This is a belated review of my nearly two-week stay at 51 Buckingham Gate in London back in October. Let’s get the blog-stuff out of the way. I paid for this stay myself, but lest you vastly overestimate my personal worth, through a right conspiracy of forces in my personal life, I was able to stay here at a very, very good “discount” that was completely, totally and utterly unrelated to my blog. I never would have stayed here otherwise. (And no, work didn’t pay for this either.) I am being deliberately mysterious here because I am just trying to figure out if what I did for the discount was worth it and that evaluation is still in progress. I don’t want to mislead you until that evaluation is complete. More to come around April.
Anyhow, even at just one bedroom, the flat I occupied at 51 Buckingham Gate — just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace — was bigger than both of the flats I lived in while I was in London. The bedroom in my suite was huge. The living room/lounge was huge. The master bath/en-suite was HUGE. Heated towel racks galore — and Molton Brown products — for just me. Plus an extra half-bath just in case.
That being said…it kills me to say this…SIZE IS NOT EVERYTHING. The Dean Street Townhouse and its lovely small rooms completely outshone 51 Buckingham Gate. So too did the room at my first stay at a Firmdale Hotel — The Covent Garden Hotel. Both Dean Street and The Covent Garden go luxury in small spaces over large spaces with, um, a half-hearted attempt at luxury. Another hotel also very good: The Zetter. All of these hotels had such a better mix of furnishings, service, and on-site beverage programs.
Because let’s face it…I got kicked out of the bar each evening at 9 p.m. 9 p.m.! I wasn’t there every evening, I promise. But I was there for a few. And around 8:45 pm each time, the staff would tell it was time to go — I was welcome to stay and avail myself of butler service — but the staff was going home.
Bah. Thinking back to what I liked about the place…I liked the Molton Brown products, and I liked the Whole Foods gift basket they gave me because I was staying more than six days. (That being said, I would like to speak to the person who assembled the gift basket because I think they could have put together a more useful combination of stuff. I have a liter of olive oil I’d like to get rid of now.) I liked the twice-daily room servicing, and I liked the library/cafe area.
I didn’t like the carpets in my room (they’d seen better days), nor did I like the windows (they let in the chill). The master bath, while HUGE, was old and in dire need of a refurb. I did not like the location most of all — the area south of Buckingham Palace is a wasteland of government buildings and is just very, very boring.
In short, even should the fates again conspire to put me here, I’d only say yes because I miss London so desperately that I am open to selling any part of my soul. (Seriously.) Otherwise, you can find me arbitraging on Hotwire.
Quickly…over Christmas, I did that thing I usually do. I headed up to Orlando to visit my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare in Orlando and — gasp — they actually use it. (Most Americans buy timeshares and then quickly realize they just can’t use them and then they try to sell them and can’t.) We stayed one night at the Marriott Cypress Harbour and boy am I glad my dad is a senior citizen, because without his discount, this would have cost us over $400 bucks just for one night. (My father was happy to stay at the Quality Inn 4.5 miles away for $62 bucks a night. Not me.) We got 15% off our rate because he is over 65.
The Marriott Cypress Harbour is an apartment hotel and our room was HUGE. As was the hot tub. A little disconcerting, this hot tub. I let my dad have this room. I took the smaller guest bedroom, above.
I guess if I were a family with two children, this place would have been the perfect setup. For a father and daughter traveling together though, there was no easy access to alcohol, which was a problem. There was no minibar and the bar at the clubhouse required a car to get there. (I often joke that my father would never survive a trip to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. No red wine.) That being said, my bed was comfortable and the blackout curtains were awesome.
While in Orlando, we had lunch at the Copper Canyon Grill, where my order of rotisserie chicken was large enough to feed fourteen people. (America, this is why you’re fat. Really.) Our server also told us he was a green beret in Afghanistan, and my dad and my uncle, both servicemen themselves, thought he was lying. So that was awkward. (We didn’t tell him he was lying. We just discussed it during and afterwards.) Everything here was nice enough by big-box-chain-restaurant standards though. Speedy service, plenty of tap water, and they very easily dealt with our party of ten.
And before we sped off to the airport the next morning, we stopped at Denny’s at 11037 International Drive. (Remember, I’m not as sophisticated as you might think I am.) And I was again given pause for thought. Do you wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in America? Things like The Grand Slamwich exist, that’s why. Potato bread!! That being said, the service at Denny’s was super-chipper and speedy. There’s something about diner service in America: these servers are not precious, they’ve seen it all, and they are as flexible as flexible can be.
I was all over the great state of Florida last month. Three hotels in three nights. It was a combination of vacation, phase one of my mom’s surgery, and what ended up being a bit of a travel nightmare because I got terribly ill and wasn’t allowed anywhere near my mother after her surgery.
It’s interesting, staying in three hotels in three nights. You notice things you might normally not once you get to the second hotel. And by the time you get to the third hotel, you’ve got a little bit of a routine going.
The first hotel, The Crowne Plaza Z Ocean in Miami Beach. I stayed here on points, and well, while many people might like it here, it just wasn’t for me. The staff was spacey — they checked me into someone else’s room and then they forgot to clean my room two days in a row — and the hallways were pretty dingy and knocked up. Plus, they had signs like this.
If you’re going to provide something that looks like a refrigerator, why not just make it a refrigerator?
Oh, and then this drove me crazy. The real refrigerator door opened one way, while the cabinet door opened the other way. Designed by a man, I’m sure. (Sorry, men.) Ah, and the bed has some sort of plastic wrap on it, and they forgot to give me toilet paper and one of the TVs didn’t work. Oh, and the front desk staff kept calling me “Honey.” Honey? SHUT IT.
Then, I flew to Gainesville, in northern Florida, during an electrical storm. On a super small plane. Everyone on the plane screamed in unison at one point. That wasn’t fun. But we survived, and I checked into the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and it was pretty amazingly nice for a basic hotel. Check-in was seriously the fastest I’ve ever encountered, there was free wifi all over, and the restaurant served some pretty tasty (albeit not creative) food. My Uncle George said the burger he had in the bar was the best he’s ever had, and my Uncle George is 75 years old, so that means something to me. I was so ill at this point that all I did was sleep, so no pictures for you. Sorry! But I can tell you that the bath products were surprisingly nice, and the sheets were surprisingly soft.
After I was told to leave Gainesville, I had to find my way back to Orlando by myself. (My original plan was to head home with my mom to West Palm and take care of her for a few days. The doctors said NO WAY once they picked up on how sick I was.) I took a BUS to Orlando because it was cheaper than renting a car, and I was kinda excited about this because they promised free wifi on the bus. Well, there was no free wifi, and when I finally got to the bus depot in Orlando, there was a big sign that said, “We will not refund your ticket if the wifi didn”t work.” (Couldn’t get a photo.) Seriously people…if you have to make a sign that says that, doesn’t that tell you that THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. And why do you put pictures of business people working on their laptops all over your buses if you can’t delivery on your branding? Red Coach USA, I am looking at YOU.
And then I found myself at the Hyatt Orlando Airport. The staff was amazingly cheerful and lovely, which I needed after all the planes, trains and automobiles. And MY ROOM OVERLOOKED THE RUNWAY, which was kinda awesome. (I love airports, remember.) Oh, and then the hotel is attached to the airport, so you could wander around the food court and shops which was fun for a while, until my cold medicine ran out. This is a super high volume property — you can tell. But the staff and the bits like the runway made it a star for me. Not a star? The $52 I spent on room service. Gah.
So…my trip to Florida didn’t turn out like anything I planned. I wish I had thought to load my iPad up with movies and stuff because I definitely spent a lot of time traveling around. And I wish I had brought more practical clothing than little sundresses because I was freezing half of the time on planes and buses. I also wish I had status on American Airlines because let me tell you — checking in at Miami Airport totally sucks. Actually, Miami Airport just totally sucks in general.
Let’s just say I’m glad to be home and I like my own bed!
I spent a week sleeping, eating and drinking in Spain last month. It’s interesting, spending time in three different hotels over a relatively short period of time. And none of them being quite perfect. It shouldn’t be hard to run a good hotel, it really shouldn’t be. And what’s odd is that out of all of these, the cheapest one is the one I’d go back to. Here we go.
Hotel Urban, Madrid. Billed as a four star property. Service more like two star. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how it goes down. I pull up in a taxi outside the hotel. A bellman who smells like all his clothes got wet and he wrinkled them up in a ball and left them in a dark place and tightly-enclosed space for a few days opens the taxi door. I get out. Before I can pay the driver, he’s taken off with my luggage, but not in that helpful way. It’s like he’s gone, gone, disappeared. I check in, and the desk clerk has a very confusing conversation with me about the Internet, but I’ve been awake for 24 hours so maybe it’s just me. He hands me two pieces of paper, each with a different username and password. He tells me they are good for 90 minutes.
Someone takes me up to my room. I immediately take all my clothes off because I feel pretty disgusting. (For various reasons, it took me a really long time to get to Madrid, and I am covered in white wine, thanks to my somewhat obnoxious seat mate on the way from Chicago to Munich. When, when, when will I sit next to that totally awesome person on a plane??) There’s a knock on my hotel room door. I’ve seriously been in my room for 3 minutes and it’s after 3 pm. I don’t want to answer, but they knock again. It’s the hotel staff, and they want to check the minibar. NOW? No. I don’t think so. I send them away and take a shower in the bathroom, which has a moldy, water-damaged ceiling. Later, I avail myself of the free wifi in the bar, where the service is sweetly inattentive, but then I pass out.
The day I am to check out, my room is blissfully dark and cold and I am trying to sleep in a little bit. My hotel room door opens at some point. It’s housekeeping. I check the time. It’s 8:40 am AND I HAVEN”T CHECKED OUT YET. They want to clean the room. WTF. I am mad. And then I do go to check out and they try to charge me for all this Internet access that I apparently bought in advance BUT no one ever gave me access to. What I objected to most was the tone the front staff used with me. That I was an idiot. That I didn’t know how the Internet worked. I left angry.
Next up, Hotel Regina in Madrid. And I have low expectations because I’ve spent 47 euros a night on my room here. But although it’s basic, it’s SUPER clean and has all the right things, including some of the world’s best black-out blinds. (Rendered useless by leaving the door open to the bathroom, which did not have blackout blinds.) There’s FREE WIFI and lots of it, although it’s occasionally slow. There’s a supremely inexpensive cafe for breakfast with very professional service, and most of all, the price is right. This is a TripAdvisor favorite and I can see why. My two complaints would be that the hotel reception can be a bit too busy and bustling at times, and I hate shower curtains. But I liked that the local business people came in for a coffee and a drink at the bar and I liked the location and the free wifi.
Field trip! Hotel Convento das Claras in Penafiel, Spain. In the Ribera del Duero. A beautiful property and a beautiful location. But the staff! It’s not that they were mean or bad…they were just so clueless and not helpful. It was terrible. Trying to organize a taxi to the airport was like trying to schedule brain surgery. Only one person could talk to the taxi driver and that person wasn’t there so I had to wait 12 hours to talk to the right person and of course that person only worked in the middle of the night. How about having a guest file, people?
And the rooms were a bit not perfect. I laughed when I saw how the beds were made in my room. (See pillow on left bed.)
Ah, and the spa. Have you ever had a facial from a heavy smoker? Trust me, you don’t want to.
The only staff member who was nice and helpful was the morning I checked out…he knew I was leaving at 5 am, and he put out a complete breakfast for me. (I have to apologize to everyone who came in for breakfast at 9 am though because I’m sure all the bread was stale and the meat was sweaty by then. I told him I just wanted something small. I couldn’t believe what they put out for me.)
So in short, so much potential…wasted.
At least there was free wifi.
So…I’m back from Spain and catching up on life and everything else. More to come on my travels as well as restaurants in Chicago and elsewhere. Yes!
Traveling by yourself for business can be terrible at times. Even more terrible if you are staying in a hotel that has no creature comforts, no public spaces, nothing to keep you amused. At the end of my stay at The Staybridge Suites in Itaim, I was ready to pull my hair out. I was bored, and there was nowhere to go. I am not one to hang out alone in my hotel room, and Sao Paulo is not a city for walking. I need a hotel with public spaces and access to nice places.
So towards the end of my last Sao Paulo sojourn, I decided. I would upgrade myself on my last night. Big time. Big Big Time. Through Jetsetter.com, I found a “deal” on The Hotel Emiliano, and I did it. I booked it. I cringed. But I dd it. Although the price did make me wince. And wince again. A LOT.
But after five hours in Sao Paulo’s traffic on a Friday night between the hours of 3 pm and 9 pm (you really do not want to know), I am so glad I did it. Because I got there, and there was this…
FREE WINE! Well, let’s not think about how expensive this wine really was, given the price of my hotel room. But I like to think it was free.
Ah, and then there was this…
One day when I have the millions I deserve, I too will have a Japanese toilet in my house. I mean, I don’t mean to get all scatological on you, but words cannot describe the wonder and beauty of a Japanese toilet.
Also “free”? White Havianas, with the Emiliano logo on them. Two pairs! The other pair was huge, but luckily I have some friends with very large feet.
Back to the bathroom. Gorgeous. All that marble. And the bath products! Rest assured, I took all of them with me when I left.
There was much showering and much lounging around the hotel room. I think I took three showers in the short 15 hours I was there. The shower was big enough for many.
Hello mini bar. I think I LOVE YOU. LOVE YOU LOVE YOU LOVE YOU. Champagne and water, my two favorite beverages.
Yes, I might have drank some free wine in my free Havianas and then sat in my Eames chair in my bathrobe.
But this phone!! It reminded me of being at work. Bad phone. Bad. Where’s my wireless headset???
The only thing I didn’t really like about the Emiliano was the food. I ordered room service for dinner and it was distinctly unmemorable, except for the part where they got my order wrong. (Tomato salad? I am 500% positive I did not order that.) For breakfast the next morning, they got my order right, but my omelet was just so very average, and they charged me something like $12 just because I said “yes” when they said “Would you like milk with your coffee?” (I did want milk, but not a f*cking PINT.) Also, at the bar on the ground floor, there was one cock-up after another with both my drink and my food order. (I swear to God I never said, “I’d like ten sardines on ten toasts,” I promise.)
But other than that, it was a tremendously lovely and tremendously nice stay. I am just sad that I was so focused on feeding myself and availing myself of the bath products that I never did get my complimentary 15-minute massage.
Must go back then. You should too, if you can swing it.
The Emiliano is located in Jardim Paulista in Sao Paulo on Oscar Freire. It is very fancy. And very expensive. I think it’s the most expensive hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my entire life. Somewhere around $750 USD. GAH. Yes. But I needed it. And yes, of COURSE I paid for it. In its entirety. Personally.
Back to London. And the giant glowing orb in the sky actually cooperated for a moment. Everything was beautiful. (Look closely at Tower Bridge and you can see the Olympic Rings, getting ready for their descent.) I worked well, I ate well, I WALKED well. London is an incredible city to walk in, and I stayed entirely above ground during this part of my visit.
I moved into the compact but efficient Zetter in Clerkenwell for five nights. This made me more than a little teary-eyed because I was staying just a few blocks away from my old flat, a flat I lived in for over five years. Amazing how quickly London has changed in the short period I’ve been away.
I liked The Zetter. But the rooms are VERY small. (If you need to stay in this general area, The Hoxton is a bit more spacious.) The Zetter staff were lovely though and the bath products (Ren) were much much better than The Hoxton’s. (The Hoxton is generally cheaper than The Zetter though.) In short, if I could swing it, I might stay here again. But I think The Hoxton might still win out.
Here’s where I ate and drank…
Salvation Jane, 55 City Road, Shoreditch/City. I was glad to see something useful had finally gone into this strip of City Road. Let’s hope Salvation Jane lasts because the Indian street food place didn’t last long (and there were a lot of bailiffs involved) and then there was that Thai place that was all quite dark and scary and they were always rehabbing the toilets. We had some good coffees at Salvation Jane though, and the service was nice and overall, I like the vibe. The Verdict: Recommended for coffee talk.
The Old Fountain, 3 Baldwin Street, Shoreditch: I returned to one of my favorite pubs in London, The Old Fountain, with my friends Gerry & Ben. It was ridiculously different. There were no old men, the carpet had been replaced, and it had been entirely repainted and refurbished. I appreciate gentrification, but I was still a bit sad. That being said, the beer selection was ace and the rooftop was lovely. The Verdict: Recommended if you’re in the area and want to have some beers in a quiet place.
St. John, 145-57 St. John Street, Clerkenwell. I couldn’t not stop into the bar at St. John for some drinks and snacks. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese for the win! The Verdict: GO.
Hoxton Beach: Whitecross Street Market, Barbican. You can’t see what’s in there, but it’s the most delicious falafel wrap EVER. I love these guys. I dream about them. And their pickled vegetables. Get a falafel wrap (this is the small) from Hoxton Beach and then head on over to the Two Brewers down by Waitrose for a cheeky pint. The Two Brewers lets you bring in food from the market. Genius idea. The Verdict: Yes to Hoxton Beach!
Grab Thai, 5 Leonard Street, Shoreditch: I think I’ve written about these guys before. Incredibly inexpensive, incredibly delicious. I normally stick to the green chicken curry for lunch. Good times: The Verdict: Cheap and filling and very good lunch. GO.
Tramshed, 32 Rivington Street, Shoreditch. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an East London girl.) I really enjoyed my steak and chips. Couldn’t really complain. I also liked the design of the place and all the tilework. (It’s a Mark Hix place, btw.) Not sure how I felt about Damien Hirst’s preserved cow, but luckily, it’s high enough above the dining room that you don’t have to look at it while you’re eating. The Verdict: Very good.
10 Greek Street, 10 Greek Street, Soho. I’m somewhere in between on 10 Greek Street. I like the idea of the place and I like that it’s small and I thought all our servers were lovely but try sitting on a bar stool where a creepy man is pressing his sweaty back up against yours repeatedly for 45 minutes and, well, you might just end up feeling a bit UNWELL about everything. The food was very nice, but I drank a lot of white wine to get over my feelings of violation, so I am no good judge. The Verdict: I need to go back. (Talk about the beauty of natural light for photos, huh?)
Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street. Somehow, during all my wanderings around Soho, I’ve never managed to make it down Newburgh Street. But here I was, hanging out on a street corner, 15 minutes before Pitt Cue opened. I think I might have fallen in love with one of the proprietors while I was waiting. Sigh. I meant to order the pulled pork bun but got the pulled pork meal instead (with a side of baked beans), but it really didn’t matter because it was all pretty excellent. And only 11 quid. The Verdict: GO. But don’t show up with 12 people. They are super super tiny.
The Gate, 370 St. John Street, Clerkenwell. So here’s my first question…when you KNOW you are going to open a restaurant on St. John Street, WHY do you give it the same name as a BAR further down on St. John Street? Confusing. Then, when I enter your restaurant, why do you ignore me? And then when you finally take my drink order, why do you walk away in the middle of my conversation? And then when you come to take my order, why do you tell me not to order anything on the menu because it is all going to take a really long time? And then when you come to ask “How is everything?,” why do you walk away before I can even answer??? My dining experience at The Gate is worth a short story of its own. I think you get the gist. They are CRAZY. The weird thing? My asparagus rotolo was weirdly EXCELLENT. The Verdict: I’m afraid to send you here. But the food is really good. (Note entirely vegetarian.)
While I was in town, I also saw the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern, which was quite affecting. I’d recommend it. I’m still thinking about it, a week or two later, and I think that’s what art is all about. I also saw the Christian Louboutin exhibit at the Design Museum, and while it’s nice to look at shoes, the exhibit didn’t give you much context about the artist, which was disappointing. There were also a lot of screaming 10 year olds. Who takes 10 year olds to a French shoe exhibit? Odd.
I’ve been thinking lately about trying to get back to London more often. Let me know if anyone is interested in an intermittent flatmate.
P.S. I’m realizing after posting this that I didn’t include Sedap on Old Street or The Modern Pantry on Clerkenwell Road. I revisited both. I still highly recommend Sedap, but I wasn’t too impressed with my watery omelet at The Modern Pantry, unfortunately.
Is it allowable, to duplicate the wedding of friends for your own selfish purposes? Because I truly could not imagine a more perfect location or wedding than the one I just got back from in Tuscany. My friends Jen and Leigh commandeered the movie-set-perfect Borgo Casabianca for an entire long weekend. The villa is in a small town called Asciano, about 90 minutes from Florence.
It was all so very Stealing Beauty. I kept waiting for them to play Nina Simone.
Do you see what I mean? This was the wedding dinner, where chandeliers hung from the trees and flowers were in abundance.
Borgo Casabianca was so severely beautiful, it was eye-watering. (The more I travel, the less I need. Although I still like free wifi, which Casabianca has!) That bed was pretty damn comfortable, and what you can’t see is all the EXTRA PILLOWS they provided. And the chocolates.
I had this for lunch in Pienza. I have no idea where. It was a small place, with a triangular courtyard. This was amazing. So simple.
Later that afternoon, we went to Montepulciano and enjoyed a wine tasting at Contucci Cantine. I am an equal opportunity wine drinker, but I don’t think Montepulciano is my favorite. Also, there was too much talking and too little wine on this tour. (Sorry, American in me.) A very historical place though, if that’s your thing.
And then our friends Jen & Leigh got married, and it was beautiful. So amazingly beautiful. And then we packed our bags to leave, but not before heading to the Casabianca kitchens for this beautiful mess…
Pici, which is a thick hand-rolled spaghetti, with a meat sauce. So simple, so perfect, so good.
Back to London, a trip in two parts. And although it was gray and rainy and dreary for the entire Part I of my visit, it was still amazingly wonderful. To the few citizens of Chicago who read my fair blog, I hope that if we do not ever meet, I have at least one little small impact on your life: You pack your bags and go to London sometime. Eight hours on a plane is NOTHING. It is worth it. You should go. (But leave your sweatpants and pillow at home. Just a pet peeve of mine on airplanes. A bit precious, innit?)
Although I saved money on the Amsterdam leg of my trip, I SPENT money on this part of the trip. I splurged on The Haymarket Hotel, located right off Trafalgar Square. A while ago, I spent one night in the Covent Garden Hotel (also a Firmdale hotel) and LOVED it. So I was excited to try a second property. The Haymarket did not disappoint. The staff were all amazingly lovely and helpful and the facilities were gorgeous and I just wanted to roll around in the bed for ages and ages and ages. On my first night, the hotel staff left me stationary. And room spray. I wanted to write you all love letters from London, old school style.
The bathroom in my room at The Haymarket was as big as, if not bigger than, my hotel room during Return to London, Second Part. (Stay tuned.) Nice Miller Harris products too.
I dropped into MEATliquor for lunch one afternoon. I could barely see my burger and onion rings — thank goodness for the flashlight app on the iPhone – but everything was pretty darn good in a really messy sort of way. Although I still prefer my bun more toasted. Holds up to the meaty juices better, you know. This was also a tremendously good value of a lunch at just TWELVE POUNDS for a burger, onion rings, and Diet Coke. Do it.
But I’m skipping ahead. On Sunday afternoon, I met up with partners-in-crime, Ben & Antonia, for one of those perfect Sunday Lunches. Elliot’s Cafe in Borough Market. Great lighting. Great food. Great service. I got a little teary-eyed afterwards, really.
Look at the lamb! Pink! Perfect.
And I don’t know what they did to this asparagus, but I want MORE. Might be one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten this year.
I won’t torture you with the steak tartare starter or the lovely strawberry and elderflower jelly we had for dessert. And all of this PLUS MORE for just 25 QUID per person. That’s $38 USD. People like to tell me that the UK is more expensive than America (especially people who have not lived in both countries), but on food, I disagree. In London, you will get better quality food for less money. I am sure of it.
Cultural break. I went to the National Gallery. It was very stressful as there were many children having severe meltdowns. I had to leave. But I admired the mosaic tile floor in the entrance landings. Gorgeous.
Had to, had to, had to, had to revisit Spuntino. LOVE Spuntino. You will too. But get there early like I did because it is VERY small and there are only 20 covers or so, mostly bar seating. So if you go and there’s a queue and you have to wait forever, you will hate Spuntino. But if you get there early and can get a seat, you will love it. I promise.
Spuntino Truffled Egg Toast, I think I love you. Fantastic. (Sorry, forgot to take a photo before diving in.)
And then, lucky lucky me. Pierre Herme in London was having a little launch event for their new line of breakfast products as well as their line of lemon products. Long-term readers will know I am a sucker for all things lemon. So I went and it was gorgeous. There was hazelnut praline spread — it took Mr. Herme three years to create this — and then there were lemon macarons and lemon chocolates and lemon pound cake and I rolled myself out of there, a bit addled by lemon in the best possible way. Mr. Herme, please come to Chicago.
Love London. Love it, love it, love it. I’ve missed it so much that I made sure I visited twice in one week. Stay tuned for Return to London, Second Part.
I went to Amsterdam the other weekend for a friend’s 40th birthday party. Lest you vastly overestimate my personal wealth, I flew for free on United using miles, so that was awesome. And then what was even more awesome was that I stayed at The Hotel Pulitzer in the Nine Streets part of town using my Starwood American Express points. (Lots of good shopping and restaurants in the Nine Streets area. My kind of area.)
The Pulitzer is a pretty good quality hotel, if a tiny bit dated. No complaints really. And even fewer complaints because I was staying for FREE. My only beef would be (of course) the lack of free wifi. You have to pay something like 20 euros a day for Internet access, which is highway robbery in this day and age. Pure profit for the hotel. Bugs me. But if I wanted a centrally located hotel with an onsite bar and restaurant and turn down service on request (always a sucker for turn down service), I would stay here again.
After I slept off my jetlag, I dropped into the tiny and modern Van Haarte on Hartenstraat in the Nine Streets for a quick snack before doing some shopping. I had some bitterballen–fried Dutch meatballs–and a glass of wine and moved on. I liked Van Haarte, but I think I was lucky to get a table. Call first. (Can I also note how much I’ve missed the price of a glass of wine in Europe? 125 ml of good quality for 4.50 euros. That’s less than $6.)
The next morning, I was boring. (I will not dare to portray that I lead an exciting life. Sometimes I just lie around all day, reading trashy magazines.) I had lunch at the hotel restaurant before meeting my friends for a canal ride. Normally, I run away (fast) when people suggest eating at any hotel’s restaurant. But I had mistakenly slept until noon and didn’t have much time before the boat ride. Restaurant Keizersgracht 238 at The Pulitzer was a pleasant surprise. The Aberdeen Angus Tournedos and the lovely onion rings really could not be faulted and the service doted on me completely without being creepy or annoying.
And then somewhere in Amsterdam, hours later and in the dark and cold and after drinking liters of champagne and dancing like crazy with obscenely fit and thin and beautiful French people and then being hand-fed more oysters than I can remember by this man, we lit what felt like dozens upon dozens of lanterns for our friend’s birthday and let them loose into the night sky. A beautiful ending to a beautiful weekend.
I was in Mexico City for work back in September and somehow never got around to writing about it. I ate really well in the DF and the service was some of the best I’ve encountered in any country during my travels. And to make a sweeping generalization — only because of all the people who warned me to “Be careful” when they heard I was heading south of the border — I did not get kidnapped. So that was awesome. Heck, I even tempted fate by WALKING from my hotel to dinner one night and nothing happened to me! Imagine that!
While in Mexico City, I stayed at the Hotel Nikko, which I really really liked. I’d recommend it. The gym was great, room service was great, and the service was great. (Except for the maid who tried to get into my room at 8 am on a Saturday morning, but the more I travel, the more meaningless I find “Do Not Disturb” signs to be. Someone in the New York Times commented on this recently, how in a lot of countries, Do Not Disturb seems to mean more like, “Yes, please do disturb me. While I am naked. And bring twelve of your co-workers and the vacuum with you.”) The wifi was only free in the bar area, forcing me to drink some very lovely Mexican Chardonnays and Verdejos, so that was a bit of a bummer. But otherwise, I survived.
The next day, we hit El Refugio for a late lunch. (Well, a normal lunch for my Mexcian colleagues. A late lunch for me.) After the previous day’s joyous taco fest El Lago de Los Cisnes, I was really looking forward to this. But I was sadly disappointed. The mole was sweaty and the whole place smelled like someone’s damp basement. Now that’s a MAJOR turnoff. Plus, we asked for the bill at the end of the meal, and even my colleagues couldn’t believe how long it took for it to arrive. Slow slow service — apparently even for Mexican standards — and only average food. The Verdict: Not recommended. Apparently, it’s in all the guidebooks, so watch out.
And then even though I had just finished eating a few hours earlier, I took myself to Pujol for dinner. People of the world, Pujol is exactly why you should NEVER sit in your hotel room alone on a business trip. This was one of the most beautiful meals of my entire life, from the service — THEY GAVE ME THE PASSWORD TO THEIR INTERNAL WIFI!!! — to the beer list (all Mexican and a HUGE list that made me want to come back just to drink beer) to the gorgeously gorgeous tasting menu. If you are in Mexico City in 2012 and assuming nothing changes in their kitchen, you MUST MUST go here. You can see all the photos over here on my Facebook fan page. Maybe become a fan while you’re at it. I’d like that.
So despite one miss during my short sojourn in Mexico City, I had two tremendous hits, and my hotel was lovely too. I can’t wait to go back and explore some more!
So I am an idiot. Do you know how far the Bahamas is from Florida??? Um, not far. Like really really close. Very close. So why we took an overnight cruise ship, I don’t know. In hindsight, we should have taken the high-speed ferry from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport. 2.5 hours. Instead of TWELVE.
We took the Bahamas Celebration from West Palm Beach to Freeport. It was fine. If you appreciate the finer things in life, I wouldn’t really recommend it. But if you’re on a budget and you like to gamble and stuff yourself silly and you don’t need to rest your head on a nice pillow at the end of the day, it will do. Warning: the elevators on board are SLOW.
While we were in the Bahamas, we stayed at the Grand Lucaya resort. It too was fine. Not great, just fine. People who don’t stay in hotels a lot would probably think this is just dandy. We weren’t there to hang out in our rooms though. We were there for some SUN and the BEACH and because my Aunt Ursula didn’t want to cook Christmas dinner.
The beach at the Grand Lucaya was pretty awesome. In hindsight, I should have spent more time in the water. The temperature was perfect and it was so clear and gorgeous.
We rented a boat one night and had the captain take us up and down the canals. There are a lot of canals. This was fun until it got dark and we were out on the ocean and the boat lost an engine and something went wrong with the steering and there were no running lights on the boat. Thank god for the Flashlight app on my iPhone.
Fun Fact! Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 were filmed in the Bahamas. Apparently Johnny Depp doesn’t drink much, but he does like to smoke up.
We at at Sabor at Pelican Bay twice while we were in Port Lucaya. I LOVED the conch fritters. I would recommend Sabor. Good food, friendly service. Nice view of the marina.
I made a video of the ocean one day. It sounds windier than it was. I forget how much I miss salt water and waves. During the afternoons, we would play dominoes and Rummi Cubes at the edge of the beach, with the waves crashing in the background. That was nice.
Between rounds of dominoes, we took a couple of spins around Port Lucaya each day. I would love to say I loved it, but it was full of a lot of touristy crap than made me fret about the fate of mankind.
One night, we had dinner at Luciano’s. It was expensive, and only okay. Another night, we had dinner at Agave. It was good–not great, but I can imagine if you don’t eat out much, you’d be happy here. Especially with a few happy hour mojitos under your belt. Yes.
The day we left, we had lunch at Banana Bay. And although I LOVED the atmosphere and the view big time, the food was just so very, very disappointing. It made me want to buy the place and bring the kitchen up to scratch.
I’m sorry if I sound so grouchy when I was in the BAHAMAS of all places. This was a family vacation, so I was a bit limited in terms of budget and options. So in that sense, this worked out just fine. And heck. At the end of the day, all I really wanted was this view anyhow!