Hotel Kubrat Berlin Mitte (Berlin, Germany)
Our recent short break in Berlin gave us an opportunity to discover a city we had not previously visited. Consequently we had no idea where would be a good place to base ourselves. Our visit was originally intended to have been combined with a training course my wife was running in nearby Potsdam but, as it turned out, our German hosts ... screwed up the arrangements and so our short break turned out to be all play and no work.
Our hosts had, however, recommended us a suitable hotel and, checking it out on Tripadvisor, it seemed that it would be a not unpleasant experience. At a discount rate of Euro87.50 a night plus Euro7.50 for breakfast, it would not be an expensive one, for a city centre hotel. But how would it rate otherwise?
Hotel Kubrat Berlin Mitte, to give it its full name is located, as the "Mitte" bit of the name suggests, pretty much in the centre of Berlin. In fact it is located close to the junction of Leipziger Strasse and Freidrichstrasse, and just around the corner from the world-famous site of Checkpoint Charlie. This part of Berlin was in East Berlin, before the Berlin Wall came down, back in 1989.
Leipziger Strasse runs East/West, parallel to Unter den Linden, which is just 1km North, up Freidrichstrasse, an easy walk of about 10/15 minutes. The Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building can be easily reached on foot in 30 minutes or in around 10 minutes on Berlin's excellent train system. The Gendarmenmarkt, famous for its restaurants, is just across the road. For location, the hotel could hardly be much better.
The hotel is unspectacular from the outside, victim, undoubtedly, to the unimaginative building style imposed on East Berlin by its Russian masters when Berlin was reconstructed from the devastation of WWII. The addition of a conservatory style extension on the front, extending to the edge of the pavement, is the only distinguishing feature. This houses the hotel's restaurant in which you take breakfast. Alongside is an open-air patio for those who have not yet given up the weed. The hotel is no-smoking.
We were made to feel most welcome; all of the staff with whom we dealt spoke good English. Our room (204) was on the first floor and overlooked the central courtyard, enclosed on all sides by the hotel and other buildings. Here, there was no traffic noise from the busy roads indeed, little noise at all, even with the windows open. The courtyard does contain car parking spaces for those arriving by car.
Our first impressions of our room were mixed. The room was more a suite than a room: the entrance lobby was divided from the sleeping area by another door and where was to be found all of the storage; the bathroom opened off this lobby as well; yet another, a shower room, also opens off of the lobby. This latter is strange: the space is actually larger than the bathroom but contains nothing more than a standard sized shower in the far corner, plus a table for toiletries, and a footstool!
Opening up the clothes storage, a very limited number of hangers were provided and, stranger even than this, most of the shelves were missing! However, there were adequate drawers.
On entering the sleeping area, an unpleasant stale sweat smell was evident. It gave the impression that the room had not been aired for some time. However, after a few hours with the windows open whilst we went out to explore Berlin, the smell had dissipated, not to return during our stay.
Our room was a twin rather than the double, with a large unit between the beds, preventing them being brought together. All of the furniture, save for a sofa, was made from white finished chipboard, even the bed bases, which had clearly seen better days. However, the whole suite was very clean so the issue was really just one of appearance. There was also a free-standing fan though no air-conditioning. Heating was by way of substantial cast-iron radiators with thermostatic valves, but the one in the bathroom didn't work! In the shower room there was just an electric wall heater.
Entertainment was provided by the usual TV but no English language channels were available, not even the ubiquitous CNN! Fortunately we didn't have to rely upon this as the weather, whilst cold, did not prevent us getting out in to Berlin during our stay.
Breakfast is provided in the conservatory at the front of the hotel and consists of the usual continental fare, cereals, cold meats, cheese and salads. Bread consists only of rolls so, no opportunity to have toast. However, you can tear the rolls up and have them with butter, margarine and jams. Fruit juices are available, as well as coffee and tea.
So, how did we enjoy our stay? Well, first of all, let's confirm that for a city-centre hotel, value for money cannot be questioned. The hotel itself was comfortable and the staff could not have been more welcoming or helpful. However, let's be honest, the atmosphere does seem to reflect its location in what was the former East Berlin. It gives the impression that it is struggling to throw off the influences of the former Russian masters of this part of Germany but has yet to entirely succeed. Having said that, were we to return to Berlin, and that is entirely possible, I would have no qualms about staying here again.
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Rosenview Guest House (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
On my recent holiday to South Africa our tour company organised two days at Rosenview guest house, near Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. The guest house has a three star rating, and some lovely grounds and an outdoor pool should the weather be obliging (we were there in winter). Really it is more of a guest farm than a guest house as ... they grow grapes for the neighbouring wine growers on the farm (although they don't make the wine themselves). As it is a little way out of town then you will need your own transport to get here or if you wanted to go out in the evenings. They advertise conference facilities for up to twenty people but we didn't use this aspect.
They have a number of rooms, so of which are in the main building and some which are in an annexe nearby. I had a room in the main building off the dining room, which had TV, air-com (which also supplied heat) a fridge with modestly priced drinks, wall safe and tea and coffee making facilities. The room was clean and decorated in a country lodge style, with old-fashioned dark wood furniture and blankets on the beds instead of duvets. I was pleased to note that there were well-placed, angled reading lights above each bed. The plug sockets were not the most conveniently placed, as we had to plug the hair-dryer in across the room from the dressing table. The bathroom had a large shower, but no bath. Plenty of towels were provided as were a few complimentary toiletries - shower gel, soap and shampoo of a reasonable quality. It was cold when we visited (winter), and the heater didn't really warm the whole room up. The bathroom was always cold and the window was hard to shut. Because of our proximity to the dining room we were disturbed early each morning as they set up the breakfast room
Breakfast involved self-service cereals, fruit salad, yoghurt and porridge plus a cooked breakfast that was made to order with eggs, beans, tomatoes mushrooms and sausages. They also brought out plenty of toast. Tea, coffee and fruit juice were also available. This is served in the communal lounge-dining area. This area has a very homely feel to it, and is comfortable and relaxed. There are a few sofas and a TV at the other end of the room with some books and maps to browse if you wish.
As we were a group booking we ate in on the first night. This option isn't available to most guests; it is something they do for conference and tour groups, for which we paid a small subsidy (ZAR95 for vegetarians, slightly more for meat-eaters). My meal included a starter of asparagus and cheese sauce (there was a prawn dish also), for mains the meat eaters had traditional babootie pie (a minced beef dish), and the veggies had a pasta dish. There was also a variety of side dishes to which you could help yourself to. Dessert was a traditional Malva cake (fruit sponge) with custard. I found the food pleasant enough. It was more than edible but didn't blow me away. The meat eaters did love their babootie pie and it compared favourably with one eaten in a Cape Town restaurant the previous evening.
Overall I found the Rosenview Guest House a pleasant place to stay. The staff members here were very friendly, helpful and welcoming and seemed genuinely pleased to see you and chat. However, had I been travelling independently rather than on a small group tour, I would not have selected this due to its remoteness, I estimate it is about fifteen minutes drive from Stellenbosch. This is in some beautiful countryside however, and if you are here during better weather you could no doubt do some lovely walks.
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Reef Oasis Blue bay Resort and Spa (Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt)
We rarely spend Christmas at home and prefer to get away from the miserable English weather to somewhere hot, but our choices are normally limited.So we chose to spend Christmas a few years ago at the Reef Oasis Blue Bay resort. We loved the place so much that visited again last year. The bulk of this review was originally written after ... our first stay but I have checked and all the information is now up to date.
The hotel is situated just outside Ne'ama Bay at Sharm El Sheikh, just a 15 minute drive from Sharm airport. Situated in the Sinai Peninsular and overlooking the Beautiful Red Sea.
I should mention this is classed as a 5* hotel and is all inclusive. (643 rooms on two floors)
On arrival we found ourselves travelling along a very grand, tree lined driveway. At the end of the drive was the main gate, guarded by several security guards. One of these guards then joined us in the cab and we carried on along another driveway. We alighted at the impressive main Reception area, where our bags were immediately taken from us, we were advised they would be brought to our rooms shortly. (and they were, arrived 10 minutes in our room after we did)
On entering through the enormous revolving doors, the lobby was beautiful, a lovely fountain was the main focal point surrounded by beautiful plants and marble decorations. Comfy seating all around, with a Bar to one side and another formal lounge area, and an information centre off to the side.
Checking in was a breeze and took about 5 minutes, they took our passports from us and handed over our room key cards (which were of the power saver kind) . They then directed us to a waiting porter in a golf buggy who then took us to our room.
This place is huge and I could see the need for the buggy, we would have been wandering around all night trying to find our rooms otherwise. On the short trip to the room we took in all the beautiful lighting and water features on route, it was really quite breathtaking.
Our room was gorgeous, very spacious and neutrally and yet cosily decorated. We had a family room, there was a small 5ft bed for my son and a huge double bed in the centre of the room with bedside cabinets and table lamps either side, at the foot of the main bed was a large dressing area, with drawers and a beautiful oak mirror, upon which were all the leaflets detailing telephone extension number, a map of the hotel and explanation of all the facilities There was a terrace with room for four chairs and table overlooking a pool (again all beautifully lit). A hallway separating the main room from the bathroom with a massive full length, oak mirror and two built in double wardrobes which also held the easy to operate safe deposit. There was also a small sofa area here.
There was a small alcove with Tea and Coffee facilities, another mirror and a large fridge underneath stocked with plenty of soft drinks and water. Again the fridge was restocked daily, as were the tea and coffee...and more fresh flowers.
The bathroom took my breath away, it was large (as was everything so far) and with a lovely stone walk in shower complete with power shower. the basin was surrounded by mirrors, with a nice touch of fresh flowers in a glass vase (these were replaced on a daily basis). Equipped with Bidet, Hair Dryer, shaving point and, bizarrely, a telephone (there was already one in the bedroom). There were plenty of white, fluffy Egyptian cotton towels which were, again, replaced on a daily basis. I had no complaints here whatsoever.
There was a very easy to use airconditioning system, although we found this could be a little noisy at night, however the evenings were a bit chilly so there was no need to use it. We had a large TV with several English channels among others, about five separate lamps, and a rather comfy armchair. We found the beds very comfortable and slept soundly on them, we found the rooms to be pretty much sound proofed so were not disturbed by anyone outside at all, in fact we had no complaints about our room whatsoever.
The main buffet restauarant was LE PETIT, serving Breakfast and Dinner buffets along with a national variety of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks from 7am until 10.30am and again 7pm until 10pm. There was always plenty of choice to be had here with added theme nights such as Egyptian, Italian etc. We never really had any complaints about the food being cold and the service from the waiters was exceptional, in fact if we were to complain at all it would be that we had a hard time leaving an empty glass on our table........as soon as our glass was empty there was a waiter there refilling it !! The waiting staff were lovely and friendly and as they got to know us they even had our drinks ready as we were seating some evenings.
The MULATE, is a fish restuarant just opposite Le Petit, serving a selection of fresh fish along with the drinks as above, you could order specialities such as Lobster but there was an extra charge for this. The choice here wasn't as varied but the food was superb as, again, was the service. Resrvation was required for here, although we did manage to eat without reserving. Open from 7pm to 11pm
LE ROMANTIQUE FRENCH restuarant is not part of the all inclusive so you are charged for everything here. Full A La Carte French menu, with drinks as above. You will personally meet with the Chef and apparently the service is, again, exceptional. Unfortunately I can't confirm this as we didn't actually eat here, but it all looked wonderful. Open from 7pm to 11pm
AL DENTE ITALIAN restuarant, again part of the all inclusive and reservations required. There is an extra charge for some speciality items, drinks as above again. Once again, superb food and service. Open from 7pm to 11pm
THE BISTRO serving a traditional Bistro menu, drinks as above and where you could also watch some sporting events if you wished. And, guess what...yet again the service and food was exceptional ! Open from 10am to 2am this was somewhere to go if you fancied a little snack and the other restaurants were closed.
OCEANO BEACH restaurant overlooking the private beach. Serving a lunch buffet with the aforementioned drinks included. Open from 12.30pm to 3.30pm, we visited here often for a quick snack as it was just a stone's throw from the beach and the food was always hot, service, goes without saying now really, was exceptional.
There was also a fantastic BBQ next to Le Petit if you fancied a change, this was lovely and overlooked one of the pools. Open from 7pm to 11pm
Sensible Dress code was required in all restuarants, with the exception of the Oceano, where wet clothes were still not permitted.
LEISURE POOL BAR, this was the one we visited most often as it was near our room. They served hot snacks as well as the usual drinks from 10am to sunset, They also provided waiter service around the pool here so you didn't need to even leave your sun lounger. Needless to say I took full advantage of this and was rather hooked on their Pina Coladas, Samed, our favourite waiter (hope I got his name right) was lovely and made sure I was topped up regularly !
BEACH BAR, situated directly on the beach serving snacks and drinks from 10am to sunset, the friendly staff often had our drinks ready for us when they saw us coming, and always had a smile and a joke with us.
ARENA BAR, this was situated near to the lobby and the restuarants, they had four TV screens showing sporting events in here, waiter service at the tables, it had a typical 'pub' atmosphere here, again very friendly and welcoming. Open from 7pm to midnight.
CARRIBEAN FUN PUB, this was opposite the previous bar and very garishly decorated in bright colours and palm trees etc. Serving snacks and specialising in cocktails. Open from 4pm to 2am, they also had entertainment after 11pm and served hot snack through til 2am. We visited here often but of all the places we found the service here to be a little slow and the staff not nearly as friendly for some reason.
Those were the main bars but there were several others, CAFE BAZAAR was in the shopping area and served up coffee and soft drinks where you could also try out one the traditionsl 'Shish' or 'water' pipes. There were also the SUNSET BAR, and RELAX POOL BAR around the pools open til sunset again with waiter service around the pools. And the CITRUS VITAMIN BAR in the health club, which, I was told, was superb but we didn't visit.
The LEISURE POOL was situated right outside our room. The water here was freezing but that didn't stop us, considering the average temperature whilst we were there was 25 degrees. There are 3 water flumes here and my son loved it. Sun loungers aplenty and a towel bay where you could exchange you towels on a daily basis. There was a Jacuzzi in this pool but it was cold, you soon got used to it though.
RELAX POOL, this was strictly adults only, so if you don't have kids and /or don't like them particularly, this is the place for you to lounge all day in peace and quiet
DIVING POOL, specially for the divers to practice in. As far as we could see this was the only purpose for this pool but it was beautiful to look at, not a lot more really.
MAIN POOL, this was just outside the main restuarant and was heated, very popular and had beautiful, sofa type things (sorry can't really find a way to describe them) but they were big round cushions almost the size of a double bed with a wicker surround, unfortunately there were only a couple of these but plenty of sun loungers to go round. This pool actually overlooked the sea and the private beach below.
PRIVATE BEACH, this was about a minute's walk down a slight hill, I believe the beautiful white, powdery sand was actually imported. Fully enclosed with little bays to wade out to,The water was between 20 and 25 degrees, so like a glorious warm bath. Tropical fish came and swam with you in the shallows and really were a sight for sore eyes, if you stood still they would swim around you. Sun beds aplenty here, and a towel bay for your clean towels.
From the beach you could book for any of the water sports on offer and I seriously cannot remember them all, there was so much to choose from but among them (most at extra cost but not expensive) were:
Diving (you got a free introductory dive)
Snorkelling (free but you had to hire snorkel if you did not have your own) Well worth doing as there is a host of beautiful fish and coral here.
Glass Bottom Boat
Speed Boat trip (you actually got to drive yourself)
Double or Triple Tubes...(basically being dragged behind a speed boat on an inflatible tube at speed..great fun)
And plenty more, also there were activities on the beach itself, including football and beach volley ball.
Several vendors here, tatooing, hair braiding...all the usual touristy things but none of them very expensive to be honest.
There was a variety of daytime and evening entertainment to be had such as basketball, archery, boccia, football, tennis, darts, dancing lessons during the day and of course the obligatory evening entertainment. To be honest the evening entertainment was pretty much standard stuff from the animation team but they really did put in a lot of effort and made the shows as varied as possible. The only problem we had with this was that the stage area was outside and whilst the daytime temperatures were hot the evenings were really, really cold at this time of year and we were sometimes shivering even though we were well wrapped up ! (something to bear in mind if , like us, you are planning on visiting in the winter months) But that was a minor bugbear and really should not detract from the overall enjoyable experience.
After the main entertainment had finished at 11pm you could then proceed to the Carribean fun Pub to continue an evening of Disco, live music or Karaoke, but more often we were too tired by then and retired to bed !!
The THALASSO SPA is well worth a visit, situated through the reception area and includes Hydromassage pool, fully equipped gym (part of the all inclusive), steam bath, facial treatments and much, much more.
Although the majority of facilities at the Spa are at an extra cost, they are resonably priced and you can purchase various packages comprising many special treatments at a special price.
Varied treatments included were
Steam Room Peels
The list really is endless and for more info you should visit the website which I will give later.
There is an onsite shopping 'Bazaar', with Pharmacy, Bank (very handy for changing your money and indeed getting small change which is hard to come by), Tobacconist, Tattoos, Hand paintings and all the usual tourist paraphernalia.
Our one dislike here was that you had to haggle for everything except in the pharmacy, I am not good at haggling so sought advice from a hotel rep as to the prices I should be expected to pay, there are no fixed prices and I like to see what I am paying, but I didn't buy much anyway as the prices here are rather expensive.......except cigarettes, you can pick up a carton of 200 from as little as £7 here. Try to make sure you have the correct money as the vendors all tell you that they don't have any change (even though I am damn sure they do) and expect to end up with a mixture of currency as they take Egyptian Pounds, Sterling, US Dollars and Euros and a few other currencies to boot. In fact we really didn't need to bother changing our money as everything we bought could have been bought in Sterling anyway.
There is a very well run Mini Club here for kids up to 12yrs. They even have their own mini pool and playground, from what we heard the children were very well looked after and seemed to be very happy.
The toilet facilities throughout the hotel complex were immaculate and seemed to be cleaned on an hourly basis. There are plenty around all the pools and Beach area and close to all the bars and Entertainment areas.
Disabled access throughout the hotel.
Also we found on our second visit last year that they have built a lift that takes you from the main hotel straight down to the private beach if you are feeling lazy.
The bus.....this came in very handy, there is a little bus that continuously runs the whole circuit of the hotel , simply stick out your hand when you see it coming and jump on and off wherever you like. We found this invaluable and it runs late into the night as well.
Extras include, Laundry service, Room service, Telephone, Fax, Internet, Imported Alcoholic Drinks (be warned a bottle of Smirnoff costs 450 Euros......yep you heard that right 450 Euros !!!), car rental, Tennis, Play Station, Hair Dresser.
There is a free shuttle bus from reception that you book in advance and takes you into Ne'ama Bay for shopping if it takes your fancy.
If you want to take your laptop there is a free wireless internet located in the hotel lobby.
I cannot begin to put into words just how fantastic our stay here was on both occasions and we will likely visit again in the near future. The service was exceptional, all staff were extremely helpful and friendly and the hotel was spotless. All the rooms are thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis as were all the facilities as far as I could see. It was the most relaxing holiday we have ever had.
It was the little touches that made it so much more, such as the little vases of fresh flowers placed in our rooms everyday. On Christmas Eve when we returned to our room the staff had placed a little stocking in our room with cookies, peanuts and a satsuma in with a little card. Indeed they made the whole Christmas experience quite magical. The gardens were beautiful and exquisitely decorated with red bows and fairy lights, none of it was tacky but extremely well done and they must have put a tremendous amount of time and effort into it all.
There were numerous beautiful water features throughout the resort that had to be seen lit up in all their glory in the evenings to be appreciated fully.
Before I go I must tell you about the New year's Eve Party during our first stay here.
They erected a huge marquee just outside of the main gates, 14000 people attended and it was the most spectacular party myself and my family have ever been to. There was a black and white 40s theme, and eight piece band and some of the most amazing food I have ever tasted at the buffet, complete with carveries. The food hall was a sight to be beheld, the sweet trolleys had chocolate elephants, chocolate boat and guitars, all expertly crafted and it seemed a shame to help yourself to any of it and spoil it all.
They had placed little foil wrapped balls on all our tables and we didn't have a clue at first what they were...we soon found out, they were for throwing at each other, can you imagine thousands of these little tiny balls flying through the air all night, silly but really, really good fun and even the hard working waiters joined in (our waiter for our table kept going around collecting them in a hat for us, so we had a never ending supply of ammo)
All told the most fantastic Holiday, the most amazing Christmas and the most fabulous New Year we could ask for.
(NB. Security here is very tight, there were security discreetly placed everywhere and I found this very reassuring)
A note about the water, do not drink the tap water, the hotel provides plenty of bottled water for you in the room anyway.
The staff do not hang around expecting tips and you can wait and tip at the end of the stay at reception if you like, we did try to tip our pool waiter on the last day but were unable to find him !
We booked through Thomson, but to be honest you would be far better off booking direct, our experiences with Thomson have been very, very disappointing and we will never book with them again.
For more information on this resort including availability and pricing you can access their website at www.reefoasisresorts.com
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4 Stars Hotel International
Hotel International / Boutique hotel in the Opera district of Paris, France.
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