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Ah Kimpton, you’ve become so corporate.  Such a great hotel chain ground down by middle management cost cutting and the boredom of crank turning.  Dang.  We remember the old days, yes we do.  They are never coming back.

Anyway, getting to Texas on United was not so bad even in double masks.  The flight was very sparsely populated, though it is a longish one.  Austin is a great city to visit.  Or is it a town?  Kind of hard to tell.  Here’s the story of our brief stay at Hotel Van Zandt.

The only pair of actual cowboy boots at the hotel when we were there happened to be ours.

First of all, IHG has forgotten everything about what NPS likes.  Just for the record, we like high floors, certain kinds of pillows, and rooms with no plastic showers.  We have also become accustomed to welcome notes from the GM, delicious amenities, sparkling water, and sometimes even a craft cocktail greeting us in the room from a barkeep hired by Jacques.  Not this time.  Even though the Kimpton twitter dwarf (they used to be fairies, but corporations) was given the heads up, not one bit of prep was done.  Kind of astonishing, really.

So NPS paid a pretty penny for an excellent king spa room with a view, and was given a plastic bottle of water at checkin by the Assistant Manager who had obviously not read our secret file in preparation for our arrival.  Hell, there probably isn’t a secret file anymore.

Room 701 is a great room style category.  But the floor?  Not a high one.  The amenities and water?  Nope. And the “lake view” is mostly a dusty construction site surrounded by homeless encampments.  Seriously.  Every city we’ve visited lately has a massive housing problem.  What is wrong with this country?

The bathroom was awesome.  Great tub (which we used a bunch) and a nice glass shower.

Not plastic

 

Tub with a view (that cuts both ways)

 

Sink area

The king size bed is surrounded by a bank of windows on two sides.  The view will one day be better.

Given our late arrival sometime just after 8pm, we headed for a drink to Geraldine’s on the fourth floor.  It was a Saturday night and the unmasked Texas crowd was dense.  After ordering an outstandingly made Negroni (what ice!  what ingredients!) we opted for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, service was smart and snappy, and all was well with the world.  There was a band.  They were OK.

Negroni featuring Botanist gin and Antica Formula vermouth…a house favorite

 

Behind the glass

Sadly the restaurant was not open for breakfast during our stay.  Instead there is a starbucks knockoff cafe on the ground floor with a microwave.  Not the sign of a great hotel, guys.  Frankly, the place feels more like a Marriott than a Kimpton.  No human touch and no magic.

Sunday was devoted to fun without a plan.  Brunch at Fixe was absolutely stellar.  Great Bloody Mary’s and cinnamon roll biscuits.  Fantastic food and friendly Texas service.  We took our time.

Bloody Mary of the highest caliber at Fixe

 

Hard to describe how delicious this was

 

The famous deviled eggs

 

Shrimp and grits with some garlic kale and a poached egg

In a great mood and in weather befitting Spring (60 degrees), we headed to South Congress for some idle shopping.  Our only real destination was Heritage Boot Company.  Though we got no pictures, we did manage to pick up a knife for my kilt and three pairs of handmade boots.  We even had a margarita of sorts with “Mr. Avocado.”  Great people, great boots, and a down home Texas vibe.  (Thanks Kimber.) NPS hears tell that once you buy one pair you are on a slippery slope to ten.  We shall see.

View down Congress toward the state house

 

Coffee and people watching at Jo’s Cafe

We did manage to singlehandedly support the American economy with our credit cards.  And then it was time for a margarita and some music at Half Step.  The margaritas are on tap.  We were served by Nick Cage himself.

And that band.  Three blind fellows joined by two sighted musicians and a heap of funk.  These were real Austin professionals.

Have a listen for yourself.

 

 

About the time we extracted we were late for our dinner reservation at Canje.  Dinner was excellent.  The jerk chicken was hotter than hell.  The drinks were fun.  The vibe was casual.

Seated at the bar (our choice)

 

An emergency clothespin

 

Jerk chicken that will blow your mouth off

Really it would be hard to ask for a better Sunday in Austin.

Monday was a work day with a working lunch at Qi.  Get the soup dumplings.

Part of the late afternoon meeting happened at the Proper hotel.  This place is interesting but just a little too artificial after an hour in the lobby.  The music loop may kill you if the extruded ice doesn’t.  Dinner was slated for upstairs at la piscina ceviches and fajitas.  Our hosts are enamored with their fajitas.  They were (as Sammy says) pretty not bad.

The highlight of the evening Monday night was a quick stop by the Roosevelt Room.  What a place.  Cavernous and somehow still intimate.  Superb cocktails served with whimsy and great care.  One of the top bars in the world for sure.  NPS had a paper plane (with a paper plane) and a Liberal.  Yup.  Amer Picon in the house.  We seem to have lost our party all night energy during the pandemic, especially after a full day of working in person.  So we’ll have to go back.  Thanks for the hospitality Justin.

The paper plane with a paper plane

 

Yet another emergency clothespin

 

The list is first class

 

A Liberal in Austin

Well, Austin, we will definitely be back.  We’ll probably buy some more Heritage boots.  We’ll definitely have a few more drinks at the Roosevelt Room.  But we’ll stay at the Driskill.  Three showerheads for the Hotel Van Zandt where you get what you pay for (and nothing more).

What a difference a pandemic makes.  Having been to Bergen many many times (13??), NPS was pretty skeptical about the hotel situation.  But lo and behold, while we were trapped in the United States, a new hotel opened up and not only is it a good one, but it also houses the first Michelin star restaurant in Bergen.  A great combination!

We stayed in room 440 which was a “loft suite.”  I think in the future we would choose another type of suite, but we were in the hotel for just a few days before joining our friends at their house for the weekend.

Hotel Bergen Børs from the street

The hotel is situated in an ideal location in town.  Close to the touristy old town, a few hundred steps from the funicular, 8 minutes from the train station, and close to the museums.

Bed in the loft

The electricity situation in 440 is confusing (at best) and difficult to use.  Took me 2 days to figure it out.  This makes waking up to head down the steep stairs to the bathroom a challenge if you don’t want to awaken your partner.

The very steep stairs

 

Sitting area

The sitting area is interrupted by beams from the ceiling, which is kinda cool and kinda a pain in the ass.  Fortunately, we didn’t really spend all that much time in the hotel.

The bathroom is on the small side, but it has a great shower.

Glass, good pressure, and plenty of hot water. Just what NPS ordered.

 

All in all, the decor and the flooring is on the cheap side (a real problem in Bergen).  Still looking for a hotel with well-appointed design executed without a mind to expense.  This is not it.  I guess, like the stock exchange, it’s all ups and downs.

Breakfast was superb.  We enjoyed chatting with Delia each morning.  The breakfast area also serves as the Bare restaurant.

A visit to Bare took some doing as they are typically booked out many months.  NPS was able to secure a table with some persuasion.  The dinner was world class.  Read about the meal here.

Dinner at Bare is well worth the expense

We did Norway in a Nutshell on our first day in town.  See the entry here.  The weather was perfect and so was the timing.  Just wow.

Norway in a nutshell

We also visited KoreSee this entry about that.

Munch of course

Make sure to have a coffee and some cake at Det Lille Kaffe Kompaniet.  Really great.

Success cake

Since the funicular was closed for renovation, we walked up to the top insteadMore about that here.  Sadly, No Stress bar is no longer as cool as it once was.  But they still serve a mean Negroni.

On the last day in town, we took the new gondola up to the top of the TV mountain.  Gorgeous.  More about that trip here.

 

All in all, this visit to Bergen was tops.  Thanks to our good friends Gøran and Anne for hosting our last couple of nights.

Bergen is wonderful and the Børs hotel (the best yet) earns a high four showerheads.

 

Then again, maybe it wasn’t bergen?

Flip the Hytte

November 27, 2021

If you’re lucky, you will be greeted with love at the new hytte, which has become quite luxurious (now including things like hot showers, modern kitchens, floors, and a roof).  We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Tyinkrysset cooking, skiing, hiking, drinking, conversing, and reveling in a life well lived.

Brusebu is named after the sound the nearby creek makes.

We stocked up on Negroni fixings and wine in Oslo.  Then scooped Romey at the airport.  Her entry was smooth (unlike, say, mine).

 

Brusebu the hytte

 

Romey on her first skis (starting in Norway is the way to go).

 

The intrepid host Gøran

NPS tried using randonee skis (usually used to climb up mountains and ski back down).  This is a technology to explore further.

Anne the ski instructor and her star pupil

 

Gourmet cheese sandwiches were available for those on the tour.

 

 

The view from lunch

A quick trip to Øvre Årdal tested the snow tires and resulted in no purchases whatsoever.

Yule Nisse salmon

 

Crooked vimpel pole

 

Geared up for the walk

 

The walk behind the cabin.

Gin flower in the juniper

 

Over the bridge.

 

Face off one

 

Face off two

 

 

 

Roof repair

A visit to the Låve Museum (a locally curated collection of stuff from old fashioned Norwegian life).  The proprietor is a delight.

 

Self

 

Regional costumes

 

 

The infamous hat

 

 

Also see Art in the Corner for one of these farm implements.

Just like art in the corner

 

Stories of the war

 

Bubbles

 

To the hytte

Sharing pictures of construction (Romey buys a building).  The hytte has been basically reconstructed from scratch with a new roof (expanded roof line) and a new floor (including joists and subfloor).  Now it is a luxury hytte.

Table scene

 

Hytte life

 

The new shower (5 showerheads for this mechanism)

 

The all important hot water mechanism

What a pleasure.  Can’t wait to return.

Sadly when you have to give a keynote talk at a conference there is often a conference hotel.  These are great if you like hamster cage rooms, overcrowded breakfast room scrums (during a pandemic), watery espresso from machines with only one button, and that sort of corporate stuff.

Oslo is ready for xmas

At least they let us check in to 2622 early.  But for the sake of all gods, don’t stay here unless you must.

Hamster cage with bed (you can’t really see the water bottle drip mechanism thingy, but it is there)

 

Euro-shower was not plastic, so there’s that

 

But it is over a tub and crammed into the rectangle rather uncomfortably

 

This view kind of says it all.  Yes there is Fjord out there somewhere.  Past the industrial haze.

 

The (apparently coveted fjord view)

 

But it was free!  And we got to do the big show.

And the Top Floor bar makes very good cocktails if you stick to the script.  The view from up there at night is nice.  (Oslo is not Tokyo.)

 

When in Oslo, try to see some art.  If you want to add to your collection, go to purenkel.

Art

Or walk the streets.

We stayed in and had a very nice meal at the hotel on Thursday night (the restaurant seems to be called Gaio).  The wait staff is enthusiastic.  The cooking is old school but quite good.  NPS had some reindeer and a very nice Barolo.

Friday night dinner was excellent.  Definitely get to Arakatata.  Wow.  (Ask for the wine list).

The best dish this trip. Homemade spaghetti with caviar. The sauce was incredible.

Can’t wait to see you again, Oslo.  But we will award the Raddison Blu Plaza a measly three showerheads (up from two since the restaurant and bar are ok).  Nopey nope.

oslo lights

 

The thing about Bloomington is that though almost everybody at IU is vaccinated (in theory), none of the places in town ask for proof of vaccination.  Fortunately, masks are required.  But not when you’re eating or drinking.  Things seem a little lax.  NPS bets that one day pandemic processes will be more like NY or Portland.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

The old IU stomping grounds

Bloomington is an oasis of intellectual goodness in a sea of rural America.  This has its positive aspects.  The Midwest is a thing.  For example, though NPS has stayed at the Grant Street Inn countless bazillions of times through the years, this trip happened to coincide with an important big ten football game.  That meant that every hotel within 150 miles was filled to the gills with football fans.  Heck, even the Dean’s Advisory Council arranged to send people to the game. No sportsball for us though.  Instead, we focused our energy on intellectual pursuits.

The upshot was that we needed a place to stay Friday and Saturday nights.  Fortunately our friend (and thesis advisor of yore) Rob and his partner Katy put us up in their gorgeous house on Lake Monroe where we kayaked, fossil hunted, and even tried an e-foil.  Honestly, the weekend was the highlight of the trip with excellent conversation, shared art, baking, and fun in the lake. Real life, well lived.

View from the deck

 

Our fearless leader paddles with his feet

 

The best fossil (which also caused the bag to switch guardians)

 

 

Hiking the ridge at scout camp

 

The take: fossils and geodes.

 

The best geode

 

We kayaked on Saturday which was cooler but not raining.  E-foil experimenting was left for Sunday in wet suits.  The weather was shockingly warm for mid-October.

 

We ended up staying at the Grant Street Inn Thursday and then again Sunday and Monday.  NPS chose the usual room (number 30).

Room 30 has a bed

 

Room 30 is quiet with a nice bathroom

You can read more about the Grant Street Inn elsewhere on NPS.

The DAC meeting included a tour of the new Luddy AI Center.  One day it will be filled with students.  For now, it is still being set up.

The VR room of the Luddy School AI Center

 

Tuning the system

Of course, Indiana places a big emphasis on breakfast (at least outside the confines of Rob and Katy’s house).  Here is one example.  This is a light breakfast.

While in town, we made a couple of visits to C3.  One with Kay and one just ourselves.  The cocktails are (still) excellent.

A dughof sighting (at the Spoon of course).  This was a delightful lunch as usual.


 

The icing on the cake of our Bloomington run was a visit to the IU Art Museum which has been completely renovated and updated.  Going to a museum chock full of history certainly puts things in perspective.  9000 years from now, we wonder if some off-planet Earth museum will have one of our everyday items on display.

Read about our visit to the museum here.

IU Art Musem

Fin.

Hard to believe it has been five years since the last NPS visit to Pittsburgh!  Dang.  The great news is that the Hotel Monaco in Pittsburgh is like stepping into a Kimpton time warp—in all the good ways.

The first good thing was discovering that our ancient Kimpton points of yore (which were transformed into some kind of mystery pointy prickly spire IHG points) were still valid and useful!  Who knew?!  So a quick cycle with GM Rob Mallinger hooked us up with our very favorite room at the favorable price of zero.

You may recall that 835 is the bomb.  And the staff at this hotel is just awesome.  In particular we want to give shouts out to Matt for an outstandingly personal welcome and to Annalisa for going above and beyond the call of duty to retrieve some data for us while we were out and about.  Outstanding.

Welome to 835. Wine, cheese, a personal note. Yes, welcome indeed.

 

835 Living room

 

 

 

835 bed room

 

 

This shower is not at all plastic. Yays.

 

 

 

 

It snowed. Classic Pennsylvania. Arriving after 7, we found a sea of fundraising private school hipsters dressed to the nines. It was well nigh dinner time.  Fortunately, Rob set us up at Union Standard where there were oysters, Negroni’s and other good eats. Sadly, by the time a leisurely dinner was consumed, the plan to hit up Butcher and the Rye had the kibosh put right on it. Who closes a good bourbon bar at 11 on a Saturday night? Well, apparently the James Beard winners do.  Alas.

Union Standard

 

A dirty martini? On this blog?! WTF?!

So it was back to the commoner (found in the basement of the Monaco) for a nightcap.  Though the clientele leaves a little something to be desired (Trump country assholes abound in the PA private school world), there was good Rye.  Not to mention Gina, a delightful barkeep.  (The bar itself was established by Kenny many years ago and then properly curated by Mike Ryan before he headed to Sable to build another gem.)  The commoner bar is still world class.

At the commoner, Gina and some rye

So how do you recover from all that Rye?  With some “Pittsburgh hash” at Pamela’s (a great greasy spoon diner for breakfast).  Right next door, you’ll find some very interesting tiny ass doughnuts at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts (sic).

Pamela’s, a Pittsburgh tradition

 

Just like it says

The Warhol museum is a great place to visit in Pittsburgh.  Excellent art properly curated.  See pictures here.

Excellent Taiwanese comfort food can be found at Cafe 33.

And there is live music in Pittsburgh.  Saw an intimate show of aging punks featuring John Doe. See lots of pictures and videos here.

john doe krisin hersh grant-lee phillips pittsburgh

Day two breakfast was just super good. Great espresso, tasty crepes and art.  Make sure to go to Geppetto Cafe in Pittsburgh for breakfast.

Geppetto Cafe Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is hoppin.

This old school Kimpton thing going on at the Hotel Monaco is well worth five showerheads with a couple of plus signs tacked on for good measure.  Wish there were more like this in the rest of the country!

Pullman Sydney Hyde Park

February 3, 2020

OK, so the Pullman Sydney is trying to update itself from the ’70s, but apparently this is all being done on a budget.  Time to spend some money you guys.  Here’s a list:

  • HVAC that works when it is above 80 degrees outside
  • Updated furniture for ALL guestrooms
  • A place to shower on arrival from flying across the world (that is not associated with a swimming pool or a gym)
  • Three working elevators

One of us staying here this visit got stuck in an elevator for 7 minutes.  Another waited 29 minutes for an elevator down.  A third ended up going up in a service elevator and walking down 21 stories to meet us in the lobby.  Elevator tech?  This is a solved problem.  Spend some money.

While we’re at it, lets talk about having rooms of the right category properly assigned.  The front desk, though super nice, was also super clueless and did not pay attention to instructions.  As a result, night one was spent in 1515, the proper kind of room on a non-updated floor.  No really, the decor needs work.  Here is 1515.

Ye olde ’70s color scheme

 

A not very clean couch that is orange. Nope.

 

Purple

 

 

After a set of progressively silly room swaps and 24 hours, room 1915 (which had, you guessed it, broken HVAC) became available.  The room category is right, and there is an updated much more hip color scheme.

Here is what 1915 looks like.

Brown

 

 

Much nicer

Some apology fruit was provided along with a note.

Apologies.

The shower in 1915 is still a hot tub based thing that is amusing.  The one in 1915 is better than the one in 1515.

As far as NPS is concerned, the Pullman has worn out its pretty clear warnings.  No more stays here. Ding. Finito. Basta.

On the other hand, it is Sydney.  So that’s good.  That means aquariums and maritime museumsArt and cocktails.  And great food.  Sydney is a fun city to visit.

95 degrees is too hot for this poor hotel

 

There was a boat race.

 

A visit to the rocks and the MCA was a blast on a Sunday.

Lunar new year

 

El Presidente at Old Maid’s Place

\

We’ll all have one please

 

Pisco sour

Dinner at Bibo was really delicious with great wine pairings and delightful company.  An after dinner drink at Shady Pines?  Not so much.

 

The Palisades is a very hip and fun place for dinner.  Cocktails at Door Knock are top notch.

We’re demoting the Pullman from a low three showerheads to two showerheads. We believe that is below the threshold.

 

 

 

Pontocho Misoguigawa in Kyoto is a legend. Incredible Japanese/French fusion food served Kaiseki (懐石) style. If you miss your milk, butter, and cream while in Japan, just pay a visit.

Chef (and owner) Inoué Téruo is a delight and a master. His annual trips to France show in his cuisine.

The Thousand Kyoto

November 28, 2019

Outside art at The Thousand

The brand spanking new hotel called The Thousand in Kyoto is a high design treat. Open, artful, tasteful, and gorgeous. We arrived via Shinkansen from Tokyo and walked the few hundred feet to the hotel. We had some tea.

Green Tea at The Thousand Tea Room

Yoshi meets the progeny

Kubota Ramen

Our first order of business was meeting Yoshi (@kemono4shikazu) who NPS met last time around in Kyoto. Yoshi is a delightful person. He took us to Kubota Ramen, a great way to start out a visit to Kyoto.

We stopped by Saredo coffee on the way back to check in.

Check out Yoshi’s super terrific band!

We booked an incredible Japanese style suite at The Thousand and were assigned 803. An amazing room indeed!

Leave your shoes in the anteroom

Pile your suitcases by the closet

Suite 803

The suite features a terrace overlooking the train station.

Of course the shower here is NPS approved.

The shower room includes a tub

And also of course, the toilet is complicated (and plugs in for power). Not sure what

Plug in your toilet

Not sure we even want to know what “pulsate” does.

After stashing our stuff and a short respite, we headed out to Nishiki market for some consumer spending.

Bees Knees Kyoto is a great bar

As it was cocktail hour, we stopped in at the incomparable Bees Knees bar. Great cocktails and super people. We had some Japanese renditions of classics (CR#2, Last Word, Aperol Spritz), and then it was
off to dinner.

We wandered into Steak and Wine Ginjiro for a very touristy meal of Kobe beef and bad wine. These kinds of restaurants pervade Nishi-kiyacho Ally and can probably be safely skipped. The food was good nonetheless.

Table art at Ginjiro

Never flown

Kobe

Our attempt to visit the French bar was thwarted by crowds of tourists so we had some ice cream and refactored our plan. Next we went to Nokishita711 for some gin. Simply put, Nokishita711 is a very strange place. NPS is not so sure whether that is good or bad. A “root of all evil” cocktail was interesting indeed. But the whole scene is just a little too too.

Nokishita711

Um, a cocktail?

And then for the last few cocktails and shots of the evening, it was back to Bees Knees. We had a few with the owner. Too many shots later, we somehow managed to make it home.

We bow to the owner of Bees Knees

Sazaracs

Sleeping in late was mandatory after the raging party at Bees Knees. It was all those extra shots all around that did it.

The good news is that there is no more perfect food to cure a hangover than ramen. In Japan, evemn commercial ramen is great.

A visit to Fushimi Inari in the late afternoon put us at the top in perfect time for sunset. Magical. See lots of pictures and videos on apothecaryshed.

Get a fried chicken dinner at Sugar Hill. Delicious.

The gym at The Thousand is pretty standard issue for a hotel. Seems bigger because of mirrors. Up early to work out is good.

Breakfast on day two Kyoto was at Kawa Cafe, a French/Japanese fusion place right on the river. Highly recommended (though it is rather strange that a cafe can’t make a macchiato!).

Kawa visitors

Deliciousness at the Kawa Cafe

The walk back down was beautiful.

Walking Kyoto

In fact, being in Kyoto for autumn is a thing. Do it!

Autumn in Kyoto is gorgeous

The obligatory trip to Arashiyama included the temple gardens. Should have done that last time!

Bamboo for you

Arishayama Shadow

Obu cafe is worth a visit.

Lunch in touristland

Excellent espresso in Japan can be found at Karusa Kyoto.

Best coffee in Kyoto?! Could well be.

The Straight bar makes an excellent Japanese Negroni.

A once (or twice) in a lifetime experience involves dinner at Pontocho Misoguigawa. Just wow.

Dinner at Pontocho Misoguigawa is not to be missed.

And to top off the evening, some jazz and a Gin Rickey at Hello Dolly.

Hello Dolly jazz