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Category Archives: Wining and Dining

How to open your Wine without a Corkscrew

How to open your Wine without a Corkscrew

Want to open a nice bottle of wine without a corckscrew? Watch this little video which shows your the trick that doesn’t make you push the cork into the bottle. It is in French, but easy enough to understand the trick

10 Questions For (33): Patrick Goff of Hoteldesigns

I’m glad to continue my favorite series of interviews with those of interest in the hotel and travel community. Today I like to introduce Patrick Goff @HotelDesigns to you.

1) Who am I?

Good Question.  I have been asking myself for at least 40 of my 63 years. Was it Descartes who said, “I think therefore I am”? Well I create, and this defines me.  As a small boy I was in trouble when I caricatured an uncle as a great ape so successfully that for twenty years he held a grudge about the teasing he got from his brothers.

In the 1960′s, the greatest decade of the 20th century, I was at Art College at Bath Academy. Listening to the Beatles and Stones, going to Zappa concerts and discovering what a great invention the Pill was. Art College in the mid to late sixties was an amazing mind expanding experience.  I was a studio assistant to artists as well as finding my own artistic voice.

There followed some 15 years in which my goal was only to work as an artist, an activity that saw me having 3 shows a year and interviewed on radio, TV and national press. My work is in private and public collections alike. I taught in art colleges for a while. Then marriage changed the landscape, along with a critics review in the Guardian that led to me withdrawing from public exhibiting.

I still paint, and look forward to doing more in the future, but I no longer exhibit. Of course I also now spend a great deal of time photographing hotels, and HotelDesigns provides an outlet for my creativity through photography and writing, albeit somewhat ironically as a critic.

Practising-for-when-I-had-a-camera-(c.1953)

2) What do I like about what I do?

After some twenty years designing hotels I wanted more than to be a working designer. I started HotelDesigns by chance and when divorce forced me to leave the award winning design practice I had built, I used the site to create a magazine about the work of the hotel design profession, much underrated by hoteliers for the contribution it can make to an hotels profitability and popularity.

Editing HotelDesigns, with its 80,000 readers a month, is challenging. Almost as challenging is making it pay. My magazine differs from most in that we actually visit the hotels we write about, and we insist on taking our own photographs. This makes production slower and more costly but has given me the pleasure over the last eight years of visiting 27 countries on four continents to write my Reviews and Miniviews of hotels. No longer just written by me, I now have a staff of two reporters and one freelance writer who contribute, as well as support staff.

The real fun is in the travel and looking at the range and breadth of hotels provision, the variation in standards and discovering gems such as Haagsche Suites.

3) What Don’t I like?

I don’t like the constant selling, fighting with the bank and struggling to be profitable. I don’t like flying, which used to be an adventure and have some romance but is now, at every level, a degrading, dehumanising and uncomfortable experience.

I especially don’t like four star hotels claiming five star status, abetted by corrupt rating authorities who don’t enforce their own guidelines. I particularly hate accountant driven design decisions in so-called luxury hotels, where bathrooms don’t have separate walk-in showers as well as soaking tubs, where concepts of luxury are compromised by penny pinching attitudes. I especially dislike buildings where it is obvious that there were cost overruns in the construction phase that have been recovered by cutting the finishes budget – the bit the guest really notices.

4) About HotelDesigns and its Aims.

HotelDesigns aims to promote the work of the specialist hotel design fraternity. Interior design is different to architecture, and hotels should be designed from the inside out. Nor should good design be expensive so we cover all standards from the basic hotels like Etap through to the top luxury establishments. We try to show how so-called B&B’s like Haagsche Suites are designed to a standard that embarrasses high flown neighbours such as the Meridien Den Haag.

We try to be a picture rich environment so that details such as the skirting board design, or wash hand basin panel design can be seen clearly. We aim to be a one stop resource where designers and hoteliers alike can find inspiration, ideas and those who can help them realise those ideas.

We carry a sourcing Directory (free to use) which has global contract only suppliers, contractors and a list of hotel experienced designers. No retailers here, and people with genuine expertise to share.  Companies in the Directory come from Europe, India, China, Middle East and North America.

Our DesignClub provides information such as standards guidelines, details of hotel groups, a Gallery which currently has over 15,000 images and to which we add about 500 a month, mainly of hotel interiors. It also details Hotel Groups development plans, economic forecasts and analyses of our industry.

Everything we do remains available on line – and archive of over 150 hotels looked at in depth with another 7,000 articles which include articles on Spa design, on Branding in Hotels, on the history of Design through the Bauhaus for example. There are articles on colour, on ‘going green’ and profiles of leading designers and supply companies.

This is a rich resource for those wanting to see what is happening around the world as well as a growing history of hotel design in the 21st century.

5) My top 3 Destination Experiences

About four years ago I discovered Bushmans Kloof in the Cederburg Mountains of South Africa. I have characterised it as a little piece of heaven on earth. It is losing its innocence now it has been in Condé Nast and has had an all weather road constructed to it – in winter last time I was there it was cut off by rain turning the road into an impassable morass. When I went back I was prepared to be disappointed but enjoyed it as much as ever.

Second would be Damaraland in Namibia. Brilliantly designed, not so brilliant as an hotel operation, but mind blowing scenery. To have a leopard purring loudly outside your bedroom door is unnerving when your partner says go see what it is.

Thirdly Berlin. For me seeing Europe’s most exciting city during its rebirth has been memorable and still excites. I stayed in several excellent hotels but the Radisson Blu with its remarkable fish tank, making the whole thing a memorable destination experience.

6) My Top three accommodations

I’d measure this by the ones my girl friend says we have to go back to one day. They would include, you’ll be please to hear, Haagsche Suites! There are many to choose from but the Marine in Hermanus is one she insists we go back to, another which I have never featured, but we go back to quite frequently is a Relais du Silence in Luxembourg, which I am selfishly going to keep to myself.

7) My Top 3 food/wine experiences

Best has to be the memorable lunch at Gidleigh Park with Michael Caines in the kitchen. Beautiful day and the most memorable meal by a Michelin starred chef.

Secondly lunch in a South African vineyard, watching baboons walk past about 50 metres away whilst drinking a chilled South African white, flinty and pale.

Thirdly dinner overlooking the waterhole on the edge of the Etosha National Park in Namibia (Ongava Lodge is a Review waiting to be written)with an parade of rhino, giraffe, gemsbok, and (my favourites) guinea fowl by the hundred processing past, with a local red wine washing down char grilled Springbok

8) My 3 Worst destination Experiences

Can I name them without giving offence I wonder? The spa in Hungary which had no doors on the treatment rooms, windows open to the gardens beyond where the masseuse had put shawls across for privacy, and a sound system that was a ghetto blaster in the corridor outside the treatment rooms. Someone though it a good idea to add a water system that ran at 5-bar, giving a shower that created its own cloud patterns in the bathroom it was so powerful, and which flayed you alive when taking a shower. Food was buffet bad, like a holiday camp.

The Budget Hotel chain I couldn’t write about because of the semen stains on the bedcover and carpet, the delaminated suspiciously stained toilet seat (the photographs will never make it into the Gallery in the DesignClub). Staying on a Sunday with it on a business park where there were no restaurants for miles.

The five star hotel in Holland where the dining room chairs were too low, the wardrobe rails too high to reach and where the bottle bank, emptied at five in the morning, was underneath my bedroom window. Food service was unmemorable and would have to have been wonderful to overcome the annoyance at the poor design.

9) Tips for London

If you like shopping, the newest five star, the Arch is nearly on Oxford Street. For a bargain haggle with the Grange St Pauls at the weekend, or the Marriott West Quay – both primarily serve the business market and offer cut price quality rooms at the weekends.

Near St. Pauls is what is currently my favourite London restaurant, North Bank, but I like to take visitors to the Old Cheshire Cheese just off Fleet Street. Refurbished after a fire in 1666, this has a chair marked as being where Charles Dickens sat. Redolent of history, it serves traditional British food which has delighted everyone I have taken there. A Belgium friend wondered why British food had such a poor reputation after a steak pudding and a helping of Spotted Dick.

On a wet day a museum or gallery- my favourite being either the Geoffrey Museum in the Kingsland Road, with its history of English interiors, or the Museum of London after its recent refurbishment. But then I also love the Imperial War Museum which surprises with the second largest collection of British art after the Tate, all themed around war – it still commissions War Artists and shows their work.


The Fish tank in the Berlin Radisson Blu hotel

10) Any other question I like to answer?

[Silence]

My take:

A couple of years ago I was able to lure Patrick over to The Hague to inspect my Haagsche Suites. Only because he had scheduled to review another hotel in The Hague, he finally gave in to my persistence and came. Although (off course) I knew we had done a good job, his prize really surprised me, especially because I find that our big brother competitor here in The Hague had done a good job with their renovation. Patrick also wrote our first review on TripAdvisor. That made us number 1 hotel of The Hague for a long time. We fell back when the TripAdvisor review algorithm began to chime in with putting more value to recent reviews than old reviews. Currently we’re back on number 3 after a long period of neglect on my part.
So a threefold thank you now to you Patrick:

  1. For giving in to my persistence and writing a very thorough review of our small hotel.
  2. For writing our first ever TripAdvisor review
  3. For writing this wonderful interview and surprising me with even more prize.

This keeps the small struggling luxury hotelier going :-)
And:
I do love your photography and certainly will take you on your invitation for a good English pub bite!

10 Questions For (32): Constance Hage from Shoppen Blogo

Today I like to introduce Constance Hage, a Dutch flight attendant who blogs in the Dutch language, but who, as a flight attendant, knows her part of traveling and who will like my wife’s fave quote: “When in Doubt, Do Buy!”

Constance

1) Who Are You?
I’m Constance Hage. I’m married, no kids but we have 2 cats. Furthermore I’m working as a flight attendant with KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) for more than 23 years now. I have also worked at travel agencies (VakantiExperts in Bilthoven, World of Tui and D-Reizen). I’m the author of: Shoppen.Blogo.nl and LadyGadgets.Blogo.nl. I’ve also (co)authored the blogs Stewardess.Blogo.nl and Vakantie.Blogo.nl.

2) What do you like about what you do?
Since I was a little girl I wanted to become a flight attendant/ [Ed. in proper "Dutch":]stewardess, because I wanted to ‘discover’ the world and am still enjoying my job. And my job as main editor of my websites is something totally different and I love the diversity between the 2 jobs.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
Sometimes passengers can become very aggressive and/or very drunk and that is something nobody likes (passengers and crew) and also people, nowadays, are very afraid that they miss out of something and then they can become very unreasonable.
And as a writer it’s sometimes hard to write an article when you are having a ‘writers-block’ or when you are under time pressure and you don’t have any inspiration at all.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
My most successful blog is Shoppen.Blogo.nl. It’s tailored especially for women. It’s about shopping in general and I write about fashion, shoes, make-up, shops and lots more. I started it almost 5 years ago.

About 2 years ago I was asked to take over LadyGadgets.Blogo.nl from an other lady, because she didn’t have enough time anymore. Because I like gadgets, it was a nice challenge for me. It’s about all sorts of gadgets for ladies and that can be about a vibrating mascara, to a digital camera or a mobile phone and lots more.

I used to write/edit also 2 other travelblogs: Stewardess.Blogo.nl and Vakantie.Blogo.nl. These blogs still exist but will not be updated anymore. Stewardess.blogo.nl is about all kind of information of how to become a stewardess/flight attendant.
I stopped writing Vakantie.Blogo.nl when I quite my job at the travel agency almost 2 years ago. I wrote about the more luxury holidays, and that was not always in a 5* hotel, but also in a nice tent in Africa or a special resort at a beach resort.
And there was also an other reason: I had no more time to maintain 4 blogs.

Constance’s hubby enjoys penguin love  in the Falklands

5) Your top destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
1. Antarctica: In 2007 my husband and I were having our 12,5 years wedding anniversary and my biggest wish was to go to Antarctica. And we really made a beautiful trip from Ushuaia to the Antartica Pensinsula and we went back via the Falkland Islands, Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. The trip was 3 weeks. We love to go back again and then we would like to start our trip in Australia or New Zealand and make a so called semi-circumnavigation. These trips always end in Ushuaia.

2. Africa and especially South Africa/Botswana/Tanzania and Kenya. We love to go on safari’s and we go at least once a year for 10/12 days. And the part we love about going on safari is that you are outdoors and enjoying all the animals you normally can see at the zoo or on television. And in the beginning you only want to see the ‘big 5′ but now (as we have been already on many safari holidays) we also enjoy little birds and insects. We would like to follow a game ranger course one day.

3. City trips to all kinds of city around the world but my favorite city is New York. This city really vibrates and is always different. If I could afford it, I would love to live for a few month in Manhattan. An other city that I also love is Shanghai, a very modern and hip city as well.

6) Your top accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
In random order:

Pangkor Laut Resort at Pangkor Laut/Malaysia. We stayed at the waterbungalows and every morning when I was taking my shower the monkey’s were watching my from the trees and the dolphins were jumping out of the water. It was really a dream.

Aleenta resort at Hua Hin/Thailand. This resort has only a few small houses at a private beach. The bungalows at the beach have also their own plungepool and a outdoor shower. The staff can serve all the meals and drinks at our bungalow but from the small restaurant you have a beautifull view over the area and the sea. You can relax but also following cooking/yoga or thai chi lessons.

Pole Pole resort at Mafia Island/Tanzania. We went there after a safari trip in Selous Area (Tanzania) and the island is very small and you can’t imagine that you have a resort there Ralph Lauren style. But it’s there and it’s really amazing. The sea is in front of your lodge and the food and wine is fantastic. We also had a bbq on a dry sandbank and you can do amazing snorkeling.

7) Your top most memorable food / wine experiences to date and why?
3* Michelin restaurant De Librije in Zwolle. We have diner there 2 times a year (with my husband’s birthday and with mine) and every time we are treated like we come there weekly. The staff is superfriendly and the food is superb and every time we come there totally different.

House of Nanking in San Francisco. This is the best Chinese restaurant I have ever eaten. Every afternoon and evening people are standing in line to get in. Just ask the owner to the speciality of the day and tell him what you don’t like and you get some super dishes. The atmosphere is of plastic tables and when you have finished eating you must leave right away, but it’s all worth it.

Restaurant Shintori in Shanghai. This is really a trendy hotspot in Shanghai.The food is fushion Japanese and always have twist. You can share all the dishes so you can taste a few because there are so many good dishes to choose from. And afterwards you can go to the neighbor (same owner) for a nice after diner cocktail.

8) Your worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
What I really ‘hate’ is when you ask in a restaurant if they can’t put any coriander in my food, that when it arrives it’s in my food anyway. (I’m allergic to coriander so I really can’t eat it.) And that happens aspecially in India, Thailand and Mexico because they love this spice!

An other thing I really hate are pillows and mattresses that are to soft and don’t give any support. So I always bring my own pillow with me.

And of course dirty bathrooms/toilets/sheets with still some small curly hairs on them, brrrr.

9) Can you offer the readers destination/ food / accomodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I live in Amersfoort. This city has celebrate it’s 750th birthday last year, so it’s quite old with a lot of old buildings and museums as well.

In the summer (from April until November) you can make 5 different tours through the canals and on 1 tour you can even take your (rented) bike with you. We also have a fabulous Zoo with an African area and a dino park from the smaller kids.

We have 7 museums and the most famous one is the Museum of Piet Mondriaan, the Mondriaanhouse. This famous painter is also born in Amersfoort. And if you are interested in the history of Amersfoort you must go to museum Flehite.

To have a good diner in Amersfoort we have few good restaurants:
1* Michelin restaurant De Saffraan, were you have diner in the Amersfoort harbor on an old boat. The chef used to work at De Librije.
Restaurant Tollius, this restaurant cooks Italian style, but they don’t have a menu card. They tell you the menu of the day and you tell want you can’t eat or don’t like and then the menu is adjusted.
Restaurant Perron 4/5, this restaurant is at platform 4/5 of the Amersfoort railway station, so you dine around departing and arriving trains. The food is Italian style, but very basic like pasta/penne and carpaccio.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Are there any destinations were you haven’t been yet?
Yes, I have never been to New Zealand, because KLM doesn’t fly to New Zealand

Do you still have a travel wish list?
Absolutely! I have a very long wish list but I will stick to the top 3 ;)

  1. I would love to go to Churchill (Canada) to see the polar bear and I like go to the North Pole.
  2. I also would like to go by cruise ship from Southhampton to New York and make a world cruise one day.
  3. Furthermore on my wish list is a fly-in cruise to Botswana and Namibia.

Iceland’s West Coast. Also a nice trip!

My Take:

***

Thank you Constance!

That first photo of you says it all: Shop and Blog till You Drop!. I’ve hesitated whether to ask you to take the interview, because you dropped travel blogging as you explain. However, shopping is a swell thing to do when ladies are traveling. Many ladies even just travel to shop. In addition you have promised me to write occasionally for this blog, time permitting :-)

BTW Constance is the lady who took my place in a blogger tour to Iceland and ended up in an earthquake without even noticing it:-)

Best Xmas Turkey

Nude-Turkey-_MG_2916
Frequent readers of this blog know I like to play around with words and search engines. So I have tagged above photo “Nude Turkey”. BTW nothing so depressing as the view of a nude turkey :-)

We have some British subjects in the family and usually have visitors from across. Last year it was the same and off course turkey was on the Xmas menu. Last year’s turkey was excellent, but I forgot how I prepared it. Luckily one of last year’s guests remembered we had used Delia Smith’s guidelines and came up with a very helpful link How to roast turkey.

Turkey-with-Coppa-_MG_2919

Then I realized I had forgotten to buy streaky bacon rashers. After inspection of the fridge I found some Coppa (Italian dried ham), even better than bacon I would think.
Buttered-up-Turkey-_MG_2920

Next problem was the butter, that was much too hard to easily spread over the beast. So I found a roll of salted butter that I cut in parts and really buttered the turkey up!

The tricks are:

  1. Wrap it in aluminum foil, butter it up and cover it up with bacon (or coppa or whatever is alike)
  2. First 1/2 to 3/4 hour in the oven with high temperature (approx 220°C)
  3. Then 3 to 4 hrs at approx 170°C
  4. Finally you take the foil down and let it get crispy in 1/2 to 3/4 hr at approx 220°C again

Best-Turkey-Ready-_MG_2925

The end result was fabulous again! Nice crispy and juicy! Thanks Delia. I wrote it into this blog to not forget your secrets next year.

Hot Michelin Star and Hotel Newbe: Niven Kunz

Niven-Kunz-_MG_2269

The new 2010 Michelin Guide has been published and this is Niven Kunz of Restaurant Niven in Rijswijk, a suburb of The Hague. Probably he is the youngest Dutch chef awarded with a Michelin Star, or does he only look very young? Anyway, he’s now also a hotelier with 2 rooms. Congratulations Niven with your star and welcome as fellow hotelier.

I took this bit dreamy portrait photo last week when he was showing off at the 2010 Food festival in The Hague which was very well organized.

You can congratulate him on Twitter as Niven Kunz