What Makes A Top 100 Hotel? (Business Traveler Edition)

The readers of Travel + Leisure magazine  have rated their top hotels, and the magazine has produced a “top 100” list from the results.  The hotels feature a lot of beautiful views, enormous rooms and posh furnishings, and extremely expensive prices.

mint_pillowThat’s all well and good, but it’s pretty much irrelevant to the travel that most of us experience.  We’re business travelers, and except for rare occasions we don’t stay at places by lakes — unless you count those artificial ponds with the spraying fountain in the middle — or any staggering natural beauty.  We’re in downtown areas for the most part, on a block of a city grid that looks pretty much like the next block over.  So, the Travel + Leisure ratings might be interesting, but they don’t have much application to our daily business travel lives.

So, what do business travelers care about?  Speaking for myself, I’d say the baseline needs are a place that is quiet and clean.  Quiet, so I can try to get a good night’s sleep after after a busy travel and work day, and clean, so that I don’t notice dust bunnies under the bed or something left by the person who stayed in the room last night, and I can at least maintain the pretense that I’m not staying in a room that is probably used by hundreds of total strangers every year.  After those basics, I’m looking for a room that has the right functional furniture — a desk is a must — a comfortable bed that isn’t covered in accent pillows that need to be thrown on the floor and that might trip me when I go to the bathroom, and an easy-to-use coffee maker that can make at least two cups of decent regular coffee.  If you then throw in a shower with lots of hot water and decent water pressure, you’ve got a top 100 business hotel in my book.

No need for a mint on the pillow, or turn-down service, or a huge room.  Just make sure I’m not awakened in the middle of the night by a party down the hallway, and I’ll come back.

Magnificent Obsession

Imagine working on one thing for 35 years.

That’s how long it took Italo Gismondi to build a painstakingly realistic model of ancient Rome.  Commissioned by Mussolini to build the model in 1933, Gismondi used a number of ancient maps to create the model and kept adding to it for 35 years.  His finished product is considered to be scrupulously accurate and detailed — so much so that historians apparently use it to give them a better sense of the city as a whole.

5840455090_60b96c9dd9_oThe model reveals a Rome that was beautiful and sprawling, with a glimpse of what an amazing place it must have been when the Colosseum, the Forum, and the other buildings were intact and in use and buildings and people were packed together.  Those of us who have been lucky enough to visit Rome have seen these once-glorious buildings only in ruins and in isolation, without their neighboring buildings to give a complete picture of ancient Rome in full flower.  It must have been a bustling, extraordinary place.

Gismondi’s model depicts Rome as it was in the fourth century AD.  That time period shows Rome, the city, at its height, but was also a time when the Roman Empire was in decline.  Only 100 years later, in 476 AD, the last Roman emperor was toppled by barbarian invaders and the Dark Ages descended in the west.

The Gismondi model is on display at the Museum of Roman Civilization, in Rome.  I didn’t visit that museum on our trip to Italy years ago, but I hope to make it back to Italy one of these days, and when I do that museum will be a must-see stop.

Selfie Psychosis

We are learning more and more about people who have a “selfie” obsession.  We know that people taking selfies are at greater risk of having serious, and even fatal, accidents because they are oblivious to their surroundings while they are taking pictures of themselves on streets or, say, at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  We’ve also seen evidence that people who take selfies are so self-absorbed that they don’t show the decency and sensitivity you typically would expect from a fellow human being.

Woman taking a selfieNow new research is indicating what seems like a pretty obvious conclusion:  people who take selfies are more likely to undergo plastic surgery.  The connection is even stronger if the selfies are taken with filters, or if the posters regularly take down selfie postings that they later conclude aren’t very flattering.  Cosmetic surgeons are reporting that members of the selfie crowd are coming to their offices with selfies where the features have been digitally altered and asked the doctor to change their appearance to match the altered image.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose, that people who take selfies are narcissistic and are interested in changing their appearance to try to reach their own definition of personal perfection.  After all, if you spend your time constantly looking at your own pouting face, you’re bound to notice a few imperfections to be cleaned up.  The selfie-obsessed also tend to compare their selfies with the countless other selfies that appear on social media feeds and find their looks wanting.

As one of the plastic surgeons quoted in the article linked above notes, that’s not healthy behavior.  It’s the kind of behavior that those of us who don’t take selfies, and indeed don’t particularly like to have their photos taken at all, just can’t understand.

But we’ll have to, because the selfie epidemic seems to be getting worse, not better.  Researchers estimate that 650 million selfies are posted every day on social media.  That’s a lot of potential plastic surgery.

The Last Beetle

This week Volkswagen will make its last Beetle.  At a plant in Mexico, the last few newly manufactured vehicles will roll off the assembly line, and one of the most iconic car designs in the history of the automotive industry will end.

c7853e1d42303ca7b0e084c948a284e6The VW Beetle probably has the weirdest back story of any popular car brand, ever.  It was originally conceptualized by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as a people’s car, although mass production never began under the Nazi regime.  Its production began in earnest after World War II, when it helped to lead the post-war economic revitalization of what was then West Germany.  Volkswagen sold huge numbers of its “Type 1” — known to pretty much everyone as “the Beetle” because of its familiar rounded, humped design — and then made serious inroads in America, where the VW Beetle was a cheap, small, efficient, easy to repair and customize alternative to the gigantic gas-guzzlers Detroit was cranking out in those days.

The Beetle — and especially the chronically underpowered VW van — became associated with the hippie movement in the United States, and when I was a kid it wasn’t unusual to see VW cars and vans decorated with peace symbols, bright flowers, and other signs of the tie-dyed set.  It’s no coincidence that 1968, when the hippie culture was at its zenith, was the year the most Beetles were sold in America.  In that year, Americans bought more than 560,000 of the cars.  But Japan and Detroit started to be more competitive in the small car market and their efforts made inroads into Beetle sales, and then Volkswagen started to focus on other designs.  A more high-powered Beetle was introduced that was specifically intended to target retro buyers.  Now, Volkswagen is placing its corporate bets on a newly designed compact, battery-powered car.

With the car now being retired, eight decades after the Nazis first thought of it, are there any other cars currently being sold in America that have an iconic image and design even close to the Beetle?  I can’t think of any.  Peace, love, Beetle!

Schiller Summer Splendor

The Schiller Park gardeners have done a fine job this year, and the flowerbeds around the gates to the park are particularly splendid. The beds are colorful and vibrant and are one of the things that make Schiller such a great ornament for the German Village community.

Now, if we could just get the few thoughtless jerks to stop littering . . . .

Evening Entrepreneurs

If you’re worried about whether there is any entrepreneurial spirit left in America, relax!  Last night we paid a visit to the Moonlight Market on Gay Street in downtown Columbus, and we can faithfully report that the entrepreneurial spirit in Cbus is alive and most definitely kicking.

The Moonlight Market is held once a month on the two blocks of Gay Street between High Street and Fourth.  Vendors set up tents on each side of the street — including on the sidewalk directly in front of the firm — and sell all manner of products, from artwork to baked goods and other foods to used books to plants to clothing to massages.  Unlike some street markets, all of the participants in the Moonlight Market seem to be individuals who are pursuing their passions through their small businesses and trying to make a few bucks in the process.  Without exception, the vendors are friendly, outgoing, and excited about what they are selling, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  You can’t help but pull for these people, and also support them with your wallets.  We bought some colorful artwork and some tasty baked goods from some very appreciative sellers.

Capitalism has its good points and its bad points, and some of the good points were on display last night on Gay Street.  Dozens of people were out in their tents on a very warm Saturday evening hoping to sell their handmade or hand-raised goods — even crocheted scarves and clothing that wasn’t exactly suited to the weather.  They all have stories to tell, like the young woman nicknamed Suga Pie who has a talent for cupcakes and has been working on selling them for eight years.  She’s recently created her own website and is working on her brand.  Her pineapple upside-down cupcakes are delicious, by the way.

Go get ’em, Suga Pie, and the rest of the Moonlight Market crew!  You are what makes our economy tick.  And if you want to see a little small business entrepreneurialism in the flesh, you can catch the next Moonlight Market on August 10.

Why Opposable Thumbs Exist

Why do opposable thumbs exist in humans and other primates?  Scientists generally agree that the appearance of the opposable thumb was a key evolutionary point in the development of our species.  It is what allowed primates to grip and climb and move into the trees, away from the realm of large predators looking for a meal.  Opposable thumbs also proved to be pretty handy from a toolmaking and tool using perspective, whether the tool was a stick to be manipulated or a rudimentary axe.

All of this is true,  Curiously, however, scientists haven’t fully explored whether the opposable thumb was developed in anticipation that modern humans who are too cheap to buy a nozzle for their garden hose might need the thumb to water their yard and plants on a beastly hot summer day.  Sure, the opposable thumb might not have been evolved specifically for watering and hose wielding, but it sure works well for that purpose — whether you want to generate a gentle sprinkle or a high velocity jet to reach the side of the yard beyond the length of the hose.

How do we know for sure that our distant ancestors weren’t big on watering?

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXVIII

How many good barbecue joints should a downtown area have?  The correct answer is:  you can’t have too many.  I’m pleased to note that Columbus has added another BBQ option with Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse, which joins Pecan Penny’s and Smoked on High in the downtown/near downtown area.

Yesterday the Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative, and New Granddad and I legged it over to BC&S to check it out.  It’s located a few blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse and is an easy walk from Gay Street, even on a hot summer’s day.  In fact, some might argue that walking to a barbecue place is a good idea under any conditions, to help the hungry patron build up even more of an appetite.

Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse has a compelling menu and poses a tough initial choice for the arriving diner:  chili, or barbecue?  Once I decided barbecue was the way to go, I zeroed in on the mac and cheese with brisket option.  The UG and I both got it, and it was an inspired choice on our part.  The brisket was tender and juicy, the mac ‘n cheese was creamy and had just the right cheddary bite to it, and we added a little smoky barbecue sauce to complete the flavor sensation.  The result was absolutely delicious, and the UG and I also remarked that the portion size was just perfect — substantial enough to be filling, but not the kind of overwhelming amount of food that you find at some places.  We both could be members of the Clean Plate Club without feeling like we’d made pigs of ourselves — although of course pigs would fit right in at a barbecue place.

The New Grandad went for a pulled pork sandwich with onion rings, which he polished off with alacrity, and the BRC tried a pork slider special with mac ‘n cheese as the side and gobbled down his food as well.  The service was splendid, the manager checked in on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal, and as we left he came out after us and gave us all a 10 percent-off card we can use on our next visit.  And there will be a next visit, for sure.  We need to make sure that the Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse is properly welcomed to downtown Columbus, and there is chili that remains to be tried.

Hand-Rolled

I like to support locally owned and established businesses whenever possible.  I also like to savor a good cigar now and then.  So when I was walking down Gay Street toward High Street the other night and passed the Don Rey Cigar Shop at 11 East Gay, I had to turn in and check it out.

As its name suggests, Don Rey offers premium cigars and tobacco products.  It is a relatively recent addition to the Coolest Street in Downtown Columbus, and I’d not visited before.  The shop has a nice, open space with a seating area and an extensive selection of cigars lining the walls.  I met the proprietor, a very friendly and extremely enthusiastic cigar aficionado who made some knowledgeable suggestions for me.  He also disclosed that he hand rolls his own cigars, from a blend of Puerto Rican and Dominican tobacco, right there in the shop and gave me one for free — which seemed pretty darned generous.

I’ve never smoked a cigar that was hand-rolled by a person I’ve actually met before, so I was intrigued to give the cigar a try.  I enjoyed it last night with a glass of wine, and it was excellent.  In fact, I’d say it is one of the best cigars I’ve ever puffed.

If you’re on the Coolest Street in Downtown Columbus and feel like enjoying a cigar, stop by Don Rey and try one of the hand-rolled offerings.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXVII

I freely admit that I’m a sucker for New Orleans cuisine.  So when Dr. Science and the G.V. Jogger suggested that we check out a new joint that specializes in Creole and Cajun cuisine last night, they didn’t need to twist my arm.  Our destination was Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant, located a few miles south of German Village on High Street in the Great Southern Shopping Center.

downloadW.D.Y. easily passes the crucial “menu test” that I automatically apply to any restaurant that serves New Orleans food.  The menu test is as follows:  when I look at the menu, are there so many obvious, mouth-watering traditional choices that it’s impossible to make a selection?  After a few minutes of careful analysis, I was still debating between the Louisiana crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, and fried catfish with mac ‘n cheese and dirty rice.  After Dr. Science gently reminded me that red beans and rice is a core component of any New Orleans restaurant, that’s where I landed.  Dr. Science went for the gumbo, which comes with actual crab claws, and the G.V. Jogger tried the crawfish etouffee.

Way Down Yonder offers red beans and rice in medium and large portions, and I’m glad I decided on the large.  The dish checked all of the crucial red beans and rice boxes — a deep, rich sauce with a good spicy kick to it, plenty of sliced sausage, well-cooked red beans, and just enough white rice to allow for mixing.  It was excellent.  The cornbread it comes with is excellent too — slightly sweet, with a crunchy top, and baked to a perfect consistency, so that it holds together when picked up to be eaten but also is easily crumbled to mix in with the entree.  Way Down Yonder offers an impressive menu of desserts, but I didn’t try any because after polishing off every last part of the red beans and rice and cornbread, I was full to the brim.

“Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant” is a mouthful, but that’s appropriate because so is their food — a flavorful, tasty, mouthful of some of the best regional cuisine the U.S. of A. has to offer.  I expect that we’ll be heading back down south for more.  Having tried the red beans and rice, I feel the fried catfish calling.

Grip Evolution

Here’s another story to add to the slew of news articles about general health trends:  human beings, on average, are getting weaker.  In this case, the indicator is grip strength — that is, how much holding and squeezing force can a person generate with just the fingers of their hand.  Recent studies have indicated that grip strength has declined significantly, even in the last 30 years.

best-hand-gripper-exercisesSo what, you might ask?  You’re less likely to encounter the guys who give you a bone-crushing handshake, and you don’t see people walking around flexing those hand exercisers anymore.  What’s the big deal?  The big deal is this:  grip strength is one of those inverse health indicators lurking in the human body, with lower grip strength associated with increased mortality from all causes and cardiovascular mortality in particular.  And, especially for those of us who are getting up there, grip strength is a key indicator of sarcopenia, the loss of muscle that occurs as we age, and may also indicate issues with cognitive performance.

Why is grip strength declining?  Of course, gripping is a key part of the evolution of homo sapiens — whose distant ancestors needed a strong grip when they were swinging through trees, and whose more recent predecessors used their hands to create and then wield tools and weapons that allowed them to survive predators and gather food.  In short, humans needed that strong grip to make it through the natural selection melee and emerge at the top of the evolutionary pyramid.  But in recent years, the need for hand strength at home or on the job has declined.  White collar workers need hand dexterity as they tap away at computers, not hand strength, and even blue collar workers now use automatic tools that don’t need the kind of personal strength that hand wrenches of the past, for example, required.  Mix those factors in with a general decline in fitness and increase in obesity, and you’ve gone a long way to explaining why human beings increasingly are becoming a bunch of unhealthy softies.

In short, as a species humans may be losing their grip.  It’s not a positive development.

Bug Bites And Sunburns

While we were up in Maine I spent a lot of time outside working in the yard.  As a result, I became a feast for the neighborhood mosquito and biting fly squadrons, and also got a good coating from the sun.

bright-sun-in-blue-skyBy the end of my visit, I was covered in bug bites and was a bit sunburned to boot.  As I debated whether to scratch the hell out of the itchy bug bites (and, of course, ultimately doing so because I just couldn’t help it) and felt the warm tingle from the sunburned areas, I found myself thinking that the combination of sensations felt distantly familiar — and then I realized that I was re-experiencing conditions from my childhood summers.  In those days, Mom would kick us out of the house after breakfast and we would pretty much be outside all day until dinner — and then again after dinner, to play freeze tag or catch lightning bugs until it was full dark.  When you’re outside all day, a good slathering of Off! can only do so much — so my summers inevitably were accompanied by bug bites, mild sunburns, and the colossal itchiness that that combination brings.

When I realized that my condition was recreating a common experience from childhood, I felt a certain wistfulness that it had been so long since I’d felt that unique combination of bug bites and sun.  You don’t fully realize how much of an indoor, office-bound person you’ve become until you spend a good chunk of time outdoors on summer days and then deal with the consequences.  So, even though I’m still working away at a few of the especially itchy spots, I was glad for the bites and the burn and their reminder of the sunny days of yore when spending hours outside was just how the world worked.

Want to feel like a kid again?  Spend a lot of time outside, and the bugs and sunshine will help to remind you.

Idagio

I’m admittedly something of a cheapskate, and my cellphone is pretty much app-free as a result.  I’m willing to pay for music, however, and when my old iPod started to show signs of its age I began looking for a new, reliable source for music to listen to on my walks.

220px-beethovenAfter doing some research, I decided to subscribe to Idagio, a classical music app, and it has been a great choice for me.  I really enjoy classical music, but I feel like my knowledge — of the scope of the works of different composers and of pieces from different genres and periods — is both narrow and shallow.  When your exposure is confined to the stuff you’ve personally added to your iPod, it’s going to be limited by definition.  For the cost of only a few bucks a month, Idagio has fixed that problem.  Now I’ve got access to a sweeping library of works by composers I’ve never really listened to before, and I feel like I’ve been launched on a pleasant voyage of discovery.

I like how Idagio is organized.  The “discover” section of the app highlights new works from artists, new albums, and playlists that have been created for Idagio.  When you go to the “browse” section of the app, you can choose among composers, ensembles, soloists, conductors, instruments, genres, or periods,  If you pick a favorite composer, you can listen to the composer’s “radio,” which is a random selection of pieces by the composer, or you can listen to their work sorted by popularity or pieces that were recently added.  If you like baroque music, as I do, you can focus on that period, listen to an assortment of music, hear composers you’ve not heard before, then do searches of the “composers” library to take a deeper dive into what they’ve created.  If you then hear something that you like, you can download it and create your own library of personal favorites.  The app also organizes music into “moods” — like “gentle,” “happy,” “exciting,” “passionate,” or “angry” — and the Idagio-created playlists include a range of options, from collections designed to increased concentration and focus to composer-specific and period-specific options, like Mozart piano music or “baroque meditation.”

In short, there are lots of different ways to hear the music, which increases the ability to use Idagio as a tool to broaden your exposure to the sprawling world of classical music.  And that’s a big reason why I’m a fan of this app.

Flying Unburdened

Today I’m taking a plane flight without luggage.  I’ll have my faithful black satchel to carry my laptop and a few books, but that’s it.  Today, I’ll have no carry-on bags to stuff into the overhead bins.

hqdefaultIt’s amazing how different a trip without suitcases feels.  Yesterday I didn’t worry about getting checked in precisely 24 hours before my flight is to depart, to make sure that I get an early boarding assignment so I can be sure to have overhead bin space.  I also don’t have to fret about whether my bag would exceed weight allowances, or be too big to fit overhead.  I know from hundreds of trips that my satchel will fit comfortably beneath the seat in front of me.

And when I arrive back home, I’ll be able to grab my little bag and zip off the plane without having to wrangle a suitcase from the bin space and worry about clobbering the little old lady across the aisle.  I won’t have to be part of the scrum of travelers clustering in the jetway to get their gate-checked bags — a process that inevitably leaves me in a foul mood about the grace and patience of my fellow human beings — nor will I have to wonder whether my bag will be the last one to come tumbling out onto the baggage claim carousel.

When you think about it, a lot of the angst in travel is directly attributable to our being weighted down by concerns about the possessions we’re carting around in our luggage.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a luggage-free trip for a change.

 

When The Fog Rolls In

We’re fog-bound this morning. The thick fog crept in like a living thing, blanketing the harbor, oozing up the hillside, and invading every nook and cranny to the point where even our neighbor’s house was rendered distant and indistinct through the foggy wisps.

I like the fog because it’s a tangible reminder that we’re in a seaside community. I also like the cool spritz on the skin that the fog brings. But I can understand why the lobstermen hate it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be out on the water with this grey haze shrouding the normal landmarks, without knowing what rocky outcropping or boat might be lurking nearby. It’s one reason why lobstering is a dangerous, tough business.