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Ah Kimpton, you’ve become so corporate.  Such a great hotel chain ground down by middle management cost cutting and the boredom of crank turning.  Dang.  We remember the old days, yes we do.  They are never coming back.

Anyway, getting to Texas on United was not so bad even in double masks.  The flight was very sparsely populated, though it is a longish one.  Austin is a great city to visit.  Or is it a town?  Kind of hard to tell.  Here’s the story of our brief stay at Hotel Van Zandt.

The only pair of actual cowboy boots at the hotel when we were there happened to be ours.

First of all, IHG has forgotten everything about what NPS likes.  Just for the record, we like high floors, certain kinds of pillows, and rooms with no plastic showers.  We have also become accustomed to welcome notes from the GM, delicious amenities, sparkling water, and sometimes even a craft cocktail greeting us in the room from a barkeep hired by Jacques.  Not this time.  Even though the Kimpton twitter dwarf (they used to be fairies, but corporations) was given the heads up, not one bit of prep was done.  Kind of astonishing, really.

So NPS paid a pretty penny for an excellent king spa room with a view, and was given a plastic bottle of water at checkin by the Assistant Manager who had obviously not read our secret file in preparation for our arrival.  Hell, there probably isn’t a secret file anymore.

Room 701 is a great room style category.  But the floor?  Not a high one.  The amenities and water?  Nope. And the “lake view” is mostly a dusty construction site surrounded by homeless encampments.  Seriously.  Every city we’ve visited lately has a massive housing problem.  What is wrong with this country?

The bathroom was awesome.  Great tub (which we used a bunch) and a nice glass shower.

Not plastic

 

Tub with a view (that cuts both ways)

 

Sink area

The king size bed is surrounded by a bank of windows on two sides.  The view will one day be better.

Given our late arrival sometime just after 8pm, we headed for a drink to Geraldine’s on the fourth floor.  It was a Saturday night and the unmasked Texas crowd was dense.  After ordering an outstandingly made Negroni (what ice!  what ingredients!) we opted for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, service was smart and snappy, and all was well with the world.  There was a band.  They were OK.

Negroni featuring Botanist gin and Antica Formula vermouth…a house favorite

 

Behind the glass

Sadly the restaurant was not open for breakfast during our stay.  Instead there is a starbucks knockoff cafe on the ground floor with a microwave.  Not the sign of a great hotel, guys.  Frankly, the place feels more like a Marriott than a Kimpton.  No human touch and no magic.

Sunday was devoted to fun without a plan.  Brunch at Fixe was absolutely stellar.  Great Bloody Mary’s and cinnamon roll biscuits.  Fantastic food and friendly Texas service.  We took our time.

Bloody Mary of the highest caliber at Fixe

 

Hard to describe how delicious this was

 

The famous deviled eggs

 

Shrimp and grits with some garlic kale and a poached egg

In a great mood and in weather befitting Spring (60 degrees), we headed to South Congress for some idle shopping.  Our only real destination was Heritage Boot Company.  Though we got no pictures, we did manage to pick up a knife for my kilt and three pairs of handmade boots.  We even had a margarita of sorts with “Mr. Avocado.”  Great people, great boots, and a down home Texas vibe.  (Thanks Kimber.) NPS hears tell that once you buy one pair you are on a slippery slope to ten.  We shall see.

View down Congress toward the state house

 

Coffee and people watching at Jo’s Cafe

We did manage to singlehandedly support the American economy with our credit cards.  And then it was time for a margarita and some music at Half Step.  The margaritas are on tap.  We were served by Nick Cage himself.

And that band.  Three blind fellows joined by two sighted musicians and a heap of funk.  These were real Austin professionals.

Have a listen for yourself.

 

 

About the time we extracted we were late for our dinner reservation at Canje.  Dinner was excellent.  The jerk chicken was hotter than hell.  The drinks were fun.  The vibe was casual.

Seated at the bar (our choice)

 

An emergency clothespin

 

Jerk chicken that will blow your mouth off

Really it would be hard to ask for a better Sunday in Austin.

Monday was a work day with a working lunch at Qi.  Get the soup dumplings.

Part of the late afternoon meeting happened at the Proper hotel.  This place is interesting but just a little too artificial after an hour in the lobby.  The music loop may kill you if the extruded ice doesn’t.  Dinner was slated for upstairs at la piscina ceviches and fajitas.  Our hosts are enamored with their fajitas.  They were (as Sammy says) pretty not bad.

The highlight of the evening Monday night was a quick stop by the Roosevelt Room.  What a place.  Cavernous and somehow still intimate.  Superb cocktails served with whimsy and great care.  One of the top bars in the world for sure.  NPS had a paper plane (with a paper plane) and a Liberal.  Yup.  Amer Picon in the house.  We seem to have lost our party all night energy during the pandemic, especially after a full day of working in person.  So we’ll have to go back.  Thanks for the hospitality Justin.

The paper plane with a paper plane

 

Yet another emergency clothespin

 

The list is first class

 

A Liberal in Austin

Well, Austin, we will definitely be back.  We’ll probably buy some more Heritage boots.  We’ll definitely have a few more drinks at the Roosevelt Room.  But we’ll stay at the Driskill.  Three showerheads for the Hotel Van Zandt where you get what you pay for (and nothing more).

What a difference a pandemic makes.  Having been to Bergen many many times (13??), NPS was pretty skeptical about the hotel situation.  But lo and behold, while we were trapped in the United States, a new hotel opened up and not only is it a good one, but it also houses the first Michelin star restaurant in Bergen.  A great combination!

We stayed in room 440 which was a “loft suite.”  I think in the future we would choose another type of suite, but we were in the hotel for just a few days before joining our friends at their house for the weekend.

Hotel Bergen Børs from the street

The hotel is situated in an ideal location in town.  Close to the touristy old town, a few hundred steps from the funicular, 8 minutes from the train station, and close to the museums.

Bed in the loft

The electricity situation in 440 is confusing (at best) and difficult to use.  Took me 2 days to figure it out.  This makes waking up to head down the steep stairs to the bathroom a challenge if you don’t want to awaken your partner.

The very steep stairs

 

Sitting area

The sitting area is interrupted by beams from the ceiling, which is kinda cool and kinda a pain in the ass.  Fortunately, we didn’t really spend all that much time in the hotel.

The bathroom is on the small side, but it has a great shower.

Glass, good pressure, and plenty of hot water. Just what NPS ordered.

 

All in all, the decor and the flooring is on the cheap side (a real problem in Bergen).  Still looking for a hotel with well-appointed design executed without a mind to expense.  This is not it.  I guess, like the stock exchange, it’s all ups and downs.

Breakfast was superb.  We enjoyed chatting with Delia each morning.  The breakfast area also serves as the Bare restaurant.

A visit to Bare took some doing as they are typically booked out many months.  NPS was able to secure a table with some persuasion.  The dinner was world class.  Read about the meal here.

Dinner at Bare is well worth the expense

We did Norway in a Nutshell on our first day in town.  See the entry here.  The weather was perfect and so was the timing.  Just wow.

Norway in a nutshell

We also visited KoreSee this entry about that.

Munch of course

Make sure to have a coffee and some cake at Det Lille Kaffe Kompaniet.  Really great.

Success cake

Since the funicular was closed for renovation, we walked up to the top insteadMore about that here.  Sadly, No Stress bar is no longer as cool as it once was.  But they still serve a mean Negroni.

On the last day in town, we took the new gondola up to the top of the TV mountain.  Gorgeous.  More about that trip here.

 

All in all, this visit to Bergen was tops.  Thanks to our good friends Gøran and Anne for hosting our last couple of nights.

Bergen is wonderful and the Børs hotel (the best yet) earns a high four showerheads.

 

Then again, maybe it wasn’t bergen?

Sadly when you have to give a keynote talk at a conference there is often a conference hotel.  These are great if you like hamster cage rooms, overcrowded breakfast room scrums (during a pandemic), watery espresso from machines with only one button, and that sort of corporate stuff.

Oslo is ready for xmas

At least they let us check in to 2622 early.  But for the sake of all gods, don’t stay here unless you must.

Hamster cage with bed (you can’t really see the water bottle drip mechanism thingy, but it is there)

 

Euro-shower was not plastic, so there’s that

 

But it is over a tub and crammed into the rectangle rather uncomfortably

 

This view kind of says it all.  Yes there is Fjord out there somewhere.  Past the industrial haze.

 

The (apparently coveted fjord view)

 

But it was free!  And we got to do the big show.

And the Top Floor bar makes very good cocktails if you stick to the script.  The view from up there at night is nice.  (Oslo is not Tokyo.)

 

When in Oslo, try to see some art.  If you want to add to your collection, go to purenkel.

Art

Or walk the streets.

We stayed in and had a very nice meal at the hotel on Thursday night (the restaurant seems to be called Gaio).  The wait staff is enthusiastic.  The cooking is old school but quite good.  NPS had some reindeer and a very nice Barolo.

Friday night dinner was excellent.  Definitely get to Arakatata.  Wow.  (Ask for the wine list).

The best dish this trip. Homemade spaghetti with caviar. The sauce was incredible.

Can’t wait to see you again, Oslo.  But we will award the Raddison Blu Plaza a measly three showerheads (up from two since the restaurant and bar are ok).  Nopey nope.

oslo lights

 

On only the third airplane ride post Covid vaccination, it was across the country to Portland in two hops.

Queen Tibia presided at home in our absence.

Dulles was mostly empty on a Friday late morning.

The purple chair

An uneventful set of flights (through Denver) was marred only by the masks everyone must wear. We can’t wait for a vaccine mandate for air travel. It’s coming! HUGE KUDOS to united airlines for requiring all of their employees to be vaccinated. Smart.

In fact, Portland is a bit of a study in what is to come in the rest of the country. Vaccination proof is required in bars and restaurants. Even seedy little dive bars like the Jack London Review where we had an excellent time seeing mononeon. But I am getting ahead of myself.

First it was a quick run by Hertz to pick up a crappy rental car and head to the Kimpton Riverside. Well, it used to be a Kimpton. Now it is an IHG thing. We knew from last time to book room 325.

325 at the Riverside Portland has a fireplace

 

The living room

 

The bedroom with a view of the river and the park

The riverside has only two rooms with glass showers. We did not secure either. So we got this…

Horror of horrors! A shower curtain. We’ll give them a pass since it was fabric and not plastic.

 

Lauren Groff’s excellent new book The Matrix was apparently designed for this table

We had a negroni. We devoured some oysters. We saw old friends and their spunky ultra-intelligent progeny. We ended up at mononeon where we watched a show that seemed like a Prince show from the early ’90s. Less charisma, but just as much crazy energy and a collection of interesting cats including:

  • A black female goddess drummer with the biggest afro ever (she was the real band leader and a great singer)
  • Two white guys who played OK leads while hiding behind a pole
  • A DJ who started things off
  • Two rappers, one of whom was utterly obsessed with getting everyones’ hands in the air
  • A sporadically present trumpet player
  • A 20 year old lanky stripper who was having trouble fending off the lesbians in the front
  • A token white girl who came on late with a guitar she halfheartedly strummed while she sang (her hair was up in that Prince entourage kind of way and she must have been wearing lingerie)
  • Oh yeah, and mononeon himself who apparently convened this group and then got so high he forgot it was his show

Mononeon in his chair

The music was great, the dancing was contagious, and the most fun thing was watching the young one dance uninhibitedly.

 

That lasted until 3am EST which was way past everyone’s bedtime.  Super fun.

Then it was Saturday morning and time for a great breakfast at Cheryl’s.  The beignet alone was worth the wait.  We bought a Patagonia jacket while waiting because we heard that you can’t really leave Portland unless you buy one.

Then the highlight of the trip!  Three hours in Powells.  We bought 30 books, some bags to carry them on the plane in, and a shirt.  World’s best bookstore hands down.  MUST RETURN.

Every time

We love Powell’s so much.  Everyone in all of the other towns is very jealous of your book thing Portland.

24 (of 30) books

After a brief respite on the courtyard terrace, there was time left for the Saturday market (always worth a visit if your tie dye supply is low or you need a crystal).

Contemplating Portland traffic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was time for dinner.  We chose Normandie, which was a bit green but good.  Hip and relaxed, this place needs to get its A game on.  Before dinner cocktails at Hey Love were better than dinner.  We both enjoyed a Loprinzi’s Mule:

  • .5 cynar
  • .5 amaro cio ciaro
  • 2 oz don q añejo
  • ginger syrup
  • tarmarivel syrup (tanarind paste, cinnamon, grapefruit rind, sugar)
  • soda in a collins on the rocks

    Loprinzi’s Mule at Hey Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of a sudden it was Sunday.  We started out late with a brunch at Olympia Provisions.  My vegetarian companion was not amused, but I was.  So we headed out to get some juice and ended up buying cabinet pulls for The Stick instead.

Portland has a huge homeless population, and it is evident all over the city.  Beater campers, tents with patches and multiple tarps, lots of garbage.  The United States has fallen short of many of its citizens, and you can see that in Portland first hand.  Late stage capitalism on the streets.

Don’t tell Romey, but these were actually really damn good

Next it was off to the Portland Art Museum, which frankly you can skip. Mediocre at best.  Plan to spend less time than you think.

Some shopping at Wildfang got us moving toward Japanese Gardens which were so crowded we bailed and drove straight to the Kennedy School to check in.  Room 113 is great.

Of course as hip and fun as it is, the Kennedy School still feels like 1997 in the rooms.  Time to update!  Especially please replace the beds.

ALERT: THIS SHOWER IS PLASTIC

We had a drink in the courtyard while working on our dinner plans.  Portland decided that two days without rain was anathema.  The rain came.  And it wasn’t kidding.  But we borrowed some umbrellas and headed back to town.

A visit to the Teardrop Lounge was fabulous as always.  (You don’t need a reservation, but you do need a great attitude.). A Raffles Singapore Sling was in the cards.

Then a fantastic dinner at Takibi.  Delicious, modern, and very Japanese.

Takibi

 

A superb drinks menu

It was still raining on Monday morning when we got up early to prep for a business meeting.  It must be the rain that caused us to eat such a huge breakfast at the Kennedy School.  Surely.

After a rainy morning talking about ML and security, we enjoyed lunch at Southpark Seafood with some new friends who turned us on to Betsy and Iya, a fantastic boutique jeweler and clothier.  Hard not to get some stuff there!

Then the Japanese Garden in the pouring rain.  A magical place and far less crowded once the witches all melted down.

Finally it was back to the Kennedy School to catch Pig in one of the coolest places to see a movie anywhere.  We had burgers and watched the show.

Negroni in the hall

 

Our seats for the show

 

One more gigantic breakfast (yes it was still raining) and it was off to the airport for our quick flight to Dulles.

A fantastic visit to Portland.  Almost like the before times.

Four showerheads is the max for both Riverside Portland and the Kennedy School.  Does Portland even have glass showers anywhere?

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

How exactly do you get back on the horse after a year of not even being in the barn? Or remembering you’re on a farm? Or much of anything? Well, we’re well on our way to finding out. In all honesty the first post pandemic trip (to Mobile, Alabama) was so shocking that we skipped the blogging aspect entirely. Culture shock, people shock, and total documentation whiff. Great trip…but so rusty.

Here we are in California visiting friends we have not seen in just over two years. Dang. Actual humans not in our pod! We really missed them.

The first order of business was getting on an airplane. And of course, United was the default choice. We took a look at the trips put in deep freeze way back in February 2020, pulled one out of the freezer, and thawed it out. Other than the mask mandate, things are pretty much the same on a cross country B787 flight. The waffle thing was terrible. I mean serve Eggos for goodness sake.

The coolest thing about coming to California from Virginia has always been how much time you get back on the way out. By flying at 7:30am, not only is Dulles completely empty and easy to navigate in the morning, arrival at SFO happens around 9:30am.

It was off in an airport taxi (SF cabs STILL suck) for a tag in at Doug and Laura’s new house in the city near Golden Gate park. What a find! The showers are not plastic, the dogs are friendly (if a bit stinky) and the friends are priceless.

Dog of the slightly less stinky than the other one variety. Louis likes to hop up on the bed.

Lunch at Crepevine was a little too huge. The fries are really good.

Then it was over the bridge to Oakland for some BIML business with Open Philanthropy. This bridge thing was to become a recurring theme on the San Francisco part of the trip. Then of all places Ruby Hill for a friendly business visit with Neil and some delicious sushi.

Neil has a new house. It gives a tour of itself. We opened the very first bottle of wine in the new house…an NPS honor. Sushi was ordered and served.

The neighborhood dive nearest to Doug and Laura’s is called the Fireside. The bartenders are friendly, and the drinks are, well, I had fernet every time, so who knows how the drinks are. If you are lucky, you will be privileged enough to buy a beer for a Nigerian prince. Or maybe just someone from Rhode Island.

Our fearless leader in Sonoma

Tuesday was an all day run up to Sonoma with Jacob. We started with some oysters at Tony’s Seafood. Amazingly, it rained on us. But that was OK, because the big tent kept us dry and boy does California need the rain.

Oysters at Tony’s

After lunch (man was that bread good), it was up to Ridge Winery on mostly side roads. The drive was fast and beautiful. The sky began to dapple blue and soon the blue leaked into the clouds and covered the sky as we worked north.

Ridge is a great place to sit on a beautiful day and sip good wine from old vines. Delightful and recommended.

Ridge set a high bar, and one that Mazzocco could not reach. Great decor there, but nope on all other fronts.

Then it was back to the city for ramen at Iza Ramen. Yes please. Just go there. Wow. Real ramen like the before times.

Iza Ramen, San Francisco

A nightcap at Churchhill, which is a great old school bar. They used to sell the antique collection bourbons for way under retail price…sadly, they have figured out how much to charge now.

The real thing at Churchhill

Churchhill

Finally, a late night with friends at 54 Mint. I really missed the energy of Jacques during the pandemic!

Then somehow it was Wednesday. We started with tacos at Underdog Tres, a romp in the Japanese garden, and a visit to the botanical gardens (the latter two in Golden Gate park).

Underdog Tres

We were joined by Dr.Chess.

Then after a brief respite at home, it was off to ABV for some world class cocktails where we finally met Chris in person.

ABV

We tried to magic our way into State Bird Provision. But no dice. So it was back toward home for some peruvian food at Fresca.

Fresca

Then back to the Fireside. This time there were zero African princes around.

Thursday was reserved for Alameda, the beach, and a sunburn (?!). It was a beautiful day over there once we got over the confounded bridge.