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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.

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.

What a difference a day makes. It rained like crazy in Dunedin almost the entire time we were there. The rain was so intense that major highways were flooding and bridges were impassable.

After lunch on our way up to Queenstown, we barely made it past an important bridge. New Zealand is small enough that there are really not that many alternative routes available. Even the big roads are, well, two laners with the occasional one lane bridge.

We drive by Lake Wakatipu on the way to Queenstown. The lookout at Devil’s Staircase was blustery and wet.

We checked in to Villa del Lago in the rain (about which more in a second). By the next morning, the rain was replaced by a spectacular view.

And of course, the lookout at Devil’s Staircase on Lake Wakatipu was a completely different scene.

So that’s the difference a day can make. Now on to Villa del Lago. Basically, Queenstown is a major tourist destination for skiing, hiking, and general partying. Villa del Lago has a very much ski chalet feel. Nice, but slightly abused and just a little declasse.

Our apartment complex had several rooms. We were in number four.

The living area features great windows

The kitchen remained unused

Pretend fireplace

The Boy’s room

Master bedroom view

The washer and dryer came in handy after our time in San Francisco.

The all important bathroom was of the Euro variety with a nice shower—not plastic.

The non-plastic shower

Ivy and Lola’s is a very good restaurant indeed. Great lamb in interesting combinations. And a decent negroni to boot!

Ivy and Lola’s

The Bunker is a very good cocktail location. Excellent skills and interesting drinks.

The Bunker

Corpse Reviver #2

Smoke

The Villa del Lago earns three showerheads. Time to clean those stained bedspreads and spruce things up a notch to match the scenery!

The Bluestone on George is a cozy place to stay in Dunedin, New Zealand even on a cold, rainy, Spring day.

Once the dense cloud cover broke (at a very low ceiling), the green of New Zealand peeked through.

A quick trip into town from the airport was aided by the fact that Eli can drive on the left, which is right around here.

Bluestone on George is nicely upscale. Clean and modern with friendly staff. We are in room 405. The room features a balcony overlooking soggy Dunedin. In the middle of the night, the wind and rain was so strong that the doors blew open (they were not properly latched).

The lobby is a great place to vanquish your temporary chess enemies.

Beautiful lines in the lobby

Dunedin from the balcony

Without further ado, room 405.

Eaves set off the balcony

Sleek kitchenette

Though tight (probably because the hot tub thing is so wide), the bathroom is also sleek and modern. Cool showerhead too.

So many nozzles

Dinner at Etrusco features working class Italian in a setting with a great fireplace. Friendly service and good food.

Fireplace at Etrusco

We accidentally discovered a new gin at the restaurant. Too many sweet aromatics for a Negroni. This gin should be saved for cucumber cocktails. Tellingly, they were advertising Bombay Sapphire as a London Dry. Nopey nope.

New Zealand gin

For breakfast near the George, try Capers which has great pancakes. Good Earth Cafe is a nice college hangout with great looking cakes.

If you’re on the road, make sure to hit the Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore. Turns out it was NPS ancestors who brought hooch to New Zealand from Kintail.

Four showerheads and a nice warm welcome for Bluestone on the George. Highly recommended.

NPS is on a 25 day adventure that includes San Francisco as a first stop. Loyal readers know that means Japantown, and Japantown these days means the Kabuki.

The lobby is a great place to hang out and get some work done. And the bar is pretty good to boot.

And there is now espresso on the property.

It was hazy in San Francisco every day due to the fires in California. In fact, the air quality was the worst on the planet on Thursday.

This trip we’re on the top floor (16) in 1602. The rooms are well appointed.

1602

1602 has two large windows overlooking the city

The bathroom is sizable, but the room is cold. The poor heater can’t keep up with nights that drop into the upper ’40s. That means the bathroom is chilly in the morning. Fortunately, the shower door in 1602 seals pretty well and does not let tons of cold air in. But the old sliding doors (still) need to be replaced with more modern glass that insulates better.

The shower is a room of its own with two shower heads and a large bench.

Bathroom accoutrements

Of course, San Francisco is a great place to visit when it comes to food and beverages. A cocktail or two at PCH is highly recommended, especially if your friend Jacques Bezuidenhout shows up with time to spare on his visa and a bottle of Amer Picon. Much fun was had.

Dinner at State Bird Provisions is outstanding as always. Incredible flavors put together in remarkable ways. NPS just walked right in on a Tuesday night with no reservation.

For an interesting diner-like breakfast, try out Sweet Maple.

Ramen at Iza Ramen is very good indeed.

Hard water has a top notch bourbon and rye collection (though Jack Rose in DC has it beat). Hirsch 74. Sazarac 18. Stagg 11.

The Mymy cafe is a great place for breakfast. Creative delicious options and espresso that does not suck. Recommended.

Dinner at Prarie is very good, though noisy and crowded.

Skip ABV and go straight to Churchill for a nightcap. Fewer hipsters and no bullshit at the door.

Have a wine tasting at Domaine Carneros.
It helps if you know someone who is in their club. https://twitter.com/noplasticshower/status/1063957983468474369

Four showerheads, clean air, and some warmer nights for the Hotel Kabuki. We’ll be back. Next up, New Zealand!

Though NPS has lost track of just how many times we’ve stayed at the Grant Street Inn, our previous visit seems to have been in October 2015! Whoa. Well, it’s nice to be back.

The good news is that room 30 was available (or rather, became available) for this visit. Thanks to the staff for freeing it up!

The fireplace in 30 no longer seems to function

The bed, on the other hand, functions just fine.

Still no opportunity to try out this hot tub thing

The plastic shower can be forgiven due to the hot tub thing. We guess.

It was a nostalgic visit this time, back to the town where NPS went to grad school. The weather was awful, rainy and chilly, so, as a result, much time was spent inside.

A new cocktail club in town called C3 Bar is worth a visit. Had to teach them how to make a Lion’s Tail, but they did a fine job. The food is good and beats the kind of weird suburban location hands down.

A visit to the Irish Lion was an absolute blast as always. So much laughter! And great Sazaracs made with Whistlepig 10 rye.

Back up to four showerheads for the Grant Street Inn. One of these years, maybe the hot tub will come into play.

Do you rememebr the days when Ft Lauderdale was the hangout of the rich and well-heeled? Neither do we. But The Pillars was there. It has not changed much, but it is now surrounded on all sides but one with towering hotel monstrosities of every single hotel chain on earth.

If you have to stay in Ft Lauderdale, the Pillars is a great choice. Best just not to stay in Ft Lauderdale. Pick a different route to the Bahamas that does not involve Silver Air.

Though the hotel was empty except for one other room, we were still assigned a “suite” that was small and unremarkable. Overpay much? We did.

Wifi was free and decent. The HVAC system in the room was creaky, loud, and needs to be replaced.

The bed takes up the room

The desk/chair console under the window

Tiny bathroom

At least the shower has no plastic!

Dear all old school hotels. Please put some plugs above the surface on bedside tables. This is no longer a design novelty. EVERYONE has stuff to charge. Remember, that’s why you have wifi now.

Need to plug in a device?

Um, not how to do it

The pool (apparently set to 85 degrees)

Dinner was great at the restaurant downstairs by the water. Inspired salads and good wine selection. We were joined by tarpons and the worst Negroni ever created by humankind.

Sunset was beautiful over the waterway

Three showerheads and a leg up to the 1900s for The Pillars. Not worth the money. Just go there for dinner.