South France Hotels are ok…..

One of my discoveries about traveling to the south of France where there really isn’t a big city is that the hotels aren’t all that great. I would categorize them as being similar to a Motel 8. There is no Marriott or Hilton where I was going so I ha to stay in a hotel that was decently close to my work location. The hotel that I stayed in was called the Mona Lisa Royal Hotel. It was a smallish hotel but it boasted breakfast and a pool. I didn’t get to use the pool but I did eat breakfast every day. I would say even a Hampton Inn or a Fairfield Inn are way better than the hotel I stayed in but for Europe I think its about what you should expect in terms of accommodations so far from a big city.

The breakfast was in their restaurant and it had breads, cheese, luncheon meats. I think it also had yogurt but I didn’t have any of it. The one thing that was lacking was fruit. There was a fruit stand right outside and the small town was in the middle of farm land but alas no fruit as part of my $9 Euro’s a day. I could see the pool from my room and I did have a balcony but that week I was in France was the hottest on record so I tended to not even open the drapes to keep the heat out.

The bathroom was as little interesting since they separated the toilet into a smaller room from the sink and the bathtub/sower. It was weird because after you went to the bathroom, you need to wash your hands which means changing from one room to another. It’s one of those first world problems but its something that you think about when you see a set up that just doesn’t make sense to you. I did have a TV and an A/C but the A/C was one of those window A/C’s that I used to have in my mom’s house. The TV was ok, it was at least HD so I could watch some of the World Cup games but the signal kept on cutting in and out.

Another plus was that there was free WiFi. For some reason I couldn’t connect my travel router to it so I only connected it to my work phone and nothing else to protect my data from snooping. The speed was ok, for some reason I coudln’t get the FIFA app to load anything but Safari worked so that was a plus. Obviously all the plugs in the room were for France and I had an adapter that would make all my stuff work so that wasn’t really a big problem. It was nice that they provided a desk (but no chair?) that was close to my bed so I could be within easy reach of my phones.

There wasn’t an elevator so you needed to use your muscles to bring your bags to the room. I was upstairs but I also packed smart by only bringing a roll aboard and my back pack. Some of my team brought big suitcases so they had a little harder time checking in and checking out. The hotel was right next to a farm and right across the street was a grocery store that closed at 8PM (what????). There wasn’t any place really close to eat unless you walked about a mile or so down the road and even then, everything started closing down at around 9PM with an exception or two. There were also no lights in the parking lot so if you’re there late at night you can see the stars really well but you also can’t see where you’re walking so I had to use the flash on my iPhone to help navigate my way to my room.

Overall, it wasn’t too terrible in terms of where I stayed. The person that was manning the front desk was very nice and she tried to communicate with me in English but ultimately we had to use Google Translate in Conversation Mode. Would I go back to the South of France? Sure but most likely I’ll look to stay in a bigger city that has at least an Acor hotel in it or something that’s closer to what I’m used to and take a rental car everywhere if I’m going to explore the smaller towns and sights..

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Apple TV wins over Chromecast for hotel rooms

I’ve been traveling with both a Chromecast and an Apple TV for a while now and I have to say that in my opinion the Apple TV is winning over the Chromecast.  I don’t have a fancy setup like having a Plex Server at home to stream stuff but I do have Netflix and I can airplay from different websites which is a big plus in my opinion.  Hotel networks are notoriously slow so while most of the time the Chromecast works ok, it sometimes stutters or doesn’t engage at all when trying to use Netflix.

I actually ha that problem 3 weeks ago when I was trying to use my Chromecast at the HIlton Garden Inn.  I finally was able to find a way to get my travel router working and I was trying to get Netflix to work.  It would just constantly say “Casting” on my Netflix app but nothing woould ever happen on the TV.  I tried using YouTube which was just fine but it doesn’t have the stuff I want to play which is on Netlfix.  The following week I brought my Apple TV and I’ve been bringing it ever since.

I think it all comes down to personal preference and even though there is more stuff to bring for the Apple TV it just works better.  I use my iPad or my iPhone as the remote but I have a regular remote as a backup whih helps things along if I can’t get the other devices to work.  The fact that I can Airplay my local content is a huge plus, I have lots of movies that I’ve bought or otherwise gotten that I want to play while I’m away from home.  In that way the Chromecast is limited that I have to stream everything from another service and it has to be a supported service by Chromecast.  It might be different if I had a Plex Server where I could stream from my house or something but I have a 128GB iPad so I can carry locally a lot of content.

This will be one of my new requirements when I travel, I need to have a hotel room that has a TV that can support my Apple TV and my travel router.  This way when there is nothing to wath on TV (which happens a lot), at least I can be entertained by things that I want to watch.

Sunset at 34,000 Feet

This was the last picture that I took leaving Minneapolis from seat on my Delta flight.  Every once in a while, I try and sneak out my iPhone when I’m not supposed to in order to snap pictures that I think will look really cool.  I don’t have anything fancy for picture taking, mostly I use my iPhone or my Olympus Stylus 790SW.  For no flash situations, my iPhone is actually better than using my digital camera although all that is going to change with the new iPhone which actually has a flash on it.

I have some other awesome pictures of sunrise from my hotel room in Minneapolis during the winter.  Minneapolis in the winter is really really cold but it does offer some excellent sunrises.  I would have gotten some pictures of sunsets during winter but it was always too dark out when I left work to capture anything good.  Here is one that I captured that has some pretty sweet colors in it.

Where’s the free wifi?

This coming week I’m going to start traveling once again and I’ll be heading over to Chicago for about a month.  I’m going to be flying United (bleh) because Chicago is a huge United hub and flights on Delta were prohibitively expensive.  So I’m going to fly with no status which means crappy seats for at least a month unless my next client also is in a city that doesn’t have good service from Delta.  To top it all off, I’m going to be flying out of Miami which is a first for me in my over 2 years in consulting.  We’ll see how this goes, but I’m predicting that I’m going to try and stick to flying out of Ft. Lauderdale as much as possible.

Anyway, on to what I’m gong to blog about today.  I decided to stay at a Westin in Chicago since the rate was super cheap and the hotels are really nice overall.  I’ve stayed in Westin’s before but that was really early on in my consulting career.  Being a business traveler there are some things I expect when I stay at a hotel, one of them being free wifi.  I didn’t know it when I booked the hotel but there is no free wifi offered at the hotel.  That will seriously hamper my leisure time since there are a number of things that I like to do online after work hours (like stuff related to my home and family) that I like to accomplish while I’m out on the road.  The Marriott properties that are around the area offer free wifi at their hotels and some of them even offer free breakfast!  Bandwidth is pretty cheap these days so I don’t see how hotels are getting away with charging for internet access in this day and age.  There is a lot of belt tightening going on and in order to do our jobs, free wifi is a must!  There are times that I would want to work from my hotel because its just more comfortable than burning the midnight oil at the office or I want to talk to some of my friends online and have the benefit of using a computer rather than trying to peck out stuff on my phone.

I was reading yesterday that AT&T is going to start opening up all its free wifi hot spots to people with AT&T data plans on their phones.  That means all those Barnes and Noble and airport wireless hot spots that a person had to pay for before are all going to be free.  To me thats a pretty awesome move on AT&T’s part.  Granted it’s only available to phones that have wifi and that have recognized data plans but this should people who use iPhones and other such devices much happier while sitting in their favorite bookstore, airport, or wherever!

I hope that more hotels start to open up their wifi networks to their guests.  I don’t think there will be a huge influx of people coming in from the street to sit in their lobby’s just to use the free wifi.  I like how Hilton manages their free wifi network by requiring a password in order to gain access.  I’ve stayed in a few Hilton properties and the password is different depending on the hotel so its not like you can get one password and then try and go around to the other hotels and gain access that way.  It’s only 4 weeks, so I think I’ll be able to manage not having wifi in my hotel room for now.  I’ll definitely look at the other hotels in my area at my next client, I demand my free breakfast and my free wifi!

Travel Trouble to DC

This weekend I traveled to Washington DC with my wife for a friends birthday.  As usual I tried to book us on Delta Airlines because I have the most status and points with them from all my business travels to date.  I did have enough points for one ticket so I used that for my wife and I purchased mine so I could get some points from Delta.  The trip up required a stop over in Atlanta since there is no direct flight using Delta.  A funny thing happened, I was upgraded for both legs of the journey while my wife was stuck in coach.  I received a lot of flack for that one from our friends in DC but getting upgraded is a Delta decision, not mine.

Anyway, we ended up being delayed in Ft. Lauderdale for about an hour which used up all the cushion for our next leg of the journey to Washington.  I continued to check the status of the next flight hoping it too would be delayed but I didn’t have so much luck in that department.  We actually got to Atlanta with about 20 minutes to spare but had to wait 5 minutes in the plane so that they could move a baggage cart that was blocking the gate!  Such idiocy!  Put the cart elsewhere not in front of a gate!

Since I was up front in First Class, I decided to sprint for it through ATL to see if I could get them to hold the flight.  I was at gate A23 and my connecting flight was at gate B1.  Those of you who fly through Atlanta know how far away that is and sprinting with a rollerboard isn’t the easiest thing to do.  I sent a text message to my wife on what gate to run to, we weren’t the only people on the plane late for connections, practically everyone was trying to connect to their next destination.  I was able to make it to the gate with 2 minutes to spare (or so I thought only to realize that the door was shut and the status on the board said “Departed”.  BLAH!  My wife was all the way at gate B16 when I told her the bad news so there was no need to sprint further.

The good thing was that we were guaranteed to be on the next flight out on Saturday morning (this basically killed my sight seeing plans for the day) but we were stuck in Atlanta for the night.  Delta provides counters so you can get vouchers so I decided to get in line and wait with everyone else that missed their connection.  The line was LONG and the wait was just as bad.  There were some check in kiosks that was able to give us our vouchers and my wife’s boarding card (seat request!).  Now here is where my status came into play again.  Since I bought my ticket separately from my wife’s, we were given vouchers for two different hotels. My wife got the lovely Red Roof Inn and I was able to get the much nicer Double Tree.  I thought that was kind of funny but in the end we stayed together at the Double Tree since it was the nicer of the two.

The next day we were able to leave, but again we weren’t seated together because I had a First Class ticket and she had to sit in coach.  It’s a good thing we were flying JetBlue home, I think she would have been upset if I got First Class on the way home too.

The actual trip to DC was nice, too bad it rained on Saturday.  I was only able to see the Washington Monument and the WWII monument.  I was so close to getting to the Lincoln Memorial but the rain stopped us (we didn’t have an umbrella) so we turned back and got ready for our friends party.  I might go back to DC for a longer visit next time so I can see a bit more of the city and take in the sights of the Capitol.  Well, back to work!