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The Lowry is a business hotel of reasonable quality in Manchester, England.  It rains every day.  Manchester is a cool town.

 

Room 223 at the Lowry is a nicely spacious hamster cage that is just fine, thank you.

Though the shower could use some water pressure and the HVAC system is a disaster.

The view is nice, but short.

Florence will break her foot kind of putting a major damper on the whole thing.

On a rainy evening, head on over to Home and see a movie.  If you’re lucky it will be as great as the Banshees of Inisherin.

Do some retail in the center.

Have breakfast at Côte.

Have dinner at 20 Stories  (which sports not only a great view, but an excellent bar).  Get Lisa to come up.

Visit Chinatown (open all night).

But maybe skip the Cloud 23  at the Hilton.  No skill.  Just view. (We went so you don’t have to.). An attempt at a CR#2 was just, well, just.

This cocktail should be renamed the “Lavender Yeah No.”

And by all means don’t go to the Lowry bar unless you must.  (And just for the record, sometimes you just must.)

WTF?

We did make them try an industry sour.

 

Finally, sort out your ride to the train station the night before.  Manchester traffic is a thing when it rains.  And it rains!

We’ll be back when Florence heals.  Can’t wait to do some dancing in Manchester.

Three showerheads for the Lowry.

It has been some years since we visited the stuffed cat in the Zetter Townhouse in London, and lo and behold, the cat is in full on Christmas mode.  More about that soon enough.

In town for business, we reinhabited the old haunt (the Zetter Hotel), this time in room 503.  This is one of the three rooms on the fifth floor with an excellent outside deck.  Of course it was rainy and cold the entire time, because London.  But we actually used the deck!

NPS still believes the 50X rooms need refurbished bathrooms.  The showers are long in the tooth, unsatisfying, and involve climbing into a tub.  A complete revamp with some glass showers would do everyone good.

The rest of 503 is great.  Be aware that the stairs down to the bathroom can be hazardous in the middle of the night.

Looking in on 503 from the deck.

Two views from the Zetter (up and down).  The blue sky was extremely temporary.

Now look at that tub!  We’re going to need to try that (but only after a visit to Callooh Callay.


The blue is still around.

Hopefully this shower is not long for the world.  The bathrooms are small but could be laid out much more reasonably.

Of course, the main draw of the Zetter is the Townhouse next door.  Yes please.  We had them fetch the Amer Picon from downstairs.  The visit featured many a Picon cocktail, including the Liberal, the Brooklyn, and Picon Punch.  I never make the latter because it takes way too much rare (in the US) Amer Picon.

Things were Christmasy all over London.

We returned to the Zetter Townhouse multiple times.

But first a quick note about some restaurants we did business things in.  Quo Vadis is an outstanding location for a private dinner.  And the Quality Chop House is unbelievably great.  Seriously, best Pheasant we have ever eaten.  Best Ramen in London at Mohonon.

Fun?  At Quo Vadis.

Picon Punch looks like coke.

Noel was let out on good behavior.  It did not last long.

Guilty as charged.

This South African gem was a perfect match for game.  The Norwegians were in the house!

Romey arrived bright and early and looking very stylish.

A quick hit at the Tate rounded out a full day.

More Townhouse late into the evening.

A new thing?  A visit to the London Eye.  Been there.  Done that.

The band.

A visit to the Churchill War Rooms was stuffy and a bit of a disappointment.  The Ivy, on the other hand, did not disappoint.

Martinis for the band at the Dorchester Bar (the Connaught was packed).  This round did not do much to improve the theater.  We saw A Single Man at the Park Theater. It was OK.

Martinis were not a sufficient dinner.  So we made a late night run to Chinatown.  It was also packed.  Where did all these people come from?

In other news, the Victoria and Albert has a design exhibit that is interesting, the South Bank Christmas market is a bust, Bengal Village is really nothing worth writing home about, and Callooh Callay remains a blast (thanks for the good conversation Charlie).

The Industry Sour cocktail made several appearances during this trip:

equal parts green chartreuse, lime, fernet, and simple syrup (1:1).  surprisingly great.

Always Negroni.

And that tub?  Yup!


A very nice visit to the Zetter again.  We’ll probably be back.  Because.  Four showerheads and a hope for new bathrooms in the near future.

Well, there may not even be showers.  And people may steal your boots (accidentally?!) overnight.  But where else are you going to hear a folk story accompanied by live music recounted by Solbjørg Kvålshaugen?  Or run up an impressive bar tab for your 20th year festivities??

We started the night before in Bergen (maybe?).

And then got motivated in the morning and headed up into the mountains towards the Hytte in Tyinkrysset.  On our way, we took a detour to Fondsbu, arriving just in time for the last dinner of the year.  Here’s how Gøran describes it, “If you remember the ski trail we followed along the water last winter. Well, if we follow that road to the end, we get to a place called Fondsbu. They have their closing dinner on Saturday 8th with entertainment and live music.”

A stop by our favorite bakery in Norway.

The best way to spend the drive?  Definitely if you are a teenager.

We arrived and staked out our rooms.  The rooms are very basic and tidy with sinks and bunks.  It all feels like a ship cabin (especially after a bunch of rum).

Eidsbugarden

Dinner was delicious and communal.  Reindeer filet and some red wine.  During the festivities, the moon arrived (one day from full, still waxing).

The dinner marked the opening of winter (and the closing of the summer season).  The live music was great, even though this song is not at all about Norway.  It’s about boneheaded racism.

 

We partied late into the night, meeting mountain men, musicians, and hotel hosts.  Much fun was had.

The boots disappeared.

Late the next morning after fortifying ourselves with some porridge, we headed to the Hytte.

An incredible experience, about as Norwegian as you can get.  My only regret is that I failed to bring my fiddle along to play.  I guess in 20 more years, I will get another chance.

More post-COVID business travel in 2022.  Trondheim, Norway is well north of Bergen and Oslo, situated on a Fjord, and is the home of NTNU where NPS was participating as adversary for a Ph.D. defense.  That meant travel was dictated by university policy.  Fortunately, breakfast was included.

In case you have forgotten what Norway is like, here is a video.  About the same geographic size as California, Norway has only 5.4 million people.  It is a gorgeous country.

Flying in to Trondheim is always an adventure, as you have to stop off in Oslo for customs and then brave the winds at the Trondheim airport.  One poor old lady on my flight was literally screaming in fright as we made our approach and landing.

The great news is some of our good Norwegian friends were in town to greet us.  Our first committee meeting was a very nice dinner out at the cozy Fagn bistrot.

The Scandic chain has done nothing to improve post COVID.  A middle tier hotel chain on par with Marriott in the US or maybe Hyatt, Scandic pays more attention to their common areas and meeting rooms than they do to their actual rooms.

The Scandic Nidelven does boast the “best breakfast in Norway.”  And the spread is actually quite good (and equally crowded).  So go for the breakfast!  I got two breakfasts in while in town.

The shower in my room (423 I think) looked something like this.  Distinctly uninspired, yet functional and not plastic.

Views from the breakfast room over the Nidelva canals are very pretty.

In one minor wrinkle, my suitcases followed me into town by a day.  That meant borrowing a coat and a dress shirt from friends just to stay warm and presentable.

 

The defense itself was interesting and fun.  We minted a new doctor!


After which it was time to celebrate.  First with a large dinner at Rive Gauche a droite (LOL) and then for some late night cocktails at the Britannia.  The hotel has undergone major renovations and now has a world class cocktail lounge fittingly reminiscent of its London cousins.

We had to sort a major travel SNAFU on the way to the cocktail bar (NPS does sometimes drop packets, but we also bring along our credit card to buy entirely new packets…and sometimes a router.)

 

The next day a public talk at the university on Machine Learning Security was in order.

After lunch with the faculty (deeply interested in MLsec), there was a very short window for some tourism in Trondheim.  The Rockheim museum is almost worth a visit..if you go with the right attitude it can be silly and fun.

The Trondheim sense of humor is even visible in the cafe signs.  “probably the best espresso in the world” (more LOL).

 

After a parting Negroni at the Scandic bar (inundated with business types having a cocktail before their conference dinner), it was off to the airport to wait several hours for a quick flight to Bergen?

All in all, three showerheads for the Scandic Nidelven.  Like the headline says, go for the breakfast.

 

 

What was to be a long weekend in the city shrunk down to one night when business did its usual thing of melting away.  NPS stayed on the lower east side on somewhat of a whim.  The verdict?  Meh.

Thing is, Madou had no idea that we weren’t in midtown.  So we shlepped up there for sushi at Sushi by Bou.  Which was hilarious and definitely worth the subway time.

The place is tiny, so make a reservation.  Immediately after coffee, it was back downtown for our meetings, and then back to midtown for dinner at Freemans.  Dinner was great.

But skip the rice pudding fad!  LOL.  Ride pudding is way too filling to catch on.

After dinner, the plan was to wedge into PDF, but the hot dog place was being its persnickety self.  So instead we headed to Amor Y Amargo for some fantastic cocktails.  We made up an experimental cocktail called the McGillicutty.

The Indigo was generic and boring.  All of the Kimpton magic has dispersed.

The shower is not plastic.

The lower east side is close to some stuff, we guess.

NPS doesn’t remember the room number.  Not returning.

Back to EWR you go (in an early Uber).

The United club is all new and fancy, but the flights are still delayed.

All told, three showerheads and no more strikes for Kimpton.  Anybody have a good boutique hotel chain to offer?

 

 

Do you speak English?  Do you fancy (or maybe, like, if you are American, “like”) sitting by the pool when it is 100 Fahrenheit degrees outside?  Are you a hipster, or maybe hipster inclined?  Perhaps hipster curious?  Then this is the place for you!

The fact that this place had rebranded itself to CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha from what was most likely Palacio de Atocha before says a bunch.  In English.

The pool rocks.  Just come for the pool.

We’re having a grand old time by the pool.

Our room is 40.  Maybe it is a “junior suite” or some such.  The room is built into the top floor attic.  It’s pretty hot in Madrid still, and the A/C is having some issues trying to keep up.  It does OK if you close all the windows, shut your eyes, and try to be invisible.

The room is nice. Hipsters dig it.  There are USB ports in random locations.  There is a bluetooth doohicky for music.  Right angles are rare. There are two copies of everything but the toilet and the makeup station in the bathroom.

Two copies!  Romey can take a cold shower while I take a hot one.  Simultaneously.

\

There is a note from the GM with some yummy items.  This is so hipster that NPS felt instantly at home (but add an email address so we can ping you Señor GM).

We’re just swinging back out of Spain tomorrow and still moving slowly.  So time by the pool with too many Negronis is just what the Doctor ordered.  Doctor Feelgood, is that you?

Oh it IS doctor feelgood.  Yay!

Before we got here there was no graffiti in the furniture pile.  We fixed that.

…do dee do deeee do…

Dinner at Los Porfiados was very good indeed.  Fernet and Coke for the win.  We were the only English speakers in the place.  And, frankly, we should have spoken Italian.

Do you know how to make a fernet and coke?  There is THE WAITERS WAY (which is wrong) and there is the way they do it in BA.  Do it the BA way.

We will deface your napkin.  A cute hack.

Honestly, the empanadas here are the best I have ever had anywhere.  Just wow.  The veal was good too.

On our last day in Madrid, we bought some stuff and we had some drinks by the pool.  It was perfect.

Five showerheads and an upgrade to Spanish plus some more powerful A/C units for the CoolRooms BestRooms YouAreNotWorthyOfTheRooms Palacio do Atocha.

 

 

 

First things first, Hotel Alma is a five star hotel.  So you kind of know what to expect.  The Alma Barcelona feels Japanese on entry and in its design sensibility.  And it is similarly quiet and a little stayed.  Ultimately, it could use a splash of life and fewer hoity-toity guests.  But then again, it is perfectly suited to its slightly snooty demographic.  You will not find any hipsters here.  In fact, after midnight at the bar you won’t find anyone at all.

But it is nice to be overly pampered, have a room where the A/C is beyond sufficient, and have lots of room to spread out.  So all told, the Alma fits the bill this time.  Note that its location is about 10 minutes from the heart of tourist-land.  So plan to taxi.

The staff at the Alma is trying hard to be five star worthy and they almost achieve it.  Almost all are friendly and helpful, but attention to detail and followthrough is lacking.  Perhaps counterintuitively, relaxing a notch and having more fun by loosening up would probably help everyone.

The Madrid train station (at Atocha) gave us a taste of green before our fast train to Barcelona (and a drop of 10 degrees Fahrenheit).

We were situated in room 301 (a “superior executive suite” in the grade inflated nomenclature of the hotel).

This room is nicely appointed, large, airy and a good place to camp for a few days.  The street below is not noisy, and the A/C is up to the task.

The bathroom in 301 is large and marble-lined with tall ceilings, a tub large enough for two, a beautiful shower, and tons of hot water.  Yes please. But we had to bring our own bluetooth device to stream music (well, we had to buy one on La Rambla), and the TV would not stream content from the computer without an HDMI cable.

All told the Alma is a great base of operations for a visit to Barcelona.  It is conveniently close to la Pedrera (Casa Milà), good retail in l’Eixample, and plenty of great food.  Walking is possible if you are up for 2 km at a time.  Since we were taking it easy during COVID recovery, we appreciated all the aspects of the Alma.

Speaking of which, the garden is magical and serene.  If only there were a pool.  But there are snacks and Negronis.

The food at the Alma is delicious and carefully prepared.

On Sunday night, we had dinner outside in the garden at Jardín del Alma, a restaurant that is trying very hard to be upscale, but not quite getting over the threshold.  The food in Barcelona is so good that unless you are staying in the hotel, a visit to the restaurant may not be in the cards.

Ingredients are fresh and service is OK.

Much better is the vaunted hotel breakfast.  Everything about the breakfast situation at the Alma is top notch.  Only the service could be improved.  Once again allowing the staff to relax and maybe have a little fun would likely help.

We enjoyed wandering the gothic district after a walk down to the sea on La Rambla.

After a swing by the Cathedral, we chanced up on a hotel rooftop bar of Hotel Colon.  Go up to the seventh floor, the view is great and the food is delicious.

Why, they even have an Aperol spritz available.

La Rambla flowers.

Perfume.

Just by Gaudi.

Speaking of which, a night visit to La Pedrera is definitely something to do.  We had an excellent dinner afterwards at La Bodegueta Provença.

One night we attempted to visit Park Güell, but were turned away at the entrance because it was “full.”  No guidebook has anything to say about that.  Do not plan to go there for sunset without a ticket.

Fortunately, all was made well with a fantastic visit to Toma Ya Street Food, which was homey, friendly and delicious.  We topped that off with a stop in for some world class cocktails at 14 de la rosa.  Just superior in all respects.  We had a Liberal together as well as an Industry Sour.

We also made a leisurely visit to the Picasso Museum and had some Ramen for lunch one day.  We skipped the sagrada familia after battling their website for tickets.  Spanish websites really need some attention.

All in all, our visit to Barcelona was very relaxing and low key.  We’ll be back for sure to see more sights and experience more night life.  Next time no COVID.

Five showerheads and a wish for the staff to have more fun for Hotel Alma.

 

We came to Spain for an in person meeting—our first encounter as a group since COVID struck the planet.  High bandwidth.  Full of energy. Intense and productive.

The meeting was organized by the best of professionals who discovered an excellent location in the Pestana Plaza Mayor, a refuge in the heart of the tourist zone which manages to avoid most (but not all) of the Disneyfication of Plaza Mayor.  The location really couldn’t be better for first timers to Madrid.

The Pestana is squarely in four star category, like right smack in the middle.  This kind of hotel is perfectly suited for its demographic.

Our arrival process in Madrid was definitely a let down after all the rumors of long lines at customs, COVID QR codes, and lost luggage.  The QR code that took so much effort to secure was not even glanced at in the blue lane.  Our plane was first in. Customs took less than 2 minutes.  Our luggage arrived within 5 minutes, barely enough time to get our bearings.

About the only challenge at arrival was the absolutely cocaine-addled Serbian taxi driver who insisted on aggressively hauling ass through Madrid, unceremoniously dropping us off at the wrong corner past the hotel and insisting on being paid cash.  Anyway, we made it in quick.

So quick, in fact, that we were way way way too early to check in.  We were offered a shower in the (common) spa area.  Which was OK if you don’t mind other people stopping by while you are in your underwear.  The spa was very hot and not properly cleaned and cared for, but the showers work.  Management could do with a better solution to offer early arrivals a more civilized welcome.  FWIW, this problem happens all over the world.

Somewhat freshened, we crossed paths with a colleague just in from Chicago and sought out some espresso and juice for breakfast.

The irony of having an intensely good tiny espresso and some fresh squeezed orange juice just next door to a generic Starbucks was not lost on us.


We stopped in at the Mercado San Miguel for some tourist-priced street food and made our way through old Madrid.  Finally it was time to check in.

We were assigned room 117, a superior room in a classic hamster cage design (nothing like a rectangle with some strategic mirrors).  This room is too tight to spend a week in (more about that to come), but it is fine for a day or three.

The superior category rating comes from the balcony which overlooks Plaza Mayor.  All of that seems awesome until the fourth or fifth night of listening to the hack “musicians” loop through Hit the Road Jack or the Disney princess medley accompanied by a Casio soundtrack on accordion.  Someone should invent a pandemic that wipes out the accordion players in one fell swoop.  The most amusing part of the street music problem is the cat and mouse game they play with the police.

The view from the balcony is excellent.  It is hot as the Dickens in Madrid this week, with temperatures above 101 Farenheit every day.  The breeze through the balcony door is hot.  The A/C in our room is almost up to the task.  Almost.

The shower in 117 is fantastic.  Glass. Lots of hot water.  Plenty of room to get clean. 100% NPS approved.

Lunch with the team from the company we’re advising was incredible at Sa Brisa Restaurante en El Retiro.  We started at 2:30 and finished at 5.  Very Spanish of us!

The rooftop pool at the Pestana is a long skinny rectangle maybe a lane and a half wide.  It is unlikely that the Madrid summer olympics will be held here anytime in the future. But the water is refreshing and the beer is, well, beer (don’t tell Markus).

After this excellent start, a major setback in our trip happened on day one.  After receiving an email from NH about a positive COVID test among the people I was on stage performing with, I decided to test myself in the morning even though I was pretty much asymptomatic.  One positive test result later, it was isolation time and worry for my partner who was also well exposed by that time.

We are still in isolation and recovery mode.  By now I am almost fully recovered and plan to retest tomorrow.  My partner is still in the heart of it (though she has never tested positive we are treating her as if she did).

Anyway, the pretty much constant view became this as the table was shifted over to the balcony door for a day long zoom meeting.  AUGH!  Honestly, I know we are all done with zoom by now, but imagine being fully prepared to chair an in person meeting full of great people from all over the world and then being relegated to zoom less than 200 yards away from the actual meeting.

Lets just say we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trapped in 117, venturing out to walk the city in the evening once or twice, remaining masked and socially distanced.  Eating room service food, take away pizza, and breakfasts fetched by whichever one of us was the most healthy.  Masking even in our room together.

The hotel has been a very good base of operations, the staff accommodating to the highest degree (we are being very careful and mindful of them), and the interstitial time long and full of nothing.  We even streamed 21 grams one night.

Speaking of which, the room TV/Internet tech all needs to be replaced here.  It is old and it does not work with modern gear.  Good luck making it stream anything.

We are existing on Spanish time, getting up late, lunching well into the 4pm hour, and eating after 10pm.  Can’t wait until we can do that with other humans.

A special breakfast salad brought up for consumption.

A socially distanced Negroni. This plaza (Plaza de Santa Ana) was filled with packed restaurants at 9:30pm.  We asked for a table far from everyone, and had our first proper Negroni of the trip.  We were hoping that would cure us.

That night it was ice cream and potato chips for dinner.

Incidentally, our room is on the first floor above the plaza the bottom right of the lighted doorway square.

Great take out pizza can be found at Pizzamascalzone.

Have an Aperol Spritz…if you can find one.

Be a human.