Train review – Deutsche Bahn during recent storm Xavier

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Train travel review: Deutsche Bahn (DB) Brussels to Hamburg during recent disruptions due to storm Xavier. 

I have never travelled in Europe by train, so this was a first for me. I decided to take the train from Brussels to Cologne and then onto Hamburg. What a journey it was to turn into. I arrived at Brussels Midi station in time to catch the ICE train to cologne (Koln) where I was due to change for Hamburg. I was on an ordinary second class ticket, but the train was very impressive. It was light, very modern and clean. The seats were extremely comfortable with more than enough leg room. The announcements were in French, Dutch, German and English which was very helpful to a number of passengers. The journey didn’t take that long and before we knew it we were arriving on time at Cologne. However things were about to start getting interesting because of a huge storm over the North of Germany that had caused a lot of disruption and very sadly the loss of life.
When I arrived at Cologne, I innocently joined the small queue at the DB information kiosk just to check the platform of my next train. It was lucky I did because the staff there advised me of the storm and that trains might not be getting through to Hamburg, but I was to travel to Dortmund where further information would be hopefully available. Red warnings were flashing up on the electronic display screens but not being able to speak German, they meant nothing. So onto my next DB train and I was hopeful because it still said it was heading to Hamburg. The train was pretty full but understandable given the national disruption but the seats were comfortable and the train staff did there best to keep passengers informed of what was happening. Unfortunately this was all in German, but when I made contact with one of them, they explained in English. 
Then the news that nobody wanted, the train would terminate in Dortmund. What now? As I got off the train and headed for the information kiosk, my heart sank at the size of the queue as of course everyone was in the same boat. The only drawback was everything seemed to be in German, funny that seeing as we were in a German city, and of course not everyone speaks English nor should they in their own country. But in these situations, the human spirit shines through and within a few minutes I had teamed up with two German speakers and a French traveller. I spoke no German or French, the French Traveller spoke no German or English, but the two German travellers took us under their wing and helped us. Eventually we got to the head of the queue and we were issued vouchers for a taxi to take us onto Hamburg. So the four of us jumped into a waiting taxi (at DB’s expense) for the 4 hour drive north. 
At Hamburg, all trains had been cancelled because of the storms, it was very late at night, but DB had provided a huge train for passengers to rest on instead of waiting on cold platforms. They provided blankets, drinks and snacks all for free. 
I had initially thought DB’s reaction to the disruption had been chaotic, however, I praise them for what they did with my particular journey, and it went above an beyond what I was use to from the train service in my own country. They had done the best they could in what was obviously a very difficult situation affecting half the country. So for me, they had got me to my destination, they provided a safe place to rest, hot drinks, water and snacks whilst waiting for an inward connection. 

Very impressed. Thank you Deutsche Bahn.

Hotel review – Scandic Bygholm Park, Horsens, Denmark

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Scandic Bygholm Park Hotel, Horsens, Denmark:

I booked this hotel at the last minute via a well know booking site and what a pleasant surprise. When I arrived, there was plenty of parking and the whole hotel resembled a Danish Manor House. 
Check in was very quick and efficient, with the benefit of friendly and English speaking staff. Within minutes I was on my way to my room. A standard room on the top floor. 
The room was what I considered a typical scandic hotel room, functional, clean and everything that one could want in a standard room. There was no air conditioning in this hotel, but the rooms had been provided with individual desk fans which made a huge difference. I have lost count of the number of hotels stayed in where it was just to much of a hassle to provide a fan. 

The hotel has an onsite restaurant and I used this for dinner and breakfast. Again the restaurant was clean and the staff very attentive. At dinner there was a choice between a buffet (something I’ve found in a number of scandic hotels) or an al la carte menu. I choose the buffet as from experience this has proven to be very tasty and very reasonable. This buffet was no exception, a choice of salads, bread, potato, fish and meat dishes all hot and very tasty. I always tend to eat early however, so the buffet had just been laid out when I eat, I can’t say what it would have been like a few hours later. 
Top tip – if you go for a buffet, always get there early. The food is hot, fresh and less chance of lots of other people especially kids putting their fingers in it. 
For breakfast the full and comprehensive buffet was available including cold meat and cheeses, a wide selection of breads, crispbreads, jams, and drinks. Hot food including bacon, pancakes and sausages. You would go a long way to find a better breakfast selection, for me anyway it was pretty much perfect. 
The location of this hotel is pretty awesome, it is right next to a large park, with lakes, paths for waking, children’s play area, picnic benches and lots of birds, geese and swans. It is a 5 to 10 minute walk into Horsens itself which is well worth exploring with its good range of shops and cafes.

Overall: I liked this hotel very much because of the location, room price and the service received. Was there anything negative to say during my stay – no not really. If I was in this area, I would definitely use this hotel again.
Top tip – this hotel is within easy reach of Legoland Denmark and is cheaper than the hotels actually in Billund. So worth considering. 

Review – Portmerion Hotel Restaurant 

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We had made a reservation (something that was recommended) and I was pleased to see the staff were aware of our arrival and even though we were a little early, they had our table ready. Drinks orders were taken promptly and the menus brought. Table water was provided without having to ask for it which was welcomed. 

Apart from the quality of the food, I think it’s the small things that are a mark of a good restaurant. What do I mean? Take bread rolls and butter, the rolls were unusual and fresh and individual portions of Welsh butter was presented on slate, rather than pre-wrapped portions.

We started with Welsh rarebit with radicchio, walnut and apple salad. It was delicious but three pieces was just one to many for a starter. The salad help to cut through the heaviness of the rarebit itself. 

Aberdaron crab with asparagus and avocado and a pink grapefruit dressing. Very light and refreshing and the flavours worked well together but didn’t smother the crab itself. 

For the main course it was sea trout with tender stem broccoli, black garlic, crushed potatoes, lava bread and brown shrimp butter sauce. The trout was cooked perfectly and the broccoli and potatoes were well seasoned. All in all a lovely tasting dish. 

We also had the seared Welsh feather blade of beef, triple cooked truffle chips, celeriac purée, watercress and a bearnaise sauce. The beef was ordered for medium rare and that’s how it came and properly seasoned. The celeriac purée was silky smooth and the sauce was very tasty. The truffle chips tasted good, but could have been a little more crispy on the outside whilst keeping the fluffy inside. 

Unfortunately we didn’t have room for desserts and opted for some ice cream after walking around the village some more. 

Overall, I would definitely have a meal here again. The setting is superb, eating overlooking the sea and mountains in the distance. The staff were attentive but not overbearing and the price was very responsible. The food itself was just lovely and drinks, rolls, butter and water were replenished when asked, and nothing seemed to much trouble for the staff. 

Portmerion – a jewel on the coast of North Wales

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For some, Portmerion is the setting for the iconic series ‘The Prisoner’ for others it’s just a glorious Italian village on the North Wales coast. Either way it’s a delightful day out for all the family. The views and gardens are just stunning and when the sun is shining, you could just imagine yourself on the Italian coast. 

As you walk down from the car park, you can see many of the guest houses where you can actually spend the night. The road takes you down past a few of the shops, the central piazza and down to the hotel and the sea. Unfortunately you can go into any of the guesthouse unless you are staying there, which is totally understandable. 

There are a number of places to eat, and I’ve written a separate review on the main hotel restaurant. 

Top tips, visit early, especially if the weather is good because by lunchtime it can become quite crowded. Make a reservation for lunch and you can get your admission taken off the bill. 

I would certainly recommend visiting Portmerion although I have to say it would be better to stay in the hotel or one of the guest houses as you are able to walk around the village when the day tourists have long gone. 

The Bowes Museum

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The Bowes Museum, Bernard Castle, County Durham, DL12 8NP
I had heard about this museum but never visited, until now. I was not disappointed and this museum should be on the list of things to do for anyone in the area. As soon as you drive in through the main gates, it was ‘wow’, ‘wow’ and ‘wow’ again. Here in the middle of County Durham was a magnificent French Chateau. I parked the car and just stood there looking in amazement at such a wonderful building. 

As you walk around the museum, you begin to appreciate that the chateau was built purely to house the museum, rather than a family house for John and Josephine Bowes. The museum houses the sculptures, paintings, furniture, books, glass etc collected by the Bowes family over the years. 
I am not usually a fan of museums. Usually I fine them too big and I end up going just to look at specific items. The Bowes Museum was different, but part of that for me was undoubtedly the building itself. 
In the collection itself, one item really stood out for me – a mechanical mouse. A gold life size mouse inlaid with pearls. It was exquisite.

There was a decent museum shop and a very nice cafe serving a good selection of hot and cold food and some very yummy cakes. 
I would definitely recommend this Museum if you are in the area, you won’t be disappointed.

My first review – Radisson Blu Hotel, Durham, UK

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Radisson Blu Hotel, Frankland Lane, Durham, DH1 5TA

This is my first ever review, I hope it is useful, but any comments to help me improve my reviews are welcome. Never having been to Durham before, I choose this hotel because of its central location and my experience of other Radisson Blu hotels. So how did this hotel compare and would I stay here again?

The hotel was easy to find on the banks of the river Wear and there were plenty of car parking spaces in the hotels (chargeable) car park. Walking through into the main foyer and reception area gave me my first impression of this hotel. Light, spacious, clean and friendly instantly sprang to mind. Next to the reception were tourist information leaflets, newspapers and jugs of iced water flavoured with different fruits. 

The staff were very welcoming, found my reservation quickly and upgraded my room to a superior room overlooking the river – now that was great customer service. The staff booked my car in, checked my paper requirements for the following morning and checked if there was anything else they could do to make my stay a pleasant one. The health club and spa looked very nice, but not something I was able to experience on this trip.

My room was great but nothing more than I expected. It was clean and had all the amenities you would want – toiletries, robes, slippers, tea and coffee tray, and complimentary bottled water. There were a good selection of channels on the TV and a room safe was available if needed. The room had its own air conditioning but for those of you who like fresh air, you could also open the windows. What I did notice about the room was it appeared to be well soundproofed. I didn’t hear other guests in their rooms, slamming doors, people in the corridor etc that I can in some hotels. This aided a very peaceful nights sleep and a comfortable bed with feather pillows (these could be changed if you were allergic). 

My only experience of the restaurant was at breakfast. It was a buffet breakfast, but other items were available to order freshly cooked I.e. Scrambled eggs, omelette etc. There was a very good selection of cold ham and cheese, cereals, pastries and hot food. A variety of teas was also available for you to help yourself to, but coffee was just coffee and was brought to the table. My only two criticisms at what otherwise was an excellent buffet was some of the hot items were not as hot as they should have been and secondly was the self service toast maker. Now it maybe just me, but the last thing I really want to do at breakfast is stand by a toaster and make my own toast on a machine that doesn’t always toast on both sides. If you step away from the toaster for a moment you risk your toast being swiped by another guest. It just doesn’t add to improve the breakfast experience for me. 

Overall, would I stay here again, yes I think I would. The location, room and the staff more than made up for the minor criticisms at breakfast. I do wish however that the hotel provided free car parking. 

5 things I liked about this hotel:

  • Free wifi – available across the hotel and very good speeds
  • The staff – just brilliant and know how to look after their guests
  • Location – excellent location, on the river a few minutes walk from the town centre 
  • Room rate – I thought the hotel was good value
  • Room service – a nice room service menu

3 things I didn’t like about this hotel:

  • Charges made for the car parking – if a hotel has its own car parking facility, in my view it should be free to guests. 
  • The self service toast machine
  • Some of the cooked breakfast items were not as hot as they should have been.