Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review-Lodging-Illinois-Chicago-Holiday Inn Express West O'Hare


For our final full day of our vacation we wanted to go sightseeing in Chicago. Being the fact this would only be my second time of my adult life to be in Chicago (the other time was 2013 for a convention), it was a little more difficult to plan where to stay. The closer you get to the Loop the more expensive the hotels become and being the fact that we were a group of five made it even more difficult. However, as it turned out we had enough reward points to get a Holiday Inn Express for just a small fee.

I also wanted to find a hotel that was close to a METRA commuter train station so we would have an easy journey to the Loop and not have to worry about driving (which would be a very good decision since there was a major parade and traffic was a nightmare). Once we went over our options we chose the Holiday Inn Express O’Hare West. 


For our final full day of our vacation we wanted to go sightseeing in Chicago. Being the fact this would only be my second time of my adult life to be in Chicago (the other time was 2013 for a convention), it was a little more difficult to plan where to stay. The closer you get to the Loop the more expensive the hotels become and being the fact that we were a group of five made it even more difficult. However, as it turned out we had enough reward points to get a Holiday Inn Express for just a small fee.

I also wanted to find a hotel that was close to a METRA commuter train station so we would have an easy journey to the Loop and not have to worry about driving (which would be a very good decision since there was a major parade and traffic was a nightmare). Once we went over our options we chose the Holiday Inn Express O’Hare West. 


Making these reservations was not easy, not because booking it was difficult but finding the best combination of right location and one that I could book with the International Hotel Group points. Once we picked out the hotel booking on the IHG website was quick and easy


The hotel is located on US Highways 12/20/45/Manheim Road just south of the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway Interstate 290 in the Hillside Town Center. The hotel is 5 stories in a basic rectangular design.  There are railroad tracks to the south of the building but only one train went by in the two nights we were there and it was during the day. The hotel has a business center, pool, fitness center, and a full breakfast. 

Checking In:

After having been on the road for almost 12 hours we were ready to crash. As I walked in the door an employee walked in with me and immediately went behind the desk and started checking me in. He asked if I wanted some water then checked my name off a list and handed me my key cards. He also asked if I needed directions anywhere and noted were everything was in the motel. 

The Room:

One of the reasons we picked this hotel was that it had large rooms with two queen beds and a sofa bed for the 5 of us. As we walked in the bathroom was left with the open closet on the right. Then there was a small living area that had the sofa bed, coffee table, high table and two chairs. There was also a microwave and mini-fridge in this area. This opened up to the bedroom area of the room that had the two queen beds, a writing desk, and armoire with the flat screen television.


The breakfast at this Holiday Inn was very good. There were two different counters on each side of the Breakfast room with a wide variety of food offerings and drinks.


As mentioned above the hotel is located in a shopping center that has a Target and other stores but there are chain restaurants in the parking lot including IHOP, and Panda Express. Across the street is a pizza restaurant and a Wingstop. Across Manheim is a Dunkin Donuts and a Burger King. While there are sidewalks in the area the parking lot itself is not walkable to say nothing of Manheim which is 3 lanes wide.

One I things I liked about the hotel is that it was 10 minutes away from two METRA rail stations on two different METRA rail lines which made the trip to the Loop very convenient. There is not much to the north but 10 minutes to the south was the METRA La Grange station on the BNSF line, which is located in a commercial district with many independent restaurants and stores. 


There were a few problems with the hotel.

The first problem I encountered was with the business center. Our plan for the full day was to go to the Willis Tower then to the Museum of Science and Industry or Shedd Aquarium. There are two computers in the business center but one of them was out of order. I got on the other computer and purchased tickets for the Willis Tower and the printer would not print. Checked the toner and it was out and could not find another one. I talked to the person at the front desk who was the one who originally checked me in but he did not know what to do. I shook the toner and tried to print again but then it was out of paper however I did find some paper in the one of the cabinets and was barely able to print out the tickets before the computer itself started having some problems.

The second problem was with the air conditioner in the room. It was very hot the days we were at the hotel and the air conditioner was just not cutting it. The air conditioner would operate for five or ten minutes before shutting off for 20 or more minutes. The temperature in the room never did go below 78 degrees and many times was in the 80’s.

The other problem was the noise at the hotel.  The Latin American Motorcycle Association was staying at our hotel and while the members themselves were very friendly the noise of their motorcycles day and night at times was annoying especially when we were trying to sleep. The biggest problem was that it was not one or two motorcycles at a time but sometimes ten or more all revving their engines while coming and going. 

Checking Out:

When I went and checked out I tried to tell the person that was checking me out about the problems with the air conditioner but they just took the keys and walked away and didn’t seem that interested in actually talking to the person being checked out. 

Final Thoughts:

On the positive side the room was comfortable was located close to two different commuter train lines, friendly staff at check in, full breakfast, well equipped fitness center, indoor swimming pool and located in a shopping center.
On the downside the area is not walkable, the air conditioner did not operate well, the business center had issues, and the person checking me out did not seem interested in hearing about the air conditioner problem.

While I only paid a small amount for the room for the two nights I rate hotels on what the going rate of the hotel is, which in this case is around $100.00 a night.

When all is said and done I have to give the hotel a grade of C-.

It does have the features you expect from a hotel at this price point, but it did have some failures and when it comes down to it while the hotels location made reaching the commuter train line easy it is essentially a typical suburban hotel with very little character and little to no walkability.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review-Lodging-Michigan, Frankenmuth-Bavarian Lodge


If you’ve read my last couple of reviews, you could see that price paid an important part of why we chose the places we did and did not have the best of luck with them. Well this time we go to the other end of the spectrum as at this hotel I spent more money than I have ever personally paid for one night of lodging. While I have stayed at places that cost more per night, they were paid by companies I was working for or the school I was attending.

The Bavarian Inn Lodge is located in Frankenmuth, Michigan, which is a German themed village. This would be my first time in Frankenmuth since I was 12 years old. It also happened to be my youngest daughter’s birthday and she just happened to be turning 12. Our original plan was to drive to Sandusky, Ohio and go to Cedar Point Amusement Park but things didn’t work out so this was an alternative for reasons I will mention later. 

Bridge over the Cass Rive


I booked our reservations directly from the Bavarian Inn Lodge website. The website is easy to use and there is a good explanation of the rooms that are available.

Car sits outside the lobby entrance to the hotel

 The Hotel:

The hotel has 360 rooms and is spread over multiple interconnected buildings. The complex is fronted by two- to three-story false fronted buildings that are designed to look like a Bavarian village. There are large parking lots to the side and at the front of the building. 

Front of the Hotel

Check In:

We arrived at the hotel at 2:00pm. Although the hotel has a check in time of 3:00pm there were several other people in line ahead of me. The front desk had three windows open but it still seemed to take forever for each person to get checked in and I am a pretty patient person. Two people finished up and left but neither of the front desk people indicated they were going to help me.

After a couple of minutes another person came out and started to check me in. As it turned out our room was not ready which I was fine with since we were an hour early. The person that helped me was efficient but not overly friendly but said I just needed to come up to the window and say I had already checked in.  

We actually went to dinner then came back and picked up our keys. We had to wait a couple of minutes for someone to hand us keys but the person that helped us was friendly and gave me directions to where our room was. 

 Looking at the main tower area. 

 Our Room:

As you enter the room the bathroom was to the right and a small closet to left. As you enter the main room it is separated into two areas but with no divider. In one section, which was set up as a sitting area, you have a sofa bed that faces a large flat panel television. Next to the window that looked over one of the swimming pools was a table and chairs. There was also a writing desk and chairs next to the dresser that held the television. Behind the area with the couch was a separate section of the room with two queen beds. Between the two areas there was a mini-fridge but no microwave. 

View from the door


Two Queen Beds
Couch, Beds, Fridge, and Chair

Living Room Area

Living Room Area



The hotel has a few dining options including Oma’s Restaurant, Lorelei Lounge and Bier Garten, Ratskeller, which is a cafeteria style restaurant located in the Fun Center, plus a Sunday Brunch that includes performances by local pianists.  

The premier dining option is the Bavarian Inn which is actually located across the Cass River from the main lodge, however, the lodge does offer shuttles from the lodge to the restaurant and the shopping center, which came in handy since one person in our party had an injured foot and was having trouble walking. Reservations are highly recommended since even on a Monday at 3:00pm we had a 45-minute wait for a table. The front desk clerks at the hotel were not friendly but the rest of the staff was good to great.

The Bavarian Inn has multiple options for food including family style meals but is best known for its chicken. Our group of 5 ended up with a bill of $125.00 and that was with one of our meals being free. One of the interesting features, since this is a German themed restaurant, is that there are people walking around playing accordions, including a German Happy Birthday for our daughter that was turning 12. The food was excellent with an atmosphere to match. The only negatives were the wait to be seated, which can be solved by having reservations, which you can make when you make your hotel reservations and the general unfriendliness of the hostesses.

Shuttle to Restaurant

There are many activities in and around the hotel that can keep even children occupied depending on how much money you are willing to spend. First of all the hotel complex does not have just one swimming pool but four of them, including one with waterslides and one with a waterfall, three whirlpools including one pool and one whirlpool that is for adults only. Between the swimming pools with the slides and the one with the waterfall is the fun center that includes an arcade and miniature golf. Also on Friday and Saturdays you can do karaoke.

If shopping is your thing then the Bavarian Lodge offers the Frankenmuth River Place Shops which has a large number of interesting stores. If you are like me and want something besides the typical chain stores you can find anywhere, these places will please you as most of the stores are independently owned and operated. The Bavarian Belle Riverboat also operates out of the shopping center at a dock on the Cass River on the north side of the property so long as it is operating. However, on our visit the water level was too high so the boat could not operate. In fact the dock was largely under water so it was understandable why they were not operating.

The hotel also has large lawn area that has a cage with several Peacocks along with a picnic shelter to the southwest of the main complex and tennis courts directly to the east of the front of the building. 

There is carriage rides available in Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth River Place Shops 


Main Street from Jefferson to Genesee largely has the Bavarian theme but the farther you get to the extremes of the corridor you start running into more and more chain establishments. However, if you want another chance at a Chicken Dinner Zehnder's of Frankenmuth is located just across Main Street from the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and is supposed to be excellent but we did not have an opportunity to try it.

Just north of the main Bavarian Inn is Heritage Park which includes a pavilion, ball fields and a walking trail along the Cass River. South along Weiss from the hotel is the Michigan Military and Space Hero’s Museum, Frankenmuth Aerial Park, Sullivan’s Black Forest Restaurant, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, and Grandpa’s Tiny Farm. There are sidewalks from the Bavarian Inn to everything except for the Tiny Farm and less than a mile walk from the Lodge.

Memorial Park, which is across the Cass River from Heritage Park, but is probably best driven to from the Bavarian Lodge since there is not a direct bridge between the two, holds concerts on Sunday evenings and worth a visit if you are in the area on a Sunday.

Beyond Main Street and Weiss there is little to see. After you pass Genesee on the north and Jefferson to the south you are in typical suburbs with no character. Most of the areas with character are within walking distance although Weiss is more auto-oriented than pedestrian as there are many large parking lots between buildings.

Check Out:

The Bavarian Lodge has express check out so all we had to do was call the front desk and leave the key cards on the desk.

Final Thoughts:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review this was the most I have spent for lodging ever, at $209.00 a night. I also believe that any place I review be held up to a standard by the amount that I pay for that place, of course the Bavarian Lodge will be held to a higher standard than say the Rodeway Inn that we stayed in the night before even though it failed to hold up to the standard for its price point.

First of all our room was large and nicely equipped except that it did not have a microwave in the room. I checked the hotel information in the room and it said nothing about microwaves anywhere in the hotel. Later I found out that they have microwaves near the elevators but it is not well marked and so hard to know about it. On the positive side the beds were comfortable, a good selection of television stations, and a comfortable sofa bed.

Like most full service hotels there is no breakfast offered at the hotel. However, unlike higher end hotels there was no fee for wi-fi service which is a plus especially when you need to check weather and routing for the next day. Another problem with higher end hotels is that they try to nickel and dime you for everything despite how much you pay for your room. While the swimming pools and water slides are free the prices for things such as miniature golf can add up really quick and after spending more than $200 for a hotel, then paying $50 for miniature golf, not to mention the arcade can add up quickly.

Staff was efficient but not overly friendly and this was especially true down in the fun center.

While you can walk to many places that have the Bavarian theme, overall the lodge and the area is largely auto-centric and to get to most places in the area you will need to drive.

My final grade for this hotel is going to be a B.

Overall the hotel is nice and the room was great beyond the lack of a microwave. The next time I am in Frankenmuth I would stay here again but there are other places that need to be tried!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Just waiting for the train

The very bright train station in Parkersburg, Iowa with several railroad items nearby. The station has moved a few hundred feet from the train station.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review-Lodging-Michigan, Flint-Rodeway Inn


After a long day of traveling we were hoping for a decent place to stay. We would have stayed in Ann Arbor instead to make our drive a little shorter but the prices in Ann Arbor were two to three times higher than those in Flint. We either needed a room with two beds and a sofa or two separate rooms but could not find any rooms with a sofa so we decided on two rooms instead.

After looking at the various hotel sights I found the best prices to be at Orbitz so I booked the rooms from them.

I was a little nervous about reserving at Rodeway Inn after a bad experience at one in Baker City, Oregon back in 2015. The Red Roof Inn, Super 8, and Knights Inn were a few dollars more per night and seemed to be good options. We decided on the Rodeway Inn.

The Facility:

The motel is three stories tall and connected to a Quality Inn next door with both motels sharing the indoor swimming pool. The exterior of the Rodeway Inn portion looks like it has seen a recent remodel but once you walk inside you are thrown back in time. The facility appears to have been built in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. Sleep Inns didn’t start until 1989 so I am not sure if it was once some other type of motel before this date or it just looked dated from the start.  

Check In:

Walking into the motel the front desk is on the right with a staircase to the left and the main lobby straight ahead. The lady running the front desk was friendly but check in was a little slow. In addition there was no mention that we would need to have wristbands to swim in the swimming pool. She also failed to direct us where our rooms were or how we could get to them.

The Room:

Looking at our room numbers I figured we were probably toward the back of the Rodeway Inn section of the motel. The back entrance did have a key card access but at the time of our arrival the door was open. Sometime after 10pm they locked the door but as it turned out the key cards would not work in the door.

When we walked into the building itself there was a strange smell that I could not put my finger on. The stairway area looked like it had seen a lot of use over the years and needed some refurbishing and we would soon learn that it was not the only part of the building in desperate need of change.

As you enter the room, to the right were a sink and a room separated with a sliding door that held the toilet and shower. As you continued into the main part of the room there was a desk/dresser to the left with a 25” television on top of it. Next to the window was the open closet that had a luggage rack. On the right were two queen beds with a nightstand in the middle.

Like the stairway area the room was in bad need of refurbishing. The carpets were torn and ripped in several spots, the door to the bathroom was damaged and dirty, in our second room the handle for the sliding door was completely missing, and the television was an older tube television.

Surrounding Area:

Within what should be walking distance there is a Fuddruckers, Qdoba, Sonic, Arby’s, Popeye’s and McDonald’s however, there are no sidewalks to reach any of those places. Within a bit longer walking distance there are a large number of chains including Golden Corral, IHOP, Applebee’s, and many others. For those like me who would rather go to a locally owned independent restaurant there is the West Side Dinner located a block to the northwest. For shopping there is a mall just over two miles away and many other shopping opportunities within a short drive.


As mentioned earlier there is an enclosed pool which sits between the Rodeway Inn and the Quality Inn sections of the facility. The pool was large and appeared to be clean but you must have a wristband if you want to swim. The original sign next to the door said that you had to be 14 years or older to be in the pool without an adult but there was a hand written sign on the window next to the other sign saying you have to have a wristband and that all children under 17 have to have an adult with them. There is also a hot tub but it was drained and had a wood cap on top of it.


With the condition of the rest of facility was I was not expecting much when it came to the breakfast and I was not disappointed. The breakfast room was large, probably originally a meeting room but the choices were slim. There were a couple of cereal choices, coffee, and milk but little else. After seeing the lack of selection we headed over the IHOP for breakfast at it was a better option that what was offered here.

Check Out:

Once again the person working the counter was friendly although the service was slow.

Final Thoughts:

We noticed that there was a sign on the Quality Inn that said that there was refurbishing on that side of the motel so maybe the Rodeway Inn side would see some work soon. Walking into the hotel you feel that you have been transported back to the 1970’s and that is a problem with the motel. According to some signage the motel was once a Sleep Inn that apparently had been downgraded by Choice Hotels to a Rodeway Inn.

The workers were friendly but not very efficient or experienced and checking in and out took longer than it should have.

The pool was in good shape but that is about the only part of the building that was. Once again you get what you pay for as it would only have been a couple more dollars per room to stay at a place that would have probably been in a lot better shape.

The staff being friendly is the only thing that kept this place from getting an F grade, but it still is a D- at the most.

This was an opportunity for Rodeway Inn to redeem them from our last experience but failed to do so and I would have a hard time choosing them again. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review-Motel-Indiana-Merrillville-America's Best Value Inn

Sometimes you get what you paid for…


I have stayed at several America’s Best Value Inn’s in the past and they seem to be hit and miss on the quality front. Like all chains the motel’s locations are mostly franchised but unlike the majors they are not formalistic cookie cutters that all look and feel the same. Many times this can be a good thing but as you will soon read at the America’s Best Value Inn Merrillville, IN it was not.


 We were traveling from Iowa to Michigan and the Gary, Indiana area seemed to be a good stopping off point for our trip. However, there appeared to be very few options in the area and most of them looked like they were not in the best areas. As it turned out we were planning on traveling east on US Highway 30 and the town of Merrillville, Indiana seemed to have several hotels to choose from. Because there were 5 of us traveling we either had to find a motel room with two beds and a sofa bed or get two separate rooms depending on the price. Some motels also offer family suites with 3 beds but they can be few and far between.


 The motel feels very out of place as it is a single level, spread out motel in an area that is mostly made up of more modern multi-level buildings that you typically find in an area near a mall. The motel is made up of multiple single family buildings that are spread out.

 Check In: 

 Upon pulling in there was not a place that was obviously an office, or it was hard to see because there were no lights in the front of the complex, but I finally found a glass door with the word office on it. I walked in and found myself in a room with tourist brochures and a drink machine. To the right was a late night window in a small room before opening up into the so-called lobby. There was one lady standing and a guy sitting on the couch. The room had almost no lights on but the lady that was standing walked behind the window to check me in.

 The Room:

 I was not expecting much from the room and I was not disappointed but there were two pleasant surprises in the room: first there was a flat panel television, although I would guess it was around 27”, and second the room had a mini-fridge and microwave which I would not expect from this room. Otherwise the room was your basic economy room with a table and two chairs next to the window, two queen beds on one wall with a short dresser, television and the previously mentioned fridge with a microwave on top of it. In the back of the room from right to left there was a small closet area, a counter with the bathroom sink, and in a separate room the bathtub and toilet.

 There were several problems with the room from the get go. When we walked into the room there was a strange smell in the room. It smelled like someone had smoked pot in the room and the motel tried to cover up the smell by spraying some type of air freshener in the room that when combined with the other smell gave it a very funky smell. A more important issue with the room was that the room was showing wear especially in the bathroom and to top it off it appeared that the room had not had a good cleaning in some time. The main room was a little cleaner but felt dingy because the lighting fixtures were very outdated and did not give off much light. The combination of having a dark red wall on one side and the dim lighting gave the feeling of being in an old dingy hotel you would see in the movies. While I love places with character and older furniture usually doesn’t bother me, it was the lack of cleaning and basic maintenance as a real turn off here.

Area around motel: 

For restaurants there is a Bob Evans, Red Lobster, Jimmy John’s, and Popeye’s within walking distance of the motel. The Southlake mall is just a couple of blocks away, however the area is not walkable at all. There is also every chain restaurant imaginable either a few blocks to the east or across Interstate 65 to the west. If you’re like us and like to go to independent restaurants they are few and far between in this area. I only had a short time as we left early the next morning but what little driving around I did there was no independent restaurants to be found.

 Checking Out:

 The owner/manager checked us out and was not really friendly but it only took a moment to hand him the keys. I did check out their so-called continental breakfast which consisted of a few Danishes and coffee.

Final Thoughts: 

This is one of those difficult places to rate because it does well in some areas but does poorly in some other fields. First it is well located a block from a mall and having a couple of restaurants nearby. It is also directly off Interstate 65 and US Highway 30. In addition the rates for the motel were very reasonable. While the motel cannot control if someone smokes in the room when they are not supposed to, they do have control over the condition of the room and the cleanliness at which they did a poor job.

For those arriving after dark the place needs to ensure their lighting makes the place look inviting and tiny pastries do not make a breakfast. The cost for our two rooms was just under a $100.00 so the price was right but that didn’t make up for the problems.

 My grade for the America’s Best Value Inn Merrillville: D

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: Dancing With the Devil in the City of God

Dancing With the Devil in the City of God 
By Juliana Barbassa
ISBN 978-1-4767-5625-7
308 Pages

This is the forty-eighth book that I have read this year, towards my goal to average reading a book a week for the entire year, which I totally blew away last year.

Juliana Barbassa is a journalist that was born in Brazil but spent many years growing up in Iraq where her father worked for the Brazilian State Oil Company. They returned to Brazil but her father’s career would take her to Houston. After 20 years she moved back to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in 2010 to witness the city and the country as it prepared for the 2014 World Cup and ultimately the 2016 Olympic Games. Barbassa gives a great history of the city and country including the military dictatorship that ruled for 20 years and what has happened since so called democracy took over. She covers everything from politics, to the police, the gang wars, urban renewal, how it is to be a business owner in the country and the environment.

After reading this book those living in countries such as the United States should have a better appreciation for our quality of life compared to Brazil. That is not to say that Brazil does not have some wonderful people, some of whom I had to the opportunity to work with last year. However, it is clear after reading this book that the country, and especially Rio de Janeiro, has some serious problems it still needs to work on. Also, for all those that whine about how hard it is to be in business in the United States, read that book and appreciate how good it is here compared to there. While it may not be impossible to run a business in Rio it definitely is not for the faint of heart.

However, while you can take heart in how we are better off we still have skeletons in our closet, especially when it comes to Urban Renewal and how it was run from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, and in various cases the way some projects still happen.

Overall the book is an excellent read and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to see what Rio de Janeiro is doing to get ready for the Olympics, its history, and the current conditions that residents face in the city. It is also a great book to inspire some soul searching on the mistakes we have made in the past and how we can do better in the future.

This book gets an A.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Goal Block

English: football goal
English: football goal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people know what writer's block is but what is goal block? Well it is actually the same thing except in this case you have a difficult time getting your goals down on paper. I went through this in the last week as I put together my goals for the month of September. There are several things I am looking to accomplish this month but putting down in goals proved to be difficult so therefore I went back to basics.

I previously said that goals need to be specific, written down, have a time line, and be realistic. I also have written that you need to have long range goals, medium range goals and short range goals and that the short and medium range goals should lead up to your long range goals. The difficulty was trying to write the goals so that they would be specific enough to create a good goal.

After several failed attempts at creating goals I finally decided to throw everything I had written and go back to the basics and look at my long range and medium range goals to see where I currently stand on them, what I can do in the next month to move toward those goals and what I other activities I must get done. I also had to take into the account the amount of time I would have over the next month to accomplish these goals.

By going back to the basics and knowing what I needed to accomplish I was able to set good goals for the month of September. This allowed me to set my goals for this week and for each day of the week so I am prepared for the month.

If you are having trouble setting goals for a particular month, week, or day go back to the basics, look a your long range and medium range goals, think about what you need to accomplish this month that sets you on track and if necessary do something that lets you clear your mind and come back at it again later so that your mind is clear and you can set goals that you will achieve.