15 Travel Tips for European Hotels

Hotel Fabric

With high ceilings and vibrant color scheme, Hotel Fabric made the room feel bigger

Despite all of my years traveling, I often forget about the little things that I take for granted staying in U.S. hotels (or Western chain hotels). It’s in Europe when I stay at the smaller hotel properties that I remember all the quirks that make for memorable encounters along the way. I recently met a couple in Naples who shared their not so great hotel experience and it was funny to see what mattered to him vs. her (she wasn’t thrilled that their third floor walkup had no air-conditioning, he didn’t care as the price was good). So for those of you experiencing European hotels for the first time or going back and have forgotten here are a few of my travel tips for European hotels you need to know before you book, pack and stay in Europe (note that if you are staying in a Western chain like Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, etc. or a 5 star hotels these may not apply).

Hard To Find Items

  1. Tissues – on my recent stay at a 4 star hotel in Spain, they gave you two tissues in the toiletry kit. I had a combination sinus infection and allergies so found the local Carrefour to buy a 12 pack of tissues for €1 (best money ever spent!). The next four hotels I stayed at didn’t provide tissues either! So bring tissues with you if not for the hotel then definitely for the bathrooms along the way (that’s a whole other issue especially in Italy)
  2. Washcloths – if you like to use a wash/face cloth in the shower bring your own to Europe. It’s rare to see them provided in the hotels in my experience. I did get one at the Starwood Luxury Collection hotel in Naples and it felt like an extravagant treat
  3. Conditioner – The toiletries are hit/miss. I rarely get hair conditioner so I bring it or buy it locally. Some hotels are providing shower gel dispensers in the shower so you may want to bring a bar of soap if you don’t like shower gel. Check to see if any of the toiletries have small foil seals, if so, open those prior to using in the shower – they are next to impossible to remove when wet in my experience.
The Nines Hotel BeeKind toiletries

Environmental BeeKind toiletries at The Nines

Don’t Assume the Hotel has…

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Boutique Hotel Naples: Partenope Relais, A Movie Themed Hotel on The Waterfront

Partenope Relais Naples

Partenope Relais front desk

In my research of Naples, I happened upon the Partenope Relais on the waterfront.  Intrigued by the fact that it was only 24 boutique styled rooms on one floor, I was sold on the theme – the movies.  Each room would have a famous scene from the actor or director in it.  It seemed interesting and perfect for me – boutique hotel and movies, just add popcorn and I’d be even happier.

 

Location

The hotel is situated on the beginning section of the pedestrian only waterfront of Naples – via Partenope.  The cab ride from the airport is a flat (fixed) rate of €23 to the hotel and the entrance is past the area for cars so you do need to carry your bags a few feet and up one step into the hotel.

Partenope Relais Naples

The hotel is on the first floor (grey shaded) of the building

The waterfront location is chock full of restaurants (not especially high-end but with the pizza, pasta, sandwiches and gelato you would expect on a heavily visited area) as well as a major tourist site, Castel Novo (free to enter).

Naples Waterfront Restaurants

The restaurant in the building and view of the waterfront

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Discovering the Flavors of Spain with Devour Barcelona Food Tour

I went on a Devour Barcelona food tour and ate all of the food! Now for most people this doesn’t seem odd – go on a food tour and eat the food but for me who has suffered from lactose intolerance for almost 15 years, this was a big thing!  Suffered is probably too strong a word but I really dislike having to play roulette with foods since dairy is often an added ingredient. That’s why I’m not a food blogger because I’m not really a fan of food – I keep it simple which makes me miss out on so many flavors and tastes around the world. Devour Barcelona allowed me to taste the flavors of Spain easily.  The staff and vendors accommodated my issues (no dairy or seafood) as well as others (shellfish allergy, vegetarian, etc.) which was fabulous.  Knowing that I could eat food and not worry about getting sick was such a relief, I could actually enjoy the experience.

Devour Barcelona Cheeses

Just a few cheese options at the market in Barcelona

Meeting the guide, Renee, an American ex-pat, who like so many others left the U.S. for a year but found her love and stayed in Spain.  This is her dream job and her enthusiam for the food and the shop owners can be seen throughout the tour.  Meeting outside of the Valentino store on the Passeig de Gracia was easy.  I arrived first followed by a solo traveler from Chicago, another blogger from the TBEX conference and a family of nine (the group is capped at 12).  We were told a bit of the history of the city and the neighborhood of Gracia that we would visit on our four hour tour.  The area had been a village that was absorbed by the city of Barcelona yet retains so much of that small town feel that few tourists get to visit despite its proximity to so many other must see attractions. We were provide a handout with all of the spots we were visiting but I put it away and wanted to be surprised.

Mural Barcelona Market

Mural outside the Barcelona Mercat de lAbaceria Central

Warning: The Photos contained in this post may make you hungry!  So don’t read on an empty stomach and remember I’m not a food blogger so I either like it or I don’t like it – simple as that

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Solo Cruise with NCL on EPIC – The Studios and Solo Lounge

When I travel solo on a cruise, after the anger of the 200% fare wears off, I tend to overschedule myself to remain busy in the day and forget I’m alone on a ship of over two thousand people. It’s easy to blend in and become invisible if you want. At night, I would then join a shared dinner table to meet new people and listen to their amazing stories of interesting lives lived. If I was lucky, I would get adopted by folks who took pity on me for being alone (without a husband of course). Being adopted has worked out well over the years, until now as Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has drastically changed the solo cruise traveler experience (it’s about time!).

NCL EPIC cruise ship

My EPIC ride to a new life

In 2010, Norwegian took the bold step of creating solo cabins, called studios, on their new ship the EPIC (and since then on other ships). Going a step further than just making a smaller room (100 sq ft) for one person and not subjecting them to the single supplement (often 100% additional), Norwegian also created the Studio Lounge as a special gathering place to eat, work, play while onboard.

The Studios and Studio Lounge is a separate area within the ship (all inside no view rooms) located on Deck 11 and 12 (with an interior stairwell) accessed only by those staying in the studios (although the Happy Hour is accessible by knocking on the main lounge door). The studios are generally a very popular category and sell out quickly with each sailing.

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My First Cabin Crawl on the Norwegian EPIC

Have you ever cruised and wondered if you should spend the extra money to upgrade your cabin? You read the descriptions and try to ascertain from the photos what the difference in cost and space really gets you? Well, for me who could only afford the inside cabin (reluctantly with the 100% single supplement), I had to just dream of what the balcony room (and others) looked like knowing I’d never see the inside traveling solo. But low and behold, there is a way to peek inside the door and see what you are (or are not) missing as I recently found out. It’s called the Cabin Crawl, similar to a pub crawl if you use your imagination and bring your own drink if you want to.

Norwegian EPIC Haven suite

Just a peek inside the Haven suite on EPIC

Key to any cruise is joining Cruise Critic and the roll call. A roll call is specific to your cruise line, boat and sailing date. You can virtually meet hundreds of travelers prior to the sailing and plan out meetups, private tours and such. While Cruise Critic is a great source of information (secret spots on the ship, foods to avoid, tours to do, etc.), if you amass enough folks on the roll call you can often get the ship to provide space for a meet up. On my past cruises, we had meet ups on the ship which was good to put a screen name to a face in real life and organize tours details. The organizers on our roll call planned a cabin crawl for Day 2 of our transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian EPIC.

Balcony cabin Norwegian EPIC

Our standard balcony (forward) cabin on Norwegian EPIC

A cabin crawl is a tour of people’s staterooms. They kindly offer to let you into their cabin and on their balconies (if they have one) so that you can see what each category of cabin looks like. Is it worth it to upgrade in your category? Pay more to a new category? Does an extra 20 sq. ft. matter? We all did the cost/benefit analysis in our minds and a few forgot to filter as we walked.

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My EPIC Journey begins

So my life is changing whether I want it to or not so I decided it was a great excuse to begin my EPIC journey and see where it leads.  When I wrote about the crazy $399 transatlantic cruise to Barcelona from Miami on the Norwegian EPIC cruise ship, I sent my friend “country mouse” an email about it.  She replied “let’s go!” and with that I quickly began formulating a journey to Europe via cruise ship to attend the TBEX conference and then see what happens.  The kitchen table, normally a mess with papers, was now hard to find under all of the research I was doing until 2 a.m. each night.  My first two weeks unemployed, I was busier than ever working on the basic outline of a trip and then flying by the seat of my pants (points) literally.

For many folks who have quit their jobs to travel the world, they made deliberate decisions and it seems they had set up goals to save and travel. I’m not sure how many did it in two weeks like I have. Once in motion my insane plan using award miles, hotel points, gift cards from my birthday, airbnb reservations, my water bottle of coins, quick train bookings and with a bit of help from some friends I was off.

NCL EPIC cruise ship

My EPIC ride to a new life

The past ten days at sea without internet (ok, there was a bit of connection but that’s a long expensive story yet to come) have been like adult sleep away camp with unlimited alcohol (i.e. – more fun than I imagined but exhausting).  I brought three books (not opened), planned to write a gazillion posts to update the blog (I managed two when I escaped the martini tasting event because my friends were a little tipsy and didn’t notice my absence) and was going to sit on deck in the sun to relax (yep, that didn’t happen either).  All goes to show that best laid plans….

So I arrived in Barcleona, did a whirlwind walk in the city before boarding a bus with my “country mouse” to the Costa Brava beach to the TBEX conference (unfortunately I lost my voice so can’t quite network like I wanted).  Now that “country mouse” has left to begin her long journey back to Seattle (how lucky am I that she said “let’s go” and do what you need to do), I’m left to figure out where to go next, what to write about (yes, my resume is on that list) and how to live my life.  Do I stay in Europe or catch the next plane home?  Do I go somewhere else?  Where would you go if you could escape your life?

Follow the adventures on instagram and twitter to see what happens next.

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The “un-Kimpton” Pre-Cruise Stay at EPIC Miami

 

Kimpton EPIC Miami view

View from Room 2028

My initial thought was cheesy as I was sailing on the NCL EPIC on my EPIC journey, I thought it only fitting to stay at the EPIC Miami, a Kimpton hotel.  Miami was pricier than I thought and I wasn’t able to use my Kimpton Karma award, so I started stalking the EPIC Miami on Kayak hoping the rates would change.

The stalking worked out when I saw an odd price discrepancy so I jumped on it. Knowing that Kimpton will price match rates found elsewhere and give you a $25 food/beverage credit, I called Kimpton to book the EPIC Miami direct at a rate of $233.21 plus tax. I mentioned on Twitter that I was staying at the hotel for the beginning of my EPIC journey and the social media team told me to “look out for a surprise” during my stay.

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Discover Chicago in the Documentary – Finding Vivian Maier

London Transport Museum quote

Love this quote on the floor of the London Transport Museum

Looking back I wished I had the maturity (and foresight) to know that I should have taken more photos of my childhood – the neighborhood, the stores, the neighbors and those I interacted with – documenting life in Northeast Philadelphia in the 1970 – 1990’s.  Sure there are the photos of my first day at school each year in my Catholic school uniform with my friends and photos of the dogs we dressed up (all kids do this right?) but missing are the photos of life all around me.  Back then, the camera had flashcubes (yes, squares that plugged into the 110 film cartridge camera) and the really neat invention was the Polaroid One Step camera with instant photos that magically developed in front of your eyes.

But as much as the “instant” world was starting to appear, lost was the daily struggles all around us.  The gas lines of the 70’s that alternated by license plate numbers on odd and even days, the labor strikes my dad was involved in, the Hands Across America line up we participated in on Frankford Avenue.  If only I had a camera to capture the moments of the community, the societal events of the times and the emotions of people.  As I travel now armed with a myriad of cameras – phone, blackberry, DSLR – I’m hungry to capture it all – to find the hidden gems but they seem few and far between in the world of selfies, facetime and social media.  Try as I might, I’m a dabbler in the photography arts (see my #FriFotos) which is why I was so engrossed in the Oscar nominated documentary, Finding Vivian Maier.

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