Thursday, 21 October 2010

Blue Bay Hotel in Netanya Blues

Three nights at the Blue Bay Hotel in Netanya, attending a friend's beach wedding. We chose the hotel at the friend's recommendation for convenience (a few minutes drive from where the weddding took place) rather than any impressive looking features or positive reviews.

Blue Bay Hotel Netanya Photo - borrowed without permission
The hotel actually has bearable architectural qualities, decorated with taste, or at least without any 'distaste'. The room we stayed in probably used to look good, like 6 years ago but it was well worn rather than in a state of disrepair. Unlike in many newer hotels, the shower worked, water fixtures worked, most lights worked.

We were annoyed with the narrow entrance space and overall the room was not well suited to having the extra bed added. Across the hall I got a peak of a room that seemed very different from ours - a hard-wood floor rather than our wall-to-wall hotel style carpet from a bygone era and more space - I would assume that's the 'superior' room.

We arrived in the dark and I was sceptical about sea view as much as to complain to the receptionist we were paying for it. He assured me all the rooms had seaview and his words turned out to be very accurate when we woke up next morning with perhaps the best view of the sea I've seen in a hotel.

On arrival I had to return to reception to mention the extra bed we had requested (and were paying a not so friendly extra amount for). It arrived carried by a man who pretended not to really speak English but he understood the request to bring an extra towel for the third guest.

Breakfast is a good Kosher breakfast. Depending on what those three words mean to you, you either know what I am talking about or it would simply take too long to explain. For connoisseurs, here is an overview: a sizable buffet with three or four warm dishes, cheeses, "salatim", some sweets, bread and three types of rolls. Coffee not to die for (or Israeli instant). Oh, and since the breakfast is milchig, no sausages or salami (but there is some fish). And the Kosher kids run amock bumping into your chair not only without apology but without as much as acknowledging your existence.

Kosher kids running amock were a recurring topic poolside but the cold water was a bigger problem.

The lobby bar service was far from impressive in terms of selection, attentiveness of staff, professionalism. But again, the decent Israeli service standards prevailed: with every order (even the misunderstood one) the linguistically challenged man brought us a bowl of pretzels and peanuts and dusted off our table. He even tried to prevent me from leaving him a tip at one point.

I would not call the staff friendly and we never had the impression anyone enjoyed serving us. A good word to describe most staff was smug (the reception staff), oblivious (wait staff), bored (security guard outside). The only friendly gestures came from the (I assume Ethiopian Israeli) cleaning staff.

But, like much of Israeli hospitality, the hotel turned out OK. Not great, not to rave about, with lots of annoying little details but OK to spend a few nights (although I would hesitate recommending it for a long vacation). The Scandinavian and Russian holy land bible trip groups seemed happy enough, as did the guests at multiple weddings and bar mitzvahs taking place.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Moods Boutique Hotel Prague - a Quick Stay and Review

Hästens Bed at the Hotel Moods in Prague
I had to travel to Prague for a few hours of meetings in August and the timing warranted an overnight stay. I therefore looked for a nice play to spend the night that would guarantee a good night's sleep, under EUR 100 for the two of us.

As this was a Sunday night weekend rates applied and there were literally hundreds of hotels to choose from on I took advantage of their new feature that presents guest ratings in words and restricted my search to hotels with ratings over 9 out of 10, which labels Superb (why settle for Fabulous if you can have Superb, right?).

We ended up with the Moods Boutique Hotel, a new place in Klimentska near Florence, reportedly a 'Superb' hotel, not least because it was minutes from where my meetings took place. offered Moods for EUR 99 for the Standard Room including breakfast.

I phoned the hotel directly (though its website was pretty hard to find in Google). The friendly receptionist said they had rooms free, I could just come without reserving and may even be able to get a few euros of the published 'Best Available Rate'.

Did we enjoy the night at Moods? Yes. Did I think it was worth the price we paid? Sure. Is this a Superb hotel? Well let's say I would rate it pretty good.

Getting there
Klimentska is reasonably central but Moods sits at a weird spot. The street is one way from that spot, in both directions. This means that you cannot get to Moods via Klimentska itself but have to reach it the only way through a side street (which appears nameless on Google maps), coming to it from Lannova or Barvirska.

We did not figure this out until we walked the area a bit on foot so even though we saw the hotel, getting to it by car took us another half hour of circling through one way streets of Prague 1.

Prague 1 also means there is hardly any street parking - there were numerous empty spots but all marked as resident spots with blue lines. The hotel uses parking facilities in the next door Hotel Klement but these were full and we were either offered parking at another hotel a few minutes walk away (Bila Labut) or told to park in Petrske Namesti square, where there is public parking (metered on weekdays from 8 am to 6 pm with two hour maximum).

Checking in
As advised via telephone we showed up annonced. The gentleman at reception looked surprised but was polite enough. I explained that I had phoned about a room. He asked what I had been promised. Truthfully, I replied I had been told there were rooms available and we could get a discount on the published rate.

After a while of searching (which allowed me to note the Vitra chair I was sitting on) and asking his colleague from the bar to check on the state of a room (305) he said he would give us a room slightly larger than most at a rate slightly lower than EUR 99 - at 90. This seemed a great deal and we accepted gratefully, to be escorted upstairs.

The room
Let me get the good stuff out of the way. Moods makes a lot of its Hastens beds. The bed was good, but there was a crack between the two mattresses. There are free coffee and tea makinjg facilities.

The floor was hard wood (walnut?) and nice enough. The furniture was very simple, white polished surface. There was an LCD TV, minibar. The lamp is a nice Artemide, as advertised on the hotel's website (along with Hastens for beds, Apple and Bose for stuff in rooms beyond my price level).

A reviewer on talked of forward looking design but in that respect I would beg to differ. Buying an expensive bed and floor is nice and good but not really a design thing. The rest of the design at the Moods was either missing or questionable.

Artemide Lamp and Wall Decoration at Prague Hotel Moods
Perhaps what bothered me most was the overall feel - very cold and empty. The wall design relied on quotes from a book (by Czech writer Peter Sis??) and these were also interspersed in other spaces. The furniture was minimalist.

A signature feature was a colour-changing LED lamp behind the head of the bed, which had a set of (mechanically poorly functioning) controls for colour and intensity. I guess to match the colour to your MOOD, get it, right?

Where the room took turn for the cheap was the bathroom. No design, cheapish looking tiling and most importantly Roco fixtures (armatury). I have a feeling not all readers will identify with the paragaph but: in a four-star design/boutique hotel you need a Hansgrohe if you can't afford Axor, schematically speaking.

Roco fixtures are certainly not offensive looking but around the shower head at the Moods Boutique Hotel the metal hose covering was already 'unbound' detached from the handle part, uncovering a piece of the plastic hose within.

There was a bidet but the bath itself was very narrow and thus uncomfortable. This to me was a questionable choice, too. The White Company toiletries were not enough to fix the mixed impression.

Overall this was not design that worked for me and my resident design dot expert said it was because there was not that much design.

View from Room 305 at the Moods Boutique Hotel in Prague
But then in the morning our window suddenly showed what could unassaultably be advertised as a Vltava river view (there really was a bit of water visible and a floor above it would likely be much more).

The common spaces
There are some nice details in the lobby and restaurant although as a whole these spaces do not amaze. To be brief, I wouldn't go there for the design.

No reservations about breakfest. A small but kind buffet, with a cosy feel. Sausages, eggs, cereal, fruit, cold cuts, veggies, salads, roasted veggies, cake, croissant, good bread and three carafes of actual fruit juice. A Douwe Egberts coffe automat (good choice in its class).

I am also sold on the breakfast being until 11:30 (with continental breakfast being served per order any time during the day).

Design-wise lots of effort (including Vitra Eiffel chairs) but a result with a questionable feel.

Other remarks

As always the experience turns on the staff. Here the staff were very good (although by no means perfect). Most interactions were pleasant although I did not always quite feel understood (this may simply be on account of me speaking Slovak, right?).

The staff were very kind in lettin gus keep our luggage at reception all day and when I asked for a room to change in they offered the underground conference room all to myseld.

I would go back to the Moods because the bed was good, breakfast was good, staff tried hard. But with the feeling that for the same rate or slightly higher I may be able to do better at some of the many Prague hotel options.

Then again, there is that other class of rooms at the Moods, the Deluxes, Maisonette and Apple. Maybe if I splurged on those I would walk away with a different impression?

Can you make money with planned Slovak tax changes?

One of the proposed changes in Slovak income tax law would eliminate an exemption from capital gains on apartment sale. Currently, if you buy an apartment in Slovakia and register the address as permanent residence for two years or own it for five years, you do not have to pay tax on the income from selling it at a profit.

Slovak Finance Minister Ivan Miklos proposed a series of tweaks in tax laws to generate extra revenue as the deficit left over by the previous cabinet of populist Robert Fico spiralled out of control.

The proposal would make people pay a capital gainst tax (at the current 19% income tax rate) on gains from selling an apartment regardless of when it was acquired and how long the owner lived there. It wouls apply to all properties acquired after January 1, 20111.

If this specific proposal passes it should mean that anyone who has been thinking about buying an apartment in this down market for speculative purposes should do so before the end of December 2010, boosting demand this year compared to the start of next.

I am not sure how you could estimate the magnitude of this effect and whether it could be significant enough to trade on given transaction costs. But nonetheless anyone considering selling an apartment in the near future should do so in December rather than January (assuming there isn't a strong upward trend in place of course that would overpower the tax change effect).

Monday, 9 August 2010

Wellness Patince: Well Done

On a whim we decided to spend a long weekend at the Wellness Patince, a four-star hotel with thermal baths in the South of Slovakia at springs dating back to the Romans. We came back very satisfied with the experience and I have since recommended the wellness to several of my friends (and at least one went with her family).

The location
Patince is at least two hours from Bratislava travelling along the south of Slovakia and can be longer depending on traffic. There is a shorter route crossing though neighbouring Hungary but we did not feel like negotiating the highway toll system.

The area itself is pleasant, near an old thermal swimming pool although some of the older facilities around are run down.

We rented a small human-powered bicycle car from the Western Saloon (an establishment near but completely separate from the hotel) but returned it early as the nicer unit recommended by staff seemed close to falling apart. Similarly, the lunch at a nearby restaurant (two minutes walk from the hotel) was a disgrace (we did much, much better at Diva Kacica in Landor - Hajlas just outside of Komarno propper, a tastefully decorated pension with classy cuisine of the kind I feel should exist around Slovakia but rarely do).

The hotel is near a small lake with thermal water. It is a bit smelly (mineralised smell) and murky looking but pleasant enough. You can walk around the area and see the remnants of bygone glory (including an open air cinema and interesting looking cottages) of a Communist-era resort, which we liked.

The hotel
Wellness Patince is only a few years old. It is nice and quite simple though by no means an architectural masterpiece. The hotel connects to a large indoor wellness pool, a sauna world, outdoor pools and other facilities all open to the public and accessible to hotel guests without limit at no extra charge.

The staff were nice and everyone greeted guests as they walked by, which I had not been used to in Slovakia.

Our stay was the Summer Package and should have included several extras (free bike rental, free trip on the Wellness 1 from the Patince Marina, on the Danube some 2 km from the hotel). Noone made an effort to offer us these and we did not feel like demanding.

We had been told in advance part of our stay overlapped with a corporate event but this had no negative influence on our stay oru access to facilities at any time.

The hotel's own internet presence is poor - so much so in fact that I had to write them an email about this, pitching Pizza SEO's services.

Our room, a Classic room was a generous size and fit the three of us more comfortably than most double rooms would. There was extra floor space to play and desk and closet space to store our stuff.

The decor was tasteful enough (yellow and brown) with reasonable laminate flooring, quality windows.

Some construction details showed small structural problems - bits of the wall in room and hallway were stained, apparently near water pipes of bathrooms.

There was a large piece of spider web hanging from the ceiling in our room. The room cleaning was so unobtrusive as to appear unavailable and our room ended up not cleaned on several of the days though no doubt if we had asked the friendly cleaning staff would have quickly obliged.

The bathroom was not the most practical in terms of offering space to hang up three sets of towels. The water pressure had its moments but was ok through most of the stay.

We ate a half-pension at the unpretentious but good quality restaurant. The buffet breakfasts were more than satisfactory and dinners were always at least satisfactory. On one of the nights a grill on the terrace was in operation and those in the know (including people who seemed to be the owners) ate from the grill. Great chicken, veggies, fish (though I noticed at one point the lady used the same serving tweezers to place raw marinated meat on grill and serve finished grilled meat on plates).

Dinner started with a large board with finger food including smoked salmon, different ham and cheese canapés, veggies, etc. There were two soups and four main dishes with additional options. Fruit and small cakes were for dessert.

The wait staff removed used dished very rapidly, sometimes too rapidly to my taste but everyone was polite, pleasant and friendly.

There was a good selection of wine, Slovak and foreign, served with grace.

The restaurant only served very limited options for lunch and we never took that but ate a few meals at the poolside wellness bar. This had a bit of a factory canteen decor and the food would also have suited factory workers - many items were deep-fried and the salads, the wellness 'option', were unspectacular.

Outside of the wellness a few stands offered simple food - some serving fish with chips or bread as fast food seemed appealing.

A lobby bar, in an unappealing room secluded from the actual lobby served specialty coffees with a very eager and willing bartender. The other bar, open late, was in the bowling alley downstairs.

The wellness
The pools were nice and clean and even at their fullest did not feel crowded. The large indoor pool allowed for a bit of swimming and the warm sitting pool was undemanding. The outdoor pools were alright too.

The sauna world was appealing and pleasant and the gym seemed well equipped (and never used).

The verdict
We thoroughly enjoyed our four nights and would not hesitate to go back. Having said this there were small aspects that disturbed me and would have liked an opportunity to be asked by a manager for my views and seeing these things fixed.

The wet walls do not seem sustainable. The cleaning service needs to be more efficient because the four stars bind: the room needs to be cleaned daily, ideally before lunch, we need towels changed (and would appreciate extra towels). The Wellness Bar could try to live up to its name a little more: having seen the cars in the parking lot I think there is a clientele that would appreciate this (sophisticated salads and sandwiches instead of french fries with fried meat).

Inevitably comparisons with Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda that we visited came up. The distance (since Dunajska Streda is about half the distance of Komarno) works in its favour, as does the price. The staff attitude is comparable across the two (and a big part of the good experience in both cases) and our room at the Therma was cleaned daily as it should have been.

But Therma is in the middle of an industrial zone in a former office building and feels very outdated with the ashtrays on landing you pass through going from the elevator to your room.

Wellness Patince is cleaner, nicer, more readable architecturally, with a larger pool, healthier food.

The weak web presence is a genuine shame - the product on offer deserves to be communicated better.

I am determined to go back to Patince, look forward to my stay already and I will also make an effort to tell them what could be better as a friend rather than a critic.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Seen this ad format before?

Spotted this cool ad format in Zemanta on Blogger - a promoted Related Article you can add as a link to your blog post. Clever.

Reminds me of an old idea I always liked and still haven't seen although it's trivial to implement: a contextual hotel search (admittedly inspired or at least stimulated to think about by the now very defunct Auction Ads - an eBay contextual ads network).

Say for Bratislava hotels you could send dates and a location as a parameter to display a selection of hotels in a given area available on certain dates. There could be any number of optional parameters. Obviously, there are more than a few websites that could implement something like this on a global scale in days not to mention Google itself.

These contextual ads could be shown alongside event information - for conferences, concerts, sports events, etc.

We've blogged about Zemanta, the Slovenian startup on the experimental Pizza SEO blog before.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Is to. Simply the Shortest URL Shortener Ever?

My Definitive List of Shortest URL Shorteners on this blog is now completely obsolete. All of them were four characters long (including the dot) but a new winer has appeared:


This shortener leaves much to be desired in terms of interface and features BUT: it generates REALLY short URLs such as:

to./jre (which incidentally takes you back to this very post).

That's a total of seven characters. And you can get to it by typing mere three (to.) and hitting Enter in your browser.

This in fact is the shortest URL shortener I am aware of at the moment. It should be easy enough to emulate by other TLDs should the choose to.

I discovered this shortener randomly through a blog comment from Sal. The .to country top level domain (TLD) belongs to the Kingdom of Tonga (H.R.H. Crown Prince Tupouto'a seems in control) and you can register these through, the registrar.

Friday, 5 February 2010

PROKOP 2010 - the new Slovak PR Award

PROKOP 2010, Slovakia's first ever PR awards, will be announced on February 11, 2010 at the "design factory" in Bratislava.

Jury shortlisted 13 projects from seven agencies for the competition organised by the Slovak Association for Public Relations and the advertising trade magazine Stratégie.

SEESAME, an agency from Bratislava, leads the nominees with four shortlists, followed by Neopublic Porter Novelli from Bratislava and Košice-based Communication House with two each.

The competition is divided into three categories: Corporate Communications, B2B and B2C PR, Community Relations and Internal Communication.

The jury is composed of six men and two women and is chaired by Vladimir Bystrov, the Strategic Planning Director at the agency Bizon & Rose in Prague, Czech Republic. The criteria judged are innovativeness, creativity and flexibility, with a view to demonstrated results.

Tickets for the awards ceremony cost EUR 10 and can be purchased by contacting