In Brief

Costa Mesa, California, USA ~ Avenue of the Arts ~ May 2022

Interesting hotels are not abundant in inland Orange County, and Avenue of the Arts was the closest we could find to something beyond the standard Hilton/Sheraton/Marriott. The hotel, a Tribute Portfolio property, is situated on a small but picturesque man-made lake (a treat in California suburbia), and we enjoyed leaving the sliding glass door ajar to soak in the warm California breeze. The rooms — designed to look a little vintage Hollywood — were playful and functional if not fancy. It was clear the hotel had been updated in terms of furnishings, flooring and decor, but we could see the property’s age in its infrastructure and in areas like the bathrooms, which were still a bit dated (and which had one the most interesting presentations of a shower curtain we have seen). The hotel adjoins the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, an impressive-looking facility, and is easily accessible from John Wayne Airport. If your travels find you in Orange County and you aren’t able to stay near the beach, Avenue of the Arts is likely one of your best choices.

Eagan, Minnesota, USA ~ Omni Viking Lakes Hotel ~ March 2022

(solo stay) A quick overnight with two friends in early March 2022 took one of us to this new hotel in the St. Paul/Minneapolis suburb of Eagan. It was built right next to the also-new Minnesota Vikings (football) practice facility and certainly caters to visitors of that venue. But there was no Vikings action when we were there, and the hotel still had a fair amount of energy. We took advantage of both the restaurant, which is run by a well-known Twin Cities restaurateur, and the second-floor lounge. We thought we might take a walk to explore the area, but the frigid temperatures  — along with the lack of any roads near the hotel that looked even remotely pedestrian friendly — kept us inside. No worries, though; the hotel was perfect for our purposes: spending time together to catch up.

Duluth, Minnesota, USA ~ Pier B Resort ~ February 2022

We desperately needed a little escape from the cold and darkness of a St. Paul February, but  had only one night to spend so, in a winter-induced haze, decided to go north to Duluth where it was only colder and darker. Pier B, one of Duluth’s newest hotels, sits right at the edge of Lake Superior but is off on its own from the other hotels in Canal Park. What that means for half of the rooms on the property is a wonderful view of Duluth’s aerial lift bridge. The view is the highlight of the hotel; the rooms themselves are quite basic and already appeared well-worn. We got the sense that the hotel hosts lots of celebrations — in fact, we were there on a night when most other guests were attendees of a wedding — but didn’t have a grand plan for keeping up with the ever-present demands of room maintenance. Of course, our stay was during a(nother) spike in COVID-19, and both staffing and supplies were hard to come by (as evidenced by our oddly ironed duvet cover and eclectic collection of bath products). Pier B didn’t have any fatal flaws; we just recommend that guests go with realistic expectations.

Lafayette, California, USA ~ Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa ~ January 2022

San Francisco and Napa/Sonoma wine country get most of the attention when it comes to visiting Northern California, but the East Bay is beautiful, particularly in winter when everything is green. And the town of Lafayette is a good launching off spot for many of the area’s attractions. We visited the Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa as part of a work trip but liked the property enough stayed on for a few extra nights. The hotel bills itself as a “French country escape in the East Bay,” and it did feel a bit like that. Our room overlooked a lovely courtyard, and while the room itself, wasn’t luxurious, it was quite comfortable and functional. We particularly liked the big wicker basket in the bathroom for discarding used towels. The hotel’s bar and restaurant is a local gathering spot and — with its gas fire pit — a nice place to sit outside, even in the winter.

Dallas, Texas, USA ~ W Dallas – Victory ~ December 2019

(solo stay) A well-styled — if a little glitzy — hotel in a city that loves to dress up. The purpose-built building that is half hotel and half residence allows for spacious guest rooms and eye-catching design elements such as a two-sided bathroom vanity. And the lobby-level common spaces and rooftop infinity pool are intriguing. Still — based on a two-night stay — the W seems to attract a fair number of guests ready for a party, and party-goers can be hard on a hotel. The luxurious touches didn’t quite hide some noticeable wear and tear.

Eugene, Oregon, USA ~ Graduate Eugene ~ November 2019

(solo stay) If you grew up in the 1970s and have fond memories of hanging out in your friend’s groovy basement, the Graduate Eugene is just right for you. It’s an homage — through and through — to that era and to Track Town USA: Eugene. This two-night stay was tied to an event at the University of Oregon and was the first visit back in almost 20 years. For a town the size of Eugene, it has remarkably few hotel options (although a handful are under construction in anticipation of the World Athletics Championships in 2021). The Graduate seemed like the best option.

Although the style wouldn’t be a first choice for us, the Graduate did pull if off well. The nostalgia was well-executed. And a trip to the Northwest is always welcome.

Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim and Oslo, Norway ~ 2 Scandics and 2 Radissons ~ September 2019

A 10-day visit to Norway (mostly business with a little pleasure) involved seven hotels, four of which were connected to work and to two of the country’s dominant hotel chains: Scandic and Radisson. While the Scandic Ornen in Bergen and Scandic St. Olav’s Plass in Oslo were perfectly fine, we have to give a slight nod to Radisson for this trip — the Radisson Blu Atlantic in Stavanger and the Radison Blu Royal Garden in Trondheim. Rooms in all four hotels were small but functional, and we loved the (mostly) minimalist Scandinavian style. One of us particularly relished the two single-size duvets that covered the queen-size beds in the Scandic rooms. No worries about your bedmate stealing the covers.

If the Scandics had the best bed coverings, the Radissons were better on the amenities  (from hair conditioner to mini bar offerings). Word to the wise: If you’re staying at a Scandic, pack your own toiletries. What Scandics lack in lotions and potions, however, they make up for in pretty wonderful breakfasts. Freshly baked brown bread? Yes. Smoked salmon? Yes. A cornucopia of Norwegian cheeses? Yes. Crepes? Yes. And just about everything else you might want. Breakfast comes standard with Norwegian hotels, and the Radisson breakfasts may have been just as good, but we’ll admit we didn’t wake up early enough to check them out.

Toronto, Canada ~ Sheraton Centre Hotel ~ August 2019

When checking in for a conference stay, the very helpful front-desk worker told us that Toronto’s Sheraton Centre is the second-biggest Sheraton in the world. Yes, it’s big — 1,372 rooms. And the hotel was bustling when we were there with conference goers and others.

We were intrigued by elements in the modernist (verging on brutalist) design: a tropical looking garden complete with a waterfall on the mezzanine level, outdoor walking paths that connect many of the hotel’s spaces with the City Hall plaza across the street, and the concrete — lots of it. We could envision the idea behind the 1972 design even if some of the spaces looked long forgotten.

The guest room was what you find in a typical Sheraton. Fine, but nothing special. We did pay for an upgrade to get a room on the 32nd floor that had fun views of City Hall and its surroundings.

Toronto is a great city, and it surely has far more interesting places to stay, but the Sheraton served the purpose for this trip.

MSP Airport, Minnesota, USA ~ Intercontinental Hotel ~ March 2019

An early morning flight for a holiday in St. Lucia prompted us to book a room the night before departure at the just-opened Intercontinental. We thought being right at the airport would make the 5 am flight a little easier to manage.

Getting to and from the airport: harder than it should be.

That ended up not being the case, but it was fun to check out the hotel nonetheless. Due to yet-to-be-completed access points and a shortage of TSA officers, the only way to get from the airport, where our city bus dropped us off, to the hotel was to wait for the hotel shuttle, which runs just three times an hour. The same was true in the morning. And although we reserved two seats on the shuttle when we checked in, it was over capacity, and both of us had to share the front bucket seat. We were pretty sure this was illegal, but we were grateful the driver was willing to look the other way; otherwise, we would have risked missing our flight, even though we were literally right on the airport property.

March 2022 Update: A second stay. Still no TSA access to the airport, but we did get a tip from a hotel staffer on walking from the hotel to the newly built parking garage where there’s tram access to the airport. A chilly walk at 7 am in March but better than the shuttle!

Putting aside the access issues, the room had some fun features, not least of which was the terrific view of one of the airport’s runways. We spent the first 20 minutes after checking in just watching the planes take off and land, trying to determine the organizational logic. We also appreciated the modern design (of course, the room was brand new, so everything looked fresh), the functional bathroom (although only one robe was supplied) and the Nespresso machine (good coffee helps with a 3 am wake-up). Not wanting to leave the property once we finally made it there, we had dinner at the hotel, and the French brassiere-style fare was solidly done. Would we return to the Intercontinental? Probably not until the access issues are resolved, but in the future, it could serve as a convenient kick-off to travels elsewhere.

Baltimore, Maryland, USA ~ Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor ~ February 201

(solo stay) A business trip with a stay in a big chain hotel wouldn’t normally warrant a HOTELLING entry. But this Hyatt had a few things worth noting. First, we are intrigued by brutalist architecture, both the examples that come out of former Soviet states and the more gentle versions we tend to see in other places. The Baltimore Hyatt has some interesting brutalist elements, particularly in the 3rd floor bar and restaurant. A textured concrete wall that soars several floors, huge concrete pillars and a Japanese rock garden — done at a macro scale — make for an atmosphere that beats most hotel dining rooms. Second, the queen rooms at the end of each wing and facing the harbor feature a surprising number of wrap-around windows with views toward the city and the water. The room itself was nothing special, but the fishbowl view was fabulous. Last, the Hyatt staff deserve recognition. It’s possible that everyone in Baltimore is like the staff at the Hyatt — Baltimore is “charm city” after all — but this is doubtful. The Hyatt has managed to find staff who are personable, caring, attentive and downright friendly — each and every one of them.

Annandale, Minnesota, USA ~ America’s Best Hotel ~ August 2018

IMG_0645A party for some friends who are getting married took us to this small town about 90 minutes from home. We were faced with the decision of making a late-night drive home, or staying in the town’s one hotel: America’s Best. We didn’t imagine the hotel would live up to the superlative in its name, but we thought it might surprise us by being better than expected. Let’s just say we shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up.


We can’t remember another time when we were greeted by a list of “House Rules” in the guest services book — not exactly a welcoming touch. Neither was the food left in the refrigerator from a previous guest or the bathroom that looked like it got the “light” clean. Next time we’re out this way, we’ll surely skip the hotel and find our way home. On a positive note, however, Annandale and its surroundings had some fun spots for eating and drinking — Spilled Grain Brewhouse, Milk and Honey Ciders and Bad Habit Brewing Company — and we had a fun time celebrating with our soon-to-be-married friends.

Washington, DC, USA ~ Renaissance Hotel ~ August 2018

(solo stay) This was your typical convention hotel — the kind of place that in the recent past likely boasted a multi-million dollar renovation, which was really just a cosmetic refresh with the installation of solid-surface countertops, new carpet and some updated furniture. Only one of us traveled, but we both got a laugh from the labels around the room pointing out “power” and “refrigerator” …just in case you weren’t sure. Clearly, not a place we would choose if we were traveling for pleasure, but it got the job done.

Minneapolis, USA ~ The Ivy ~ April 2017

(solo stay) This one-night stay was an in-city getaway for one of us with a few friends. The hotel choice revolved around something that would work well with a matinee performance at the Guthrie and a late-night dinner at 112 Eatery. The Ivy is both a hotel and a condo and has gone through a few financial challenges, but it seems to have come out the other side. The room was fine, but the night away with friends was far more memorable than the accommodation.


San Jose, California, USA ~ The Valencia ~ April 2018

(solo stay) This was a quick business trip for one of us. The Valencia, on San Jose’s shopping and dining street, Santana Row, is in a great location if you’d like to be able to walk a bit (the Silicon Valley is not a walker’s paradise). The room had a Juliet balcony, which would have been nice for letting in the lovely April California air, but the balcony looked directly into the living room of the apartment next door, so it seemed a little uncouth to stand out there. The nicest part of the hotel was the second floor courtyard that featured a bubbling fountain. Unfortunately, the trip’s schedule didn’t allow much time for a courtyard visit.

Chicago, Illinois, USA ~ Palmer House Hilton ~ February 20118

(solo stay) We’ve stayed at the Palmer House on several occasions; this time was a business stay for one of us. We’re not sure if our tastes — or standards — have just changed over the years or if the Palmer House has slipped several notches, but our recommendation is to swing by for a drink in the lobby bar and, perhaps, for a glance of the grand ballroom. But stay somewhere else. On this visit, it took three tries to get into a room that would work for three nights. And just for the record, asking for another room is not something we do regularly; this was a first.

Minneapolis, USA ~ The Hewing ~ December 2018

IMG_1074A quick overnight to check out one of Minneapolis’s newest hotels in a restored farm implement warehouse. The hotel certainly seemed the place to be for the North Loop hipster crowd. Our room, which played heavily on the Minnesota theme that is all the rage right now, was nice, but our expectations may have been a little high. We’d call it solid but not exceptional.

Rome, Italy ~ Babuino 181 ~ September 2017


This small hotel, part of a group of three properties owned by a Roman gentleman, really grew on us during our 8-night stay. Our room in a historic palazzo looked out onto Via del Babuino, one of Rome’s great 16th-century streets (although our favorite street became Via Margutta, where the other hotels in the property reside — next time we’ll try one of those). Situated between Plaza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps, Babuino 181’s location is excellent.

Our room had some lovely features: an Italian marble bath and shower, Frette sheets (some of the best linens in the world), a Nespresso machine, and authentic shutters to keep out the sun and noise (although we liked both). The rooftop bar was also a beautiful place to enjoy an evening cocktail before heading off to one of Rome’s great eating establishments. The picture at the top of this post is the view from the roof.

One of the best parts of our stay was a little Roman notebook, left for all guests, that features recommendations of all kinds from the hotel’s proprietor: food and drink, shops and sites. After visiting a few of these, we realized that this notebook isn’t just a way of marketing other businesses. All of the recommendations were terrific, and we came to rely on the notebook for making decisions about what to see and where to eat.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia ~ The Plantation Urban Resort and Spa ~ March 2017

UnknownThe Plantation is an oasis in the middle of a crazy city. When picking a hotel in Phnom Penh, we went back and forth between the Plantation and the more famous (and historic) Raffles Hotel. We ended up choosing the Plantation to stay and the Raffles to imbibe (the gin and tonics are top-notch). It was a good choice. We loved the porous boundaries between inside and outside at The Plantation, particularly because we come from a climate where this would never be possible.


We arrived into Phnom Penh late at night after a 24-hour trip and were picked up at the airport and driven through the relatively quiet streets to The Plantation where friendly staff members awaited us and got us settled. This was the last time we would see the city in this state. During our stay in Phnom Penh, we loved mixing it up in the chaos of the bustling city, but we made sure to leave a few hours each day for some pool time in one of the two pools on the property. Our room had a lovely little balcony, a fun daybed and air conditioning, which was sometimes necessary. The room wasn’t anything fancy, but it didn’t need to be. The other features are what makes The Plantation special.

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