Tag Archives: Hotel review

Happy Birthday at the Hilton. Beijing, China

2 Nov

Where am I? Back at the center of balance and harmony. Beijing Airport, Terminal 3. Blogging. Finally writing… Terminal 3 is my place.

Last night was a night for my travel history books. The Hilton Beijing Airport Hotel welcomed me for my birthday. After resting at the zero star hotels across Asia, I’ve realized I’m made for this type of living. We’re talking about shower heads over 6 feet tall. Water pressure strong enough to rinse hair conditioner. Springs, not plywood, for a mattress. Oversize pillows on a King Sized bed. White linens recently pressed. Clean robes falling to Tall Girl’s knees. Working hair dryer expelling heat not air. Soft toilet paper to last more than 2 days. Working lamps and working electrical sockets. Unused, recognizable brand named shampoos and soap. Hog heaven baby! Heart the Hilton.

Pure relaxation hit as soon as the Hilton’s automatic, magical doors ushered me into a lobby built for giants – Ghangis Khan would be proud. It was here, the brain shut off. Muscled crumbled. And, I exhaled. Ahhhh… Clean….Silence…Alone… I’m starting to like people again….

Getting to the Hilton Beijing Airport Hotel was not easy. When traveling via trains, planes, automobiles, boats, bikes and taxis, expect the hardest and longest path of resistance. Especially in those countries that have over 2,000 characters in their alphabet. To minimize arriving in pools of sweat, I enlisted the help of the front desk lady at the Beijing Hotel recommended by Gap Adventures. I told font desk lady where I needed to go. She never heard of Hilton. There are five or six Hilton’s in Beijing – never heard of it. This was going to be fun.

I showed her online where the Hilton Airport Hotel is located. Her only role in this was to translate directions to the taxi driver. She nodded. I assumed by her nod she relayed this information to the taxi driver.

We’re making good time to the airport. Not much traffic – for Beijing – on a Sunday. As we approach the airport exit, taxi man slows down. My internal “not a good sign” radar goes off. Here we go. Taxi man starts to mumble. Talking into his ear piece. I gathered he called a friend to figure out where the hotel is located. Lost in translation. I know where the hotel is. TERMINAL 3 – My home away from home. I could lead you to the land of order, balance and harmony in darkness…

He kept talking. I booted up my laptop. The last stop on the internet super-highway was Beijing Hilton and I hoped Firefox saved the page. It did. Thank GOOOOOD. I pulled up the map. Showed the driver. He nodded in enthusiastic relief. Yes, he had NO idea where this hotel is located. Don’t get it. Hotel lady and taxi man talked for a good 3 mins before I got into the car. What did they talk about? Climate change? North Korea’s national “I heart communism” military parade being broadcast in Chinese TV? Chinese dissident receiving noble peace prize? Overcooked dumplings?

Yes, its the Anglo that gets us to the Hilton. I would have walked at this point. We pull up. A Chinese young lady greeted me in perfect English. Another young man opened my door. White gloves on the car door, ensuring I don’t bump my head. Young lady with a tight bun wrapped in bows and rhinestones hands me a taxi card. Not knowing what to do, I handed it to taxi man. She laughed. “No. It’s for you. It has the taxi name and number on the card. If you accidentally leave something in his car, we can call him for you. He will bring it to you. I guarantee it…” she smiles. She’s wearing red. Favorite color. I’m confused by this level of service. Mind is entering into happy, calm, zone. Can feel the transition as I step from mini-taxi into the Hilton built for giants.

Commercial break. On plane. Chinese Southern Airline. Flight attendant just said. “We’re waiting for one passenger. Please be patient. And, refrain from smoking.” Shit. I hope this is a non-smoking flight. Get ready to gag. When is the last time you heard about smoking on an airplane? Oh my… Also, the nicely dressed Chinese man sitting next me opted not to shower today. Not sure if it BO or Chinese cooking grease. Flight is only 2 hours and 55 minutes. Just going from Northern China to middle China. Big ass country.

Back to Hilton.

Little lady asked me if I’m a World Hilton Member. Hell, I am now. I smiled – and said, “my step-brother works for Hilton, so…the answer is YES BABY!” Fiona – another young, smiling lady with a bun laced with bows and rhinestones- enthusiastically greets me…

“Ms. Day. We’ve been waiting for you. Happy Birthday! Today is your special day. We have a cake for you…”

If I would have known about this type of reception, I would have whipped out the red lipstick AND eyebrow pencil. Then it hit. That’s right. Guess who called Beijing Hilton Airport the day prior – my Southern Mama. She had a “lovely chat with this very friendly woman who said she will take care of me.” I can only imagine the conversation from a NC, Southern bell and the Chinese guest services manager. What Fiona heard was Mom was taking care of everything. Hey, that works for me! This is not what Mom had said. But, I’m going with Fiona.

Mark, my stepbrother, got me the family/friends rate for he works for Hilton in Orlando. ROCK STAR! I don’t even want to know how much this would cost otherwise. I’m so grateful to him and Susan – his cute wife – to help me reserve a room. I’m bringing back a surprise. Soap from the Hilton in Beijing…

Chinese bell man escorted me to my room. I walked in. Smiled. Body is entering the land of Zen… The air condition even has FREON. The other hotels claim air-condition, but they opt for the fan only. Life is getting better by the minute.

Bellman left. I just say and took it all in. The mini-fridge is not only cold, but quiet. One thing I can not get used to is their idea of refrigeration. I get why they don’t sell milk, yogurt or cheese… It is unnerving when you reach for a water or COKE Zero from a mini-market fridge and it’s warmer than hot. Fridges in China are for storage, not coldness.

The bathroom – well, I could move in. A SITTING toilet and a faucet with both hot and cold water. A tub to hold a 6 foot girl. And a bathroom window facing the flat screen TV. You can bath and blow dry while watching the BBC. Life can not get much better than this.

Wait. It can. My other goal is to mail – they use the word post – a few things back to the states. I’ve purchased a few things along the way – like Polish furry boots – and picked up a few times – rocks from Petra. Hilton has a business center on floor 2. I walked in. Greeted by a tall – five foot six – smiling, Chinese lady with a bun, bows and rhinestones. I told her I needed to mail a few items. She looked confused. Switched the word “mail” to “post.” She understood the word post, yet still looked confused. Hilton has trained her in the art of customer service – meaning, listen, find a solution and charge the customer. My type of proactive, guest service system I support.

She made a few calls to EMS and DHL. Express mail is the best way to go. Yea, most expensive. I told her, “I have a date with a spa so I’ll be back in 2 hours. It’s in your hands. You are the expert.” She smiled. I did a birthday dance. When I came back, she told me it would cost $100 to express mail. Nope. I’ll wait to Bangkok to do the 4 week pony express for much less.

In route to the spa, I pass a REAL gym with REAL equipment like a treadmill, free weights, TVs…. The works. My overachiever goal had me in there first thing in the AM. FYI. Did NOT happen. I walked into Spa room. Dark. Cool. And two overly friendly, giggly Chinese girls with buns in bows and rhinestones greeted me with flowers and tea.

First thing out of their mouth, “Happy Birthday!” Fiona – front desk girl – gave them a head’s up on my arrival. LOVE this place. Proactive baby. They both agreed before I even saw the menu that the Red Wine Spa was for me. Like the sound of this. But, wine in China is 50 to 80% proof. Are they going to bath me in it or do I drink it? Either way, pulled the American thing – need to be in control and see my options – and asked to see the spa menu. I was really just looking for a manicure. Cuticles have not been tended to since July 9, 2010. It’s time.

Cuticles will need to wait. No manicure. Just wine disinfecting. Chinese massages. Acupuncture. Facials. O’well…what is a birthday girl to do. I asked for the deep tissue massage for 90 mins and 30 min facial. Glass of wine will work too. My pores need to be drained of Chinese pollution. Fibi was my lady. “She’s the best…”

We kicked started the relaxation gig by washing my feet. I felt uncomfortable for my feet have been wrapped in wool socks and hiking boots for the last 6 hours. They are NASTY. I took off my shoes and apologized. She just giggled. The Chinese like to giggle. Meanwhile, the oversized copper bowl was filling up with steaming water. She gently placed in the water pink rose petals with three scoops of green powder. She lifted my feet and set them in the water. DAMN. Hot mama. I smiled. With an exfoliate in one hand and more grainy, green powder in the other, she worked over my two worn out stubs, mandated to hold up my 6 foot body.

Next on the docket was a shower. She requested I shower first. I had to agree. I walked and walked earlier in search of my Oba-Mao t-shirt. I can only imagine the pollution I’ve accumulated. When I washed my face, my skin felt grainy from the dust. Chest too. After showering and swaddling my body in a warm, fluffy robe, I waited.

Within 30 minutes of the massage, I was out cold. Asleep. Probably snoring. I have never fallen asleep on a massage table. Especially in a foreign country. Oh, one other thing. The face hole on the table, guess what greeted me? A warm bowl of water with red and pink rose petals. When my eyes opened, petals and fresh sent of flowers greeting me. On the other hand, in Petra, Jordan for the “Turkish” massage, I was greeted by mold and scum. Love Hilton!

The facial was interesting. I was expecting a high powered mirror to deep clean every pore. Nope. It was more of a face massage with apply every oil and lotion from “France.” She exfoliated a few times. Then, spent the rest of the time giving me a face and head massage. I fell asleep again. Who falls asleep in a facial? My body was so tired. I do this. That is, run hard with little sleep for a week or two or three, and then my brain and body shut down. I need to be quiet and sleep for 10 to 12 hours then I’m recharged. Today is recharged day.

After spa, I zombied back to my room. Within minutes, the phone rings. New front desk girl, Julie rings. She has my cake and a present. OK. Come on up!

Five minutes later, she arrives with the CHEF and three other Hilton employees with a cake in one hand and fresh purple and white flowers in the other hand. Tears came to my eyes. Am I really about to cry… Was it because of the service or shear embarrassment of imagining my Mom negotiating a cake in her Southern-drawl English? The best part was their rendition of the Happy Birthday song. Bad. None of these lads will make it on Karakee night at the local Beijing bar.

I asked them to sing it in Chinese. They all looked relieved. And, just as embarrassed. We clapped. I think they wanted to stay… Not sure what the protocol is. I led them to the door for my next stop was a tub, beer and cake. Check the box. Filled the CLEAN tub with yummy water. Drank my beer. Cut some cake. Soaked in silence. I was tempted to turn on TV for I have no had English news in weeks. Why start now? Silence.

All I could think about was my blog. How to write about the fact that my soul is made for fine hotels and customer service. I’m no longer cut out for 5th class Chinese trains, sleeping six to a compartment with no door, sheets encrusted with old food and bathrooms where you need to use a mask and gloves to enter. I had to giggle for if were ever to run for office my opponent would have a field day on my “love for fine things” – clean sheets, customer service and birthday cake. But, I’ll be brave and put it out there. I like nice things. I like nice people. Political career is now over.

Last night, I cuddled with FOUR oversized, fluffy and firm pillows. A mattress with springs. And, clean, WHITE linens. I watched Addicted to Love on HBO with Meg Ryan and Ferris Bueller Day’s Off actor. (Forgot his name). Never seen the C+ movie. No matter. Meg Ryan’s hair and make-up is what captivated me. Perfect in every scene. Her character is a “grunge” or one of those “avaunte guard” tough girls. Tough girls don’t devote an hour a day applying eye shadows and eyebrows. And, another two hours styling hair. And, Meg Ryan’s wardrobe was so cool and stylish. Man, I must be craving new clothes. I’ve been wearing the same four long sleeve t-shirts since July 11th. I also want her eyebrows and hair. I have all of these high hopes for my style upon my return. I’ve already given up all forms of instant coffee and replacing it with ground coffee beans. I guess my next “big thing” is to embrace daily hygiene and fashion. Got to love what traveling does to the soul…

Commercial Break. Chinese Southern Air is serving lunch. I’ve already got some coffee laced with heavy cream and extra sugar. I’m on a roll. What’s in store. Wow. For those that sleep, flight attendants leave a sticker requesting you ring the bell for lunch. The Chinese business man next to me is going to town on his food. He’s slurping up the rice and chicken while using a fork. I swear if he hocks a luggie, I’m going to scream. For whatever reason, I assumed slurping only happened when using chop sticks. Wrong. Lunch was rice. Chicken. Yogurt with a straw. Dried apricots. Mixed vegetable with tofu and peanuts. All good… Glad to see a fork again. Oh, and alcholog is free… All you can drink.

Back to Hilton.

This AM, woke to sunlight. That’s right. Pollution, midst, fog – whatever you want to call – has enveloped the city. Thick stuff. It rained last night. Air is clean. Sun is out. Vitamin D is in the air. Puts a smile on my face. Checked out of my favorite hotel in the whole wide world – Hilton – and headed to the airport. At airport security, I was greeting by young girls wearing bows, buns and rhinestones. They all have the same hair style. Here these young girls – wearing all black. Black jumper. Black thick belt. Black boots. White letters in Chinese and English on their back saying Security. But, THEY even have sytle. They spice it up with their buns, bows and rhinestones. Super feminine security. Why have I not noticed this until now? Julie – your Mom would be psyched to see so much glitter in one place.

Next stop is Bangkok. I have my passport photos ready. Thailand requests passport photos at immigration – or so they say. I’m in Bangkok for a few days, then off to Bhutan. Can I just tell you how much I HEART the Hilton? I need to be their paid spokesperson in Beijing… Thank you Susan, Mark and Mom. Birthday at the Hilton was the BESTEST!

Land of Fat Free & Stars. Gliwice, Poland.

8 Sep

I think this what your “travel” bloggers are suppose to do, right?  Write about food and hotels.  Well, I’m going to take a stab at it…. 

For full disclosure, I’m happy eating rice, beans, popcorn, ice cream and diet coke for the rest of my life.   I love food.  But, I’m no foodie.   That changed when I arrived to Gliwice, Poland.  Take notice of the Piergo picture above… YUM!

I can sum up my Polish consumption and gluttony this way… Bear with me here …. Do you know those days where you “accidentally” eat too much breakfast. You feel full and decide a jolt of caffeine would snap you out of breakfast coma. You do the drive by at Dunkin or S’Bucks.  That little voice insides whispers “screw it,” you smile and ask the lady to throw in some bite size donuts in a to go bag – “it’s a gift for the office.”  Donuts disappear before you can get your keys out of your purse.

You arrive at work, utter another “fu–  it,” and click the heals to HR.  Smile at the ladies. Make small talk as you swipe a bag of M&Ms, candy corns and sweet tarts. It’s not even 10 AM and you’re tipping the 1,934 calorie mark. Before lunch, you hit 2,472 because you need to “walk it off” on your way to the restroom. You happen by an empty kitchen, spy the three-day old birthday cake from Costco and swipe the icing off two pieces and take another to the bathroom stall.

By this time, you realize the rest of the day is “shot.” So, for dinner instead of just water or one glass of wine, you drink the bottle, paw out some Blue Bell and convince yourself that it needs fudge and colored sprinkles. You lie in bed thinking – tomorrow I will do better.

Do you know what I’m talking about it here?  That feeling — try it for two weeks.  It’s called Poland.  I just went Muslim and doing the Ramadan thing now as I prepare for vodka-enriched meals in Russia in three days.

All I can say is thank GOD for Habitat. If this body was sedentary these last two weeks, we are talking about some major poundage. All cream. All butter. All flour. All sugar. On All meals. All the time. No Polish processed foods here, baby. It’s the real deal.


Zero star hotel provided zero star breakfast. Worst meal of the day by Polish standards. That being said, we inhaled. Our Nescafe coffee spouted bubbles. We thought the container was broken by Zero star waitress convinced us it was foamed coffee. Nothing what a little cream and sugar can’t fix.

The Zero spread consisted of ink stained hot dogs (aka sausages), scrambled eggs on even number days, cheap yogurt, hard cheeses, assortment of random meats, crusty bread, fizzy water, whole milk, butter floating in water, and a choice of wann-a-be coco-puffs, corn flakes and granola cereals.  I gobbled, gorged and guzzled. I mean, I needed enough energy for the long 9 minute stroll to the work site.

For the first few hours, our team of 14 shoveled…moved bricks…shoveled…

splattered plaster… shoveled…

picked at plaster…shoveled…walked to Shell station….shoveled…

moved dirt… shoveled…moved dust… shoveled…stomped on dirt… shoveled… looked at rotten wood…shoveled…

squatted on the Toi Toi ..shoveled…stared at hot tattoo, shirtless Polish man….shoveled…

filled cracks…shoveled…

picked-ax cement… shoveled…

dug up rocks…shoveled…moved rocks…. shoveled.. moved rocks again….shoveled… move rocks in wheel barrel…. shoveled…put rocks back…

This was our morning. So, by 12:17 pm, the Habitat team was famished. We pounded on our chest – WE NEED FOOD NOW! Thank GOD for the lunch ladies. That’s what I’m calling them because they are true LUNCH goddesses.  Boots – our team leader – Leslie, Joy and a tag along, would go to the market everyday and surprise us with fresh vegetables, fresh meat (YES, meat can be fresh), fresh cheeses, fresh bread, fresh veggie soup…

Let’s just sum it up. If it was NOT processed, we ate it. No food additives here, baby. Who knew food can taste so good?

Warren – our resident college boy – would pound 4+ sandwiches. I would only “do” two, needing to watch my girlish figure. I went head to head with Warren at night – for dinner is MY meal.

We grabbed our grub in our fancy, dirt floored, bacteria filled, open aired shack with garbage bags, plastic tarps and rocks as a roof. When you are this hungry and the food is this good, you don’t care if a little dust, dirt and mites are part of the meal.

Our last day at the site, Boots arranged for Kibosh sausage celebration. I’ve never been high on sausages, let alone smashed in between white bread and forced as an afternoon snack.

This day – our last day on site – we were to consume 4 meals, like the Polish. And, two of the meals – sausage snacks and 2 course dinner – were only 72 minutes apart. Cake was included at both meals. No matter. By the end of the week, my stomach had expanded, I was positive that I could handle more Polish food.

My stepfather does not call me condor because it is cute, sexy and “gets the guys.”  I can put away food.


Now, it’s the dinners that rocked your world. Leave to our leader, Boots, to find the best Polish cook in Gliwice.

Exactly 6:03 pm every night, the mini-van for midgets would drop off the group at the Lutheran church. Waiting for us was a three course meal.

Let me just say, I would have never believed I would heart cauliflower or beet root (barszcz) soup, fermented cabbage, minced meat goulash, potato pancakes, cucumber sour cream salad, sauerkraut with lard and smoke sausages. And, add to it, would salivate on poppy seed filled sponge cake.

By 6:28 pm, the team went into food coma. Conversation changed from nouns and verbs, to grunts and glassy stares. Polish food knocks you out. I did read later that the Polish kick-back a shot of vodka after for it aids in the digestion process. No vodka at Habitat.

Instead, we all crawled back to our dorm rooms at the Zero star hotel, curled up with the bed mites and slept for a good eight hours.


Which brings me to Hotel Lesny.

I did not coin the phrase “Zero” star. The Polish country manger greeted our team by welcoming us to the “Hotel Lesny, The Zero Star Hotel.” Sad to say. He’s serious.

I really can’t do it justice except by visual representation.   But, let me try to “t” up for you.

If you are allergic to mold, not for you. If you expect the restaurant to be open during food hours, your mistaken. If you use shampoo, seek water pressure elsewhere. If you want hot water on September 1st, take a train to Warsaw. If you want beer on tap, go buy your own keg.

If you want your room key to be attached to a bottle opener, check-in now. If you want your housekeepers to smoke cigs in your room, check-in now. If you want your sheets too short for your bed, check-in now. If like the peeled paint, window fungus look, check in now. If you want lake water substituted as pool water substituted as a skate board park, check in now. If you want a rabid dog to bark and charge every time you walk outside, check in now.

Hotel Lensa – View from the Pool

Pool Area.  With Slide.  No Water.

Water drained.  Future skate board park?

Heading out to our build.

Dorm dwelling below.

I know I’m making fun of it. But, I actually enjoyed my stay. It was perfect setting for volunteers. If we were to stay in a place with water pressure, beer and a pool, then I would assume Habitat is wasting my money. The more they can save on volunteer overhead, the more money goes to buying sand for cement and super glue to fix the pick axes. I would go back to the Hotel Lesny any day. And, I’m serious too. They get a .08 STAR in my book. Given my next habitat is sharing bunk bed compartment with no door with 4 other randoms on a train to China, I will soon be pining for those Zero star days…