If you follow NPS, you know about no fly July which basically gives me a chance to slow down and think away from airplanes. You may also have figured out that this year has (thankfully) been a light year of travel so far. After more than a decade of road warrior work, that feels pretty good FWIW.

Anyway, no fly July plans were interrupted this year for a trip up to NYC. United was its usual awful self. For the first time ever, I paid revenue for what was essentially a jump seat on a propjet. United has gone completely to the dogs.

It got better. The NJTransit train from EWR was convenient and fast.

Once we got to NY, we started with a game of Escape the Room, which was pretty fun all told. The only problem with the game is it is not puzzley enough and relies too much on random finding. But we had a good time (even though we ultimately did not escape the room).

We regrouped at Butcher’s Daughter near Little Italy to plan a quick trip down to Battery Park. Where we took a very touristy sailboat ride to the Statue of Liberty.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Dinner at Keste with Jason and Haley was fantastic and authentically italian as always. A quick trip to Mulberry Project was kind of disappointing due to the thundering dance beat. Good drinks, wrong atmosphere.

View from the Cigital apartment in NY.

View from the Cigital apartment in NY.

We’re staying at the apartment again. Midtown 36th floor penthouse. It’s gorgeous in NY this week. Kind of Fall-like weather. Not bad. I guess nature is playing along with no fly July.

IMG_1632

More NY impressions…

Morning way up north at the cloisters. A visit to the conservatory gardens in central park. Excellent tapas at Txikito. Comedy at the upright citizens brigade. Late nightcap at Ayza wine bar.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

A walk down the high line after a very late but decent breakfast at the Petit Poulet (right across the street from the apartment) is a good way to start the day. Follow that with coffee at the superb Happy Bones. Then a first visit to the 9-11 Memorial museum. When you go, plan to spend over 3 hours.

Liam Finn at the Poisson Rouge

Liam Finn at the Poisson Rouge

A late night begins at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR) for a Liam Finn show. Great show. Excellent use of charisma. Followed by midnight dinner at the Blue Ribbon.

Liam Finn also loves customer 42 (starbucks identity of NPS)

Liam Finn also loves customer 42 (starbucks identity of NPS)

Sunday included a trip up the Empire State Building next door, a visit to the Brooklyn flea market (meh), lunch #2 at The Meatball Shop, an Iranian film (close curtain) at Film Forum and dinner at L’Asso.

The apartment and its tall next door neighbor.

The apartment and its tall next door neighbor.

Way down there is the roof of the apartment.

Way down there is the roof of the apartment.

Time to go home (on the Acela).

Even when you fill a hotel with 300 people, things can go sideways in Marriott land. Met at the door by a persnickety doorman, I was refused luggage service when I arrived and asked to drive around to the loading dock. What?! Well, there was a bit of music equipment, but in the past it has all fit on 2 carts. No bending of the rules for mr door weeny.

Too much luggage for the front door?  Nah.

Too much luggage for the front door? Nah.

So, instead of a welcome I got to bake in the heat, sweat through the shirt I was going to wear in a video shoot an hour later, and work with (the very able and excellent) security people. Hey Westfields, your front entrance situation needs a reboot. (FWIW, after a chat with the manager, the checkout situation went much more smoothly.)

Still from the video shoot.  Had to change shirts due to checkin SNAFU.

Still from the video shoot. Had to change shirts due to checkin SNAFU.

But there is some good news. The Internet situation has been fixed. Free, more reasonable net. Which when you are running a conference full of geeks (like last year) is important.

And there is some bad news. The shower still sucks in suite 130. I mean really, get a new shower in here. The rest of the room is far better.

This is the bad shower in 130 at the Westfields Marriott.

This is the bad shower in 130 at the Westfields Marriott.

After a long day, including a video panel, a talk, and a music performance, it was nice to retire to some wine and cheese left by the event staff. Thanks for that! It was demolished before I thought to take its picture.

The stage ready for some Gently Let Down by Catherine.

The stage ready for some Gently Let Down by Catherine.

There was fruit and cheese here last night?!

There was fruit and cheese here last night?!

Thanks for the note and the wine.

Thanks for the note and the wine.

All in all, the Westfields Marriott is an even better place for a meeting than in past years. But the staff needs some training and suite 130 needs a new shower. They can make you an espresso in a pinch though, and they’re actually pretty good at it.

Morning at the Marriott.

Morning at the Marriott.

Three showerheads for the Westfields. Run a meeting here, but don’t come here for the sleeping rooms.

What happens when you drive down to the Stick? You have to stay at the crappy Hilton in Wilmington, NC. Um, yay? Here we are again. But we must say that this room 829 is better than the junior suite from years past. Only three of us crammed in here this time.

Nice view on the river side. If you like WWII battleships especially.

Boat.

Boat.

The hamster cage persists at the Hilton. Nice to finance Paris’ nonsense.

Please pick a cage.  They are all the same.  This one is 829.

Please pick a cage. They are all the same. This one is 829.

Two tiny beds.

Two tiny beds.

Please make yourself small and comfortable in this bed.

Please make yourself small and comfortable in this bed.

The other half of the room.

The other half of the room.

Of course the shower is plastic. And the sink is curvy.

Yuck.

Yuck.

Anyway, screw this Hilton and its awfulness. On to the rest of Wilmington (which is a delightful little town for the most part.

First we stopped by Circa 1922 for some average cocktails. They make a mean French 75, but their ice needs work. We made the most watery Corpse Reviver #2 ever and followed that with a drink w/o ice.

French 75
1 oz gin (London dry)
brown sugar cube
.5 oz lemon juice
champagne to top
Mix the first three ingredients and add champagne in a flute. Lemon twist.

Dinner was at the not so cleverly named “The Little Dipper” fondue restaurant. Meh. My parents made way better fondue in the ’70s.

Never fear, though, there is a cover band called the “Breakfast Club.” They played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Ah. What more does Wilmington need?

No stars whatsoever for the Hilton. They should burn this place down and start over. But tomorrow is the Stick.

View from the 35th floor.  Just to the left of the big building in the middle you can see World Trade's new Freedom Tower in the distance.

View from the 35th floor. Just to the left of the big building in the middle you can see World Trade’s new Freedom Tower in the distance.

Ah New York city. It’s always a toss up whether to stay at the apartment or hit a NY Kimpton. This time we opted for the apartment.

Looking down on the city.

Looking down on the city.

The living room with a spectacular view.

The living room with a spectacular view.

We pretend that the showers are not built over a bathtub. Alas.

uh oh

uh oh

Some eating places to check out (mostly down past Washington Square). L’asso Pizza is an undiscovered gem just north of Little Italy. Great Italian style pizza. The Butcher’s Daughter is a quaint little crunchy granola juice bar. The Meatball Shop in the Village is a great place for lunch (good balls with a Buffalo Trace whiskey float to boot). Tamarind in Tribeca is fantastic upscale Indian worth the price.

On the cocktails and wine front, Ayza is a nice place for a glass of wine just around the corner from the apartment. The Brandy Library is an oasis for a drink and some live piano music almost any time.

The Gin Gin Mule (as concocted by Brandy Library)
2 oz gin (they used seagrams)
1.5 oz fresh ginger beer
.5 oz 1:1 simple syrup
.5 oz lime juice
3 mint leaves
splash of soda
Serve on the rocks in a collins glass.

A stop by Weather Up in Tribeca (which in the past has been top notch) after dinner at midnight was disappointing. They were “closed” and refused to make us a simple cocktail even though their hours supposedly go to 2am. Not accommodating in the services business? Done with buttheads like that. (Tuesday night 5.27 in case heads need to roll.)

All in all, the apartment is a great base of operations for a NY run. Take the acela and pick up some Krispy Kreme’s at Penn Station to import to Virginia!

Airline travel has become so much like bus service (and bad bus service at that) that taking the train makes sense even when that involves driving an hour in to the station.

Acela DC -> NY takes under 3 hours all told.

Acela DC -> NY takes under 3 hours all told.

The acela has comfortable seats, wifi, power, and a cafe car. Boarding requires only waiting a few minutes at the gate (like 5, versus 90). And when you get to NY you find yourself at Penn Station right in the middle of the city.

Net.  Nuff said.

Net. Nuff said.

Why fly? Good question.

True to its word, the Palazzo Cicala is an upscale boutique hotel in the heart of the old city. Located in the Piazza San Lorenzo, the Palazzo Cicala would be hard pressed to have a better location.

San Lorenzo from the window in reception

San Lorenzo from the window in reception

Unfortunately, the hotel is very small and when we were visiting was completely full. The good news is that they have a couple of associated apartments nearby that are equally central and nice little places to stay. Don’t forget to ask!

Both the hotel and the apartment have grand entrance halls.

Entrance hall of the apartment

Entrance hall of the apartment

Living room

Living room

Bedroom

Bedroom

Upstairs small bedroom

Upstairs small bedroom

Kitchen

Kitchen

Breakfast is brought over in the morning. Special note: if you go to bed at 6am, breakfast at 8:30 happens WAY too early. But that is how it goes in Genova.

The remains of breakfast.

The remains of breakfast.

Fortunately, the apartment has net.

For dinner, we went to Pintori just down a couple of alleys from the hotel. BTW, in this part of Genova driving is not allowed. Nor is it really even possible. Pintori was very good with an excellent wine list and a small collection of good grappa. The grappa was our downfall.

Genova was full of young people all out until 3am. We joined them for a Negroni or two. Then we sat up in the living room and talked until the sky turned blue again.

Five showerheads for the only boutique hotel in all of Genova. Excellent.

From Oxford

Sundial in Christchurch college Oxford

Sundial in Christchurch college Oxford

To Florence

The view from our inspirational first Negroni

The view from our inspirational first Negroni

Where they serve a mean Bisteca Fiorentini at il Latini.

Cow slab for three.  Delicious.

Cow slab for three. Delicious.

And then a train to Cedri. Well kinda. A train to Pontedera and a car ride to Cedri. Cedri has population 7 or maybe 8 if you count the dog Kiko. We arrived at 3am.

Our secret pad in Cedri

Our secret pad in Cedri

Incredible beam ceiling.

Incredible beam ceiling.

We set out on a Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast to get some errands done. Having lived in Italy, I knew we were in for some fun. Our plan was to head over to the Tenuta Serravalle restaurant outside of Montelopio and make a reservation for dinner with Paolo. The problem being that nobody knew exactly were exactly the restaurant was located. After an hour driving around looking, we ditched the plan and headed to Peccioli to get some dry cleaning done. That plan also failed when the sole dry cleaners in town was closed…forever. By this point it was time for a refreshment on the patio. Or three! Things began looking up.

The best part happened when we found the grocery store. Our car ended up blocking the exit for Paolo (the restaurant owner) who was more than happy to accommodate us for dinner. Of course we still did not know where the restaurant was actually located.

Some dining hints for Tenuta Serraavalle. Bring your instruments and play for your dinner…and your lunch the next day as well. As a result of all the music, we now have a gig Thursday for an official cena featuring us!

Eventually, in spite of Sabato in Italia, we made it to Tenuta Serravalle

Eventually, in spite of Sabato in Italia, we made it to Tenuta Serravalle

Tuscany is incredible.

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