Hotels

Fun and affordability in Paris' elegant 8th Arrondissement.

 The balcony of our room at Hotel Wilson Opera gave us a little view of the Eiffel Tower peeking up behind the building in the middle.

The balcony of our room at Hotel Wilson Opera gave us a little view of the Eiffel Tower peeking up behind the building in the middle.

On previous trips to Paris, Larry and I always seemed to traverse the city in a frantic fashion, zig-zagging from landmark to landmark and spending too much time burrowed in the underground consulting the route map of the Metro. Sure, we checked off many sites on our to-see list but I always returned home feeling like we'd seen a lot but experienced little. So, this year we decided to tour the city differently - slow down, condense our sightseeing to a smaller area and really take the time to experience our surroundings. 

Our hotel was a great 3-star boutique hotel tucked in among the stylish apartment buildings that are so prevalent in the 8th Arrondissement on the right bank. I had been attracted to this area on previous trips because of its quiet, residential atmosphere and beautiful tree-lined streets and boulevards. There are dozens of 5- and 4-star hotels in this upscale area including the Hotel Plaza Athenee, Shangri-La Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel George V, but we loved our 3-star Hotel Wilson Opera, located just a few blocks off elegant Boulevard Haussmann.  

Hotel Wilson Opera

We arrived on Easter Sunday around noon and to our great surprise we had been upgraded from a basic French balcony room to one with a wrap-around balcony and a much larger sitting area. Plus, the room was ready which meant we could change out of the traveling clothes we had worn on the three-hour train ride from Bordeaux and into something a little nicer to wear to Easter brunch. The streets around the hotel were quiet both day and night. The bathroom wasn't large but it wasn't tiny either and was appointed with Nuxe natural bath products. The room was perfect for our needs and we could not have asked for a better room and view at our rate ($190/nt.) in this location. We may not have had all the extras the luxury hotels only a short distance away offered but we had everything we needed and the rates at those luxury hotels were five to ten times the rate we paid. The service at Hotel Wilson Opera was excellent and we appreciated the 24-hour reception. 

Hotel Wilson Opera, 10 Rue de Stockholm, 75008

The view from our balcony provided an up-close look at the elegant apartment buildings which were the legacy of Georges-Eugene Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine (similar to a governor of an area) in the mid-19th century. Between 1853-1870, Haussmann was tasked by emperor Napolean III (nephew of Napolean Bonaparte) to undertake the daunting task of bringing air and light to the city's dank, and overcrowded medieval neighborhoods rife with sickness, misery and very little fresh water. Napolean III had lived for a time in England and was impressed with London's wide streets, squares and public parks and wanted to incorporate those same elements into his plan to make Paris a modern capital city.

Haussmann's urban plan included long, straight boulevards to open up and connect the city and he established a standard ratio between the height of buildings and width of streets. I had always wondered why so many of the buildings in Paris have a uniform look to them and it was by Haussmann's design. He regulated not only the height ratio but how buildings should be designed. Buildings could not be higher than five to seven stories high and roofs had to have a 45-degree pitch to allow daylight on the sidewalks below. Buildings had to be constructed of stone blocks with basements and ground floors. Above the ground floor was a "between " floor with a load-bearing wall below. The ground floor was usually reserved for shopkeepers. Above that was the first floor and then second floor - known as the "etage noble" or noble floor because apartments on this level were most sought after by wealthy families of the time. It was required that the second floor have a wrought iron balcony and detailed stonework around the windows. The interior featured elegant high ceilings, multiple reception rooms and was an easy walk up from street level since there were no elevators. Most third and fourth floors had little or no detail on the exterior and the top floors had balconies. The buildings were capped with mansard roofs which at the time were lit only by dormer windows and usually was where the maid's chamber was located. Haussmann wanted each block to have a uniform look so balconies on each building had to be in alignment the length of the block. These buildings and boulevards today are still so representative of the classic images of Paris.

Brunch at Le Vraymonde at Buddha Bar Hotel

The French have never had a reputation for being big breakfast eaters but I read somewhere that in the last few years brunch had become "a thing" in Paris and that many restaurants were now offering elaborate weekend breakfasts. Since we would be arriving in Paris in the afternoon, we decided to make Easter brunch our "splurge" meal and after researching recommended places in the 8th Arrondissement we decided to give Le Vraymonde, the restaurant inside the Buddha-Bar Hotel, a try. I made reservations three weeks before we left for France because I was sure it would be impossible to just walk in and get seated on Easter Sunday so I booked the latest seating for brunch possible (2:30pm). It was only a 10-minute walk from our hotel to the very upscale Madeleine neighborhood where the Buddha-Bar Hotel was located just a street away from the Eglise de la Madeleine, the very large Roman Catholic church built to look like a Roman temple in the Neo-Classical style.

We were seated in the courtyard which was a little chilly but staff provided plush blankets. The brunch cost 92 Euro per person and included a glass of Champagne, endless appetizer and dessert buffets and a choice of a main course, cooked to order (Teppanyaki lamb chops, Foil-baked pollack, Cheeseburger or Noodles with Japanese mushrooms). The The sweet and savory appetizers were arranged on four extensive buffets and represented cuisine inspired by one the four elements - Water, Earth, Air and Fire.  Here's just a sampling - Water (Oysters, Live Sushi and Tartare); Earth (Country-style pate, smoked duck, Parma ham, sausage with truffle); Air (vegetable spring rolls, gazpacho); and Fire (chicken skewers, coriander-baked egg, spicy prawn tarts).

The dessert buffet was set up in a separate room and included and elegant assortment of pastries including eclairs, creme puffs, fruit tarts and pain du chocolate but the highlight was creating our own Samurai Easter Egg. After selecting from an assortment of chocolate-egg bodies, helmets, shoes, arms and eyes we handed over the "parts" to the pastry chef who worked his magic by melding the pieces together and adding fondant hands to clutch two Samurai fighting sticks. We thoroughly enjoyed the brunch but I was glad we booked the late seating because I got the impression the restaurant had been much busier earlier in the day with large groups and lots of kids. 

Le Vraymonde, Buddha-Bar Hotel Paris, 4 Rue d'Anjou, 75008

Champs-Elysees

After brunch we took a stroll along the Champs-Elysees beginning at the Place de la Concorde where the slow-rotating Big Wheel was transporting riders some 225 feet high for views of the city and especially the nearby beautiful Tuileries Gardens. I had planned a surprise stop for Larry at the L'Atelier Renault, the flagship store for the French carmaker. It's an interesting venue for viewing new, vintage and racing car models as well as interactive exhibits, retail space, cafe and bar. We each enjoyed a Stella-Artois beer overlooking the Champs-Elysees which was now bustling with pedestrians. 

As dusk fell, we continued our walk onto Avenue George V and crossed the Seine then headed toward the Eiffel Towel and purely by accident we arrived in time to watch the twinkling lights come on at 9 p.m. We strolled back to our hotel along the Champs-Elysees and stopped for a nightcap along the way. We noticed a nice little perk in this neighborhood when we stopped in for a beer or a glass of wine in these neighborhood bistros - free snacks. It wasn't uncommon to be served a bowl of nuts or olives to nibble on while we enjoyed our drinks. I don't remember getting complimentary snacks in other areas of the city.  

The morning of our final full day in Paris we shared a petit dejeuner breakfast at a nearby brasserie and sipped cappuccinos at our sidewalk table while we watched the hustle-bustle of the morning traffic at the nearby intersection. We wanted to get an early start to our day because we were headed to the Musee Jacquemart-Andre which is an intimate museum (one of the few in Paris open on Mondays) that can be subject to limiting admission to control overcrowding.

Musee Jacquemart-Andre

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things we did in Paris was tour the Musee Jacquemart-Andre. I had never heard of this museum before but came across information about it while researching things to do in the 8th Arrondissement. It is the magnificent former mansion of a French couple who traveled the world extensively and acquired a vast collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture and other works of art. Edouard Andre was a descendent of a very wealthy banking family and spent his fortune on buying works of art and exhibited them in his mansion which took six years to complete. He married Nelie Jacquemart, a society portrait painter whom had painted Andre's portrait ten years earlier, and together the couple amassed one of the finest collections of Italian art in France. 

 The Winter Garden is a highlight of the mansion. It was designed by architect Henri Parent, who was rejected for the job of designing Paris' Opera House so he took the opportunity to show the world his design flair with the Jacquemart-Andre project.

The Winter Garden is a highlight of the mansion. It was designed by architect Henri Parent, who was rejected for the job of designing Paris' Opera House so he took the opportunity to show the world his design flair with the Jacquemart-Andre project.

Walking the exterior grounds and entering the salon of the mansion you immediately feel like you are in a home and not a cavernous art museum and could definitely imagine the high-society receptions hosted by Jacquemart and Andre in the mid-to-late 1800s' in their impressive mansion along Boulevard Haussmann.

The entire first floor was dedicated to their Italian Museum and during the couple's lifetime only very close friends or prominent guests were invited to view their collection including pieces by Francesco Botticini (bottom left) and Sandro Botticelli (below middle). Andre favored Venetian Art and Jacquemart had an eye for Florentine art. The couple had an exquisite eye for art and their Botticelli painting was not attributed to the artist until much later adding significant value to the piece. They also instructed their agents to be mindful when bidding at auction so as not to drive prices beyond the means of the city's museums.

Andre and Jacquemart never had children so when Edouard died in 1894, Nelie carried on with turning the house into a museum they had both agreed would be bequeathed to the Institute of France upon her death. Jacquemart died in 1912 and the home was inaugurated the Jacquemart-Andre Museum in 1914. The museum's extensive collection includes the works of dozens of world-renown artists including Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt and Vittore Crivelli and multiple murals by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Winter Garden is a highlight of the mansion. It was designed by architect Henri Parent, who was rejected for the job of designing Paris' Opera House so he took the opportunity to show the world his design flair with the Jacquemart-Andre project. Below are a few more photos of the Winter Garden which is an architectural masterpiece. We also toured the private apartments, reception rooms and informal salons. We highly recommend this museum.

 Musee Jacquemart-Andre, 158 Blvd. Haussmann, 75008

After we spent about three hours touring the Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Larry and I walked a few blocks north and found the beautiful Parc Monceau, a 20-acre public park located in the 8th arrondissement. The park is English-style and features a large rotunda and elaborate, wrought-iron gates at the entrance. Inside, the park features many architectural structures including a pyramid, windmill, Chinese fort and Corinthian pillars. The park has free WI-FI too. We took another stroll on Champs-Elysees and found the macaron mecca, Laduree. The line to buy macarons was too long but we scored a free sample of chocolate and continued our walk. We cut over a few blocks to walk along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, one of (if not the) most prestigious and fashionable street in Paris. The official residence of the President of France, the Elysee Palace is on this street as are the residences of the Ambassadors to France from Britain, Japan, United States and Canada as well as many embassies. France's most famous brands have flagship boutiques along this narrow street including Chanel, Lanvin, Hermes, Baccarat and many more. I was mesmerized by the window-dressing designs and gobsmacked by the price tags.

We veered off on Rue Royale and found ourselves in the quaint Place de la Madeleine and just steps from Boutique Maille, home of the famed gourmet mustard and vinegar producer. I had no idea Maille had been producing products for more than 267 years and made 84 mustard varieties and 120 vinegars. We were guided and encouraged by the mustard sommelier (yes, a sommelier of mustard), to taste as many varieties as we wanted. If you're in the area it is worth a peek inside to see the beautiful boutique and have a taste or two (or more). We only travel with carry-on luggage so unfortunately, we weren't able to buy a jar of one of the amazing mustards to take home with us. A few steps outside Maille, we found a bistro where we ate lunch. We shared a foot-long hotdog in a perfectly baked French roll buried in melted cheese. We were quite certain the mustard tasting had influenced our decision to order the hot dog. Not very French, but darn good.

Boutique Maille, 6 Place de la Madeleine, 75008

 The interior of Galleries Lafayette department store.

The interior of Galleries Lafayette department store.

After lunch, we made our way back to Boulevard Haussmann in search of the luxury department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. The two stores occupy space in a massive Art-Nouveau iron structure each with its own soaring atrium enclosed with elaborate colored glass and both offer sweeping views of the city from their respective rooftop terraces. We chose to check out the terrace at Printemps because the store also had a Cafe Pouchkine outpost on its ground floor so we could pick up some pastries to take home for dessert. We ordered a couple of beers at the cafe on the 9th floor and went outside to enjoy the 360º view of the Paris skyline which included Opera Garnier, Eiffel Tower, Pantheon, Arc de Triomphe and Sacre Coeur. We were reminded of the nice view from our room at the hotel and decided to have dinner on our balcony for our last night in Paris.

Cafe Pouchkine, 64 Boulevard Haussmann, 75008

We selected two desserts from the Cafe Pouchkine patisserie before leaving Printemps and heading back to our hotel. The markets near our hotel were all closed so Larry came up with the idea of buying take-away from the train station (Gare Lazare), which was just a block away. There were so many options but we opted for a green salad and a quinoa salad with chicken.

Back at the hotel, I spread out my scarf for a tablecloth and Larry opened the bottle of wine we had brought with us from Bordeaux. It was a perfect and perfectly-affordable end to our two nights in Paris. We enjoyed our salads and sipped wine as dusk fell and again at we were treated to the Eiffel Towel light show just catching a few twinkle lights on the top spire beyond the rooftops and the sweeping blue beacon. We both agreed that on this trip we had enjoyed seeing an intimate and elegant side of Paris, somehow managed to spend less money and felt far more relaxed.

 

Pendry Hotel, San Diego

It wasn't that long ago on our travels when people learned we lived in San Diego we'd get responses like, "Oh, that's near Mexico, isn't it?" or "We've been to LA. Is San Diego near there?" But in the last few years, people that we've met around the world now know exactly where San Diego is because they've visited - and they loved it! It seems hotel developers have gotten the message too and the city is in the midst of a hotel boom. San Diego's downtown already has its share of good convention and family hotels but could definitely use more properties in the luxury, boutique or cool-factor categories. The Pendry Hotel hits the mark in all three categories as we found out when we stopped by for lunch after attending the San Diego Travel and Adventure Show last weekend. The 12-story hotel has an ideal location in the Gaslamp Quarter on the corner of 5th Avenue and J Street and is just a short walk to the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park.

Pendry is an offshoot of the luxe brand, Montage Hotels and Resorts, a management company which oversees such distinctive properties as Montage Laguna Beach, Montage Beverly Hills, Montage Deer Valley and Montage Kapalua Bay. Pendry is the company's second brand which skews to a younger clientele with its edgier design and personality. A second Pendry hotel, in Baltimore, is slated to open this month and there is a third in the works for West Hollywood. I can't ever remember a time when San Diego got a cool hotel before L.A. did.

The tenet of the Pendry brand as it states on its website is simple luxury, clean design, well-crafted restaurant experiences, vibrant bars with a perfect balance of polished comfort and modern edge and a taste for rebellion. It was all on display as we were lucky enough to get a peek inside after we introduced ourselves as local travel agents to the concierge in the lobby. Ryan offered to show us a couple of the hotel's 317 guest rooms and invited us to take a look at the rooftop pool deck and spa before heading off for our lunch at the hotel's Provisional Restaurant.

The lobby reminded me of a grand train station from the Art Deco era with its wood paneled ceiling, curved polished lobby desk, tufted velvet settee, mosaic-tiled floors and wrought iron and brass accents on furniture and lighting fixtures. The lobby was bright and airy with large windows, lush plants and an inviting sitting area with a fireplace situated beneath a giant birdcage pendant light.

We rode the elevator to the second floor where Ryan showed us a Premier Room with large windows and modern furnishings in soothing ocean-inspired colors. The king bed was dressed in luxury linens and the nightstand held a Bluetooth-enabled Nixon speaker for streaming music. The only separation between the bed and bath was the floor-to-ceiling glass shower enclosure which could be concealed with a curtain. I thought it was odd but after pondering for a moment I realized this feature speaks to Pendry's slightly rebellious character and I think its young, edgy clientele would likely embrace the concept. The bathroom had luxurious touches like a marble vanity, chic Waterworks accessories and custom amenities from the east coast parfumerie MiN New York.

On the third floor, Ryan showed us one of the Deluxe Suites which featured a separate living room with wet bar and floor to ceiling windows offering views of the city skyline. The luxury bathroom included a dual marble vanity, MiN New York bath products and a dual-head, walk-in shower.

We passed through the spa on our way to the rooftop deck and Pool House lounge which overlooks the Gaslamp Quarter's bustling 5th Avenue and city views beyond. The Pendry's penchant for simple luxury and clean lines are evident on the deck. The poolside lounges and cabanas are decorated with classic striped cushions, pillows and light, billowy drapery. There is also a 1,082 sq.-foot Cabana Pool Suite with full kitchen, dining room and entertainment area that opens up directly to the pool deck. The bedroom has 180-degree views of the Gaslamp Quarter.

We didn't get to see Lionfish, the hotel's fine dining restaurant specializing in seafood and prime cuts or the Oxford Social Club, a cocktail lounge open Thurs. - Sat. from 10pm-2am. We checked out some of the special event spaces, looked in on Nason's Beer Hall (which wasn't open at the time) and Fifth & Rose, the elegant and chic bar just off the lobby. I was really impressed each space had its own personality but blended well together. The design team did a great job bringing together classic elegance, industrial detailing and modern flare throughout the property. 

We bid farewell to Ryan and went to have lunch at Provisional, the all-day dining option in the hotel. It's a restaurant-marketplace with dining room and bistro seating or carry-out options from the coffee/pastry bar or gelato counter. We ordered light lunch from the Cafe Menu and added two beers from the nice selection of bottled craft beers. The staff was amazingly attentive (and because we live in San Diego we can attest that some wait staffs tend to be a little too laid back) and saw to our every need. We asked our waitress if Provisional had been busy since opening and she said lunch was their busiest time as it draws a good local business crowd and many residents from the numerous nearby condos. We shared a gelato and our waitress gave us two samples of coffee from the elaborate cold-brewing contraption on the counter. We had inquired about it while we were having our lunch and she just thought we'd like to try it. Nice!

I know new hotels can have service issues when they first open but every employee we encountered was exceptional, poised and exceedingly helpful. We had just stopped in to check out the hotel and have lunch but ended up getting a tour and were treated as if we were guests. Obviously, we didn't stay at the hotel but will definitely come back to try the other restaurants and have cocktails before a show, concert or ballgame at nearby Petco Park. If the Pendry staff is this nice to "drop in" visitors I can only imagine how well it takes care of its guests. 

Chinese New Year at the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas

The Year of the Fire Rooster

Perched atop a 35-foot stone structure, a Fire Rooster strikes an impressive pose as the celebratory figure in this year's colorful floral Chinese New Year display at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Each year the Asian celebration is the kick-off floral theme in the hotel's Conservatory and attracts thousands to celebrate the annual Spring Festival and its traditions and customs to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year.

The stunning showcase is located just beyond the lobby and front desk and has dazzled guests since the hotel's opening in 1998. The Bellagio will celebrate its 20th birthday next year (I know, it's hard to believe. Vegas hotels grow up so fast!) and with so many new glitzy hotels popping up along the strip I could have easily been tempted to look elsewhere but I still love the European style and elegance of this hotel and it's where I most enjoy staying in Las Vegas.

During Chinese New Year you'll find adornments of the festive holiday throughout the hotel from the cherry blossom banners swaying from the ceiling in the promenade of shops to the large urns filled with red flowers, orchids, lanterns and strings of red and gold firecrackers gracing the front desk but the centerpiece of it all is the 14,000-square-foot Conservatory bedecked in floral grandeur. This year's display was created by Ed LIbby, a favorite event designer of New York society, in collaboration with the Bellagio's horticultural staff and Feng Shui Master George Yau. Don't ask me how, but after a night of revelry I awoke at 5am one morning and scurried to the Conservatory and had the space all to myself while I took these photos.

To reach the center of the garden visitors walk beneath four 17-foot tall rose stems, arcs of shooting water and a 16-foot high Moon Gate flanked by ding-pots burning incense to protect against bad fortune. There, beneath the 50-foot high glass Conservatory ceiling, is the imposing Fire Rooster standing on its mound guarding its flock and brood of fuzzy, yellow chicks. It took 60,000 man hours to build the giant bird which was modeled after a Rhode Island Red rooster and is covered with 10,000 red, brown, gold and black feathers. It's also bedecked with Austrian and Swarovski crystals which glisten when the rooster mechanically wiggles its tail and stretches its neck to crow.

Traditional decorations of the spring festival are evident all around including hanging and pedestal red lanterns which drive away bad luck. The pedestal lanterns were custom made for the Bellagio Conservatory and provide illumination to the garden.

More light shimmers from round windows inset into stone and decorated with paper-cutting designs. Chinese paper-cutting is a centuries-old tradition used to decorate doors and windows to celebrate festivities and happiness.

My favorite vignette though, was of a boy fishing in a Koi pond at the foot of a quaint, wooden bridge shaded by a brilliant cherry blossom tree. The pond actually holds 21,000 gallons of water and is filled with 50 live Koi fish. The cherry blossom tree was also custom made for the Conservatory and stands 18-feet tall and has a 20-foot-wide canopy made of 300 water jet/heat-formed acrylic blossoms and leaves - a process that gives each blossom its own unique form.

A long-standing tradition of ringing in the Chinese New Year is to set off firecrackers and the louder they are the luckier they are considered to be. As the tradition goes, first a string of small firecrackers is set off, followed by three big firecrackers which symbolize chasing out the old year and sounding in the new year.

In the Conservatory, LEDs provide the fireworks in the form of eight- and six-foot diameter lights dangling from the ceiling. Each node contains four colors - white, red, blue and green and the colors come through acrylic rods that each have a one-inch sphere on the end. 

Chinese New Year is a very happy time for young people as depicted in the playful figures of six children on display in the garden. Schools in China are usually closed for a month and children typically receive red envelopes filled with cash from their elders to symbolize good luck and to ward off evil spirits. I'd be happy too!

Perhaps one of the most important activities of the spring festival is the Reunion Dinner when families gather to enjoy their New Year's Eve feast together. Chinese make every effort to attend which accounts for 4% of the world's population traveling during this time of year. It is estimated that 3.5 billion people around the world are traveling to visit family and Las Vegas is a very popular destination to meet. I can think of no better place to test one's new year's luck than in a Vegas casino. The Bellagio has two very popular restaurants where families can enjoy their Reunion Dinner. Jasmine, with its garden and lake views, is an elegant option which is well known for its signature dishes of Imperial Peking Duck and Chilean Sea Bass. The other, Noodles, offers a wide array of authentic noodle dishes from all over Asia including Thailand, Japan, China and Vietnam.

Chinese New Year kicks off January 28 and the celebration period lasts for about 2-1/2 weeks. However, the floral display in the Conservatory will be on display through March 4 before it goes dark March 5 - 10, and returns on March 11th with a new exhibit to celebrate the season of spring.

Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden is free and open 7 day a week, 24 hours. www.bellagio.com  Want to learn more about Chinese New Year traditions? Click here

Going to Las Vegas? Please contact Putnam Travels. We'd love to assist you.

Ritz-Carlton, Budapest

The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest hotel is located in the heart of the bustling 5th district overlooking Erzsebet Square with a view of St. Stephen's Basilica and walking distance to many of the city's historic sites as well as restaurants, cafes, boutiques and galleries.

In a city known for architecture ranging from Roman and Gothic to Baroque and Art Nouveau, the 20-century facade of the hotel is a modern standout. Its exterior reminded me of a stately jewel box with its clean lines and ornate marble statues original to the building erected in 1914 as a headquarters for an Italian insurance company. 

Inside, the hotel is both modern and classic. The design concept was inspired by the nearby Danube river in both color and movement.  Shades of blues and greys create an elegant tone and the curves and swirls incorporated into the design of furniture, patterns on the carpet and custom lighting give the interiors a fresh and contemporary look.

The hotel features 170 rooms and 30 luxury suites.  Ours was a deluxe room on the sixth floor overlooking the park with a view of St. Stephen's Basilica. It was a comfortable-sized room with a dreamy, king-sized feather bed dressed in luxury linens, a writing desk and sitting area with sofa. The large marble bathroom had a walk-in shower and separate tub and was stocked with bath amenities from the London luxury label, Asprey.

I like to hit the gym when I travel to help with jet lag and the fitness center at the Ritz-Carlton was efficiently laid out with treadmills, elliptical and recumbent bike machines as well as a mirrored area with benches and free weights.  It also had yoga mats, bottled water, towels and fresh fruit. The adjacent spa was still under construction but is scheduled to open in January 2017.  The plans for the spa area call for a thermal bath, swimming pool, sauna, relaxing areas and treatment rooms.

The hotel has two restaurants - Deak Street Kitchen (DKS) and the Kupola Bar and Lounge.  The DSK appears to be a standalone restaurant with its own terrace and entrance off of Fashion Street but it can also be accessed from the hotel lounge.  It's a clever design feature which creates the illusion of "dining out" even if you're staying at the hotel.  The restaurant serves Hungarian dishes as well grilled meats, salads, burgers and sandwiches.  It is quite popular with locals and was very busy the day we had lunch during the first weekend of the Christmas Market which was staged just outside the restaurant. Daily breakfast was included in our reservation and was served in the Kupola Lounge. We had our choice of the extensive buffet or ordering off the menu or both.  

The service throughout our stay was impeccable from check-in and the plate of cookies delivered to our room upon arrival to the attentive concierge team who assisted us with restaurant and transportation reservations. The doormen were helpful and engaging and I felt bad every time I used the revolving door forgetting they were standing by poised to open the swinging door for us. And it was nice to return to the Kupola Bar on our second night and have the hostess and bartender greet us by name.

 Larry squeezing in a quick nap on the sofa.  

Larry squeezing in a quick nap on the sofa.  

The location was perfect as we like to explore on foot and almost everything we wanted to see was within walking distance.  As much as we tried to see everything beautiful Budapest has to offer we still didn't see enough of it. We plan to visit again and would definitely stay at the Ritz-Carlton.