Beijing, Hotel Review Redux

I’ve just wrapped up another week in Beijing, visiting my awesome team, and eating endlessly. Chinese food in China is significantly different from Chinese food in the US, as you would expect, and frankly although I sound like a snob for saying it, it’s better. I’m a big fan of the eggplant dish they serve here.

My hotel room has a scale in it. This, has only served to make me repentant the next day. It has not, of course, modified any of my eating habits.

With that, I give you a hotel review of the Somerset Hotel in ZhongGuanCun, Beijing.

First off, I’m not entirely sure why, but I ended up with a two bedroom apartment (rather than a one-bedroom). This room is bigger than my first and second apartments, probably some 800 square feet, and comes complete with a real kitchen (there is no “-ette”, it’s a real kitchen and if I wanted to make a Thanksgiving Dinner I could do it between the oven and 3-burner stove).

I could then serve it at my dining room table for six, and then we could retire in the living room on the couches with my view of the city.

In short: big, and overkill for just my needs, but has been crazy comfortable.

There is a washer/dryer (single machine, does both things sorta well) and breakfast is provided on the 5th floor each morning. There is a gym, and a minimart, but no restaurant on site; if you want food at night then hit the Carrefour hypermarket that’s about 1km away and shop to your heart’s content. You can get local (very, very local) or you can browse the imported aisles if you need your French wine or Italian pasta.

In short: great for a longer stay and if you don’t have dinner plans every night (short of one Peking Duck night – and there’s a great restaurant for that 3 blocks away – that’s described my experience).

PS – they have all kinds of toiletries that they simply provide: toothbrush packs with toothpaste (presealed in plastic), conditioning shampoo, body lotion, and of course soap. They also have cotton swabs (also prepacked in plastic) and laundry detergent (ditto) and shoeshine cloths. But good luck finding a razor, or deodorant (this time I remembered mine, but if you forget yours, hit the aforementioned Carrefour).

Beijing, Baby!

One of the advantages to having chronic insomnia is that when you travel halfway around the world and you wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, it (in itself) is not a foreign thing. It also means you get through jet lag a lot faster, because you’re used to sporadic sleep.

I am typing this in my room at the Crowne Plaza in Beijing (the one on Zhi Chun road, if you want to be specific… there’s 3 or 4 others). I will not be able to upload it to WordPress until I get to work, though, as I am behind the Great Firewall, and one of the things you do not get to do here is engage in Western social media. Twitter, Facebook, Swarm/Foursquare, WordPress, etc. are all tabled until I can get into the office and leverage their VPN. As it is nearly 5AM and the pool I intend to swim in this morning doesn’t open for another hour, let me show you around what I’ve seen thus far.

(NB: when you travel for work, you spend a disproportionate amount of time in a hotel and in an office or conference center. A lot of this is going to essentially be skewed by that.)

First, the airport: It reminds me of a cross between Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, and Vancouver. Think great long hallways sided by glass on one side (to the outside) and art on another, multiple long stretches with those flat conveyor-belt people movers, from the gates to a large central area filled with meandering, lost people and a variety of signage in both Chinese Traditional and English. I was really surprised at the volume of English, because it was not only in the directional signage (Parking, Exit, Baggage Claim, etc.) but also in the ads. But hey, we’re in an Airport, so that’s fine.

beijing_buildingsMy hotel transfer was in an SUV driven by a gruff man who said nothing (in Mandarin or otherwise). Thirty minutes got me to my hotel and I got to see the Bird’s Nest on the way in; the thing that really impressed me was the volume of high-rise apartment complexes. I am not exaggerating when I say I probably saw more than a hundred of them. The architecture of these buildings is pretty homogenous; tall, cream-colored buildings with uniform portrait rectangular windows, flat faces, only a select few apartments have balconies.

Many of tbeijing_boxeshe windows have what looks like an air conditioning unit but installed below the window (not in it), I found out later that those are the exhaust motors for the wall-mounted air conditioning units on the inside.

The best way I can describe Beijing is to take the relative building heights and proximities of New York City (so, very high, very close), mix it with an expanse the size of Los Angeles (so, very wide), give it infrastructure similar to what you’d see in Phoenix (wide roads, wide sidewalks), put in architecture that resembles both London (great tall glass buildings with architectural arches or curves) and the Eastern Bloc (tall grey or cream colored drab functional buildings), slather everything with Chinese Traditional characters in a variety of fonts and colors, and then add the people.

Lots and lots and lots of people.

Those nice, wide streets are crammed with a variety of vehicles (bikes, motorized and not; taxis; foreign and domestic autos) and people. Much like Manhattan, the guidance on crosswalks seems to be largely based on judgment rather than any actual signaling device (of which green man purportedly means go, red hand means stop). The brick sidewalks are crammed with a variety of people (male, female, old, young, professional, etc.). Street vendors have blankets on the ground from which you can purchase a variety of cheap knicknackery, there is also street food which we were cautioned (by local friends) not to eat. The subways are efficient and much like what you’d experience in any real city, and they are air conditioned. Personal space is not a concept people are familiar with here.

In the three days I have been here, the air has been clear and clean, thanks to a thorough rain on the morning of my flight. I’m looking outside my window though and I can’t see the sun rise, even though it’s perceptibly lighter. I can’t tell if what I’m looking at is smog or real clouds, but I’m sure I’ll find out later on my walk to work. The smells largely are defined by where you are at, so along one block you’ll smell a variety of food smells, along another you’ll smell a variety of not-food smells. Deodorant seems to be optional.

My hotel clearly caters to Western visitors: every electrical outlet in the room has converters built in, both for US and Europe (including UK). And I do mean every electrical outlet: the ones at the desk, the ones in the bathroom, the ones on either side of the bed, and even the one in the closet. If you’re staying at the Crowne Plaza here, you don’t need an adapter.

Ain’t no potty like an East coast potty.

The bathroom is roughly 40% of the room size and features a separate toilet (like, it is in its own glass room), shower (own glass room), and tub large enough for 2. Toiletries include things like dental hygiene kits, shoe shine kit, etc. My room has two gas masks so if the air quality gets super bad, you’re covered.

As you go downstairs to breakfast there’s a large fish tank to view, complete with Arrowanas and koi that are larger than them. The breakfast buffet is the sort that anyone can find something they eat (e.g., vegetarians, picky Westerners, adventurous foodies, etc.). It’s my goal to try everything before I leave but I’m not sure I can.



The volumes of food here are insane.

Granted, we are doing “team lunches” and “team dinners” which means eating in a variety of really nice restaurants, at really large circular tables. I have learned that you have two sets of chopsticks – one for serving yourself (so far, they have always been brown with gold handles), and one for actually eating with (black with silver tips). Sometimes there’s a serving spoon, other times there is not. We surprised our local coworkers here by the fact that we could use chopsticks. In these cases, the food has been served ‘family style’ and has ranged from mild and sweet to “I don’t have any sinuses anymore” hot. I promised them I would try everything and I have, which sounds more adventurous than it is. No one has ordered the sea cucumber yet (it is exactly that – take a sea cucumber out of the water, cook it as-is, dump it in some soup, and serve it… just lying there. Not sure how you eat it, it’s not even sliced.) But I’ve had organ meats and the like, and everything I’ve eaten has tasted wonderful. After the first day our local friends decided they didn’t have to haze us.

Food pricing is another interesting thing. Case in point: yesterday’s lunch was 10 people in a high-end restaurant, 10 different dishes plus tea and a blueberry yogurt drink thing (tasty!), and we walked out the door for about 530 Yuan (read, about $87). The ice cream we had later on in the afternoon from the Hagen Daaz cost more than that on a per-person basis (about $10—and it was not grandiose size).

beijing_quackEating is almost a sport here, although we learned you do not eat all of the food (otherwise you are indicating that you were waiting too long and got too hungry, and/or your host/ess didn’t supply enough for you). I don’t think we could have eaten all the food if we tried. I’m taking advantage of the gym here daily (nice – 3 treadmills, 2 ellipticals, 2 bikes, free weights, and 6 weight machines) and coupling that with our daily walks to/from the office should hopefully undo some of the gastronomic damage. There’s a scale in the bathroom.

I have one more workday here – barring the fact that the recycle bins have small descriptions of what constitutes as recycleable both in Chinese and in English, you couldn’t distinguish this office environment from any other that Microsoft offers in Redmond – and then tomorrow I am taking the day off to go do some sightseeing. With my stellar sense of direction (I can get lost in my hometown) I am going to rely on the hotel’s package tour that it offers, so I’ll pen a follow up on that.

In the meantime, I’m going to go swim some laps. Last night was Peking Duck.

Little Blessings

I am in a hotel room that is, charitably, 200 square feet. I am in heaven. There is a dishwasher here.

There is a sink!

After four weeks of cooking in my garage, and washing dishes in my tub, the two spaced fifty feet apart, I am in heaven. The loud, mechanical hum of so much soap and water provides a nice soporific as the boychild showers in the only bathroom and the male person is off to gather cookies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Larkspur Hotel Bellevue, where our cat can hide under the bed for $10/day and apples are available 24/7. I have just had my first “stove cooking” experience in four weeks and I didn’t waste it: Chicken Cacciatore and Caesar Salad and there are ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Sure, my son and I were on a 2’x2′ table each doing our homework, and there is only one bathroom (I may have mentioned that), but I am far more content now than I have been in weeks previous.

Then again, that *could* be the knowledge that I will soon have real cabinetry and a real sink and a real dishwasher on Friday. It could be the knowledge that ALL of the laundry is done (shower curtains included), folded neatly, and waiting for me in rooms with carefully closed doors against hardwood floor chemicals. Heck, it could be because Halloween is here, and that is my favorite holiday in a year, save Thanksgiving.

Whatever the reason, I am content. I have my fuzzy socks on (courtesy of Ali the Person Who Dragged Me To New York And I Liked It Oh Well), free WiFi, in-room Coffee, and a cookie. The boy is taking a forty-minute-shower (he’s 10) on someone else’s hot water bill, and the cat is blissfully quiet (she did come out … twice… in the last 12 hours). My weekend consisted of homemade biscuits and gravy (thank you for my Bday Kevin and Margles) and I lost two pounds anyways for the week. My back is responding to muscle relaxants.

Too often we are tempted to find the irksome things in our path, or that which annoys us, or the shit that really gets us down (frankly). Perhaps I have drunk the Kool-Aid. But I’m content.

In a World…

Greetings from Florida, where the weather has been 90’s (or slightly less) via humidity or temperature, take your pick. It has been mahvelous, apart from a few work hiccups. (Yes, I check work email; yes, it’s a habit; no, I don’t intend to stop).

Highlights from the last 3 days include staying at the in-law’s fabulous new home, with 3 steal-worthy kitties and an enviable pool. Also, we saw our first palmetto bug (dead) and discovered that there is decent pizza in Florida. A comfortable bed, good company, and great hospitality sure kick-off a vacation properly.

No, I didn’t steal the cat (his name was Barney). But I wanted to.

But! Off we headed, in our Alamo Rental Car (WARNING: super ranty blog post coming on that soon, but right now I’m in talks with their twitter customer service people), down to Orlando. And found ourselves at the Art of Animation Studios.

It’s nothing short of perfect. We have a room separate from the boychild, so he has his own bathroom and his own TV. We are on the top floor. We are in the Finding Nemo themed room, on the building with Sharks on it, on the level with a ginormous shark mural. The poolside food includes sushi. The WiFi is free. The front desk clerk told me to have a Magical Day and SketchYa Later, which from a theme park about animation was so precious and yet cheesy and yet I had a huge grin on my face as I departed check-in. (The only time that has happened before was on late-night work trips when I realized the ordeal was over and I was about to get to sleep).

Instead, we headed down to the pool. Two hours of Mommy reading the Economist and working on the obligatory burn (YES I USED SUNSCREEN MY SKIN DOES THAT OKAY?) and the boys swimming, and we’re back to the room showering and changing for dinner. Our towels were folded on the beds in Mickey Ears and Fish (with the whole Nemo theme). The toiletries are about level 4, with differentiated soaps.  I’m not sure I want to check out.

Tonight we are off to Downtown Disney, where we are to see the Percy Jackson movie (2nd one) in a dining-theater, I’m not sure which of the three of us is more excited, to be frank. The boy just read through all 5 original novels (and three of the sequels) right before summer started, we have seen the first movie, but the trailers for the 2nd look really good and the prospect of “dinner and a movie”, without having to hassle driving or timing (they serve dinner… at the movie), is really comforting.

Especially for someone who has spent 450 words, up to the beginning of this sentence, enjoying things and augmenting that enjoyment by sharing over the internet. Because in less than five hours, I’m going offline. Completely. Internetless, textless, foursquare-less, email-less, twitter-less, Facebook-less until Saturday morning local time. It will be a first in many years. My son looked at me agog as I patiently explained that our wallets, AND our cell phones, were going in the safe. It’s like I told him Aliens would land tomorrow. That said, he too is looking forward to the challenge.

For those of you who know my penchant for the Pirate League, and getting made up into a Pirate Princess (SPECIAL shout out to ExpediaManny), I WILL be doing that and taking pictures — but we scheduled for Saturday, so I could live-tweet it. I know you’re stoked, as I am.

Vacation: it means different things to different people, and mine is going to 11.

Great Wolf Lodge

I spent a night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, WA.

Now, before I left, I had done much reading of reviews and perusal of their site. I knew, much like going to Disneyland, I was to hand over my wallet at the door and let them tell me how much I should be left with.

I had a fantastic time.

Great Wolf Lodge is a place for kids: an oversized, indoor water park with a hotel and multiple eateries and shops attached. The catch is that you must stay the night in the hotel, you can’t go into the water park without a room for the night. I went, not as the typical nuclear family (2 adults, 1.7 kids), but as the typical single mom: 1 adult, 1 kid. This is important to note as it impacts how you operate within a water park (for example — you stake out your table and need to go to the lockers to retrieve something?  You’re both going — there is no other parent to hold on to things.)

At a nominal average price of about $180-$200 for a night, depending on seasonality, you get:

1. Wristbands to let you in to the park. The adults get RFID wristbands that allow you to do things like open the room or charge things to your room. Ergo, your wallet stays in the room and you are not tethered to it.

2. Access to a large water park from 1pm to 9pm on day of check-in, and from 9am to 9pm on day of check out

3. Access to an arcade. (Games cost the same as everywhere else).

4. A relatively nice, standard hotel room.

For $40 more, you get a wand and an interactive game that will take you the whole day, even if you rush at it. It involves climbing a lot of stairs and running around, and I enjoyed it as much as the small child.

Taken together, your total outgo minus food is about $230 for one kid and one mom. GWL has a reputation for being hideously expensive but, I will note that same room would run you about $120 or so elsewhere. The remaining $110 then is to cover the magic game and the water park and the convenience of your RFID tag. (That convenience goes both ways — proffering your wrist to pay for something removes you from the emotional attachment you may have for your cash).

With the magic game prepriced at about $40 (there’s the cost of the wand and the cost of the game itself), you’re left with $70 for two day’s access to a water park for two people. And here’s where the “it’s overpriced” argument fails: 4 water slides, a wave pool, an activity pool, a kids pool, and an indoor-outdoor pool and sunning area, unlimited clean towels, thorough and plenty lifeguards are yours for 2 days for $35pp. That is on par with local water parks — even those without as many slides.

YES, you will pay $10/day for locker rental (you check out at 11am, so if you have things like car keys or cell phones or wallets, and you don’t have a spousal unit out of the water at all times, you’ll need a locker). YES, the food is relatively overpriced (relatively = overpriced for “normal places to eat”. Not overpriced in the context of amusement park food, theater food, etc.) and it isn’t really all that good: but your admission comes with in and out privileges, and there are plenty of local restaurants (La Tarasca, Dicks Northwest Brewhouse) to go to. There is a Starbucks inside the building and it’s priced normally, too.

More to the point, there isn’t a single place in the edifice where you are not responsible for your own child (I regard this as something worthy of kudos). If your child is in the water park, so must you be. There is no day care, kids club, babysitting service, etc. If you want to go play in the spa or the bar, better have your spousal unit watching the kids and trade-off with you — because you, parent, do not get to abscond your responsibility. This, to me, was great. Also, the entrance to each water slide is monitored, and they ask you EVERY TIME, regardless of if they remember you (and they did remember us after 5 or 6 goes) if we met the height and weight requirements. (I’m not 700 pounds yet– that’s another post).

Now, there was one down side to GWL: I blew out my knee going on the Howling Tornado. It’s six flights of stairs to the two largest water slides, and we went on them multiple times. We were both eight years old this weekend — we’d ride down the slide, tumble out of the inner tube, scream “AGAIN!”, run up the stairs, wait in a very small line, and ride down again. After a day and a half of this, my knee has started making audible cracking sounds, and it is rather swollen; I’m going back to Mme. le Docteur next Monday. At least I will have a really fun story as to why it is doing that. I expect I’ll get a bunch of physical therapy, some more exercises, more taping to do, maybe another injection.

Just in time for my next GWL visit! AGAIN!

Frankly France

My boss is French. My skip-level is French. And I think I’m becoming a closet francophile, but NOT because of them. We had an offsite.

In Lyon, France.

For those not in the know — which, until about a week ago, included yours truly — Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. I was there for 4 days and gained approximately 1 pound per day, and so we can all acknowledge that this was due to the fantastic food. I ate everything and then some, and in a country where bread is served at every meal (and contains only the classic ingredients — none of this corn syrup business or dough conditioners, thank you very much), this was no small feat. Oh, and the wine.

The Wine!

As I stated, my bosses (plural) are french. And so when it came time for wine to be decided, the menu was handed to them, and after a studied reflection of the menu and nonverbal cues between them, they’d summon the wait staff and give them the cursory order. In French. In other words, I couldn’t understand a bit, and so I can’t repeat what they ordered, but everything tasted wonderful. (In the states I eschewed French wines as “dusty” — not a speck of it in France. Not sure what is up with that!)

I see I’m babbling. Let me go at it chronologically:

After a day of travelling — Seattle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, CDG to Lyon via train — I checked into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, which has unparalleled views in Lyon and quite the nice breakfast!). It was 10pm at this time, and the short walk from the train station allowed me to see the perfect pinks and oranges of the sun as it set. Bracing myself for “French disdain of the American”, I asked the concierge downstairs for restaurant recommendations.

I was presented in a charming and friendly manner with a map, highlighted directions, and two options: did Madame want something “safe”, or did Madame want something traditionally Lyonnaise? Madam indicated Lyonnaise, because I am not about to let a little jet lag in the way of Madame’s sense of adventure. A right from the hotel, and then the next right, and then a left, down two blocks: I found myself at a not-very-distinguishable bistro on a cobblestoned lane.

I was one of 3 tables at that time: a french couple having a romantic dinner, a set of Americans doing their best to keep all sorts of boisterous clichés in place, and then, well, me. The waiter switched to nearly-flawless English (and not in a disdaining way) when he discovered my French was non. He did want to make sure I understood what I was ordering as I was picking it out of a French menu but fortunately French is a Latin-based language and I can understand it just fine, I can’t speak it. Anyway, chicken with mushrooms and a side of ratatouille, and an okay bordeaux was dinner. It was beautiful (hey Kevin — the ratatouille was WAY better than that one we did, so we may need to revisit that at one of the HP get togethers), and then there was dessert.

Oh yes I did. I’m sorry, but my weight loss programme does not extend beyond the borders of the US, and so tarte tatin it was, and it was AMAZING. That, and coffee in a little demitasse cup.

Sated, I went back to my room… and woke up promptly at 5am. With the local gym not open until 8am, and no power converter (the three that I had brought with me did not work, and the person in charge of adapters at the hotel was not in until 9), I went for a run. Lyon is an excellent place to run — the walkways are wide, it’s mostly flat, and you cannot help but look at amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, and it’s cool in the morning even on a summer day. I only did about 4km — the knee is messed up again (that is another post for another time). However, it helped me feel better about the caloric intake of the night before.

I will say nothing of the meetings in Lyon that I was there for because they are proprietary to my company, with the exception that they were incredibly productive and useful. I was surprised because usually these sorts of things are endless power point decks and stifled yawns, but by day 3 we were still active and passionate about what we were doing, and had come to a better understanding of how each wheel works in this little clock of ours. I came home with 7 pages of notes.

At any rate, each day had breakfast in the hotel — oh, the cheese! — and a prearranged luncheon. Dinners were out on the town with the bosses, and that was where the careful wine menu scrutiny/ordering took place. Dinner conversation was equally as pleasantly a surprise as the meetings themselves: our party included two from Hong Kong, one from Amsterdam, two from London, the aforementioned two French, a few Americans, an Italian Australian, an Italian Italian, a Swede, and three from India (originally). I discovered many things, including that restaurant service and gratuity expectation/practice varies widely globally, that personal space in social situations does as well, and that the US is sorely behind in languages for its children. Case in point: my colleague from Amsterdam had mandatory Dutch and English until she was 10. Then French was added in. Two years later, so was German. She took Latin and Greek for fun.

(If you’re counting that as six languages, let’s take note that she knew a handful of words in other languages including Spanish and Italian).

At any rate: Lyon was pretty, with a variety of architectural styles but mostly consisting of the beige stucco/stonework and reddish-tan roofing, most buildings not exceeding 4 or 5 stories. We visited the local cathedrals (the two biggies, anyway), if I can get them off of my iPhone I will post pictures.

In short: Lyon is a 2-hour train from Paris and worth it.

As to Paris: I spent half of one day there (by the time I got the train and metro sorted out). In that half of a day I saw the Arc de Triomphe (larger than expected, and there were people at the top, which I hadn’t realized was possible), walked down the Champs-Elysees (endless shopping possibilities, but I’m not a shopper and people were thick — in both senses of the word), walked around the Louvre (not in it, I’m afraid, time being what it was), and down to Notre Dame (did walk in, it is GORGEOUS).  If you’ve ever seen the TV Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, you will learn how they figured out how to make the heavy stone archways (and not have them pulled down by gravity and killing people, for example) or the architectural purpose of flying buttresses; and this makes the Notre Dame all the more impressive. That, and the realization that all of that lovely colored glass was done without chemicals — or not the way we think of them. For example, did you know that in order to get RED glass you need gold?

I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, as I dawdled (dawdled??) in my walking — the architecture in Paris is AMAZING. You can tell the difference in building ages just by their accoutrements — who has gargoyles, who has scrollwork, what kind of columns were in fashion. Some buildings are relatively new — say, mid-1900’s– and about twenty feet wide, having been risen between two older buildings that formerly may have had garden space between the two. Cobblestone streets abound, and the smell of everything is in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it, but I’m in love, I truly am.

My only dinner in Paris I had close to my hotel (Hotel Ampere, 17th arrondissement, absolutely beautiful in and out) and was a fixed-price with some choices. I sat outside, so as to watch the people walking by — I love people watching — and had a very leisurely dinner. The service was very friendly and attentive, I had to ask the people to my left — four older French people, two older couples — if tipping was okay or would elicit offense. I had to do this in Spanish as it was the only common language we had, their English being only fractionally better than my French. (I am not dissing them at all — at least they spoke another language! Never mind two. America, we need to catch up!) After some discussion, they agreed that the service was very good, and that leaving service (propina in spanish) was okay — in this instance. Of course she would not be offended, I just needed to realize this was only done when it was *really good*, not as a matter of course.

Morning came on my last day, with enough time for a quick breakfast and then 4 Metro lines (kinda like our subway system) to the RER train, back to my flight. In all, travel on my last day took 22 hours. I was very happy to see my bed.

I will be seeing France again though. I politely informed the male person this morning we are going back and spending some real-time there. He took it rather well.

Travelling, Light

[editor’s note: this was actually written nearly 6 days ago. I’ve been in France, and will wait until tomorrow — on my FOREVER flight schedule — to update on the sheer awesomeness that is France. No seriously: France is awesome. So awesome that I can’t be bothered to blog, tweet, check-in, etc. ]

This is actually a two-fer, because I find myself on a British Airways flight with no Wifi (this is acceptable. On a transatlantic flight I can appreciate the engineering feat that wireless internet would represent. On a 2-hour flight to San Francisco, there’s no excuse.)

I recently had the pleasure of going to Dallas. That’s right. I said “pleasure”, and I totally mean it. I went to Dallas in late June/early July, for work, and you’d think that this would be a Fate Worse Than Death, or at least a Fate Worse Than A Really Good Beating, but no, I actually enjoyed it.

I’ll wait until you retrieve your jaw from the floor.

Dallas was roughly 100 degrees and humid each day, but it was warm… and sunny… and the people were IMPOSSIBLY friendly. Example: the hotel I stayed at — to be reviewed — had complementary passes to Gold’s Gym. At Gold’s Gym I ran across a lady who was probably 3 years my senior and 30 pounds lighter, with flame-red hair down to her knees. It was gathered up in a braid but still, it was gorgeous. I couldn’t help but comment — I’m like that — and instead of the typical “Seattle Freeze” (e.g., “hey thanks!”, and then promptly go away) she chatted me up. Wanted to know where I was from, did I usually come in the morning because she didn’t remember seeing me. Dallas was like that all over — exceptionally friendly, down to the Subway guy who gave me the 2nd chocolate chip cookie because really, that’s how the meal is supposed to be. Or something.

This is not like when the Lesbian Lawyer from New York chatted me up. I was flattered, she had great shoes. That was a fun dinner.

At any rate, I stayed at the Hotel ZaZa.

If you are going to Dallas– and really, I don’t care why you are going — stay at the Hotel ZaZa. Oh! Where to begin.


The room was only slightly smaller than half of my house. The bathroom had a separate tub and shower, and the tub would fit two strangers or three very well acquainted people. The toiletries were “racing fuel” — separate shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath gel — in those cool wide-open mouth containers that some of us (Hi!) use (re-use) for gym toiletries. The bed was exceedingly comfortable, it’s a shame I only slept five hours a night. I never tried the TV or the room service (hey, that’s a first!) but the restaurant attached (Dragonfly) had wonderful food and a great wine list (Malbec, represent!). The hallways are littered with funky Vogue and W magazine photo ops, all framed and they help you find your way by day two. The butler’s pantry (on the way to the elevators) is stocked with all manner of breakfast beverage to kick start your day, complete with to-go cups. The hotel staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating — I parked in the wrong place and couldn’t figure out the internet at 2am — and they were there to help.

Am I going back to Dallas? Oh, I hope so. And when I do, I’m staying at ZaZa, even if I have to pay for it myself!

Fast forward one hectic, crazy week. I spent 4th of July at my mom’s… where I ate everything, naturally … and then home to 4 days of back-to-back meetings (excellent, productive meetings — normally I eschew them but these were actually *productive*), and then 1.5 days of errands, laundry, and family fun before here I am on a British Airways flight.

My first British Airways flight.

So far they’re a decent 2nd to Air France (sorry, mate). Granted, I’m only 36 minutes in, but damn! The service is good, the flight attendants are incredibly patient, and I am overstocked with 2 blankets, 2 headsets, and 1 pillow. I’m in a 3-stack to the starboard side with no one in the middle, which is excellent. My seatmate and I established rules of engagement — she’s an American lit student from England (wait, what??) wearing a UW Rosebowl 1993 sweatshirt. I asked her, “Oh, were you there?” and she said, “No, I was at UW, but I had to buy something, I was at the student store… did you go to UW?” to which I had to say “Yes… and I was there…”. Sigh, I have aged myself.

At any rate, I’m watching “Paul” with Simon Pegg, drinking red wine from a screw-cap bottle (tempranillo garnacha, so it’s good, actually!), and enjoying a very comfortable seat. The flight seems consisted of 75% expats going home (like my seatmate) and I’m relishing the variety of accents.

Before I got on the flight, I spent a harried 20 minutes downloading data and emails from my local machine — so alas now, I must actually use said data. I leave off, going back to watching “Paul”, and playing with numbers.

Some work perks defy easy naming, but are beyond words in other ways.

The Venetian

When travelling for work, you expect different things out of your hotel from what you would expect on a leisure trip. For example:  I want my work hotel to have high-speed, wifi internet. I want it to have an iron, and  aboard, without calling someone. I want it to have basic toiletries, I want it to have space to spread out. I want it to have wake up calls, a tv in the room, and access to coffee.

In a leisure room, I want luxury toiletries. I want an amazing view. I want the TV to have multiple channels, I want lots of extra pillows. I want an extra towel or two. I wouldn’t mind a sofa or sitting area.

Hello, Venetian: you have all of the above. Let’s start with the most awesome and relevant to the Bobbie: toiletries.

There are the basics: shampoo, conditioner, body lotion. Then there’s body wash. Oh and then there’s the amenities, which include Q-tips, a nail file, a cuticle pusher, and not only a shower cap but a SCRUNCHY to go with it.

A scrunchy. In a hotel. Wrapped in plastic. Like, “this is your scrunchy, you can use it, and if you don’t it remains in plastic, and don’t worry we have 80billion more in plastic just waiting”.

Then, there is the view: I can see the entire north end of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Hilton, over the Wynn’s golf course, and up on to the mountains.

Then, there are the five (5) pillows that come on my bed. The sofa and separate sitting area. The three (3) flatscreen TV’s. There are the incredibly friendly and helpful hotel staff, there is the assiduous security, there is the overeager climate system (warning: if you want snow in your room, you can very nearly create it with  the air conditioning. If you want a sauna, you can do that too).

I really love this hotel.

I’m here in Vegas on work. This means each morning I get up no later than 7 — often earlier, if I want to work out in their gym*, which is just slightly smaller than my expensive fancy gym back home and just as well stocked — and I’m in their meeting rooms until 5 or 6. Then I’m eating in their restaurants, decompressing in their bars, and back to my room to sleep. The entire experience is one where the only thing that is taxed is my liver and my working brain. This is good.

But every thing reaches a point of excess where it’s just too much, and you want to go home: I’m not there with the Venetian. I’m kinda there with Vegas. As I haven’t spent much time outside of my hotel, this makes zero sense, I know. But after work and work and work, and party and party and party, I’m just a little vegas’d out. I should’ve ridden the bull at Gilly’s last night.

*Gym: comprehensive weight room. Several cardio bikes, several treadmills, several stair-steppers. Full set of cardio weightlifting machines. Yoga/Pilates room. Spin class. Spa.

… in the City

No, no sex. Sorry. This is the public blog.

I write from a Starbucks on the corner of West 63rd and Broadway, next to my hotel. Having stayed up to a dubious hour (1am anyone?) I am in need of the caffeine injection that is being served up, ironically, by a cup of decaf.

The city (or this tiny pocket of it, which is all I’ve seen of NY but for my cab ride between JFK and here — NY cabs always make me nauseous, I don’t know why) is much less odiferous then when I was last here. The combination of a rainstorm and mid-60’s weather makes it nearly clean, and I can see why some would choose to live here. Me, there’s no way: the sheer volume of people can be oppressive.

In true efficient business trip fashion, I’m here for slightly under 48 hours and expect to fly out in my cramped little Delta seat tonight. My only cultural brush was the view of the NY Philharmonic just outside of my window, which was nice. That, and catching Clash of the Titans the night before last while jetlagged.

Yes, business travel is soooo glamorous.

That said, on to the hotel review: The Empire Hotel, which is two doors down from my Starbucks at present. It’s a beautiful hotel, tastefully appointed, with a fitness room (recumbent bike only), meeting rooms, a restaurant (we didn’t eat there last night, opting for a Mexican restaurant with half-naked divers of GiJoe Action Figure size positioned side by side on a tile waterfall), and a lounge. We made good use of the lounge last night.

The individual rooms were purported to be small by NYC standards according to the reviews I had read, but I really didn’t find them so. (Rooms at the Paramount are small). The beds are very comfortable, I wish I had been able to enjoy them more but jetlag left me but six hours each night to actually sleep. Toiletries are Supreme Unleaded, with L’Occitane making them and you indeed smell like Froot Loops when you’re done bathing. This is not a bad thing in the city.

The “Dolphin”

Ok, little known fact: I have a BS (Bachelor of Science, not Bull Sh!t) Degree in Zoology. As such, it took me about 45 minutes of concentrated staring to discover why the “Dolphins” of the Walt Disney World “Dolphin” Resort threw me for a loop. It wasn’t that they were cartoon stylized. It wasn’t the scales (ok, that was part of it). It was the complete lack of a dorsal fin.  After deciding this was the only thing wrong with this resort, I laid back and enjoyed myself.

Look, you can go to Expedia or even the WDW site to find out how lovely this place is, you can see pictures, etc. I’ll offer you the things that aren’t spelled out:

1. The all important toiletry rating: “plus”… it has separate Shampoo, Conditioner, Lotion; all good stuff. No funky smells, nice and gender neutral. Also, flip-top caps. And they replenish daily.

2. Everyone is friendly. EVERYONE. Maids, pool lifeguards, the guy who advises you on sunscreen, waitstaff, busboys, gardeners, etc. EVERYONE. It’s kind of bizarre, and kind of cool.

3. The busses are worth it when going to the parks, but understand that they come as they come — so it may take up to 15 minutes for one to show for the destination you want. They do go all over the place– in the park. If you want to go outside of the park, I’ll write about that later.

4. The Grotto Pool — best seats are under the waterfall (especially if you, you know, burned yourself to a crisp on day one) or across from the waterfall. The Cabana Restaurant will happily serve you drinks and food at the bar, but will not deliver. You can charge that to the room, along with floatie rentals, sunscreen (yep, it is $17, so you may want to check a bag to pack that), kids goggles, etc. Towels are complementary and thick. They have a water slide to go with the waterfall, and it’s fun — this big kid already did it. Twice.

5. If your typical breakfast is Starbucks, head to the Java Bar at the Swan (it’s a nice walkway to the hotel across — about a block). If you want sit-down, head to the Garden restaurant in the Swan, they have character breakfast on the weekend. Note– sweet stuff is almost cloying sweet, so those chocolate chip pancakes? Really love chocolate. Those apple cinnamon crepes? REALLY love apples and cinnamon.

Other stuff: there’s a National/Alamo rental car company in the hotel, and I will point out it’s cheaper to rent a car for a day for when you want to go to, say, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (at Universal) vs. a cab. Same day rentals are available in the lobby.

Next post: “Budget” travel (no, not really).