Friday, November 29, 2013

Stars and Diamonds

Recently I’ve been doing some research on hospitality ratings for a business plan I’m putting together. I ran across some terms I didn’t understand and of course, that urged me to dig deeper. Turns out these ratings are not an easy topic to come to grips with. So today I want to get you the basics on hospitality ratings. Hopefully this will help you sort through what’s a just frill and what means quality!

The Michelin Guide is a series of annual guide books published by the French company Michelin for more than one hundred years. The term normally refers to the Michelin Red Guide, the oldest and best-known European hotel and restaurant reference guide,   which awards Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments.

AAA Five Diamond Award is the highest level of the AAA Diamond Ratings System for restaurants and lodgings administered by AAA (formally known as the American Automobile Association). All properties must first meet AAA’s basic requirements before being evaluated by one of AAA’s inspectors. Once evaluated, a rating of One to Five Diamonds is assigned, based on lodging and restaurant published guidelines for facilities, amenities, and service.

AAA began in 1902 as a federation of independent motor clubs. In 1937, the first AAA representatives were hired to inspect lodgings and restaurants, and in 1963, AAA began assigning ratings from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’. In 1977 – AAA’s 75th (diamond) anniversary – the ratings became known as the AAA Diamond Ratings System for lodgings. Restaurants began earning Diamonds in 1989. The AAA Five Diamond award is similar to a Five Star rating on a hotel. However, AAA chose to use diamonds instead of stars. It is also similar to the business called the International Star Diamond Award that the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences sells to hotels, restaurants, and other industries.

The Automobile Association (The AA) is a British motoring association founded in 1905, which was to provide reliable car coverage and travel information. It is often used as a guide for reliable services across the UK.

Well hopefully this helped to shed a little light on the situation. I know I this cleared up a lot of my questions. At the very least I hope you now know that there is more than TravelAdvisor out there!

Safe Travels,


Monday, November 25, 2013

'Tis The Season

Christmas is a time of the year that always leaves me longing for my German lifestyle. It brings back all those amazing experiences that you can only find in a small village during the holidays. So in honor of my bout of homesickness I bring you a list of the top Christmas Markets in Germany.

Nuremberg: With the majestic Alps to the south and the medieval Imperial Castle perched proudly at the top of the Old Town hill, Nuremberg is a spectacular back drop for one of Germany's oldest Christmas markets. The Kinderweihnacht, or Children's Market, provides plenty of family fun, featuring an old-fashioned carousel, Ferris wheel, steam train and Nativity scene trail. Over 180 traditional stalls, blanketed in red and white cloth, ensure that this extremely popular market remains authentic. Modern and mass-produced goods are strictly prohibited and officials police the stalls to ensure that the vendors are offering the visitors hand-crafted wares in keeping with the tradition of the market. Favourite food delights at the market include the Nuremberg “plum people” (small figures made from prunes), spicy gingerbread, sweets and Nuremberg sausages.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Home to the Christmas Museum, Rothenburg is a magical place to spend the festive season. Surrounded by imposing town walls, steep-roofed gable houses line narrow cobbled streets, creating a romantic and festive atmosphere. Although some dislike the Disney-esque nature of the city, its unspoiled beauty is irrefutable. The Reiterlesmarkt is held on a medieval stage and Rothenburg is illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights. Unlike cosmopolitan Berlin and Cologne, Rothenburg has an entirely different feel, with smaller markets and a more intimate setting. Christmas pastries, white mulled wine and bratwurst can all be bought. Rothenburg's Schneeball (snow ball) is a must-try for those with a sweet-tooth, made from strips of sweet fried dough covered in powdered chocolate or sugar. The market gets its unusual name from the legend of the Rothenburg rider. Once believed to float through the skies with the souls of the dead during winter, the wild horseman has evolved into a friendly messenger and a bringer of luck.


The gothic town hall that flanks the wooden huts of the Marienplatz creates a spectacular setting for the Christmas market. Selling predominantly Bavarian produce, unique Christmas gifts and delectable treats can be found here. Concerts are played daily and you can look down on the sights of the market, well away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd, from the balconies of the spectacular town hall. The Kripperlmarkt is just a short walk away and specialises in all things Nativity. For something completely different, the Tollwood Market is an urban cultural festival offering a diverse range of international music, drama and cuisine. With over 20 different markets in Munich, there is something for everyone; from a medieval market with gospel choir, to the gay-friendly Pink Christmas Market, where wares are sold from pink and purple pagodas with added cabarets and shows.

Berlin: The city's main market is held beneath the spectacularly poignant Ged├Ąchtniskirche (Memorial Church), making Berlin a great destination for a unique Christmas market experience. This historic and cosmopolitan city has something for everyone with over 60 markets scattered around the centre. The Gendarmenmarkt is hosted in one of the city's most beautiful squares and boasts culinary temptations from some of the country's top chefs as well as a festoon of entertainment including: jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, choirs, dance groups and music ensembles. A 30 minute walk away is Potsdamer Platz Market, which promises a more modern and adventurous event featuring Europe's largest mobile toboggan run. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Market pledges that you can find a present for everyone among the traditional wooden huts; all while nursing your hot cocoa and nibbling on roasted almonds. The Spandau Market celebrates Advent with a Nativity scene featuring live animals. Across the city, the Lucia Christmas Market is Nordic-Scandinavian themed, offering a romantic and intimate atmosphere. If it's nostalgia and tradition that you're looking for, the Staatsoper and Opernpalais Market is for you. From here you can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old centre of Berlin.


Stuttgart is an excellent spot for those looking for a hint of nostalgia. Heralded as one of the most beautiful markets in Europe, the main Stuttgart market is held beneath the stunning Old Palace. Inside the palace the festivities continue as you meander through the stalls of the Renaissance inner courtyard, the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla filling the air. Stuttgart is a fantastic destination, providing easy access to other must-see markets. Only 20km away are the famous Ludwigsburg (north) and Esslingen (south-east) Christmas markets. In Esslingen you can see high-wire artists, fairytale stilt walkers, fire-eaters, minstrels, and acrobats tumbling around the streets in wheels of flame. This medieval market provides an unusual atmosphere with unmissable attractions including the Land of Dwarfs, archery and medieval arts and crafts.
Ludwigsburg is held in the baroque market square and promises visitors romance and history. The spectacular Ludwigsburg palace is the backdrop to this beautiful and spirited market.


With accounts dating back to 1434, Dresden's Christmas Market, traditionally known as Striezelmarkt, is the oldest in Germany. With the backdrop of the River Elbe, Dresden is annually turned into a Winter Wonderland with thousands of twinkling lights: romantic, festive and charming. The Striezelmarkt boasts both the world's tallest Nutcracker, and the world's tallest Christmas pyramid. Smoking figures, Herrenhut Advent stars and Dresden's traditional Pflaumentoffel, a chimney-sweep crafted from dried prunes, can all be bought here. Peruse the stalls and watch the traditional glass-blowers, carvers and bakers practice their crafts.
The highlight of the market is the Stollen Festival on the second Saturday in Advent. Held on 8 December in 2012, a giant stollen cake will be processed through the streets, ceremoniously cut and distributed among the crowd for a small fee (the proceeds go to charity). There are numerous other markets of note to be found around the city including those held in the stable yards at Residenzschloss, the famous Frauenkirche Market and the intimate market held in Loschwitz.

This one is a little different: Schloss Guteneck 

Hosted in the grounds of the beautiful Castle Guteneck, this medieval market plays host to the Middle Ages. Fanfares, processions, minstrels, clowns and jugglers can all be seen roaming through the stalls. Although the fair is only held on weekends throughout December, it offers something different every day, from falconry to fire-dancing. The evening's events revolve around the various Advent celebrations, along with live Nativity scenes. A variety of music can be enjoyed throughout the festivities, including baroque flautists, choirs, brass bands and concerts in the barn. The aroma of mulled wine and flame roasted-almonds scents the air, while fried doughnuts and Langosch are the fair's more unique culinary choices.

Finally, my FAVORITE-

Cologne: Cologne is host to a number of Christmas markets throughout the run-up to Christmas. The most famous of these is held in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral, the largest in Germany and a UNESCO World Heritage site. With the imposing Gothic backdrop and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhine, the 'Am Dom' Market offers over 160 stalls selling the traditional Yuletide wares and their famous Gl├╝hwein (mulled wine). Traditional music fills the air, providing the perfect atmosphere for Christmas shopping. For children, the Alter Markt is the place to go, with a Santa's grotto, puppet theatre and stands filled with toys. The Rudolfplatz will transport children both big and small to the world of the brothers Grimm, with fairytale figures and festive illuminations.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let's not lose it, shall we?

As Holiday travel is right around the corner I wanted to impart a few helpful tips on how to avoid the extreme headache of lost luggage. Thankfully I have only experienced this burden once in my many travels, but it was such an ordeal that I've since taken precautions to never deal with it again. So here are my suggestions:

Bold Bags: Black is not your friend. A majority of luggage is designed in black- sorry, I have no idea why. Don't be afraid to let your bag express your personality. This will help others from picking up at claims by mistake. It's also very useful if the airline does misplaces it. You'd be surprised what the airlines will notices and I've seen more than a few guests get a lucky break this way.

Ship It: Services like Luggage Forward or Luggage Free allow for a worry-free travel experience at the airport. You can send your bags straight to your Hotel, Cruise Ship, or even Golf Course. It can be pricey if overnighting- around $150 for a 50lbs bag- but it's not really that much more than the airlines and it's a LOT less than UPS.

Spy on Your Stuff: Just like you're smartphone, you can have GPS coordinates on your bags at all time with the Trakdot. The small box will send location updates through SMS, email or through the Trakdot app and website.

Good Luck to all you traveling this Holiday Season. Hopefully your Holidays are bright!
Safe Travels,