NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlina, best in Turin!

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This hotel was not even opened when I started researching hotels in Turin. We almost ended up at the Townhouse 70 (it was a toss up between Townhouse 70 and the NH Torino Santa Stefano). But just as I was about to make the booking, the NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlina showed up. It was new, well located and decently priced – I was instantly sold.

Location: As far as I can tell Turin is a small town, and while the hotel is not smack in the middle of everything it is close enough. The hotel is a 8 minute walk to the Apple store and 6 minute walk to the Chanel store according to Google (key indicators of civilization for me).

When we arrived at the train station (porta nuovo), the hotel was a close 5 minute cab ride away. We were also able to easily walk to the center of town and have lunch at the Piazza Carignano (the prettiest piazza according to my friends). The Guido Gubino store was also just a quick walk away (which also happens to be where the Egyptian Museum and the Chanel store are).

The Piazza Carlina itself was not that interesting. When we were there, there was construction in the middle which kind of ruined the whole effect. The pizza joint on the side was pretty good though!

The hotel: The hotel itself is a gorgeous historic building with newly renovated interiors (just the way I like it). While the lobby/reception was by no means “grand,” it was very clever combination of the building’s historic features and modern contemporary design. The floors were marbled. The was a gorgeous staircase which reminded me of my french dorm. There was also a nice courtyard in the middle surrounded by glass, letting into the interior.

The room: We booked a superior room and were given a room on the second floor of the hotel. Two things stood out to me about this room that I thought was super cool:

  1. The ceiling was SUPER HIGH
  2. We have a BALCONY

I know, I’m easily pleased. The rest of the room was modern, clean and relatively spacious. The bed was comfortable. Wifi was also free and very good! The only thing I would complain about is that maybe because the ceiling is so high, but it did feel a bit too dark at night. Oh and that there were no complimentary water. I was SO dehydrated the next morning when I got to breakfast.

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The bathroom: While the bathroom was on the smaller side, like the rest of the room it was modern, clean and functional. Extra points for have a proper full strength hair dryer and a towel warming rack. The only downside was that there wasn’t much counter space for my many toiletries.

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Service: The Guest Relations, Carola was excellent. I emailed her many times prior to the trip to arrange tickets for the Juventus game and pick up afterwards and besides some delay in response (she was gathering all the information first before she got back to me!) she was extremely helpful. The only thing was that the agent who bought our tickets got us 4 seats together and 2 apart (not even sitting together), which caused some distress when we realized this at the stadium. In the end, we pulled through and just squeezed together in our row of 4 (good thing we are small!). But seriously – attention to detail!

Breakfast: Out of all the “included” breakfasts I had throughout the trip, this was probably one of the best ones. There was a good selection of cold cuts, fruits, bread and some hot food. But you basically get what you pay for, and when something is included, it is just not going to taste as good as if you had paid for it specifically.

Conclusion: Probably the best hotel in Turin. I would definitely recommend this hotel to any friends going to Turin. While the Piazza Carlina itself feels somewhat isolated (probably because of the constructions), it is convenient, clean, modern and comfortable.

Pros:

  • Within easy walking distance from key sights
  • Good free wifi
  • Helpful staff
  • Modern and clean rooms
  • High ceilings and balcony
  • Proper full strength hair dryer

Cons:

  • Location somewhat isolated since there is nothing to see at the Piazza Carina. But maybe it is just because of the constructions going on while we were there
  • No complimentary water
  • Dark lighting
  • No counter space in bathroom

NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlina

Address: 15 Piazza Carlo Emanuele II. 10123, Turin, Italy

Telephone: +39 011 8601611

Email: nhcollectionpiazzacarlina@nh-hotels.com

Website: http://www.nh-collection.com/hotel/nh-collection-torino-piazza-carlina

Tripadvisor Reviews

Read more about my trip to italy here!

How to see a Juventus game at the Juventus Stadium

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Before I started planning for this trip, I had not even heard of Turin (or Torino as the locals call it). So why out of all the charming little towns in Italy did we go to Turin of all places? Because my boyfriend is a hard core Juventus fan. It was only fair that he get a say of where to go for 1 day out of our 11 day trip.

So we added a pilgrimage to the Juventus stadium onto our agenda. We were originally only going to visit the stadium, but as luck would have it there was actually a GAME going on the day we were going (Juventus vs. a team called Empoli). So of course, even though I know/care absolutely nothing about football, I set out to get tickets for us and make the most of it. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than I thought. Avid English-writing detailed-oriented blogger Juventus fans are not.

Game schedule: First I struggled with the match date. On every website I looked, it says that the game date/time was “To be confirmed.” I couldn’t understand WHY it was taking them so long to confirm. How else can people plan their travels? And why were websites like Viagogo.com (which I read was legit and reliable) already selling tickets for that match when the date has not even been confirmed? What if people cannot make it? My bf said something about how they have to see if they get into the finals of something or other first blah blah blah. So to be on the safe side, I stalked and waited.

About 1.5 months before our trip, they finally confirmed the time/date. Viagogo.com had not even updated their website yet. Apparently the most up to date authority on Italian football matches is something called the La Gazzetta dello Sport.

TIP: It should be noted that even after they “confirm” the dates, the time may also change. I thought our game was at 3pm until 2 weeks before the game and I realized that it was actually at 9pm (by then I had already bought train tickets!). So keep checking as you get closer to game day!

How to get tickets: The next step was to find out how to buy tickets. Apparently there are season tickets for local fans, and then there are tickets for everyone else. Tickets are also very name and ID specific, so you have to be sure you buy the right ticket. From my research there are mainly 3 ways to do so if you are a tourist.

Method Time in Advance Comments
Official Online Vendor (Listicket) Around 2 weeks before the game (double check time of sales!) Probably the cheapest way, but I hear you have to be clicking away exactly at sales time (think Apple iphone release!). Site is in Italian. Goodluck….
Viagogo.com Anytime A legit and reliable website according to online articles. Though the prices looks steep, the seating area descriptions seem kind of vague AND the website doesn’t even update promptly to confirm the date/time.
Agents via your hotel Ideally a month ahead Typically operate via agents. They are used to helping tourists get tickets.

Sometimes in a foreign country, it is nice to have the human touch. I decided to book via our hotel in the end, and they were SUPER helpful. They provided us with a seating chart and told us the prices for each segment so we can choose where we wanted to sit.      I am sure prices differ game to game. For our game, prices ranged from 70-160 euros. The yellow/green area being the cheapest, followed by red 111-112, red 213-15, red 113-115 and red 216-218. We chose the 113-115 tickets!

From my research/personal experience, I think the dark grey section is where the season club ticket holders sit (we saw many prime empty seats there), the green section is where the local fan club sits (we saw a lot of flags and cheer coordinations coming out of that stand) and the light grey section between red and yellow is where the opposing team fans sits segregated from the rest of the stadium.

Anyway, we provided the hotel with our names/IDs and seating preference and they made the booking for us. Tickets were duly delivered to the hotel a few days before the game, and we paid the hotel cash upon arrival.

TIP: The one thing I would complain about is that we booked 6 tickets, and while 4 tickets sat together on second row (wohoo!), 2 of our tickets turned out to be a) WAY elsewhere and b) not even together!!! We didn’t realize this until we got there, and we were REALLY UPSET. Luckily, we are all really small and just squeezed together in 4 seats in the end (and people sitting in front of us left after the first half). I think it is because tickets are sold in packages of 4. So if you are buying more than 4 tickets, you should be very specific and carefully examine your tickets when you get it!!!

How to get there and back: Now that we have tickets and all, I had to figure out how to get there. As far as I knew, there were 2 ways:

  1. Take bus number 72 from bus stop BERTOLA in the direction of Macchiavelli, and stop at bus stop STADIO NORD. Travel time will take about 45 minutes
  2. Take a cab. It takes about 20 minutes and costs about 15-20 euros

In the interest of time (and because I am spoilt), I decided that we would take the cab.

But then my next worry was, how will we get a cab back?? Any time a big gathering ends, there is bound to be a huge crowd. We will never find a cab, and will be stranded in the middle of nowhere at 11pm at night!

In the end, I asked the hotel to arrange a transfer to pick us up after the game. The price was not too unreasonable at 75 euros (especially since there are 6 of us). And we were super glad I did, because it started drizzling after the game and it was hectic!

TIP: It is pretty hectic after a game and there isn’t anything around in the dark – make sure you have an exit plan!

Juventus Museum and the Match Day Special Tour:  Ofcourse we were going to check out the Juventus museum and the Match day special tour while we were there as well. While I tried to find out more information about it on the Juventus website and its tripadvisor forum, there really wasn’t much available online. All I knew was this:

 I figured that all we had to do was show up within the appointed time. So we were super surprised when we finally got to the museum entrance  (look for the mall entrance with the H&M sign) a little before 3pm to find this humongous line (not sure if this is the norm or if it is because of Easter weekend). Turns out the Match Day Special Tour was already sold out and the huge line was for the museum!!

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In the interest of time, I sent my boyfriend and his fellow Juventus fan (whom we had just met in the line and is also from Hong Kong – small world!) to the official gift store while the rest of us waited in line. Apparently his eyes shone like a kid in a toy store as he proceeded to shop to his heart’s content.

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We had to go drag him out the store 30-45 minutes later when we finally got to the museum entrance. To a non-football fan like myself, the museum was basically just a trophy room full of trophies, another big room full of football shirts and things with real size cardboard players sprinkled about and a panorama show. But my boyfriend, it was Juventus fan heaven. He wandered excitedly from display to display and had me follow to help take pictures of him and the displays.

We spent AGES in there. It’s too bad they didn’t have a cafe at the end, because I could have totally used a cup of tea after that.

TIP: Go early for the Special Match Day Tour!!

PS: For non-fans thinking to get a knock off jersey or scarf for the game – the knock off jerseys are 20+ euros and the knocn off scarf is almost the same price as the official one.

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The Game: The game didn’t start until 9pm, so we figured we had time after the museum to go back to the hotel, rest and get a proper meal before we came back again. But at 7pm when we asked the hotel how early they thought we should go, we were informed that people were already heading there!

So we grabbed a very quick bite of pizza near the hotel and headed back to Juventus at around 7:45pm. We arrived a little past 8pm. There were many check points for IDs and tickets and we were detoured twice for trying to enter through the wrong entrances (they are VERY specific). We also stopped by the official store again for some last minute supplies. By the time we got to our awesome second row seats, we were just in time for the beginning of the game.

As I am not a fan, I cannot comment on the football (Juventus vs. Empoli 4/4/2015) besides that Juventus scored 2-0. What struck me most though was the atmosphere. I had no idea what people were chanting (besides “Okaaay” and “Bravo”), but it was so alive and energetic that even I was swept along with it. In our second row seats, we were just SO CLOSE to the action that many times I thought they ball would fly right at me (in which case I would have totally hid it and kept it as a souvineer).

Because of our seating issues mentioned early, during the second half I sat onthe first row (some folks left). I realized that while it is a privilege to have court side seats at a basketball game, it is not quite so in football. Your view is blocked by the fences and you just can’t get a good view of the full picture. Second row was definitely better.

Overall I thought live football was a lot more fun than watching it on TV. And as for my boyfriend…. there was some slight disappointment that some key players was injured and couldn’t play, but it did not take away from the overall experience it was still definitely the highlight of the trip for him.

If you have read this post all the way here… good luck planning your pilgrimage and I hope this helps!

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NOTE: I do wish that we had arrived perhaps 15-20 minutes earlier because a) I think we may have missed the anthem and b) they take fan videos before the game and put it on the screen during half time. As a group of Asians, I was totally sure that we would’ve been selected to air!!!

NOTE: Apparently Turin is home to Juventus AND Torino, and Italians are very sensitive about which team you support. So be careful!

Other places of interest in Turin: I also did some research on Turin itself in case we had time. In the end we didn’t, but I thought about the below:

  1. Getting a bicerin at one of the “historic cafes” of the city
  2. Turin is apparently one of the chocolate capitals of the world. It was one of the first cities to mix hazel nut with cocao (think Nutella and Ferrero Rocher). They are famous for something called “gianduiotto” (think nutella flavored chocolate). I did manage to buy some chocolate from Guido Gubino before I left, but I didn’t get to sit down and enjoy a hot chocolate. There are also a couple other chocolate makers in town as well if you have time!
  3. Inspired by my friend’s Instagram picture, I wanted to go to Castello del Valetino as well. It is apparently part of a university now and is surrounded by a park. I envisioned us having a relaxing and picturesque walk in the park after lunch.
  4. I love palaces and gorgeous gardens, and when I stumbled across the newly renovated La Venaria Reale I was intrigued. But it is 45 minutes away from Turin, so we definitely did not have time for this. Reference for next time. I read that reservations are recommended!
  5. I read somewhere that the ever popular Grom originated from Turin as well. But I would have been happy getting any old gelato. We passed by a few very authentic looking shops. I really wish I stopped for a gelato now…
  6. On our way to Guido Gubino on a Sunday morning, we noticed a huge line and we thought it was for mass or something. But turns out it was a line to the Egyptian Museum. You wouldn’t think it, but it is apparently one of the key attractions in Turin!
  7. When I mentioned that I was going to Turin, my boss said that I should go see the Shroud of Turin. It is apparently a piece of cloth with the image of Christ on it. On further research, it was not open for viewing while we were there. But looks like from comments it is now.. find out more here.
  8. While I was researching hotel, I also found out that Turin is also the orign of Fiat (the ex-Fiat factory is actually now the NH Lingotto Congress and boasts a race track on the roof!). I’m sure if you are a fan, there is a museum of sorts you can visit in the area as well.

First stop: 1 day in Milan 

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Why Milan? Mostly because that’s where the direct flight from Hong Kong stops nearest to Cinque Terre, so it made the most sense. I have been to Milan a couple of times in the past and have never felt a huge urge to go back.  This was my first time to visit on my own terms though, and since I had months to plan I was determined to do it right.

The Malpensa Airport: Some time into the planning I realized that I have never been through the Malpensa Airport before because I have typically visited via train or the Linate Airport (which is super close to the city – like the Haneda to Tokyo). I didn’t realize until then that it is almost 1 hour away from the city. Not knowing whether they have van cabs in Milan that can carry our party of 4 (and 4 large suitcases) and whether there will be extra charges, I decided to book a minivan to pick us up via Airport Taxi Transfer (which a colleague had previously used). The price came out to be around 85 euros which I thought was reasonable (vs. 72 – 86 euros by cab according to TaxiFareFinder).

It is worth bearing in mind though that Airport Taxi Transfer is a UK based company which outsources to local car companies. We know this because our flight arrived early, and when we didn’t see anyone at arrival waiting for us we called the hotline. Someone in the UK picked up and said that we should have recieved the direct contact of our driver already – we didn’t. They gave us an Italian number to call, which finally went through after a few times (this is early at around 7am in the morning). Turns out in Italy when you say you are arriving at 7:55am, they don’t double check your flight status but arrive promptly at 7:55am. Many other passengers appeared to be waiting for their drivers as well.

Shopping: After breakfast and a quick nap at the Bulgari Milan, our first order of business was to check out the Chanel store. Since we have many days and a lot of train rides ahead of us, we wanted to leave our shopping till last. But Chanel was the exception because they were apparently going to hike up prices in Europe on April 8 and the Boy bag is a super hot item. We had to use every opportunity we had to snag it!

Turns out we were not the only ones thinking this. Chanel was the only store along the Monte Napoleone with a line! After waiting around 15 – 20 minutes, we were finally let in – only to find that they have sold out of classic boys.

With the benefit of hindsight, I regret not shopping in Milan. The stores were definitely more peaceful (and likely with WAY more style and sizes) than in Florence or Paris!

Salsamenteria Di Parma: Time flies when you are shopping/ lining up. Before we realized, it was already close to 2pm (end of lunch time)! Consulting my map and list of recommended restaurants by friends, we ended up at the Salsamenteria Di Parma which was noted as good for “salami and sparkling red wine” and was conveniently located 2 blocks away from where we were.

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It turns out to be a super casual joint filled with lots of local customers (a good sign!). We were seated after 5 – 10 minutes and ordered a platter of their best ham (because why not?), some sandwiches and pasta, as well as half a bottle of house red (served in a bowl!). The food came shortly after. I’m not a huge foodie, but I can say that aside from the sandwich (which we thought was a bit dry) it was a very satisfying and good valued meal (came out to be less than 20 euros per head).

Duomo and Galleria Vittorio: After lunch, our next stop was the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio. It was packed with tourists (and probably theives) but it is not a trip to Milan if you don’t stop and say hi!

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The last time I came, the front facade of the Duomo was under construction. So it was nice to actually see it in all its glory this time (and under such gorgeous weather). I also really wanted to make it up the Terrace (roof top), because I have never been and I have seen some really gorgeous pictures of the architect up there.

I’m not sure if it was because it was Easter Friday, but there was a huge line going up that did not appear to be moving. And sadly I had not thought to pre-book a ticket either. We decided to come back after we went to see the Last Supper (which we did have a ticket for) because we didn’t want to miss our slot. But when we came back a hour later the line did not improve.

Luckily we have our ears pricked at all times. The trick is to buy tickets from the other side of the Duomo. It seems that everyone somehow lines up on the left side of the Duomo (the side near the Galleria), and forget about the ticket office on the other side. It seems that the elevator was broken that day (or tickets ran out?), so we took the stairs (around 200+ steps).

It was all worth it though. The flying buttresses, the beautifully intricate carvings and statues – it was magnificient. MUST GO.

Duomo Milan 

Opening times (Terrace): daily 9.00 – 19.00. Last ticket 18.00

The Last Supper: Growing up, we have always had a copy of the Last Supper above our dining room table. So when I went to Milan during college I really wanted to see it in real life. Except I didn’t know it was such a hot commodity back then, and was quickly shown the door when I tried to go see it. This time around I was determined and prepared.

About 2 months before the trip (in early February), I emailed our hotel and asked them to help book Last Supper tickets for us. It was fortunate timing, because the pre-selling for April and May was about to start in a week. A week later the hotel emailed back on the day of the sale, and said that they secured tickets for us. A few hours later though, they emailed back again and said there was something up with the system and they actually did not…

What happened is that Last Supper tickets (which are only worth 8 euros at ticket level!) are quickly swiped up by local tour agencies to be incorporated into packaged tours. And many people do indeed join these tours just to see the Last Supper (I have many friends who have done that!).

… anyway, in the end the hotel put us on the waitlist via their agency, Gold Black Style. I frankly did not have much hope and almost booked myself on one of those packaged tours. But 2 weeks before the trip, they emailed us back and said they got us tickets!!!

So if you want to buy Last Supper tickets here are the ways:

Source Time in Advance Cost (Euros)
Official Last Supper Website At least 2-3 months (check release dates) 6.5 + 1.5 booking fee (goodluck!)
Select Italy At least 2-3 months ~16
Concierge or agent such as Gold Black Style At least 2-3 months ~30
Packaged Tours Couple days to weeks ~68

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So that day we arrived super early and actually had time to tour the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazi as well. The actual entrance to see the Last Supper is on the left side of the church in a very non descript looking building (apparently the reflectory). After going through a few set of doors (for conservation purposes), we eventually found ourselves with a small group in a dimly lit medieval hall with the Last Supper painted on one side of the wall. We all fell silent and sat down on the benches set in front to stare at the Last Supper.

I am not sure what I was expecting exactly as I am no expert in art appreciation. It was definitely different from the typical painting in a museum. Because of the method it was painted in, it was also much more faded than the replicas I have seen. It was also way bigger than I thought. Eventually people started to move around, and we realized that behind us was another painting (the Cruxificion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano). You can really see the difference in the painting method makes when you compare the two pieces, and start to understand why they take such great pains to protect it. But anyways, after about 10 minutes (which I think is just about enough time) the bell rang and we were herded out into the gift store.

Was it worth it? Definitely. Would I go again? Probably not, I would peg it as an once in a lifetime experience.

Getting connected: One of my key missions in Milan was actually to get a local sim card for the rest of the trip. After comparing prices, I decided it was cheaper to get a local sim card (vs. a wifi egg) while I am in Italy. It is easy to open once you find a store (I picked Vodafone and it took around 15 minutes), cheap at only 30 euros for 4 GBs (for the month!), the connection is great and it allows you to make local calls which turned out to be very useful. The wifi egg on the other hand costs ~10 euros/day, has inconsistent connections and always run out of battery (bad experience in Seoul last time!). Also I guess I just don’t like to be tethered to other people. But anyway, I was super happy with it and highly recommend it!

The most convenient store is the Vodafone on Via Orefici near the Duomo (the street behind the Duomo taxi station) or in Milan Centrale. It took me a while to find the store without data, so it will be useful to print yourself a map beforehand! Alternatively, TIM stores seems to be even more prevalent in Italy. But I don’t know what packages they have.

Other Recommended Restarants by friends (because there’s nothing quite like the word of mouth):

Bulgari Milan, the 5 star experience

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Since we were arriving in Milan early in the morning after a red eye flight in economy class, we decided to treat ourselves to a nicer hotel to increase our chances of an early check-in. We ended up at the Bulgari Milan, which is unquestionably one of the best hotels in the city (though mostly it was because we found a really really special rate which was too good to pass up!).

Location: The Bulgari (pronounced “boo-gar-ri” according to cab drivers) is ideally situated in a quiet little street right next to where the new MO is being built (I am a FAN!), less than 10 minutes walk away from the Monte Napoleone (shopping!) and the Duomo (masterpiece!). Not quite as close to the Monte Napoleone as the Armani Hotel, but we are not complaining.

First impression: As our car got closer to the hotel we realised why we didn’t see anything when we Google mapped the hotel – the Google van couldn’t get pass the gates. Once we passed the gates and went up the driveway, we were welcomed by the sight of Ferraris etc. and an elegantly designed reception and lobby.

My boss (who previously stayed here) thinks the Bulgari Milan lacks character, but I personally think that it is minimalist and chic. 

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As we had hoped, they were able to let us check-in early, though they needed some time to prepare the rooms. So we went for a Bulgari breakfast. We were all famished after the airline food!

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A little pricey, but you get what you paid for in terms of quality (if not portion!). The most impressive were their fresh juices, especially their fresh orange juice (using blood oranges!) and their fresh strawberry juice (SO sweet). It’s a tough call which my favourite is. I wonder if they would still give me the bread basket (also excellent) if I just ordered juice.. cause really that’s all I need.

After breakfast,  we were given a quick tour of the hotel (mostly a minor detour to see the basement pool and spa) before being shown to our rooms. Each floor is key access only (you would be surprised how many hotels in Europe DON’T have this function).

Since we paid for the cheapest available rate, I can only assume that what we were given is the Deluxe Room. But man, our rooms were SPACIOUS. There was a little area at the entrance for the minibar (not pictured). There was space for a huge table in front of the TV (pictured above). There was the sleeping area with the king size bed (which was simply divine by the way with very high quality bedding – I slept like a baby!). AND there was a ginormous bathroom.

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So ginormous they had to separate the bathtub in a completely different room. But yes, as you can see the bathroom was super spacious (at this point, I realized that this may be a handicap room given all the hand rails and extra space).

I would also like to commend their hair conditioner. I realized belated that I’d forgotten  how hard the water in Europe was, and that the hair conditioner I brought was simply not strong enough to detangle my locks. So I proceeded to smother my hair with the hotel hair conditioner and it worked like a charm. I snagged it for the rest of the trip!

Oh and for ladies who groom – they have a LEGIT off the wall hair dryer, complete with a removable nozzle!

Service: Overall great before and during our stay. I was in touch previously by email to arrange for some museum ticktes, and they were prompt and professional. During our stay, we asked them to help buy train tickets. They did not get the buy one get one free promotion tickets available on Saturdays even though we reminded them of it on the phone.. but I guess cost is not a priority for the Bulgari staff. There was also a minor mishap with our bill at check out, but that was quickly resolved.

Conclusion:  Definitely our best hotel on this trip (also most expensive!). I thought it was everything a five star luxury hotel should be. Excellent service, high quality rooms and all the luxuries of modern amenities. Would I pay full price for it though? To be honest, probably not. If I were to go high end again in Milan I would probably go for the Armani Hotel down the road which is newer, closer to the shops and marginally cheaper. Armani can’t be that bad.

Incidentally if I were to come back to Milan again and I wanted something more affordable, I would probably look at the Westin Palace (older and further but safe and has Amex rates) or maybe the NH Collection Milano President (which looks quite decent).

Pros:

  • True 5 star quality service and modern hardware
  • Spacious rooms with super comfortable beds
  • Amazing fresh juice selection

Cons:

  • Location could be a bit closer to key sights
  • One of THE most expensive hotels in Milan (currently #2 most expensive on Tripadvisor), but it is the Bulgari.. that is to be expected
  • Surprisingly the shower strength was a bit weak and the temperature somewhat inconsistent, but not a huge dealbreaker
  • The lighting system was a bit too high tech for me, but maybe that is just me

Bulgari Milan 

Address: Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7/b – 20121 Milano

Telephone: + 39 02 805 805 1

Email: milano@bulgarihotels.com

Website: http://www.bulgarihotels.com/en-us/milan/the-hotel/overview 

Tripadvisor Reviews

Read more about my trip to italy here!

My trip to Italy: Overview

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Just so we are on the same page, I would classify myself as a “spoilt but cost conscious traveller in her twenties”. I just came back from my trip to Italy (with a brief stop in Paris for obvious reasons), and I am now totally head over heels in love with Italy. The scenery is ridiculously gorgeous and the food is affordable and absolutely delicious.

Since I spent months and months planning the trip (yes, I am a obssessive planner), I thought I would share my work here (with the benefit of hindsight) so that some likeminded souls can put it to good use. My boyfriend assures me that it is worth $$ to some busy bodies out there. It will also let me live through the process all over again and mentally extend the trip :)

The idea started forming about a year ago, when my friend A and I realized that there will be a long holiday in Hong Kong for Easter 2015 where we can take 3 days off and get 10 consecutive days off work (a huge consideration for us working gals!). So we started brainstorming long trip ideas from South Africa to Spain. We eventually decided on Italy because we wanted to go to Cinque Terre and Florence AND we love pizza and pasta.

We were originally only going to Milan, Cinque Terre and Florence, but we ended up visiting 9 different cities/towns in 11 days instead. It was most definitely ambitious and admittedly tiring, but it was also exhilarating and bundles of fun! Here is a summary of our itinerary:

Day Location Accomodations Activity
 Redeye flight from Hong Kong to Milan
1 Milan Bulgari Milano Duomo, The Last Supper
 Morning train from Milan Centrale to Torino Portoa Nuova
2 Turin NH Torino Piazza Carlina Juventus game, Gianduiotti etc. 
 Morning train from Torino Portoa Nuova to La Spezia
3
4
Cinque Terre NH La Spezia Hiking between the five villages
Morning drive from La Spezia to Parma to Modena
5 Parma + Modena Best Western Premier Milano Palace Hotel Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, Osteria Francescana
Morning train from Modena to Bologna Centrale
6 Bologna UNA Bologna Tuscan cooking class, tagliatelle bolognese
Morning train from Bologna Centrale to Firenze Santa Maria Novella
7
8
9.0
Florence + Tuscany Ponte Vecchio Suites Uffizi Museum, David, Siena, San Gimignana, Shopping
Afternoon flight from Florence to Paris
9.5
10
11
Paris Chess Hotel LVMH Foundation, Musee Rodin, Les Invalides, Pont Des Art, Bresse Chicken, Shopping
Evening flight from Paris to Hong Kong

Instead of putting everything down in exhaustive detail all at once, I will be writing separate posts in the coming days and weeks to make it more reader friendly and organized. Links will be added to this table (Yes, I just learnt how to make tables via HTML!) as I go along, so keep checking back!

We are Water

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I just finished reading We are Water by Wally Lamb. This is my first book by him, and I think he is a great storyteller. Kept my nose in my Kindle for days!

The story itself was unquestionably messed up. A middle age woman leaving her husband of 27 years to marry her lesbian girlfriend. Almost everything bad under the sun happens at some point in the book. Racism, poverty, rape, molestation, abortions, violence, murder, thief and paralysis. It will definitely make your own life feel much more orderly in comparison.

What strikes me about the book though is that for the most part, I get it. Even though I have obviously not been in such situations, I get why the characters feel the way they do and act the way they do (except for the part of the child molester.. I almost feel some sympathy for him, but not quite).

What stuck out the most for me was Annie and Orion’s relationship. When they flashed back to how their relationship started it sounded like a true love. Like this story will get a happy ending. They will all live happily ever after. How could it not? But then I recall all of Annie’s resentment during her years of marriage staying home with the kids, and especially as a woman myself I think, YES I totally get it. Why is Orion’s work always more important than Annie’s? And why does he feel that he shoud get an A* for taking care of the kids for 1 day, when that is Annie’s reality everyday? I am not even married (let alone have kids), but I totally get her angst!!!!

It makes me think that perhaps my mom is right (as she almost always is) – things really do change after marriage. Happily ever after isn’t quite what it is cut out to be. The real work actually does start after you say I do. It really gets one thinking..

The other thing worth mentioning is that the title of the book is genius. I didn’t get it at first. But when it was it explained it made so much sense. How in a way, we are all made of water. We can be gently floating along most of the time, but also strong and powerful when we need to be. And like water, we tend to take the road of least resistance. Another interesting point to think about.

I am eager to read some of his previous books!

Borei Angkor – Surprisingly Good Value

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Since both the Shinta Mani hotels were full (not surprising since they are well situated, reasonably priced and look very new and contemporary!), we ended up at the Borei Angkor during our trip to Siem Reap last December. While it may not be the nicest hotel in the area, we found it surprisingly good value and were quite happy with it!

The Borei Angor = Privilieged Floor: The important thing to note about the Borei Angkor is that it is the same hotel as the Priviliged Floor. This is not immediately obvious on Tripadvisor. The Priviliged Floor is ranked the #3 top hotel in Siem Reap with a price tag in the low US$200s. The Borei Angkor on the other hand is ranked #20 and costs a little less than US$100. But they are actually both in the same complex sharing the same facilities (very tricky marketing here!).

So what is the difference? From what I can tell the Privileged Floor is essentially the equivalent of a club floor. You get access to a special lounge as well as 24/7 personal butler and a car service. According to the reviews, the service is top notch and even a little bit over attentive. But the hardware for both “hotels” are more or less the same. Since we had already arranged our own driver/tour guide and don’t have much use for more personal attention the cheaper Borei Angkor was the obvious choice for us.

Location: The Borei Angkor is not quite as ideally situated as one would like within walking distance to the Old Market and the Pub Street Area (where all the action is). But it is not far. About 5-10 minutes away by tuk tuk (~US$4 for 4 people). Since we spent most of the day at the temples and only went to town for dinner and shopping, we thought the distant was reasonable. Otherwise there is really nothing of interest near the hotel.

It was also only about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport and about 20 minutes to Angkor Wat. But I’m guessing you can say that for pretty much everywhere, since the whole town seems to have been built around Angkor Wat.

Airpor transfer: Our package included airport transfer (which seems to be the norm in Siem Reap). I read about cases where the hotel forgot to pick guests up from the airport, but we reconfirmed twice and was duly picked up at arrivals. But we did have to share our ride with another guest. It seems that they have a free airport shuttle service that just goes around and around, and you sign up for a specific timeslot in advance. We actually missed our scheduled time going back to the airport, and caught the ride half a hour later. TIP: The airport is so close by and so small we had more than an hour to spare after immigration. Do NOT go to the airport too early. Leaving the hotel 2 hours ahead of flight time is fine.

The hotel: When we went, the entrance of the hotel was marked by a somewhat tacky large red ball (which can double as Christmas and Chinese New Year decor I supposed). But it was a welcome sight compared to the surroundings (very local and industrial).

From an international traveler perspective however, the hotel is definitely dated with some wear and tear here and there. It felt a little bit like I walked into a time capsule. The lobby was probably grand a few decades ago. But it was clean (with maybe only a few mosquito looking insects flying around the lobby), the check-in process was smooth and we were quickly shown to our third floor rooms.

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The Rooms: Having read the reviews about tired looking rooms, we went for the Landmark rooms hoping for a better experience (it is supposed to be part of the “newer” wing). The price difference was very small. And since my expectations were not that high to begin with, we were actually pleasantly surprised!/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/044/6299064/files/2015/01/img_4126.jpg

Despite the unfortunately colored curtains, the room was clean, spacious and (most importantly) insect free. The air conditioning, lighting and the plumbings worked. There wasn’t any weird smell. We sighed a breathe of relief./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/044/6299064/files/2015/01/img_4127.jpg

If one were to be picky, the bed was a bit hard for my liking. It felt a little like they wrapped feather around a plank of wood. The slippers looked re-used, so definitely bring your own! The internet was weak. Our doorbell rang for no reason on a few occasions. There weren’t enough electric sockets. And they indeed only provide you with 2 bottles of water everyday (BYO water!).

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The most impressive thing about the bathroom was definitely the fact that they had an anti-fog glass mirror. Who would have thought?

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The shower area was a little bit dark. We didn’t use the bathtube. But everything else worked fine!

Breakfast: Even though I typically only like to eat eggs, bacon, hashbrown and toast for breakfast, the quality can vary a lot from place to place. The Borei Angkor was surprisingly good./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/044/6299064/files/2015/01/img_4141.jpg

The egg was large and the bacon was just right (not too fat and not too fried)!

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The variety of food was also quite extensive. Fresh fruits, western food, local food and lots of made-to-order stations.

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They even had TWO egg stations (less waiting!), one noodle station and one crepe station (though they typically reheat crepes vs. make fresh ones). Impressed!

Culture Night: The hotel offers a Khmer Apsara Dance Show a few nights a week at their outdoor Pavilion. We knew it would be a tourist trap and that the food would probably be awful, but we figured that we should see an Apsara dance while we were in Cambodia. It is like how one should see belly dancing in Turkey or caberat in France.

At US$45/night (?) it was our most expensive meal in Siem Reap. But I guess it IS in a hotel. We did each get a traditional khmer scarf as a souvineer. The Pavilion was also quite beautifully decorated (yes, it is outdoors – remember to wear mosquito repellent!). The food could be better, but was not too bad. The whole show was not too long.

Outdoor Pavilion, Apsara Dance Show

Outdoor Pavilion, Apsara Dance Show

And the dances itself were pretty good. The 5-6 dances were well spread out in between courses, sufficiently different and most of all, I loved the outfits! It is so rich in color and detail!

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Conclusion: While the hardware was decidedly dated, given the price point it was surprisingly good value. Would I recommend it to friends? Yes, if they are looking for a good value stay in Siem Reap while they go temple-ing. No, if they are looking for somewhere to chill and relax. For that, I personally prefer somewhere more modern.

Pros:

  • It is cheap (especially compared to the other Meridiens and Anantara’s of Siem Reap)
  • It offers many types of rooms: Doubles, triples, connecting rooms etc. (especially compared to some hotels *ahem* Heritage *ahem* which only offers King beds)
  • Clean rooms
  • Good breakfast

Cons:

  • The whole Pavilion and Borei Angkor thing is a sham
  • The hardware is very dated
  • The beds are too hard
  • Location not quite central
  • Stingy on water – only 2 bottles/room/day

Tips: Definitely get a Landmark room!!

Borei Angkor, Siem Reap

Address: National Road 6, Banteay Chas, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia

Telephone: + 855­ 63 964 406

Email: info@boreiangkor.com

Website: http://boreiangkor.com/

Tripadvisor Reviews

Hotel La Casa, Seoul – the definition of a hidden gem

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The Hotel La Casa in Seoul is the definition of a hidden gem. I first heard about it from the TV program, Unique Hotels and Restaurants, and remember thinking that it looked incredibly chic. So when my friend recommended this hotel for my recent visit to Seoul because it happens to be super close to where she lives, I (uncharacteristically) did very little research and went for it. And I was duly impressed!

Location: Located south of the river, it is in the Gangnam district (yes a la Gangnam Style!) and only a few blocks from the super trendy Garosugil area. We were able to a) enjoy super cute local cafes and coffee shops b) eat delicious local cuisine (i.e. korean bbq and fried chicken) c) drink in trendy wine bars or local joints and d) shop in a range of adorable boutiques without even taking a cab! It’s just such a fun and buzzing area to wander about in!

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La Casa also happens to be only a few blocks from the bus 6006 bus stop – which makes it super easy to get to and from the airport for only 10,000KRW. Since cabs are so cheap in Seoul I would usually not hesitate to take a cab, but given how easy taking the bus is it is almost silly not to take it, especially if you are travelling light and its not raining!

From the airport: Take the 6006 and get off on the first stop. Turn right (backwards) and take the second left. It is part of the Casa furniture/cafe etc. complex. Go around. The hotel entrance is slightly inconspicious.

To the airport: Go back to where you got off the bus (think TomTom’s) and cross the road. It comes every 10-20 minutes, and is quite on time.

The one caveat is that I find the metro entrance a bit far away, probably a 10 minute walk. But then, as I was saying, cabs are relatively cheap and quite readily available in Seoul. As a back up, UBER is also available.

The design and rooms: I hereby confirm that you basically get what you see. It is indeed as modern, minimalistic and chic as it looks. Very Scandinavian.

The lobby resembles a cosy library/work station. A welcoming sight after a long day of travelling.

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And the rooms are spacious, chic and comfortable. We upgraded ourselves to a Business Double because they ran out of Deluxe Doubles.

Hotel La Casa, Seoul - Business Double Room

I love the dashes of red. It makes the room more fun and chic, instead of just cool and functional. There were also red pillows and throws at the end of the bed, but I removed it before I remembered to take a picture because I suspect that no one ever washes these things… in any hotels!

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The bathroom was also modern, clean and functional. My only complaint is that the sink seemed slow to drain… and the weak blow dryer.

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Service: I thought the service in general was good. The staff spoke good English and had no trouble understanding me. They had umbrellas and adapters to borrow as well as complimentary wifi and breakfast (though I never woke up early enough to enjoy it). But most importantly for me they were generous with their complimentary bottled water. I am a water hog when I travel because I am always dehydrated. One bottle per person a night is not nearly enough. This really stood out for me.

Other things of note: Being a boutique hotel, it is smaller in scale than I am used to. There is only one elevator (though I personally never encountered any elevator traffic ). There doesn’t seem to be much security measures. Technically anyone can come and go to whichever floor they want. Perhaps the hotel is so small the staff keeps track? And finally the entrance is very inconspicuous. Most of the time cab drivers just leave us on the other side of the building and we have to walk around in the cold and rain.

Value: I took advantage of a US$100 off promotion and made the booking. From what I can tell though, their regular price range is in line with other boutique hotels in Seoul at around ~US$130/night. It’s not the cheapest and perhaps you can find similar hotels for even cheaper, but I think the price is fair for what you get.

Conclusion: I’m actually surprise that the hotel is only ranked only #97 on Tripadvisor. It is well situated, superbly designed in a modern and chic way with comfortably sized rooms (though I’m from Hong Kong, my sense of space maybe distorted) and helpful English speaking staff. Perhaps all Seoul boutique hotels are like this? My only comparison is the Grand Hyatt in Seoul (which is a different type of hotel), so I cannot comment. But I would definitely recommend this hotel to friends visiting Seoul!

Hotel La Casa, Seoul

Address: 527-2 Sinsa-Dong Gangnam-Gu Seoul

Telephone: +82-2-546-0088

Website: http://www.hotellacasa.kr/eng/index.asp

Tripadvisor Reviews

The white collared black shift dress

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You know which one I am talking about. I saw it at Zara the other day and was super tempted to get it, but decided in the end that I am just not cool enough to carry it off. People will probably just think I am dressing up for Halloween… a la Wednesday Addams, the original wearer of this dress.

WednesdayThough I have seen some recent iterations of it which have been inspiring. There was Kate Middleton’s ladylike and demure version:

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Visit Child Bereavement UKAnd then there was my girl crush Cindiddy’s super stylish take on it.

Cindiddy in white collared black dress at Prada.  www.cindiddy.com

Cindiddy in white collared black dress at Prada.
http://www.cindiddy.com

Neither of which I think I can achieve. But it is always nice to look, admire and wonder. Which look do you like best?

A super memorable birthday

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Unlike last year, this year I did not have a vision of exactly what I wanted to do for my birthday months and months ahead. We even had a hard time coming up with a fancy Michelin starred restaurants in Hong Kong we wanted to try and almost repeated. But ideas started to pop up here and there, and in the end everything came together perfectly.

Definitely a super memorable (and eventful) birthday complete with awesome company, lots of chocolates and sparkles, balloons as well as sweat, some blood and one popped knee and torn ligament. May every birthday be better than the last!

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