Trip Report: Red and Blue Design Hotel Prague, Pakat Suites Vienna, Holiday Inn Krakow and Monopol in Wroclaw

Part 1: Lufthansa Business Class and Air Canada to Wroclaw, Poland
Part 2: Exploring Prague, Vienna, and Krakow including the Red and Blue Design Hotel, Pakat Suites, Holiday Inn Krakow, Monopol Wroclaw
Part 3 Coming soon: United Airlines Business Class and Lot Polish Airlines back home

My whole family was at the airport for my arrival and we drove to my aunt’s house where we shared stories and feasted on perogies.

I love homemade perogies stuffed with either cheeses or mushrooms

Wroclaw is one of the host cities for the EuroCup this summer. They have built an enormous stadium, new airport, spruced up the city, and extended the public transport system. A massive investment into infrastructure which I hope doesn’t crumble and gets used in the future.

Fountains on town square

The shops and restaurants in town have changed since my last trip here 4 years ago. Wroclaw has one of the nicest town squares in Europe. It’s large and houses hundreds of different cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops. The buildings in the town square are all recently restored and it’s a nice place to people watch.


Breakfast for two at grandmas 🙂

After a few nights in Wroclaw we rented a car and were off to Prague which is about a 3 hour drive away. The morning of our departure I booked the hotel on Expedia for only $68 a night. This ended up being one of the best hotel deals I’ve ever scored.

The Red and Blue design hotel is a 4 star property which has only been open a few years. One side of the hotel is designed with blue rooms and the other red. The hotel sits right along a park on the east side of the river about a 15 minute walk to the Charles Bridge.

When we first arrived we got a bit nervous when they said their parking lot was full but luckily we ended up getting a spot. The lot is a few hundred meters up the hill from the hotel and parking was a reasonable charge.

This hotel is also used as a check-in area for many different condo rentals so it may get back logged once in a while. We were given a room on the top floor facing the park on the red side. For Prague, the room was a good size and the bathroom was large. The fixings and furniture were in good condition and contemporary.

Top floor on the red side

Digital TV and good wifi

Modern and open WC

For the price we paid I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again. Since it was my other half’s first time in Prague I showed her the main sights and we enjoyed dining out. The city has changed so much over the last 20 years. There are quite a few tourist traps including the majority of currency exchange spots and pick pocketers which you have to be careful of.


Very close to Charles bridge this is the Mandarin Oriental hotel

Castle from the Charles bridge

The bridge from the Four Seasons Hotel Prague

The original Moser store. The Rolls Royce of Crystal

There are a few very nice hotels near the castle. Great place to stay if you want to get away from the major crowds.

After four nights and too many pilsners to count we headed to Vienna. The night before we left I booked the Pakat Suites hotel on for $128 a night. The hotel is located in the embassy section of Vienna so not where the bulk of hotels tend to be. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the action near their town square.

The Pakat Suites was advertised as a 5 star hotel. Check-in was smooth and we entered our room on the top floor. This hotel is very new so the furnishings were all spectacular. The bathroom had black marble and we had a little sitting area and bedroom separated by a wall with TVs on both sides. The balcony overlooked the interior garden courtyard and we never had any noise issues.

I didn't knock my head on the slanted wall!

Very nice large shower on the left. From the shower you could reach out onto the sink in case you needed to grab your toothbrush or soap which was nice.

Flatpanel TV in bedroom and sitting area on other side

View from the balcony

Looking down at the courtyard of the Pakat Suites hotel

For the price we paid we would return to this hotel. The only negative is there aren’t many dining options within a short walk of the hotel. Once we got our fill of schnitzels at Figlmuller it was off to Krakow for three nights. We stopped for a night in Wisla which is a Polish vacation town and made it to Krakow during rush hour with a temperature outside hovering around 37 degrees.

5 minute walk from our hotel

The only part that wasn't being renovated

After we entered Krakow, we asked a taxi driver to lead us to the Holiday Inn. The hotel is located on a one way street and with our limited map it made sense to ask for help. Occasionally I’ll ask a stranger at a traffic light and next thing you know he leads me right to my destination and drives off before I can hand over some $$$ as a thank you.

The lobby of the Holiday Inn Krakow used to be the house of a successful business man. It was very nice and cozy and had a comfortable bar. We were handed our keys to a room on the 3rd floor overlooking the entrance area of the hotel. The air conditioning worked very well so this was a relief. I hate hotels that advertise AC and then when you arrive it’s in an old building and barely works.

Wall in the lobby of the hotel

Nice Entrance

Over the past week we had been visiting historical landmarks so it was my turn to pick an activity. It was so hot outside that we got in the car and went to my favorite water park. I paid the small fee for 2 hours of use and was ready for fun. The slides here are colour coded according to difficulty just like ski resort runs. It’s an adrenalin blast and made me feel like a kid again.

Water park entrancec

Town square from Wierzynek restaurant

Krakow at night

After 3 nights of visiting Krakow and an excellent dinner at Wierzynek we made our way back to Wroclaw for a few nights before heading home to Canada.

Last breakfast at grandmas

In Wroclaw we found an extraordinary spa at the Monopol Hotel. Compared to treatment costs back home it felt like hitting a homerun. We had the whole place to ourselves on a weekday morning. After our treatments we enjoyed the complimentary glass of bubbles and a nice fresh berry salad. The restaurant on the top of this hotel is also a worthy of a detour next time you end up in Wroclaw.

Monopol Spa pool and jacuzzi

Salt room

Bucket shower

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Lufthansa Business Class and Air Canada YYC-YVR-SEA-FRA-WRO

Part 1: Lufthansa and Air Canada to Wroclaw, Poland
Part 2: Red and Blue Design Hotel Prague, Pakat Suites Vienna, Holiday Inn Krakow and Monopol in Wroclaw
Part 3 coming soon: United Airlines Business Class and Lot Polish Airlines back home

It’s been a few years since my last visit to see my family in Poland and I was looking forward to seeing my new nephew so I decided to look for flights. With enough Aeroplan miles I started checking my options.

Last summer when I made this reservation an Aeroplan business class seat cost 80,000 points, now it’s 90,000. Keep in mind you get a stopover while in Europe so you are able to have 2 destinations. It’s a fairly good use of points.

There were a few options from Calgary to Wroclaw and back in Executive First on Air Canada but since Air Canada has some of the highest fuel surcharges this would cost around $625 in fees. So I looked into flights departing from Seattle to avoid this charge and found a nice routing with Lufthansa on the way there and Air Canada on the way back.

This worked out to only $165 in fees because I was flying out of the US and not Canada. Even though I had a major segment on Air Canada and was flying back into Calgary because the ticket starts in the US, rules and charges are completely different.
Departing from Seattle adds on an extra segment but I used 500 Airmiles to fly there. I also chose to fly to Vancouver first and then Seattle. If I took a direct flight from Calgary the connection time was too tight. But once again, I used Airmiles to fly there so it was no big deal. I can sometimes get 500 Airmiles at Safeway in one visit while spending around $120 on groceries.

In total, I spent $243 to fly to Europe in business class. For comparison sake I checked into what this exact same itinerary would cost me and it worked out to over $11,000.

When I arrived at the Calgary airport to check-in for my Vancouver flight, the agent checked my luggage for all 4 flights. The short hop to Vancouver was nice. I sat in the first row of economy, got a full can of soda, and the seat next to me was empty.

Air Canada short haul offerings

Touch screen entertainment, USB port and power outlet are nice features on this one hour flight

Nice legroom in the first row of Y seat 12D on this Airbus 319

Vancouver has recently changed their system for US connecting passengers from domestic flights. You no longer have to exit security, retrieve your luggage and recheck it. Now you have a fairly long walk to get to an agent who shows you your luggage on a screen so you can identify it. Then you go through security and customs. This is a lot easier than the other way most airports in Canada still use.

I got on a really old Dash 8 series for the short hop to Seattle which is a route I’ve never actually flown before. I had a 5 hour layover at Seattle which I’ve visited quite a few times before and I think it may be one of the ugliest major airports in the USA. For a town that built a Boeing you would expect a bit more from SEA airport.

Check-in for Lufthansa still wasn’t open so I ended up getting really familiar with the departure terminal. Once I had my boarding pass and a priority security stamp I headed to the British Airways lounge in Seattle which Lufthansa uses.

The terminal where this lounge is located and the departure gate of our flight reminds me of the grand projects from the communist countries in the 60s. The terminal is a rectangle with low ceilings and was very crowded.

The BA lounge is on the 2nd floor and you can take an elevator or stairs to get there. As I entered, there was a BA, Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific agent with welcoming smiles. They have a dedicated area for first class so I walked by into the business class side.

This lounge has curved windows which give a nice view of the airport and taxiways. It was really sunny in Seattle so all the blinds were closed and you couldn’t see well. There was no hot food or sandwiches, just the usual cheeses, crisps (This is a BA lounge after all), nuts, crackers and most importantly booze.

Most of the seating in this lounge is setup with a table and 4 chairs surrounding it. It was fairly full so I had to team up with a gent who was avidly playing a game on his iPad. A boarding call was made in the lounge for our flight and we were all escorted to the gate by the Lufthansa agent.

Seattle British Airways Lounge

Initially when I booked this flight it was scheduled on an Airbus A330 which has internet onboard. I was looking forward to using that WiFi signal on this 10 hour flight but because the Icelandic volcanoes were acting up the plane was substituted for an Airbus A340 which is the longest plane in the world and has 4 engines. With 4 engines the chances of one failing due to the volcanic ash would make our flight safer according to staff.

Airbus 340. This plane is no longer sold since it has 4 engines and there are similar planes with only two engines which are more efficient.

As we boarded I got in my bulkhead seat right behind first class. I chose the aisle middle seat. Lufthansa has a 2 – 2 – 2 layout so with the aisle seat in the middle you never have to worry about anyone crawling over you or having to do that yourself.

I had a glass of water and noticed business class was about 85% full. With 4 small engines our aircraft made a slow and steady takeoff and the seat belt sign was turned off once we reached cruising alititude. The crew quickly sprung into action and my first Warsteiner beer was in my hand quickly. I put the seat in lazy boy recline mode and started to plan my in-flight entertainment schedule.

Menu and first beer

The flight attendant serving me did everything with a smile and was very professional. When she served my Warsteiners she would always say “With pleasure” or “Enjoy” and she worked the aisle often throughout the flight offering refills. Since most of this flight is during the day considering local departure time I noticed about half my cabin was awake for the full flight. The front  business class cabin on this plane only has 2 rows so it has a nice and private atmosphere.

Lufthansa business class seats currently are “angled lie flats.” What this means is they are fully flat but in bed mode they aren’t horizontal with the planes floor. I’ve heard some people say since the plane flies with the nose slightly up this is actually better but I still think the exact opposite.

Lufthansa Business Class Seat

After my early morning departure and this being the 3rd flight of the day I was hoping to nap for a few hours. Unfortunately, in this seat I just sag to the bottom because of the angle and then have extra pressure on my feet which just doesn’t work for me. Over the years I’ve figured out to recline the seat so my ass has support and I no longer slide down. I still might be close to 150 degrees in this position but I prefer it.

Bulkhead seat with cuddy for you feet when sleeping

The in-flight entertainment on the screen has your usual mix of TV shows, music and movies and is adequate unless you are a very frequent traveller with Lufthansa.

The amuse bouche (Prestarter?) was shrimp and poached salmon. The salad which followed was fresh. With the main I chose the steak and once again it was overdone but the mashed potatoes were nice. I skipped dessert and breakfast prior to arrival. Thanks to all the wakeboard videos, TV shows and movies I had on my ipad, this flight passed by very fast.


Nice mashed potatoes but chewy steak

Apres dinner beer and chocolates

Footwell at seat 3G on A340-300

When I landed in Frankfurt I was in dire need of a shower to freshen up so I went to the business class lounge. After putting my name on the list and getting handed a buzzer I went back into the lounge to pour myself another Warsteiner. Since it was 9am I had a few glances but before I could even finish it my shower buzzer was ringing.

Lufthansa Business Class lounge in Frankfurt

The shower was freshly cleaned prior to my use and I enjoyed it even though the water had a tendency to get hotter at times. I put on a new pair of socks and started my trek to the intra European Lufthansa flight terminal. Once there I headed to the business class lounge which was packed, plates and glasses were overflowing on every table. As I walked to the very end I noticed the same guy I sat next to in Seattle and he had a free seat open so I joined him.

I noticed his Warsteiner was running dry so I offered to bring him another while I put my stuff down. Next thing you know we are chatting about how he sells container shipping vessels and I wish him well as he headed off for his flight to Athens.

Airbus A380 getting ready for departure

The A340 that brought me here in the middle

I left the lounge for my connection to Wroclaw. This was a remote gate so we took a bus to get there. The plane was an E190 and was about 60% full with only me sitting in business class. I did get a nice cold cut snack on the flight and a few more Warsteiner refills. The FA actually refilled my beer right before landing and told me to hold on to the glass on landing!

For those who haven’t experienced European business class it’s the exact same seat as in economy but they block off the seat next to you. At the major airports for these flights you will most likely depart from a remote stand compared to a traditional gate jet way since those are reserved for the bigger planes serving international routes. This means you will not have any priority boarding or departure since you are riding on the same bus as everyone else on the flight.

Overall the Lufthansa crew were very accommodating and I enjoyed this trip. I prefer the Air Canada and the ex-Continental, now United 777, seats for sleeping but the crew on many of my Lufthansa flights have showed their pleasure to serve their customers rather than the “We are here for your safety and not much else” attitude you see often on many North American airlines.

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Hotel report: Fairmont Empress Victoria, BC Canada

People who have been successful in real estate know the saying “location, location, location” rings very true. When it comes to hotels in Victoria the location of the Fairmont Empress is difficult to beat. It overlooks the beautiful inner harbour and parliament. If your room is higher up you can also see the mountains up the island and across the strait over Port Angeles.

Original section of the Empress Hotel at night

Since we were travelling with another couple, at check-in the front desk agent made sure our rooms were close but not so close it would be awkward 😉 Both my girlfriend and I are platinum members with Fairmont. So I was able to use a suite upgrade certificate and she cashed in a free night. We were given the keys to a harbour view 1 bedroom suite on the top floor in the original section of the hotel.

When the hotel first opened, the lobby and entrance is where the Veranda and the room for afternoon tea currently are. The hotel wasn’t as wide back in those days and over the years many additions have been added.

Our room had 2 doors you could enter through. The size of the room was more than adequate and the guest bathroom had unusually shaped windows which added to the charm. I’ve stayed at many of the grand Fairmont properties across Canada and understand bathrooms were much smaller in hotels 100 years ago, even though people used to check-in for months at a time during those days.

Since our room was on the top floor our ceilings must have been 12 feet high. I had plenty of room to practice my full golf swing in the mornings before my golf outings. Since the parlour part of the room is meant to be switched to a Fairmont room to accommodate certain occupancy, the furniture is rather sparse so it worked out to be a great putting area.

The desk in the parlour was very old and something I might see on the Antiques Roadshow but I’m sure it has a lot of history. The couches in the parlour weren’t exactly new but comfortable. In our bedroom on the dresser was a stack of books and a few of them nearly 100 years old, this was unique.

Parlour room of our 1 bedroom suite with guest WC on the right

Flat screen and seating area

Guest bathroom

Ensuite bathroom from King bedroom

Our view was limited; you basically had to look through a cement fence to see it. However there was about a 1.5 foot wide balcony I could get out to. I’m not sure if this is encouraged by the hotel but I had one of the best views from out there and damn well enjoyed it. I don’t know how many photos I ended up in from all the tourists walking by and taking pictures of the hotel but I could see 20 cameras pointing at this hotel at all times.

View while standing in the room

Once you climb outside

The view once outside 🙂

Coho ferry from our rooms view

Some nice benefits at Fairmont hotels is their complimentary BMW bikes rentals, BMW car service within the downtown area and Taylor Made golf club rentals. You must be a Presidents Club member but signing up is free at

Beautiful coast

Play Victoria Golf Club if you have the chance

Washington State Mountains

The last time I stayed here was in 2009 when the BMW bicycles were brand new; you could tell these bikes have been used over the years. We biked out to Fisherman’s Wharf and stopped for a few oysters. Then we continued to Dallas road and enjoyed the breath taking views along the seawall.

Buck a shuck!


Another day at the Wharf

Further along the seawall

It’s never an issue to arrange the BMW car service to drop you off at a local restaurant or watering hole. The Taylormade golf clubs were in good shape and I guess they don’t clean out the bags because mine still had golf balls, tees and receipts from the previous person.

The Willowstream Spa at this hotel isn’t as grand as the Banff Springs but does have a nice Jacuzzi and a relaxing lounge with a fireplace. The one massage I had here was the best I’ve experienced at a Fairmont hotel. The pool and hottub are nothing special. It reminds me of the pool at the Chateau Lake Louise, some Holiday Inns have better pools compared to these. It’s unfortunate because the original pool at the Empress was spectacular and used to be the place to go in town.

The layout of this hotel is different to most since there is no lobby bar or restaurant as you walk in the main entrance. The dining options are located a floor above with a few stores and a Fairmont Tea shop. We did enjoy our table on the patio of The Veranda and you can read more about that here.

Seafood tower at The Veranda

Housekeeping did a great job cleaning the room and the concierge delivered on the few services I asked of him. Checkout was a breeze and we grabbed a cab waiting outside to head to the airport.

Overall if you enjoy a classic setting and want to be right in the middle of the action the Fairmont Empress is a wonderful hotel to satisfy these needs. This hotel may be the most photographed building in Victoria. It has ivy growing along its walls and has rich history so most view it as the place to stay. Fifteen years ago it didn’t have much competition but with the recent arrival of new hotels the Empress will have to keep their service top notch and freshen up their rooms to keep the customers coming back.

The Empress from a harbour ferry

Our room from the ground

Fun picture from the classic boat show across the street during our stay

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Avoid giving out your credit card number for reservations

Do you find it slightly frustrating when restaurants want your credit card number to secure a reservation? Most high end golf courses also seem to want those same digits when booking tee times. I never recall giving out a credit card number to secure a car reservation 5 years ago either but now I’ve been asked a few times. It seems like this trend is increasing from just hotels and motels like in the past.

Of course I understand these businesses want to make sure you show up but I really don’t like giving out my credit card number out to all these different employees and businesses. Once I noticed ,when checking in at a restaurant during Valentines Day, all the guest’s names, phone numbers and credit card info all on paper right at the hostess stand when you walk in! Not only did the full staff have access to this but any patron peeking over could attain some important information.

Some of my friends have had identity theft happen to them and I want to minimize this myself since it’s a real pain in the ass if it happens. Sometimes, it can take years to restore everything.

The first number on the credit card identifies the industry of the card. The next five numbers are from the issuing bank. The next set of numbers is your account details. The last number is an algorithm called the Luhn check. This is a formula used to validate the rest of the credit card.

Certain businesses who ask for your credit card will just write it down but some do actually input it into a computer. The system isn’t looking to charge your credit card it just checks to see if it’s a valid number for a credit card. There are sites out on the web that have this algorithm and formula so it’s easy to get a valid cc at

You can also use a credit card number of yours from the past which is long expired and since it still complies with the Luhn check it will also work. Of course if you plan to miss your reservation use common courtesy and call the establishment and inform them with as much notice as you can.

Using these tips will further limit your chances of anyone getting your personal information.

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Own a business? Get Air Canada lounge access, 15% off code, 2 eUpgrades. Also 100 Bonus Aeroplan points for anyone

Air Canada has a business frequent flyer program. It’s free to sign up and there are some nice benefits right from the start. Keep in mind you will still receive miles to your personal frequent flyer program while using these benefits.

Once you sign up you will receive a welcome email including a 15% off code. This is valid for up to 9 people so if you need to buy multiple tickets this could work out to significant savings right there. You will also receive one Maple Leaf Lounge invitation where you can enjoy complimentary drinks, snacks, Wifi and a nice quiet environment compared to the rest of the airport before your flight.

Another nice bonus is you will receive 5 onboard café vouchers. So while you’re stuck in economy at least you can enjoy a few free sandwiches. Lastly you will also receive two Air Canada upgrade credits (Known as eUpgrades) if you sign up before May 31, 2012. If you don’t have at least Silver status with Aeroplan these credits are rather limited since you need to have an expensive full fare ticket to apply them.

To finish if you go to and sign up for a home evaluation you will receive 100 Aeroplan points. Takes about a minute in total so fairly worth it.

To sign up for Air Canada Rewards for Small Business click here

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Need a vacation and open to destinations? Use these sites to explore your options.

If you want to go somewhere but wish there was a tool to see all your flight options on a map from your departure city I have the solution. This website is also helpful if you are touring a large area and are flexible on a starting point. At enter your departure airport and it brings up a map of the world with airfares to many major airports. This gives you a good glimpse on global pricing and if you want to narrow it down just click on a destination on the map.

Click this picture if you want to expand it

From a quick glance above, I can see it’s cheaper to fly to Los Angeles than Victoria or Saskatchewan which are 1/3 of the distance from my local airport, Calgary. Flights to Hawaii, which are twice the length from my origin airport compared to Toronto, are also less expensive.

With this website planning a last minute vacation is even easier if you’re open to the possibilities. However if you happen to be more into the “all inclusive” type vacations I have another great option for you.

A few months ago my mom and her boyfriend wanted to have some fun in the sun. They were adamant on an all inclusive option and my mom of course wanted beachfront and a nightclub! I’m not really into all inclusive resorts, I find the food underwhelming so I didn’t think I could help at first.

There are so many charter companies, airline vacation companies, deal sites and travel agents fighting for this market so it was overwhelming to me at first. I stumbled upon a site called, spent a few minutes there but moved on. A few days later I was back there again.

Many of the best websites in the world are either super easy to use or difficult until you learn it. The former one exists because to really get the information you need, it’s a bit complicated.

It was my 2nd visit where things started to click for me and I was impressed. Similar to my post on it’s not straight forward on the first visit but the more you use it the better your grasp is.

In the end I found a great deal for $1029 per person all in for my mom. This included roundtrip DIRECT flights to Montego Bay and 7 nights at the Hilton Montego Bay with all drinks and meals included. She ended up with a nice ocean view room with a balcony and she really enjoyed the food and the beach. A few days after she returned home I got a phone call she was ready for another trip next month!

Here is a quick guide to the basics of the site.

Enter departure city and then click the pricing grid below

To start narrowing the results I could select 1 week, all meals included and 3 stars or higher. Say I wanted to travel in May I see availability to Bahamas for $1148, Costa Rica $907, Cuba $836, Jamaica $1040 etc.

As a quick comparison here I selected 4 stars and above. If I were really trying to keep the costs down I notice Mexico is a possibility for $745 per person

After I clicked Mexico it displayed all the different cities in Mexico and I clicked Puerto Vallarta here. For under $800 I have four different hotel options. Including flight, meals, drinks and resort activities this ain't too shabby.

Another friend of mine was expressing interest to take a “fun in the sun” type trip. This was a day or two after I found my mom’s deal so I mentioned the site. 10 days later when I saw him again he thanked me for my advice and said he ended up finding a deal to Paris in June for even less money than most Mexico options.

He never would have thought this to be an option for his budget and since they have always wanted to go I can only imagine their excitement making this a reality.

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Victoria BC, Canada: Food Worthy of a detour

I lived in Victoria while in High School and I’ve stayed at the Fairmont Empress before but I never really noticed The Veranda. When you walk through the hotel it looks like an English lounge but what you don’t see is the beautiful patio overlooking the harbour. The Veranda doesn’t take reservations so it takes some effort to guarantee you get a table on the patio but not too much to deter one from coming here.

Fairmont Empress Hotel

We were lucky enough to be right along the veranda and could people watch as they strolled by the hotel along the boardwalk. It was a Saturday night and every table was full adding to the social ambiance even more. The crowd was a mix of everyone which I like and the tables are well separated so you don’t overhear other conversations.

With a view of the ocean it’s tough not to get tempted by the seafood tower on the menu. As you see the people indoors having afternoon tea and eating all sorts of goodies you can’t help but want a tower of delicious critters from the local waters. The value isn’t really in the food; you are mostly paying for the service and atmosphere.

Sunset view

Tea service indoors

Busy promenade

This is the kind of spot where you can get comfortable with some drinks and if you are in the mood to nibble grab a bite to satisfy that craving. It opens in May and is only open during the summer. Even if it’s chilly outside they provide blankets and heaters too. Whether you are looking for a nice spot to start the evening, end it or anything in between The Veranda is excellent and I can agree with their saying “Quintessentially, the best place in Victoria.”

Our Seafood Tower: Warm mussels on top and the rest chilled

Crab and fresh oysters

View of the Parliament building from our table at night

The Veranda (at The Fairmont Empress) on Urbanspoon

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