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Is NPS spoiled? Yes. Does that make life harder for hotels and airlines when it comes to expectations? Yes. Welcome to the world of high end travel.

2018 started with a trip across the country on the NPS “trip across the country” airline—Virgin America. Or what’s left of it anyway. Virgin America is becoming more and more like Alaska. And frankly, that sucks. Sure, we’re MVP Gold on Alaska by default. But who cares? Going from the Nordstrom’s world to JC Penny is not gonna cut it.

Here’s an example of what is happening to Virgin America. The checkin process at Dulles was always super friendly, efficient, and FAST. Now there is a line and it is a line of Alaska flyers.

The flight across the country was just fine after using cash money to upgrade to First. So there’s that.

Next came the wrong room problem at the Buchanan in San Francisco (216 versus 316 or 416). Sadly this happens almost every time we stay here. Sure, NPS helped to establish the Kimpton InTouch program years ago (now known as Karma and soon to be known as IHG Rewards Club (blech)), but super elite Kimpton/IHG status does nothing to add to the number of available Kimpton rooms we like in San Francisco. The staff at the Buchanan does all they can to accommodate demand. But demand is just outstripping supply. And as a demander, well the market is about to speak.

Time’s up you guys, only two OK quality San Francisco Kimpton properties still?? IHG needs to step it up in this city. Really.

View from the Buchanan San Francisco (Japantown)

Of course, Emily Glick and her people get all the blowback in public, but really it is corporate that is at fault by this stage. Hopefully Emily will forgive us for making clear what we expect!

Amenity. Thanks to the Buchanan team

216 has a few of problems from the NPS perspective. Number one is that the shower needs a better shower head. Water pressure is not sufficient. At least it’s a glass cube! Number two, the room is ADA sanctioned and we are not special needs campers. That means the closet is not usable, and the tub is a mess of machines. Number three, the second floor is too close to the street and it is noisy.

So no more 216 for us. We’ll just have to stay elsewhere next visit.

Shower? Glass is good.

The tub has served as a closet for hanging clothes this trip

Or maybe you can hang your coats on this thing in the hall

Of course, Japantown is great and the Buchanan is hip and well located. Staying here is always a good thing.

Green tree view

216 does not suck. But pretty not bad is not good enough.

Yeah, we brought the violin and even managed to play some music with our friends in Oakland.

Some data from San Francisco. Sweet Maple is a great place for breakfast and so is The Grove. For a real Japantown meal, try to find Kui Shin Bo.

Dinner at Flour+Water is just as fantastic as ever. The Progress is, likewise, a very good place to eat (and unlike its sister next door, you can walk in).

The Dando from The Progress
1 oz rye
.75 oz amaro angelino
.5 aperol
1 oz meyer lemon juice
.5 oz pear shrub
shake. up. large cube.

Cocktails at Wildhawk are highly recommended.

This time three showerheads for the Buchanan’s failed Tetris game. No more games of chance for NPS. 2018 is gonna be interesting.

This California in December thing seems to be a trend now that NPS works for a silicon valley company. What that means is a week-long delay in the start of our annual no fly nöel thing.

So how did 2018 stack up? Well the tripometer was up year over year after many years. And most of the travel was international. This year we visited:

  • London (twice)
  • Inverness
  • Stuttgart
  • Neuremberg
  • Tokyo
  • Kyoto
  • Oslo
  • Sardegna
  • Malta

Lots of time outside the confines of the broken United States and its Orange Caligula of a “President.”

Here’s the graph.

The annual tripometer. Trips are up for NPS.

Because of all of the international travel, we had some interesting impact on loyalty programs. It’s not even clear we’ll make inner circle this year at Kimpton (horrors)!

Other than the “not really Virgin America” we have no loyalty anymore for any airlines. Treat them all the same and let the chips fall where they will. Use money to “upgrade” by starting out upgraded. My my how things have changed.

A direct comparison of international business class shows United has the best service. Here are two examples.
Delta
United

Anyway, time to stay home by the fire for a while.

It is gray and overcast in San Diego. I’m pretty sure this never happened before Donald Trump became President.

We’re back for a quick bit of business in San Diego on our multi-city tour. One of the best things about San Diego is the Salomar. Our buddy George has moved over to the Palomar these days and has been replaced by the capable and super nice Kayse Potter. Kayse made sure our welcome was warm and nice and that our shower was non-plastic. Thank you Kayse.

We arrived late due to Virgin America SNAFU apparently involving a crazy lady in an unrelated city. Things you overhear when the flight crews gossip. Anyway, we got our rental car and zoomed over to the Salomar just in time to drop off bags and skeedaddle for our reservation at Noble Experiment. A great time was had by all. Thanks Andrew and crew. The back bar shots of rum and tequila made for a damn fun time.

We slunk back around midnight. Room 834 is a great space but it is on the wrong side of the building for me. Too noisy when there is a game on at the stadium (after the game ends).

Party all night after the game right under my window

The bathroom is particularly nice with the gigantic tub/glass shower thing going strong. It’s time to replace the showerhead though.

NPS Approved

Glass Pod

Functional but out of date

A solid night’s sleep and a nice long shower was topped only by Swedish pancakes at Richard Walker’s.

Oh, one funny thing. The lobby music is driving Q nuts. He is the manager on duty in the front lobby and is forced to listen to an endless loop. We’ll see if we can’t get that fixed for him!

All around way too quick but super solid visit to San Diego. Five showerheads (one of which might need replacement) for the Solamar.

Yep, it’s silicon valley time and that means the Cowper Inn. This place is so much like home that we request rooms by number in a particular order. Fortunately, we usually end up in 31 (the NPS preferred room).

The flight out on Virgin America was great. Upgraded to first class and ended up with a row of my own. Virgin America makes you pay to upgrade no matter what, but that works for NPS!

It became a clear sunny day in Palo Alto. If you have not visited, Palo Alto is a great place to walk around, window shop, and spend way too much money on furniture. Last time NPS was in town, we accidentally discovered a store which has since managed to sell us multiple very expensive and very comfortable chairs. That would be rejuvenation.

Sequoia

In the yard

Nice room if you ignore the wallpaper

That ’80s kind of shower that your parents had

Through the looking glass

The living room and breakfast room is almost always unoccupied after morning.

Always fresh flowers

In other news, do not go to Roots and Rye which sucks in all possible ways. A waste of gas to get there. workaday: lazy prep, stale bread, uninteresting cocktails, terrible architecture, service that needs training.

Five nostalgic shower heads for the Cowper and its gorgeous yard.

The quick answer is: there is no stay short enough to justify a plastic shower.

NPS set out to prove this aphorism at the truly style-free Renaissance hotel at LAX.

Renaissance is a Marriott property, so we of course made great use of our friend Mr. X who is a Lifetime Platinum Elite member. Mr. X books for us and NPS shoves all the points in his direction. This gets us superior rooms and concierge level hoo hah and whatnot at Marriotts. Sadly they are all still Marriotts.

The front lobby is in the middle of a massive renovation at the Renaissance at LAX. So that may be a good thing (but likely it just won’t matter). NPS was assigned a newly renovated suite (number 425) after much furious typing by the front desk staff on our very late arrival around midnight. If 425 is evidence of the style that is driving this renovation then NPS is worried.

You see, 425 looks like this. But looks (even marginal looks like this) can be deceiving. Super cheap, thin, veneer style is what we have on evidence here.

Like this crooked too big TV. WTF?

No. Not how to hang a TV. Why is there even one here?

The bed is comfortable, but the lights are so cheap a light wind would blow them over. Fortunately the windows do not open.

Comfy bed.

But what is this?

The windows overlook a glowing Burger King sign That pretty much says it all.

Yeah, no. This is not really a cool city view.

More sad, thin style evident in the sitting room.

Your mother in law called and she has some design ideas

There was a sad little plant on the desk wishing for some light. Flourescent bulbs should make it happier than they make the humans trapped in here.

And then there is the plastic shower bête noire—an actual plastic shower with an obesity bar.

no

no

no no no

Everything in the bathroom is very new, very clean and completely devoid of any taste.

no sense of style

Well anyway, the trip to LA was fantastic and the time in this hamster cage was short.

There was this wine thing with new friends.

Wine? Wine!

There was an old school whiskey bar.

And there was some sportsing with the boys.

So all told we would do it again in a second but we would get a real hotel without a shuttle bus and shlep to the airport from Santa Monica.

Speaking of the airport, this Virgin America meets Alaska thing is getting chunky. Remote gates? Wolfgang Puck bullshit? Overfull lounges gussied up in the ’70s? Uh oh. Where is my high style airline?

Let the record show that the Renaissance LAX barely rates two showerheads. Not going back ever. Nice people in a beige land devoid of style.

No Fly Noël 2016: Kinda

December 3, 2016

Regular NPS readers and lurkers know all about “no fly July” and “no fly Noël.” The idea is simple. Stop. Rest. Think. Read. Get out of the hubbub of everyday modern life, sit by the fire, and exist.

This year’s No Fly Noël is much needed as 2016 was about the most stressful year on record for NPS in 17 years. It was a great year in the end, but boy are we glad it is over.

So, how did the year look? Kinda like this (according to the tripometer).

The 2016 NPS tripometer

The 2016 NPS tripometer

Travel according to the new regimen is trending nicely low. The goal for 2016 was 20 trips and we came in 15% high at 23. Well, almost. Looks like we have to throw off the chains of No Fly Noël and hit the road one more time in December to strategize with the corporate overlords. Or maybe that is overlord with the corporate strategists? Something like that anyway. Stay tuned for those data. (And make that 24 trips and a 20% overrun.)

In other news this year, the Elevate Gold status on Virgin America is a good thing. We switched the firehose from United to Virgin America in 2014 and there is no looking back. NPS likes main cabin select. NPS also likes using points to upgrade to Europe. How that will work going forward is a good question!

Fly too much?  Try Virgin America.

Fly too much? Try Virgin America.

Of course since NPS is based at Dulles, there is no avoiding United. Honestly, they did better this year. Flying United was not great, but it did not completely suck. So maybe the Smisek effect is finally washing out.

And then there is Kimpton which remains the NPS go to hotel chain of choice even after the disaster that is the San Francisco Kimpton property crater. Years ago we helped to start the Kimpton Intouch program (which is now the Kimpton Karma program). We do what we can to stay qualified without calling in air support from Mike Defrino. You go Kimpton!

Inner Circle?  Why yes, we'll have some

Inner Circle? Why yes, we’ll have some

NPS has been to San Diego so many times that the count is lost in the ashes of oblivion. See, that was back before the blog, and that means memory is hazy. This blog is the best prosthetic travel memory ever. Back in the day, we stayed up in La Jolla at the Estancia (highly recommended). Since then, Kimpton has invaded San Diego. And you know how we feel about Kimpton at NPS! So here we are right in the gaslamp quarter.

It took a bit of doing to get here due to San Francisco fog. But Virgin America did its hip thing. Their cross country jaunt in main cabin select is the best in the business.

This is our first visit to the Solamar, and it surely will not be the last. We were greeted by Q at the front desk who was courteous, helpful, and most of all fun. And then we found this in 1003 (a nicely appointed suite):

Cheese! Flowers! Sparkling water! Notes! Kimpton Karma.

Cheese! Flowers! Sparkling water! Notes! Kimpton Karma.

This is a very nice way to re-up our Inner Circle status! At least we think that is what is happening??! Who knows, the system is too complicated for NPS.

Anyway, 1003 is very nice.

1103 living area

1103 living area

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1003 bedroom

1003 bedroom

Of course, the bathroom is the coup de grace. Excellent design. Glass showers. Big giant tub. Windows. Yup.

1103 shower cube (approved by NPS)

1103 shower cube (approved by NPS)

Just cool

Just cool

The event we’re in town for is at the Coronado (an old school resort with more flowery wall paper and old carpet than style). That’s why we’re staying here. Later, we’ll figure out the water taxi situation.

Dinner at Kettner Exchange was very good. Their bar is good but not excellent. Go for the food.

Kettner Exchange

Kettner Exchange

Richard Walker’s pancakes (even though it is utterly full of convention goers with little lanyard tags) is quite fabulous.

Watch a San Diego sunset.

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Take the ferry from 5th avenue pier to Coronado island.

Have a great old school steak at Lou and Mickey’s.

Drink more bourbon

Drink at Noble Experiment. NPS was seated at the bar and served by Tony Roehr, a very talented bartender indeed. We had some classics and some experiments, including what we will call the Dump Trump
1 oz cocchi americano
1 oz cynar
1 oz gin (sipsmith)
sea salt
dash of chocolate bitters
Stir down. Serve up with a twist of orange peel.

Also in the house was Woodford Reserve brand ambassador Luke Ford who go everyone destroyed as an accidental side effect. Much fun was had by all, even the frat boy fascists who invaded.

Five showerheads for the Solamar. Tops. Max.

Visiting a new Kimpton property is always fun. We’re happy to say that due to the highly-interconnected nature of the Kimpton GM network, our reputation at NPS proceeds us. LOL. Hopefully that’s not too bad a thing.

Japanese Peace Garden

Japanese Peace Garden

So we met GM Emily Glick on the net well before even landing in San Francisco. She is awesome.

The flight out to San Francisco was very nice on Virgin America. So much better than United! But in the air, an email arrived with the title “Small snag – Buchanan Hotel.” Gotta hate that! Turns out that the evil person occupying the room I was supposed to be in failed to depart! That meant a different room, and frankly one with a few bugs.

The main problem with 216 is that it is too low and close to street noise. As a country boy, city noises are disconcerting and make sleeping a challenge. Also the hotel net has been super flaky this visit with big lags, dropped packets, DNS issues. Say it ain’t so in 2016!

216 spartan

216 spartan

216

216

216 has a glass shower but is set up for handicap access

216 has a glass shower but is set up for handicap access

216

216

216 in daylight, the window pop outs are cool

216 in daylight, the window pop outs are cool

Desk popout

Desk popout

Thanks to the staff of the Buchanan for the amenity. Sparkling water comes in handy.

Snacks!

Snacks!

Switching rooms became an option after the evil occupy 416 person departed. 416 is much better that 216 for reasons that are hard to describe. Better lines. Sleeker. Cleaner. Better view. All around much more Kimpton-like.

416

416

hallway lines 416

hallway lines 416

Shower cube 416

Shower cube 416

View from the glass cube

View from the glass cube

Japantown at night

Japantown at night

The family run restaurant at the Buchanan (mums) is cute and very Japanese. At breakfast I heard French, Russian, and of course English. Sadly, they have no espresso. But three minutes away in the Japantown Mall is the Andersen bakery. They can be taught how to make a doppio macchiato

Espresso can be found at  Andersen bakery

Espresso can be found at Andersen bakery

It remains to be seen whether any non-meeting time will remain this trip. Too busy for San Francisco makes gem a dull boy.

Four showerheads and a room switcherooby for the Buchanan. Nice property a bit off the beaten path with a few snags.

Sometimes the Fates smile on NPS. Well actually, the Fates are awesome and we mostly love them. This is one of those times. Coming to silicon valley and want to see some great friends? Well it turns out that Yo Yo Ma is in town playing his cello. Sure, the concert has been sold out for months, but you know that thing about the Fates we were talking about.

So we saw the astounding show (which featured a Shosaakovich piece that was out of this world in addition to the usual candy). And then we had a delicious “after the three encores” dinner at Monsieur Benjamin just down the street from the Davies. Our millenial waiter was amusing.

After that it was too late to try out the new Wildhawk (which we are bummed about…sorry Kenny).

Evidence of hippies abounded in SF at an undisclosed location. For example, consider this fridge which seems to have a Bitter Liberals sticker on it.

Or this collection of original Haight-Ashbury posters from the ’60s.

Must be San Francisco.

Even the trip back is looking up since this go ’round we have the seat we always try to get on Virgin America. If only the gogo network were not so sporadic.

Almost forgot a quick visit to one of my very favorite bars, Dirty Habit where Raul Ayala made me a Desert in the Tropics
1.5 Citadelle gin
.5 lemon juice
.5 pineapple gum syrup
.5 cactus puree
.5 leonor 12 palo cortado sherry

rim with smoked paprika and salt

Just fantastic

NPS was coming to the Cowper Inn in Palo Alto, CA well before there was even an NPS. Over twenty years and two owners! An lo and behold, repairs are underway this trip with all newly refinished floors, a completely reworked kitchen, and lots of ongoing repair work to the outside shingles. Things are looking good!

IMG_2114

We did (apparently) have some trouble securing room 31, but in the end it all worked out. 31 has a new lighter feel with the refinished floor.

IMG_2107

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And it also has the best shower in the place in a spacious bathroom.

IMG_2110

IMG_2111

The facelift looks great so far!

IMG_2112

But it is not done yet.

IMG_2115

In any case, after 20+ years of staying here, it really feels like home. Five showerheads for the Cowper and its new look.

Umami burger on University serves up a mean truffle burger and truffled fries. Just do it!

Tamarine remains an outstanding restaurant. Great wine list and fabulous food. They have been so good for so long, that they’re likely to remain good indefinitely.

Lure+Till has a pretty good bar (but not as good as they think they are) which can conjur up a CR2 if necessary. Their drinks run on the sweet side. Sadly, the whole shebang seems to be owned by Larry Ellison.

Joanie’s Cafe is a great breakfast place in Palo Alto. Surprisingly, NPS has only just discovered it.

If you’re stuck in Mt View, Doppio Zero is a very good pizza place. The only amusing aspect is the Spanish speaking staff who pretend they speak Italian. For a nightcap, the Eureka! bar has a great bourbon selection (Gearge T Stagg and William Larue Weller 2015 for example), but you have to ignore the TVs and the noise.

Virgin America was packed to the gills and felt way too much like United. Hmm.