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Oh the Kimpton of yore, how we miss it.  After the IGH acquisition, the properties have gone completely corporate.  No brand left at all.  No personality.  No staff that loves their jobs.  So sad.  Our last two Kimpton attempts in NY sucked (see https://noplasticshowers.com/2022/10/17/quick-hit-in-nyc-hotel-indigo-is-very-corporate/ and https://noplasticshowers.com/2022/05/08/back-in-new-york-the-muse-hotel-ihg/).

But the good news is that some of the properties have the old magic.  Like the Zelos in San Francisco that used to be the Palomar.  This was once one of our favorite hotels.  And maybe it will be again.

We remember fondly talking to Mike Defrino about adding good bars to the properties (using Bourbon and Branch as one of the examples of what people will pay for a cocktail).  Jacques Bezuidenhout was hired, and Dirty Habit was born under the direction of Brian Means.

We remember the battle of the Palomars.

At what os now the Zelos, we were assigned 712 (which is a nicely renovated version of a room we’ve stayed in back in the Palomar days).  Great room.

In fact, enough space to conduct a zoom meeting with multiple attendees in the same room. (Don’t ask.)


The bathroom could be bigger.  But it works.  The shower is over a tub, but the nice glass doors make it all OK.

Though we arrived late, there was time for a slightly adjusted Boulevardier before bed.

And then a Cloudbreak (from Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Philly).  This is still a magical cocktail.  Make one!

Though it arrived late, a welcome note did arrive (along with a nice bottle of wine that I gave to madou since I was not checking my bag.  Thanks for that Ben!

This is not your usual hotel art.  Love it.

Breakfast at Cafe de la Presse is always recommended.  At the Chinatown gate.


And for fun?  How about Wildhawk, followed by ABV, followed by the Good Good Culture Club all with a bunch of great friends?  Yes please.

So, a Negroni or a Breakfast Negroni??  Jacques, which should it be?


Maybe Suzu (who has become quite famous, aparently) knows.

While at ABV, tequila (or mezcal).

Thee guys…

Good Good was very good.  What a treat to be in San Francisco for 32 seconds!  Merry Christmas all.

Five showerheads and a big thumbs up for the hotel zelos.  Looking forward to returning.

Way back when, I stayed in the Estancia La Jolla MANY times for MANY years.  I have some very fond memories of my time there.  Since we were on a quick hit to Qualcomm, it was time to revisit and see how things are going.

The Christmas Nisse was present at the front desk.  My dude, you are a long way from Norway!

The thing about room 390 is that it is generic.  But the other thing is that the construction is substantial.  Heavy, wide doors.  Things that keep noise out.  It’s true that the architecture is boring, but it is also built properly to last.

Sadly, the shower tub thing.  But the tub is low and is very wide.  Nonetheless, the hotel needs to put in some glass.

Could be anywhere. Get this, there is a clock!  LOL.

But its not!  It’s La Jolla.  And there is a balcony.

Even in December, everything is green.

A fantastic after lunch coffee post meeting.

And possible one of the worst Negronis ever.  The airport bartender measured mediocre ingredients just so and then added a shot of Angostura!  LOL.  What?!  We had a chat.

Extruded ice.  Shitty gin. A dry peel improperly squeezed.  And an extra shot of bitters.  San Diego airport Negroni.

 

Anyway, four showerheads and warm Christmas thoughts for Estancia La Jolla.

The Lowry is a business hotel of reasonable quality in Manchester, England.  It rains every day.  Manchester is a cool town.

 

Room 223 at the Lowry is a nicely spacious hamster cage that is just fine, thank you.

Though the shower could use some water pressure and the HVAC system is a disaster.

The view is nice, but short.

Florence will break her foot kind of putting a major damper on the whole thing.

On a rainy evening, head on over to Home and see a movie.  If you’re lucky it will be as great as the Banshees of Inisherin.

Do some retail in the center.

Have breakfast at Côte.

Have dinner at 20 Stories  (which sports not only a great view, but an excellent bar).  Get Lisa to come up.

Visit Chinatown (open all night).

But maybe skip the Cloud 23  at the Hilton.  No skill.  Just view. (We went so you don’t have to.). An attempt at a CR#2 was just, well, just.

This cocktail should be renamed the “Lavender Yeah No.”

And by all means don’t go to the Lowry bar unless you must.  (And just for the record, sometimes you just must.)

WTF?

We did make them try an industry sour.

 

Finally, sort out your ride to the train station the night before.  Manchester traffic is a thing when it rains.  And it rains!

We’ll be back when Florence heals.  Can’t wait to do some dancing in Manchester.

Three showerheads for the Lowry.

We began in Bergen and made a side trip to Fondsbu on the way to Tyinkrysset.  Well maybe we started in Bergen.  Nobody seems quite sure.

We’re visiting Norway again (having lost count of our numerous visits) and the swanky new hytte where we spent some restorative time last year.  The cabin is a magical domain of peace, conversation and easy access to lots of great hiking and skiing.  Gøran and I are lucky to have known eachother for 20 years!

Read more about our side trip to Fondsbu here.

Nova was in the house, and on the trail, and in the car.  Superstar!


The back yard where some hiking is as easy as walking out the door.  Read more about our back yard hikes here. After the wild night and Fondsbu we stuck mostly to the back yard on the first day.  LOL.  Recovery mode for the old men.

The torrent (a small fast creek) beside the cabin features the second biggest backwards waterfall in Norway.  We’ll tell you more about the biggest one below.

A return trip to catch the full moon over Fondsbu the next evening was not a success—too cloudy.  The cold crisp air was beautiful at the top of the range.

The photographer at work.

Some maintenance for the snow plow?  That’s what we were told, anyway.

And then a trip to see the backwards waterfall.  Even the stuff by the side of the road is remarkable in the Norwegian mountains.   We made a short stop on the Kongesvegen to see some old mill houses.

   

Romey at peak Fall.

It was remarkable how much the colors outside changed with the elevation.  Peaking just a few kilometers away and well past peak and into winter at the hytte.  One night the water froze.

The backwards waterfall itself was, well, just a backwards waterfall!  Much fun was had.  Read more about that here.

A herd of reindeer showed us the way.

We determined last year that gøran and I had known each other for 20 years.  We celebrated our friendship with some bubbles (anne’s favorite).

The next day we did a more extensive hike on the Kongevegen to the a stave church built in the 1180s.  Both the road and the church are incredible.  Read more about our kongevegen hike here.

Then some cabin time.

 

A more extensive back yard exploration is always in order.

The next day we went on a spectacular hike and almost made it to see Vettisfossen.  So close!  And yet so far.  Absolutely stunning scenery.

 

So with just the right amount of cooking (including the ever popular lunch for breakfast), a nice round number of negronis, a few bottles of bubbly, actual hot showers (well, one anyway), some fun with music, and a bunch of incredible hiking, we were left wanting more.  As always.

 

We left our old well-travelled boots behind with our hearts.

There is nothing better than adventures with dear friends.

 

 

 

 

Well, there may not even be showers.  And people may steal your boots (accidentally?!) overnight.  But where else are you going to hear a folk story accompanied by live music recounted by Solbjørg Kvålshaugen?  Or run up an impressive bar tab for your 20th year festivities??

We started the night before in Bergen (maybe?).

And then got motivated in the morning and headed up into the mountains towards the Hytte in Tyinkrysset.  On our way, we took a detour to Fondsbu, arriving just in time for the last dinner of the year.  Here’s how Gøran describes it, “If you remember the ski trail we followed along the water last winter. Well, if we follow that road to the end, we get to a place called Fondsbu. They have their closing dinner on Saturday 8th with entertainment and live music.”

A stop by our favorite bakery in Norway.

The best way to spend the drive?  Definitely if you are a teenager.

We arrived and staked out our rooms.  The rooms are very basic and tidy with sinks and bunks.  It all feels like a ship cabin (especially after a bunch of rum).

Eidsbugarden

Dinner was delicious and communal.  Reindeer filet and some red wine.  During the festivities, the moon arrived (one day from full, still waxing).

The dinner marked the opening of winter (and the closing of the summer season).  The live music was great, even though this song is not at all about Norway.  It’s about boneheaded racism.

 

We partied late into the night, meeting mountain men, musicians, and hotel hosts.  Much fun was had.

The boots disappeared.

Late the next morning after fortifying ourselves with some porridge, we headed to the Hytte.

An incredible experience, about as Norwegian as you can get.  My only regret is that I failed to bring my fiddle along to play.  I guess in 20 more years, I will get another chance.

More post-COVID business travel in 2022.  Trondheim, Norway is well north of Bergen and Oslo, situated on a Fjord, and is the home of NTNU where NPS was participating as adversary for a Ph.D. defense.  That meant travel was dictated by university policy.  Fortunately, breakfast was included.

In case you have forgotten what Norway is like, here is a video.  About the same geographic size as California, Norway has only 5.4 million people.  It is a gorgeous country.

Flying in to Trondheim is always an adventure, as you have to stop off in Oslo for customs and then brave the winds at the Trondheim airport.  One poor old lady on my flight was literally screaming in fright as we made our approach and landing.

The great news is some of our good Norwegian friends were in town to greet us.  Our first committee meeting was a very nice dinner out at the cozy Fagn bistrot.

The Scandic chain has done nothing to improve post COVID.  A middle tier hotel chain on par with Marriott in the US or maybe Hyatt, Scandic pays more attention to their common areas and meeting rooms than they do to their actual rooms.

The Scandic Nidelven does boast the “best breakfast in Norway.”  And the spread is actually quite good (and equally crowded).  So go for the breakfast!  I got two breakfasts in while in town.

The shower in my room (423 I think) looked something like this.  Distinctly uninspired, yet functional and not plastic.

Views from the breakfast room over the Nidelva canals are very pretty.

In one minor wrinkle, my suitcases followed me into town by a day.  That meant borrowing a coat and a dress shirt from friends just to stay warm and presentable.

 

The defense itself was interesting and fun.  We minted a new doctor!


After which it was time to celebrate.  First with a large dinner at Rive Gauche a droite (LOL) and then for some late night cocktails at the Britannia.  The hotel has undergone major renovations and now has a world class cocktail lounge fittingly reminiscent of its London cousins.

We had to sort a major travel SNAFU on the way to the cocktail bar (NPS does sometimes drop packets, but we also bring along our credit card to buy entirely new packets…and sometimes a router.)

 

The next day a public talk at the university on Machine Learning Security was in order.

After lunch with the faculty (deeply interested in MLsec), there was a very short window for some tourism in Trondheim.  The Rockheim museum is almost worth a visit..if you go with the right attitude it can be silly and fun.

The Trondheim sense of humor is even visible in the cafe signs.  “probably the best espresso in the world” (more LOL).

 

After a parting Negroni at the Scandic bar (inundated with business types having a cocktail before their conference dinner), it was off to the airport to wait several hours for a quick flight to Bergen?

All in all, three showerheads for the Scandic Nidelven.  Like the headline says, go for the breakfast.

 

 

What was to be a long weekend in the city shrunk down to one night when business did its usual thing of melting away.  NPS stayed on the lower east side on somewhat of a whim.  The verdict?  Meh.

Thing is, Madou had no idea that we weren’t in midtown.  So we shlepped up there for sushi at Sushi by Bou.  Which was hilarious and definitely worth the subway time.

The place is tiny, so make a reservation.  Immediately after coffee, it was back downtown for our meetings, and then back to midtown for dinner at Freemans.  Dinner was great.

But skip the rice pudding fad!  LOL.  Ride pudding is way too filling to catch on.

After dinner, the plan was to wedge into PDF, but the hot dog place was being its persnickety self.  So instead we headed to Amor Y Amargo for some fantastic cocktails.  We made up an experimental cocktail called the McGillicutty.

The Indigo was generic and boring.  All of the Kimpton magic has dispersed.

The shower is not plastic.

The lower east side is close to some stuff, we guess.

NPS doesn’t remember the room number.  Not returning.

Back to EWR you go (in an early Uber).

The United club is all new and fancy, but the flights are still delayed.

All told, three showerheads and no more strikes for Kimpton.  Anybody have a good boutique hotel chain to offer?

 

 

We knew it was a very silly plan when we dreamed it up.  We just didn’t know HOW silly. In any case, the very silly plan involved crossing the Atlantic six times this summer, which provided a nice opportunity to compare business class travel on three distinctly different airlines.

The verdict?  Swiss Air wins hands down by miles.  Then lufthansa comes in fifth of three.  And united?  Tenth of three.  LOL.  Not even close.

Here are more details.

The Lufthansa 747-8 upper deck is fun.  The pods are not particularly roomy, but it is nice to have a dedicated business class bathroom or two and a distinctly private environment away from the scrum.

We flew to Frankfurt and got picked up in a red camaro.

Some of the time was spent in Heidelberg.

A train took us to the airport to depart Germany.  Getting a train directly into Frankfurt airport is very easy and convenient.

 

The flight back on a Lufthansa A330-300 was more cramped than the 747-800 and really was not as nice.  Not a big fan of the airbus.  Much less room to get comfortable.

We flew back to experience the closing of the digital psychedelic art show and to give a talk for the locals about Machine Learning Security. (Always keep your promises!)

And then it was a ridiculous two day turnaround to fly to Milan (through Frankfurt again).  This equipment sure seems familiar!  Upstairs again for a flight that was late once again but very comfortable.

We did some music in Italy.

My art face.  LOL.

The art itself: Into the Unknown.

Since my flight from Milano to Zurich was cancelled (Swiss Air has decided not to fly the northern Italian routes any more), I opted for the fast train through the alps.  Just beautiful and very fast.  The only issue was all the stuff I had (a huge guitar, a violin, a mandolin, a tube of art and a big roller bag).

Getting all the stuff on the train to Zurich and finally getting a taxi to the airport was a thing. The Zurich train station was under construction and a pain in the ass to negotiate.  Finding the taxi stand was a serious challenge and nobody seemed to want to help.

So we were grumpy, but everything was very smooth at Zurich airport in spite of our SSSS security status. TIronically, the SSSS actually speeded me through security faster.  And a surprize upgrade came through!

Upgraded on a Swiss Air hop to Boston!  Wow.  The seat was enormous and the service was a blast!  Best by far.

Even the food was great.  Like you might even eat it not on an airplane.

Actual espresso macchiatto

Standard issue mimosa.

 

What to do with all this room on the card table sized table?  Wine tasting!

The crew was a blast (see more below).

The food was delicious and not overcooked.

Cheese for dessert.

Even Grappa.

The silliest thing that happened in all of these cross-Atlantic hops was the wine tasting.  Since the card table sized table was so huge we decided to fill it up.  Much fun was had.

So it was off to NH for a day to play music, and then a hop down to repack suitcases through Dulles.

Poor moonshine was sad to see me go again.

Finally the time came to take some actual United business class flights.  This plan was a B767-400.  The pods are a bit tight and the service is nowhere near as good as lufthansa or Swiss Air.  On our way to Madrid, our flight attendant was unable to remember that we requested expedited service.  And god forbid you know that you can request slippers and an extra pad for sleeping!

 

We’re spoiled and we know it. Madrid and Barcelona were great.

We postponed our return trip in order to shake the COVID that we caught in Spain.  Other than the trip was magical.

On the way home, the crew was better than on the way out (though the captain was the same and she played the same beach boys music).  All in all, United was inferior service on all fronts.

Time to step it up, united!

Moonshine was happy to have us home!

 

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.

\

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.

 

 

 

First things first, Hotel Alma is a five star hotel.  So you kind of know what to expect.  The Alma Barcelona feels Japanese on entry and in its design sensibility.  And it is similarly quiet and a little stayed.  Ultimately, it could use a splash of life and fewer hoity-toity guests.  But then again, it is perfectly suited to its slightly snooty demographic.  You will not find any hipsters here.  In fact, after midnight at the bar you won’t find anyone at all.

But it is nice to be overly pampered, have a room where the A/C is beyond sufficient, and have lots of room to spread out.  So all told, the Alma fits the bill this time.  Note that its location is about 10 minutes from the heart of tourist-land.  So plan to taxi.

The staff at the Alma is trying hard to be five star worthy and they almost achieve it.  Almost all are friendly and helpful, but attention to detail and followthrough is lacking.  Perhaps counterintuitively, relaxing a notch and having more fun by loosening up would probably help everyone.

The Madrid train station (at Atocha) gave us a taste of green before our fast train to Barcelona (and a drop of 10 degrees Fahrenheit).