Category Archives: Travelogue

Final Hotel Ratings in the Enrico Hale “Thomas Mann” Prize

The tallies are in on the first deccenial four city Enrico Hale “Thomas Mann” luxury hotel prize. Contestants included the Milestone, in Kensington, in London; the Hassler, in Rome; the Hotel Adlon, in Berlin; and the George V Four Seasons, in Paris.

Not much of a contest, really, as it turns out: the George V Four Seasons totally runs away with it. The location is absolutely unbeatable, the staff are angelic superhumans, and the accomodations are so comfortable that it has been hard to get the family to leave the suite.

I have to give second place to the Milestone. The staff were lovely, the accomodations top notch, and I think if I had asked them to walk my dog and bring the the poo back to me in a little bag, they would have consented with a smile. Great location. No better concierge service have I ever encountered.

The Adlon is just edged out by the Milestone. This was my first trip to Berlin. For picturesque and iconic you cannot possibly do better than the Adlon. However, I think were I to go again with the kinder, I would try the Hotel Am Zoo, on Kurfürstendamm. The surroundings of the Adlon are like a museum. The Kurfürstendamm is like watching three Italian operas at the same time. The concierge service at the Adlon was also very, very, very good, but the accomodations frankly were just not nearly as comfortable as the other three hotels. You know the so-called upholstery in a Mercedes? There you go, that’s a national trait.

I would not go back to the Hassler. The staff did not really, for the most part, have the skills to hold any kind of intelligent conversation in English. And, over and over again, when Gladys and I finally got across what we wanted to the staff, we got an argument from them. Maybe this too is a national trait, I don’t know, but it is not a good trait in hotel staff trying to cater to Americans.

Also, an issue of little absolute substance, but highly annoying to me: I finally figured out that they were charging me about $15 for a tiny little bottle of Sprite, I think of 20 cl. I of course immediately banned the purchase of Sprite, but this is just totally unnecessary and uncalled for. It made me highly suspicious of the hotel, to look for other small ways they were attempting to rip me off. I don’t need this while on vacation. Of course you expect to pay a huge, vast premium for something like a bottle of soda in any hotel, but why not 100 euros? Or 1,000 euros? In the shops around Piazza di Spagna, a one liter bottle of Sprite sold for one euro. So, they can charge what they like, but I will never ever go back to this hotel.

The location is very good, and the rooms were very nice, very comfortable. The concierge did a very good job for us. I am not sufficiently insane to attempt driving in Rome. The hotel sorted out car and driver for us on several occasions.

I don’t have a witty, snarky prize in mind. I will get back to you on that.

Are Parisians snarling surly rude bastards?

Well, I thought they were. It seems to me that perhaps I was mistaken.

I have essentially no French. But I have tried, really hard, in the first instance of a commercial encounter, to make myself understood in my pidgin French. Bert and I went to see “Juno” last night at little cult cinema in the 14th arrondisement. I marched up to the ticket window and said “Deux par ‘Juno,’ s’il vous plait.” I pointed at Bert and said “Dix et cinq.” The clerk took pity on me and replied in English, telling me how long til the movie started and when we would be permitted to enter. So, even though I am so appallingly ignorant I don’t even know the word for “fifteen,” the clerk did not pretend not to understand me, and he sold me a ticket for Bert at the appropriate reduced price.

The German waiter at the Dachgarten at the Reichstag definitely wins the prize for bastardom on this trip. The reaction of this cinema clerk to my pathetic effort in the glorious mother tongue of the Gauls is not an isolated circumstance. Is this a transformation due to the therapeutic influence of Sarko? Perhaps.

I had already seen “Juno.” Bert hadn’t, and he loved it, as did I. Must get the soundtrack.

Standing astride four matched dolphins

Enrico and the brood are staying at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin. Today Barack Hussein Osama is in town to better accentuate his foreign policy steet cred. He’s giving a speech tonight at the Victory Column in the Tiergarten.

Osama was supposedly going to arrive at the Adlon. The security dudes put barriers across the sidewalk on both sides of the hotel’s front door, a crowd gathered, and tv crews appeared. Several german tv stations were running live feeds of the front of the Adlon.

The breathlessly eager anticipation of the crowd was like an electric charge in the air.

We went down to have lunch on the sidewalk terrace, and we got to talking about how Osama should most dramatically make his appearance. I said he should obviously screech into a jstop stop in a red ferrari convertible and bound out of the car without even opening the door, give a careless, wistful smile and dash up the steps into the Hotel Adlon.

Ursula said a crack should groan open in the pavement of Unter den Linden and Barack should climb out amongst tongues of fire and sulphurous smoke

It was proposed that a tomb should materialize, a round stone covering the entrance should be rolled away by a lackey, and Obama should appear dressed in flowing white robes.

Or a lighrning bolt should smite the pavement, and when the smoke clears, there stands Obama.

Then we moved into silly territory. A cataract of water comes pouring through the Brandenburg gate, the crest of the flood bearing Obama, standing astride the backs of four matched dolphins, their reins gathered in one mighty fist, the other hand raised in a princely acknowledgement of the adoring crowd.

Sam suggested that Barack should emerge from a large green pipe protruding from the street. Yeah, I know, I didn’t get it either: he’s talking about Obama joining the mario brothers.

In the end, we saw Obama’s motorcade, but we never saw him at the hotel. Later we went along with 200,000 berliners to the middle of the tiergarten to see him speak.

The crowd tittered at his pronounciations of names like Merkel and Wowereit. But the populace obviously had immense good will for obama. I don’t have much doubt about who this crowd would vote for in november.

Osama originally wanted to give this speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the site of Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in 1987. Angela Merkel’s government was uncomfortable with this, feeling that granting this would be disproportionate to what is, after all, a campaign event. I don’t fault Osama for seeking this, but Merkel was right to steer him in a different direction.

We had to leave to catch our sleeper to Paris before the speech was over. Judging from press reports, it was much what you’d expect. The only important aspects of Obama’s foreign tour are the photos of him with world leaders and in front of iconic foreign symbols, preferably surrounded by an adoring crowd. He certainly accomplished these things in Berlin.

I still intend to vote for obama, but still mainly with the hope that I can facilitate the utter crushing of the GOP, in the hope that the party will reform itself in the ashes of electoral devastation.

Bahn bahn bahn autobahn

Enrico, Gladys and the bambini hired a car yesterday and drove up to Lübeck yesterday, a very old Hanseatic port city on the Baltic Sea. We got a Mercedes people mover, a Vigo. A mini van, we’d call it, but it seats nine.

Well, gentle readers, as we all know, there is no speed limit on the autobahn. But I couldn’t get this damn thing to do more than 160 klicks. People were zooming past me in Toyotas and Golfs like I was standing still. I think they must put a governor on it.

We also drove over the Travemünde to go the beach. It was a spectacular day, very warm, sunny, and the bay was choked with sailboats. Some kind of international sailing competition was going on.

Some day I am going to terrorize the autobahn at speeds reaching 240 klicks. Guess it will have to wait for a trip without die kinder.

Good riddance to Spitzer

Enrico and Gladys, etc., are in the old country. A few days ago, we toured London Bridge, and got to go up on the old elevated pedestrian pathways, which used to allow foot traffic on the bridge even when the drawbridge was up. You get a terrific view from there of the City of London, and the dome of St. Paul’s.

You simply cannot miss the fact that the City is liberally festooned with construction cranes. I did not count them, but i cannot believe there are fewer than 20 cranes.

Let’s face it, London has already supplanted New York as the financial capital of the world. There are many forces behind this: the increased rationalization of financial operations in Europe, the rapid industrialization in Asia and its capital needs, the collapse of the dollar, and, not least, the extremely hostile regulatory environment in the United States, headlined by Sarbanes-Oxley and Elliot Spitzer.

There has been an unsustainable, disastrous move to criminalize what was formerly simply bad business practice. Thank god Spitzer has been consigned to the memoir desk of history.

Sarbanes-Oxley needs to be trashed. No one in his right mind would float a company in New York right now. The banking sector so completely revolves around this simple generating event that Sarbanes-Oxley is essentially an open artery in lower Manhattan, gushing blood into the Atlantic.

The windy MS150 anomaly

Many of Enrico’s friends are crazy cyclists. A lot of them ride for Team Amy, in the two day MS150 charity bike tour from Houston to Austin which takes place in April.

The April ride is well scheduled for the occasional cyclist, because, in April, there is a high probability of a fairly stiff southeast wind on the Texas Gulf coast and into the Hill Country, which is often going to be a tail wind on this ride.

This past April, though, there was a 15 mph wind out of the northwest, exactly where one does not want it to be. However, the temperatures during the ride were about 5-10 degrees F lower than is typical for this ride, and the humidity was very low.

One of Enrico’s friends reported that, despite the wind, and despite some recent hamstring injuries, the ride was almost easy. A headscratcher. Normally, if someone told you, a weekend warrior at best, that you’d be riding into a 15 mph headwind, you would count yourself lucky to average 10 mph.

It has been proposed that cool dry air is less dense than warm moist air, and that therefore the 15 mph head wind packed less energy. But, it turns out that moist air is LESS dense than dry air. And certainly, warm air is LESS dense than cool air. So, that theory makes a crash landing and breaks up on impact.

It is an anomaly. It has been proposed that Enrico’s friend is yanking Enrico’s chain about the ride being easy.

I see London, I see France…

Gladys and Enrico are taking all the kinder on a month-long excursion in old Europe: London, Rome, Berlin and Paris. Enrico has never been to Rome or Berlin.

We’re going to see a cricket match while in London, and we’re going to do Stonehenge, the Tower of London, The Reichstag, the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Coliseum. I think we’re going to Wimbledon!

Luckily for France, Enrico lifted his boycott of all things French upon the election of Nikolas Sarkozy.

Enrico hates being herded around while on vacation, and he has a very low tolerance for museums. He wants to acclimate a bit, as much you can anyway in a week, and he wants to take in the culture in a relaxed manner. He suspects that too much activity has already been laid out, but if a reader wants to propose an activity in one of these four cities, Enrico has an open mind.

Biking in the Netherlands

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My oldest son, Bert, is on a week-long school exchange trip to the Netherlands.  I came along, because Gladys wasn’t too keen on sending him to stay for so long with total strangers.  She was wise.  The strangers are very nice people, but it was the right thing to come, not least because, in a month or so, several Dutch students will come back to stay with us and other families.  I assured Bert I would stay out of his way.

Today I borrowed a bike from my hosts and set out to ride about twenty miles.  Rachael gave me a map and suggested I ride along the River Rotter, the eponymonous waterway of Rotterdam.

There was a motorway I had to traverse to get to the Rotter, but after only a few false turns I found the path along the river’s edge.

The Netherlands are a biker’s paradise.  Everywhere you go, there are excellent separate well maintained well marked bike paths. Everyone rides bikes all the time. Use of bikes is a necessity. Gasoline is so expensive, and the cities are so crowded and so ill suited to cars, and to say the parking situation for cars is dire is a vast understatement. The parking situation even for bikes in Amsterdam is dire.

The Rotter looks a placid narrow little stream north of Rotterdam, hardly even qualifying as a major bayou were it found in Louisiana, though in and near Rotterdam it is very wide.  At the time of my visit it seemed high to me, close in places to the top of its leveed banks.  I wonder at this, as homes crowd its edges.

As for the biking, Holland is as flat as a pancake, and there was no wind, and it was about 45 degrees. Who could ask for more?

I happened to pass on my way the tallest mountain in the Netherlands, alas manmade, an artificial ski slope, which you can see in the pictures above (double click the thumbnails above for a better view).

Bikes share their sovereignty with motor scooters, relatives of the vespa.  I am going to ask my hosts whether one must be licensed to ride these, and if not, tomorrow I shall be terrorizing the trails on one of these