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Right, so we flew from New Zealand which was pretty much of a paradise to a big city in Australia on purpose. That’s how it goes sometimes! Fortunately, Sydney turns out to be a great place for a look around.

We must say that the so-called “partnership” between United Airlines and Air New Zealand is utterly useless. No star alliance perqs here. Just middle seats in economy. Not impressed at all with the Air New Zealand experience. Global services my ass.

Anyway, we arrived and cabbed basically across town to the Sydney Hilton.

Any loyal reader of NPS knows that these kinds of big, industrial hotel chains are not our cup of tea. But we’re here on business and the hotel choice is out of our control. The Hilton is a nice property and it is centrally locaded, so that’s all good.

On arrival, our room category (which I believe turned out to be the “crappy” category) was not available, so we went and got some ramen. The front desk staff was helpful and friendly about the delay. Thanks SooYeon.

Ramen at Yasaka Ramen was authentic and delicious, but super heavy. Be forewarned.

Ramen in Sydney

When we returned about an hour later (after coffee at Doppio which we highly recommend), our room was ready. We were assigned hamster cage 2203.

Lets just be cheerful about the whole thing and call it “cramped.” We have so much stuff in tow on our 25 day trip, that there was not even room to stash our luggage.

No room for walking in 2203

This is as far away from the bed as the camera can get. LOL.

The bathroom is likewise very tiny.

But the shower was at least glass!

If you are a hamster or some other kind of tiny rodent, this is the room category for you. Sure it’s free. Yup.

Two showerheads for the “crappy” room category at the Sydney Hilton. Just don’t.

Fortunately, after a walk around the botanical gardens, we ambled right back into the lobby and switched ourselves up to a Relaxation Suite. Apparently there are 16 such rooms available on this property. For more, see part two!

Leaving the South Island for Aukland

Sadly, Air New Zealand has a pathetic (almost non-existent) partnership with United Airlines. Global Services? Whatevs. NPS got to experience a coveted middle seat in the back of the plane on the hop between Queenstown and Aukland.

Were we pleased? HA!

But we did get to Aukland eventually (and late). We do highly recommend the professional and courteous Blacklane car service to get around from the airport.

By the time we got to the Aukland Sofitel, we were running slightly late for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Lava (which as it turns out is in the hotel).

Sofitel lobby is modern and stylish

We were assigned 608, a very small room with a very nice view of the harbor. Just don’t try walking around. Stuffy is the right word.

The bed dominates 608 which seems higher than it is wide

The view can’t be beat

Boats

The bathroom is well appointed and nicely sized, though nothing special. The shower itself had seen better days inside. More attention to detail is in order so that everything is in order.

Lava is a nice place to eat, especially if you are in your 70’s. Old school, slightly stuffy with an undertrained and not very attentive staff. The food was creative and good but well overpriced for the experience itself. Seems that the pastry chef is the best person on the staff at the moment. Just go for dessert.

But about that view.

One way

Or another

Three showerheads and less stuffiness in terms of architecture. Very corporate and old school in all the wrong ways.

Milford Sound is an incredible place to be on the planet. Lots of outdoors things to do. SCUBA diving with black coral. Sea kayaking down the sound (with sailing of you’re lucky). Hiking. Just wow.

Sadly, there is only one place to stay in Milford Sound. What we can say for Milford Sound Lodge is that they are taking advantage of their monopoly status. Not our cup of tea, especially when it comes to dining. (A better bet is to stay in the cabins in the national park on the other side of the tunnel.)

We were assigned room 13 (which we booked WAY in advance and overpaid for). The internet did not work.

Little cabins in paradise

The bedroom

At least the shower was not plostic!

However, the toilet was

On our way in, we did the Key Summit walk. A great hike.

Key summit reflection

panorama from key summit

Anyway, skip the Milford Lodge and just do all of the things. We recommend SCUBA with Descend and Sea Kayaking with Rosco’s.

SCUBA with descend diving in Milford Sound

Kayak with Rosco’s Kayaks in Milford Sound

More about high adventure fun at Milford Sound on apothecaryshed.

Two showerheads and some dinner service that works for Milford Sound Lodge. And maybe a staff with some training? Just camp.

What a difference a day makes. It rained like crazy in Dunedin almost the entire time we were there. The rain was so intense that major highways were flooding and bridges were impassable.

After lunch on our way up to Queenstown, we barely made it past an important bridge. New Zealand is small enough that there are really not that many alternative routes available. Even the big roads are, well, two laners with the occasional one lane bridge.

We drive by Lake Wakatipu on the way to Queenstown. The lookout at Devil’s Staircase was blustery and wet.

We checked in to Villa del Lago in the rain (about which more in a second). By the next morning, the rain was replaced by a spectacular view.

And of course, the lookout at Devil’s Staircase on Lake Wakatipu was a completely different scene.

So that’s the difference a day can make. Now on to Villa del Lago. Basically, Queenstown is a major tourist destination for skiing, hiking, and general partying. Villa del Lago has a very much ski chalet feel. Nice, but slightly abused and just a little declasse.

Our apartment complex had several rooms. We were in number four.

The living area features great windows

The kitchen remained unused

Pretend fireplace

The Boy’s room

Master bedroom view

The washer and dryer came in handy after our time in San Francisco.

The all important bathroom was of the Euro variety with a nice shower—not plastic.

The non-plastic shower

Ivy and Lola’s is a very good restaurant indeed. Great lamb in interesting combinations. And a decent negroni to boot!

Ivy and Lola’s

The Bunker is a very good cocktail location. Excellent skills and interesting drinks.

The Bunker

Corpse Reviver #2

Smoke

The Villa del Lago earns three showerheads. Time to clean those stained bedspreads and spruce things up a notch to match the scenery!

NPS is on a 25 day adventure that includes San Francisco as a first stop. Loyal readers know that means Japantown, and Japantown these days means the Kabuki.

The lobby is a great place to hang out and get some work done. And the bar is pretty good to boot.

And there is now espresso on the property.

It was hazy in San Francisco every day due to the fires in California. In fact, the air quality was the worst on the planet on Thursday.

This trip we’re on the top floor (16) in 1602. The rooms are well appointed.

1602

1602 has two large windows overlooking the city

The bathroom is sizable, but the room is cold. The poor heater can’t keep up with nights that drop into the upper ’40s. That means the bathroom is chilly in the morning. Fortunately, the shower door in 1602 seals pretty well and does not let tons of cold air in. But the old sliding doors (still) need to be replaced with more modern glass that insulates better.

The shower is a room of its own with two shower heads and a large bench.

Bathroom accoutrements

Of course, San Francisco is a great place to visit when it comes to food and beverages. A cocktail or two at PCH is highly recommended, especially if your friend Jacques Bezuidenhout shows up with time to spare on his visa and a bottle of Amer Picon. Much fun was had.

Dinner at State Bird Provisions is outstanding as always. Incredible flavors put together in remarkable ways. NPS just walked right in on a Tuesday night with no reservation.

For an interesting diner-like breakfast, try out Sweet Maple.

Ramen at Iza Ramen is very good indeed.

Hard water has a top notch bourbon and rye collection (though Jack Rose in DC has it beat). Hirsch 74. Sazarac 18. Stagg 11.

The Mymy cafe is a great place for breakfast. Creative delicious options and espresso that does not suck. Recommended.

Dinner at Prarie is very good, though noisy and crowded.

Skip ABV and go straight to Churchill for a nightcap. Fewer hipsters and no bullshit at the door.

Have a wine tasting at Domaine Carneros.
It helps if you know someone who is in their club. https://twitter.com/noplasticshower/status/1063957983468474369

Four showerheads, clean air, and some warmer nights for the Hotel Kabuki. We’ll be back. Next up, New Zealand!

Though NPS has lost track of just how many times we’ve stayed at the Grant Street Inn, our previous visit seems to have been in October 2015! Whoa. Well, it’s nice to be back.

The good news is that room 30 was available (or rather, became available) for this visit. Thanks to the staff for freeing it up!

The fireplace in 30 no longer seems to function

The bed, on the other hand, functions just fine.

Still no opportunity to try out this hot tub thing

The plastic shower can be forgiven due to the hot tub thing. We guess.

It was a nostalgic visit this time, back to the town where NPS went to grad school. The weather was awful, rainy and chilly, so, as a result, much time was spent inside.

A new cocktail club in town called C3 Bar is worth a visit. Had to teach them how to make a Lion’s Tail, but they did a fine job. The food is good and beats the kind of weird suburban location hands down.

A visit to the Irish Lion was an absolute blast as always. So much laughter! And great Sazaracs made with Whistlepig 10 rye.

Back up to four showerheads for the Grant Street Inn. One of these years, maybe the hot tub will come into play.

Do you rememebr the days when Ft Lauderdale was the hangout of the rich and well-heeled? Neither do we. But The Pillars was there. It has not changed much, but it is now surrounded on all sides but one with towering hotel monstrosities of every single hotel chain on earth.

If you have to stay in Ft Lauderdale, the Pillars is a great choice. Best just not to stay in Ft Lauderdale. Pick a different route to the Bahamas that does not involve Silver Air.

Though the hotel was empty except for one other room, we were still assigned a “suite” that was small and unremarkable. Overpay much? We did.

Wifi was free and decent. The HVAC system in the room was creaky, loud, and needs to be replaced.

The bed takes up the room

The desk/chair console under the window

Tiny bathroom

At least the shower has no plastic!

Dear all old school hotels. Please put some plugs above the surface on bedside tables. This is no longer a design novelty. EVERYONE has stuff to charge. Remember, that’s why you have wifi now.

Need to plug in a device?

Um, not how to do it

The pool (apparently set to 85 degrees)

Dinner was great at the restaurant downstairs by the water. Inspired salads and good wine selection. We were joined by tarpons and the worst Negroni ever created by humankind.

Sunset was beautiful over the waterway

Three showerheads and a leg up to the 1900s for The Pillars. Not worth the money. Just go there for dinner.

We’ve made quite the habit out of holding an annual data crunching summit at the Lorien. Third year in a row. And third time’s a charm.

Helped out by Kimpton/IHG big shot Steph Vogel, we secured a great working space and a bunch of rooms. My room was 611, the presidential suite. Thanks Steph!

Sparse but interesting porch 611

611 is nicely appointed, with almost too much room to spread out. The decor has been updated and is very nice.

611

An amenity was very nice (needed some crackers and silverware tho). The personal note was a great touch too. Nice to be back.

yup. thanks Lorien peeps.

611 includes a separate bedroom with a closet and many windows.

The bathroom is pretty far away from the bedroom, but it has a two-headed shower that is huge with a bench at the end and room for ten.

Looking in

Looking out

One of the highlights of our trip was a meal specially made for us by chef Sebastien Rondier. Chef Sabastien is from southern France, and his cooking reflects that. Absolutely delicious. Best duck a l’orange I have ever eaten. Thanks chef, for the fantastic meal. And thanks Steph for the great idea.

Chef Sebastien presents his fantastic duck

The menu, designed exclusively for us

Fois gras

Delicious Vichyssoise, very thick and served Dutch style over caviar

Peaches, goat cheese, and pine nuts

Here’s that duck again

The servings were generous, to say the least

Though we were full and very happy, dessert was incredible. The cherry tart was out of this world. But so many other delicious things.

That tart back there looks simple and is just fantastic

caffeine cake, LOL

If you get a chance to have Chef Sebastien create a meal for you, take it. A great evening.

Then there was work.

Everyone loves work

On our second evening we headed into the city, mostly targeting the Columbia Room for another visit. Somewhat by accident, we ended up dining and Kinship, which was world class and excellent. Impeccable design. Great service. Tasty food. Great Wine. Boy was that a good find!

Roast chicken (give it 70 minutes…worth every second)

Pork and beans

Caviar and potato chips

The two block walk to Columbia Room was easy. Shaw is so hopping. Though we had a great time at Columbia Room in the usual booth, we were not blown away by the summer cocktail menu. Much fun was had.

Summer menu.

pretend funnel cakes

Though served in a plastic cup (a keepsake), this cocktail is delicious

the pearl

Maybe we were so blown away by Kinship that we were not properly prepared for the Columbia Room. Love that place, but this visit was not as stellar as usual.

In any case, for a week in “no fly July” this visit to DC/Alexanria was pretty not bad. Five showerheads and 10,000 compliments to chef Sebastien at the Lorien.

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.

Third time’s a charm. This year’s cocktail extravaganza was hashtagged (as always) with a tip of the hat to the Clash. (See #londonculling and #rockthecasbar entries.)

From our base at the Mondrian London, we headed out to the shard for lunch.

The food at Aquashard is remarkably good. Fuel up!

After lunch, it was off to the Alchemist. Espresso was in the cards since it was early yet.

Next we paid a visit to our friend Alessandro (and delivered greetings personally from Jacques Bezuidenhout) at Duke’s hotel bar. Simply put, Duke’s somehow makes the best martinis in the world. Better to only have one.

Plans called for a visit to the Ritz bar, but we ran into a shoe-ware issue (someone had on trainers that cost as much as a car). So fuck the Ritz. We will be back never.

No worries, the Connaught Bar manned by Micheal was incredibly great. We sat at the bar. Somehow the Connaught became our home away from home with two visits the next day during much fun was had.

We paid a visit to Gerry’s Wines and Spirits to amass a treasure trove of Amer Picon and some very old Cuban rum. Graham and insta-graham were a blast. Gin tasting occurred.

Then it was time for prophylactic ramen at Bone Daddies. Great ramen with a rock and roll vibe. Beer seemed like a good idea.

Bar Swift was our next target. Without a reservation we shlepped downstairs. After a round, our waitress took pity on us and gave us a great round booth. Then we got into the George T Stagg 2016. Wise?? Of course it was wise.

Next up was a visit to one of our all around favorites, the American Bar at the Savoy. Our barman on point at the establishment did what he could to find us some Catoctin Creek rye to use in the Red Lips Rye. He had 24 hours. Sadly, his attempt was unsuccessful, but he did put in a real effort.

We always seem to get stuck at the American Bar for 2 or 3 rounds, after which we head downstairs and transfer our tab to the Beaufort. Two of our party bowed out after the American Bar visit around 10:30.

It was left for the remaining cocktail enthusiasts to pull all of the weight. Down to the Beaufort we went. Frankly we were not impressed with this visit. Though we love the bar and past visits have been fun (if not expensive as hell), there seem to be too many Russians around for comfort these days.

Back home to the Dandelyan it was. We made it in time for fernet and a last call that seems to have involved two CR#2’s and six Liberals. These things happen!

So, after all this we somehow ended up opening a bottle of champagne at 2am on the balcony. That was a bad idea.

You would figure that we had learned our lesson, but we had not. The next afternoon after some ramen (medicinal this time) at Monohon ramen we walked over to the Zetter Townhouse for some hair of the dog.

Which naturally led us back to the Connaught Bar to see Michael again before our fancy night out.

We leave you with a recipe for a Coburg Collins
50 ml London dry gin (no 3)
20 ml lemon
15 ml simple syrup
10 ml fino sherry
2 dashes celery bitters
top up with soda water over big ice.