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Monday, January 9, 2017

2016 Highlights and Lowlights

As the sun sets on 2016, we look back.

Not our busiest travel year but we still managed to hit the travel trail a bit last year, including to major international destinations. Gotta get our money's worth for those passports, you know...

HOTELS - One of the best hotels we've ever had the pleasure of staying in...and we've stayed in many...was the absolutely wonderful Hilton Prague. From the moment we stepped in the door, to the duty manager showing us a selection of rooms we could choose from, accessible bathing equipment we could choose from, very comfortable beds, quiet room with good view, great location, top-notch service from beginning to end, this was the best hotel we stayed in last year. (NOTE: This is not to be confused with the Hilton Old Town Prague a few blocks away)

Another nod to the great RIU Palace Hotel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The RIU's comfort, service, and amenities are top-notch. Stay in one if you ever get a chance.

We didn't stay in any really bad hotels this year but the Oxford Suites in Redding did not live up to expecations, especially as we've stayed in some very nice examples of the chain in Chico and Pismo Beach, California.  The Novotel Schwabing in Munich, Germany was also not as nice as we'd hoped it to be.

AIRLINES - Two this year, Alaska Airlines to Costa Rica provided outstanding service, comfort, on-time service, of all...price.  American (with a leg by British Airways) provided us with very good service over some very long hauls across the Atlantic. Again, no bad flight hassles due to airlines, which can be pretty rare.  On the other hand...

AIRPORTS - Munich and Liberia, Costa Rica airports let us down this year.  From waiting hours with no seating and no air conditioning tropical Daniel Odubor Quiros Airport to the lack of amenities in the older part of Franz Josef Strauss Airport (especially compared to the really excellent new terminal) was a huge letdown. Berlin's Tegel Airport wasn't much better.

RENTAL CAR - A huge raspberry for Alamo Rent-A-Car in Costa Rica for blatantly trying to rip off every customer to the tune of an extra $600 for insurance and making the check-in process as miserable and long as can be. Even when you showed written proof of extensive car insurance, valid in Costa Rica, that could cover everything imaginable, you are called a liar to your face and told no American insurance is valid there (which we found is not true). On top of that, you're stuck at their depot in the middle of nowhere with a two-mile walk back to the airport...unless you want to pay $35 per person to take their shuttle bus back. A true den of vipers there, taxis are much more honest, affordable, and even wheelchair accessible there. Skip the rental car in Costa Rica, it will truly ruin your trip.

On the other hand, Hertz in Berlin and Munich were very professional, friendly, and efficient in the handling of our vehicle there.

FOOD - We had some outstanding meals this year starting with a very memorable meal of pork knuckle and pirogies at Zajasd Lesny, a 24-hour truck stop diner in the southwest corner of Poland.

The Alte Heide biergarten had the best food in Munich with its pork Cordon Bleu, German meatloaf, and steak.

Again, Taste in the Motherlode town of Plymouth in California produced a wonderful dinner.

DESTINATIONS - We've cast our shadows on the beaches and jungles of Costa Rica; the remains of the Berlin Wall; the cobblestones of Prague; the truck stops of Poland; the biergartens of Munich; the waters and trees of Redding, California, along with the state's Motherlode country.

Costa Rica is much more accessible than I thought it would be and there are some great adventures to be had. Still, the beaches left something to be desired and I really felt I had to keep a good grip on my wallet for the next rip-off that could be around the next corner.  It was nice but not as nice as I'd imagined it would be.

Redding, and the area around it, is beautiful but a little on the quiet side.

Prague was too crowded and full of tourists to be really enjoyable but the residents of that old city are very friendly and accomodating to visitors like us.

Munich has been, and will always be, one of our favorite cities in the world to visit. Wouldn't even mind living there.

But this year's most enjoyable destination was the slightly grungy, sometimes dangerous feeling, always lively, at times drop-dead-gorgeous, and extremely drenched with history, Berlin. I cannot wait to come here again.

Darryl Musick
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