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We knew it was a very silly plan when we dreamed it up.  We just didn’t know HOW silly. In any case, the very silly plan involved crossing the Atlantic six times this summer, which provided a nice opportunity to compare business class travel on three distinctly different airlines.

The verdict?  Swiss Air wins hands down by miles.  Then lufthansa comes in fifth of three.  And united?  Tenth of three.  LOL.  Not even close.

Here are more details.

The Lufthansa 747-8 upper deck is fun.  The pods are not particularly roomy, but it is nice to have a dedicated business class bathroom or two and a distinctly private environment away from the scrum.

We flew to Frankfurt and got picked up in a red camaro.

Some of the time was spent in Heidelberg.

A train took us to the airport to depart Germany.  Getting a train directly into Frankfurt airport is very easy and convenient.

 

The flight back on a Lufthansa A330-300 was more cramped than the 747-800 and really was not as nice.  Not a big fan of the airbus.  Much less room to get comfortable.

We flew back to experience the closing of the digital psychedelic art show and to give a talk for the locals about Machine Learning Security. (Always keep your promises!)

And then it was a ridiculous two day turnaround to fly to Milan (through Frankfurt again).  This equipment sure seems familiar!  Upstairs again for a flight that was late once again but very comfortable.

We did some music in Italy.

My art face.  LOL.

The art itself: Into the Unknown.

Since my flight from Milano to Zurich was cancelled (Swiss Air has decided not to fly the northern Italian routes any more), I opted for the fast train through the alps.  Just beautiful and very fast.  The only issue was all the stuff I had (a huge guitar, a violin, a mandolin, a tube of art and a big roller bag).

Getting all the stuff on the train to Zurich and finally getting a taxi to the airport was a thing. The Zurich train station was under construction and a pain in the ass to negotiate.  Finding the taxi stand was a serious challenge and nobody seemed to want to help.

So we were grumpy, but everything was very smooth at Zurich airport in spite of our SSSS security status. TIronically, the SSSS actually speeded me through security faster.  And a surprize upgrade came through!

Upgraded on a Swiss Air hop to Boston!  Wow.  The seat was enormous and the service was a blast!  Best by far.

Even the food was great.  Like you might even eat it not on an airplane.

Actual espresso macchiatto

Standard issue mimosa.

 

What to do with all this room on the card table sized table?  Wine tasting!

The crew was a blast (see more below).

The food was delicious and not overcooked.

Cheese for dessert.

Even Grappa.

The silliest thing that happened in all of these cross-Atlantic hops was the wine tasting.  Since the card table sized table was so huge we decided to fill it up.  Much fun was had.

So it was off to NH for a day to play music, and then a hop down to repack suitcases through Dulles.

Poor moonshine was sad to see me go again.

Finally the time came to take some actual United business class flights.  This plan was a B767-400.  The pods are a bit tight and the service is nowhere near as good as lufthansa or Swiss Air.  On our way to Madrid, our flight attendant was unable to remember that we requested expedited service.  And god forbid you know that you can request slippers and an extra pad for sleeping!

 

We’re spoiled and we know it. Madrid and Barcelona were great.

We postponed our return trip in order to shake the COVID that we caught in Spain.  Other than the trip was magical.

On the way home, the crew was better than on the way out (though the captain was the same and she played the same beach boys music).  All in all, United was inferior service on all fronts.

Time to step it up, united!

Moonshine was happy to have us home!

 

 

We arrived in NY after a long tarmac delay caused by high winds at Newark.  Newark was, because of the stoppage, packed to the gills with people, and the wait times for the (awful) restaurants in Terminal C were over an hour.  So we did what any sensible traveller would do and took a seriously skanky NJ cab into town for Tapas at Mompou.  The tapas was great, and the vibe was pure NJ.

A quick Uber into the city landed us at our home for a week, Bill and Lisa’s apartment situated on 20th Street between 7th and 8th.  You gotta love friends who invite you up when they score a place for a month in the city!  Lucky dogs all around.

The city at night is a welcome view.  This is the first NPS visit in too many years.

Our first jaunt led us down the High Line to the Whitney.

Checking out the Whitney

See All’s Well at the Whitney Biennial for more.

The Little Island has been added to Manhattan as of late.  It’s a quirky little part worth a quick visit.  More about our quick visit here.

The Little Island as seen from the Whitney

Spring was everywhere on a blustery gray day.

Wait for it!

The High Line has been completed through Hudson Yards these days.  This bridge over 12th (?) avenue yields an interesting and somewhat cinematic view.

Our plan was to check out the Japanese Food Festival situation on closed off 6th avenue, but the hoards of people…and we mean hoards…obviated our plan.  So we stopped for ramen and sake in collectible glasses at Oramen Chelsea.

Later we took the subway down for a visit to PDT.  On the way we stopped in for a fried ice cream and a cocktail.  It’s not clear whether we were lured in to Little Rebel by the fried ice cream or the Bowie mug shot.

CR#2 to start the evening

What is a CR#2?  Glad you asked.  Click here.

Said fried ice cream

 

Said Bowie mug shot

Yes, Bowie was arrested in Rochester in 1976.

It rained.

Our intrepid hosts

Next up, a slice at East Village Pizza.

And then some “hot dogs” at Crif.

PDT is still rocking it.  We had some special fun with the paper plane.

Naked Paper Plane

 

Problem corrected by the astute waiter

Finally, a late night visit to the very local Twist was in order.  Fernet time!

So that was a day!

Our next adventure started at the MoMA, where in addition to lots of famous art to be shared simultaneously with hundreds of others, lunch was really good.

See more MoMA Where Did All These People Come From?

Some of us had waffles on the street.

 

 

The Macy’s Spring flower show

I suppose we are obligated to talk about the showers in the apartment since this is NPS.  The shower was very nice indeed.  Plenty of hot water and lots of shower nozzles, many way high up there in the stratosphere.

Sunday evening we went to see Sleep No More, which was quirky, fun, and well worth doing.  NPS missed the provocative parts.  Alas.  Experiencing theater by being IN the set is a thing.

Then it was Monday.  Breakfast at Banter south of Washington Square was great — best in the city.  Then it was time to do a little shopping.  Did you know that the Varvatos outlet in NY occupies the old CBGB space?  Wild.

There was pastry to be had at Patisserie Claude on the way to the special Chelsea apartment.

Romey visits the shrine

An ill fated “cash only” taxi ride deposited us into midtown to buy some boots and be accosted by a crazy lady.  Our walk home happened under a taxi blackout zone.

And then it was off to Chama Mama with Chalmers in tow.  Turns out that Georgian food is quite delightful.

Wine from Georgia. No not that one. Yeah that one.

The last day in the city was beautiful and sunny.  A perfect day to be sedate and walk the High Line again.

The walk was gorgeous.

So was the lounging.

There was patio time in the sun.

Our intended entertainment target of choice (and the planned high point of the NY run) was to see SJP and Matthew Broderick (I mean Farris Bueller) in Plaza Suite.  Covid prevented that from happening when both stars were infected.  We’re still planning a reprise.  In the meantime we went to see The Hangman while it was still in previews.  Though the acting was a bit uneven, the play was good with only a few kinks to work out.  As always, Broadway staging is the bomb.

Before the show we stopped in for a cocktail and some caviar at Bar Centrale.  Old school, sophisticated and a great place to unwind before a show.  Or is that wind up?  Martinis and negronis pair well with caviar.

The lights on Broadway were doing their thing.

All dressed up in the big city

And thus the first visit to NY in three years ended.  A whirlwind and a delight.  Hopefully travel has returned for good.

 

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).

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?

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