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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!

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.

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.

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.

Our first foray into the city was not that long ago, but was directly impacted by COVID when both stars of Plaza Suite were infected.  We went to see Hangman instead, an OK play, but not really all that.  And then it was back in Virginia for the advent of the Spring green.  Were some of us disappointed?  Why yes we were.

So, soon enough we were back in the city to take another crack at Plaza Suite do some business on the side.  The original plan was to fly in Saturday evening, so we booked a room at the Muse, one of the Kimptons of yore.  Bottom line: the IHG takeover of Kimpton is complete.  These days, the lobby of the Muse seems to be filled with aging midwesterners who have accumulated enough IHG points by staying at many Holiday Inns that they are splurging on a trip to Broadway and the big city.  Kimpton is hip no more.

Times Square remains a Disneyfied tourist attraction and a traffic snarl.  That’s nothing new.

The Muse does retain much of its old staff, and that is nice.  But its computers are corporate and the wiggle room is gone.  So our request of room 1703 was ignominiously ignored due to the fact that we expanded our stay to two nights instead of one (really with plenty of time for the hotel to adjust) and didn’t feel up to switching rooms halfway through our stay.  That leaves us surly and disappointed.

Somehow I think we ended up accumulating lots of IHG points due to all of this.  But guess what?  NPS does not give one shit about IHG points.  None.  We just want really great rooms for our cash money.

Plus it rained the whole time, so 1506 was not all that it’s cracked up to be what with a soggy balcony.

It was great to see Madou.

The rain made business in Brooklyn interesting too.  Traffic was a thing.  Our visit to One World Observatory for dinner was hilarious with zero visibility.  LOL.

Finally we ditched the tail and ended up at Katana Kitten for some real fun (thanks to Jacques for the pointer).  I mean, check out this before and after!

Before Katana Kitten

 

After Katana Kitten

Things were blurry.

Thankfully the canary extracted us before the blurry things got much farther out of hand.  They did get far enough though, and Saturday morning was hard.

Returning to 1506 after a night on the town?  Nah.  The Muse days are over.

At least the shower is NPS approved.  A very nice one.

After recovery, we visited the Guggenheim for a Kandinsky fix.  Ahhh.  That and ramen will do it every time.  It was a glorious afternoon.

There are times when ramen can save your life

After a nap that stretched on just a little too long, it was dinner at Junoon.  Highly recommended.

Breakfast at Banter (the original one south of Washington Square) is fantastic.  The mushrooms are worth talking about.

All dressed up and ready for Plaza Suite

Now it’s time to see the play and then scoot to EWR for a quick hop home.

Four showerheads and a demotion for the Muse.  We miss our Kimpton.

 

 

Lulu

The extended weekend part of the San Francisco trip was built around kitty sitting for 9 week old LuLu in Guerneville. Jim and Chloe arranged it all.

We started Friday morning in San Francisco and headed directly north. Lunch was in Sabastapol at Handline.

Wut?

Lulu

After dropping off the bags and taking a swim, we headed out to Flowers Winery for a tasting. Frankly, flowers is really nice in a Disney-eque, just a little too too kind of way. Nice people with a script, and wine with a story that’s been focus grouped. I’m sure most people love it.

Magnolia

It seems as if a majority of the wineries on the beaten path in Sonoma stick with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I prefer when they diverge.

We headed into Healdsburg for a cocktail in a plastic cup at Duke’s Bar. The highly tattooed bartender that originally served us (who just so happened to be a woman) was fantastic. The other hipster guy who looked exactly like one of those bartender guys was not. Not bad, but also not good. Don’t seek it out.

There there was a quick trip to Safeway for Crunchberries. We did manage to hold off to have those for breakfast. Some people had never tried them before.

Breakfast of champions

Photographic evidence

My view from the best seat in the house

Dinner at Bravas Tapas was passable. Nice food. Very touristy. Sadly the best restaurant in town was booked by people who plan ahead.

Saturday morning started with the kitty under the covers, crawling down the length of my body to my toes. Hilarious kitty. Also lots of purring by the head.

After our breakfast of champions, we headed to Flying Goat Coffee to meet a friend who joined us for the day. A hike at the Healdsburg Ridge Preserve was just what the doctor ordered. We brought a delicious picnic and consumed it on a bridge…kind of reverse trolls handing out cherries.

Then it was off to Stuhlmuller Vinyards for another tasting. Great vibe. We brought pastries, had a great chat, and tasted some good wine. The italian varietals mixed in made the wines in my view.

On the way home to swim, we risked death by patchouli hula hoop girl and stopped by Safeway where a Dead cover band has been playing since before the Dead actually started in 1962. The mission was Palomas. So we needed Pomelo San Pelligrino. Here’s how to make a Paloma:

Paloma
Squeeze 1/2 lime into whiskey glass and leave the lime husk in
2 oz reposado tequila
large cube
fill with sparkling San Pellegrino Pomelo

We escaped with our lives, but the music is still with us. The Palomas by the pool were absolutely worth it.

Jim and I headed down to town for dinner at Brot (in greater metropolitan Guerneville). Delicious and fun. Highly recommended.

Then it was nightcap and dessert time. We hit El Barrio (about which expect more in the future) for excellent cocktails and a shot of mezcal. Then the formica-clad bar at Main Street Bistro and Cabaret where we heard some very good local music. The band was playing “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic.

Up early for a Sunday morning visit to Medlock Ames Bell Mountain location. This was the best winery of the entire California visit. Just fantastic. A great tour by an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable young woman, fantastic grounds (including nice gardens), a look behind the scenes at wine in production. Just very nice indeed.

The generous hosts

I have become a huge fan of this winery.

On the recommendation of our host at Medlock Ames, we hit Davero on the way home. There was no way to arrange a proper tasting at the very last minute, but we had a glass of Rose with a Barbera base in the incredible gardens. We were joined by the very happy dog. There was a pig.

Davero has so much down to earth charm. There are some wineries that could learn a thing or two from these interesting people.

We had a lunch to be forgotten on the way back home…something that remains with me now as I write this. Blerg.

After a last dip in the pool, it was back to the city to get ready to fly.

But first, ramen from Coco’s.

This second “first” trip post pandemic was memorable in all the ways. Excellent friends, great food, wine and cocktails, and interaction with many humans. May we all recover our balance and live life again properly.

One day soon I hope to be back at this very spot

Exciting times here in NPS-land where the youngest progeny is setting up an apartment for his last year of college. That required a visit to Beloit.

This trip we tried out the brand new Hotel Goodwin (walking distance to campus and much of the downtown in Beloit). Excellent service and a stellar property.

We were assigned room 3008, which is very nice. About the only fly in the ointment is highway noise early in the morning (this may only be a problem for people who live in the country…city folks are unlikely to even notice).

The shower

The bathroom is a nicely appointed marble palace with a huge walk in glass shower sporting multiple shower heads. Yes please. Interestingly, design-wise the shower is also exposed to the bedroom through one of its glass walls.

View from the bedroom

The room is also a very spacious design with plenty of room to hang out comfortably.

While in Beloit, a nice Japanese dinner can be found at Zen Sushi. A great burger can be had at Lucy’s. Reasonably good mexican is available in Janesville at El Jardin. Two great breakfast dives are Jerry’s Cafe and Mr B’s Coffee.

United also performed well on this trip, even providing car service between gates for a tight ORD connection. Awesome!

Five showerheads for Hotel Goodwin. Recommended. Oh, and the bar has Fernet.

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

In the mountains, there is always a remarkable difference between the seasons. Our first visit to the cabin in Skarvheimem was in the Fall. We did some great hiking. This time we visited at the tail end of winter, just before Easter. Here is a short montage about our visit.

We arrived in Bergen…well maybe it was Bergen just in time to pee.

Bergen airport bathroom

Nobody in Bergen is sure about anything

After 20 hours or so of travel, sunset was a welcome sight.

Then it was off to the cabin.

Our now familiar pass

This is where the talk about photography began in earnest. It is not where it ended.

The “path” to the cabin was a little snowy

Home for Easter week.

The living room and bar area

Heat turned out to be kind of important

Outdoor fire

This is us lazing around doing nothing. Note that we were not relaxing (right Gøran?)

Panorama by Anne

The cross country ski area

Way down there is the entire crew

Did I mention there was some talk of photography?

Picture by Amy Barley

The two most important things at the cabin are both liquids.

First, there is water.

Then there is rum

Downhill day

My downhill morning companions

Moon over ice (by Anne)

The view at dinner

Music was a thing again even though the violin was left in Virginia.

Fernet anyone?

More skiing

Pretending to fly the planet

Boo!

Another fire

Two fisted Anne

Somebody is very happy

The visitor

Pancakes and ice cream

Some biathalon

Spring in Norway

Another magical visit to Norway with great friends.

Of course the shower itself was not plastic, since it was nonexistent.

The moonlit view