Tag Archives: experience

Strasbourg: capital of Europe and tourist destination

I have been several time in past in Strasbourg, but always for work reasons and for this reason mainly focused on institutions. The city is famous, together with Brussels, as capital of the European Union because of the presence of the European Parliament, the headquarter for the plenary assembly, and other offices, included the diplomatic missions of the various countries. This time I explore Strasbourg as tourist.

I already discovered that the city is the third one in France as tourism destination chosen by the worldwide travellers. They are right, because there are many attractions to be seen and also a walk in the centre or a trip on the river with the boat is something that gives satisfactions to the tourists. In some corners of Strasbourg as the streets and the buildings are it is like to jump in the past, travelling through history.

Before to describe some of the best monuments and museums, I want to share some curiosities. First of all it is necessary to mention that the Grande Île is protected as Unesco Heritage. As you know Strasbourg is located on the border between France and Germany, so crossing the river Rhine you can find the city of Kehl. Anyway on the French side in the city area are living around half a million inhabitants and this means that Strasbourg is the nineth city in the country.

 

If you want to visit the down town you should know that the best way is on foot or by bike, in order to not miss any particular corner and to enjoy better the atmosphere of the area. If you prefer to use the public transport network, you can be sure that it works perfectly, it is well organized. Never be in hurry in that part of Strasbourg because you will need a lot of time to visit the different attractions and to take pictures of the well kept buildings, bridged and small streets with characteristic shops and restaurants.

Thinking about the restaurants when a traveller goes to the city a must is the sauerkraut (choucroute in French), made with cabbage. It is a specialty served in the traditional restaurants and I have to say that is quite good, reminding a bit the German style mixed with the French cuisine, especially from Alsatian region. You will be delighted, but of course on the menu there are different proposals.

 

About the culture Strasbourg is really active and it offers many free and not free events: opera, ballet, concerst, exhibitions and so on. There is a big number of museums able to satisfy every interests. The quantity of the collections is not second to the one of the entertainment. The city offers a great nightlife thanks to the largest concentration of bars and clubs that remain open until dawn in Europe. There are lovely squares full of patios and young people where spend the evening drinking, chatting and have fun.

The architecture of the city has similarities with Germany because the influence that comes from the other side of the border is obviously high. Among the big and modern buildings of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe there are many ancient architectural testimonies like the Cathédrale Notre Dame, built between 1176 and 1439 with a 142 metres tower from where to enjoy the panorama over the city.

Stay tuned, because in the next article I will write about the attractions, going deep in what to see in Strasbourg.

Anasa

A relaxing mountain

I love to have a break going to the mountains. It is great to have a walk-in nature. That’s why I visited a relaxing mountain. It helps to think and to search for some fresh air. Especially when in summer the temperature in the city is very high. I am not a lover of the hot climate. Well, I found a great place in Piedmont, my region, called Oasi Zegna. It is located in the northern part of the region. Nice mountains with a marvelous view and some trails to go around safe and totally in peace. These are the features of this area.

A relaxing mountain called Bielmonte

I needed to have a day off, from time to time. I can be in touch with nature and almost without connections with the rest of the world. The place is a natural park on the Alps, in Biella province. From Turin it is necessary to drive for an hour and a half, more or less, then you enter a paradise. The main mountain is called Bielmonte and it offers a lot of opportunities. Because there are pathways to walk, others where to have fun with the mountain bike or riding a horse. It a relaxing mountain.

There are restaurants, accommodations, spaces for workshops and sports activities. Are included the winter ones, starting from the ski. There are also some sanctuaries. You can enter to see art, pray or just take all the peaceful atmosphere that is always present around the churches over there. It is also possible to visit a few archeological sites. Of course, the park is very big and if you want to see all you need to stay a few days and move for many kilometers. It is a relaxing mountain full of things to do.

If you are going to visit Turin or Piedmont, you can put Bielmonte in your list for the tour. Do you like the mountains? This is the perfect place where to spend a few days. Thanks to the accommodations you can plan excursions and activities, staying a few days. The position is also good because it is closed to other interesting areas. More mountains, nature, and art to visit. 

Bielmonte is in Biella province, at the border with Alta Valsessera. In that area live free deers, roes and other beautiful mountain’s animals. Then you can see as well insects, as the rare protected beetle Carabus olympiae. Not always insects are ugly and annoying. The trails for trekking go to pastures where it is possible sometimes to taste local cheese. While you enjoy a relaxing mountain taste good food is a pleasure. Don’t you agree?

A lot of panoramic points are disseminated on the way. From Valsessera the road goes to Valsesia. It is famous because it is close to Monte Rosa and the Unesco sites. They are the Sacred Mountain of Varallo and the Supervolcano, one of the 12 in the world that had an eruption of magnitude 8. I had the trip alone, I planned everything by myself. But the Equipe Arc En Ciel, a local organization, generally helps visitors to go around. Geologists and naturalist guides accompany people to explore the area.

A relaxing mountain that allows you to be alone with nature or to have fun with other people. If you have a passion for nature and geology you will have many interesting aspects to discover and to learn.

Around Italy

The country is well known for art, but also nature is amazing. If you love it, Piedmont is sure the destination made for you. Do you want to know more? Explore the blog section dedicated to Italy. A lot of curiosities, fact, and all types of information. They will be useful to plan your travel. For any question, feel free to use comments space below or contact form. I will be happy to answer and to give you more ideas to explore Italy or other countries I visited. To be updated, subscribe to my newsletter. I will write to you weekly with news and extra contents.  

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From the airport to the hotel

One of the challenges for the travellers is the transfer from the airport to the hotel. It depends on the place and on the country, but in the main cities there are many options and it can be difficult to choose the proper one. It is not a matter of price, even if it counts. Buses and trains are cheaper but they have a lot of stops and they are not going directly to your destination. There are some exceptions, as it happens for example in Budapest where you can go on a minibus that does a tour of the hotels, according to the passenger needs.

The taxi is a good option to go faster, but if you are a tourist and you are not prepared in some cases the driver can cheat on the price. It happens also to find fake taxidrivers. The best solution? I do not have the answer but in many cases I use the rent with driver. It is not always convenient, it depends on the city, but in most of the cases is the faster option with a well proportioned cost.

When I visit a new place I check on internet the transfer options via airport website, if available the dedicated section. Especially I search about the rates in order to not waste money. I mean I like luxury and I am available to spend more for a good service, but not to spend more than what is normal according to the country that I am going to visit. Often I travel for work reasons and I need to save time and to go directly to my destination. That is why I try the fastest solution and also to move with comfort.

 

Hotel transfer

What are the options? Call the hotel booked and ask for a transfer from the airport, in case you did not get a complimentary one included in your room rate. Generally hotels have their own cars or they have deals with some agencies. The cost is higher than a direct booking with those service providers. This procedure will cost you around 30% more.

 

Taxi risks

With a taxi you have the direct connection with your hotel, but the driver can choose a longer way to get more money and the risk is to find a fake taxi that will cost even more. It is not valid every where because there are honest people and also in some places the rates are not so higher and there are not different alternatives to be fast and to have a comfortable trip from the airport.

 

Private car with driver

If you have a bit of time to organize your transfer (I suggest you to find it) you can search the agencies that rent cars with drivers. They have luxury car and fixed prices according to the trips. To connect the city with the local airport there are usually competitive prices, meanwhile to go in different cities the cost can be quite high. Anyway it is a luxury transfer and you need to keep it into consideration.

It is not hard to find the various transfer service providers online, in some cases there are already showed the rates, otherwise you can ask via phone or email. It is a good idea to contact directly the agencies, so you can compare the offers. I suggest you also to ask precisely what type of car they will send to pick up you, because there are companies that use not huge and luxury car but they ask the same price of who is going to send Mercedes Class E or S, Bmw and so on. For an higher prices it is available also Rolls Royce.

The advantages of the rent with driver compare with a simple cab are:

  • a fixed price that does not change in case of some road traffic or deviation;
  • the driver waits for you at the arrivals;
  • the car is comfortable and clean, also inside;
  • the driver already know the destination and he or she already planned the best way, according to the road works and to the traffic, to arrive to your hotel;
  • especially in summer and in most of the cases but not all, there is a fresh bottle of water waiting for you on the car, so you can drink during the transfer.

Of course it is always good to check and then to evaluate the service, so if you will be back in the same city or you are using some company that is present in more cities and countries you know if you can call it again or search another one.

 

Experiences

Just to give you a better idea on how it works I write some examples of what happened to me in years of travel. There are also some tips related to the transfers in some cities that I visited in recent time. Starting from Italy I can say that in Rome: the cost of a car with driver from the airport is the same of a taxi, but you can have more comfort and the driver waits for you at arrivals. The company that I chosen for my trips generally call me via phone when I land and we find a meeting point to be fast.

In the Italian capital the distance from the airport to the city centre requires around 45 minutes by car and the cost of the ride on the luxury car is about 45-50 euro. With the taxi you can even spend more, also because it is necessary to add a fee to carry the luggage. The situation is different among the cities, infact in Naples you can find a similar offer, also if the airport is about 20-30 minutes far from the centre. Anyway the rent with driver cost generally 40-50% more than a taxi.

Of course you have advantages, but it can be a bit much. If you choose the taxi in Naples do not forget to choose the fixed rate. The taxidriver always ask to you and it is better than to use the taximeter because he can prefer a longer way. The price from the airport to the centre is around 20-25 euro. If they ask more it is wrong. Keep in mind that they usually ask a couple of euro as tip, it is not mandatory, but it is up to you.

If you go to Sofia, Bulgaria, you will find as it happens in many places, a lot of people ready to offer you a ride, but they are fake taxi. So at arrivals you can directly go to the taxi reception. A girl will ask you the main information and she will give you a code and you can go out and find your taxi ready and especially legal. In Tirana, Albania, there are some companies at the airport, as Avis, that provide cars with driver.

The same in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, with some local companies. If you go to Bucharest there is, like in London, the black cab, the taxi company with luxury cars available for the transfers from the airport and as well to take people around the city. It costs more than a taxi but it offers a very professional service, with more clean cars and well equipped.

These are just few example on how you can move with rent with driver around Europe, but anyway I suggest you to check before to leave. In Turkey for instance in the airport managed by TAV offer different services, included the transfer. It works very well and they operate with huge Mercedes and BMW with professional drivers and they also proposed the transfer perfectly coordinated with the meet and greet service inside their airports, starting from Istanbul. There is also the option with the speedboat for the transfer via sea.

 

The evaluation of the service

How to evaluate the transfer service? This is the last question that can help you to choose the best company. First of all it is important to check how fast they are in answer to the request. Also it is possible to verify the information, if it is complete, and as well the courtesy used. The it comes the way to book, you control if it is easy or not. Naturally comparing the services you have the chance to check the price according to the service proposed.

After the first contact you can evaluate the transfer answering to these questions: was easy to find the driver? Was she or he on time? How was the car in term of comfort and cleaning? Was the driver kind? Did you arrive at destination without problems? The questions are covering the main elements that you need to consider to decide if the service was good and if you will use it again calling the same provider.

I had the chance to use different transfer services in Italy and abroad and always I use those questions to make a check and select the best ones. Going to the conclusions I want to make a couple of examples more. Once in Rome a driver during the trip from the airport started to talk about a person, telling me name and surname, who had bad habits. He told me almost everything about the trips of that guy, for 40 minutes… Well better have another driver, don’t you think so?

In New York I had a tour of the city in a limousine and after that the driver proposed to me to follow my movements for all my stay for a better price. He wanted to deceive the company and he sent me a friend of him. It was impossible to meet each other on time and in the place where I needed. The service was the worst one. This happens especially when you don’t need only a transfer, but a car with driver to go around in the city, so be careful when you say yes to a better price with a sub-agreement.

Anasa

 

Restaurant: 4 elements for you to choose the best one

When I travel I go to the restaurant for a need. But also because I am curious about the local food. I want to taste the typical recipes. When I am at home I like to go out and to eat in restaurants. But I think that it does not make sense to have the same dishes that I can have at home and prepared by myself. I search for something special and innovative and of course well served, in a lovely location and with a nice setting.

These elements help me to select the restaurants where to go. Then they also help me when I make an evaluation. So I can write on the blog about my best experiences. The question is: how to evaluate a restaurant? Or better: how I evaluate a restaurant? I am not a food expert, but I like to taste and I try to search for the quality, that sometimes is even in a pizza.

Sometimes to cook something simple in the perfect way it is more difficult than to create something innovative. If you mix a lot of flavors you can cover a bad taste and the mistakes made during the cooking session. That is why to measure a good cook it should be enough asked to her or to him to prepare a very easy recipe. Anyway, let’s go to the restaurant’s evaluation.

 

The Michelin stars restaurants

The stars of Michelin guide give consumers information about the level of a restaurant, as it happens with the hotels. But how they are given to the restaurants and their chefs. Since 1926 the experts of the famous tires’ brand are going to visit places around the world to select the best and recognize their high quality with the stars, from one to three.

What is the meaning of the stars? One means ”very good restaurant in its category”, two represent an ”excellent cuisine” and three stars indicate ”exceptional cuisine”. These are the results, but what are the criteria used to decide how many stars attribute to the restaurants? The parameters are four:

  • quality of the product
  • preparation technique
  • balance between ingredients
  • the creativity of the chef

The inspectors do not check only these aspects, but they also focus on the quality of service, atmosphere, furnishings, and location. Every single detail is important and the staff of the restaurant has to take care of all the elements to pass the exam and to give to the customers high-quality experience.

The examinators fill a data sheet with a list of the ingredients of the dishes tasted, then they analyze the setting, the service provided by the staff, the hospitality and the comfort. These elements receive an evaluation with a different symbol: the forks, whose increasing number from 1 to 5 is a function of a huge number of factors. The inspectors have to consider the service, the crowding, the furnishings, the atmosphere, the wine list, all the details including greetings waiters and the arrangement of glasses and cutlery on the table.

 

Tradition and innovation

In many restaurants is now trendy to follow the tradition, but the best cooks are using it as the base. The chef proposes the innovation, they mix the traditional recipes with some creativity to give to the guests something new and particular. I like this way especially when I go out to eat around my region. I know the local food, I like it, but it is nice to taste something different that reminds the main ingredients of the tradition.

Another feature of the dishes proposed in many restaurants is the international contamination, that is happening also because the chef is going to work and make experience abroad, so they learn how to prepare local recipes and they use also competences coming from the dishes of their own countries. The result is, in some cases, quite interesting and to discover the similar taste and the new combination gives the chance to have a journey into the food culture.

The leitmotiv of the cuisine today, proposed and sometimes just respected by the chefs, is the lightness. This is good for the health and of course, you can eat a complete mail with more courses without any problems. To be sincere I have to say that in this aspect I agree only in part because in Italy the tradition in the kitchen is not so light.

Why renounce to the real taste of the territory? I guess it is better to eat certain dishes fewer times but properly have them. Alto the creativity of the cook should be something not related to finding the light way of the preparation but to give more taste.

 

The taste

As I already wrote I am not an expert, but just a person who loves to eat well and in good places, sometimes in a pizzeria in a Michelin star restaurant. The recipe and its result is the most important part of the evaluation for everyone. What I check is the flavor of what the chef proposes. A dish must impress, offer a pathway to discover the ingredients and culture. Every bite is a part of the travel.

If the recipe realized can represent this, the grade is high. Then, of course, there are other elements, because a restaurant needs to give a unique experience to the guests, not only serving good food. What are you looking at before to enter in a restaurant? Well about me I can say that if it is exposed, I check the menu and then the entrance. Hotels have generally great halls, also when they have awful rooms, but the door and the setting of a restaurant are, most of the times not always, well related to the food offer.

 

The setting

When the chef reaches a high level in the kitchen, even if she or he has the chance to develop something new and find other challenges, works on the other parts. Improve the table, the plates, and the dining room. Take care of all details is important and I consider an elegant place, with modern or ancient furniture, is lovely, it is something more that helps the atmosphere.

A comfortable table and a spacious dining room with tables well separated are important to give to guests the privacy that they deserve to chat in peace and do not disturb the others or to be disturbed by other guests. The food is the first aspect, but to have the meal in a pleasant place makes the people happy. This is what usually happens to me.

 

The service

The chef is the main protagonist, but in certain restaurants, he is the master, so he (or she of course) needs a good team to be supported in the preparation. The main cook creates, gives the idea for the menu, but all of them are working together. This is what happens in Michelin star restaurants. The people in the kitchen are doing the best part, but they are not the only staff members of the restaurant.

Waiters and the maitre have the task to serve properly the plates, the drinks and also they are engaged as councilors. I know, this word is exaggerated, but they are most of the times responsible to suggest what to choose, as food and especially as a drink, selecting the proper wine according to the dishes.

They need to have competences for that, they need to know how to serve, starting from the right side from where to put the plate. Waiters have also to be kind, to answer properly to the question of the guests and to fill empty glasses maintaining the right level. The customer of the restaurant must be at the center of the attention during all meal, this is what the staff have to take into consideration to do its work correctly.

 

These elements help me to do an evaluation, even if I am not a professional inspector, I do the selections following a bit the procedure of the Michelin star experts. If a restaurant makes me happy and I want to visit it again, this means that I can write about it on my blog and suggest you try the same experience.

Last tips

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How to check an hotel

Reading my blog you noticed that my articles are telling positive feedbacks from my experiences, that is why I want to give you some information about places, restaurants and hotels you should visit. My bad experiences do not deserve to be published. I need anyway to take into consideration that not all opinions are the same, that is why I use high quaity experiences.

Writing about the good part of my travels is the way to tell you: “there you can go and you will be satisfied!

When I prepare an article I think to be brief, to not annoy my followers and readers, but what I write is the synthesis of a precise analysis. For instance about an hotel I observe different elements. I am not an inspector by profession, but I travel quite a lot and I am doing it since many years ago, that is why I developed my personal criteria.

The stay in a five stars hotel it does not mean that everything is perfect, but of course it is the proper place where to pretend a tailor made service and high standards for the accomodation. Especially when I travel for work reasons I need to have comfort as a good equipped and quiet room and also a professional staff ready to answer properly to my needs in terms of assistance in the facilities or reservation of external services.

I have anyway to respect the workers of the hotel, because kindness is always welcome everywhere and guests can be better served using it. So what are the main features to evaluate an hotel? The following points are just used by me to make the selection and be sure that telling you about some structure you can have a great stay. Of course it is not my job, so I take into consideration the features that are more important form my personal comfort. Anyway some hints can be useful to you, my readers, as well.

 

The reservation

The evaluation of an hotel starts at the moment of the reservation. Of course you can book through internet using websites not directly related to the hotel, but also in this case you can check how the management acts. For example once I used Booking, I completed my reservation and one day later I got an email from the hotel booked. They wrote to be closed and they did a mistake accepting the reservation by the system. Everything was cancelled and then I searched for another accomodation. You can imagine my feelings and what I thought about them.

If you contact directly the structure, as I do generally, the staff has to answer with courtesy to all your questions, even the strange ones. They have to explain the rates and give you the best offers, proposing the different options, if they have some special proposals for the period.

 

The pick-up and the transfer

Before the reception you may have contact with the driver if you asked or received the complimentary transfer from the airport with your reservation. The car has to be on time at the airport, the driver need to be there to wait for you with a paper with your name written and then to ask to you how are you and take you fast and with comforts to the hotel. About the private transport services there are many things to say, but I will dedicate an article about it.

 

The reception and delivery of the room

When you enter in the hotel you go directly to the reception. In this occasion you should find a well prepared staff. They should already know about you and your reservation or at least find everything when you say to them your name. They have to make the copy of your passport, ask for your credit card and for a signature on the registration paper. They have to be kind and fast manwhile they give you all the information about your stay and the facilities.

In some hotel the guests of the best suite can benefit of the in room check-in and this needs to have anyway the same features of the service given at the reception. Generally it is easier because they send a well prepared staff and they pay attention only to the room guests. It is part of a special welcome reserved to who is going to spend a huge rate for a special suite.

 

The room

After the check-in you enter finally in the room. First of all it is a good idea to check the cleaning level, starting from the bathroom and the bed. After that the control has to be done on the equipment, to be sure that everything is working and also to see the features of the room. According to the type of hotel and to what the guest booked the features of the accomodation have to satisfy different standards. Minibar has to be well furnished.

If the guest is accomodate in a signature suite of a five stars hotel it is possible to receive a butler service included in the rate. In this case the butler has to be present at the guest arrival, take care of the luggages, put the clothes in the wardrobe and be available to answer to the requests and the needs of the guest. The presence of this member of the hotel staff and his attention to the client has to be evaluated, because the butler is going to be the closest referent during the stay.

 

The stay

During the days spent in the hotel each client has the chance to try some services and their ”perfections” is part of the evaluation. To evaluate if services are good it is necessary to consider the offer in all the aspects, starting from the breakfast. That has to be complete, so with a big selection of salty and sweet food to be chosen by guests. The staff has to be ready to answer to the specific needs, maybe to prepare a coffee or explain where to find a specific food, as well the ingredients used in order to prevent allergies and intolerances.

In Bucharest I had one of the best experiences in terms of breakfast, a big dining room with real departments for the varaious types of food, including meat and fish. It was necessary to walk a bit around to find everything, but the staff was always ready to help guests to find what they were searching for. Any taste can be easily satisfied there. That means to give high grades for the evaluation.

Using the bar or the restaurant it is important to check the offer, the variety of drink and food, the professional staff and of course the prices well calibrated with the quality. About rates it is anyway necessary to say that i every hotel of the world the prices of food and drinks are always higher than in outside restaurants and bars.

If there is the chance to use the room service also in this case the evaluation is focused on the variety of food and drinks available, then the attention is on the staff: how much they are kind and fast, starting from the call to arrive when they arrive in the room. In general to put at the centre of the attention the client is a must for a good hotel, so kindness, ability to answer to the different need are very important, as cleaning and order in the rooms and in common spaces.

If there are other facilities as the gym, the spa, an internet corner or meeting room, it is a good opportunity to check how they are managed. The offers and the equipments are the main elements to evaluate the level of the hotel. The features should help the guest to feel in a safe environment and to feel like at home.

Also the concierge is a staff member to have a big role in the guest stay. He can suggest some places to visit, reserve tickets, deliver specific services, reserve restaurants and so on. His task is to give a real support to customers, to find the way to satisfy them. If there are complimentary newspaper or evening cleaning of the room and bed preparation, it is important to be sure to have the newspaper every day and to receive the visit of the waitress before dinner.

Some hotels then offer tailored experiences to tourists as a private show made by a musician, a visit to a fashion workshop of a famous brand, a special cuisine experience or supercars tour around the city and so on. In this case the evaluation depends mainly on personal taste and on a perfect organisation of the activity, without any time loosing or delays.

 

The departure

The moment of the check-out concern the last minutes spent in the hotel. The guest goes to the reception to pay the bill. It can be the occasion to give a feedback on the structure and maybe to complain about something. Part of evaluation is also the management of the complaints. The staff and the manager have to be professional and to try to find a solution, without be rude, also if they are right, in orther to fix the situation and to not loose the client.

If there is the transfer they have to make the car and the driver ready for the exact moment, so when you leave the hotel. They can take care of your luggages if you leave the room but not the place and thank you for your stay, in order to make you comfortable and interested to visit the accomodation again in future.

 

Other elements

It is more part of the choice then the evaluation, but the good connections of the hotel with the main attractions of the centre of the city is quite important. To have an underground station very closed, to be located in the main square and to have some taxi in front of the hotel door is surely useful.

In last years the respect of the environment protection became a priority in the world and also many hotels are doing their part. In some structures it is easy to find a card close to the bed and in the bathroom with a message: if the guest wants to change bed linen and towels it is necessary to put the them on the floor or tu put the card on them and so on.

This is good, but the question is: if you spend hundreds or thousands euros or dollars for a room and they change daily linen and towels, why if you decide to reuse them and the hotel save money you do not have any benefit. It is great to save nature from the pollution, but the price must be reduced. Starwood Preferred Guest found a solution. It is the fidelity program of Sheraton, Westin and many others hotel’s brands connected also with Marriott Reward. If you choose to not change the towels you get points to be used for services in the hotel and to add to your collection for free nights.

The ones written are the main elements that I always check when I go in a hotel and if it pass the “exam” I mention it in my articles, to recommend the best among the structure where I have the chance to stay.

Anasa