7 Bridges of Koningsberg and My European Travels – James Melendez

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I had a great journey through Europe last year—spending over a couple of months and visiting 11 countries. I knew I had time to travel; it was how to see and do as much as possible. I had an opportunity and problem in how to travel—complexity builds in quickly. How do I get to each place efficiently? I thought of Leonhard Euler’s Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem – the problem statement is how to cross these bridges once without having to go over one a second time. This “problem” helped to lay foundation for Graph Theory in the discipline of Topology.  Basically through the aide of Graph Theory there is no way to not cross a bridge twice in Königsberg (city is now named Kaliningrad).

Yes, you guessed it a math and science nerd here.

I looked at my travel wish list and it was chock full of places I had never been to or had never spent enough time in. I will describe the problem that I came across…. It was more of a mathematical problem than a difficult or hard problem to overcome. I did well but I could have done better.

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The problem came from a crossroads issue. While in Bologna I thought and stood with my decision to go north to Venezia (Venice) and Padova (Padua) because they were closer. It was just not a closeness decision point—it came from an airport one. I thought from Italy my journey would take me next to Vienna. I thought taking a flight would make the most sense—while taking a train would have worked I would have most likely been on an overnight.

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I looked at flight from Venezia and there were fewer options and much more expensive. I thought that even though the last Italian city I would see is Torino I could still take a train to one of Milano’s airports for maximum possibilities. The problem kept compounding on this option because I would have to go to the Milano Centrale and then a train to either Linate or Malpensa the time lag was getting longer and fewer options (this option would have meant waking up extra early too). Timing was too long and surprising the options were not as numerous as I would have liked. So my choice was to fly out of Torino. While I was looking at Torino the options started to decrease. Originally there was a Turkish air option—rather inexpensive via Istanbul. As I was ready to buy my ticket the flight day I selected this was no longer an option. I decided to try Air France and when I was ready to make purchase—I could not select seat even if I paid for a seat assignment as this was not an option. Oddly, I then went to Air France partner KLM Royal Dutch and found a similar flight where I could select seat. I finally went with this flight from Torino to Vienna.

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What I wish I would have done with take a train from Bologna to my furthest westward point in Italy to Torino and then went east to Milano, Verona, Trento and then Padova and Venezia.

I then could have gone eastward to Ljubljana, Slovenia and the to Zagreb, Croatia and then to Budapest and finally to Vienna. I could have saved a bit more time and taken the train but my calculations showed I would have to shave a day off for my Vienna adventure but would have see two more countries.

You can never always predict as well is how you will like or love a place. I thought I would love Torino. Capital of Italian chocolate, beautiful backdrop of Italian mountains and the Mole Antonelliana would make for an outstanding experience. I should have taken warning when a friend from Southern Italy who said to me “Why… are you going to Torino?” Though he didn’t “warn” me not to go he was just questioning if I should go to Torino.  While the alps were scenic it was not as compelling of a city to visit than I had hoped for.

Travel tips—you might get especially with familiar and larger cities:.

“I love Paris”

“You have to go once…”

“Amazing…”

“Vibrant…”

“So much to do….”

You get the idea….  Smaller cities don’t always have a register in our social circle. Sometimes you are a pioneer when it comes to travel. Sometimes you will never get an absolute from people around and sometimes people won’t give their opinions or at least the opinions that you need. Reading and researching online only gets you so far. Rick Steves is not someone I hang my hat on… I think people fall in love with his rhetoric but his highlights I find limiting and not always insightful. I think he became popular in the US because American’s fear travel (they want to travel but fear going as well). He makes it comfortable. I would say for me what was a turn off about Rick Steves in general is that I feel he has a negative feel even though he may not say it on his well edited featured travels. In an on line lecture I saw I thought he was negative… I remember he was talking about what you might experience in Europe and he mentioned that you will probably be around people who will smell bad…… I immediately stopped watching because I was turned off by his tone—it was this and it was just his general tone seemed so negative. I didn’t need to watch and listen anymore.   I have not experienced this myself and I have traveled to Europe often from top to bottom and side to side (meaning eastern, western, northern and southern Europe).

While I do know people who travel to wide and far and all continents and yet I know that if I want challenge I don’t need to go necessarily remote. I find my love of history and adventure is still Europe and yes I will travel to other places. On my 2016 journey to Europe, I found people who didn’t speak English and I had to find my way around perhaps they were speaking Slovak or Hungarian I would lean on perhaps another language such as German, French or Italian—which was not always successful. But there was the challenge and even excitement with how to I get around or find out information.  This is the only time in my life that I spoke so little English.

My mobile phone worked most everywhere and thank goodness for an outstanding data plan I used it everywhere I went.

Here is what I downloaded prior to visiting each city:

  • map of the area I was going to be (especially train station area in great detail)
  • the city
  • the areas you will be visiting
  • the metro or tram lines
  • a phrase sheet on basics of the country you are visiting

I download this prior to my visit just in case my network is operating slowly.

I think it is my responsibility to fit in terms of being as local as possible. I don’t want to be conspicuous traveler. I try to be sensitive to my surrounding and make it a great journey for myself. I was so fascinating in how people perceive me. Here in San Francisco I am asked “what am I”? And that happens to me in Europe as well. In Poland, I was mistaken for being Italian and in Berlin I was mistaken for being Polish. I am fascinating in how perception of affiliation or background is what guides ourselves and people around. I think when I was in Italy speaking Italian as much as possible and I know that I work on using the accent of the language I am speaking. I have wondered if I am speaking in Italian does someone wonder whether I am Italian or even make that something they think about.  Treading lightly is the utmost of importance.

I think what I learned about this long trek is to fear less, embrace more often the uncertainty that travel will always holds out for you. I have been rewarded more than punished. I love travel and I love adventure.

I think the Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem is more likely to be a feature of your travel if you are visiting a lot of cities on your journey. Also, when you combine several cities and trying to either map out a potential trajectory the issue of not just if it is possible comes into play but how many options do you truly have (train, car, bus, plane)? Europe is a place that tempts you with always pushing forward to go to “one more city.”   It is also to look at travel in terms of how to reduce your hotel / air BNB check-ins but that some feature of movement requires the necessary step of going to where you will be staying.

I had never gone through so many inter-country train journey’s as I did on this trip. I was not certain what that would be like. I know that I would lean on finding a place you are going to visit and perhaps there is a Deutsche Bahn option. I was surprised to take an in county trip from Verona to Trento on DB. I suggest that you look seat map options on how to get you and your luggage to your desire location. I have looked at business or first class options to make my journey more comfortable and less stressful. For me it was worth the extra money to not worry where I would sit or where I would place my luggage.

When you think of your many stops in Europe—think about your ground transport options. I would also share your journey with one of your friends for their comments and suggestions. I would also look not just at air options but keep a train option in mind—look at your routing and question it if you can be more efficient.

I would redo travel for 2016 if I have the knowledge that I have today.  I know that I might have missed a city but it was through the experience of visiting that city that I new I would not want to visit again.

May your travel be amazing and filled with great experiences, food and may you connect with good people.

Wishing you a great new year!

Santé,

James

James the Wine Guy

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My Berlin Experience: A Walk Through Berlin’s Century of Massive Change

GSW Building in Berlin's Kreuzberg.

GSW Building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg

Victory Column

Victory Column

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

This article was a challenge to write as there are so many ways to talk about Berlin. There are so many stories and angles from which to choose.  Berlin was a place I had always wanted to travel. I wish I could have been there in 1989 or earlier. I wanted to see East Germany and East Berlin the way it is not today. I really wanted to see the Palast der Republik and the Großgaststätte Ahornblatt before their untimely demise. I even wanted to see the Wall as it was—I can only extrapolate what its presence was like. Berlin in the 20th Century had gone through radical change.  Here is a video presentation that I completed about Berlin’s many changes.

From once being a rival to Paris to a city that was and is gritty even today.  Berlin has never quite recovered from the same population prior to WWII and while the Berlin Wall was cleared the city is still the not the same city it once was a century before.

Palast der Republik

Palast der Republik

Palast der Republik constructed in 1973; completed 1976; only in use for 14 years. Architects: Heinz Graffunder and Karl-Ernst Swora; The Palast was where the East German Parliament – Volkskammer was housed in addition to this building there was two large auditoriums, a threatre, 13 restaurants, a bowling alley and post office.

Großgaststätte Ahornblatt

Großgaststätte Ahornblatt (Great Maple Leaf) restaurant was in the Mitte in Berlin and completed in 1973 and is demolished in 2000. Architects: Gerhard Lehmann and Rüdiger Plaeth

In college, I took an Eastern European political class, which I got an “A+” not because I studied harder than other classes but I was fascinated with the subject matter. I am ultimately am student of history and I want to know why are things the way they are today…. And how did this happen?

Reciting JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” has been etched into 20th Century history . The fall of the Berlin wall was an historic event that I remember clearly—I was not alive when JFK was alive or when the Wall was built but it is intriguing to me still today.  What most people do not realise is that President John F. Kennedy said about the Berlin Wall – “A wall is better than a war” believing that this diverted the Cold War from getting further out of control. This is a very different contrast from which Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.”

Looking at photographs of The Wall it tells some very interesting stories and highlights this peculiar historical experience. The Wall lives in as a historical anomaly but without the pictorial documentation something goes missing.   The Wall’s fall was quick, haphazard; the rush to remove the wall came at the expense of tearing it down without documenting the site. It is a miracle that any remaining pieces of the wall are still here today.

The chief reason for it being built was to stem the big migration loss from east to west. East and West Berlin were a unified city for at least a couple of years after the end of WWII. But a series of incidences become what will be come known as the Cold War make the divisions even more pronounced.  East Germany lost 20% (3.5 million people) of it’s population prior the Wall’s construction. From the Wall’s inception on 13-August-1961 it will see four building programs and the last was one known as Grenzmauer 75 (which began in 1975). The Grenzmauer 75 project is what is most often recalled in photographs. 45,000 separate sections of 3.6 meters high (11.8 feet high) x 1.2. meters (3.93 feet wide) wide and weighing about 2.6 metric tones or 5,700 pounds.

 

Berlin Wall - Luisenstadt Canal

Berlin Wall – Luisenstadt Canal

 This portion of the Berlin Wall (on what was once the Luisenstadt Canal filled in 1932); picture depicts the contrast of the ‘death strip’ being patrolled by DDR soldiers and on the other side which faces West Berlin – interestingly the man walking his dog is most likely on East German soil as the Wall was built 5-10 meters from actual wall. (each portion of the wall did not contain the same features as example the “Czech Hedgehogs” are not installed here)

Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate

Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate

This sign reads “Attention! You are Now Leaving West Berlin” which meant that the bicyclist and man walking are walking technically in East Berlin. This is the only portion of the wall that did not have the added asbestos tube because East German troops would regularly walk on the flat top surface.

 

I'm at the backend of the Brandenburg Gate - I am very close to where the wall once stood

I’m at the backend of the Brandenburg Gate – I am very close to where the Wall once stood

The Eastern side of the Wall

The Eastern side of the Wall

A rare view on the East Berlin side of a military trooper looking out at view points on this portion of the wall. In Back ground is the Brandenburg Gate and Charité which still in operation today

 

The Grittiness of the Western side of the Wall

The Grittiness of the Western side of the Wall 

In this photo is a woman and little boy walking along the wall; and this photo gives the flavor of the wall creating unusual relationships; this was obviously a residential street and the border was cut along the street. This design is what creates the grittiness that Berlin becomes known for—where this woman and boy walk is technically in East Berlin; the East German government was not going to do anything other than maintain the wall—nothing to beautify its border. The other side of the street is undoubtedly gone (East Berlin). Often the border wall area is between 100 to 500 meters some building were left intact many others were torn down. This was the ‘new normal’ for nearly three decades.

This shows the construction of Grenzmauer 75 Wall and the Church of Reconciliation on Bernauer Straße

This shows the construction of Grenzmauer 75 Wall and the Church of Reconciliation on Bernauerstraße

 This photograph shows the construction of Grenzmauer 75 Wall and the Church of Reconciliation. Which this photo was taken somewhere between 1978 and 1985 as we can see in photographic evidence and we know the DDR demolished the church in 1985. The church was demolished because of a line of site concern. Notice that the East German military men are on the western portion of wall but within the East German national border. The Chapel of Reconciliation was rebuilt on this site and completed in 2000.

I was very excited to see Berlin today and I have made a mistake to look at NY Times Travel videos which now I swear off (sorry New York Times) I still like your news reporting. I have visited many places talked about in NY Times videos and concluded I saw a very different city than the ones they betray in their videos. Berlin was no exception. I took Berlin on the terms of what I knew from my education and even my notions and I kept an openness of what Berlin is to make great discoveries.  I did visit Vagabund Brauerei which is an owned and operated by American ex-pats.  I was glad to visit but it was a trip to get there and if you need an IPA whilst in Berlin and have too much time on your hands then by all means go.

Berlin can best be described as a city that has a dizzyingly complexity and a history to match it.  An infamous past that it will never escape—it seems the city wants to get beyond it but it doesn’t need t0.

How do I treat this subject matter—how do I get to observe and participate in this city? I knew that after nearly 3-dozen cities I would be exhausted…. I was but because I would be tired was no reason to go at full speed and love Berlin. I first thought that I could see much more of the old East and West Berlin and while you can’t see it directly the division of east and west are still omnipresent.   Maybe it is the odd spacing between buildings—while some new building replaced more open space—look at Potsdamer Platz—plenty of space to work with that none would not be developed. For many a national or Berlin space-urban planner was to erase the past mainly anything East German and,of course, the Nazi era (Tempelhof would be the exception) but to retain the Empire look and feel.

But people in east Berlin have protested when the Palast der Republik was demolished as well as the Großgaststätte Ahornblatt and to no avail which former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder saying that it was a “ghastly building” and wanted it done away with (with such a voice of the Chancellor who cares what the people of Berlin especially long time residents in the Mitte had to say).  One of the chief architects Heinz Graffunder proposed to make the Palast a exhibition space was proposed. The building had been used as a space for art exhibitions until it’s closure. The reason for the closure was all political. While the space had contained asbestos I am sure this is not the only building in this part of Berlin that had asbestos. The Palast had been constructed on the old Berliner Stadtschloss which had been on this site since 1443. World War II this structure had been heavily damaged and 5 years after the end of WWII it was demolished. The ideology of building the Prussian empire symbol just for posterity sake was not a palatable one for the reigning communist regime. This space lay empty for 24 years until 1974 when construction began on the Palast der Republik which was a late mid-century modern gem.  Some of the fantastic and period lighting had been saved as seen in the picture below.  This style can be seen today in many a modern lighting stores around world.

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I think there would have been a challenge no matter where it would have resided in a political quicksand. The Alexanderplatz area has survived integration in spite of numerous attempts at absolute change for only change sake. Berlin’s resistance is to not necessarily looking at the past with discontent but with a need to recall and remember for the future. Hence the Plattenbau district of Berlin on Karl-Marx-Allee has been generally left in good shape. I never give absolutes but for now this amazing Mid-century modern district is safe for now.

Here is an interesting photograph (below) from The Atlantic showing construction work along a 4th generational wall—Grenzmauer 75 and the article noted “West German workers.” Either side of this wall was East Germany and there is no way the East Germans would have allowed anyone but their own side work on the wall. They had right away on both sides. It showed me that searching for the reality of the Wall is not that far away but elusive in terms of understanding the subject matter.

4th General Wall on West facing portion of The Wall

4th General Wall on West facing portion of The Wall

The Berlin Wall Tour 

Me at the Potsdamer Platz

Me at the Potsdamer Platz

The Berlin Wall began a near immediate falling down in 1989 and never stopped. I gave a talk about my journey this year and spent sometime on my experience. I was asked “can you see some remnants of the wall.” Yes there are a few key places where you can see pieces of The Wall.  But what you really will never see is any realistic piece of the frontier area of the wall system and control strip.  For historical reasons, a small portion of the entire wall system should have been left in place.  You can visit Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer to see inner and outer walls but the area is antiseptic of the machination of anti-vehicle ditches, hedgehog anti vehicle structures, Stalin’s Lawn, detection wire, dog runs and bunkers to name some of the Walls many features.

The obsession of tearing it down quickly came at the expensive or truly understanding what was being torn down for posterity sake. I cannot find a single source that can show each or even major sections of wall. If the Fall was happening today it would have been much more documented given wide availability of phones with cameras. Deutsche Welle created a video about recreating The Wall in animated format aptly named “Making of Walled In.”

Only 225 meters of the Wall still exist today which represents about .1 of a percent. This video “Walled In” attempts to show an animation of what The Wall and Death Strip really looked liked. Because the Wall was removed in haste no extensive details were documented and nothing today looks like it did in the original state even remaining sections of Wall. The video points out in a section that was reconstructed for this video of the Wall at Bernauerstraße, near the Church of Reconciliation the exact construction is not clear up and is up for debate.  Also, the sources of photographs from the Wall come mainly from the western sources as on the eastern side few were taken.  The Wall’s coming down wasn’t that long ago for us to not really have an accurate picture of what it was is a shame.  From an historical perspective, it might have been important to document all aspects of the Wall as this was a unique and infamous part of history. This history was no doubt an epicenter of the communist past as well as emblematic of the Cold War. I am sure satellite images of this area exist perhaps and most likely still classified. Google Earth is missing this era.

Nonetheless there are a few things we can see to understand some of this past:

  • Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauerstraße, 111-119
    • Website: http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/de/ you can see very different aspects of the Wall
      • The Wall and the Death Strip – Area A
      • The Destruction of the City – Area B
      • Building the Wall – Area C
      • Everyday Life at the Wall – Area D
    • Documentation Centre – a place to see exhibits and documentation about The Wall
    • Chapel of Reconciliation – a very different architecture from the fallen Church of Reconciliation a fitting monument and place of contemplation.
  • East Side Gallery bordering Mühlenstraße, – along the Spree on the eastern side of Berlin – this area has been under threat of this segment of Wall – as I saw with everything for now it is safe. It has fantastic art decorating the infamous Wall
  • Potsdamer Platz – relatively close to the Brandenburg Gate – segments of the Wall are in the Platz –once a very desolate part of Berlin.
  • Additional parts of the Wall can be seen on the Northern side of the Topography of Terror Museum on Niederkirchnerstraße 8 continue walking east and the street becomes Zimmerstraße which leads directly to Checkpoint Charlie and continue east for about 3 blocks to see pieces of the Wall outside of the Axel Springer building

Berlin and a Look Back at the DDR

No narrative could describe Berlin in the eyes I saw and experienced….   I knew Berlin was a city of tremendous upheaval and change in a short time….from an Empire to a republic, the Nazi era; two independent countries—one market oriented and the other Marxist and then a re-unified nation-state all in one century. I expected only a city of many dimensions. I cannot think of another city of it’s size that has been under that many changes in this short period.

Berlin today is both accidental and intentional. The Potsdam, London and Yalta conferences of the Allies could have shone a different configuration post-WWII. If Stalin had negotiated to have Berlin as a prize for the Soviet sector there would have been no West Berlin as it once existed and there would have been no Berlin wall… what would that be like if that didn’t happen?

View from The Park Inn - Berlin

View from The Park Inn – Berlin

This picture from my hotel room shows Alexanderstraße and the Haus of Lehrer and it’s mosaic (taller building first third area left) the Weltzeituhr (World Clock is the round monument built by the communists). I love the Plattenbau architecture in this shot along Karl-Marx-Allee on the left and on the right which is Alexanderstraße  This is a great place to see the old DDR East Berlin or as people in the East would have said “Berlin.”

Instead Berlin was a divided city for forty years makes for a very different city today. In the early 20th century Berlin was once a rival to Paris. But Berlin is awash in being a creative capital today. Berlin is the poorest of the major German cities. It may not ‘look poor’ but it is dependent on being a national capital. The German government did invest heavily into Berlin being the once and future capital. What never happened was a return of German company headquarters but most well known companies are based elsewhere. Berlin is still a city where the population is not at it’s historic numbers during WWII.

Being a capital city is a blessing and a curse—in Berlin’s case this not an exception. German government has been casting the city in it’s desired image and has preferred to bull doze where possible the old East Berlin—ironically this part of Berlin is very iconic. There have been proposals to change the Alexanderplatz area—but those proposals have meet with opposition and having survived this long without intervention might be a sign that this part of Berlin is safe.

The lighter coloured building in the centre is the now closed Haus der Statistik. At this writing still safe from being torn down).

A view looking onto Karl-Marx-Allee

A view looking onto Karl-Marx-Allee

The Alexanderplatz was master planned  by the East German government after WWII as most of Berlin was in rubble. Beyond the Brandenburg Gate (which was in East Germany) The Fernsehturm is the largest skyline feature in Berlin 368 metres/1207 feet tall was built as part of the master plan for this area of Berlin by the communists. The Fernsehturm was not just mean to be a large TV antennae but to be a solid symbol of the socialist DDR.  Today this and the Brandenburg Gate are iconic symbols of the city.

The Stadt Hotel (now the Park Inn Berlin) was and is still the tallest building in Berlin. The building is 41 levels 149 metres/490 feet and has been re-skinned in 2005 from it’s Mid-century Modern architecture. I stayed here at this hotel that was once reserved for Comecon representatives (international communist trade organization: Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). While checking in, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade—I thought it would be just a room change out but perhaps not the view I wished for. I was hoping for a view of the Fernsehturm but instead I got an even better view of Karl-Marx-Allee – the grand boulevard of Plattenbau architecture and the location for all East German government military parades. I was completely in awe of this grand planning. I could also see the Frankfurter Gate and the Haus der Lehers (House of Teachers); I was looking at a great Mid-century Modern world of Hermann Henselmann et al. I am a huge fan of Mid-century Modern (M-cM) for many reasons. M-cM represents to me a leap forward to a new architectural sensibility—for me it is a future looking architecture—it is an idealized future. This Mid-century Modern expression is simple in construction but on closer inspection many fine details that showed there was a progressive architecture happening here. Also if you look at Bauhaus which was based in the former East Germany both from Berlin and Dessau .it is clear that this movement of M-cM comes comfortably from the Bauhaus thought and it is not often cited as such.   The modernity of this movement if you look at native architecture at the time is a bold expression to both utility and grace in design.   The Karl-Marx-Alle complex of buildings makes for an awesome sight today. If you love architecture you have to visit this area.

 Hochhaus an der Weberwiese

Hochhaus an der Weberwiese

This is a fine example of Hermann Henselmann’s architecture this is the Hochhaus an der Weberwiese; this building was completed in 1952 and shows modernity, balance, proportion and a solid structure that still feels modern today.  Thoughtfully modern and fine detail up close.

My room at the Park Inn is probably the smallest hotel room I have ever had anywhere including London and Venice. I suspect that while the exterior changed the interior floor plans has never changed.   Certainly there were some cosmetic upgrades to the hotel and the hotel rooms. But I loved it nonetheless for the view. It made me wonder do people who get this view just glance outside and then close the curtains and not realise the significance of the view?

I love design and for me there is no mistaking this grand boulevard. I am not the only to say this – Philip Johnson says of the area “true city planning on a grand scale” and Aldo Rossi calling Karl-Marx-Allee “Europe’s last great street.” I recognize the buildings that were back drops of red and East German flags during May Day parades. I also saw a very large Mid-century building called the Haus der Statistik—this office building was know to be part of the Ministry of State Security (Stasi). I wanted to get closer and take pictures of this structure built between 1968 and 1970—it was dark and the quality of picture that I wanted was not optimum. This building has been under siege and it has been a target for the wrecking ball. The detail is a refined mid-century modern and feels earlier than the construction date of 1968.

The Fernsehturm

The Fernsehturm

I loved the very Mid-century Modern design of the Fehrensturm and the bottom level is nicely designed.

The Fernsehturm at the base

The Fernsehturm at the base

The original fountain from the master rebuild of Alexanderplatz

Checkpoint Charlie

Below is a picture of what many photographs don’t show from Checkpoint Charlie—this line represents that which is East and West Germany—anything on left side of line is West Berlin and anything east of the line is East Berlin. This is an angle hardly ever seen. The Wall solidness was by design—a constant upgrading and never in it’s history did it ever stop evolving including the very end of the DDR. No other major European city had ever experienced this before or since.

The Berlin Wall at Friedrichstraße

The Berlin Wall at Friedrichstraße

This is a photo of me taken in what would have been East Berlin looking south on Friedrichstraße and the building on my left is the same building above depicted in the first photo

The Berlin Wall at Friedrichstraße

The Berlin Wall at Friedrichstraße

Checkpoint Charlie was one of two entry points from within that non-West German citizens could gain entry into East Germany from West Berlin. The other was Checkpoint Bravo and the other was Waltersdorfer Chausee if and only if flying out of East Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport. Checkpoint Charlie is mired in its historical significance and intrigue. When I was younger and didn’t have a good map of Berlin I had always thought Checkpoint Charlie had a true East and West relationship instead of it’s true northerly and southerly trajectory. Friedrichstraße is the street that is Checkpoint Charlie. When the Checkpoint was in operation it was very hard to look and see the entire street as there was a slight bend in the street and obscured the view north of here into East Germany. The street today is easy to see from south to north and vice versa.

I spent very little time here as there was only very touristy things to see. The replica of the checkpoint is filled with faux service men only posing with tourist for tips. The large photos of the last servicemen from the Soviet Union and the United States are authentic.

I felt there was nothing that was original that was left behind. Perhaps there was a bit of the Berlin wall here but I didn’t see anything—the closest bit of the wall to checkpoint Charlie is probably on the northside of the Axel Springer building which is about 650 meters to the east of Checkpoint Charlie or to the west at the Topography of Terror.

Replica of Old Checkpoint

Replica of Old Checkpoint

The real Checkpoint Charlie is no longer on site and instead a faux checkpoint is in it’s place. There are “fake” US military personnel to represent the military guards that were once present here. The area is a tourist haven and because of it’s infamous past there is a sense of commercialization—a McDonald’s is easily spotted in this picture.

 

Replica of old Checkpoint Signage

Replica of old Checkpoint Signage

These are not the original signs but the verbiage and fonts are exactly the same as they were when they were originally placed here when the checkpoint was in operation

Last US Solider Stationed at the Checkpoint

Last US Solider Stationed at the Checkpoint

This is a picture of a real US Army Seargant Jeff Harper he is noted as being the “last US Soldier at Checkpoint Charlie” I look for more of a backstory and cannot find it. I did verify that he is the US military and as of 2016 still serves in the US Army. I do not know anything about the picture and I did find a story online that said Harper was unaware of the picture until some told him. The identity of the Soviet soldier is unknown.

Axel Springer Building

Axel Springer Building

 The Axel Springer building was completed in 1966 and curiously built on the southern end of the Berlin Wall

I am at the east side of the Axel Springer building

I am at the east side of the Axel Springer building

 And this is how the Axel Springer building looks today; behind me is a curious sculpture of a man balancing himself on a wall and direct reference to the Wall. The red circle next to me highlights an actual piece of the Wall

 Museum Island

Museum Island or Museuminsel is a great treasure of art with five great museums in a very small foot print. Bounded by the Unter den Linden and the Spree River are

The Altes Museum

The Altes Museum

  • The Berliner Dom – an historic church in the Mitte changing hands several times. An impressive church and it is part of the EKD which is a Protestant church
  • The Altes Museum – this museum beautiful restored faces the Lustgarden and contains antiquities. This museum was a backdrop for Nazi parades.
Altes Museum

Altes Museum

  • Neues Museum – had been closed since 1939 and officially re-opened in 2009; the Bust of Nefertiti is housed here in what is known as the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung this has a beautiful room that so elegantly displays this ancient work of art. I had seen this beautiful object in my text books and in person it is stunningly beautiful. I wish I could have take a photograph but it is not allowed (the only object that I am aware that cannot be photographed)

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  • Alte Nationalgalerie – the museum contains mainly German paintings from several movement including Romantic, Neoclassical, Impressionist and Modernist art work

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  • The Bode Museum – the building is beautiful it was closed for repairs in 1997 and reopened in 2008 and is immaculate—outstanding collection of Byzantine and Gothic Art; an impressive collection and so masterly displayed be sure to visit the Byzantine room that houses various art works including a piece of mosaic from Ravenna.
  • The Pergamon Museum – contains middle eastern and antiquities – the Ishtar Gate is stunning, the namesake Pergamon Altar and the Meissner fragment which contains pieces of Gilgamesh
The Pergamon Museum

The Pergamon Museum

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And here are other highlights to visit on your stay in Berlin

Berlinische Galerie

Berlinische Galerie

Berlinerische Galerie

Alte Jakobstraße 124-128, 10969 Berlin, Germany

Website: www.berlinischegalerie.de/en/

Modern art museum Berlin showcasing art and architecture. I like the collection as well as an exhibit where you become part of the art. 

Jewish Museum Berlin

Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, Germany

Website: https://www.jmberlin.de/en

Berlin Jewish Museum

Berlin Jewish Museum

This Jewish museum has a striking architecture—a neoclassical building houses the entryway and next to that is a modern addition by Daniel Libeskind. The museum is quite large; a tunnel connects the two buildings. It is a striking architecture that is thoroughly modern that showcases the compete Jewish experience in Berlin. The top floor is well curated and the lower portion houses an evocative exhibition of the tragedy of The Holocaust. The architecture is moody, dark and confusing—this is of course by intent to give a sense of the loss and profound tragedy.

Be sure to consider the Berlin Card which cost 24 Euros and offers entry into 40 of Berlin’s museums. By European or any standard it is a bargain.

 Website: http://www.visitberlin.de/en/museum-pass-berlin

Please read this document as a living one. I was not worried about being exhaustive about my writing about Berlin but how I do cover an essential Berlin. Well there is no such thing. I do believe to a) make peace with yourself and 2) get something published is to be okay with writing a nice sized article and to also update and add over time.

Berlin is a city with an century that is dizzying, even exhausting to try to grasp but it is worth doing. The picture below is fascinating—it shows that Berlin even after a quarter of century of being reunited shows its past at night–which is the former East and West Berlin.  East side a different lighting system and hence a viewable difference. This will stay like this for sometime—Berlin as noted early is not a wealthy one and cannot change everything.

Berlin at Night Today

Berlin at Night Today

If Berlin is not on your travel wish list I would recommend it highly at some point.  You don’t have to be a lover of history to appreciate Berlin as there are so many aspects to see and experience.

Prost,

James

Copyright© 2016 – James Melendez / James the Travel Guy – All Rights Reserved

I may also share this blog posting in my James the Wine Guy sites as well.

Follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my YouTube channel

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Reim’s – A Gateway to Champagne – James Melendez

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Reims looms large in my mind.  I have always been a fan of history and in awe of the historical record.  Reims for me is important in terms of French history and for the history of Champagne.  My pulse quicken when I was on the TGV en route from Charles de Gaulle in September of this year (2016).  As all transatlantic journey’s are long the tiredness of the physical does not affect the soul.  I kept thinking of seeing the historic Reims Cathedral and putting foot on ground to visit Domaines that I have never visited before.

Reims is where Clovis I united the Franks fifteen hundred years ago.  He was baptized near a small church where the present Abbey of Saint Remi is located.  Subsequent kings of France have been crowned in the Cathedral of Reims or more accurately Notre-Dame de Reims which was completed in 1275.  A magnificent cathedral that is impressive in it’s silhouette as it is it’s endurance.  I looked in awe and in reverence to this cathedral that was bombed severally by the Germans in World War I.  When you visit the cathedral the stained glass windows are unique–one showing the wine trade and another special set by Marc Chagall.

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Reims is a crossroads of France to Germany and The Netherlands both an historical blessing and curse. It is a great trade route and yet the crossroad has hit the heart of this historic city.  And the endurance is the story that I can only feel admiration for Champagne and the proud people who too have kept endurance as a tradition.  WWI was particularly devastating to the region and certainly the wine region was not spared from this war.  WWII end was signed here in the Musée de la Reddition.

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Champagne is something that shouldn’t exist at least in it’s current form.  The endurance of the Champenoise is impressive.  Why did Champenoise continue to seek a way to develop it’s region’s wines from something as non-impressive to a world class wine.  Other wine regions have great climates and the struggle to create great wines is always there because viticulture is utterly dependent on weather.  Most wine regions are not as challenged as is Champagne.  Even with the auspicious privilege of crowning all the kings of France what the spirit that kept the movement to development this region’s wine?  Unparalleled spirit?  Quixotic dreams?

While I can mythologize and only be in awe—I think there are logical steps that made Champagne what it is today.  The answer lies in incremental improvement–blending wines, bottle design improvements (capability of holding several atmosphere’s worth of pressure is essential in bottle’s not breaking) as once a near majority of all Champagne bottles never saw the light of day literary.  And there are many other innovations that made Champagne a wine of evocation and a wine of endurance.  Champagne and Reims success certainly lies in it’s human capital–creating wines that were not only passable but of elegance, grace and prestige is through endurance and belief and it is also through good old fashion rolling up of many sleeves.  Champagne not only had to create great wines through many innovations but also marketing and promotion which has been happened for longer than many regions on the planet.  No matter how you look at it –it is something that is absolutely worth visiting and experiencing yourself.

Reims is a city that is easy to visit and to walk through.  There are a good number of Domaines to visit when you visit (you can of course visit Domaines further afield in addition to Reims).  Be sure to look at websites as they may require an appointment prior to arrival.

The Domaines in Reims

G.H. Mumm

34 rue du Champ de Mars
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 49 59 70
http://www.mumm.com

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Champagne Charles de Cazanove

8 place de la République
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 88 53 86
http://www.champagnedecazanove.com

Champagne Lanson

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66 rue de Courlancy
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 78 50 50
http://www.lanson.fr

Champagne G.H. Martel

17 rue des Créneaux
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 82 70 67
http://www.champagnemartel.com

Champagne Pommery

5 place Général Gouraud
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 61 62 55
http://www.vrankenpommery.fr

Champagne Ruinart

4 rue des Crayères
51100 Reims, France
http://www.ruinart.com

Champagne Veuve Clicquot

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1 place des Droits de l’Homme
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 89 53 90
http://www.veuve-clicquot.com

Historial Sites to Visit

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims

Place du Cardinal Lucon
51000 Reims, France
http://www.veuve-clicquot.com

If you can wait to visit in September when the Cathedral is a show case for Rêve de Couleurs each September the light and music show is magical.  The Cathedral feels like it is moving and each story harkens to some aspect of this sacred place.  I was in awe and I hope to return to see this stunning show.

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Basilique du Saint Remi

53 rue Simon
51100 Reims, France
Musée de la Reddition (Museum of Surrender)

12 rue du Pdt Franklin Roosevelt
51100 Reims, France

Cheers, happy and safe travels to you!

James

 ***

Also, published in James the Wine Guy

Copyright© 2016 – James Melendez / James the Travel Guy – All Rights Reserved

I may also share this blog posting in my James the Wine Guy sites as well.

Follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my YouTube channel

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Travel Checklist and My Trip Preparedness – James Melendez

I have often been known to produce a “wow” when someone sees my luggage.

For others most people are okay to leave their home with most humblest of supplies. I prefer to be prepared.   I hear people tell me that they don’t sweat it as they will buy what they need when they are there. Rarely on a trip do I have enough time to just attend my itinerary let alone to go shopping for clothes or toiletries.

While I get that concept—the logistics have rarely worked in my favour.I also travel with a good number of electronics and traveling lightly is rarely possible. Here are a most often pack list of my electronics:

  • MacBook Pro
  • Power Adaptors
  • Two iPhones
    • Different networks
    • Extra video and photo capability
  • Power adaptors x2
  • Power converters if abroad (at least two—I use to travel with one and north of impossible to get everything powered up)
  • Extra photo cards
  • Ultra heavy Canon camera—depends for reason of travel I might now always take with me; if I take with me two batteries (always have one powered up and ready to go)
  • Extra Apple lighting cables
  • See through Bags to hold electronics (which I place in my carryon)
  • Portable external drive (if you do video—it is a must for me)
  • External drive
  • iPad only on a long trip-in case I need something to read and all power is exhausted

I used to carry a portable iron – imagine that?!? Small but heavy…… I decided non-iron shirts are a must. Are they wrinkle resistant—no not really but they don’t look like the wrinkled versions when you pull them out of the suit case. I have found a general lack of irons in Spain… I don’t think it has to do anything with Spain it is just the hotels I have gotten over time.

Clothing

This is where I get in trouble…. On my long European trip this year (2016) I packed only enough clothes for a week as I had AirBNBs and many had washers and dryers. From my experience it was not perfect and here is why. Imagine getting use to a washer and dryer in each new city you went to—I had what I call 10 base camps—each one was in a different language: German, Italian, Polish, and Czech. And a lot of guesswork as it related to each washing machine and dryer—sure I could have translated everything. But I thought how different can these machines be to the ones I use in English—and as it turned out—not very different. The hard part was not every apartment always had laundry detergent. I being the boy scout (lower case) I was never a boy scout when I was a youngster—we were way too poor. But I anticipated it and brought a very small amount with me. I live near a Laundromat and bought the small boxes.

What do I bring? Well it depends—is it pure pleasure trip (rarely are they ever) or is it a combination. I bring a ton of clothes because I need a ton. In winter it may be a heavy jacket. Yes, Amsterdam, Antwerp, London and Paris in particular in winter are particularly cold.

Late Spring or mid-Fall in Europe are particularly chilly. I thought I would start off in April in Italy and when I got further north the warmth it would be there in May—wrong. It was chilly and rainy almost everywhere I went. I did have a heavy enough jacket. But I had to buy an umbrella—lasted me from start of journey in Napoli in April till end of trip at end of May in Berlin.

Because of my many travels I may have needs other don’t. This list is geared towards Fall, Spring and Winter and less so on Summer as I try to travel as little as possible.

Clothing

  • Lightweight Jacket or a sport coat (great to travel with if you anticipate dressier occasions—I love sport coats because of the many pockets. if you anticipate a slightly warmer travel period; a jacket in colder periods
  • Scarf – I bring one year round. When I am in Italy I want a scarf on at all times; in all cool seasons I always wear one
  • A pullover sweater if a short trip an additional one if longer time; I bring cotton in cooler periods; wool if traveling in winter
  • Two or more pair of jeans (depends on length of visit)
  • A more dressier pair of pants
  • Long-sleeve shirts I bring non-iron (less than an everyday change—even if light this gets super heavy)
  • Short-sleeve – I rarely do this unless it is going to be warmer
  • For a shorter trip I bring enough undergarments for each day plus one
    • I keep the plus one in my carry on –just in case your luggage is delayed
  • Socks – I bring enough for each day plus one and keep an additional pair in my carry on (again, just in case)
  • Pajamas
  • I bring a tie if I know I have a dressier occasion
  • I try to bring only one belt (I generally bring two to match the shoes I’ll be wearing)
  • I try to bring a nicer pair of shoes
  • A more comfortable pair of shoes
  • Running shoes
  • Running wear and cap
  • Slippers (I don’t like walking barefoot in places I am staying)
  • I have clothing bags so I can have major categories to place in drawers rapidly
  • A plastic bag for dirty clothes
  • Sewing kit—I have many an important button come off and I can quickly fix.

Toiletries

Probably many things you pack probably without thought—mine I would say is comprehensive and not exhausting

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste – a tend to bring a larger amount depending on trip
  • Floss (some countries I have been to this is a rarity—I hate to run out—I keep hearing my dentists ask the question they ask way too often “do you floss”)
  • Mouth wash
  • Shaver
  • Shaving cream
  • Electric shaver
  • Shampoo (I have been at hotels that have a 3-1 formula) I hate that –and my scalp is way to sensitive for a 3-1 soap
  • Conditioner
  • A small bar of soap (just in case) I am probably the only person on earth that does this
  • Facial Moisturizer
  • Lotion (larger than travel size)
  • Hair gel (larger than travel size)
  • Band aide
  • Nail clipper

Carryon toileries (travel size of course)

  • Moisturizer
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm
  • Tylenol
  • Allergy med
  • Tissue
  • Floss
  • Small fragrance (yes, I love fragrance and of course I never wear during a wine tasting event or judging)
  • Vitamins
  • Prescriptions

On a longer trip I do replenish as anyone would—and can find most supplies and I have found some great things that I love to get each trip like Taft men’s hair gel.   I got Schwarzkopf Taft men’s hair gel in in Prague. I took a small gamble and went for the lower priced product. Loved the product quality and smell and long lasting formula.

And lastly because I am James the Wine Guy I always travel with a wine key and Champagne/Sparkling bottle closer; So often so many places don’t have at least a bottle opener—usually the hotel or AirBNB has one when you don’t need one or when you need one your hotel or AirBNB doesn’t have one.

I have had to pace what I might bring back. My luggage is heavy when I leave and heavier when I get back. I have a gift I have received or gifts I want to bring back. I am conscious of it and I try to never bring back more than two bottles of wine in my suite case—actually I should only be bringing back one and if I am buying wine at an airport retailer (there are some good ones—I like the wine retail store in Bari’s airport—mainly local wines.

I have only had to pay for extra heavy baggage this year and that was Air France. I was barely over and the only thing that would bring down the weight is taking a bottle away. When I fly discount carrier (which is rare) I always pay for luggage.

My new suitcase purchased this year just crashed completely. I think the problems began in Florence and I remember the wheels were never the same. Super noisy and it was the extra brutal cobblestone of Florence did my bag in as well as my “comfortable shoes” I took pictures of the most uneven cobblestone of any European city that I have ever seen. My feet, my body and my soul and of course my luggage were wrecked.

Here is picture of my wheel and keep in mind I have had this piece for less than year—what obsolence—amazing.

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I have another Samsonite suite case that still works well and have had for least 3 years.

Travel is great and do yourself a favour—create a checklist before you go. Ask questions of your hotel or Airbnb be you travel (about things you want or need). I would say being less casual about what you bring on travel and being more specific makes you feel empowered—not scrambling for toothpaste on a Sunday where every shop is closed in the European city you are visiting.

I hope you find this article useful—let me know.

Cheers, happy and safe travels to you!

James

 ***

Also, published in James the Wine Guy

Copyright© 2016 – James Melendez / James the Travel Guy – All Rights Reserved

I may also share this blog posting in my James the Wine Guy sites as well.

Follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my YouTube channel

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To AirBNB or to not AirBNB is a Great Question – James Melendez

On the roof of the Duomo.

On the roof of the Milano Duomo

I like other people have had plenty of experience of delight in hotel stays but more often disappointment. AirBNB has existed before AirBNB—it was a loose collection of people renting their homes, rooms and apartments—it was not just a single site but either a word-of-mouth business or perhaps a standalone website.

In my lovely neighbourhood in San Francisco’s Dolores Park I would rarely see people with their suitcases going to BART—if I did I knew it was the person in the area like myself going somewhere. Today—it’s AirBNB guests going to their rentals. And there is a lot of them. To me I am not bothered by it. Hotels are scrambling and a bit scared but perhaps not too scared. After city counsels are working hard around the world to create requirements—usually and only for taxation and less for any other reasons. But house or apartment rentals will always be in limited supply and that this will never pose a threat to major conventions or professional tours who need a lot of people in one location and hence hotels in my view will always be around—more price competitive in the future? Probably not.

On my recent seven week journey to Europe I made a conscious choice to use AirBNB or equivalent. I was skeptical and the “What If’s” crept in “what if the owner didn’t honour my request when I arrived…” But when I looked at hotels they were simply too expensive and didn’t have amenities I needed – a kitchen, a washer, more of a neighbourhood location, etc. I stayed a week in Rome, Florence and Vienna and I wanted to be a certain locations—there really were no hotels where I wanted to be and again have amenities I wanted.

I have had several gasps when I checked into past hotel experiences in London, Venice or Berlin (Smaller-than-small) and oh by the way not cheap. I wanted a more comfortable stay. I have relied on hotel’s brand to assure of value or comfort but that doesn’t always work in your favour.

Other things were musts and I would say are a given in many locations are WiFi—this being 2016 you’d be surprised how hotels make this both rarified and a luxury.

I’ll talk about pro’s and cons of an AirBNB – first the cons:

  • Pictures posted anywhere are always meant to look amazing; better than they really are. AirBNB is no exception AND hotel websites are guilty of this as well. Pictures are always meant to look good—expect what you see but also expect to see a lot IKEA furnishings.
  • While WiFi might be included it may not be the strength you need (more often than I had great reception) – one place I had used in Italy the signal was so poor I gave up using the internet (I utilized 6 AirBNBs in Italy) I had to use my phone and I couldn’t use in the apartment (I had to go outside to get a signal).
  • If the photos look dark probably means that this specific AirBNB doesn’t have many windows (ask if this important or if this is something you need). My experience was that one window is not enough for me – I prefer more windows.
  • A provider might list on multiple of sites and they might insist you pay when you already paid. This happened to me—I insisted that I paid and the representative said “no we don’t charge you when we accept your reservation” It turned out they did charge me; I was double charged and when I notified owner they offered a prompt refund in their local currency (this currency was not really one I needed).
  • Not every AirBNB provider is the same—some are more helpful than others; some are very hands on and some take a little more time to manage (i.e. many communications)
  • “Turn downs” of your offer because you are booking in a “busy season.” This happened to me Italy. One provider upped the price because it was a “busy season” and “hurry up before it is gone.” The provider should have honoured their price or should have accurately reflected the correct price. I was unhappy that this person was not operating in good faith. I refused to do business with this provider as I felt I was being toyed wtih. Good news—I found a better place.
  • You may not find an AirBNB where you want to stay—I struggled in several cities and had to settle for a higher price though the price was not significant or I had to change location.
  • There are not as many elevators as you might need (I was traveling with 7 weeks of provisions) and my suit case was unfortunately big and heavy—not fun to carry up several floors—in every case my room was always on the top floor; also old buildings have the tiniest of elevators and my suitcase didn’t fit. Ask what floor the apartment is on or if there is a lift.
  • Some AirBNB providers do not list their rental correctly. I tried to rent an AirBNB and my request was to have the whole place apartment to myself. The provider said she may or may not be there?!?! Providers should list as a “Private Room” or a “Share Room.” I promptly rescinded my offer and again found a better place to stay.

But the above items for me were not deal breakers or did not disappointment about AirBNB – they may not have been ideal but I managed through all of it well.

Now the Pros and there are many more than Cons

  • For every dollar I spent I got more for my money on AirBNB; much larger space; comfortable furnishing and environment. Also several providers offered coffee, tea, water, and in one case freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh milk for my espresso. One provider offered me a fully stocked refrigerator!
  • I love having a kitchen—every place had even the most basic of kitchens—I love that and know I need it for longer stays.
  • A more local experience – I asked may questions about the area and about restaurant or activities and got some great recommendations for restaurants or where I might specific businesses.
  • One apartment owner offered me use of the bicycle—I was there long enough to use but would stay at this apartment again.
  • I felt like a local and often the apartments were near a grocery store – no 4 Euro waters at the hotel gifts shops
  • Great amount of space to unpack and organize
  • I don’t need someone to make my bed everyday; I was okay to do that
  • Most AirBNBs had plenty of additional blankets, pillows and towels
  • Each television offered was usually very modern and had plenty of channels though most were in the countries language
  • Lots of kitchen supplies, plates, utensils and cooking tools
  • I felt great in each place (I rarely feel great staying in a hotel unless it is exceptional)
  • Most check outs were quite agreeable (though the times I checked out were generally around hotel times)
  • Every person I rented from was reliable and was there to greet more or a representative; and most importantly very professional and outstandingly nice
  • No long check-in process; a convention could be checking in at the moment you are checking in behind them—a long wait to check in or even worse—a long wait and no room available
  • Also, AirBNBs had a very simple check out process as where a hotel might have a lengthy check out

Some suggestion or things to ask and lookout for:

  • Read the reviews – they can give comfort about selection or perhaps they can provoke a question to ask provider.
    • The negative reviews may be watch outs or could be someone who like to complain or perhaps it can offer some valuable information.
  • I have stayed at several AirBNB near the central stations and some of them made my experience less than optimum; and some have been great.
  • If you are selecting to stay near a central station – do a little research – one central station has a terrible area north of the piazza and yet the southern end of the piazza was safe and consistent day or night
  • Consider taking a taxi than local transport if you have heavy luggage
    • Ask for cost estimate.
    • I found each taxi ride from Italy to Germany quite reasonable (I do live in San Francisco where before Uber taxi’s have always been super expensive).
  • Ask questions before you rent; make sure you are getting what you are expecting
  • Double check cancellation policy and plan accordingly
    • I found many had a “flexible” policy and I did cancel because I didn’t want to rent a room from someone for 11 days—I wanted to find an entire place for myself
    • Through the cancellation process I did find it worked just as listed on the AirBNB site; the accuracy of the process was a comfort to me.

One thing I do love about a good hotel (and yes there are good hotels out there) is a great concierge service—these do vary of course. On my most recent hotel stays on my seven week experience I used two different hotels and one was horrible and the other amazing. The amazing hotel had a great concierge who got me into a site that I had wanted to visit. I looked on line and this place I wanted to visit was operating well. The concierge was quick and had a great approach and got me in. AirBNB service providers can and do provide some excellent suggestion but there role isn’t necessarily in the concierge service. When I am in a hotel I utilize the concierge often.

AirBNB has created a business model that provides consistency and a delivery of matching and perhaps exceeding expectation. Also value delivery made me a believer in this service. AirBNB has created a level playing field as it relates to terms and conditions of rentals—where were you AirBNB when I had to work with a very unhelpful apartment owner in Rome ten years ago. AirBNB did restore my faith in renting from an individual.

How many times have you reserved a hotel room and it didn’t match your expectation? The quality of the room have been poor or the price high for what you got. I feel great knowing I have more options about where I might stay in the future. Does this mean will I abandon hotels completely the answer is simple for me—No—I have a lot of travel and depending on reason of trip I may need a hotel.   I feel I have double the options than I had before AirBNB. I will book with AirBNB perhaps more frequently in the future and have full faith in the service. I was a skeptic and now a true believer.

Great travels to you!

Salute,

James

Copyright© 2016 – James Melendez / James the Travel Guy – All Rights Reserved

I may also share this blog posting in my James the Wine Guy sites as well.

Follow me on Twitter and subscribe to my YouTube channel

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Albuquerque International Sunport Continuous Improvement – James Melendez

ABQ – Albuquerque International Sunport is not a hub or large airport—but if it were one it would be an ideal gateway—great weather; an airport that serves the state and region of the Land of Enchantment and the Duke City.  You go to Albuquerque as a destination–rarely do you make a change of planes here–only if you are flying Southwest and trying to get to Love Field.

Albuquerque International is well designed for it’s current traffic.  Clean design and it has held up after it’s major renovation from a decade and half ago.

Of recent upgrade is the security check through–easily one of the most organized and equipped to handle all those that pass through.  Take an airport like SFO San Francisco International which has inadequate security check points; even when traveling on off times–the time to get through is something that will take a bit of time.  Even a slight issue becomes a long, long wait.

Albuquerque Sunport’s additional traffic will be handled well through it’s security check point.  Traveling has been difficult for most people in the past decade–it is nice to know that some airports have modernized to handle modern needs.

Copyright 2010 – James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez

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American Airlines – 6.0 – James Meléndez

Airlines is the second largest air carrier in the world and founded in 1930.  American is considered a legacy carrier and that is key to my review.

I have flown American for many years and have noted a decrease in quality of experience.  And through a successive number of events the air flight experience has decreased and the economics has been more precarious but each experience has been a continued decrease in service; increase in customer expenses.

The spike in petroleum prices shocked not just the cost of a gallon but passed a price chain that rippled through the economy and left U.S. legacy carriers scrambling for other revenues.  The per piece baggage expense perhaps brought some incremental income but the average traveler just started carrying on all their luggage.

But American Airlines has not kept up pace with the needs and desires of the American consumer.  Technology has not helped American to have more on-time flights, easier passenger on-boarding, and the total customer experience has gone retrograde.

My flights last year on American made me feel that I was on a start-up air carrier.  I kept thinking—“how long have they (American Airlines) been doing this?”  The lack of communication with customer, the lengthy and seemingly unexplicable delays were never addressed, and the flight attendants seemed so vacant or uninterested with helping to inform the cabin’s passengers of what was occurring.

American’s business model might be chipped away by carriers like Southwest and Virgin America and other carriers.   Southwest being a much younger airlines has a younger way to deal with it’s business in a continued refreshing way—that passengers may even look forward to their flights.  American Airlines is such a hard airline to fly that it makes you think—“I’m paying for my flights?”

*****

An abundance of travel reviews from an experienced traveler.  And a plethora of wine reviews from wines regions around the world. Read more of my wine reviews:jamesthewineguy.wordpress.com © 2010 James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez – All Rights Reserved.  James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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American Airlines – 6.0 – James Meléndez

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000190 EndHTML:0000005384 StartFragment:0000002380 EndFragment:0000005348 SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/jamesmelendez/Desktop/AA%20flight%20experience.doAmerican Airlines is the second largest air carrier in the world and founded in 1930.  American is considered a legacy carrier and that is key to my review.

I have flown American for many years and have noted a decrease in quality of experience.  And through a successive number of events the air flight experience has decreased and the economics has been more precarious but each experience has been a continued decrease in service; increase in customer expenses.

The spike in petroleum prices shocked not just the cost of a gallon but passed a price chain that rippled through the economy and left U.S. legacy carriers scrambling for other revenues.  The per piece baggage expense perhaps brought some incremental income but the average traveler just started carrying on all their luggage.

But American Airlines has not kept up pace with the needs and desires of the American consumer.  Technology has not helped American to have more on-time flights, easier passenger on-boarding, and the total customer experience has gone retrograde.

My flights last year on American made me feel that I was on a start-up air carrier.  I kept thinking—“how long have they (American Airlines) been doing this?”  The lack of communication with customer, the lengthy and seemingly unexplicable delays were never addressed, and the flight attendants seemed so vacant or uninterested with helping to inform the cabin’s passengers of what was occurring.

American’s business model might be chipped away by carriers like Southwest and Virgin America and other carriers.   Southwest being a much younger airlines has a younger way to deal with it’s business in a continued refreshing way—that passengers may even look forward to their flights.  American Airlines is such a hard airline to fly that it makes you think—“I’m paying for my flights?”

*****

An abundance of travel reviews from an experienced traveler.  And a plethora of wine reviews from wines regions around the world. Read more of my wine reviews:jamesthewineguy.wordpress.com © 2010 James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez – All Rights Reserved.  James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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James the Travel Guy Tip: Taxi Taking at SFO & Credit Cards – James Melendez

I have found taxi taking at San Francisco International is more challenging than it should be with respect to credit cards.  I have found that I ask and double ask and ask once more if they the taxi I am going to take accepts credit cards.

I ask again because I have that many taxi cab operators–though they accept credit cards–prefer not to.

I have had many times where the operator says their equipment doesn’t work.  And equally other city’s where I am taking a taxi (those that accept credit cards) I have not encountered that problem.

So when you land at SFO ask at the taxi stand and don’t just depend on on a credit card logo to notify if they taxi accepts credit cards—ask the driver several times.

*****

An abundance of travel reviews from an experienced traveler.  And a plethora of wine reviews from wines regions around the world. Read more of my wine reviews: jamesthewineguy.wordpress.com © 2009 James Melendez – All Rights Reserved.  James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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Oakland International Airport (OAK) – 6.3 – James Melendez

Oakland International is an airport that is not easy to get to if you are on public transport. Sure there is something called AirBART—it is expensive $3.00 (for a bus ride) and then you have to add additional money to use BART.  The fare is not only expensive but inconvenient and all you want to do is either be at the airport or be on your suburban or urban sojourn.  I have clocked AirtBART taking up to 15-20 minutes.  If you were to take a taxi—5 minutes tops.  And taxi is another great topic.  Taxi drivers are willing to take your from Coliseum station to the airport but all but refuse to take someone from the airport to the BART station.

Some specific comments:

  • There are two security lines—the Southwest security is long and winding, always busy and moves quite slowly.  The northern security line can be busy but it is never like the mainstay carrier – SW security line (the terminal is continuous so you can enter either security line)
  • The gate seating areas in the northerly gates seating is very limited and the interior design needs a revision.
  • The northern gates also offer much fewer vendors; Southerly terminals
  • More often than SFO it experience fewer delays due to fog.

Considering the volume the airport’s design show it was never constructed to handle the number of passengers it handles today’s; there is not vision on design—modern and convenient.  A roadway that handles on one level of departures and the other with an upper would be optimum.  I still prefer SFO to OAK all the time.

*****

An abundance of travel reviews from an experienced traveler.  And a plethora of wine reviews from wines regions around the world. Read more of my wine reviews: jamesthewineguy.wordpress.com © 2009 James Melendez – All Rights Reserved.  James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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