Amsterdam, The Netherlands ~ The Dylan

October 2022

Our stay at The Dylan was a long…time…coming. Two-and-a-half years to be precise. We originally made a booking for March 2020 but had to cancel when the pandemic arrived. The Dylan was kind enough to offer a credit to use by year’s end (we had prepaid). But when COVID dragged on, The Dylan extended our credit two more times, eventually until May 2022. Travel began opening up in The Netherlands in March 2022, but at that time, we couldn’t get away.

When it looked, at last, as if we could visit Amsterdam in October 2022, The Dylan once again extended our credit. In our minds, this courtesy went far above and beyond, and we wanted to make sure The Dylan realized at least some financial benefit from our stay two years after our original booking, so we upgraded our room and assured the folks at the hotel that we would, in fact, make it this time. Much to our delight, we did!

Finally, we have arrived

Upon our arrival at the hotel on the Keizersgracht Canal (we took the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central Station and then had a lovely 10-minute walk to The Dylan) we were welcomed in to the intimate lobby to sit by the fireplace and take care of registration details. While completing the paperwork, we’ll admit that one of us was momentarily overcome with emotion; the check-in process was symbolic of the fact that we had finally made it to The Dylan after so many false starts and, on a larger scale, symbolic of the fact that we were finally travelling internationally again.

Our luggage was taken off our hands in exchange for tea and baked goods. Because we arrived at 11 am, our room wasn’t ready, but after giving us a tour of the hotel’s amenities, the reception staff pointed us in the direction of a nearby spot to get coffee and handed us a city map so we could do some exploring. They promised a phone call when our room was ready.

A truly beautiful room

After a cappuccino and walk around central Amsterdam, we returned to see if our room was ready. It was, and a member of the staff escorted us up to give a primer on the room’s features. We had chosen a junior suite with a canal view, and the view was one of the first things we noticed. Two big windows looked directly out on the Keizersgracht. But the room itself matched the view. The generously sized suite included a seating area with a love seat and two chairs, a desk for two, a well-stocked coffee/cocktails bar, and a bathroom with a deep soaker tub, a spacious shower and a separate toilet closet. The design in darker hues was modern but not cold; it felt a little masculine, which was a nice shift from the design approach we often see.

A few features of the room are worth noting. The Bose sound system with The Dylan’s playlist was queued up when we arrived and each day when we returned to the room. The playlist hit just the right tone – coincidentally, it included a song from a “neighbor,” Bon Iver – and although we played our own music once or twice, we were happy to let The Dylan choose the music. The Illy espresso machine was perfect for the few mornings when we had to wake to an alarm and needed a caffeine boost before leaving the room. We couldn’t get enough of the Aesop bath products. And after a hot shower or a nice bath, the fluffiest-ever slippers awaited.

Getting it right again…and again

The room hit all the right notes for us, but it was the service that capped off the experience and made The Dylan one of our all-time top stays. Shortly after arriving, a staff member delivered a big bottle of water, a box of Vinoos wine gummies and a handwritten note from the general manager. These little surprises continued throughout our stay, with each night’s turndown service featuring a little gift (a Dutch clogs keychain, baked goods, more wine gummies) and daily housekeeping service that replenished anything we may have used the night before.

The concierge team was top-notch and helped us with restaurant bookings and an early-morning transport to the airport. And the bartenders in the hotel bar, Occo, introduced us to some terrific local spirits.

Beyond our room

The Dylan occupies two buildings that represent classic Amsterdam architecture; from the street, the hotel blends right in with its neighbors. The front entrance sits at the far end of a lovely courtyard, and the connected buildings result in passageways made for exploring. Our room was the ideal choice for our first stay at The Dylan; the canal view is classic. But every individually designed room at the hotel looks like a stand-out, and we’d be tempted to try a different room on our next visit just to experience something new. Beyond our room, we spent time in the hotel’s lounge looking out on its inner courtyard. All of the common areas are inviting and feel like extensions of guest rooms’ living space.

Before our visit to The Dylan, it had been 30 years since we spent time in Amsterdam. For travelers from the US, the city can tend to be viewed as a transfer spot to other European destinations. But Amsterdam is a city with much to offer, and The Dylan is one of its shining stars. We can’t wait to return.

Stay details:

  • The Dylan Amsterdam, 9-Streets neighborhood on the Keizersgracht Canal
  • 4-night stay: October 6-10, 2022
  • Canal view junior suite, Room #40

What we did, where we ate:

Eating and drinking:

Coffee at:
Drinks at:
Dinner at:
Outings and adventures:

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Ålesund, Norway ~ Hotel Brosundet

September 2019

Ålesund is one of the most unique towns in Norway, and it was an obvious choice for a visit during a trip to Norway. A charming and easily-encompassed city, Ålesund is renowned for its Art Nouveau architecture. Because we would be there only one night, it was important to find a hotel close to the center of town, and the Hotel Brosundet had an excellent location right on the water and within walking distance of the entire city center.

First, some history

Ålesund’s charm came at a terrible price. On a night in January 1904, most of the city, built predominantly of wood, was destroyed by fire. Fortunately, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany had spent time in the area and came to the rescue, providing needed materials and skilled workers to rebuild. And this time the city would be built of brick and stone in the then-popular Jugendstil or Art Nouveau style. Since much of the city was rebuilt in a relatively short period of time, the city center has a remarkable uniformity of style.

img_0798A place by the water

Hotel Brosundet was an easy choice for lodging. The family-owned hotel has a sterling reputation and is right in the center of town overlooking a picturesque inlet. The hotel building was originally a warehouse, and the hotel conversion is a design-lover’s dream. Our room was well-appointed, but the real delight was the view out over the water.

In good hands

As much as we think we know what goes into a great hotel experience, sometimes it’s the intangibles that take a hotel from good to great. Hotel Brosundet checks all the obvious boxes: location, service, quality of rooms and dining, and so on. But there is something more here: a sense that you’re in good hands, almost as though you’re at home, relaxing and immersed in a comforting atmosphere.

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Worth the effort

Norway is replete with jaw-dropping scenery, so it’s no wonder Norwegians love to be outside, and seemingly every town has hiking amenities right at the doorstep. Ålesund is no exception. If you want a bit of exercise, find your way to the city park at the top of Lyhauggata and look for the stairs that take you to the top of Aksla Hill. It’s a bit of a climb, but there are plenty of resting places along the way, and at each one, you’ll gaze in wonderment at the scenery. The view from the top is no less than spectacular. Your effort will be rewarded with a fine view looking down at the town and various islands as the fiords give way to the Atlantic Ocean.


Stay details

  • Hotel Brosundet
  • Location: , Ålesund Norway
  • Our stay: 1 night, September 16, 2019
  • Room 2009, harbor view room

What we ate, what we did

  • Dinner and breakfast in the hotel–excellent
  • A walk through town
  • A hike to the top of Aksla Hill for a wonderful view

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Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway ~ Basecamp Hotel

September 2019

IMG_0975While researching various destinations for our trip to Norway, we learned that it was fairly easy to travel to the city of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago. Although Svalbard is closer to the North Pole than to much of Norway, it belongs to the latter, and SAS Airlines has regularly-scheduled flights from Oslo. So how could the opportunity be missed? Svalbard is a place that superlatives were made for: otherworldly scenery, one-sixth of the world’s polar bears, prime aurora borealis viewing, whales, and numerous glaciers (for now), not to mention the world’s northernmost commercial airport, the northernmost statue of Lenin, and, importantly, the northernmost craft brewery in the world–Svalbard Bryggeri.

Adventure awaits

img_1023With the exception of a handful of mostly abandoned mining towns, Longyearbyen is the only city on the entire archipelago, and it contains almost all of the lodging options. Fortunately those options are excellent. With a bit of internet research, we chose Basecamp Hotel, a part of the Basecamp Explorer collection of adventure hotels. We also learned that Basecamp Hotel is a good resource for arranging adventures to see more of Svalbard.

Rustic charm with a side of kitsch

Basecamp is kitted out like a trapper’s cabin with furs, rustic woodwork, thick blankets, and a plethora of arctic paraphernalia throughout the property. The hotel is small, and the staff is very welcoming. The overall impression is one of coziness and warmth, which is much appreciated as a contrast to the arctic scenery outside.


Amenities plus

During our stay, the hotel never struck a wrong note. The room was clean and comfy, with plenty of hooks for jackets and gear. The woolen window coverings were a nice touch, as was the little table-and-chairs ensemble. The good Wi-Fi was an unexpected bonus, and the absence of a television in the room (or anywhere on the property as far as we could tell) was very much appreciated. The breakfast offering was excellent, and the coffee was very good (something we found to be the norm throughout Norway). We even appreciated the hotel’s request that guests remove their shoes at the front door, which is a custom that has carried over from the town’s mining days when miner’s shoes were always covered with coal dust.


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Longyearbyen: more than expected

Longyearbyen surprised with its amenities: a post office, a bank with an ATM, a grocery store, a good selection of bars and restaurants to satisfy almost any taste, and a wonderful coffee shop with friendly staff. Notably, Svalbard Museum punches well above its weight; don’t miss it.

Svalbard Museum

It was particularly fun to watch the local children making their way down the pedestrian lane to school, and we happened to be there on the day of the Global Climate Strike when Longyearbyen’s students marched through town and gave speeches. These were made all the more urgent when we considered that Svalbard is expected to be severely impacted by climate change in coming years.

Plenty to do

Nordenskiöld glacier

Unless you want to confine your stay to Longyearbyen, it’s important to make reservations for any Svalbard adventures or excursions before you visit. Depending on the length of your stay, you can arrange activities that take up to a full week or more. Because we had only two days, we chose a day-long excursion aboard the MS Polargirl to visit Pyramiden, a mostly-abandoned Russian mining town, and the Nordenskiöld glacier. This excursion — a last-minute choice when our original booking, a hike to the Global Seed Vault, was cancelled — was helpfully arranged by the staff at Basecamp Hotel.

Stay details

  • Basecamp Hotel
  • Location: Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway
  • Our stay: 2 nights, September 18 & 19, 2019
  • Room 3

What we ate, what we did

A helpful website

  • The Visit Svalbard website was a very helpful resource for excursions and general information. Highly recommended.

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Oslo, Norway ~ The Thief

September 2019

Our two-night stay at The Thief capped off a 10-day visit to Norway that included — between the two of us — six cities, nine inter-Norway flights, seven hotels, and a whole lot of rain. The Thief was meant to be a little treat at the end, a chance to splurge a bit in Oslo before heading back across the Atlantic and back to work.

It didn’t disappoint.

The marathon dodge

One of the features that led us to The Thief was its location on Tjuvholmen (Thief Island), a part of Oslo formerly known for “its reputation as a place where drunks and thieves lurked and criminals were often taken to be executed.” Those days are clearly gone. The master-planned — and very scrubbed up — district now features restaurants, shops, art galleries, a contemporary art museum, a pebble beach, loads of public art, and a single hotel.

Tjuvholmen (Thief Island)

The day we checked in to The Thief happened to coincide with the Oslo Marathon, a terrific event but also a not-insignificant disruption to the ways in which one traverses a city that has more waterways than roadways (maybe not exactly true, but….). Our relatively short walk from St. Olav’s plass to Tjuvholmen — what would normally be about 10 minutes — ended up taking the better part of an hour, as we not only had to get across the path of the racers but also negotiate the 100,000 people cheering them on. When we finally arrived at the hotel, all of that work getting there made the news that we had been upgraded to a one-bedroom suite all the better.

The Thief Suite


A few of the places we had stayed in Norway were nice — and one couldn’t be matched for uniqueness — but out rooms at The Thief were certainly higher on the indulgence scale than any of the others. Two balconies, two bathrooms (each with a shower and tub), a sitting room, a bedroom, a Nespresso machine (actually two of those), original artwork, many bed pillows, a mounted bug in a glass cylinder, fresh flowers, and a very high-tech toilet greeted us. It seemed that two nights wouldn’t give us enough time to use all of the suite’s features.

But we would do our best.

Many hits, perhaps a small miss or two

The Thief gets so many things right. We particularly loved the just-right size of the hotel (114 rooms), the views out to Oslo Fjord and back to Tjuvholmen (although the island development project itself was a little too programmed for us), the artwork throughout the hotel (a nice addition to the loads of public art throughout Oso), the breakfast (Norwegian hotel breakfasts rarely disappoint; the one at The Thief was exceptional), the complimentary tickets to the Astrup Fearnley Museum, the turn-down service with hot herbal tea and fresh cookies (we added a little aquavit from the downstairs bar to the mix), and the stand-up service from (almost) all of the staff.

We could offer only a few critiques: Our visit to the rooftop bar didn’t parallel the rest of our experiences at The Thief. The service was — quite honestly — not very good, and the cocktails lacked sophistication, particularly considering the surroundings. Our second critique — the high-tech lighting system — is probably due more to user error than actual functionality, but we didn’t love what seemed to be some kind of sensor  that turned on the bathroom lights in the middle of the night. While we’re sure we could have figured the system out, we didn’t want to take the time to do so.

Opulence over minimalism

After spending 10 days immersed in Scandinavian design — a lot of functional, yet tasteful minimalism — The Thief was almost a sensory overload. But everything was warm and inviting. And while we loved the mid-fall sunshine, we couldn’t help wonder what it would be like to spend a few days at The Thief in the dark of an Oslo winter. Those pillows, deep tubs, hot coffee, and comfy slippers — which guests are invited to take home — all would seem very appealing in December or January.

Stay details

  • The Thief
  • Location: Tjuvholmen Island, Oslo
  • Our stay: 2 nights, September 21 and 22
  • Room: The Thief Suite: Rooms 802 & 804

Where we ate, what we did

Oslo National Opera and Ballet

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Shoreditch, London, UK ~ The Curtain Hotel

September 2018


After three days in the Cotswolds, we were ready for some city fun. Each time we visit London, we try to check out a new neighborhood. A few years ago, we stayed in Bethnal Green and loved East London. For this five-night holiday, we chose Shoreditch. The area is all the rage right now for its creative vibe, and we had several fun hotels from which to choose: The Ace, Nobu, and The Curtain. After almost going with Nobu (its architecture is great), we chose The Curtain, which opened in a newly constructed building in 2017.

Feeling right at home

We live in the old warehouse district of St. Paul, Minnesota, and the look and feel of The Curtain was familiar. The hoteliers have another property in the meatpacking district of Manhattan, and the hotel felt distinctly American, something we wouldn’t usually opt for, but reviews in The Telegraph, Wallpaper* and Forbes convinced us we needed to experience the New York-in-London feel.

We checked in and headed to our room on the second floor. It was well done but very cozy size-wise (not a problem) and quite dark (a little disappointing). Because we were staying five nights, we decided to ask if another room was available. That led to our choosing an upgraded room, which, quite honestly, doubled the price of the stay (gulp), but we decided it was worth it to have a bit more light and some more space.



Worth the spend

The Curtain rooftop

A few things made The Curtain worth the price, even if it felt a lot like home. The floor-to-ceiling windows that opened were great for watching and listening to the Shoreditch street life. The steam shower was a treat. The comfortable bed made it hard to climb out in the morning, even with London waiting. The mini bar provided endless cocktail opportunities (although who wants to make their own drink when talented bartenders await both at ground level and on the rooftop). Speaking of the rooftop, we loved getting afternoon drinks at Lido (the rooftop bar) and studying the construction going on all around us. Of course, that experience depends on the weather, and we had the kind of September sunshine and warmth that made everyone in the city cheerful.

Bring on the art

London’s art scene is unmatched. Each time we’re in the city, we make a point of visiting a few favorites (Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Modern, Wallace) but also seeking out new spots. Shoreditch is known for its art scene, and The Curtain makes its own contribution. We had fun taking in art in the hotel’s public spaces, hallways and guest rooms (we got to see three rooms when we decided to upgrade). This visit truly ended up being a feast for our art senses, and the artistic feel of The Curtain was a fitting complement to our gallery and museum visits.


Stay details

  • The Curtain Hotel
  • Shoreditch, London
  • Our stay: 5 nights, September 24-29, 2018
  • Room: Junior Suite

What we saw, what we ate

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Tetbury, The Cotswolds, UK ~ Oak House No. 1

September 2018

We visit the UK with some frequency, and since we’re more city mice than country mice, we rarely stray from central London. But on this trip, we decided to change it up a bit. It was fall, and we thought the English countryside would be nice. Being only a short drive from Heathrow, and since neither of us had been there before, we settled on the Cotswolds for a three-night sojourn. But where in the Cotswolds? We wanted something fairly central since we planned to check out as much of the area as time would permit. Here’s a tip of the hat to The Telegraph travel section for providing excellent initial research–we’re rarely led astray by their travel writers. And their excellent advice led us to the village of Tetbury and to Oak House No. 1.


To B&B or not to B&B?

From the review in The Telegraph, we were under the impression that our chosen lodging place was a boutique hotel, which is typically our preference. Had we known that Oak House No. 1 in Tetbury was really more of an upscale boutique B&B, we might have looked elsewhere. Fortunately we didn’t, as Oak House No. 1 turned out to be fabulous.


Anyone who has enjoyed the hospitality of Oak House No. 1 surely will attest to the hospitality of the proprietors and hosts Nicola and Gary. The property is infused with their vivid personalities, and what personalities! Their life experiences and love of art are evident throughout the property. And any conversation with the two is a work of art in itself. It must be said that Nicola often carries the conversation as Gary can be a bit reticent and shy. All in all Oak House No. 1 was the perfect home base for a weekend exploring the Cotswolds.

The sitting room

Since this was our first visit to the Cotswolds, we relied on our proprietors’ advice for an itinerary, and here again Gary and Nic were spot on. They provided a bespoke list of villages to see with restaurants and a few country pubs added in for good measure. With our sporty rental car, we were able to visit some of the most picturesque villages in England while enjoying the beautiful countryside in between. And upon returning to our temporary home, Nic and Gary listened with interest while we regaled them with our adventures. And there are worse ways to close out a day than enjoying a glass of complimentary Scotch in the wonderfully decorated sitting room at Oak House No. 1.

Stay details

  • Oak House No. 1
  • Location: Tetbury, The Cotswolds
  • Our stay: 3 nights, September 21-24, 2018
  • Room: One-bedroom suite with garden view

What we saw, what we ate

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St. Petersburg, Russia ~ Rossi Hotel & Spa

June 2018

Russia had been on our travel list for a very long time, but each time we started planning a trip, it seemed not to be a good time to go to Russia. We finally realized that it was probably never going to be a good time to go to Russia, so we bought the plane tickets (easy), booked the hotel (easy), and then jumped into the visa process (easy-ish, but also time-consuming). We almost opted for a relatively new hotel run by the Hermitage; it looked elegant, but potentially a bit fusty. Instead, we heeded reviews in guidebooks, on and in the London Telegraph and chose the Rossi, a boutique hotel in a historic building right on the Fontanka Canal near Nevsky Prospect.

A happy room


We arrived in St. Petersburg in mid-afternoon after a decently long, but not horrible, trip. When we walked into our room for the first time — after climbing to the 5th floor because the lift was down — the sun shone right in the two large windows that looked out to the Fontanka and a small park. It’s always nice to arrive at a hotel and know right away that it’s a place we’ll enjoy spending time in. This was the kind of feeling we got in our Rossi room. It wasn’t the most lavish place we have ever stayed, but it had a really nice feel, and we knew it would be a nice retreat from adventures out in the city. Plus it was easy to settle in. With plenty of storage, we could put our things away and stash our suitcases out of site, taking away any reminder that vacation would inevitably come to an end.

Experiencing white nights

We were fortunate to be in Russia during the famed White Nights, the days when the sun goes down for only a few hours. On our first night at the Rossi, we both woke up in the middle of the night with a bright sun streaming in the windows (we hadn’t closed the drapes). Because we were a little jet-laggy, we figured we were just seeing the clock wrong, but sure enough, it was 3 am. On subsequent nights, we were woken by the clippety clop of horses trotting down the quiet streets. It was an odd sound in the middle of the city, but we loved it and made sure to leave our windows open so we could listen for the horses. We’re not sure if the horse riding was a white nights thing, but we liked to believe so.

St. Petersburg on the verge of darkness outside the Rossi

Remnants of Soviet days

All in all, St. Petersburg doesn’t feel very Soviet; it definitely bears the mark of its European-loving founder Peter and the empresses who followed him — Elizabeth and Catherine. However, reminders of Soviet days do linger on and can be noticed if you’re paying attention. At the Rossi, the lobby felt a little like a  room from the days of communal living, except of course for the very prominent desk for the administrator. Additionally, the hotel restaurant was always full of staff doing their best to keep busy. We were amused each morning by the wait person who carefully polished a collection of wine glasses. This is certainly not a bad thing — we certainly appreciate wine glasses without smudges or dishwater spots — but the restaurant was never very busy. We imagined the glasses got a daily rubdown whether they had been used the day before or not. And, of course, there was the elevator. We enjoyed the walk up the stairs, but had we needed the elevator, it seemed to work about half the duration of our stay.

Looking out the window of our room

It’s always nice to arrive at a hotel and know right away that it’s a place we’ll enjoy spending time in. This was the kind of feeling we got in our Rossi room.


Perhaps our favorite Soviet remnant, which we encountered in the hotel but also in many other places, was the challenge obtaining small bills or change. We used the ATM in the hotel freely (even though we weren’t completely confident that the data transaction was secure — the hotel’s WiFi was open access). However, the ATM dispensed large bills in the neighborhood of $5,000 ruble notes (the equivalent of about $75 US). Trying to spend a bill that large is a challenge, but trying to get smaller bills is even harder. The first time we tried at the hotel, we got a lot of drawer opening and paper shuffling before the very-kind receptionist said, “Vasily can help.” Vasily, the bell hop, did help, but we quickly figured out that this couldn’t be a regular request. About halfway through our stay, we did learn from our Finnish friend that subway ticket offices are one of the few places in Russia where it’s easy to get change. So noted.

Classy…but not too classy

Almost everything in our Rossi room was a good choice for both functionality and style, but we did get a chuckle from two features. The first was the sliding glass door that served as either a shower door or a door between the toilet and the rest of the glass-walled bathroom. As you might imagine, this provided a small puzzle when one of us was showering and the other was using the toilet. For the sake of keeping the bathroom dry, the person in the shower usually got use of the door, but not before the other had accidentally slid it open when going into the toilet nook.


And speaking of toilets, the diagram on the toilet lid gave us a laugh each time we saw it. The hotel thinks enough of its guests to provide them with Hermes bath products (they smelled very good) and fluffy monogrammed towels and robes, but apparently those same guests need a reminder not to flush feminine hygiene products, condoms, and, of course syringes.







U Visit Russia

Once we booked our room — by the way, our credit card was charged right away — we started receiving emails from an organization called U Visit Russia. Mostly we just deleted them because they didn’t look totally legitimate, but we both heartily endorse visiting St. Petersburg. Whether you stay at the Rossi or somewhere else, this city is fascinating historically, architecturally, culturally and, of course, politically.

Stay details

What we saw, what we ate

Some of the best ballet in the world at the Mariinsky

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