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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!

Though NPS has been to Austria on multiple occasions, Graz is a new city for us. Of course, Graz is not really new — it has been here since the Copper Age (5000 BCE). So where do you stay when you go to Graz? Hotel Wiesler fits the bill.

Graz

After a fitful trip across the pond (in United Polaris First no less) and a connection made by less than three minutes, we arrived early at the very small Graz airport. A taxi into town took 30 minutes.

Fortunately, our room was ready to go. Boy did we need a long shower after all of that metal tubing! We were assigned room 418.

Like Graz itself, Hotel Wiesler is in an old facade but is quirky and modern inside. 418 reflects its metropolitan surroundings.

One bit room 418

Movable study nook

Sink in the room (mexican pottery?! OK)

The very nice shower indeed is built right into the room. Excellent design, and no plastic in sight.

NPS approved shower

You can see the old coming through in the design, with rough walls exposed. Graz did the same thing with Kuntshaus Graz, a modern museum seemingly dropped from space right into the middle of town. Sadly, the Kuntshaus was full of nothing as they are between exhibitions at the moment. But the architecture is remarkable and remarkably weird.

kunsthaus graz

View from Kuntshaus

Nothing more need be said

One of the most popular old restaurants in a town that likes to eat is just behind hotel Wiesler. In fact, you can see it out the windows of 418.

Gasthaus zur Alten Press

see

Beware the weiner schnitzel, which comes in very delicious but huge servings.

Dinner on top of the hill at Aiola Upstairs was pretty not bad. Getting up there via stairs is the way to do it!

The dreaded stairs

Hotel Wiesler in view

pagota

top castle and armory from 1500s

Cocktails in Graz is a possibility. See Landhaus Keller.

Hote Wiesler makes the grade. Four showerheads and a big thank you for the very early checkin!

LACMA

January 24, 2017

When in LA, we do try to go to see our old friends at the LACMA.

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Like this.

Chris Mac's ancestor

Chris Mac’s ancestor

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Blue period Picasso

Blue period Picasso

Frenimy

Frenimy

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No pictures of the shadow

No pictures of the shadow

Ahead of its time

Ahead of its time

Burn brightly while you can

Burn brightly while you can

Rodin

Rodin

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Blue sky (by me)

Blue sky (by me)

So close and yet so not close. We’ve been to the umstead many times, but they don’t seem to know that. Hey guys, maybe a computer??

As predicted, in the Spring it is just gorgeous here.

But all is not perfection. Arrival after midnight should pay attention to reservation constraints. Like: 2 beds (actually made), the fact that we have been here multiple times (?!), the fact that we like sparkling water, and so on. The umstead has slipped management-wise over the last few years. Who is the general manager? Great property, but not managed very tightly at all. Get it together, umstead, if you want to be world class and not just the best property in NC.

Hmmm

Hmmm

Room 107 is beautiful as all of the rooms here are.

107 Umstead

107 Umstead

We're in it for the bathrooms

We’re in it for the bathrooms

The shower is to write home about. Really. Bench. 4 shower heads. Plenty of pressure. World class.

Unbelievably great shower

Unbelievably great shower

It's Spring

It’s Spring

Are there sheets under there?  Maybe not.

Are there sheets under there? Maybe not.

Note that the patio is a superior place to have a leisurely dinner on a fine Spring evening. Delicious. The company was the best part of course. Oh, and there is real mixology here now too, mostly stolen wholesale from NY. Nothing if not good mimics here.

However, we’re looking for perfection. Four point five showerheads for the Umstead. Time for management to wake up and figure out that being great means serious attention to detail and a history on your guests.

During college and the arts, there was a visit to Duke and UNC. Both schools are to be avoided for different reasons. Duke thinks it is Stanford (uh, nope). UNC thinks it is a sports franchise. Ouch.

The only interesting thing about Duke

The only interesting thing about Duke

The only interesting thing about UNC

The only interesting thing about UNC

UNC: Centered around a stadium, or is that a prison?

UNC: Centered around a stadium, or is that a prison?

Hey look what North Carolina collected when you weren’t watching. ART.

genius

genius

First things first. We left this:

Snow, dogs, cats, and the chicken palace

Snow, dogs, cats, and the chicken palace

For this:

No snow, no dogs, no cats, and no chicken palace

No snow, no dogs, no cats, and no chicken palace

So that was good.

Getting in to DC was going swimmingly until Pennsylvania Avenue was blocked by police just at the wrong time (Whitehurst Freeway doom). Must be a White House thing going on. That debacle cost us 30 minutes and an excruciating crawl through Georgetown. Traffic thereby ate most of the allocated Phillips time.

A quick dash through the Phillips. Bees and Picasso.

Picasso

Picasso

Beekeeper in the bee room

Beekeeper in the bee room

Then time for a tea at Soho Cafe just across the street from the DC Palomar. (The Soho is a great find, way better than the Starbucks next door.) There was even time for the tail end of a particularly crowded Kimpton wine hour. 30-year-olds everywhere.

Checkin was chaotic. I do believe the Palomar is full to the gills for the dregs of Valentines Day. At checkin, the computer had a hell of a time time finding us, mostly since newly minted GM Abe Liao had plussed us up to avoid plastic shower despair. Thanks Abe! You rock. (Steph Vogel has moved on to become GM of George. Time for a visit to the George it seems!)

Because of Abe, we’re back in the Presidential Suite at the DC Palomar. Sweet.

But due to a massive shortage of cheese, the amenity we were told about at checkin (as Kristen spoofed Abe to deliver a “personal” message) was not in the room when we walked in. Eventually it arrived, cheese included, and all was well with the universe. Great hotel on valentines weekend? Chaos! Chaos I say!

Chaos tilted our way. Cheese, sparkling water, and cupcakes. Awesome.

The cheese did it

The cheese did it

Plus the Presidential Suite?! Yay. You should know that we’re here reaping the benefit of staying many nights at various Kimptons all over creation. The Kimpton InTouch program free night thing? Superb. No other hotel chain does it like this. And an quadruple upgrade to boot. As predicted, Kimpton is rocking our little world.

The no-amenity-yet table in 1024.  (Yes, 1024.)

The no-amenity-yet table in 1024. (Yes, 1024.)

NY bag by the bed.

NY bag by the bed.

This shower is NOT plastic. Glass cube goodness.

This shower is NOT plastic. Glass cube goodness.

Dinner tonight was arranged by Larry Kilbourne aka “baker Bob,” executive baker at Le Diplomate. So fun to have friends who include the best baker in North America.

Bread and oysters: le diplomate.

Bread and oysters: le diplomate.

Le Diplomate is excellent. And Baker Bob’s bread is truly out of this world. The only thing we took home in a “doggy bag” was some slices of the gorgeous walnut/cranberry bread.

BTW, their bar is top notch too, though way overcrowded.

A negroni and a tete a tete: le diplomate

A negroni and a tete a tete: le diplomate

Let there be cupcakes!

Cupcakes from Jerry Chou

Cupcakes from Jerry Chou

Things can be a bit chunky at the Palomar DC—sometimes hot, sometimes not—just like the political situation in this city. After my last whirlwind stay here, Hotel Manager Stephane Vogel noticed and promised a better stay this time. He delivered. Thanks Steph. Hotels that listen and respond are high on my list. Kimpton is really outstanding at that. (FWIW, as I was typing this entry, Steph dropped in to say hello and chat. Great guy.)

I find myself in civilization between meetings with no desire to fight traffic in and out of the city. But I know DC pretty well since I live 60 miles door to door from the White House. Beltway traffic can suck.

Room 539 beats 438 hands down. More space, much better design, and a glass shower that rocks in the morning with great water pressure. Without further ado…

Bedroom in 539.  Nice light-up bedside tables with ample power.

Bedroom in 539. Nice light-up bedside tables with ample power.

The purple couch. Fit for Prince or maybe Morris Day.

The purple couch. Fit for Prince or maybe Morris Day.

Work console.  Faces window which faces a brick wall.  Wonky.

Work console. Faces window which faces a brick wall. Wonky.

The welcome package was set out on a customized placemat map of DC. Very silly and fun. And also wonky. (Hey, am I a “Mr” or a “Dr”? The placemat says both.)

Ye olde welcome package, with not one, but two bottles of Pellegrino.  Hit the spot.

Ye olde welcome package, with not one, but two bottles of Pellegrino. Hit the spot.

The all important glass shower is situated in a really cool bathroom design with a window over the gigantic tub overlooking the bedroom.

Bathroom window could be used for drive in service from the bedroom.

Bathroom window could be used for drive in service from the bedroom.

Shower cube through the mirror.

Shower cube through the mirror.

A visit with my brother and Esther to the bar revealed a nice space with a decent bar run by Obi and Joe. There is some trace residual Jacques evidence, but all in all the bar is not quite where it needs to be yet.

Obi is a tiki-influenced barman. We sampled two of his concoctions. The Southern Belle
1.5 oz bourbon (they are stuck with Makers but Blantons would be far better)
muddled mint, lime, and cucumber
a splash of simple syrup
Stir down and serve on a highball on the rocks.

The other drink had a name, but the menu on the net is stale. We’ll call it the DC Stinkbug Tiki
1.5 oz Appleton Rum (I would switch this out for Mt Gay Eclipse)
.5 falernum
.5 lime juice
3 muddled springs of cilantro
Stir down. Serve with a splash of club soda on ice in a tall cup.

All in all, five showerheads for the DC Palomar. They’re not quite ready for the Palomar wars, but they will be soon.

This afternoon is an outing (on quasi business) to the National Gallery to see the Durer exhibit followed by a Cyber War discussion over dinner.

And do I miss United airlines from this trip? Nope.

Firenze (or Florence as we English-speakers call it) is the tourist mecca of the Renaissance. Things have been pretty much the same here for 1000 years. Except for the swarm of Americans that is.

We’re staying at a small hotel (pretending that it is a B&B) called In Piazza Delle Signoria. It’s a hotel. The Leonardo room and the Botticelli room are both very nicely appointed in a sort of nouveau rich way—almost tasteful but not quite.

But the view? Unbelievable. And the location? Could not be beat.

The view from our window at sunset.

The view from our window at sunset.

The Leonardo room is large and has beautiful huge windows that open on the square. The only issue with the room (and this has more to do with this part of Florence than anything…kinda) is a tendency to fill with a whiff of sewer gas when it is sealed up. Opening the windows solves that problem.

The bedroom.

The bed is large and very comfortable.

The bed is large and very comfortable.

Angels overhead.

Angels overhead.

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The bathroom is about as tiled as possible. It’s also a bit hot since the towel heater is on perpetual hellfire and damnation mode (it should be called fra savonarola). No turning that thing down. I suppose it would be nice if it burned up the swamp gas?!

Tile in the bathroom.

Tile in the bathroom.

We should also say that though the local wifi net is fast and well-designed, the ISP that the hotel is connected through must use a straw or semaphore flags. Expect delays and dropped connections.

And no need to practice your Italian, because I met only Americans staying here (if you count Canadians as Americans, that is). All very nice, interesting people.

On the other hand, the shower is awesome (esp for Europe).

Modern shower pod with slidey curved glass.

Modern shower pod with slidey curved glass.

Sink pod.  With tiles and random water pressure.

Sink pod. With tiles and random water pressure.

All in all this is a very nice place to stay. We’ll give it a high four showerheads rating.

Some advice if you stay at this hotel. Do not ask the night managers (as the case may be) where to eat. We were directed to the worst meal on this trip at the truly awful Acqua al 2. We have heard from locals that it used to be good. It is not good at all now. How could you be any good shoving 300 Americans through night after night?! After complaining (in Italian no less), the owner cooked me some very nice penne with their signature sauce. But the stuff we were served before that was truly awful. Avoid this horrible restaurant. (And note for the record that picking a non-tourist restaurant in Florence is an NP Hard problem.) A discussion with Monica cleared up the bad data problem I hope. She seemed to know better than the very nice but clueless night manager (a labrador retriever?).

Fortunately we were joined by Stefano the next night for a delightful and delicious meal at Il Latini which was so much more genuine, delicious, and Florentine that it is hard to imagine the difference.

Day 1: San Lorenzo market (many leather goods). The Uffizi. Shopping in Oltrarno. Buying shoes and all the other stuff that entails from Jennifer Tattanelli at Casini.

Ponte Vecchio from the Ufizzi.

Ponte Vecchio from the Ufizzi.

Day 2: Bargello, then Academia delle belli arti (for David of course), followed by a very late lunch at a local enoteca. Then the most important part of the day. Eli’s haircut at Ciro (thank you Jennifer) where Marco was not only fabuloso, but careful and kind as Eli had his first real cut in 8 years. He looks great. We topped things off before dinner with a trip up the Torre.

Palazzo vecchio torre.

Palazzo vecchio torre.

Da torre.

Da torre.

Dinner at Golden View was excellent. Not only was everything superb: there was jazz, modern art, buontalenti gelato, and Grappa della cantina privata bocchino 1994. Best meal in Firenze by several kilometers.

But the devil may care, even as its head is removed.

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