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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.

A grande dame is what this place is, like one of those powdered but slightly too made up, overly attentive birdlike old ladies with a string of natural pearls. The problem is that the perfume is cloying. Frankly, this is a beautiful property if you’re into this kind of old money faded elegance, but, you see, we’re not.

Set in the heart of La Jolla by the Pacific, the Grande Colonial is an institution. It has been here so long that it rests comfortably on its laurels. The staff is ultra professional, engaging and extremely well trained. The common areas are luxurious in an old school way. The restaurant nine-ten has been very good for so long that NPS has even dined here multiple times. The chef is named Jason.

I was assigned suite 102 overlooking the pool and a parking lot. That kind of says it all. Parking lot?

102 entry and seating area

The shape of the room is strange. There are mirrors everywhere, even where they don’t belong. But it’s not a hamster cage!

seating area by the heater presided over by the giant TV

a comfortable poofy bed

The colors and muted and the style is dated in a vertical striped sort of way.

nope

The shower is a plastic tub with an obesity bar. Fortunately the shower curtain is not plastic, but still. These kinds of showers do nobody any good out there in the world. Lets replace them all. 1950s tile is cool.

A nightcap at the bar involved a Corpse Reviver #2 made by muscle memory with no sign of measurement. The non-measurement is a problem, because to do its magic, this drink must be precise. But everyone at the bar was very professional and friendly even as they slung drinks like they had done it forever.

Breakfast by the ocean was excellent. Sadly, it did take place on east coast time.

After mandatory conference fun was complete, we headed down to San Diego for dinner and a nightcap. A visit to Jsix was unremarkable and good. Funny that we had never tried Jsix before, because it is situated in the Salomar Hotel property chunk.

After dinner, Noble Experiment was on the docket. As always, the cocktails were remarkably delicious.

Here’s how to make a drink we invented called Bill’s Big Birthday Beverage:
1 oz cardamaro
1 oz ancho reyes
1 oz fresh orange juice
2 dashes habanero shrub (bittermens)
shake, serve on a big cube. no garnish.

In the meantime, three showerheads and a new perfume choice for Grande Colonial.

(Oh, and United airlines…I will not be flying you across the country any more after the return trip. Economy plus sucks on a cross continental route, even in an exit row aisle seat.)

Here we are again in a university town, this time Ann Arbor. This town is great. Books, coffee, food, cocktails. Almost everything you need, but still no good hotel.

The Residence Inn is a Marriott property, and it is brand new. It’s pretty much what you would expect of a mid-tier mid-market Marriott hotel. Shiny suburban fake is the style. NPS has different style.

When the reservation was made, we requested a high floor and a Panoramic City View Suite. The first room we were assigned was 414 which is ADA formatted. When asking for a non-ADA configured room instead were assigned down to 214. The rooms are almost exactly identical. Moving down was a big mistake because traffic noise starts at 5am. Alas.

So much for the high floor request.

The manager, having heard tell of checkin problems, was very gracious. We had a nice chat. His valet staff is super.

The view from 214 says it all

The room is filled with lots of shiny new veneer cheap furniture that looks better than it feels when you use it. The suite includes a kitchenette.

Entry hallway kitchenette

desk room

desk room couch

View from the bed to a nice bank of windows

large (impersonal) bathroom

The real problem is the shower, which is partially glass and partially plastic. It is open to the huge bathroom without a glass door. Cold air makes for a less than stellar shower experience.

shower. not approved

Anyway, we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, there is a copy of The Graduate here too BTW. Sure wish university towns had better hotel kung fu!

Dinner at Mikette was delicious. Great service.

The cocktail scene in Ann Arbor remains vibrant. A Sunday night visit to Nightcap was optimal in all respects. Andy was a blast behind the bar.

Because there was Handy in the house, we present, The Handy Handy
1.75 Thomas Handy Rye
.3 oz Del’erborista ultra-bitters
.3 carpano antica
2 dashes scrappy aromatic
Stir. Strain. Express orange peel and drop in.

Three showerheads for the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor. Dang university towns.

During our previous visit to the Graduate in Charlottesville, we figured “it will do.” So this time we tried a plus up to what the hotel calls a “suite.” LOL. Just don’t do it.

You can tell that this hotel used to be a Howard Johnson back when Howard Johnson was a thing (was that 1950?). The style is definitely improved, especially if you like shadow art appliqué. But that’s OK. The problem is that nobody blew out any walls to make any interesting non-hamster-cage rooms. Anyway, if you’re up for a hamster cage after a show, this is it.

Here our own personal hamster cage which we think was 624. It is a “suite,” though the term is stretched well past the breaking point.

bed

desk

window

The suite part of the suite is a little triangle (and we mean little), crammed arbitrarily full of various furnishings. Really? No no no.

through the magic door

no room for people

this is probably a hide-a-bed

chair

Anyway, don’t pay for a suite unless you have people in tow who might use the hide-a-bed. Other than the triangle, there is nothing going for this suite.

Dinner was unplanned. We ended up at Himalayan Fusion down by the Pavilion. Dinner was pretty good (think Indian), while the bar was terrible. We ordered some extra gin shots to make our ginger-tinis into something we could at least catch a buzz from.

Then it was The National. Great show. Great seats. Great time.

The National on a Monday night in Charlottesville, VA

After the show we attempted to hit up Alley Light, but 11pm on a school night seems to be too late for them. That meant tequila at the Bebedero. Excellent cocktails.

In any case, we’re still on the lookout for a better place to stay in Charlottesville. Three showerheads and a hamster wheel exercise thingy for The Graduate.

Colonia del Sacramento is tiny, pretty, quaint, and worth a visit. It is also in Uruguay. The town is artsy and tourist friendly. It is also close to Buenos Aires by ferry (a 90 minute ride).

Arriving at the port. The lighthouse is in the old part of town

Posada Paza Major is a very nice little hotel with excellent, historical space and a good location. Sadly, the staff is so checked out that the hotel is not worth a visit. Listen up people, if you are in hospitality, you should be hospitable. Or at least try to pretend.

Courtyard

Room 18 is set apart from the main building. The space is interesting, but there is a real mildew problem down in the 300 year old out building.

The best way to see Colonia is to spend half a day wandering around. Make sure to get a burger at Bocadesanto!

Best Cheeseburger in South America? Maybe.

Though super cute with friendly owners, the coffee at this place was terrible

Bird for Boyle

Dinner at La Pascana was fun and delicious. Make sure to try some wine made from the Tannat grape. We predict big things to come for this grape.

Wine from Uruguay is very good indeed

Two showerheads and a complete reboot of the disengaged staff for Posada Plaza Major. Go for Colonia, but stay somewhere with people who care.

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