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Do you speak English?  Do you fancy (or maybe, like, if you are American, “like”) sitting by the pool when it is 100 Fahrenheit degrees outside?  Are you a hipster, or maybe hipster inclined?  Perhaps hipster curious?  Then this is the place for you!

The fact that this place had rebranded itself to CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha from what was most likely Palacio de Atocha before says a bunch.  In English.

The pool rocks.  Just come for the pool.

We’re having a grand old time by the pool.

Our room is 40.  Maybe it is a “junior suite” or some such.  The room is built into the top floor attic.  It’s pretty hot in Madrid still, and the A/C is having some issues trying to keep up.  It does OK if you close all the windows, shut your eyes, and try to be invisible.

The room is nice. Hipsters dig it.  There are USB ports in random locations.  There is a bluetooth doohicky for music.  Right angles are rare. There are two copies of everything but the toilet and the makeup station in the bathroom.

Two copies!  Romey can take a cold shower while I take a hot one.  Simultaneously.

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There is a note from the GM with some yummy items.  This is so hipster that NPS felt instantly at home (but add an email address so we can ping you Señor GM).

We’re just swinging back out of Spain tomorrow and still moving slowly.  So time by the pool with too many Negronis is just what the Doctor ordered.  Doctor Feelgood, is that you?

Oh it IS doctor feelgood.  Yay!

Before we got here there was no graffiti in the furniture pile.  We fixed that.

…do dee do deeee do…

Dinner at Los Porfiados was very good indeed.  Fernet and Coke for the win.  We were the only English speakers in the place.  And, frankly, we should have spoken Italian.

Do you know how to make a fernet and coke?  There is THE WAITERS WAY (which is wrong) and there is the way they do it in BA.  Do it the BA way.

We will deface your napkin.  A cute hack.

Honestly, the empanadas here are the best I have ever had anywhere.  Just wow.  The veal was good too.

On our last day in Madrid, we bought some stuff and we had some drinks by the pool.  It was perfect.

Five showerheads and an upgrade to Spanish plus some more powerful A/C units for the CoolRooms BestRooms YouAreNotWorthyOfTheRooms Palacio do Atocha.

 

 

 

We came to Spain for an in person meeting—our first encounter as a group since COVID struck the planet.  High bandwidth.  Full of energy. Intense and productive.

The meeting was organized by the best of professionals who discovered an excellent location in the Pestana Plaza Mayor, a refuge in the heart of the tourist zone which manages to avoid most (but not all) of the Disneyfication of Plaza Mayor.  The location really couldn’t be better for first timers to Madrid.

The Pestana is squarely in four star category, like right smack in the middle.  This kind of hotel is perfectly suited for its demographic.

Our arrival process in Madrid was definitely a let down after all the rumors of long lines at customs, COVID QR codes, and lost luggage.  The QR code that took so much effort to secure was not even glanced at in the blue lane.  Our plane was first in. Customs took less than 2 minutes.  Our luggage arrived within 5 minutes, barely enough time to get our bearings.

About the only challenge at arrival was the absolutely cocaine-addled Serbian taxi driver who insisted on aggressively hauling ass through Madrid, unceremoniously dropping us off at the wrong corner past the hotel and insisting on being paid cash.  Anyway, we made it in quick.

So quick, in fact, that we were way way way too early to check in.  We were offered a shower in the (common) spa area.  Which was OK if you don’t mind other people stopping by while you are in your underwear.  The spa was very hot and not properly cleaned and cared for, but the showers work.  Management could do with a better solution to offer early arrivals a more civilized welcome.  FWIW, this problem happens all over the world.

Somewhat freshened, we crossed paths with a colleague just in from Chicago and sought out some espresso and juice for breakfast.

The irony of having an intensely good tiny espresso and some fresh squeezed orange juice just next door to a generic Starbucks was not lost on us.


We stopped in at the Mercado San Miguel for some tourist-priced street food and made our way through old Madrid.  Finally it was time to check in.

We were assigned room 117, a superior room in a classic hamster cage design (nothing like a rectangle with some strategic mirrors).  This room is too tight to spend a week in (more about that to come), but it is fine for a day or three.

The superior category rating comes from the balcony which overlooks Plaza Mayor.  All of that seems awesome until the fourth or fifth night of listening to the hack “musicians” loop through Hit the Road Jack or the Disney princess medley accompanied by a Casio soundtrack on accordion.  Someone should invent a pandemic that wipes out the accordion players in one fell swoop.  The most amusing part of the street music problem is the cat and mouse game they play with the police.

The view from the balcony is excellent.  It is hot as the Dickens in Madrid this week, with temperatures above 101 Farenheit every day.  The breeze through the balcony door is hot.  The A/C in our room is almost up to the task.  Almost.

The shower in 117 is fantastic.  Glass. Lots of hot water.  Plenty of room to get clean. 100% NPS approved.

Lunch with the team from the company we’re advising was incredible at Sa Brisa Restaurante en El Retiro.  We started at 2:30 and finished at 5.  Very Spanish of us!

The rooftop pool at the Pestana is a long skinny rectangle maybe a lane and a half wide.  It is unlikely that the Madrid summer olympics will be held here anytime in the future. But the water is refreshing and the beer is, well, beer (don’t tell Markus).

After this excellent start, a major setback in our trip happened on day one.  After receiving an email from NH about a positive COVID test among the people I was on stage performing with, I decided to test myself in the morning even though I was pretty much asymptomatic.  One positive test result later, it was isolation time and worry for my partner who was also well exposed by that time.

We are still in isolation and recovery mode.  By now I am almost fully recovered and plan to retest tomorrow.  My partner is still in the heart of it (though she has never tested positive we are treating her as if she did).

Anyway, the pretty much constant view became this as the table was shifted over to the balcony door for a day long zoom meeting.  AUGH!  Honestly, I know we are all done with zoom by now, but imagine being fully prepared to chair an in person meeting full of great people from all over the world and then being relegated to zoom less than 200 yards away from the actual meeting.

Lets just say we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trapped in 117, venturing out to walk the city in the evening once or twice, remaining masked and socially distanced.  Eating room service food, take away pizza, and breakfasts fetched by whichever one of us was the most healthy.  Masking even in our room together.

The hotel has been a very good base of operations, the staff accommodating to the highest degree (we are being very careful and mindful of them), and the interstitial time long and full of nothing.  We even streamed 21 grams one night.

Speaking of which, the room TV/Internet tech all needs to be replaced here.  It is old and it does not work with modern gear.  Good luck making it stream anything.

We are existing on Spanish time, getting up late, lunching well into the 4pm hour, and eating after 10pm.  Can’t wait until we can do that with other humans.

A special breakfast salad brought up for consumption.

A socially distanced Negroni. This plaza (Plaza de Santa Ana) was filled with packed restaurants at 9:30pm.  We asked for a table far from everyone, and had our first proper Negroni of the trip.  We were hoping that would cure us.

That night it was ice cream and potato chips for dinner.

Incidentally, our room is on the first floor above the plaza the bottom right of the lighted doorway square.

Great take out pizza can be found at Pizzamascalzone.

Have an Aperol Spritz…if you can find one.

Be a human.

Walk madrid.

Finally, a word about the common areas of the hotel.  The grand stairway leading to the Plaza Mayor (and to the breakfast room).

Breakfast is excellent.  Having it in the breakfast room and hotel restaurant would be nice.  But so far, no dice.  Fortunately there is Paula.  Paula helped arrange for special treatment for my partner during a number of breakfasts this week.  She was the most helpful and friendly person we encountered.  Be like Paula.

 

We did finally venture out (carefully, slowly, and fully masked) to do some shopping at Paloma del Pozo and to see some art at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.  See our blog entry here.

And we greatly enjoyed an in house Aperol Spritz conjured up by Paula.  (See Aaron?  We fiigured it all out.)

There is obviously much more of Madrid to see.  Until our next visit!

All told, four showerheads and escape from the global pandemic woes for the Pestana Plaza Mayor.  Can’t wait to experience Madrid properly.

 

 

There was that pandemic thing that put a kibosh on business travel.  Some hotels and hotel chains (looking at you Kimpton) slumped, starting with their customer experience department.  I mean, no customers so no customer service?  Or something wrong like that.  Others rose to the occasion.  The Umstead Hotel in Cary, NC rose to the occasion.  Well done Umstead!

First off, the hotel remembered that we have stayed on their property before.  They left a note.  They provided an excellent room.  The only problem was not a problem at all…that was that arrival was rushed due to late aircraft arrival and there was no time to appreciate the calm ritual of the umstead.  In the end, it all worked out.

After delivering a 6:30pm lecture, it was back to the Umstead and its world class restaurant, Herons, for dinner.  Just wow.  Excellent food.  Impeccable service.  Great company.  Dinner could not have been better executed.

Herons is still in pandemic mode

The host, software security professor Laurie Williams

The Prix Fixe dinner menu is world class, and fun too.  Elk, caviar, fois gras, and a cheese desert that was a blast.

Then it was up to 512 (a garden view balcony room) for some sleep on birthday eve.

512 bedroom. Very tasteful and comfortable.

 

The bar in the hall

 

Looking toward the balcony

 

An excellent bathroom featuring an NPS approved shower room.

 

The giant tub (alas, unused on this trip)

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NPS was greeted with presents hidden away in our luggage.  Yay!  Birthday.  (NPS is 38 for those of you wondering.)

 

Foggy morning view

 

Looking over the “lake”

 

The Umstead

What else is there to do around Cary on your birthday?  Well there is Krispy Kreme.

Hot donuts NOW

And a visit to the NCSU lab.

 

A little too secure if you don’t have an ID card.

Evidence of bribery (see the table)

Then a VERY early dinner with Michael Rappa, who once again is always right about restaurant choice.  Stanbury is fantastic.

The perfect Negroni

 

Three birthdays in the corner

 

Happy birthday NPS

After dinner it was back to Cary for a nightcap at Mayton Inn‘s bar.  Fernet was available.  The waitress was a newb.

All in all, a great celebratory day with three renditions of the happy birthday song…all terrible.

Much brighter morning

 

The umstead entrance

A walk in the park was in order before flying back home.  Umstead State Park is built around an old Mill complex.  A nice warm day for a walk.

 

 

Hurray for a visit with bright young grad students!

Five showerheads and a fervent wish for an early return (or maybe often…or maybe both).

 

Last Licks in Tokyo

November 30, 2019

One more day in Tokyo before flying home. NPS is back in the very same room at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo with the progeny for another night. After taking the Shinkansen back from Kyoto it was time for sushi with Rio.

Lots of sushi pictures and videos on apothecaryshed.

Then it was off to “the local” for a pre-game negroni (that is, the Tippler’s Arms).

The Tippler’s Arms will make you a cocktail

Then a local train to Kitazaswa to see the Dead Bambis. First a fuel stop before the show.

The Dead Bambis are very loud and very good. (Earplugs are a necessity at these shows!). See more pictures and videos of the show on apothecaryshed.

Then a visit to a new bar in Shinjuku bound to become a classic—Jeremiah. We met the owner K in Kyoto at Bees Knees and he told us about his new project in Tokyo. K then met us in Tokyo. Awesome.

Blue blazers, corpse revivers, extra fun shots. Just go!

Finally it was across the street to the LGBTQ neighborhood Hanazono Nishi for some people watching and dog patting.

Short, but fun last day in Tokyo!

New shiny bits for the Stick

A quick but essential trip down to Wilmington to upgrade the Stick internet to fiber. Hopefully NPS will be spending more time here in 2020.

The Stick in November

Atlantic facing south

Sadly the best bet for staying in Wilmington is the Courtyard by Marriott. I know. Downtown. It is new, but somehow dated and frivolous at the same time. We were assigned hamster cage 317 (see the red dot).

Dot r you.

generic

generic

generic

Plastic with a glass door?! It’s the new plastic.

Looks OK from here

Molded plastic for all

Dinner and a Negroni at Caprice Bistrot was quite good. Best yet in Wilmington.

Two showerheads and a yawn for the Courtyard Marriott in Wilmington. We’re glad it’s here. We think.

R2 Wine Luncheon Number 5

October 12, 2019

As always, the wine luncheon in LA was excellent. Great food, great company, and great wine. Our host Donnie did it again.

We dined at Lucques, and though we did not have a private room, we were well cared for and had plenty of room.

Donnie and I arrived in time for a cocktail before lunch got rolling.

House made Negroni at Lucques

Negroni components

The house made Negroni was, um, interesting. Infused vodka?! Overly sweet home made Campari. Sweet vermouth that was pretty sweet.

R2 menu

The food was excellent. Sadly, no pictures were snapped. The wine was plentiful as always.

The wine supply

Wine

Wine

As it turned out, a number of small French wineries were in the house looking for US distributors. After lunch, we joined them for a taste.

Vive la France

After an excellent Indian dinner, we decamped to Edison for a night cap. Good times.

Greenpoint

What a difference a year makes. Last year the Grande Colonial seemed a bit tired and long in the tooth. It has had a facelift.

View from 102

Though the architecture of the building has not changed, the room layout is much cleaner and more spacious. Even the long skinny bathroom (which remains long and skinny) is better.

Looking in the long skinny bathroom. Hey, the shower is not plastic!

This trend to delete bath tubs and replace them with modern shower spaces is a great trend. Much better use of space, and much more reasonable approach to morning cleanliness.

The best part of this design is that the controls are situated logically. No reason to get wet while you turn on the shower.

The rest of the room has been opened up, repainted, and re-imagined. Nice work.

102 bed

Seating area 102

Look how comfortable

Sadly, the parking lot has not been deleted. The ocean is over there somewhere.

Dinner at Catania was very good for a restaurant group property. Modern italian with a negroni to boot. Recommended.

Sadly, the bar at Nine Ten (which is a very good restaurant in the hotel) is still sub-par. Gotta hire some hipsters who know what they are doing. The current bar suits the old, monied, and boring demographic of the hotel. Nuff said.

George’s at the Cove, a La Jolla establishment of many years still deserving its reputation, still has the best cocktail program in town.

Joree Weatherly was a top notch barman who served us this cocktail. It has a name, but Joree did not write it down on the recipe I asked for. Lets just call it Trentino Tincture. Actually, it turns out to be named Shiso Piney
1.5 Amaro Junipero gin
.5 Pasubio amaro (from Trentino where I spent a year in 1993)
1 lemon
.75 shiso syrup
2 dashes of pine tincture
top with soda. serve on rocks in a collins glass.

When we returned the next night with a cast of hundreds, Joree made use these great cocktails:
Mezcal Manhattan
1.5 Mezcal
.75 montenegro
.75 Averna
2 dashes mexican spiced bitters
Stir down, serve on a large cube

Negroni Amarillo
1.5 Mezcal
1 pamplemousse
1 suze
2 dashes sage tincture
Stir down, serve up with sage leaf

United upgraded us on the way out. Lets hope that works for the way back too. Global services rock on! Um, nope. No upgrade, and we’re here to tell you, economy sucks!

NPS is impressed. Nice work updating the property! Four showerheads for the Grande Colonial.

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.

Somehow in this case the word “Rydges” connotes cheap condoms from a gas station vending machine. We’re traveling with a group, and that means little control over situations that NPS usually has a strict handle on. No worries, we were assigned the second best room category on the Rydges South Bank property with a balcony overlooking the river. Room 1116 is a bit cramped, but not bad.

Except for the part where it is connected by a very thin door to the suite next door where an asshole is hosting an all night party. The party involved yelling, loud conversation, noisy sex, door slamming, and more! At least the party wound down for a bit about 1:15am when we called management and they had a chat with the noisy people. But then at 5am it all started again with speaker phone conversations and more loud asshole.

Basically, I guess we’ve decided that the wrong class of people frequents this hotel. That makes Rydges more of a “Walmart-shopper style salesperson on a bender with some hookers” hotel. Or maybe it is only the ridiculous Christmas revelry sweeping the city.

Whatever. We fixed things the next morning after no sleep. Rydges can and does do better!

Brisbane, on the other hand is a great place to visit.

We went to Koala-land (Lone Pine Koala sanctuary) after we ditched our bags at the hotel. Well worth a visit. Just don’t plan to eat any food there. Really. Captive audience means super bad food, even by zoo standards.

Kangaroo

We did the obligatory koala picture.

Koala picture from Lone Pine

About which…

And then it was back to the hotel to shower before cocktail hour (crammed into a tiny bathroom).

Not much room, but the shower is glass

Two people can’t use this sink at one time (unless one is on the john)

River view and a cute balcony

We had fantastic Negroni’s made with Four Pillars gin at Wickham with Rachel. Also gathered data for later cocktail shenanigans. (Skip eleven rooftop bar unless you like fake glitz and dated DJ music.)

Dinner at Caravanserai was very good indeed. Authentic Turkish in a funky noisy boisterous atmosphere. Nice. Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine to drink on your way in.

Caravanserai

Then ride the wheel for a dash of too much AC before bed.

The Wheel

Two showerheads and a fervent hope that the asshole next door gets a cosmic comeuppance for Rydges phase one. Things got better!

After a false start in the Sydney Hilton hamster cage category, we upgraded ourselves to a Relaxation Suite. This was a GOOD MOVE! Thanks to Callan at the front desk for making the whole thing go smoothly and for cutting us a sweet deal.

Apparently there are 16 of these rooms on the property. If NPS is stuck in a big corporate hotel, this is the kind of room we want. 2925 is big enough to stretch out in. Comes with exec level perqs (free breakfast, cocktail hour, concierge service, etc). A completely different universe from “free conference room” category. Yes please.

2925 suite

Hey look, room to breathe!

The furnishings are sturdy and nice, and the shades are all automated. Lots of room to work and play.

The sitting room with a nice desk

Powder room

The bathroom is huge with a gigantic tub (probably never to be used) and a very nice shower that has so many control options we’ve only figured out half of them over the last two days.

Four of the five shower nozzles. The drench head (not shown) is superb.

This huge tub comes with a city view

Visit the botanical gardens!

Spanish helmets

After a nice long walk through the city on our first day, we had a quick pizza at Macchiato. The pizza is better than the service (friendly though inept), and we won’t even mention the bartending. There has to be better pizza in Sydney.

Watson Bay ferry dock

Day two was spent ferrying over to Watson Bay, walking the bridge, wandering the Rocks, and buying way too much product at Aesop.

You can’t leave Watson Bay without consuming mandatory fish and chips

The gap

The Aesops store is in here somewhere

Dinner at Tetsuyas was world class. Very expensive but very very good indeed. Bite the bullet and overpay for dinner.

A negroni with homemade sweet vermouth (cherry). Delicious.

Day three is a rainy disaster, good for getting up late, processing some bits, a nice Thai lunch in the very weird Holy Basil, and some coffee at Doppio.

Before dinner, we stopped in at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. A very powerful video piece on the Palm Island uprising was the highlight for sure.

MCAA

MCAA

MCAA

MCAA

Dinner at Aria was solid. Excellent views at a great table, delicious food, and very good service.

Aria Sydney view

We also went to see a (bad) play at the Sydney opera house. Yeah, probably not the best theater location in the city, but it was the only thing on. The actors were great, the set was creative and high tech, and the writing may once have been good too, but it has aged poorly. What is billed as an “iconic masterpiece by Nobel Laureate Patrick White,” A Cheery Soul is more like a cartoon from long ago. It was fun to do, though.

The next day we did a say trip to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Highly recommended even though the train ride is long. (See a blog entry here.)

Then it was a mad dash through the city in order to shower before dinner in the best restaurant in Australia. That would be quay. Though we were grateful to sneak in with a last minute reservation, we were not satisfied with a table in the “annex” (which seems to be a thing in Sydney). Dinner was remarkably great, but childre’s table treatment is just wrong when you are paying so much money.

View from the children’s table at Quay

We opted for the “drinks” pairing which was really excellent. Not just wine, but beer, sake, fortified spirits, cocktails. A great idea done in an outstanding fashion.

Negroni with QQQQ Pillars gin (a hack from four pillars for Quay)

Here are some pictures from the dinner. World class. Outstanding and well worth a visit.

Quay

There was not much time to explore the cocktail scene in Sydney what with all of the fancy Negronis we had in some of the best restaurants on earth. We did at least pop over to the Lobo Plantation for some nice tiki-style cocktailing after a group dinner. Lobo Plantation was hopping and much fun.

Lobo Plantation is a great bar

Fernet and coconut cream based cocktail (with a side of fernet of course)

CR#2

Did these stairs get curvier?

We’ll have to leave these other bars unexplored for now (including the (gasp!) marble bar at the Hilton which we never made it downstairs for): Bulletin Place, Old Mates Place, Shady Pines, and Hubert.

Here is a view of the sunset from the really cool “window in the mirror” from the suite.

Sunset at the Sydney Hilton

Five showerheads for the Sydney Hilton Relaxation Suite product. Recommended.