Podcast #145 — Restaurant Karma; Hotel Breakfasts

How Much Extra For A Plate?

Just regular domestic business travel since the last podcast, trying to dodge Hurricane Florence to get back to Charlottesville.  Thinking back to last month’s European travels, we talk about a tight connection through Amsterdam and some odd concierge lounge rules, which gets me thinking about hotel breakfasts. And a listener request for restaurant recommendations gets me thinking about the balance of visiting good and not-so-good restaurant towns. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #145:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL after 3 weeks of “normal” travel — no vacation, no international travel, just a couple of trips to Charlottesville, VA on sandwiching a quick shot down to Dallas. And no delays. And empty seats beside me. Indeed, I even scored an upgrade on the late United flight from IAD to ORD, the long leg of one of my flights home from Charlottesville. Feels like we’re at the start of maybe a 6-week travel lull between the final end of summer vacations and the early starts of Thanksgiving travel.
  • There was a bit of drama around the Charlottesville trip in the middle of September. I had to fly out Sunday night — the weekend that Hurricane Florence hit the Carolina coast. The storm track forecast had Florence plowing west through the Carolinas and then taking a right hand turn at the Appalachians and heading north over Virginia. The question for me — when would it make the turn; would my Sunday flight make it through before or after the turn or would Florence be in my way on Sunday? Thursday night and Friday, I spent a bit of time hitting the Refresh button on the Nat’l Hurricane Center’s website. By Friday, Florence had dropped a couple of category levels and slowed down, and by Saturday, I could see that my Sunday flight would beat Florence to Charlottesville. It was a smooth flight that Sunday, though Monday was a bit wet.
  • Going through TSA Pre-Check in ORD that Sunday night, I watched a guy use the electronic boarding pass on his Apple Watch. It looked a bit awkward, and if you think about it, it’s understandable. Boarding pass readers face up; you put your boarding pass or phone face down on them to read. But a watch is on face up on the top of your wrist. So the guy ends up standing on his toes and twisting his arm around to get his Apple Watch face down on the reader. You’d think he would’ve shifted to his phone after that, but I saw him twist himself up again about 30 minutes later when boarding his flight. Seems like it would’ve been easier to spin the watch on his wrist so it was facing down — at least until Apple fires up the old Steve Jobs distortion field to convince airports to reorient all their readers for the convenience of Apple Watch users.
  • Bridge Music — Dub the Uke by Kara Square (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/mindmapthat/53340 Ft: DJ Vadim

Following Up

  • Allan Marko, a long-time listener and even longer-time friend, sent me an article that dove into an interesting part of Apple’s new partnership with Salesforce. The two of them are working with Marriott to put Siri in hotel rooms. You could ask Siri to turn up the heat, order room service, or get an Uber through an Apple HomePod in the room. That’s the Apple piece of it. The Salesforce piece lets Siri remember what you asked her, say your room temperature, at the next Marriott. Useful or creepy? And how do you make sure you wipe Siri’s memory before the next guest checks into the room so you can’t ask her things like “Hey Siri, tell me all about the last guest that was here…” or “Order me the same sandwich the last guy ordered”. I dunno. I don’t even like using these new Enseo TVs to log into my own Netflix account, let alone having Marriott listening to me through a HomePod and remembering everything I mutter. Some guys are making a nice living selling shutters that you can stick over your laptop webcam. Are earplugs for hotel HomePods the next thing?
  • In the last episode, I mentioned flying SAS from Chicago to Copenhagen. It was an odd schedule — leaving Chicago around 10pm, arriving Copenhagen after 1 in the afternoon. Leaving that late and having a long taxi, I fell asleep before we left the ground, and before putting my phone in Airplane mode. I woke up, I dunno, an hour or so later, looked at my phone for the time, and noticed some new e-mails. Huh? That’s weird. And then I noticed that my phone didn’t say “No Service”; it was connected to some cellular service, which turned out to be SAS’s in-flight cellular service. And as opposed to in-flight WiFi which you usually have to log into, my iPhone automatically started roaming on the SAS cellular service, that then continued to check/pull e-mail for a couple of hours until I flipped it to airplane mode. I got my AT&T mobile bill a couple of weeks back and ended up with a $25 roaming charge for those half-dozen meaningless e-mails. A pain, but not too painful. Unlike the guy four years ago who rang up a $1,200 WiFi bill on Singapore Air when he fell asleep with his data still connected.
  • On the third leg of that trip, going from BRU to EDI, our best option was KLM through AMS. I’ve been in and out and through Schiphol a number of times over the past 20-some odd years and have always liked it. Nothing flashy, but it works — not too big, reasonable facilities. Booking this BRU-EDI trip on the KLM website, I had two options — a tight 40-min connection or a 2-hr one. While I don’t mind Schiphol, I wasn’t looking to make an afternoon of it. So I broke one of my cardinal travel rules — never book a connection shorter than an hour — and booked the 40-min connection, knowing that we had a back-up if it didn’t work out. One factor I didn’t completely think through was that we’d have to cross the Schengen border during those 40 minutes too. The first leg — Brussels to Amsterdam — was within Schengen so it was just like an domestic US flight — no passport control, no customs. But in Schiphol, we had switch concourses and go through passport control because the UK is outside of Schengen. We made it through, though, with time to spare because – we walked real fast; like I said before, Schiphol isn’t that big, so switching concourses wasn’t a long walk; but most importantly, my wife spotted the “short connection” line at passport control. We had gotten in the regular line, but then we saw on a display screen that our EDI flight was classified a “short connection”, so we switched to the much shorter line — I earned a “Hey” from a security guard when I ducked under the tape — and quickly passed through what was a well-staffed and brisk passport control line (Munich Airport, you could take some lessons here). We get to the gate with more than enough time — boarding hasn’t been called yet. So while we made the 40-minute connection, the question now was — would the checked luggage make it? As we were queuing to board, I looked out the terminal window. There’s our plane, and there, next to the baggage loader, was Irene’s and Claire’s luggage — stationary, not rolling along like in that YouTube video. A very good sign, but there wasn’t anybody loading luggage. As I walk up to board, I tap one of the KLM guys standing around. Pointing out the window, I say “See those bags on the tarmac? Those are ours. It would be great if they made it onto this plane.” He laughed — him a bit more than me. I was happy to see them appear on the EDI baggage carousel.
  • I’m thinking that I need another carry-on bag; something between my maximum legal size 22-incher and my leather duffel overnighter. On that BRU-EDI trip, I carried my 22-incher on, but not without agents at Brussels and Amsterdam challenging me, even after showing them it fit in their baggage sizer. A few weeks after that trip, KLM added an augmented reality baggage sizer to their iPhone app. You fire up the app, point your iPhone camera at your bag and the app overlays a properly sized rectangle over your bag. If your bag is within the rectangle, you’re good to go. Would’ve been easier — and much cooler — than slamming my bag into those metal sizers, but somehow, with those gate agents, I don’t think the outcome would’ve been any different.
  • OK, one last thing from that trip. The concierge lounges in both the Copenhagen Marriott and the London St Pancras Renaissance had prominent “rules” signs at their entrances, and one of those rules was a ban on “fitness clothes”. Now, this wasn’t a big deal on this trip because I was on vacation, and wasn’t toting work-out gear. My normal program when I’m on business travel is to get up before 6, work out, go straight to the lounge in my “fitness gear” for some breakfast while cooling down, then head back to my room to shower, change, and head out. Having to separate the cool down from breakfast would add 15-20 minutes to what is an already tight morning routine. So I hope that rule doesn’t spread to the US lounges. The rest of the rules seemed pretty reasonable, though one — no wearing a bathrobe in the lounge — seemed a bit superfluous. I’ve never seen someone walk into a concierge lounge in a bathrobe… until in Copenhagen at 3 in the afternoon with it not looking like there was anything on under the robe. So, OK, I’m now completely on-board with the no robe rule.
  • And if you have any travel questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can send in an audio comment; a Twitter message to @mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our new Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Emma by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/50905 Ft: Martijn de Boer

Restaurant Karma

  • Casey Milch sent me a note a few weeks back — “Greetings. Love the podcast. I know you mention frequent trips to Charlottesville and I’m finding myself there every six weeks for work myself now. Any restaurant suggestions?”
  • One of the compensations for getting on an airplane just about every week is that you get to try a lot of restaurants. Now, in the last episode, we talked about the downside of that — rapid waistline expansion — but if you’re thoughtful about it, and you like trying different food (I hate the word “foodie”), business travel has its benefits. I sent Casey a few recommendations — Fitzroy, a meat place — burger, double pork chop, fried chicken — on the Main Street pedestrian mall; Lampo, a small Neapolitan pizza place with a big wood oven that is — I forgot to tell Casey this — a 5-minute walk from Champion Brewing Company’s taproom; and The Alley Light, a speakeasy in an small alcove (a bit too short to be a proper alley) with no sign though there is a light over the door, that took 3 tries to find the first time in the pouring rain, which led to the question “How many consultants does it take to work Google Maps”. Putting the list together for Casey reminded me that we hadn’t been to Alley Light in a while, so we ate there last Tuesday night — found it on the first try this time — and had roasted bone marrow, pork rillette, duck confit — oh, and some carrots. So much for thoughtfulness.
  • Charlottesville punches above its weight for good restaurants, maybe because of University of Virginia. The 2 ½ years I spent in New Orleans was one of definitely one of my food high points, especially when crawfish were in season. 3 months in Portland, OR was fun with the food truck scene, and of course, it is ground-zero for the craft beer explosion. Stays in Manhattan, San Francisco, and London were that much more enjoyable with someone else picking up the dinner tab. Indeed, in San Francisco, I used to stay in different hotels so I could try different neighborhood joints.
  • But karma always seeks balance, and for all these great food locations, there have been other, let’s say, less-than-stunning places. Dover, OH — about 30 miles south of Canton — had, when I was doing a project there — two places to eat — an Arby’s and the lunch counter of the Walmart knock-off. And the Walmart knock-off was the better of the two. Oldsmar, FL was a bit too far outside of Tampa for us to head in for dinner every night, so the near-by Buffalo Wild Wings – B-Dubs – and Applebee’s were our best shots. And downtown Detroit in the early 2000’s, working, eating, and sleeping in the urban fortress that is the Renaissance Center was brutally monotonous.
  • But even when in London and New York, we weren’t splurging on big meals every night. We have reasonable expense budgets that we have to live within. So again, we find balance — one night we’re underspending at a dive (but good) pizza-by-the-slice joint, so that the next night, we eat at nice place. Some guys will extend balancing act to travel — sucking up the inconvenience of a cheaper connecting flight to pay for better meals. One colleague told me — “I’ll happily travel cheap to eat great food”
  • Bridge Music — Astral Travel by Astral (c) copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Astral/44282

Hotel Breakfasts

  • Growing up, those of us of a certain age heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — usually from a cereal commercial. I mentioned a bit early earlier my morning hotel pattern — work out, hit the concierge lounge for breakfast and then get on with my day. Most lounge breakfasts are pretty industrial — chafing dishes of stiff scrambled pasteurized eggs, thin slices of oven-baked bacon, vat of oatmeal, a few cartons of yogurt, and a bowl of fruit. It gets the day started. I may be judging it a bit harshly though. My daughter Claire loves those scrambled eggs. Go a little more upscale and you’ll see maybe a platter of smoked salmon, some sliced meats and cheeses, bran muffins…
  • So when I see something different, it gets my attention. Like roasted green chiles in New Mexico, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, to season those scrambled eggs, or the King Cake at the Canal St Sheraton in New Orleans during Mardi Gras season. Now, it’s not the best king cake I’ve had – and my wife has dragged me through a king cake tasting crawl there, so I speak with some knowledge — but I look forward to it whenever I’m there in the spring. I remember one morning I walked in — no king cake! I found one of the staff — “you guys stop doing king cake?!” “No! I didn’t know we were out.” And they immediately brought out a new one. Crisis averted!
  • It doesn’t even have to be anything big. The Copenhagen Marriott lounge had rhubarb juice. As a kid, my mother made pies from rhubarb growing in our backyard, that I think her mother had planted. So something different and nostalgic all in one. Was it life-changing? Not necessarily, but I’d never seen it before.
  • A little more life-changing was the bowl of bun bo hue that we got for breakfast when staying at a local, non-chain, hotel in Hue in central Vietnam. Kind of a spicier, funkier version of the pho you see in the US, and tougher to find here. Not like any hotel breakfast I’d had, and I immediately switched my breakfast choice over to it or pho for the rest of the trip.
    Back in May, when I was in Pune, we stayed at a Marriott Courtyard, a chain which, as I’ve complained about before in prior episodes, doesn’t have a concierge lounge but they had a nice breakfast buffet with what I guess is a typical two-track system — one side with the usual Western breakfast foods, and the other side with Indian food. The waiter pointed me to the omelette station. I was about ready to order when I noticed another station to my right with what looked like a super-sized crepe griddle. “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh, that’s to make dosas.” “Cool, I have one of those.” “Do you know what a dosa is?” “Nope, but I’ll take one, however it normally comes.” I watched him make this foot-wide diameter stiff crepe, rolled it up and put it, sticking up out of a cup of some sort of stew or curry. I walk back to the table. Everyone else has eggs, bacon, toast, arranged horizontally on their plate. I’m the only one with a vertical breakfast. But I liked that. Kinda flying the flag for something different at breakfast .

Closing

  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #145
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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