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No Fly Nöel 2018

December 27, 2018

2018 was an interesting year for travel. We stayed close to our 20 trip goal (miraculous), but still managed to hit Argentina, Africa, the Bahamas, New Zealand, and Australia, not to mention a bunch of domestic travel. From the highest winery on the planet, to walking on the Serengeti. Pretty not bad.

Here is the trip-o-meter for 2018.

Because of all of the international flying, we racked up lots of United frequent flyer miles. It will be interesting to see how this goes in 2019 now that we are finished with the silicon valley corporation (whose travel policies, frankly, sucked). Our best bet is less Germany and more Europe this year, but we shall see. We may miss Nuremberg, but we won’t miss the reason for going there!

2018 was our first trip in international First class. Here is our report.

The United lifetime ticker stands at 1,736,206 miles. Yowza. Hopefully our 146,879 miles will keep us in Global Services next year.

Sadly, our love affair with Kimpton is over. Kimpton just became too IHG too fast to retain any loyalty. Oh well, we will miss our great industry friends who I am sure we’ll see from time to time.

Just remember the rule! NO PLASTIC SHOWERS!

We’ve made quite the habit out of holding an annual data crunching summit at the Lorien. Third year in a row. And third time’s a charm.

Helped out by Kimpton/IHG big shot Steph Vogel, we secured a great working space and a bunch of rooms. My room was 611, the presidential suite. Thanks Steph!

Sparse but interesting porch 611

611 is nicely appointed, with almost too much room to spread out. The decor has been updated and is very nice.

611

An amenity was very nice (needed some crackers and silverware tho). The personal note was a great touch too. Nice to be back.

yup. thanks Lorien peeps.

611 includes a separate bedroom with a closet and many windows.

The bathroom is pretty far away from the bedroom, but it has a two-headed shower that is huge with a bench at the end and room for ten.

Looking in

Looking out

One of the highlights of our trip was a meal specially made for us by chef Sebastien Rondier. Chef Sabastien is from southern France, and his cooking reflects that. Absolutely delicious. Best duck a l’orange I have ever eaten. Thanks chef, for the fantastic meal. And thanks Steph for the great idea.

Chef Sebastien presents his fantastic duck

The menu, designed exclusively for us

Fois gras

Delicious Vichyssoise, very thick and served Dutch style over caviar

Peaches, goat cheese, and pine nuts

Here’s that duck again

The servings were generous, to say the least

Though we were full and very happy, dessert was incredible. The cherry tart was out of this world. But so many other delicious things.

That tart back there looks simple and is just fantastic

caffeine cake, LOL

If you get a chance to have Chef Sebastien create a meal for you, take it. A great evening.

Then there was work.

Everyone loves work

On our second evening we headed into the city, mostly targeting the Columbia Room for another visit. Somewhat by accident, we ended up dining and Kinship, which was world class and excellent. Impeccable design. Great service. Tasty food. Great Wine. Boy was that a good find!

Roast chicken (give it 70 minutes…worth every second)

Pork and beans

Caviar and potato chips

The two block walk to Columbia Room was easy. Shaw is so hopping. Though we had a great time at Columbia Room in the usual booth, we were not blown away by the summer cocktail menu. Much fun was had.

Summer menu.

pretend funnel cakes

Though served in a plastic cup (a keepsake), this cocktail is delicious

the pearl

Maybe we were so blown away by Kinship that we were not properly prepared for the Columbia Room. Love that place, but this visit was not as stellar as usual.

In any case, for a week in “no fly July” this visit to DC/Alexanria was pretty not bad. Five showerheads and 10,000 compliments to chef Sebastien at the Lorien.

no fly July

July 3, 2018

Last year’s plan to cut down on travel was a resounding failure. NPS blew the target of 20 trips by just about 50%. 29 trips was too many. Not that they were not fun.
They were fun. They were just too many.

Too many trips in 2017

Several years ago, to keep sane, NPS instituted “no fly July” and “no fly Nöel” both of which remain in effect. No fly July started 3 days ago!

To give you some idea of how important taking a travel break is, consider these numbers from the United pile of travel. NPS has already qualified for 100K in 2019 and the year is not even halfway complete. Yeah, I would imagine we’ll retain our global services status.

So far we’ve been to: San Francisco twice, NY, Boston, LA, Ann Arbor, Germany twice, Austria, Sweden, Argentina, Uruguay, and London.

So yes, we will be not flying for a month. See you in August.

This California in December thing seems to be a trend now that NPS works for a silicon valley company. What that means is a week-long delay in the start of our annual no fly nöel thing.

So how did 2018 stack up? Well the tripometer was up year over year after many years. And most of the travel was international. This year we visited:

  • London (twice)
  • Inverness
  • Stuttgart
  • Neuremberg
  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Oslo
  • Sardegna
  • Malta

Lots of time outside the confines of the broken United States and its Orange Caligula of a “President.”

Here’s the graph.

The annual tripometer. Trips are up for NPS.

Because of all of the international travel, we had some interesting impact on loyalty programs. It’s not even clear we’ll make inner circle this year at Kimpton (horrors)!

Other than the “not really Virgin America” we have no loyalty anymore for any airlines. Treat them all the same and let the chips fall where they will. Use money to “upgrade” by starting out upgraded. My my how things have changed.

A direct comparison of international business class shows United has the best service. Here are two examples.
Delta
United

Anyway, time to stay home by the fire for a while.

Though NPS does not fly in July or December, there is still stuff to be done. The solution? A working meeting at the Lorien in Old Town Alexandria. We’ve been to the Lorien a couple of times since Steph Vogel took over as GM. Sadly, Steph is in Switzerland this week. We’ll pretend that the ship runs just as well without Steph at the helm (though it’s really not true).

The Spartan balcony off 619

This visit finds us in 619, which is similar to 615 only slightly smaller and on the other side of the building. There is a very large balcony on this side too. Because it’s 100 degrees this week (with an overnight low in the upper ’70s), the balcony will be ignored due to weather. Strikes us that a remake of these balconies as a garden would make them both more inviting.

Look to the left

Look to the right

Our meeting room was cavernous and highly functional. We spent all day working.

A cocktail was in order after all that work. The bar is still very good, though barman and detail freak Phil Clark is no longer around. Phil has moved to Phoenix. You can tell. Damien is doing his damndest to keep things up.

Whey Sour
.75 cachaça (novo fogo)
.75 rye (copper fox)
1.5 whey
.75 honey
1 lemon
pinch of salt
Shake. Serve up.

Snacks at the bar took forever to arrive. That ended up making them free. Timely is better than free.

Dinner at The Warehouse was a massive disappointment. The crayfish were good. Or was that the crawdads? The wine list?
Unusable. Skip it. In other news from the evening, the bar at Restaurant Eve still holds its own, but Jackson 20 has slipped to skip it level as well. So sad that the old Alexandria Monaco is now a Marriott property.

On return from dinner around 11, we were greeted with a nice amenity. Thanks Stephani. The ice cold San Pelegrino is particularly welcome.

Sitting room 619

Sleeping room 619

The huge glass shower will do just fine.

Shower? Perfect.

Once the work was done, there were museums to see. First stop was the National Building Museum to see Hive. Well worth the visit.

Home of hive. At least for a while.

That was followed by another great lunch at Bistrot du Coin.

And a visit to the Phillips Collection. The old building is under renovation, so only half of the paintings as usual were out. But still fantastic. An NPS introduction to the stunning art of German artist Markus Lüpertz.

German artist Markus Lüpertz

The suit

Detail from Spoon

German artist Markus Lüpertz

A fantastic day. Followed almost immediately on its heels by a fantastic evening.

Roses Luxury is just as stellar as its incredible reputation. Just go. We showed up at 5:10pm and walked right in for a 180 minute dinner extravaganza.

Those poor “other people” had to wait in line

Caviar service

Yes, we took pictures of our food. We also had extensive conversations about it.

The best dish of the evening was a soft shelled crab served with Singapore-style chilli sauce (on the sweet side) over steamed buns with pickles. Delicious.

So really. Go to Roses Luxury as soon as you can.

Then there was the Columbia Room in the back booth (our usual NPS haunt), this time with the geek patrol. Excellent as usual, this time less for the drinks presentation than the company.

Columbia Room

Ice

Seaweed?!

Rum from 1857 always seems like a good idea after the tasting menu is complete.

The moral of the story is: get your work done quickly so you can spend some time being spoiled in DC!

Five showerheads and a real wish that Steph were around. We miss you Steph.

No Fly Noël 2016: Kinda

December 3, 2016

Regular NPS readers and lurkers know all about “no fly July” and “no fly Noël.” The idea is simple. Stop. Rest. Think. Read. Get out of the hubbub of everyday modern life, sit by the fire, and exist.

This year’s No Fly Noël is much needed as 2016 was about the most stressful year on record for NPS in 17 years. It was a great year in the end, but boy are we glad it is over.

So, how did the year look? Kinda like this (according to the tripometer).

The 2016 NPS tripometer

The 2016 NPS tripometer

Travel according to the new regimen is trending nicely low. The goal for 2016 was 20 trips and we came in 15% high at 23. Well, almost. Looks like we have to throw off the chains of No Fly Noël and hit the road one more time in December to strategize with the corporate overlords. Or maybe that is overlord with the corporate strategists? Something like that anyway. Stay tuned for those data. (And make that 24 trips and a 20% overrun.)

In other news this year, the Elevate Gold status on Virgin America is a good thing. We switched the firehose from United to Virgin America in 2014 and there is no looking back. NPS likes main cabin select. NPS also likes using points to upgrade to Europe. How that will work going forward is a good question!

Fly too much?  Try Virgin America.

Fly too much? Try Virgin America.

Of course since NPS is based at Dulles, there is no avoiding United. Honestly, they did better this year. Flying United was not great, but it did not completely suck. So maybe the Smisek effect is finally washing out.

And then there is Kimpton which remains the NPS go to hotel chain of choice even after the disaster that is the San Francisco Kimpton property crater. Years ago we helped to start the Kimpton Intouch program (which is now the Kimpton Karma program). We do what we can to stay qualified without calling in air support from Mike Defrino. You go Kimpton!

Inner Circle?  Why yes, we'll have some

Inner Circle? Why yes, we’ll have some

It was a perfect weekend in Virginia (if not hot). Lots of time in the river. An evening playing live music for friends. So how do ease back into work mode? Why with the help of the Donovan hotel of course. My home away from home in DC is particularly welcoming this visit!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the shower pod

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the shower pod

You see, my friend Steph Vogel has been holding out on me. But no more! Now we’ve been in 1110. YES!

Welcome

Welcome

We will pretend that this is a flight of Pappy van Winkle bourbon.

Living room overlooking the circle

Living room overlooking the circle

IMG_2449

This suite is huge.

Bedroom

Bedroom

IMG_2458

But the shower is what stands out. A nautilus design with a spiral. Very cool.

The nautilus shower is NPS approved

The nautilus shower is NPS approved

IMG_2453

IMG_2455

IMG_2459

Without setting foot in an airplane, we’re somehow still pampered beyond belief. Five showerheads for the Donovan. Thanks for ending the weekend on a high note!

No Fly July 2016

July 4, 2016

No fly July means no airplanes, no hotels, and a bunch of actual thinking. Maybe a dip or two in the river for good measure.

See you in August.

And Now No Fly Nöel

December 18, 2015

True. We have not been on an airplane since November. But all these trips to Washington and Philly in cars are encroaching on our no travel respite.

Now it’s time to rest our bones beside the fire. Even if it is a really big fire and we’re dancing.

Solstice Fire 2014

Solstice Fire 2014

This year was the lightest travel year on record since 2002 with only 21 trips (not counting the last three!). Travel is becoming manageable, and that’s good.

Tripometer 2015

Tripometer 2015

Thanks for reading NPS! Salubrious solstice to all.

No fly July had to end sometime, and August 6th was it! Back in the air, I was forced to fly United today. Argh.

First some good news. Checkin was smooth, efficient and had no massive line for the first time in memory. Wow! TSApre worked as advertised. And Dulles Terminal C has had a major facelift and looks way better than it used to. The United Red Carpet club people were nice too.

Then it was off to the gate for some bad news. Ridiculous boarding process angst incited by gate agents in a bad mood (boo). And get this, even though the FAA says you can carry on instruments, the awful gate agent woman would not let me. “You must check one,” she demanded. (I have a violin and mandolin with me.) “We could be fined $2000,” said another. Just unhelpful, unfriendly people. Why the hell are they in customer service? I mean really.

Fortunately, the flight attendants told me to just bring my instrument on and ignore the gate agents. They were actually friendly and helped me sneak it on. (I did have visions of the gate agent getting on the plane and making a scene, but fortunately that did not happen. I only relaxed after we pushed back.)

HEY UNITED GATE AGENTS, READ THIS.

The rest of the flight was fine.

So as usual, United can’t win for losing. They need to clean house of the employees who do not belong in customer service.