16 days later, I’m back. (See Part I as well.) I found a few things rather useful for those traveling on business and wanted to share these with you.
Skype Pro is a relatively new offering that costs only $3 per month but offers many features particularly useful to the road warrior. Most notable is the international traveler calling plan. Users pay no per minute charges for calls to landlines within the same country or region (a connection fee per call, $0.045, may apply). Coverage includes 28 countries, all of the ones I visited (Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands) with the exception of Denmark. In some countries, including Argentina and France, only certain major metropolitan areas are included.
With Skype Pro you also get a $30/year discount on a SkypeIn number, a free Skype To Go number (you can make international calls from your mobile phone at SkypeOut rates), and free Skype voicemail.
Research in Motion and Verizon Wireless: BlackBerry 8830 World Edition
I also tested Research in Motion’s BlackBerry 8830 World Edition CDMA/GSM. Part of RIM’s 8800 series of phones, all of which share a full QWERTY keyboard, the pearl-like trackball for navigation, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and a built-in speakerphone. The 8830 supports dual-band 800/1900 MHz CDM-2000 1x EV-DO as well as dual-band 900/1800 MHz GSM/GPRS.
For Verizon Wireless customers who travel internationally, this makes it very easy to have a single number that works almost anywhere, something ordinarily not possible with most Verizon Wireless phones, which work only with CDMA networks. The phone itself, however, was not that easy to use. I found the keyboard, both for typing and for dialing, not nearly as user-friendly (in terms of not hitting the wrong key) as the smaller format Pearl, which given its quasi-QWERTY keyboard uses RIM’s SureType technology to allow users to compose messages quickly. The centered dialpad was much easier to use on the Pearl than the 8830′s keyboard, which is not centered. The 8830 also frequently refused access to the + key, necessary for dialing country codes. Normally one presses down zero for a few moments and + comes up. With the 8830, the + only worked occasionally and I had to resort to saving the + and using the paste function in order to dial calls.
These issues not withstanding, Web browsing, BlackBerry e-mail, and placing and receiving phone calls all worked perfectly.
I visited multiple hotels and wanted to pass along a few observations important to the business traveler.
1.) Hilton am Tucherpark, Munich, Germany
Internet worked well. Rooms were comfortable to work in. Location was a bit out of the way but on the other hand it was alongside the English Garten.
2.) Mandarin Oriental, Munich, Germany
Couldn’t ask for a better location, within the heart of the Altstadt and close by to practically everything. The rooms were recently refurbished and provided a comfortable work environment, although a more appropriate desk chair would have been icing on the cake. Good Internet service. Very personalized services, for example check-in formalities are done in the room. Guests are always addressed by name. Restaurant Mark’s is one of the top restaurants in the city and deservedly so. It was too cold to really enjoy the roof-top pool but the views from the pool deck were magnificent.
3.) Hilton am Stadtpark, Vienna, Austria
Excellent location across the street from the Stadtpark, Executive floor lounge had two free computers but they were always in use. Internet was slow. Reading lights for in-bed reading were weak.
4.) Holiday Inn, Munich – Schwabing, Germany
Recently renovated rooms and lobby, plus a wonderful breakfast buffet. Not overly luxurious but very comfortable. New business center is a nice touch with a sufficient number of computers to accommodate most comers. Internet service through Swisscom offered business-level service with quality-of-service guarantee (no questions asked). I found the service slow and told them. I was immediately offered a credit.
5.) Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten, Hamburg, Germany
Located on the western side of the Binnenalster lake, an impressive location to say the least, the Vier Jahreszeiten is also in the heart of the business district and its cafés, bars, and restaurants attract a local crowd in addition to visitors. Hamburg, a city of merchants, is a bustling port on the edge of Scandinavia, with never-ending river traffic along the Elbe. I noticed many Hamburgers came to afternoon tea, which featured live piano music. Rooms are equipped with antique furniture, Wi-Fi that was usually OK but sometimes slow, comfortable work environment, and incredible views of the Binnenalster (the Alster is divided into the Binnenalster and the Außenalster, inner and outer Alster, respectively).
6.) Die Swaene, Brugge, Belgium
The first thing I noticed about Brugge were the town’s narrow streets (on which local residents drove very quickly), centuries-old buildings that time had left untouched, and the city’s canal systems. Brugge was, in the 14th and 15th centuries, a cultural bridge between northern and southern Europe. It was rediscovered by English tourists in the mid-1800s who had come to see the nearby battlefield of Waterloo. Today, it is a hideaway for business meetings and romantic journeys. Die Swaene, a beautiful small luxury hotel run more like an inn, is a wonderful setting to meet but perhaps not to work in if you require Internet access. Since my stay was largely during a weekend and in addition to my meeting my plans were mostly to see the city, I didn’t live or die by Internet access but it was limited to the lobby and first floor salon and never worked in the salon and worked only part of the time in the lobby. When asked, one of the managers smiled and said that it must be “something in the air.”
7.) Park-Hotel Bremen, Germany
Located in the middle of the Bürgerpark, my stay there was brief (arrived Monday at 21.00) in order to be in nearby Bremerhaven for an early morning meeting. The hotel’s services were exemplary, Internet was lightning fast (although their system required that I connect both the USB cable and the RJ-45 cable to my laptop), and I was sorry to leave only 12 hours after arriving.
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.