. Sinterklaas arrives annually on a Saturday at the end of November. This event is broadcast on national Television, each year he arrives at a different city by boat.

I traveled to Amsterdam with some friends from America and enjoyed their astonishment at seeing Santa’s helpers because he is always accompanied by 2 fake black moors! They are both named “zwarte Piet”( Translated is: “black Peter”). Though there have been some racist accusations, so this year I have seen some Purple Piete and they don’t call them zwarte anymore, just “Piete” Pity, because it made Dutch children look fondly on black people. Though, I have to admit, it is the strangest thing to see 2 grown men in tights with black makeup covering their faces! Well worth hopping on a KLM flight to cross the pond to experience a Dutch Christmas, if you can keep a straight face.

Children place one of their shoes in front of the fireplace (or heater). Inside the shoe, they place a carrot (for his horse), and a list of desired gifts that they hope will appear on December 5. Did you notice that I said that in Holland St. Nic delivers the gifts on Dec 5th and not on Dec 25 as he does in other parts of the world and that he has a horse in the Netherlands whereas he needs reindeer to travel globally~ Germany is also a delightful country to visit at Christmas time. I love the schönen Christmas Markets! #SantaClaus and the Hotel Palace in Berlin's city center/Kurfuerstendamm with a nice, SPA + indoor pool. The Palace is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World Group.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Grand old Royal Hotel


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Hotel van Oranje, is a grand old hotel, the Autograph Collection® is only 25 minutes away from Amsterdam. on the Koningin Wilhelmina Boulevard 20 Noordwijk. This grandly named Boulevard is fitting for this majestically, ostentatious hotel. Prior to WW2, during Queen Wilhelmina’s reign, it was a glamourous place. This is its greatest charm, nonetheless, the management and polite doorman added to a delightful stay.

TWP_20150206_14_51_49_Prohe 'Imperial Bar' is also appropriately named for the bygone era. The hotel has an entertaining place to eat in the summer, called the Beachclub O. providing private terraces, facing the North Sea. Hotel van Oranje is centrally located convenient to visit Keukenhof tulips, the world's largest flower show.

Now that Starwood Hotels and Marriott have joined to become the world’s largest hotel company, this is one of the gems that you can receive Elite perks at. As a Marriott Rewards Platinum Elite member, I receive free breakfast at all of the Brands properties and I was delighted to partake of the sumptuous spread, buffet complete with champagne. As you can imaging, this lavish meal attracts many cheerful guests, so we were delighted to linger over breakfast while enjoying the beach view.

The Spa and Sauna facilities, make a wonderful retreat. I enjoyed the warm pool and children love Europe's biggest indoor wave pool with brightly colored blue and red lighting changing every few minutes. This give the swimming pool a carnival style sensation.

As I mentioned, it is entertaining in summer, but I also enjoy the less crowded time of the year when it is cooler and a brisk walk on the beach side of the Promenade, encountered a plaque honoring Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, for his Expedition in to space. I am proud to have met Andre when he was at NASA in Texas, so it was a delight to discover this Plaque.

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

New ways to use miles at Airports

Now you can use your United miles to purchase TSA Pre✓ to get through airport security faster. Though I found the TSA line longer than the regular line at security, last time I was at the airport. United will let you use your miles for a code that covers the cost of the application fee for TSA Pre, this will last you for 5 years.It is a time saver to not have to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or light jackets.tsaPre

The Premier program (the "MileagePlus Program"), has just released this new way to use your miles at the airport, but I noticed another way to use your miles at the airport in New York. I was able to order a bite to eat on an iPad at dining tables near my gate.


Use your miles to book Hotel stays at brand-name hotels and resorts or use your miles to buy eGift cards and certificates for thousands of restaurants
or to pay for food and beverages at select Newark Airport restaurants.

Newark Airport restaurants, let you use your miles to pay to eat at some restaurants and bars in Newark Terminal C.
to dine or have a drink at a participating venues. The cuisines from well-known chefs, where you can use miles include:

Abruzzo Italian Steakhouse, Gate C70
Caps Beer Garden, Gate C124
Vanguard Kitchen, Gate C100 - Upscale American
Flora Café, Gates C112 and C133 – Mediterranean
Nonna's Meatball Kitchen, Gate C124
Oeno Wine Bar, Gate C73
Origami, Gate C120 – Sushi
Proof, Gate C102 - Tavern food and whiskey
Salumeria Prima, Gate C84
Riviera, Gate C91 – French
Saison, Gate C120 – French
Vesper Tavern, Gate C82

Beginning October 6, you will be able to book customized multi-city award travel on United is also streamlining their fee structure for changing or canceling award flights, so stay posted.

Also new, is onboard Wi-Fi, for 10,000 miles ,  stay connected at 35,000 feet for 300 miles. The most popular use of miles is to get free flights and there are many ways for MileagePlus members to upgrade to premium cabins, but if you don’t want to save up miles for a free flight, you may find this attractive.

Just a word of caution, if you buy Wi-fi, don’t fall asleep! Jeremy slept while he was charged $1,171 on Singaproe Airlines!


Friday, July 15, 2016

An excursion in to the desert and back in time.

Visiting the ancient Persian Ruins are the closest I will ever get to Irsnip_20160715071500an, so I was curious to see them even though they were destroyed by many earthquakes. Turkmenistan is fascinating but the hottest country I have ever visited, especially in the desert. I was told that they have cold and dry winters, though this was no consolation in that poorly air-conditioned environment. My hotel in Ashgabat, could not be called luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. . If there happens to be a next visit, I would choose the best hotel in the Capital, the Sofitel.

Turkmenistan is bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea. The country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, then a dictator took over until sc00ba215301his death in 2006. He bizarrely renamed Monday after himself and erected a 49 foot high gold statue in the capital that rotated throughout the day to face the sun.

I enjoyed visiting the farmers market to buy some fruit, but more so to see the floral headscarf's worn by the women. The soil is extensively irrigated, so Turkmenistan is a major global producers of cotton. They also have an oil and gas industry .


The capital city Ashgabat was almost totally destroyed by a 1948 earthquake. The rebuilt Soviet style large grey concrete buildings are evidence that the Russians tried to re-settle their people there to dilute and suppress the Primordial Muslim community. It is one of the oldest inhabited areas on earth and I imagine that some of the people that I saw were a thousand years old, (judging by their costumes.) The exotic clothing worn by the Turkmen. (not in Turkey) in particular.clip_image002

We had a driver take us out in to the desert to Dekhistan, the lost city of the Silk Road. It’s remote 10th century ruins make an intriguing excursion because you don’t encounter many tourists. Near the city of Mary are the ruins of the ancient Persian town of Merv. With over 4,000 years of history, this is the oldest and best preserved oasis city on the Silk with camel

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Indianapolis & Minneapolis (metropolises)

Now that I've visited the 2 cities (polis), I won’t confuse them anymore. Indianapolis and Minneapolis are both pleasing metropolises.

The excitement is building up for the annual 500 IndyCar race, where I took this photo at the Indianapolis airport.


Indianapolis is a sports lover's paradise. The city hosts the Indianapolis 500 and regularly hosts the NCAA men's basketball tournament. My hotel room had a view of several stadiums. The JW Marriott Indianapolis is next to the Lucas oil stadium. The city is sooo synonymous with racing that it has inspired the name "IndyCar," used for both the competition and type of car used in it. The Indianapolis 500, this week is intense car racing. On May 29th, will be the 100th time the annual 500 IndyCar series will race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I arrived at the JW hotel drenched because I had to walk in the rain. (The streets were blocked off for runners but I did not see any runners, since they were not foolish enough to run in the rain) Anyway, I was disappointed to get to my room and discover that I could not have a hot bath because they forgot to build a bath tub in my room. Apparently, if you request a King sized bed, you only get a shower. All was forgiven because a really nice Marriott guy came to empathize with me and moved me to a room with a tub. He had a British accent, so I felt like I had my very own butler. It was nice to see him again the next morning in the Concierge-Executive Lounge, being helpful with breakfast needs. Service is the essence of Luxury!


The JW Marriott hotel in Downtown Indianapolis is next to the Fairfield Inn, SpringHill Suites, Westin and Embassy Suites. The JW Indy is joined via a walk way to the Indiana Convention Center. I loved the warm pool and my view of White River. it is a Cat 6 hotel so Marriott Rewards members need 30,000 points for a free night. You may also combine redemption nights with cash nights within a single reservation using Cash + Points. This is a new thing for Marriott, but "Cash + Points" have been around for a long time at other hotel chains like IHG and SPG


I was at the Sonesta airport hotel in Minneapolis - St. Paul Airport it is an ES Branded Sonesta. The Sonesta Hotels Travel Pass guest reward/recognition program is offering free nights, points that never expire, no blackout dates. Sonesta Business Pass is specifically designed with the needs of small and mid-size businesses. Sonesta in Hilton Head, Vermont, Austin/Bee cave and Curaçao. Several south American cities and Royal Sonesta Hotel & Casino Panama, but not in Mexico. they differ from other hotel chains because they have Hotels and river cruise boats on the Nile in Egypt. Sonesta ES Suites Flagstaff AZ and Tucson has the Sonesta's new extended-stay brand, Sonesta ES Suites. you'll receive great benefits across locations worldwide — in the U.S. and Sint Maarten, you'll also earn points that will add up quickly for free nights. You become elite after 12 nights. but a preferred member after 6 nights a year. Elites get free club lounge access (or continental breakfast daily)

The only airport hotel that Sonesta has is in Minneapolis, at St. Paul Airport it is an ES. Minneapolis' name is attributed to Charles Hoag, the city's first schoolteacher, who combined mni, a Dakota Sioux word for water, and polis, the Greek word for city “polis”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Upgrade waitlists on Airlines

Further to my previous post, my story did have a happy ending! I was able to use one of the 2 annual upgrades that my Elite benefits allow me.

It is so frustrating when you see your name on the top of the Upgrade list, only to find yourself 10th from the top an hour prior to the flight. United uses many methods to prioritize the order and the fare comes into play too. Free Premier Upgrades on award tickets are prioritized after the lowest paid fare class.


It is nice that United has made the Upgrade process transparent by putting the names on the screen, in the order of priority. As you can see on this monitor, There were 2 pages on the upgrade lists, so there were more people on the list than there were first class seats available on the 737-700.

The order of priority for upgrades, on flights that are eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades are more transparent, but the more one looks into it the more reason passengers have to just fly the airline they choose for that particular flight and pay up for the cabin you want. Loyalty is not the result.

Premier Elite status seldom delivers any free upgrades. It is not worth taking the risk to just hope for and upgrade. Have you noticed that the seats are closer together and the padding on airline seats is getting thinner and thinner? Even though I am a Premier Platinum member, I’ve had several middle seats in economy.

It is almost a 4 hour flight from Newark-Liberty Intl to Texas-Bush Intl airport and there is often no video screen on the seat in front of you. They are removing the headphone plugs from planes because they are often worn out so most of the sound has not been working. Now days you have to bring your own device.

They did have DirectTV on my inbound flight, that was a real treat!  Most of my flights are international, where they don’t provide DirectTV, so I was entertained. Previously, food was the main entertainment, but that has gone too. They do have WI-fi on some flights, but you have to pay for it, even in first Class, but it is worth it to pay for inflight entertainment to make the time go by faster.

On AA you can Watch TV live, such as Sports LIVE on inflight channel Sport 24 on American Airlines flights.
United's "Private Screening" options, such as seatback on-demand entertainment and personal device entertainment, give you free access to movies and TV shows on board. Trouble is that it is difficult holding my mini iPad without accidently pressing one of the buttons on the side, thereby kicking me out of my video. 

You are in luck, if you fly coast to coast in the US, because there is a lot of competition for that route. They offer more comfort on those flights, but Houston is not such a good place to fly from because IAH does not really have an Airline with a real hub there, and flight prices are higher than from other cities.

The problems that surfaced during the contractor bidding process for the terminal redevelopment work at IAH airport, highlights how taxpayers lost $ via Bill Frazer.  The city council entered into favorable Hobby airport use and lease agreement with United and only entered into similar agreements with American in June last year.  The good news for Houston is that Southwest Airlines is now bringing prices down since they invested in Hobby airport. Unfortunately, a recent Audit Reveals Overcharges at Hobby Terminal Construction by Clark Construction Group-Texas, L.P., the prime contractor at the Hobby Airport Main Terminal Expansion project.  The Controller’s audit identified $1,411,695 in potential recoveries.Source: Guidrynews.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Upgrades to premium cabins have become "a pie in the Sky"

I got 2 Regional Premier free Upgrades. It is one of the United benefits that you get 2 per year if you are Premier Platinum Elite, but it is not easy to use the upgrades.
These one-way, one-cabin upgrades are confirmable as early as time of ticketing, so they say …. They are valid on select United- and Copa-operated flights within certain regions, but I bought a ticket 2 months ago and am still waiting to use the upgrade I requested at the time of purchase, and might I say that I chose that particular flight because it had almost all the first class seats empty.


So it looks like I have very little chance of using the upgrades. The Upgrade Standby list is something that I have stopped holding my breath for.

I do appreciate that United sent me an email to explain the situation the day before my flight:

We are not yet able to confirm your request for an upgrade on your flight to New York, NY, US (LGA - LaGuardia). While your upgrade request will no longer appear in your reservation, you will automatically be added to the upgrade standby list after you complete check-in and receive your boarding pass for this flight.”

Now I have to wait till after the outbound flight and hope they re-deposit the upgrades so I can try again on the return flight. If upgrade space is not available when requesting a MileagePlus Upgrade Award, Regional Premier Upgrade or Global Premier Upgrade, travelers may be placed on a waitlist. Travelers placed on a waitlist are prioritized according to the Premier status of the traveler. So if you only have Silver Elite status, you have zero chance. If the request includes multiple travelers, then priority is based on the highest Premier status on the reservation. Waitlists are processed based on Premier status of the traveler, then fare class, then time of request.1 New waitlist requests for MileagePlus Upgrade Awards, Regional Premier Upgrades, and Global Premier Upgrades can be made until 24 hours prior to departure.

Priority within five days on flights eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades
On certain flights, automatic processing of upgrades, including Complimentary Premier Upgrades, may begin as early as 120 hours (five days) in advance. The confirmation windows for Complimentary Premier Upgrades, by Premier status, are:

  • United Global Serv. get it 120 hours / 5 days prior to flight.
  • Premier 1k status-Confirmation (as early as) 96 hrs/ 4 days
  • Premier Platinum gets upgrades 72 hrs /3 days before flight
  • Premier Gold Elite - 48 hours / 2 days
  • Premier Silver only on the Day of departureseat upgrades seem unlikely

It gets more complicated than that, they also prioritize by fare now. Free Premier Upgrades on award tickets are prioritized after the lowest paid fare class.

The order of priority for upgrades, on flights that are eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades are more transparent, but the more one looks into it the more reason passengers have to just fly the airline they choose for that particular flight and pay up for the cabin you want. Loyalty is not the result.

Premier Elite status seldom delivers any free upgrades. It is not worth taking the risk to just hope for and upgrade. Have you noticed that the seats are closer together and the padding on airline seats is getting thinner and thinner?     Even though I am a Premier Platinum member, I’ve had several middle seats in economy.

I do miss the ‘good old days’, of abundant upgrades for Top frequent fliers. There is no fun anymore when you gamble that you will get it. Let’s face it, the only time you have fun in Vegas is when you win or when you don’t gamble. Just saying …