Home

Maybe we here at NPS are getting even more spoiled? Or maybe hotel standards are rising? Probably both. Whatever it is, the College Hotel seems to be fraying around the edges.

What used to be a quirky and particularly stupid internet solution involving a password for each device (I have 4) and no tracking of MAC addresses is no longer tenable. Even with a monolithic wifi router for “VIP’s,” the throughput today is so bad that OOKLAs speedtest takes several minutes to load. Need to get some high-throughput work done? Better find better net elsewhere (like, say, the RSA Europe Conference). The net and its denizens have changed in the last few years, and the creaky unreliable net available here at College Hotel is no longer going to work.

When I went to see whether there was a better solution this morning, I was informed that the VIP net has a different ISP. I am pretty sure they mean different wireless router (same ISP). No dice. Need proof?

Speed test from the College Hotel (woe is us)

Speed test from the College Hotel (woe is us)

The bar program has also receded drastically since the days of Luke Gertsen who sadly has left rainy Amsterdam for Curacoa where he is, fittingly enough, running his own bar. You may recall that Luke and his understudy Mads Voorheove went so far as to procure a bottle of Amer Picon from France last time NPS was here just to try a real Liberal. That bottle has long since disappeared as has most of the mixology clue.

Case in point. As cocktail fanatics, we wanted a pre-dinner cocktail but the default list was pretty dull (no serious house concoctions anymore). I asked for a Liberal, wrote down explicit instructions, asked for them not to try to make one without the proper ingredients, talked about whether there was Amer Picon still in the house. Eventually they brought me something which they claimed was a Liberal. I even tweeted its picture. It was not.

Betrayed by a bartender. After dinner I went to show the bartender (who shall remain nameless) how to do it right and he revealed his trickery. I think that sucks. I would rather not be misled. And I sure as hell don’t want to pay to be misled. So as a reward I taught him to make a Nevada. At least there’s that. Grumble.

So how about the rooms? I am in 101 this time which is very similar in flavor to 109 but with a better bathroom.

One way 101.

One way 101.

Other way 101.

Other way 101.

The problems with this room are all small but niggling. Like, no outlets by the desk. Incomprehensible room light switches that do random things. No tissues in the bathroom. No music playback device. But the real kicker is bad net (as discussed above). These are all things that upscale hotels (like say, the Kimptons) are doing well. Time for Europe to catch up.

The shower is really nice though. A serious drencher.

Shower pod and toilet pod?!

Shower pod and toilet pod?!

There was a welcome note from the manager Bobbby and some candies when I arrived. That is a very nice thing for Europe and very rare indeed.

IMG_0360

While we’re on the very good aspects of the College Hotel, we need to give some serious kudos to the restaurant. I’ve had several meals there and last night’s dinner was the best so far. Very good oxtail ravioli soup followed by excellent and very Dutch/Italian risotto. Delicious and expertly put together. Thank you chef.

And a bar redemtion. Tonight, barman Rick made both a very good Dutch Negroni and a McSherry Sour:
4 cl Maccallan Amber
20 cc Amontillado Sherry (medium dry)
25 cc Lemon juice
15 cc vanilla simple syrup 2:1
Stir down. Serve on the rocks with a fancy lemon garnish. [This desperately needs a Luxardo cherry and a smidge of such syrup to make it perfect.]

We held an event at the College Hotel on night2, and the event was very nicely executed by the staff, including the barman. Live jazz always helps. After the event we headed out for a late dinner at Solo which was pretty not bad. Then late night drinks at the fantastic door 74. It’s still impossible to get in without a reservation. Absinthe hour stretched to 4am.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 8.38.18 AM

Day3 included trick or treating with the kids (not mine…some friends’) followed by an absolutely world class round of sushi at Okura’s Yamazato Restaurant sushi bar. As good as any sushi I have had anywhere (NY and San Jose might be just a tad better), this restaurant is beyond authentic. No wonder they have a Michelin star.

Of course no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the exquisite Van Gogh museum. It was a particular treat for two reasons: 1) just after the Phillips visit there was lots of data in my head, 2) Friday night there is live music and video art.

CAM00007

CAM00003

CAM00013

CAM00009

Better net and a better bar will earn the College Hotel the ranking it should have. Meanwhile, four showerheads it is.

IMG_0355

In a crazy twist of triplicate small world phenomena, my good friend Jacob and I have had dinner out together every couple of weeks for the last 6 weeks (not to mention mixology). Amsterdam featured a group dinner at Sardegna that included an interesting pasta and mushroom dish concocted with flaming cognac inside a parmesan wheel. Of course the highlight of that evening was insanely good mixology at Door 74.

San Francisco included a trip to the very trendy two star Benu, which was very good but slightly disappointing at the same time. The pairings were definitely the weak point of that meal. High point was meeting Jacques Bezuidenhout for drinks earlier in the evening (he is the head of mixology for the Kimpton hotel chain).

The best thing at benu: duck with truffle bun. This was delicious.

Last week’s trip to Virginia featured a drive across the Potomac River to Frederick, MD for another fancy pants dinner at Volt. You’re not going to believe this, but dinner at Volt was superior to Benu by an order of magnitude (and 2/3rds the price as well)! It was the wine work that did it. Far superior pairings and a sommelier who listens.

The best dish of the entire sequence here, ravioli at Volt. Absolutely outstanding.

So, Frederick, MD (home of Fort Detrick and their evil bio-weapons programs) dogs San Francisco in the super high end experimental three city tour. Rock on East Coast!

As an extra bonus dining tip, this Saturday’s impromptu meal at Tallulah included an outstanding Pheasant concoction and some actual mixology. Barman Steve Rossie created a Yorktown as follows:
1 oz bourbon (he used Wild Turkey 80..I would switch in Blantons)
1 oz apple jack (laird’s bonded)
1 oz sweet vermouth (he used Martini & Rossi I would use Dolin’s in this drink)
.5 oz madiera
2 dashes Angustora bitters (this should be either Fee Brothers West Indian Orange or Reagan’s No. 6)
orange twist (flame for fun)

Plenty of good pickings in the NoVA area for discerning diners.

Regular readers know that the College Hotel is by far my favorite place to stay in Amsterdam. We’re running a small Conference here this week, and the venue is absolutely perfect for a meeting.

And get this. Serious mixology is available at the College Hotel now too! Bartender Luke Gerntsen is leading the way and is particularly good with the knife.

I checked in way early after an awful flight and a swing and a miss at Privium (did I mention that United sucks? Oh OK). The College Hotel was kind enough to allow me to shower in an unoccupied room since my room was not yet available. Here is how the shower in 301 looks. 301 is cramped but quirky. All bed.

Shower in 301. Nice to recover in from a crap flight on United.

Bathroom pod in 301.

Lunch with colleagues (which we’ll just ignore) and a trip to see the tulips began to improve my mood.

Keukenhof beauty. Stunning.

Upon return, my room, 123, was ready. My first reaction was that I preferred 105, but 123 has grown on me and I enjoy the three major windows and light during the time I spend here in the daylight. FWIW, I was met with a fruit plate and a personal note, which is a nice touch and fairly uncommon in Europe.

Through the double doors.

The shower is plenty big with multiple heads (including a soaker) and a very interesting double door.

The rest of the room is set on two levels with a sitting room (small but very nice) and a bedroom. The layout is quirky and nice. It takes a while for me to remember I am in Europe and to recall the size of my apartment in Trento way back when!

Window seat in the sitting room.

Comfortable bed (well, anything is great after 36 hours awake).

Architecture.

Now back to mixology. Mads Voorheove (who I suppose it Luke’s understudy, but who is very good in his own right) mixed up a nice Royal Navy for me, after which we had an extensive lesson in Genever. We tried three Bols products (Songe Genever, Oude Genever, and the one I have at home…trendy Genever for export) and two Corewyn products (standard and 10 year). Both of the Corewyn products were superb.

We visited Feijoa and said hello to Rob and company. The rum selection is still top notch. And then we paid a visit or two to the speakeasy at door 74 where we were served by Ben and Tess.

What a joy to have real drinks in such a nice hotel. Life is good.

First some numbers:
1,411,587 miles
almost 10 years of 100k status
premier 1k status (with lifetime gold)
a handful of global premier upgrade blips
4 days in the row flying on United planes (indy, newark, dulles, amsterdam)

Now, try to fly to Amsterdam and use one of the “global premier upgrades.” Did we think it was going to suck in advance? Yes we did. We know that United sucks and nobody is listening. UNITED SUCKS AND NOBODY IS LISTENING!

So, how could it be any worse? Well, pull up a stool and have a listen.

I went to the gate pretty early to discover that I had been dropped from the upgrade list AGAIN. This is the third time the computer has done that for no apparent reason. Nobody can tell me why. Anyway, I got on the upgrade list again way too late (as number one of course)…and lo and behold there was a seat.

30 minutes before takeoff I was upgraded and given a paper boarding pass for BusinessFirst. I boarded. 10 minutes later the gate agent came and asked me to move. “The computer made a mistake.” My economy seat was already occupied, but they made that poor guy move too.

Only later did I find out what really happened from the crew (who were all very nice and who also agree that Jeff Smisek is a crap CEO and he should resign so someone else can “clean up the mess” FWIW). A premier gold had been confirmed upgraded on an earlier flight that he missed when he fell asleep in the Denver red carpet club. That meant he was standby on my later flight. He should have had the last available seat. But he raised such a stink about being in business class (since he was previously confirmed) that the solution was to bump me…a guy with double his status…back to economy?! What an asshole. And what pathetic gate agents. I guess I am just not enough of a jerk to get my way even when I am right? And they were dead wrong about who should have been upgraded. Sadly, I found out too late to stand my ground.

So the awful (and I mean worst ever) gate agents AnaMaria Espimo and Asmara Samery are responsible for my current foul mood. Not to mention the asshole.

Just to pile it on, I was slated to join up with Privium in Amsterdam, but it turns out the that Dutch don’t understand McNames. My passport says “MC NAME” but the application said “MCNAME” so back to square one for that process. Ridiculous. Come to think of it, maybe that is the problem with the United computer?

United sucks enough that it needs a reboot. Start at the top.

Wow. I am about to get another taste of economy class to Europe courtesy of United. I am flying to Amsterdam in early May and was counting on my 1,000,000 miles and 100k status along with a couple of “system wide upgrades” to boost me to business class. Nope. The return trip is already filled to the gills. And I am number 8 on the upgrade list with 6 seats available on the way over (and 30+ people below me on the list).

My system wide upgrades (and I have lots of them) are utterly useless. My 100k status? About the same. I can barely remember why I used to fly on this airline.

Hey Jeff Smisek, you have completely ruined United and ticked off a bunch of your best customers. Time to resign.

I really can’t stand United any more. United Sucks even more in 2012 than they did in 2011. In advance.

College Hotel, Amsterdam

November 13, 2010

By now I am getting used to staying in the College Hotel when I come to Amsterdam. This time I even requested magical room 105. So far, the electricity seems to be cooperating. Uncharacteristically (and most excellently) there is free net at the College Hotel, but it has a rather silly registration system that barely works on my mac and my google G2.

I have already talked about the really cool bathroom in this room with the infinite mirror effect in previous entries. But here are a couple of new photos anyway. The shower is like a little stage with a stage curtain.


I had the usual tough time adjusting to time zones even with an uneventful flight in. I went out with some friends to the Van Gogh museum in the late afternoon. My favorite part was running around between paintings with a 5 year old girl talking about what she liked and what she saw. That was a blast. It’s nice to see young ones like that get so exceited about art. Upon my return, I went to bed early (I know, I know, a waste of a Saturday night in Amsterdam). Of course I woke up randomly in the middle of the night and did some reading on my new kindle. The kindle is way cooler than I would have expected it to be. The passive screen is really nice.

I finally fell asleep way too early in the morning. I guess the most surprising part of the trip so far was being awakened by my friend marcus who showed up at 10 fresh off a US flight and knocked on my door. I figured I would be up by the time he arrived. No dice. We all went out to the Jazz brunch at American Hotel which has become somewhat of a tradition on my visits to Amsterdam. If you’re in Amsterdam on Sunday make sure to check that out.

Marcus and I walked in the rain from the Eden to Centraal to catch the train to Rotterdam. The Saint Nicholas day crowds were impressive indeed. It rained.

Ultimately, the College Hotel is great. Five showerheads and a permanent place on the list of really nice places to stay on planet earth.

I broke the 1,000,000 lifetime miles barrier on United just in time before “no fly December” starts. Of course I know about this already, but United hasn’t figured it out yet. I was on a 777 to Amsterdam in business class. Sadly, the equipment was an “old” 777 instead of one of the new 767s or upgraded 747s. It seems the only way to get a 767 to Europe these days (from Dulles) is to fly to London and allow them to misplace your baggage. The new airplane pods rule, but not enough to fly through Heathrow.

My seatmate (I was in my usual seat 8B) and I toasted a “condolences” toast. The flight attendants didn’t understand what I was talking about when I told them I had just broken the one million mark. United needs better programmers. I’ll keep an eye on the mileage plus website to see when the computer over there clues in (see below). Anyway, if you’re expecting champagne and special service for attaining such a lofty goal on a particular flight—forget it!

All in all, the flight was just fine. A bit quick and turbulent for real sleep (especially without the lay flat pods found in real airplanes). I’ve been to Schiphol so many times that I know my way around and was at the College Hotel well before 8. The College Hotel people were incredibly great and let me sneak into room 109 to take a quick shower. My favorite room (105) is currently occupied and check out time around here is noon. It’s nice to be welcomed to Europe like that…feels kinda like home here now. A nice way to end the 2010 travel pile.