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Plaza la Reina is a new property originally developed as long term housing for people with family in the nearby UCLA medical center. That plan did not materialize, and the property was transformed into a luxury hotel.

The quaint little courtyard

Room 205 is off the courtyard next to a side entrance to the property featuring some interesting tiled stairs. The room has a quirky layout and in put together well. The furniture is elegant and old school and about as anti-hipster as you can get. Heavy solid chairs, oriental rugs, solid wood cabinets. Very nice indeed.

205

The bed is back in its own nook next to the gorgeous bathroom.

Comfortable sitting area

The bathroom is beautiful, and the shower is excellent.

NPS approves of this shower

A personal note and a very warm welcome on check in was icing on the cake.

Five showerheads for Plaza la Reina. Refined elegance.

NPS has been coming to the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica for many years (starting before there was even an NPS identity). Over the years, many parts of the hotel have undergone updating and renovation, with special attention paid to the common areas. The rooms have all been spruced up as well, but unfortunately the bathrooms were not included in the renovation plan.

Santa Monica is pretty not bad

This trip out allowed for only one night in Santa Monica, so NPS decided to check out a room category one notch down from the ocean view suites. Turns out, it’s a big notch. The king suite room 709 has a spacious design with some very strange quirks. It also has a tiny little bathroom.

Room layout is very similar to the ocean view suites, with a view of the back alley instead on the ocean.

709 sitting area

What stands in as a desk

French doors to the bedroom

But what in the heck is this here for??

709 forlorn chair

That space where the poor lonely chair sits would be better off as part of an expanded bathroom. Here, you’ll see what we mean.

Tiny little bathroom

Though the stuff in the bathroom is spotless and new, the shower over the tub thing has got to go (not to mention the obesity bar). Zero points for the shower.

Dare you to use whatever liquid is in these containers

During our brief stay in Santa Monica, we had lunch at Lazy Daisy, dinner at Lares, and breakfast at Cora’s. All three places are top notch.

We’re demoting the Georgian to three showerheads. Hopefully they will see to some bathroom redesign to go along with all of the other great stuff that they have done.

Located in the heart of Brussels, very close indeed to the Grand Place, the Amigo Hotel is nicely tucked into an old school building. This is a formidable hotel where the demographic is not the hip and young but rather the old and moneyed.

The staff at the front desk is old school too, a bit stuffy and with varying levels of obsequiousness that don’t quite ring true. This is not your California front desk staff of happy kids. OK then.

Overnight, the staff swap led to some people who knew how to relax a notch, and that was nice.

The lobby is beige and marble. Come to think of it, there is lots of beige here in this room as well. I think the olds like beige.

We were upgraded from an expensive junior suite to an even more expensive classic suite. They did email and attempt to upsell the bigger suite, and we just responded that a complementary upgrade would be great. That seems to have worked. So thanks for the free upgrade!

We were assigned suite 237. This looks like the example room from this suite category. Plenty of room to hang out, a great bathroom, etc. “Pretty not bad” as my friend Sammy would say.

237 couch and desk room

The desk has a bluetooth speaker (bonus points)

The extra touches make all of the difference. Like a bluetooth speaker that you can pair a streaming phone with, and water by the bedside that is free (as it should be), and hangers that are real and solid.

Bedroom (mostly bed)

Through the French doors

Of course you should always get water (sparkling)

The room overlooks a classic Brussels street and into a set of offices.

Example view

The hall has lots of closet space, but it is not very well designed.

Closets could use some modernization

The bathroom is palatial. And there is a separate glass shower. “One of the better showers ever,” says ms NPS. Lots of marble.

Bathtub, toilet and bidet

Chair in the bathroom

Sink

Glass shower cube

The art is very nice and Tin Tin oriented.

An amenity with a personal note arrived while we were orienting. Belgian chocolates. Of course.

Amenity.

The bar downstairs is very good, with professional and knowledgeable bartenders who make a mean Negroni with Napue gin (from Helsinki).

A proper Negroni (up)

Napue gin from Helsinki

Local Belgian gins

Look who else has been here

Dinner at Comme Chez Soi was, like the hotel, on the old school side. Excellent food, especially if you like cream, butter, butter, and some caviar. Very heavy but outstanding. Plan to be full for two days.

Some Pomerol

Sauce! There is a cod under there somewhere.

Incredible tartine

Chocolates, because Belgium

With extra dipping sauce (lol)

The walk home helped to make up for the butter and the butter and the sauce and the cream. Kinda.

When in Brussels

Breakfast included a Belgian waffle (this was a mandatory item before we would be allowed to leave the country).

Bottom line: the Amigo is a five showerhead location, but is a bit old school for NPS. So four showerheads and an appointment to update the decor a notch for the Amigo. I imagine we will be back.

OK, well, the first one of 2019, but the second one ever.

The Great Belgian Rum Tasting of 2016 was a smashing success. So we decided to do it again some three-ish years later.

What that requires is a flight to Brussels, and a drive out to Lichtervelde.

You may recall that Lichtervelde is home to the world famous Eenie Meenie the goat. Eenie Meenie is getting on in years, and we were glad to see her again while she is still alive.

Eenie Meenie in the house

Things are much swankier than ever at chez Madou, where the bar is well stocked, Liberals are available at all times, and the kids are on track to shake up a mean cocktail.

Makings of a Liberal, including superior bourbon from Virginia

Start em early. Just don’t shake a martini.

Here’s how things proceeded on the rum front.

The lineup of seven rums

Cubay Ronera Central

Cubay Ronera Central: CUBA

Oak. Bitter. Alcohol nose. Under signed. 5 year. Proof 86. SCORE: 6

Havana Club Barrel Proof

Havana Club Barrel Proof: CUBA

Nice nose (no esters). Butter with a twist. Hot. Post sugar not too much. Proof 90. SCORE: 7

Pampero Aniversario

Pampero Aniversario: Venezuela

Venezuela. Post sugar. Balanced. Island style. Proof 80. SCORE: 6

Ron Millonario

Ron Millonario: Peru

Peru. Ester on the nose. Central America style. Brown sugar with ester twist. (Madou like it.) . Proof 80. SCORE: 5

Ron Barceló Imperial Blend

Ron Barceló Imperial Blend: Dominican Republic

Wins for ridiculous bottle. . Over sugared. Over oaked. Proof 86. SCORE: 5

Clément Single Cask

Clément Single Cask: Martinique

Rhum agricole. Great nose. Bitter. Mature Oak. Proof 93.6. SCORE 8

Clément Cuveée Spéciale XO

Clément Cuveée Spéciale XO: Martinique

Too hot. Under oaked. GAH. Proof ?. SCORE 4

Notes were kept.

Verdict is in.

The final order.

The final order:
1. Clément Single Cask
2. Havana Club Barrel Proof
3. Cubay Ronera Central
4. Pampero Aniversario
5. Ron Barceló Imperial Blend
6. Ron Millonario
7. Clément Cuvée Spéciale XO
8. Dettol

Special guest rum

As has become a tradition, a special guest rum was added to the mix just for fun. This year, dreft was replaced with the lemony goodness of Dettol

Special guest rum (slot 8)

Your host and the final order (plus or minus one)

Of course no visit to the new bar Madou would be complete without some tiki.

Yes, that is what you think it is (in Belgium)

Zombie for the tiki win

And no evening would be complete without a Liberal.

WRT showers and places to stay, above the bar is a complete guest suite featuring wood beams, skylights, a sitting area and glass showers. Sorry, no pictures.

Fix showerheads (plus one) for Madou’s new digs. Can’t wait to be back.

Thanks Madou.

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!

Apparently, someone from the three city tour we’re part of has been reading our supposedly secret blog entries (LOL), because when we checked in at the Pullman Melbourne Albert Park this afternoon, we were assigned a very nice room indeed. So thanks, secret blog reading lurkers! We know you’re out there.

Once again for the record, the Pullman Melbourne Albert Park is not the kind of place NPS usually frequents. This is a high level business hotel. You can always spot this category of hotel by the international air crews frequenting the lobby and the packs of Chinese tourists that wash through in waves.

View from the executive floor

At checkin, we were assigned room 9604. There is only one suite at this hotel (next door, it turns out), but there are a number of executive class rooms with a sitting area on the executive level of the hotel. Some of those rooms overlook the Albert Park lake (across the parking area and a highway). 9604 is one of those with a view.

The room itself is well appointed and spacious with room to exist.

Since it is December, it is summer here and the xmas stuff scattered to and fro all over the place is disconcerting if not outright alarming. When you wander around town in the summer heat there are many people in short xmas skirts and bad xmas t-shirts (no sweaters to be seen).

Speaking of which, when it is 99 degrees outside, the HVAC system here just can’t keep up. My in room AC ran continuously and never hit the target temperature. Time to upgrade the HVAC on this property to prepare for global warming.

The Pullman Melbourne lobby play along with xmas

Juxtaposition

Our bathroom is spacious but a bit spartan. Some of that space could have been put to use to house a better shower.

Spartan

But the shower is not plastic.

We were recognized by name on checkin (tipping us off that the fairies had become involved). There was even a welcome amenity set up for someone else in the room.

Amenity for mr dunbar

We’ll happily spoof mr dunbar as long as we get to stay in this room for the next few nights.

NPS is gratified to learn that not only do all systems break, some of them even learn!

After a quick turnaround mostly for charging devices, we headed into town. St Kilda is south of the city proper and is a suburban beach town. Like many beach towns, it’s a bit scrappy. People say “fuck” a lot in normal conversation (even in fancy restaurants), and there are more crazy ass bums here than you find in the city. It reminds NPS of the seedier parts of San Diego.

A late lunch of sushi at Ichi Ni was very good indeed.

Sushi for lunch

A walk along the beach was in order, and then an amble through town for some espresso.

Espresso at Leroy is worth seeking out. The walk from the Pullman into town is just over a mile. An easy walk, but not one you want to do multiple times per day. That’s why they make uber.

Leroy for breakfast and the best coffee in town

Albert Park with Melbourne in the background

A very good but overpriced dinner at Cafe di Stasio included an incredibly delicious Omelette D’aragosta. This dish is so good it warrants mention in guidebooks and they are right on all counts. Get it. The wine list is also very good. It’s the clientele that needs some finishing school.

After a half day in St Kilda, we’re ready to give our last talk and get into Melbourne. More soon.

Cocktails at Black Pearl are highly recommended. Make a reservation for the Attic space. Our bartenders were exceptionally knowledgeable and the drinks were great. Much fun was had. And, they made us a liberal.

Drinks at 1806 are a completely different scene on a Friday. Loud music and lots of energy. Not very civilized, but very good cocktails.

Skip the circular tram nonsense. It is overhyped and a waste of time. Just do some walking in the center of town instead. But make sure to leave time for the incredible National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). It is worth the visit.

The special Escher exhibit was worth fighting the crowds to see, especially with Sam. See lots of Escher on apothecaryshed.

Finagle your way into the dumpling place, hutong, if you can. Really worth calling and conning your way in.

The Gin Palace is an exceptional bar, so good in fact that we visited twice—briefly before seeing a play and more properly afterwards.

Adelaide Negroni (all products from Australia)

Such ice. Wow.

Astroman is an uplifting play with some great laughs and some real feels

Four showerheads for the Pullman Albert Park and a wish for a sultry hot xmas.

Our first taste of Rydges South Bank Brisbane left a bad taste in the mouth. But a meeting with the GM in the morning cleared things up.

While we were off having breakfast, our room was switched to a very nice suite (room 1028).

There is plenty of room in 1028. And two balconies to boot.

Wrap around balconies

Room to exist

Working desk

A separate bedroom

The bathroom is big enough for two, and has a big tub.

Much better shower. Ahhh!

The shower is very nice

Breakfast at the Gunshop Cafe is delicious. Great espresso and juice.

Gunshop cafe Sunday brunch

After which, an excursion to Stradbroke Island (called “straddie”). Ferry ride on a bus, picnic lunch, beer, hiking, gelato, swimming in the ocean. A great day.

Point Lookout

The seas were high, and we got wet, which was a blast!

See more pictures from the Stradbroke trip.

Dinner at Julius Pizzeria was authentically Italian. Great pizza and great people.

Julius Pizzeria

There is a budding cocktail scene in Brisbane. Thanks to Rachel at Wickham we were looped in. We can confirm that Saville Row is top notch. (Look for the orange door.)

Likewise Electric Avenue is a great place for a cocktail. Jess created a drink for us.

Jess at Electric Avenue

Rye Surprise
45ml Bulliet Rye
20ml dry vermouth
15ml lemon
20ml kiwi puree
40ml pineapple
8 dashes peychauds
shake. double strain. serve up in a coupette. garnish with dehydrated pineapple.

Rye Surprise

Apparently a Brisbane cocktail called the clockwork orange was a contest winner…which contest we don’t recall. It falls squarely in the tiki category.

Clockwork Orange
20ml aperol
20ml cherry heering
20ml passionfruit syrup
30ml gin (monkey 47)
25ml lemon
2 dashes orange bitters
shake. strain. serve over crushed ice in a tall collins glass.

Bars we were unable to visit but heard tell are good include: Legends Speakeasy (find the passcode on the net) and Tomcat (behind Bill Murray).

Skip the Pancake Manor. Though it is built in an old church the food is awful and the espresso is worse. Greasy spoons should be greasy but not just bad.

QAGOMA is an excellent museum. The modern art collection is far superior to the science museum’s stuff. Just stick with the art. Have a beer in the courtyard.

The botanical gardens are also worth a visit.

Four showerheads and a tip of the hat to Rydges. Thanks for fixing things. Now for some sleep!