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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It only hurts when we move...


Agent Triple P has just emerged from his first ever surgery and is feeling rather sore. Actually, given that the surgery was on a very sensitive part of his anatomy indeed he is actually in agony; at least every time he tries to move. He has had to lie down for two days with his legs up and is on very strong painkillers. Unfortunately, he is only allowed to take these every six hours but they only work for four. Ow!

We are very grateful to the enormous team of people at the hospital who were necessary to deal with what we are told is a minor operation. We are just very grateful that we haven't ever had to have a major operation!

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Calendar Girl October: Julie Henderson



Better late than never for this month's calendar girl, Texan, Julie Henderson. Now 23 she was discovered at the age of 15 while at the Barizon School of modelling. By the time she was 16 she was signed to New York Model Management. She went to Paris then back to New York and was soon modelling for Teen Vogue and Elle Girl.






In 2002 she was named "overall professional female model of the year". In 2007, she made her first appearance in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and has returned for the subsequent two years.




She is 5'10" tall and a very catwalk 33-24-35. Still considered an "up-and-coming" model rather than an established name we will follow her career with interest.











Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Tube annoyances


Having been away from London in Poland, Canada and the US for a month coming back to the ever-more overcrowded West End has been something of a depressant.


Hooray, its dark and gloomy. Hooray, ugly baldy porridge eating man is still on the train in the morning. Hooray, even more ugly people are trying to get on at Claygate station every day. Hooray, none of the tourists seem to have gone home for the Winter. The strength of the Euro in particular means we are being overrun by what Agent Triple P's father would have called "Frogs, Krauts, Dagos and Wops" (he would have considered the British National Party a bunch of effete, liberal pinkos). Actually, Agent Triple P doesn't mind the Germans or the Italians. As a result of the continued presence of Johnny Foreigner three key rules on the London Underground are being flaunted to the delay and inconvenience of all.


1 If you are on an escalator STAND ON THE RIGHT! Don't stand side by side comparing the lovely scarves you have just bought at Liberty.


2 When coming up or down the stairs at Underground stations walk on the LEFT HAND SIDE. It's the same as the road and we drive on the left not the right like all you misled people. As we invented the concept that cars should stick to a certain side of the road our way, being first, must be right. If I was walking down stairs in Paris I would walk on the right. Same as the traffic. How hard is it? It's the same as escalators. Walk on the right!


3 When a tube train comes into the station wait until everyone gets off before trying to get on. Now all that happens is a total free for all as some people wait and others (usually women) push in front of them crashing into people trying to get off. While we are about it, when you know your station is coming up it is a good idea, maybe even a stop or two in advance, to start edging towards the door. Don't sit in the middle of a crowded carriage and then try to fight your way off because you haven't left enough time. You have to think ahead!


Grr!!

The terminal decline of the United States?

The Big U

No, not the country (battered though it has been of late by the idiotic decisions of bankers and, indeed, by the politicians who encouraged them to lend to people who couldn't pay back their loans) as that seemed perfectly OK when Agent Triple P was there earlier in the month.

No, as we were being driven in to Philadelphia from the airport we saw, between the piers on the river, two vast funnels and the superstructure of a huge ship. Surely it couldn't be? It must have been scrapped years ago? But no, it was the SS United States. The last proper holder of the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic by a passenger ship.

SS Baltic



The SS United States was built in 1952 with the express aim of re-capturing the Blue Riband (from the Queen Mary) and becoming the first American ship to hold the title since the paddleship SS Baltic took the title in 1851. In addition the intention was to create a fast troop ship for times of war (US troops were always amazed, so it is said, when being shipped on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth to discover that these mighty liners weren't American). As a result the US Navy contributed $50million of the $78 million cost. If used as a troopship (it never was) it could have carried, 15,000 troops at a time. As a liner she had capacity for a rather more comfortable 1,928 passengers.






She was designed by, ironically, Philadelphia-born naval architect William Francis Gibbs (1886-1967) who also designed the United States Lines SS America, as well as supervisiing the mass construction of merchant ships during WW2. In order to make her as fast as possible large amounts of aluminium were used in her construction. In fact, the construction of her superstructure used the most aluminium in any one project to date. She is 990 feet long, has a beam of 101 feet and draws 31 feet. Her gross tonnage is 53,330, nearly 30,000 tons less than the larger Queen Mary.



On her maiden voyage in July 1952 she demolished the eastbound trans-Atlantic speed record averaging 35.6 knots or 41 miles per hour and covering the 2, 906 nautical mile course in 3 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes! The Queen Mary's 1938 record had been 30.99 knots. Returning to the US she broke the Queen Mary's westbound record of 31.69 knots with a speed of 34.51 knots. Despite faster passages by catamaran ferries recently these have all been without passengers and so, whilst she may not still hold the fastest time she is still considered to hold the Blue Riband which was always for ships in regular service. The United States still holds the outright record for the westbound passage. For years her top speed was classified because of her naval role. However, in 1977 her top speed was revealed to be 38.3 knots (44.1mph) but, in reality, she was nevr run flat out so could have been even faster.

The Unites States in Philadelphia today



After 400 trans-Atlantic voyages she was retired in 1969, the era of the liners being brought to an end by inter-continental jet travel. She has had a variety of owners over the last thirty years but unlike, say, the SS France never had another life as a cruise liner. Currently she is owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines and is up for sale ($30 million should buy her, if you are interested). The worry is that the new owner will buy her for scrap value only and she will end up on a beach in India like the France. Sadly, she is deteriorating quite badly on pier 81 in Philadelphia. her interior has been completely stripped out and her protective coats of paint are peeling. There are a number of groups fighting to save her and given the much better record at protecting their maritime heritage that the Americans have we can only hope that they will be successful.




Triple P has been lucky enough to see some of the great liners of past: the France, the Canberra, The Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Elizabeth 2 and now, the United States. We have been on the QE2, the Queen Mary and the smaller P&O liners the Orsova and Chusan. Sadly there are very few liners left these days. New purpose built cruise ships which look more like floating apartment blocks sail the seas like so many floating Las Vegas hotels. Only the Queen Mary 2, which we see regularly as it leaves Southampton, really still carries the aura of the old liners. Cruise ships will get bigger but it is highly doubtful if any will ever be as fast as the ultimate greyhound of the seas, the SS United States.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cheryl Cole sings?

Cheryl. Bizarre uniform.


Well, you couldn't tell as Agent Triple P contemplated her frankly rather embarrassing turn on the X-Factor on Saturday. The real give away, I suppose, was that she was holding an enormous microphone that covered her face rather than one of the small ones that attach to the head that people use when they are dancing about. Given her huge cap was pulled down so low, you could hardly see if she was there at all.




In fact her rather bizarre outfit reminded me of nothing else than a Games Workshop Imperial Guard Commissar. We think that perhaps she is trying to be Madonna. At least she was better than Whitney Houston.



Cheryl as she should be. Dressed down and not singing.

Visual Flashback: The Old Stage Coach by Eastman Johnson

Sketch for The Old Stagecoach (1871) by Eastman Johnson in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts


When time allows there is nothing Agent Triple P enjoys more than visiting an art gallery in one of the cities he has travelled to. As Triple P has been know to do the occasional drawing or painting himself we always like the opportunity to examine works of art closely. Particularly drawings; as they tend to reproduce poorly in print or digitally and the full subtleties of them can only be appreciated in person.

It is always exciting to be faced by a familiar image in a gallery, particularly unexpectedly, and in our other blog, Venus Observations, we often examine those featuring the female nude. Agent Triple P's taste in art is, as one might expect, rather conservative. He enjoys nineteenth century Victorian Military paintings, female nudes from any period, Victorian neo-classical and pre-Raphaelite works, nineteenth and twentieth century European and North American landscape paintings and maritime paintings. He does not like Late Mediaeval and Renaissance painting, still life, animal paintings, portraits, abstract art, most twentieth century art (save post impressionists). Anything between the two he will certainly look at with an open mind.


The painting illustrated here is not on the blog because it is the sort of painting that Triple P likes as such but because it provides a flashback to another period in Triple P's life. Occasionally, when he wanders around a gallery he is faced by a painting that brings him up short because it is so familiar. Oddly, before he started to acquire his large collection of art books, one of the most common ways that he experienced art was from record covers. Those who are only used to recorded music coming in cds do not appreciate the visual impact that a 12" x 12" record sleeve could have. Much of the music that Triple P had on record when he was younger was classical and much of it was illustrated by paintings.



Triple P acquired two classical records to start his collection back in 1968. These were given to him by his aunt, who had recently got married and was disposing of duplicates with her husband's collection. The two were both Angel Records of Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. One was Beethoven's 3rd (now replaced on CD) and the other was Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. This, at the time, was very much Triple P's favourite piece of music and on the cover featured a painting called The Old Stage Coach by American artist Eastman Johnson (1824-1906).


Sketch for The Old Stagecoach


So we were surprised, when walking around the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts earlier in the month, to see a sketch for this very painting (the original is in Milwaukee Art Museum). It immediately took us back to our childhood (our original LP is long gone) and, indeed Dvorak's music. Such is the wonder of technology today that we could instantly listen to the New World on our iPod whilst contemplating the painting. Whoever said that nostalgia isn't what it used to be?


The Old Stagecoach (1871)


Eastman Johnson, painted portraits and genre paintings of New England life in a way that reminded many of the approach of the Dutch masters (he had studied in Holland). He would later go on to be a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Despite the open-air spontaneity of The Old Stagecoach it was actually painted in his studio although the children were drawn from life posing on a platform in Nantucket, where Johnson used to spend much of the year. The coach was based on a sketch he made of a wreck in the Catskills. Nevertheless he has pulled these disparate elements together into one of the life enhancing paintings he produced which were so popular after the American Civil War, when the country was looking to renewal and a new beginning.


Eastman Johnson

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cheryl Cole won't sing

Cheryl and Nadine: one has a voice, one has a break...


Why people seem surprised that Cheryl Cole won't be singing live on this weekend's X-Factor surprises me. Everyone knows that 90% of the singing done by Girls Aloud is done by Nadine Coyle. Cheryl's job is just to look cute, which she does admirably. The problem with Cheryl, who is evolving into the sort of everymans' national treasure that we haven't seen since Denise van Outen (both men and women like her), is that she is starting to believe her own publicity and think that she really is a singer.

Cheryl demonstrates why she is such an effective member of Girls Aloud...

Agent Triple P would have only two words of advice: Victoria Beckham. Stick to being a clothes horse and leave the singing to singers...

Errol Flynn 1909-1959


We don't feel that we can let today pass without noting that it is the 50th anniversary of the death of Errol Flynn.

When we were small we loved his classic swashbuckling films, especially The Sea Hawk (1940), Captain Blood (1935) and our favourite (and still one of our top ten films) The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).


As we got older we started to learn more about his extraordinary life, sparked initially by David Niven's autobiographies The Moon's a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses.


Flynn liked alcohol and he liked women (the younger the better); in both cases to excess and how he lasted until 50 is a miracle. In the enjoyable, if controversial, recent biography of Flynn by David Bret, Errol Flynn: Gentleman Hellraiser there is a story of him going off for a cruise on his yacht with a handful of friends and them taking on board 110 cases of vodka to keep them going!


1310 Burnaby Street, Vancouver



Flynn died in Vancouver, on 14th October 1959, where he was visiting to arrange sell his yacht Zaca (he was, as ever, beset by money problems) to millionaire George Caldough. Caldough was just taking him back to Vancouver airport when Flynn felt ill so he diverted to the home of his friend Dr Grant Gould at 1310 Burnaby Street. Flynn immediately started to party with Gould's guests but then retired to his bedroom feeling ill again. He had been accompanied on the trip by his young (16) mistress Beverly Aadland and when she checked on him she already found him unconscious and blue in the face. By the time the ambulance arrived it was too late. Agent Triple P walked past the spot when in Vancouver a week or so ago.



Beverly Aadland. Young

Beverly was 14 when she became Flynn's mistress but claimed she had been an early developer being 34-28-34 at the age of 12. That's alright then.


Beverly and Flynn in London's Stork Club may 1959



Whatever, we salute you Mr Flynn; the world would have been a duller place without you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore original Tequila Sunrise


Last week Triple P was staying at the splendid Arizona Biltmore hotel in Scottsdale. He was about to order his usual Vodka Martini when he noticed in the menu that the Biltmore had seen the creation of the original Tequila Sunrise.

As is ever with cocktails. the history seems a little vague but it was apparently created by a barman called Gene Sulit who started working at the hotel in the late thirties or early forties. A regular guest told the barman that we wanted a long drink to enjoy by the pool and that he loved Tequila and could Gene concoct something for him.

Gene's original recipe, as still served in the Biltmore, consists of: 100% Blue Agave Tequila, Crème de Cassis, Fresh Lime Juice and Soda; although in what proportions they didn't reveal.

Over the years it has evolved into the usual current incarnation which replaces the auxiliary ingedients with orange juice and Grenadine. The idea always being that the denser ingredients (cassis or Grenadine settle and create sunset like layers.

Althought Triple P remains doubtful about Tequila (it really is too vegetal for him)the non fruit juice version was more refreshing and less sickly than the more common version which is really a drink for girls in bikinis. And why not?

Monday, October 5, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Hotel: Inter-Continental, Warsaw


Introduction

Triple P has been visiting Warsaw for nearly ten years. Apart from a few early stays at the Marriott his preferred hotel is the Inter-Continental. Warsaw doesn't really have a "must stay" hotel. Most of the big chains are there but the only old style Grand Hotel is Le Meridien Bristol which is rather gloomy inside and needs, by all accounts, a major upgrade.


The views from the rooms on the high floors are exceptional


Location

The Inter-Continental could not be more central; right on the square opposite Stalin’s generous gift to Warsaw, the Palace of Culture. The hotel is within walking distance of the Central Station, close to the main government and private sector offices and only a short fifteen minute walk to the picturesque Old Town (in fact nearly all sensitively rebuilt since WW2).

9/10



Appearance

The monolithic appearance of the over 40 storey building is somewhat offset by the peculiar corner removed from some of the floors giving a triangular cross-section. Striking without being attractive.

5/10


The Lobby


Lobby and Common Parts

The lobby is that of a fairly standard business hotel with, perhaps, not quite enough seats. There is a small coffee shop off the lobby. Not very exciting and lacking in flair compared with, say, the rather newer Westin. The corridors are very utilitarian .

5/10


One of the Club Inter-Continental rooms we stayed in last year


The apartment bedroom


The Apartment living room


Rooms

Triple P has stayed in several types of rooms over the years. On this occasion he was upgraded to an apartment. These are really designed for longer stays and whilst they have the benefit of a lot more space the room suffered by not, for example, having a minibar.



The normal minibar has a very good selection of glasses. There's nothing worse than having to drink wine out of a tumbler


The bedroom was small but the bed was fantastically comfortable. A large collection of on demand films were available on the nice flat screen TV Including a very large selection of "artistic" ones). The room had the advantage of a chaise-longue and, if you had needed it, a kitchen with fridge, dishwasher and hob.

The kitchen area of the apartment


We have stayed in other types of rooms in the past and the corner rooms are probably the nicest, if somewhat smaller. The bedroom had been renovated more recently than the living room, oddly. Flat screen TV in the bedroom old CRT in the living room.



One of the standard rooms from a couple of years ago

Like all Inter-Continentals you can take a room on the Club floor which gives rooms with a better finish and access to the lounge which usually has a small office area and provides a free (but usually only continental) breakfast.
Triple P rarely uses the club lounge although he did pop up and have a free beer to take this picture of the lounge office area. It is on the 41st floor so does have magnificent views over the city. there is also a pool on the top floor but we have never used it.


Triple P is a platinum ambassador card holder which gets an upgrade, late-check out and usually a little welcome gift. This is often chocolate or something else Triple P has to feed to his companions but the wine, water and fruit was very welcome on this trip.

6/10


Bathroom

The bathroom was a fairly typical Inter-Continental one. Separate shower and a bath which was big enough for two and had room to hold bottles and glasses.


6/10


Bar

The One Bar is one of the better features of the hotel. It is windowless but has sensitive lighting, a clubby, library atmosphere and seats about 45. It has a live pianist most nights (although Triple P does not necessarily think that this is always a good thing). When the pianist takes a rest horrible euro Muzak takes his place, rather in the manner that terrible comedians used to come on between striptease acts in the fifties and sixties. Jarring. We once visited a hotel bar in London where Dr B, a German resident in Switzerland whose father had been an officer in the Afrika Korps (his son exhibited a character that suggested an identical heredity), gave the pianist £50 to stop playing.



The service in the bar is very hit and miss. Some of the waitresses are really, really lovely but getting served is not as automatic as it should be. One big disadvantage is that smoking is allowed in the bar and they stock a selection of cigars which are much smoked by Germans. At least, Triple P assumed they were Germans but B pointed out that they were in fact Austrians in that slightly condescending way that a master race always exudes. There are a lot of Germans who stay at the hotel. Given the historical significance of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 that month you would have thought that the Germans would be very unpopular. Polish opprobrium was reserved for the Russians, however, who had recently, sensitively, suggested that the Poles had brought WW2 upon themselves.



Triple P took a Naked Wyborova. The new deluxe Wyborova Exquisite with Lillet Vermouth. The drink was cold, with a light skin of ice flakes on the surface but the glass hadn’t been chilled. There were no olives but that may have been because it was a “recipe” cocktail. It was delicious, however and even without the chilled glass would score a 7/10. Perhaps a little on the small side.

Pretty good bar food and generous nibbles with the drinks

6/10 but loses a point for allowing smoking so 5/10

Restaurants

There are two restaurants: Frida Kahlo, a Mexican restaurant and DownTown the usual breakfast/lunch/dinner effort.

The first night that Triple P was there his companion was hungry so they only stayed in the bar half an hour (the cigar fug was getting oppressive as well). It has become something of a tradition for Triple P and B to eat at Frida Kahlo the first night of their stay. A large bowl of tortilla chips (the Mexican version not the Tex-Mex Doritos type) with Guacamole and salsa appeared whilst they perused the menu. An amuse bouche of a shot glass of carrot soup was delivered. Triple P pondered on whether he should have this but B pointed out that given he had had more than a few tortilla chips then the additional glycaemic effect of the carrot soup would be minimal. In fact B managed to eat 80% of the chips.



For wine they ordered an old favourite of Triple P’s; Beringer Fume Blanc. Triple P’s light starter of a Caesar salad turned out to be not light at all given the addition of not only chicken but large chunks of Polish sausage as well. However, the Caesar dressing (like the salsa) appeared to have been made in the kitchen and was not out of a jar.






B had seven spices soup. She is unusual for a German in liking spicy food.






For a main course Triple P had the sizzling beef fajitas served in a rather dubious cow-shaped cast iron dish. B had a much more refined looking Guinea Fowl risotto.



They had lunch there on the last day and had a Spanish rose; Val de los frailes 2008 which was quite the darkest rose Triple P had ever had. It looked more like a Beaujolais or a Veneto red. It was dry but not super dry as some of the newer Spanish roses can be.

Honestly, Frida Kahlo, is really only a slightly better than a hotel canteen style restaurant but it has more atmosphere than Down Town.


Just to give you an idea thera re arond 4 Zlotys to the pound!
One thing it did have, unexpectedly, was five really sensational wines on the list. Whether they ever sell any and whether they have been stored properly (we have had an indifferently stored Mexican red there in the past) we are unable to comment on.



Experience of the Down Town restaurant was confined to breakfast. A light and airy room with a glass wall overlooking the Cultural palace. Like most hotel restaurants these days it did not offer an a la carte breakfast. This means that if you want a cooked breakfast, as Triple P invariably does, particularly when accompanied by a companion, it is pure chance whether the various dishes are hot, warm or cold depending on when they have been replaced. One unusual feature was the presence of a harpist which gave a more relaxing atmosphere than the usual piped music.

As for the hot buffet it wasn’t bad: two sorts of pork sausage, thick grilled ham as well as the inevitable lacquered streaky bacon. There were baked beans, grilled tomatoes with cheese, grilled vegetables, rosti potatoes, scrambled eggs and an egg station where you could get freshly cooked fried eggs or omelettes.
There was also the usual fruit, cereal, yoghurt and other girls’ food. A Japanese section completed a pretty good buffet, although it could not match the one Triple P had at the Warsaw Marriott once which also offered steak and por chops! Even though the restaurant was quite large it did get crowded. Triple P did try to have lunch there before B arrived but it had been completely booked up by conference attendees. Triple P thinks that if a hotel is running conferences then food should be delivered in seminar rooms and not, essentially, closing down a restaurant that should be catering to other guests.
5/10

Staff and Service

Like most Eastern European countries service can be patchy and levels of English can be variable. The level of English spoken by Poles compared with, say, people from the Baltic States was always slightly lacking although Triple felt this had improved; no doubt due to the numbers of Poles who had been working in the UK. The service in Frida Kahlo was noticeably a step up on other parts of the hotel but still not, overall, up to international five star standard.

5/10

Clientele

Rather two many international conferences were taking place for Triple P’s liking, resulting in far too many people wearing badges around their necks. Standard conference and business people. Dull. Thankfully very few families.

5/10

Ambience

Not really a place with atmosphere or style. Not a hotel that impresses locals when you tell them where you are staying.
5/10


Overall 56/100

Not a brilliant score but I expect I will stay there again as the location is so good. I have popped into the newer Westin and it looks even more cafeteria like and Le Meridien Bristol is too far from the centre and gloomy. Warsaw needs a better hotel!