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After a seriously turbulent night flight across the pond, a bus ride over the Frankfurt tarmac, a multiply-delayed ICE train and a missed local connection, it was nice to arrive at the Nestor Hotel and have a room ready to go. Walking over from the train station is very easy indeed, and helps you stay awake. Check in was easy even in zombie mode.

Sadly, the Nestor chain appears to be set up to accommodate conferences and large groups more than anything else. This is a four star in Germany, which puts it right smack in JW Marriott territory. Everything looks pretty good on the surface, but it is really cheap veneer with thin carpet allowing lots of noise between rooms. A business class hotel. Not NPS’s cup of tea.

The little NPS cubicle (replete with tiny bed) is 308.

Lil teeny bed in 308

The sitting area and desk are all within 15 feet of the bed

Fortunately, Ludwigsburg is resplendent today.

View from 308

The bathroom is likewise “cozy” and very Euro.

Not plastic unless you count the tub, which is plastic

Sink stand

There is a big pipe in the bathroom. That is just weird.

After a much-needed invigorating shower, it was off into town for lunch. Greek food at Die Griechin is very homey. Great people. Authentic, if not uninspired fare.

Breakfast at the hotel is very nice, and the restaurant serves a decent lunch as well. Service is friendly even if the kitchen is slow.

On a more upbeat note, the Black and White Cocktail Bar just a few short blocks away is cozy and excellent. We were among the only patrons on a Tuesday night.

Amer Picon in the house means a Liberal or two.

La Barrosa Cocktail (by Mario Wirth)
50 ml carlos I brandy
10 ml Strega
.5 ml Balsamico creme (can sub px Sherry)
Amaretto spray on top
Stir. Serve on one big rock.

Make sure to visit the Black and White Bar if you are in Ludwigsburg.

Dinner at the very friendly Zum Urigen was authentic and about as German as you can get. The owners are from Vietnam, but have lived in Germany for 30 years. This place has a very local feel with lots of patrons who know each other.

A very low three showerheads for the Nestor, where function overrides style, and things feel fairly fake.

Here we are again in a university town, this time Ann Arbor. This town is great. Books, coffee, food, cocktails. Almost everything you need, but still no good hotel.

The Residence Inn is a Marriott property, and it is brand new. It’s pretty much what you would expect of a mid-tier mid-market Marriott hotel. Shiny suburban fake is the style. NPS has different style.

When the reservation was made, we requested a high floor and a Panoramic City View Suite. The first room we were assigned was 414 which is ADA formatted. When asking for a non-ADA configured room instead were assigned down to 214. The rooms are almost exactly identical. Moving down was a big mistake because traffic noise starts at 5am. Alas.

So much for the high floor request.

The manager, having heard tell of checkin problems, was very gracious. We had a nice chat. His valet staff is super.

The view from 214 says it all

The room is filled with lots of shiny new veneer cheap furniture that looks better than it feels when you use it. The suite includes a kitchenette.

Entry hallway kitchenette

desk room

desk room couch

View from the bed to a nice bank of windows

large (impersonal) bathroom

The real problem is the shower, which is partially glass and partially plastic. It is open to the huge bathroom without a glass door. Cold air makes for a less than stellar shower experience.

shower. not approved

Anyway, we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, there is a copy of The Graduate here too BTW. Sure wish university towns had better hotel kung fu!

Dinner at Mikette was delicious. Great service.

The cocktail scene in Ann Arbor remains vibrant. A Sunday night visit to Nightcap was optimal in all respects. Andy was a blast behind the bar.

Because there was Handy in the house, we present, The Handy Handy
1.75 Thomas Handy Rye
.3 oz Del’erborista ultra-bitters
.3 carpano antica
2 dashes scrappy aromatic
Stir. Strain. Express orange peel and drop in.

Three showerheads for the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor. Dang university towns.

Lets tip our NPS hat to the people in marketing, shall we? We’re running a conference for a couple of hundred senior people down in Florida. So Amelia Island it is, and the Ritz-Carlton at that. Anyway, how does this property rate? Off the charts.

Room 832

Room 832

United pulled a ridiculous head fake on the way down: You’re upgraded. Oh, sorry, nevermind. Oh no wait, you ARE upgraded but now there is no room for your suitcase since you’re already seated in the back. In the end the trip was great and NPS appreciates the upgrade. Nice try united! Lets do it again and get it all right next time!!

The hotel provided car service at the airport, and our driver was superlative. He took a shortcut that saved us 20 minutes getting on the island. There was some evidence of hurricane damage on the sides of the road coming in. This island dodged a bullet when hurricane Matthew stayed off shore just two weeks ago.

We were greeted by name at the door with some champagne (which we sadly had to skip), and whisked up to 832 by gregarious staff. Outstanding greeting.

And the amenity shows that someone has been doing their homework. Cocktail? Yep. Sparking water? Yep. Hand written note? Yep. It’s all here and all awesome.

Pirate Loot (chocolate treasure, a cocktail, and sparkling water).

Pirate Loot (chocolate treasure, a cocktail, and sparkling water).

832 is nothing short of palacial. A gorgeous room with an incredible view of the ocean from its five balconies.

The suite has two main sections and 5 rooms.

Living area off the bedroom

Living area off the bedroom

832 bedroom

832 bedroom

Dining area

Dining area

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Of course, we’re here for the showers. This non-plastic shower is also off the charts. Multiple shower heads and a bench? OK then.

Shower in the bathroom suite (itself several rooms)

Shower in the bathroom suite (itself several rooms)

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The bar situation here is not good, which in 2016 is just plain sad. Sure, you can get some scotch if you try hard enough. But no bourbon to speak of. And if you order a proper cocktail (say, something like a sazarac) you will be sorely disappointed. Ever had a cocktail served hot in a glass straight from the dishwasher? How about a sazarac made with angostura? Yeah no.

Time to invest in some people who actually know what they’re doing Marriott. In the meantime, stick with the Mt Gay Extra Old rum (in a glass that has cooled off).

Four showerheads and a sincere wish for some more free time and a real bar for the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. Gorgeous property run by hospitality experts.

Sadly, Hartford, CT is lacking in both the boutique hotel and high-end cocktail bar departments. That makes life here at NPS kind of difficult. Marriott hamster cage for you! And mid-tier booze to boot.

View from the 19th Floor (Hartford, CT)

View from the 19th Floor (Hartford, CT)

The good news, relatively speaking, is that my travel companion this trip is a super Elite Marriott Platinum whatever. He booked all the rooms. What that means to NPS is that the bottle of water is free! Such amenity.

Here is what cage number 1921 looks like. (FWIW, 1921 is way better than 717 was last go ’round.)

Hartford Marriott 1921

Hartford Marriott 1921

1921 bed

1921 bed

1921 pays homage to the TV (standard Marriott practice)

1921 pays homage to the TV (standard Marriott practice)

The shower is glass and is very nice. NPS approved.

Not plastic!

Not plastic!

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A last minute hunt for a decent cocktail bar in the city came up with nothing. So down to the Marriott bar it was for a nightcap. Negroni? Check. Stagg Jr? Sure why not. NPS advises you to just skip the bar visit.

One ray of sunshine during this visit is that Max’s Downtown is a very nice restaurant with an interesting wine list. Highly recommended.

In the end, this Marriott property is a low three showerhead kind of place. Nice enough in its generic big hotel you must be here on business way.

Yes it rained. And then rained. Deluge. Downpour. So we moved the music inside and played all night anyway.

Music at Oopstock

Music at Oopstock

But then we were due in Wisconsin the next morning before noon! That meant leaving the party at 2am for a late night visit to the nearest airport’s suburban hotel chain. Ears ringing from electric music, off we went into the deluge.

Here is the disaster that is Manchester, NH Springhill Suites. Just. Do. Not. Go.

My travel buddy with endless platinum Marriott points procured our reservation and checked us in, so we got to participate in ultra elite status. Like check out this outstanding amenity!

Amenity? Or cheap bag of chips.

Amenity? Or cheap bag of chips.

And we got the best available room in the place, which was this desert of a design disaster.

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20160814_002413

Just super generic and gross.

Plastic shower! In a sealed room.  Obesity rod.

Plastic shower! In a sealed room. Obesity rod.

Yeah. No.

Yeah. No.

So anyway, we were there for less than three hours. The plan is to never have to do that again!

One showerhead for Springhill Suites writ large. No.

Usually NPS has to slum it when we come through Wilmington, NC on the way to the beach. We have had a number of seriously awful experiences at the Hilton. Read for yourself here and here and here (there’s more if you like snark).

So the bar is set exceptionally low, and we’re happy to say the the brand new Courtyard by Marriott is much better even though it is still a hamster cage experience.

A stylish elevator hallway to wait in

A stylish elevator hallway to wait in

We had a SNAFU getting into our room that involved waiting for the front desk and engineering to figure out why a deadbolt was thrown in the room we are supposed to have. Anyway, we ended up in 424.

Instruments on carts

Instruments on carts

Accent wall in the hamster cage

Accent wall in the hamster cage

NIcely appointed bathroom

NIcely appointed bathroom

The shower is a glass pod! Yays.

Glass shower.  We repeat, glass shower!

Glass shower. We repeat, glass shower!

But of course all is not sweetness and light here at NPS. We do have to say that the view sucks.

This is not a view of the river

This is not a view of the river

Blogging chair.  Don't spread out!

Blogging chair. Don’t spread out!

Anyway, good on the Marriott for bringing the town up to a low three showerheads! Way more than zero (the Hilton’s last rating). Looks like we’re going back to circa 1922 for dinner.

The best part about Circa 1922 other than the food is the barman Josh Giles, a reformed architect who has become a master barman. John specializes in growing ingredients in his garden and incorporating them into his drinks. The C4 is a great example:
1 oz cucumber shrub (cucumber, lovage, chervil, salad burnett, white wine vinagar, rice vinagar)
1.25 oz hendricks gin
.5 green chartreuse
splash of st. germaine
.75 oz soda

Both the shrub and the drink are out of this world. Josh rotates the menu regularly and features a cocktail with local produce (like the C4). World class.

And tomorrow, the Stick!!

Sophie at the stick

Sophie at the stick

USAirways to Raleigh

March 14, 2015

Surprise surprise! Commuter jets operated by Republic for USAirways have wifi, and you can upgrade for super cheap. Too bad they only fly out of DCA.

I am not sure what United has planned, or when its plan will be implemented, but they seem to think a plan is reality. Ridiculous.

I flew in and out for dinner and did not spend the night. But I did camp in the Marriott RTP lobby for a short while. Yuck.

At least Marriott listened (and brought out a cocktail to boot).