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Apparently, someone from the three city tour we’re part of has been reading our supposedly secret blog entries (LOL), because when we checked in at the Pullman Melbourne Albert Park this afternoon, we were assigned a very nice room indeed. So thanks, secret blog reading lurkers! We know you’re out there.

Once again for the record, the Pullman Melbourne Albert Park is not the kind of place NPS usually frequents. This is a high level business hotel. You can always spot this category of hotel by the international air crews frequenting the lobby and the packs of Chinese tourists that wash through in waves.

View from the executive floor

At checkin, we were assigned room 9604. There is only one suite at this hotel (next door, it turns out), but there are a number of executive class rooms with a sitting area on the executive level of the hotel. Some of those rooms overlook the Albert Park lake (across the parking area and a highway). 9604 is one of those with a view.

The room itself is well appointed and spacious with room to exist.

Since it is December, it is summer here and the xmas stuff scattered to and fro all over the place is disconcerting if not outright alarming. When you wander around town in the summer heat there are many people in short xmas skirts and bad xmas t-shirts (no sweaters to be seen).

Speaking of which, when it is 99 degrees outside, the HVAC system here just can’t keep up. My in room AC ran continuously and never hit the target temperature. Time to upgrade the HVAC on this property to prepare for global warming.

The Pullman Melbourne lobby play along with xmas

Juxtaposition

Our bathroom is spacious but a bit spartan. Some of that space could have been put to use to house a better shower.

Spartan

But the shower is not plastic.

We were recognized by name on checkin (tipping us off that the fairies had become involved). There was even a welcome amenity set up for someone else in the room.

Amenity for mr dunbar

We’ll happily spoof mr dunbar as long as we get to stay in this room for the next few nights.

NPS is gratified to learn that not only do all systems break, some of them even learn!

After a quick turnaround mostly for charging devices, we headed into town. St Kilda is south of the city proper and is a suburban beach town. Like many beach towns, it’s a bit scrappy. People say “fuck” a lot in normal conversation (even in fancy restaurants), and there are more crazy ass bums here than you find in the city. It reminds NPS of the seedier parts of San Diego.

A late lunch of sushi at Ichi Ni was very good indeed.

Sushi for lunch

A walk along the beach was in order, and then an amble through town for some espresso.

Espresso at Leroy is worth seeking out. The walk from the Pullman into town is just over a mile. An easy walk, but not one you want to do multiple times per day. That’s why they make uber.

Leroy for breakfast and the best coffee in town

Albert Park with Melbourne in the background

A very good but overpriced dinner at Cafe di Stasio included an incredibly delicious Omelette D’aragosta. This dish is so good it warrants mention in guidebooks and they are right on all counts. Get it. The wine list is also very good. It’s the clientele that needs some finishing school.

After a half day in St Kilda, we’re ready to give our last talk and get into Melbourne. More soon.

Cocktails at Black Pearl are highly recommended. Make a reservation for the Attic space. Our bartenders were exceptionally knowledgeable and the drinks were great. Much fun was had. And, they made us a liberal.

Drinks at 1806 are a completely different scene on a Friday. Loud music and lots of energy. Not very civilized, but very good cocktails.

Four showerheads for the Pullman Albert Park and a wish for a sultry hot xmas.

Our first taste of Rydges South Bank Brisbane left a bad taste in the mouth. But a meeting with the GM in the morning cleared things up.

While we were off having breakfast, our room was switched to a very nice suite (room 1028).

There is plenty of room in 1028. And two balconies to boot.

Wrap around balconies

Room to exist

Working desk

A separate bedroom

The bathroom is big enough for two, and has a big tub.

Much better shower. Ahhh!

The shower is very nice

Breakfast at the Gunshop Cafe is delicious. Great espresso and juice.

Gunshop cafe Sunday brunch

After which, an excursion to Stradbroke Island (called “straddie”). Ferry ride on a bus, picnic lunch, beer, hiking, gelato, swimming in the ocean. A great day.

Point Lookout

The seas were high, and we got wet, which was a blast!

See more pictures from the Stradbroke trip.

Dinner at Julius Pizzeria was authentically Italian. Great pizza and great people.

Julius Pizzeria

There is a budding cocktail scene in Brisbane. Thanks to Rachel at Wickham we were looped in. We can confirm that Saville Row is top notch. (Look for the orange door.)

Likewise Electric Avenue is a great place for a cocktail. Jess created a drink for us.

Jess at Electric Avenue

Rye Surprise
45ml Bulliet Rye
20ml dry vermouth
15ml lemon
20ml kiwi puree
40ml pineapple
8 dashes peychauds
shake. double strain. serve up in a coupette. garnish with dehydrated pineapple.

Rye Surprise

Apparently a Brisbane cocktail called the clockwork orange was a contest winner…which contest we don’t recall. It falls squarely in the tiki category.

Clockwork Orange
20ml aperol
20ml cherry heering
20ml passionfruit syrup
30ml gin (monkey 47)
25ml lemon
2 dashes orange bitters
shake. strain. serve over crushed ice in a tall collins glass.

Bars we were unable to visit but heard tell are good include: Legends Speakeasy (find the passcode on the net) and Tomcat (behind Bill Murray).

Skip the Pancake Manor. Though it is built in an old church the food is awful and the espresso is worse. Greasy spoons should be greasy but not just bad.

QAGOMA is an excellent museum. The modern art collection is far superior to the science museum’s stuff. Just stick with the art. Have a beer in the courtyard.

The botanical gardens are also worth a visit.

Four showerheads and a tip of the hat to Rydges. Thanks for fixing things. Now for some sleep!

Somehow in this case the word “Rydges” connotes cheap condoms from a gas station vending machine. We’re traveling with a group, and that means little control over situations that NPS usually has a strict handle on. No worries, we were assigned the second best room category on the Rydges South Bank property with a balcony overlooking the river. Room 1116 is a bit cramped, but not bad.

Except for the part where it is connected by a very thin door to the suite next door where an asshole is hosting an all night party. The party involved yelling, loud conversation, noisy sex, door slamming, and more! At least the party wound down for a bit about 1:15am when we called management and they had a chat with the noisy people. But then at 5am it all started again with speaker phone conversations and more loud asshole.

Basically, I guess we’ve decided that the wrong class of people frequents this hotel. That makes Rydges more of a “Walmart-shopper style salesperson on a bender with some hookers” hotel. Or maybe it is only the ridiculous Christmas revelry sweeping the city.

Whatever. We fixed things the next morning after no sleep. Rydges can and does do better!

Brisbane, on the other hand is a great place to visit.

We went to Koala-land (Lone Pine Koala sanctuary) after we ditched our bags at the hotel. Well worth a visit. Just don’t plan to eat any food there. Really. Captive audience means super bad food, even by zoo standards.

Kangaroo

We did the obligatory koala picture.

Koala picture from Lone Pine

About which…

And then it was back to the hotel to shower before cocktail hour (crammed into a tiny bathroom).

Not much room, but the shower is glass

Two people can’t use this sink at one time (unless one is on the john)

River view and a cute balcony

We had fantastic Negroni’s made with Four Pillars gin at Wickham with Rachel. Also gathered data for later cocktail shenanigans. (Skip eleven rooftop bar unless you like fake glitz and dated DJ music.)

Dinner at Caravanserai was very good indeed. Authentic Turkish in a funky noisy boisterous atmosphere. Nice. Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine to drink on your way in.

Caravanserai

Then ride the wheel for a dash of too much AC before bed.

The Wheel

Two showerheads and a fervent hope that the asshole next door gets a cosmic comeuppance for Rydges phase one. Things got better!

After a false start in the Sydney Hilton hamster cage category, we upgraded ourselves to a Relaxation Suite. This was a GOOD MOVE! Thanks to Callan at the front desk for making the whole thing go smoothly and for cutting us a sweet deal.

Apparently there are 16 of these rooms on the property. If NPS is stuck in a big corporate hotel, this is the kind of room we want. 2925 is big enough to stretch out in. Comes with exec level perqs (free breakfast, cocktail hour, concierge service, etc). A completely different universe from “free conference room” category. Yes please.

2925 suite

Hey look, room to breathe!

The furnishings are sturdy and nice, and the shades are all automated. Lots of room to work and play.

The sitting room with a nice desk

Powder room

The bathroom is huge with a gigantic tub (probably never to be used) and a very nice shower that has so many control options we’ve only figured out half of them over the last two days.

Four of the five shower nozzles. The drench head (not shown) is superb.

This huge tub comes with a city view

Visit the botanical gardens!

Spanish helmets

After a nice long walk through the city on our first day, we had a quick pizza at Macchiato. The pizza is better than the service (friendly though inept), and we won’t even mention the bartending. There has to be better pizza in Sydney.

Watson Bay ferry dock

Day two was spent ferrying over to Watson Bay, walking the bridge, wandering the Rocks, and buying way too much product at Aesop.

You can’t leave Watson Bay without consuming mandatory fish and chips

The gap

The Aesops store is in here somewhere

Dinner at Tetsuyas was world class. Very expensive but very very good indeed. Bite the bullet and overpay for dinner.

A negroni with homemade sweet vermouth (cherry). Delicious.

Day three is a rainy disaster, good for getting up late, processing some bits, a nice Thai lunch in the very weird Holy Basil, and some coffee at Doppio.

Before dinner, we stopped in at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. A very powerful video piece on the Palm Island uprising was the highlight for sure.

MCAA

MCAA

MCAA

MCAA

Dinner at Aria was solid. Excellent views at a great table, delicious food, and very good service.

Aria Sydney view

We also went to see a (bad) play at the Sydney opera house. Yeah, probably not the best theater location in the city, but it was the only thing on. The actors were great, the set was creative and high tech, and the writing may once have been good too, but it has aged poorly. What is billed as an “iconic masterpiece by Nobel Laureate Patrick White,” A Cheery Soul is more like a cartoon from long ago. It was fun to do, though.

The next day we did a say trip to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Highly recommended even though the train ride is long. (See a blog entry here.)

Then it was a mad dash through the city in order to shower before dinner in the best restaurant in Australia. That would be quay. Though we were grateful to sneak in with a last minute reservation, we were not satisfied with a table in the “annex” (which seems to be a thing in Sydney). Dinner was remarkably great, but childre’s table treatment is just wrong when you are paying so much money.

View from the children’s table at Quay

We opted for the “drinks” pairing which was really excellent. Not just wine, but beer, sake, fortified spirits, cocktails. A great idea done in an outstanding fashion.

Negroni with QQQQ Pillars gin (a hack from four pillars for Quay)

Here are some pictures from the dinner. World class. Outstanding and well worth a visit.

Quay

There was not much time to explore the cocktail scene in Sydney what with all of the fancy Negronis we had in some of the best restaurants on earth. We did at least pop over to the Lobo Plantation for some nice tiki-style cocktailing after a group dinner. Lobo Plantation was hopping and much fun.

Lobo Plantation is a great bar

Fernet and coconut cream based cocktail (with a side of fernet of course)

CR#2

Did these stairs get curvier?

We’ll have to leave these other bars unexplored for now (including the (gasp!) marble bar at the Hilton which we never made it downstairs for): Bulletin Place, Old Mates Place, Shady Pines, and Hubert.

Here is a view of the sunset from the really cool “window in the mirror” from the suite.

Sunset at the Sydney Hilton

Five showerheads for the Sydney Hilton Relaxation Suite product. Recommended.

Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

Hidden Lodge is the bomb. Make sure to stay here if you stay in Queenstown, New Zealand. The property is just as gorgeous as the surrounding countryside.

Hidden Lodge living room overlooks lake Wakatipu

The Wha room is downstairs and overlooks a verdant lawn.

All showers are glass

The Toru is upstairs with windows on both sides.

The shower is NPS approved

The wood fired hot tub is an excellent place for a soak. Just make sure it gets properly stoked!

Wood fired hot tub

The food and cocktail scene in Queenstown is pretty touristy, but that can be a good thing. Food at Blue Kanu is creative and delicious.

Budda at Blue Kanu

Get the KFC at Blue Kanu

Cloudy Bay bubbly

On the other hand, though the scene is fun at VKnow, the food does not live up to its hype. Danny is a hoot.

Joe’s Garage serves a nice lunch.

For cocktails, the Bunker can’t be beat.

Experimental Cocktail

Barman Dermot Hynes made us an Experimental Cocktail
10 ml Laphroaig
45 ml woodford reserve
20 ml lemon
10 ml sweet vermouth
10 ml simple syrup
dash angustora
stir down. serve up. twist.

Take a walk up Queenstown Hill.

Five showerheads and a hope to return for the Hidden Lodge. Just top notch.