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The highlight of this trip to Argentina was an extraordinary visit hosted by Claudio Z. and Inez at the Uraqui winery guesthouse. Not only is the vineyard itself the highest in the world, the project that encompasses the winery (as one of three aspects) is a study in ecology, low-impact farming, local Aymara culture, philosophy, and raising little girls.

After fording the river in our rental car, we were warmly welcomed by Caudio who proceeded to walk us through his organic seed operation.

Uraqui winery guesthouse

The guesthouse serves as a base of operations for meals and hanging out. It’s huge windows overlook farmland and the river. The humahuaca valley is surrounded by majestic Andes peaks.

Though the rooms are simple (and we won’t even bring up the shower curtains for this entry), everything else is overwhelmingly magnificent.

Of course, we’re here to see the highest vineyard in the world and to taste the exceptionally good wine.

Usually Uraqui wine is not barreled. These barrels are for a friend.

Dinner included vegetables that we picked the afternoon of our arrival, high energy little girls flitting around like birds, a violin, a broken D string, potent conversation, and laughter.

We were up early the next morning to ascend to the vineyard and the “cellar.”

The elevation of the vineyard is 10,922 feet above sea level (see this article by Sorrel Moseley-Williams for detail from a wine expert). What that means is a very steep, four mile or so drive up over an Andes pass in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. The ascent itself is stunning.

We brought along coca leaves from the market in Tilcara (and used them to good effect).

Claudio says that the UV is the most extreme aspect of the mountain climate. The grapes he grows and blends on the property certainly make great wine.

After a brief visit to the vines, we climbed another 2000 feet (to 12,139 feet above sea level) where an old barium sulfate mine has been converted into a “cellar.” There is something pleasingly absurd (almost invoking the magical surrealism of Márquez) about a cellar being both above the vineyard by 2000 feet and close to the very top of the Quebrada mountain valley.

Claudio told us an incredible story about the naming of his wine, its label, and its current storage location. You’ll have to have him tell it to you one day.

A bottle signed by Sorrel

A tasting outside the cellar high in the mountains was in order. Incredible.

Uraqui which means “terroir” in Aymara, is a blend of Malbec, Syrah and Merlot. It is deep and flavorful.

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Overlooking its birthplace

The Andean mountain scene is stunning.

Eagle

After our morning tasting and adventure, we were welcomed for another communal lunch with the family which evolved into more philosophy with the help of some fernet and coke.

The national drink of Argentina

We said our goodbyes. And then it was off for an espresso pit stop in Humahuaca before heading back south to fly to Buenos Aires in a massive thunderstorm.

Forza

These memories will linger like wine on the tounge until we return for another glass.

Thanks Claudio

You so much want the super cute cabañas to be all they can be. Sadly, it’s close but no cigar at Los Colorados. Purmamarca is a cute town. The landscape is spectacular and easy to hike around. The design is enticing and nice. The staff is helpful and gracious.

 

 

So what’s the problem? The problem seems to be the plumbing. Swamp gas in the small bathroom (and also wafting around the property) is masked by deodorizer and insecticide to such an extent that breathing is non-trivial. Seriously, NPS gets a sore throat just thinking about it.

And the shower? Nope.

Anyway, just look how cute this place is. Here is Cabaña 2.

living area

bamboo ceiling

The tile is great. Even the bathroom (though very small) looks good. Sadly, that plumbing thing. Not only is the shower plastic (and over a tub) but the water goes pretty much all over the place. Just no.

Then again, there is a rooftop terrace.

rooftop terrace

We slipped into Pulmarca for lunch. La Posta is workaday, but not bad. Beer is always good.

And there is this.

A hike outside of Tilcara to Garganta del Diablo occupied much of the afternoon. No water. Dinner in Tilcara at El Nuevo Progreso was quirky and decent. Great trout in saffron sauce, outstanding fried cheese appetizer, and a great desert. Worth a visit.

Nuevo Progresso

Nuevo Progresso

Nuevo Progresso

Nuevo Progresso

Back in Purmamarca, a hike around Cerro de los Siete Colores (Seven-Color Hill) is quick and easy. The landscape is remarkable (about more which later).

Cerro de los Siete Colores

So, in the end Purmamarca is well worth a visit (though we prefer Tilcara for its slightly more hip vibe).

Back to the hotel—if they rip out the plumbing and replace it, perhaps it will be what it needs to be. But for now, two sad showerheads for a place with lots of potential.

NPS has accumulated lots of great memories at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica over the years, including the romantic, slightly-buzzed Italian singing love songs (in Italian of course) and crying about his ex-wife. And if you read this blog, you know that NPS is nothing if not a creature of habit. So we’re here again, and we’re pleased to report that a major renovation has the place all spruced up.

A new bar. A better lobby. New elevators. Shiny new look. Better furniture in the rooms. Well done!

About the only thing left behind is the showers. This is an unwelcome (non) development.

After a slightly-delayed checkin involving lunch at Lazy Daisy Cafe and a Negroni (from 11:30 to 3:00), we were shown to room 803. This ocean view suite on the top floor is very likely the best room in the hotel. The room has beautiful views, many windows, and lots of light.

View from 803

803 is a good place to be in Santa Monica

Old school touches remain on the property, like these “peep holes” directly out of the ’20s.

Who is it?

Sitting room 803

Furniture upgraded. Could use some leather up here.

The room layout has interesting angles and does pretty much all it can to avoid the “adapted hamster cage” architecture of most hotels. This is much appreciated.

architecture

803 bedroom

The bathroom could use some attention, however. Time for a shower upgrade. The current shower is a study in “not approved by NPS.”

nope nope nope

Lazy Daisy is a good place for lunch.

Dinner in the mountains at Saddle Peak Lodge is also old school. Dead animals hand from the walls. There are pistols in frames. Fire. And lots of game on the menu. NPS approved. A taste of Canada in California.

More soon from the upcoming wine luncheon at Little Sister (we’re just here for fun this trip).

Four showerheads and a sincere wish for a shower upgrade at the Georgian Hotel. Apparently they are making money around here, so lets drag the bathrooms into this millennium!

fin

NPS is not a first-timer at the Alexis, but we sure do miss our guy Keith (once concierge) who is no longer at Kimpton. Because we have no feet on the ground at the hotel, we had to rely on social media and the CRM system that Kimpton uses to track its guests. Guess what? Knowing people beats the heck out of any computer-based guest database. Especially a guest database that elides the only real hotel room criteria we hold dear.

Which is a short way of saying, “WTF Kimpton, a room with a plastic shower??!” Really, the warm greeting by Sam, the sparkling water, the really beautiful newly-renovated room, all that stuff means not a thing if the shower is plastic. We’ll pay more. We’ll do pretty much whatever it takes to avoid the shower over bathtub thing. We’ll even cash in our loyalty and find a different hotel.

NO PLASTIC SHOWERS!

The first room was 634. It had a plastic shower. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Lets review.

This is a plastic shower. It looks not too awful from here.

But when you approach, the plastic liner becomes apparent

And this bendy “obesity bar” which is not up to the task of such heavy plastic.

Gross. This is just gross. We do not do this.

And over a step in bathtub. No no. A thousand times no.

We tried to make this all very obvious.

Does the machine have a memory??

The rest of the bathroom is very nice and spacious

So lets put this shower episode behind us and hope somebody out there in Kimpton CRM-land is paying attention.

Leave the bathroom behind. Never go back.

High style evident

Cluttered quirky and fun

This is just fine.

Sparkling water is always very nice, and we do appreciate that.

But we do not at all like this trend where our rooms are bugged. Please make these spy devices that invade privacy optional Kimpton.

No bugs please. Spy on your spouse not on your guests.

Anyway, for the record, the Alexis has a great little bar called The Library, where from time to time great bourbon flows through.

The next morning, a room adjustment was already underway. That is good. But it was already too late.

Breakfast at Biscuit Bitch is worth seeking out, even if you have to trawl for a table.

And then work. And then some sailing.

We did some racing, and the good news is that we won first place in our class (really great huge boats that start late and come in last).

By the time the ferry shenanigans finished up, it was midnight and time for the room switch. Imagine our surprise when told that the water was off for maintenance. The Alexis can’t win for losing this trip. We were assigned room 425 which was very nice. We spent 5 hours in it all told.

Though we really do appreciate the shower in room 425, it works better when the water is on.

New room for you

The staff left a very nice amenity which there was no time to get into. Sadly, the water was not sparkly, though who knows it might have started out that way hours earlier.

Fancy

The bathroom is very spacious and awesome. Wish there were more time to use it properly.

Big giant tub with its own platform

Now that’s better Alexis. A glass shower!

All told this chunky visit to the Alexis deserves three showerheads on average. Plastic showers bring your final semester grade way down here at NPS university.

Yeah. No.

Ever wonder how the other half lives? We find ourselves up in Chicago just in front of a major blizzard doing some business. We’re traveling with all of the C-people: CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO, LMNOP. Frankly, these guys just don’t travel much. So it has been an interesting trip.

First off, the United experience (first of 2016) was outstanding. Upgrade? Check (first time in two years). Wifi? Check. Actual ceramic cup of tea? Check. Friendly crew? Check. Personal thank you with a look in the eye? Check. On time? Early even!

OK fine, it's business class, but this cup is REAL

OK fine, it’s business class, but this cup is REAL

United, you did well. Keep it up. That blue mood lighting in the 737-900 is outstanding!

Is it the C-level posse that caused that? LOL. More likely, it was the upcoming blizzard. Nobody with an “out” is traveling away from home today. But business calls, so here we are! Thanks mr. blizzard.

Back to our story. So just how does the other half live? Poorly, it turns out.

You see, there is the generic hotel situation. Westin North Shore? Not so much. This hotel has a nice lobby and a set of just awful hamster cage style rooms. You could spit and hit the interstate from here. We are in concierge level service. Well, at least I am (due to a bunch of starwood points?! go figure that). But no no no. This is not it.

Lets explore through pictures, shall we?

Welcome to hamster cage 1411 at the Westin

Welcome to hamster cage 1411 at the Westin

The bed pays homage to the TV

The bed pays homage to the TV

Enter the tiny bathroom

Enter the tiny bathroom

OH NO!  A plastic shower

OH NO! A plastic shower

Obesity bar. Shower curtain over tub.  Welcome to heck.

Obesity bar. Shower curtain over tub. Welcome to heck.

We pretty much do all we can to avoid this kind of experience on the road. But when in Rome, um, wear a toga? The other half puts up with this is what it is. Reality check.

The best part? The Westin (who BTW charges actual money for internet) defends their shower situation on social media. Fiesty!

We walked across the parking lot to dinner at Coopers Hawk Winery/Restaurant. They had cabernet! LOL. It was from “America” and we ordered the “lux” bottle. We believe it cost $29.95. The associated hardware for decanting was outstanding. Is it a winery really?? Skip it.

We pretended it was the CFO’s birthday.

On the positive side of this Westin, the restaurant Saranellos is very good. Delicious upscale Italian with a reasonable wine selection. Recommended.

Anyway, because of the hamster cage design, two tiny showerheads for the Westin. You guys have merged so much you are approaching the color of the universe—beige. We’re pretty sure the homeowners association would approve.

In the end, it turns out that the other half is more interested in getting some business done than in where they sleep.

Lansdowne Resort is so close that we’ve only been here once, and that was so long ago we don’t want to admit it. But we’re back and running a show for 300+. Sadly, Lansdowne is not up to the load on all kinds of fronts.

As with many resorts (many of the Sheraton variety), much more attention is paid to the common areas than to the rooms. Even a “deluxe” suite can’t make the cut here for many reasons. Heck, lets just list them shall we?

  • plastic showers
  • hamster cage design
  • views of a roof?!
  • thin walls that carry sound
  • an HVAC system that sounds like a broken jet
  • pluming that screams when you flush
  • seriously uncomfortable bedding
  • style? not really
  • net that is not up to high geek standards
Covered with saran wrap

Covered with saran wrap

No dice on the room. They did try with a personal note and some cheese and wine. (Though based on the bill slid under my door in the morning, the cheese and wine came from Jennifer and cost $42. Nothing like being charged for your own amentity!)

Good thing we had the doctor’s bag along with some makings for Liberals. But frankly the furniture in the suite was mega uncomfortable, leaving good Liberals to be enjoyed on bad seating. Oh well.

Suite looks nice

Suite looks nice

Just don't look out the window

Just don’t look out the window

Uncomfortable bed ensconced in a style featuring scratchy orange carpet

Uncomfortable bed ensconced in a style featuring scratchy orange carpet

Oh, and did we mention the plastic showers?

Yeah, no.

Yeah, no.

The worst kind of plastic shower

The worst kind of plastic shower

The worst kind of plastic shower has an obesity-friendly bent bar, a plastic curtain, and a slippery hollow plastic tub. 100% bad! Yays.

Ultimately, the real problem here at Lansdowne is the disorganization and incompetence of the A/V and conference staff. In fact, the service in the hotel is all pretty awful if you’re a spoiled traveller like we are. Our room looked great and most of the parts required for a good show are available in the conference room, but they are being run by people who are quite simply the worst A/V people we’ve come across professionally in many years. Just not good.

Food too. Just not good.

Bar? hah hah hah. We’re not touching that one.

The location is gorgeous and green. But it is suited for golfer types. Nuff said. Pretty far down the list and nowhere near as good the also local Westfields as for a conference. I guess we need to move the show into DC.

A rare two showerheads and a vague feeling of disappointment for the Lansdowne Resort. Looks like LoCo has a ways to go to attain world class.