There are 50 Paddington Bear sculptures currently displayed around London through the end of 2014. Each bear is a unique design from celebrities like Emma Watson, Stephan Fry and Andrew Lloyd Weber. The sculptures were unveiled on November 4 and the London exhibit runs through December 30, 2014. The new movie Paddington opens today in the UK.

Paddington Explorer

Paddington Bear Explorer – Piccadilly Circus, London


We have seen advertisements for the Paddington movie in the London Underground stations and on the sides of double decker buses since our first night in London. After seeing my fifth Paddington Bear sculpture, I googled “Paddington Bear London statues” to learn about the exhibit.

There is even a Paddington Bear Trail map.

Paddington Bear Trail

The Paddington Trail London for 50 bear sculptures.


Kelley is a first grade teacher. Finding teachable connections to inspire young readers is a continual objective in the classroom. Paddington Bear is a good role model for kids. He is well-mannered and always addresses a person as Mr., Mrs. or Miss.

Paddington Bear loves marmalade. Kelley does too.

Paddington Hyde Park

Paddington Bear Marmelade, Hyde Park, London

Last week, when I was in Ireland, there were news stories on TV about how Paddington Bear in the new movie Paddington is too skinny and looks too much like a fox.

There are plenty of foxes around London too. On our first night in London this week, Kelley spotted a fox walking alongside Westminster Abbey. For me, that sighting established a sense of good fortune for the trip. I feel a surge of positive energy when I find myself in the presence of wild animals.

Last year, when I was walking around City of Westminster in London on a 22-hour overnight transit layover, a fox trotted out of St. James’s Park, across the road, and paused on the sidewalk in front of me as I was walking to Buckingham Palace on a dark night. Urban Foxes of London (March 15, 2013).

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey


It is Thanksgiving Day in America. I am thankful Kelley and I still have each other after all these years. We have grown older together and we have had the good fortune to experience many years of travel to places we enjoyed.

Paddington Bentley

Paddington Bear Bentley, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London.

This week in London is our 25th wedding anniversary trip to revisit the city where we stayed for part of our honeymoon in 1989. The hotel where we stayed then is now Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences. Twenty-five years later, I am writing this piece sitting in The May Fair Hotel looking out to central London’s oldest trees in Berkeley Square as Kelley sleeps soundly in bed. The trees of Berkeley Square were planted over two centuries ago.

Berkeley Square tree

Oldest trees in central London, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London were planted 1789; 200 years prior to our wedding date in 1989.

Frequent travel can be hard on a relationship. I have always had wanderlust. Kelley is more rooted as a home body person. My need to travel takes over my spirit after I spend several weeks at home. Balancing the need to travel with the need to maintain a stable family life at home is challenging.

Is there is a secret for making a travel relationship work over the years?

Paddington Bear is a good role model for relationships too. Be polite, be considerate and remember that each of us basically has an invisible note pinned to our psyche that reads:

“Please look after this bear. Thank you.”

The most satisfying words to hear from your loved ones are, “I am loving this trip.”  The totally unexpected reason for why I love The May Fair London is we can live well for less.

The May Fair is the flagship property of London for Club Carlson. The May Fair and Plaza on the River, a residential style hotel, are two London hotels that entered the newly created Category 7 rewards when they were introduced earlier this year at 70,000 points per night. That was a 40% reward rate increase from their former 50,000 points per night.

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Club Carlson members have a large selection of hotels to choose from in London. I picked the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street as our first of three hotels for six nights in London. The hotel worked out well as a convenient location for us as tourists arriving from London Heathrow Airport – LHR on the London Underground.

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If all goes accordingly as I planned, then my one night stay at Holiday Inn London Gatwick Airport will be one of two hotel stays I need to earn two free nights with IHG Rewards Club Into the Nights promotion. My second stay to complete five tasks needed to earn two free nights at any IHG hotel worldwide will be next week at Dublin Airport, Ireland.

Way back on September 5, 2014, I registered for IHG Rewards Club Into the Nights and received a set of 5 tasks to complete for two free nights. These tasks would have required staying in a Holiday Inn on two Saturday nights and one other hotel stay at an IHG property.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote this piece: Where the hell is Athlone, Ireland and why am I planning to go there? One of the comments on my article is, “An interesting proposition – letting hotel rates determine your destination/itinerary.”

People have many different reasons for choosing hotels. In the past month ThreadTripping had pieces on how people choose hotels with How to Milk a Unique Lodging Deal and This Hotel is Fantastic; Where Are We? 

One reason for visiting Athlone, Ireland in the midlands of central Ireland was the Radisson Blu Athlone Hotel was only 59 EUR for two nights on a 2-for-1 weekend rate as a Club Carlson Gold member (complimentary status for Club Carlson Visa card members). That is $37 USD per night.

I am a traveler of limited finances. I assume most travelers have limited travel finances, unless you are reimbursed by an employer for lodging. Finding the sweet spot between what I need (a place to sleep with a good bed and security for my belongings) and what I can afford (4-star hotels when they have two and three star room rates) dictates my destination and itinerary.

Athlone Castle in fog

What tipped the scale in favor of a visit to Athlone, Ireland was my desire to have a pint in Sean’s Bar, Ireland’s oldest pub.

Seans bar 10th century

This display in Sean’s Bar shows wattle-work, the type of building construction found in the walls of the pub. The letter is dated 1972 from the Director of the National Museum of Ireland regarding an inquiry about the age of this type of construction found in the wall partition. It states wattle-work was used extensively in Ireland and the UK from the 9th to 13th centuries. Beside the display is a Guinness Book of World Records Certificate naming Sean’s Bar as the oldest pub in Ireland for being “on the site of a tavern built in 900 AD”.

I had a pint in Sean’s bar. Destination objective accomplished.

Why am I in Ireland in the first place?

The first inclination of most American travelers flying into Dublin Airport is likely to visit Dublin. I have been to Dublin and I have spent a couple of months touring Ireland on previous trips. Athlone is a place I had never been before.

My wife wanted to spend her Thanksgiving vacation week in London and she had an $800 airline voucher to redeem. Her SFO-LHR ticket was $834. I bought a ticket on American Airlines from San Francisco to Dublin for $539 flying AA from SFO to LAX and British Airways SFO-LAX-LHR-DUB. I had two nights in Ireland before flying RyanAir back to London for $113. For me, I looked at the $280 savings of flying to Dublin via London and then flying back to London as a savings that would just about cover my expenses for a week in Ireland on top of our week in London.

Ireland for six nights on $300

My objective is to spend one week in Ireland for about $300. Therefore, I was looking for cheap lodging in Ireland for the two nights before flying back to London.

Transportation to Athlone is easy from Dublin Airport. Bus Eireann, the national bus line, Express bus to Athlone took 90 minutes and the round trip ticket was 12 EUR after a 5 EUR discount for joining their loyalty program. The same bus continues to Galway, another hour west of Athlone, on the east coast of Ireland.

Radisson Blu Athlone is a 500 meter walk from the Athlone bus station.

Radisson Blu Athlone

Radisson Blu Athlone hotel offers two restaurants and a bar. The unexpected happening was finding myself in the middle of an Irish step-dancing youth championship event. Most of the children looked to be between 8 and 12. Little girls with colorful curlers in their hair filled the lobby upon their arrival Friday afternoon, and on Saturday, there were dancing children all over the lobby with bouncing hair curls. They were adorable to see in their dance costumes.

Radisson Blu Athlone Room

The room was basic Radisson with some limitations.

Rad Blu -1

The hotel has an old style TV.

Rad Blu desk

Another oddity is the cabinet below the TV looks like it should have a refrigerator, but it is empty space.

Rad Blu Amenities

At the Radisson conference last year, they announced they were changing their bath products to This Works. This is my first Radisson hotel stay with the new products.

Rad Blu bed

Comfortable bed for sleeping. My only complaint about the room was the heat was turned on to insufferable setting and the window did not open. I turned the heat off and it cooled down after an hour. Another woman at the hotel, working as a judge for the Irish dance event, commented to me her room also had the heat turned way up when she arrived.

The hotel had dinner specials Sunday through Thursday. For example, Thursday was a steak dinner with a pint for 15 EUR. I paid 15 EUR for an Indian meal take-away by Sean’s Pub and off-licence Kronenbourg 1664 since I did not want steak.

There is a great view hotel terrace on the Shannon Riverbank, but it was closed off for the winter season.

St Peters and Paul

All in all, I am happy with my choice to visit Athlone. I had wonderful conversations with some people I met. I toured the castle as the only visitor in the museum rooms. A couple came in about ten minutes behind me, but they did not catch me until the end. Sean’s Bar only had three people when I arrived, then several more arrived while I was drinking my pint.

Seans Bar-2

I toured the small Luan Modern Art Gallery and spent 15 minutes in the Church of St. Peters & Paul as the only visitor. Luan

Athlone was like my own private piece of Ireland when touring the town. Then, back at the Radisson Blu Athlone, there were plenty of children around for a feeling of youthful Irish spirit around my temporary hotel home.

The rain was not too bad. It only blew a little sideways. This is Ireland. In Athlone, on average, it rains 13 days in November. If you want dry weather, then come in June when it only rains 10 days on average.

The smell of burning peat was a familiar scent I had not smelled in 16 years since I was last in rural Ireland. Peatlands have provided an energy resource for centuries. The wet soil over several millennia since the Ice Age has created bogs that cover much of Ireland. An Irish cultural tradition is cutting the turf from bog peatlands and drying the turf.

For Peat’s Sake

Athlone is in bog land where peat is cut from the soil for turf. When I traveled around County Donegal in 1997, most rural houses had a pile of dried peat turf outside the house for use as a heating source, in the way you see a wood pile in forested regions of the U.S. In the 1990s only Finland and Russia consumed more peat than Ireland. Since 1990 the use of peat fuel for home heating has decreased 67%.

Bog conservation in Ireland is a major issue these days with environmental protections designating large portions of bog land as Special Areas of Conservation and Natural Heritage Areas. Turf cutting has been restricted in many of these areas. Bogs act like rain forests in trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pressure from the EU forced Ireland to work toward conserving and preserving the remaining bogs in environmentally sensitive areas of importance.

Athlone Attractions

There are two main attractions in Athlone. There is Athlone Castle, a 12th century castle built and destroyed and refurbished many times over the centuries, and Sean’s Bar, the oldest pub in Ireland according to the Guinness Book of World Records. I visited both attractions.

Athlone Castle

The significance of Athlone is its location on the Shannon River at a place where the river could most easily be forded. The castle is on the west bank of the river. Athlone Castle was originally built of timber around 1129, followed by stone construction in 1210. Edward I , the great castle builder, added a curtain wall and towers to the fortifications in 1276-85 to strengthen Athlone Castle against resurgent Irish. This is the same Edward Longshanks depicted in the movie Braveheart.

In 1315, Athlone Castle was burned by forces of Ruaidri O’ Conchobair, an ally of Edward the Bruce in support of the Scottish struggle against the English. The castle changed hands several times between Irish insurgents and English allies.


Admission is 8 EUR, although I only paid 6 EUR since I saw a brochure in the Radisson Blu Athlone stating guests can show their hotel key card for a 25% discount.

The stone bridge over the Shannon at Athlone was constructed in 1567 and lasted 300 years.

The interactive displays were opened to tourists only two years ago and provide a history of Athlone Castle. The castle is central to the history of the town. The siege of Athlone in 1690-91 was a major event in European history when Colonel Richard Grace, governor of Athlone, appointed by King James II (Catholic), defended the castle from a detachment of King William III’s (Protestant) army. An army of 20,000 bombarded Athlone Castle from the east bank during the great siege of Athlone and the castle eventually fail to King William’s army. The battle was truly an international affair with the Williamites led by a Dutch General leading a Danish army.

The castle seen today is mostly a design from the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. In 1922 the castle was occupied by forces of the Irish Free State after independence from Britain and the castle served as a garrison until 1969 when the castle became a National Monument of Ireland.

Athlone Castle media

There is not much else to see in Athlone in the off-season, except the Castle. The nature trails were flooded and the center of activity seems to be any of the forty or so pubs in town.

Sean’s Bar, Ireland’s Oldest Pub

Seans Bar

I visited more than 50 pubs around Ireland over the eight weeks my wife and I toured the country in the summers of 1997 and 1998. I don’t recall being in any pub that had a selection of more than five beers: Guinness, Smithwick’s, Carlsberg, Kilkenny, Budweiser or Coors, and Murphy’s or Beamish. The first three beers were available at all pubs and often those were the only three beers served.

In a tiny pub on Arranmore Island, County Donegal in 1997, when I commented about the small selection of beers, an old Irish man said to me, “Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing.”

The two pubs I visited today in Athlone revealed more beer choices. Heineken, Peroni, and Molson’s on tap is a change in Irish culture. When I commented on the variety of beers, a young man told me that the economic boom in Ireland, referred to as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ for the decade when Ireland had the highest economic growth in Europe from 1995 to 2000 and continued strong growth until a dramatic reversal in 2008 with the global recession. The rise of disposable income created demand for new products. Another young woman told me many pubs even serve cocktails to attract a younger crowd who do not drink beer. Statistics show beer drinking is in decline in Ireland. The rise of off-licence and supermarket beer sells is also impacting pubs in Ireland.

Seans Bar inside

Sean’s Pub is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Ireland with ownership records dating back to 900 AD. I dropped in for a 4.10 EUR pint of Smithwick’s. Wow.

Sean's Bar Athlone

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Athlone. There is also the Sheraton Athlone in town that I can see from my hotel room about a kilometer away. The 12-story Sheraton Athlone appears to be the tallest building in the city.


I was at an off-licence store and chatting with the clerk. He asked why I came to Athlone? When I told him the Radisson Blu hotel rate was really low, he quipped, “There is a reason for that. This town sucks.”

My wife understands why I came here. We spent one month traveling around rural County Donegal in June and July 1997 with a week in Northern Ireland. In 1998 we returned to Ireland for three weeks in County Cork and County Kerry. In two months of traveling around Ireland, we only spent two days in Dublin. The city was too fast-paced for us. It will be interesting to see how we feel about London this week and what I think about Dublin next week.

The first thing I noticed after getting off the bus in Athlone was the smell of peat burning. A local asked me how I could smell peat. Easy. Ireland is the only place I have ever been with that smell. The  smell of peat burning brought back warm memories of sitting by pub fires trying to dry our wet clothes after a day out hiking in the rain.

And the rain fell hard in Athlone. I can still feel the dampness on my shoulders from walking around a few hours  in the rain. I planned to hike the ‘Big Meadow’ only to find the big meadow is under a foot of water. As it turns out, the Big Meadow forms part of The River Shannon Callows Special Area of Conservation, a European Union designated conservation site for protection of wildlife. Callows are seasonally flooded wetlands. And this is the flooded season.


As I walked through the streets of Athlone, one of my thoughts was, I find most any place enjoyable as long as I have the proper clothing and I am not in fear of my safety. I enjoy walking neighborhoods and looking at where people live.


I’ll spare readers my selfie I took standing in front of the doorway. What is not obvious in the photo was apparent to my eye as I walked this street. These doors are under 5’6” tall. I tried to snap a couple walking past the door, then the woman turned and looked at me and I missed the surreptitious shot.

The first night was thick-o-fog all the way from Dublin Airport to Athlone. Walking around town in the fog was tough for photography.


Irish sign posts bring back memories. When we traveled remote County Donegal in 1997, one thing I noticed were pranksters had moved some of the road signs to point to wrong directions.

That was a day in Athlone, Ireland.

A little more on Ireland to come. Time to catch my RyanAir flight to London.

The new list of hotels participating in IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks November 24 to February 28 is posted on the IHGRewardingExperiences website. There are more than 150 properties including two InterContinental Hotels with Merida, Mexico and InterContinental Palace Port Ghalib Resort, Egypt.

In typical IHG fashion, there is limited geographic information. I have ordered the list by state and country to help readers plan for Monday bookings.

IHG PointBreaks hotels are 5,000 points per night and will be available for booking by Monday, November 24.

IHG PointBreaks Nov 24 to Feb 28, 2015 by State and Country

























North Carolina

New Jersey

New Mexico


New York




South Carolina






West Virginia






















United Kingdom







Middle East




United Arab Emirates

Crowne Plaza Dundalk would be a good deal for my stay in Ireland next week if I were not booking paid stays for Into the Nights.

Starwood Hotels CyberMonday sale November 24 will offer participating hotels in the Americas at rates up to 30% off regular rates. Book reservations between November 24 and December 7 for hotel stays from November 24 to February 1, 2015. Resorts can be booked for stays through April 15, 2015.

CyberMonday rates are prepaid, nonrefundable rates.

The Starwood CyberMonday website allows you to view participating hotels now, but you can’t book until Monday, November 24. Sheraton Anchorage is one exception and there may be more. Sheraton Anchorage already shows CyberMonday rates as part of the SPG Hot Escapes hotels this week.

Starwood December 1 Facebook CyberMonday Free Nights and 225,000 points Sweepstakes

Starwood’s CyberMonday starts one week early on November 24 to the traditional post-Thansgiving holiday Monday, December 1 madness. There is an additional Starwood Hotels CyberMonday sweepstakes on Facebook for a chance on December 1 to win free hotel nights or a grand prize of 225,000 Starpoints.

Starwood’s CyberMonday website has a Facebook Like link which appears to be broken as I write this. I get a 404 error message. The link “See what you could win” is working and shows participating properties for the December 1 Starwood CyberMonday sweepstakes.

On Dec. 1 play to win free nights at one of these hotels:

  • La Posada de Santa Fe
  • Le Méridien Bora Bora & Le Méridien Tahiti
  • Le Méridien Charlotte
  • Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center
  • Le Méridien Mexico City
  • Le Méridien New Orleans
  • Le Méridien Tampa
  • Sheraton Anchorage
  • Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel
  • Sheraton Dallas
  • Sheraton Kauai Resort
  • Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay
  • Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers
  • Sheraton Memphis Downtown
  • Sheraton Myrtle Beach
  • Sheraton Nashville Downtown
  • Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill
  • Sheraton Princess Kaiulani
  • Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina
  • Sheraton Steamboat Resort
  • Sheraton Tribeca NY
  • Sheraton Waikiki
  • St Regis Bahia Beach
  • St Regis Houston
  • St. Regis Aspen Resort
  • St. Regis Bora Bora
  • St. Regis Deer Valley
  • St. Regis Monarch Beach
  • St. Regis Princeville Resort
  • Aloft Cleveland Downtown
  • Element Las Vegas
  • Four Points by Sheraton Nashville Brentwood
  • Four Points French Quarter
  • The Liberty Hotel
  • The Palace
  • The Phoenician Resort
  • The Westin Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale
  • The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village
  • The Westin Portland Harborview
  • US Grant
  • W Boston
  • W Dallas
  • W Hollywood
  • W Hotel Austin
  • W Los Angeles – Westwood
  • W Montreal
  • W New Orleans – French Quarter
  • W New York
  • W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island
  • W Scottsdale
  • W Seattle
  • W South Beach
  • The Westin Boston Waterfront
  • The Westin Denver Downtown
  • The Westin Harbour Castle Toronto
  • The Westin Jekyll Island
  • The Westin Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Spa
  • The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
  • The Westin New Orleans at Canal Place
  • The Westin Playa Bonita, Panama
  • The Westin Puntacana
  • The Westin Riverfront Resort at Beaver Creek Mountain
  • The Westin Riverwalk
  • The Westin San Diego
  • The Westin Snowmass

There are going to be some happy SPG members on December 1.

Starwood CyberMonday


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out current hotel loyalty program offers across all the major chains in Loyalty Traveler’s monthly hotel promotions guide.

Follow Loyalty Traveler on Twitter and Facebook and RSS feed.

This is a good week to check out SPG Hot Escapes for USA hotels with some deep discounts next week and the last week of December during the holidays. Some Starwood Hotels have their lowest rates of the year during these slow business periods. There are some good discounts in Europe too. SPG Hot Escapes rates this week are available for hotels through December 31, 2014.

SPG Hot Escapes Nov 19 edition

Here are sample rates at some hotels I think offer good deals.

Westin Buckhead Atlanta $103 this weekend and $114 all next week. Rates are $103 to $110 for December 19-27.

Westin Mission Hills (near Palm Springs, California) $98 to $113 December 7-21.

W Chicago Lakeshore $106 Nov 23-27; drops to $90 Dec 19-25.

Palace Hotel San Francisco $125 to $148 next week Nov 23-30 and sporadic dates in late December with rates in this range.

Aloft San Francisco Airport $98 from tonight through November 30.

Sheraton Anchorage gives us a sneak peak at the SPG CyberMonday sale. This was strange to see on SPG Hot Escapes.

Sheraton Anchorage

Curious, I clicked through to find CyberMonday rates which are supposed to premier November 24.

Sheraton Anchorage CyberMonday

These $75 rates appear to be bookable now for Sheraton Anchorage.

SPG Hot Escapes Europe

Then there are the typical bait rates like Hotel des Indes, The Hague, Netherlands showing $113. That is incredible for this Luxury Collection Hotel. But only if you stay Sunday, December 14. The next lowest rate is $142 for Nov 28, Dec 19-20. The rate is $162 Dec 21-23 and Dec 28-30.

$113 rate led me to click. $162 rate would not have.

Le Meridien Nice $114 is another bait click. That rate is available only for Thursday, December 14. Although, rates for the rest of November are $123 and $132 nearly all of December. That is a much narrower range of rates than Hotel des Indes.

This is a good week to check SPG Hot Escapes if you have travel plans without hotel reservations for the remainder of 2014.

World Traveller Class is British Airways branding for economy class. After flying American Airlines and United Airlines for my last two trips to Europe, flying British Airways was, without a doubt, the better experience. Perhaps the best measure for the quality of an aircraft is not the amenities and service of First Class and Business Class, but rather, how the vast majority of the passengers flying in economy class are serviced.

It never rains in California

This was my first flight on an A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft. And I almost missed the flight.

It never rains in California, until I travel. I arrived to SFO Wednesday morning just as the skies opened up and the rain fell hard. My flight from SFO to LAX was delayed by almost two hours. I had 2 hours, 45 minutes transit time scheduled at LAX.

45 minutes might be sufficient at most international airports. Not LAX. Arriving at LAX on American Airlines required me to exit the terminal, take a shuttle bus around LAX to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and go through TSA screening again with my luggage. I begged passengers in line to allow me to cut in front and remarkably everyone agreed. Then I was bitched out by TSA for not taking the computer out of my bag. Oops.

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