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Ah Kimpton, you’ve become so corporate.  Such a great hotel chain ground down by middle management cost cutting and the boredom of crank turning.  Dang.  We remember the old days, yes we do.  They are never coming back.

Anyway, getting to Texas on United was not so bad even in double masks.  The flight was very sparsely populated, though it is a longish one.  Austin is a great city to visit.  Or is it a town?  Kind of hard to tell.  Here’s the story of our brief stay at Hotel Van Zandt.

The only pair of actual cowboy boots at the hotel when we were there happened to be ours.

First of all, IHG has forgotten everything about what NPS likes.  Just for the record, we like high floors, certain kinds of pillows, and rooms with no plastic showers.  We have also become accustomed to welcome notes from the GM, delicious amenities, sparkling water, and sometimes even a craft cocktail greeting us in the room from a barkeep hired by Jacques.  Not this time.  Even though the Kimpton twitter dwarf (they used to be fairies, but corporations) was given the heads up, not one bit of prep was done.  Kind of astonishing, really.

So NPS paid a pretty penny for an excellent king spa room with a view, and was given a plastic bottle of water at checkin by the Assistant Manager who had obviously not read our secret file in preparation for our arrival.  Hell, there probably isn’t a secret file anymore.

Room 701 is a great room style category.  But the floor?  Not a high one.  The amenities and water?  Nope. And the “lake view” is mostly a dusty construction site surrounded by homeless encampments.  Seriously.  Every city we’ve visited lately has a massive housing problem.  What is wrong with this country?

The bathroom was awesome.  Great tub (which we used a bunch) and a nice glass shower.

Not plastic

 

Tub with a view (that cuts both ways)

 

Sink area

The king size bed is surrounded by a bank of windows on two sides.  The view will one day be better.

Given our late arrival sometime just after 8pm, we headed for a drink to Geraldine’s on the fourth floor.  It was a Saturday night and the unmasked Texas crowd was dense.  After ordering an outstandingly made Negroni (what ice!  what ingredients!) we opted for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, service was smart and snappy, and all was well with the world.  There was a band.  They were OK.

Negroni featuring Botanist gin and Antica Formula vermouth…a house favorite

 

Behind the glass

Sadly the restaurant was not open for breakfast during our stay.  Instead there is a starbucks knockoff cafe on the ground floor with a microwave.  Not the sign of a great hotel, guys.  Frankly, the place feels more like a Marriott than a Kimpton.  No human touch and no magic.

Sunday was devoted to fun without a plan.  Brunch at Fixe was absolutely stellar.  Great Bloody Mary’s and cinnamon roll biscuits.  Fantastic food and friendly Texas service.  We took our time.

Bloody Mary of the highest caliber at Fixe

 

Hard to describe how delicious this was

 

The famous deviled eggs

 

Shrimp and grits with some garlic kale and a poached egg

In a great mood and in weather befitting Spring (60 degrees), we headed to South Congress for some idle shopping.  Our only real destination was Heritage Boot Company.  Though we got no pictures, we did manage to pick up a knife for my kilt and three pairs of handmade boots.  We even had a margarita of sorts with “Mr. Avocado.”  Great people, great boots, and a down home Texas vibe.  (Thanks Kimber.) NPS hears tell that once you buy one pair you are on a slippery slope to ten.  We shall see.

View down Congress toward the state house

 

Coffee and people watching at Jo’s Cafe

We did manage to singlehandedly support the American economy with our credit cards.  And then it was time for a margarita and some music at Half Step.  The margaritas are on tap.  We were served by Nick Cage himself.

And that band.  Three blind fellows joined by two sighted musicians and a heap of funk.  These were real Austin professionals.

Have a listen for yourself.

 

 

About the time we extracted we were late for our dinner reservation at Canje.  Dinner was excellent.  The jerk chicken was hotter than hell.  The drinks were fun.  The vibe was casual.

Seated at the bar (our choice)

 

An emergency clothespin

 

Jerk chicken that will blow your mouth off

Really it would be hard to ask for a better Sunday in Austin.

Monday was a work day with a working lunch at Qi.  Get the soup dumplings.

Part of the late afternoon meeting happened at the Proper hotel.  This place is interesting but just a little too artificial after an hour in the lobby.  The music loop may kill you if the extruded ice doesn’t.  Dinner was slated for upstairs at la piscina ceviches and fajitas.  Our hosts are enamored with their fajitas.  They were (as Sammy says) pretty not bad.

The highlight of the evening Monday night was a quick stop by the Roosevelt Room.  What a place.  Cavernous and somehow still intimate.  Superb cocktails served with whimsy and great care.  One of the top bars in the world for sure.  NPS had a paper plane (with a paper plane) and a Liberal.  Yup.  Amer Picon in the house.  We seem to have lost our party all night energy during the pandemic, especially after a full day of working in person.  So we’ll have to go back.  Thanks for the hospitality Justin.

The paper plane with a paper plane

 

Yet another emergency clothespin

 

The list is first class

 

A Liberal in Austin

Well, Austin, we will definitely be back.  We’ll probably buy some more Heritage boots.  We’ll definitely have a few more drinks at the Roosevelt Room.  But we’ll stay at the Driskill.  Three showerheads for the Hotel Van Zandt where you get what you pay for (and nothing more).

What a difference a pandemic makes.  Having been to Bergen many many times (13??), NPS was pretty skeptical about the hotel situation.  But lo and behold, while we were trapped in the United States, a new hotel opened up and not only is it a good one, but it also houses the first Michelin star restaurant in Bergen.  A great combination!

We stayed in room 440 which was a “loft suite.”  I think in the future we would choose another type of suite, but we were in the hotel for just a few days before joining our friends at their house for the weekend.

Hotel Bergen Børs from the street

The hotel is situated in an ideal location in town.  Close to the touristy old town, a few hundred steps from the funicular, 8 minutes from the train station, and close to the museums.

Bed in the loft

The electricity situation in 440 is confusing (at best) and difficult to use.  Took me 2 days to figure it out.  This makes waking up to head down the steep stairs to the bathroom a challenge if you don’t want to awaken your partner.

The very steep stairs

 

Sitting area

The sitting area is interrupted by beams from the ceiling, which is kinda cool and kinda a pain in the ass.  Fortunately, we didn’t really spend all that much time in the hotel.

The bathroom is on the small side, but it has a great shower.

Glass, good pressure, and plenty of hot water. Just what NPS ordered.

 

All in all, the decor and the flooring is on the cheap side (a real problem in Bergen).  Still looking for a hotel with well-appointed design executed without a mind to expense.  This is not it.  I guess, like the stock exchange, it’s all ups and downs.

Breakfast was superb.  We enjoyed chatting with Delia each morning.  The breakfast area also serves as the Bare restaurant.

A visit to Bare took some doing as they are typically booked out many months.  NPS was able to secure a table with some persuasion.  The dinner was world class.  Read about the meal here.

Dinner at Bare is well worth the expense

We did Norway in a Nutshell on our first day in town.  See the entry here.  The weather was perfect and so was the timing.  Just wow.

Norway in a nutshell

We also visited KoreSee this entry about that.

Munch of course

Make sure to have a coffee and some cake at Det Lille Kaffe Kompaniet.  Really great.

Success cake

Since the funicular was closed for renovation, we walked up to the top insteadMore about that here.  Sadly, No Stress bar is no longer as cool as it once was.  But they still serve a mean Negroni.

On the last day in town, we took the new gondola up to the top of the TV mountain.  Gorgeous.  More about that trip here.

 

All in all, this visit to Bergen was tops.  Thanks to our good friends Gøran and Anne for hosting our last couple of nights.

Bergen is wonderful and the Børs hotel (the best yet) earns a high four showerheads.

 

Then again, maybe it wasn’t bergen?

Flip the Hytte

November 27, 2021

If you’re lucky, you will be greeted with love at the new hytte, which has become quite luxurious (now including things like hot showers, modern kitchens, floors, and a roof).  We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Tyinkrysset cooking, skiing, hiking, drinking, conversing, and reveling in a life well lived.

Brusebu is named after the sound the nearby creek makes.

We stocked up on Negroni fixings and wine in Oslo.  Then scooped Romey at the airport.  Her entry was smooth (unlike, say, mine).

 

Brusebu the hytte

 

Romey on her first skis (starting in Norway is the way to go).

 

The intrepid host Gøran

NPS tried using randonee skis (usually used to climb up mountains and ski back down).  This is a technology to explore further.

Anne the ski instructor and her star pupil

 

Gourmet cheese sandwiches were available for those on the tour.

 

 

The view from lunch

A quick trip to Øvre Årdal tested the snow tires and resulted in no purchases whatsoever.

Yule Nisse salmon

 

Crooked vimpel pole

 

Geared up for the walk

 

The walk behind the cabin.

Gin flower in the juniper

 

Over the bridge.

 

Face off one

 

Face off two

 

 

 

Roof repair

A visit to the Låve Museum (a locally curated collection of stuff from old fashioned Norwegian life).  The proprietor is a delight.

 

Self

 

Regional costumes

 

 

The infamous hat

 

 

Also see Art in the Corner for one of these farm implements.

Just like art in the corner

 

Stories of the war

 

Bubbles

 

To the hytte

Sharing pictures of construction (Romey buys a building).  The hytte has been basically reconstructed from scratch with a new roof (expanded roof line) and a new floor (including joists and subfloor).  Now it is a luxury hytte.

Table scene

 

Hytte life

 

The new shower (5 showerheads for this mechanism)

 

The all important hot water mechanism

What a pleasure.  Can’t wait to return.

Sadly when you have to give a keynote talk at a conference there is often a conference hotel.  These are great if you like hamster cage rooms, overcrowded breakfast room scrums (during a pandemic), watery espresso from machines with only one button, and that sort of corporate stuff.

Oslo is ready for xmas

At least they let us check in to 2622 early.  But for the sake of all gods, don’t stay here unless you must.

Hamster cage with bed (you can’t really see the water bottle drip mechanism thingy, but it is there)

 

Euro-shower was not plastic, so there’s that

 

But it is over a tub and crammed into the rectangle rather uncomfortably

 

This view kind of says it all.  Yes there is Fjord out there somewhere.  Past the industrial haze.

 

The (apparently coveted fjord view)

 

But it was free!  And we got to do the big show.

And the Top Floor bar makes very good cocktails if you stick to the script.  The view from up there at night is nice.  (Oslo is not Tokyo.)

 

When in Oslo, try to see some art.  If you want to add to your collection, go to purenkel.

Art

Or walk the streets.

We stayed in and had a very nice meal at the hotel on Thursday night (the restaurant seems to be called Gaio).  The wait staff is enthusiastic.  The cooking is old school but quite good.  NPS had some reindeer and a very nice Barolo.

Friday night dinner was excellent.  Definitely get to Arakatata.  Wow.  (Ask for the wine list).

The best dish this trip. Homemade spaghetti with caviar. The sauce was incredible.

Can’t wait to see you again, Oslo.  But we will award the Raddison Blu Plaza a measly three showerheads (up from two since the restaurant and bar are ok).  Nopey nope.

oslo lights

 

Being back on the road again is so good!  And we’re not even stuck in the good old US of A.  Oslo even!  When in Olso, NPS always likes to use the Hotel Christiania Teater as the base of operations.  Heck, we even know our favorite room (620) which not only has an interesting shower but also features non-rectangular architecture.

Be forewarned, however, that the “getting into Norway” thing at this phase of the global pandemic is non-trivial.  The rules are tricky and they don’t have things set up for Americans to visit.  The problem is the EU covid passport requirement.  Since the good old US of A has its own digital records system (times 50, one for each state) there is no way to get the QR code signed by the EU authority.

What we did to prepare was download digital records from the Virginia Department of Health for vaccines (NPS is triple vaxxed) and then store them in the Common Health app on our phone.  We did the same thing with covid test results generated the day that we flew (get them done less than 24 hours before entering Norway).  Make sure you practice pulling up the records and displaying the QR code when the police ask you for it at the gate of your arriving plane!  And practice being super nice and explaining, “well, these are the records my government makes available.”

That’s right, even though we were flying in through the EU and had been admitted into Germany with our records with no issue at all, the police met the EU-origin plane in Oslo and asked all passengers for passports and vaccination/testing documents.  After ten minutes of “sweating it” in the hall, we were admitted.

Getting to the hotel from the airport is a breeze.  Just take the express train in from the airport and go one stop past the central station.  Even though we arrived a bit too early for checkin (which is a 3pm), the wait for room cleaning final check was only 10 minutes.

Waiting in the lobby to check in

 

The lobby is well appointed, comfortable, and quirky fun

Then it was up to 620 to shower off the metal tube and start the attempt to stay up until at least 20:00.

Here is the bathroom from 620, built next to one of the cupola rooms.  The shower is over a huge stone tub inside the shower room area.  Very not plastic, and a very nice shower indeed.

 

Here’s the rest of the room.

A small sitting entry way

 

The main living room (not at all rectangular

 

The very cool cupola window

 

Another cool window

 

The king size bedroom dominated by the bed and a closet.

Covid has put a small damper on the bar at the hotel, which is still good but is not as relaxing and excellent as it used to be.  We’ll hope that gets back to normal when the pandemic is over.

Breakfast is fantastic.  A beautiful room, a machine that makes fresh orange juice, excellent espresso drinks, and, well, just a great spread.  Sneaking in for breakfast would be a good move.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  First we had to stay up.  So we started at the bar with an arbitrarily constructed not very good Negroni (how can you fuck that one up?!), and moved on to an Indian restaurant in search of spicy food.

Seeing my friend Gøran was a great pleasure.  The food at The Great India was plenty hot, the wine was good, and they made a much better Negroni.  Soon it was time to slink off to bed and crash for 10 hours straight.

The next day, after an excellent breakfast and a visit with the orange smashing machine, it was time for some work in Oslo.

And then it was out into Oslo with friends old and new.  We started at Torggata Botaniske, a very nice cocktail bar where they were shooting a movie scene as we arrived.

A crazy Sazarac variant with absinthe foam (a bit too sweet and not hot enough for NPS)

 

Sami shall on marie

We had an excellent but way too risky dinner at Habibi.  Absolutely outstanding food, but crowded and stuffy.  No venues in Oslo are requiring vaccination proof (though the double dosed vaccination rate is 87.4%).  In Oslo on the street it feels like the pandemic is over.  It is most assuredly not over.

Then it was a visit to the always outstanding Himkok.  We were once again pressed to finagle the door.  Done.

 

Beetroot

Our obligatory bottle of Aquavit was delivered.

All in all Hotel Christiania Teater remains a five showerhead kind of place.  Tops on the Oslo list! Can’t wait to be back when the pandemic is actually over.

 

The thing about Bloomington is that though almost everybody at IU is vaccinated (in theory), none of the places in town ask for proof of vaccination.  Fortunately, masks are required.  But not when you’re eating or drinking.  Things seem a little lax.  NPS bets that one day pandemic processes will be more like NY or Portland.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

The old IU stomping grounds

Bloomington is an oasis of intellectual goodness in a sea of rural America.  This has its positive aspects.  The Midwest is a thing.  For example, though NPS has stayed at the Grant Street Inn countless bazillions of times through the years, this trip happened to coincide with an important big ten football game.  That meant that every hotel within 150 miles was filled to the gills with football fans.  Heck, even the Dean’s Advisory Council arranged to send people to the game. No sportsball for us though.  Instead, we focused our energy on intellectual pursuits.

The upshot was that we needed a place to stay Friday and Saturday nights.  Fortunately our friend (and thesis advisor of yore) Rob and his partner Katy put us up in their gorgeous house on Lake Monroe where we kayaked, fossil hunted, and even tried an e-foil.  Honestly, the weekend was the highlight of the trip with excellent conversation, shared art, baking, and fun in the lake. Real life, well lived.

View from the deck

 

Our fearless leader paddles with his feet

 

The best fossil (which also caused the bag to switch guardians)

 

 

Hiking the ridge at scout camp

 

The take: fossils and geodes.

 

The best geode

 

We kayaked on Saturday which was cooler but not raining.  E-foil experimenting was left for Sunday in wet suits.  The weather was shockingly warm for mid-October.

 

We ended up staying at the Grant Street Inn Thursday and then again Sunday and Monday.  NPS chose the usual room (number 30).

Room 30 has a bed

 

Room 30 is quiet with a nice bathroom

You can read more about the Grant Street Inn elsewhere on NPS.

The DAC meeting included a tour of the new Luddy AI Center.  One day it will be filled with students.  For now, it is still being set up.

The VR room of the Luddy School AI Center

 

Tuning the system

Of course, Indiana places a big emphasis on breakfast (at least outside the confines of Rob and Katy’s house).  Here is one example.  This is a light breakfast.

While in town, we made a couple of visits to C3.  One with Kay and one just ourselves.  The cocktails are (still) excellent.

A dughof sighting (at the Spoon of course).  This was a delightful lunch as usual.


 

The icing on the cake of our Bloomington run was a visit to the IU Art Museum which has been completely renovated and updated.  Going to a museum chock full of history certainly puts things in perspective.  9000 years from now, we wonder if some off-planet Earth museum will have one of our everyday items on display.

Read about our visit to the museum here.

IU Art Musem

Fin.

On only the third airplane ride post Covid vaccination, it was across the country to Portland in two hops.

Queen Tibia presided at home in our absence.

Dulles was mostly empty on a Friday late morning.

The purple chair

An uneventful set of flights (through Denver) was marred only by the masks everyone must wear. We can’t wait for a vaccine mandate for air travel. It’s coming! HUGE KUDOS to united airlines for requiring all of their employees to be vaccinated. Smart.

In fact, Portland is a bit of a study in what is to come in the rest of the country. Vaccination proof is required in bars and restaurants. Even seedy little dive bars like the Jack London Review where we had an excellent time seeing mononeon. But I am getting ahead of myself.

First it was a quick run by Hertz to pick up a crappy rental car and head to the Kimpton Riverside. Well, it used to be a Kimpton. Now it is an IHG thing. We knew from last time to book room 325.

325 at the Riverside Portland has a fireplace

 

The living room

 

The bedroom with a view of the river and the park

The riverside has only two rooms with glass showers. We did not secure either. So we got this…

Horror of horrors! A shower curtain. We’ll give them a pass since it was fabric and not plastic.

 

Lauren Groff’s excellent new book The Matrix was apparently designed for this table

We had a negroni. We devoured some oysters. We saw old friends and their spunky ultra-intelligent progeny. We ended up at mononeon where we watched a show that seemed like a Prince show from the early ’90s. Less charisma, but just as much crazy energy and a collection of interesting cats including:

  • A black female goddess drummer with the biggest afro ever (she was the real band leader and a great singer)
  • Two white guys who played OK leads while hiding behind a pole
  • A DJ who started things off
  • Two rappers, one of whom was utterly obsessed with getting everyones’ hands in the air
  • A sporadically present trumpet player
  • A 20 year old lanky stripper who was having trouble fending off the lesbians in the front
  • A token white girl who came on late with a guitar she halfheartedly strummed while she sang (her hair was up in that Prince entourage kind of way and she must have been wearing lingerie)
  • Oh yeah, and mononeon himself who apparently convened this group and then got so high he forgot it was his show

Mononeon in his chair

The music was great, the dancing was contagious, and the most fun thing was watching the young one dance uninhibitedly.

 

That lasted until 3am EST which was way past everyone’s bedtime.  Super fun.

Then it was Saturday morning and time for a great breakfast at Cheryl’s.  The beignet alone was worth the wait.  We bought a Patagonia jacket while waiting because we heard that you can’t really leave Portland unless you buy one.

Then the highlight of the trip!  Three hours in Powells.  We bought 30 books, some bags to carry them on the plane in, and a shirt.  World’s best bookstore hands down.  MUST RETURN.

Every time

We love Powell’s so much.  Everyone in all of the other towns is very jealous of your book thing Portland.

24 (of 30) books

After a brief respite on the courtyard terrace, there was time left for the Saturday market (always worth a visit if your tie dye supply is low or you need a crystal).

Contemplating Portland traffic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was time for dinner.  We chose Normandie, which was a bit green but good.  Hip and relaxed, this place needs to get its A game on.  Before dinner cocktails at Hey Love were better than dinner.  We both enjoyed a Loprinzi’s Mule:

  • .5 cynar
  • .5 amaro cio ciaro
  • 2 oz don q añejo
  • ginger syrup
  • tarmarivel syrup (tanarind paste, cinnamon, grapefruit rind, sugar)
  • soda in a collins on the rocks

    Loprinzi’s Mule at Hey Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of a sudden it was Sunday.  We started out late with a brunch at Olympia Provisions.  My vegetarian companion was not amused, but I was.  So we headed out to get some juice and ended up buying cabinet pulls for The Stick instead.

Portland has a huge homeless population, and it is evident all over the city.  Beater campers, tents with patches and multiple tarps, lots of garbage.  The United States has fallen short of many of its citizens, and you can see that in Portland first hand.  Late stage capitalism on the streets.

Don’t tell Romey, but these were actually really damn good

Next it was off to the Portland Art Museum, which frankly you can skip. Mediocre at best.  Plan to spend less time than you think.

Some shopping at Wildfang got us moving toward Japanese Gardens which were so crowded we bailed and drove straight to the Kennedy School to check in.  Room 113 is great.

Of course as hip and fun as it is, the Kennedy School still feels like 1997 in the rooms.  Time to update!  Especially please replace the beds.

ALERT: THIS SHOWER IS PLASTIC

We had a drink in the courtyard while working on our dinner plans.  Portland decided that two days without rain was anathema.  The rain came.  And it wasn’t kidding.  But we borrowed some umbrellas and headed back to town.

A visit to the Teardrop Lounge was fabulous as always.  (You don’t need a reservation, but you do need a great attitude.). A Raffles Singapore Sling was in the cards.

Then a fantastic dinner at Takibi.  Delicious, modern, and very Japanese.

Takibi

 

A superb drinks menu

It was still raining on Monday morning when we got up early to prep for a business meeting.  It must be the rain that caused us to eat such a huge breakfast at the Kennedy School.  Surely.

After a rainy morning talking about ML and security, we enjoyed lunch at Southpark Seafood with some new friends who turned us on to Betsy and Iya, a fantastic boutique jeweler and clothier.  Hard not to get some stuff there!

Then the Japanese Garden in the pouring rain.  A magical place and far less crowded once the witches all melted down.