Sunday, November 12, 2017

Cincinnati's Deco Masterpiece

The Netherland Park Hotel


It is pretty standard to seek out the newest and coolest places to see, eat and stay whenever we travel. But I actually try to balance my hotel stays between sleek new hotels and history rich hotels. While new hotels offer clean, spare modern rooms with lots of tech, older hotels offer great locations and rooms with character and provenance.

On my recent trip to Cincinnati I returned to the venerable Hilton Netherland Park Hotel for a conference. This is a hotel steeped in history. 

In 1929 John Emory approached various banks to finance his vision for a new office and hotel tower. It would be a city within a city.  Cincinnati's banks lacked Emory's vision and refused to finance the project. 

So Emory cashed in all of his stocks and securities to pay for the project himself.  His timing was pretty amazing, selling just before the 1929 stock market crash. 

If he hadn't followed his dream, he'd have been financially wiped out. 

Instead, Emory went on to build his masterpiece and become one of Cincinnati's biggest employers through the Depression.

To design it he retained Walter W. Ahlschlager as architect. To build it he hired Colonel William Starrett as builder (Starrett built the Empire State Building and the Lincoln Memorial).

Elaborate Deco Detailing is Everywhere

His hotel, the St. Nicholas Plaza, never opened. 

Just before opening a local Realty Company claimed they owned the rights to that name. 

Since all the hotel's towels, dishes and silverware had been monogrammed, a new name had to be crafted using the same initials and the Netherland Park was born.

The new 800 room hotel featured modern bathrooms, elegant ballrooms, shopping arcades, a fully automated parking garage and seven commercial kitchens.

The River View From My Room on the 24th Floor

The hotel currently features Ohio's only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant The Orchids at The Palm Court. It is listed also listed as one of TripAdvisor's top 100 American restaurants. 

The chef here is serious. Everything is seasonal, fresh and local. Take a peek out on the 6th and 16th floor roof terraces and you'll see his beehives and herb gardens.  

Our 4-course dinner was truly wonderful in presentation, taste and thoughtful service.

The Palm Court

 Pastured "Fried" Egg / Gulf Shrimp / Creme Fraische / Caviar Cream

  Dry Aged Duck / Maitake / Root Vegetable / Juniper

Cream Cheese Custard / Raspberry / Lychee / Almond / Hibiscus

My night of dining at The Orchids will not soon be forgotten.


So a little Roadboy background on Cincinnati. 

From my very first visit here nearly 30 years ago, I have loved Cincinnati. 

It is a city full of surprises. It offers up some really great food. It is home to remarkable architecture. It has a a fantastic zoo, a Roebling bridge (the longest suspension bridge in the world in 1866) and enjoys a picturesque setting along the Ohio River.

It also has one of America's most beautiful and iconic fountains (the Tyler Davidson Fountain on fountain Square). 

The Tyler Davidson Fountain

In the late 1800's it was one of the seven most populous cities in the US and referred to as the "Paris of America".

It also has had to overcome notable flaws. It is home to the nation's largest abandoned subway system. It built one of America's most beautiful train stations just in time to witness the demise of passenger rail service.

Its politics are bizarre. On one of my trips Jerry Springer's Cincinnati mayoral run was cut short when the check he wrote to pay a prostitute in Covington found its way into the newspaper.

About the same time Cincinnati proudly pronounced a Mapplethorpe retrospective exhibit in its contemporary art museum "obscene" and sent police to protect its citizens from viewing it.

But Cincinnati's saddest character flaw is its pervasive and deep history of toxic racism. It was home to three white on black race wars and Marge Schott.

However, the Cincinnati I see today, is working hard to overcome its troubles and build a bright future.

It remains one of my favorite American city's to visit.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Roadboy Returns to Philadelphia

75° Days, Spectacular Art and A Gaggle of Police Chiefs

For me any excuse to visit Philadelphia is a good one. This trip it was the 124th annual International Association of Chief's of Police national convention.

More than just a convention, it is the preeminent opportunity for law enforcement executives worldwide to network, attend educational workshops, discuss various hot button topics and explore the dazzling array of technology and services designed for their use; literally everything from software, helicopters & drones to badges and uniforms.

The Skyline of Philadelphia

The convention rotates between various cities from one year to the next, I try to attend whenever it lands in Philadelphia or Chicago. I love those cities.

Despite the national turmoil and need for extreme security this year, the 2017 convention turned out to be one of the more interesting and productive IACP gatherings in recent memory.

This most recent visit to Philadelphia reconfirmed that it is a great city in every aspect. It is rich in history, saturated with beautiful architecture, filled with amazing murals, loaded with regional cooking and inhabited by wonderful residents. Whether walking through the Reading Terminal Market (maybe in search of some Amish donuts?), or visiting its parks and museums, Philadelphia has something for anyone with a pulse.

This year I took an afternoon walk (tracing the steps of Rocky Balboa) right up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It was my first visit and from the moment I entered I simply lost track of time admiring an embarrassment of riches. Eventually a very nice staff member had to inform me that the museum was about to close. 

So here are a few impressions of a sunny fall Saturday spent enjoying "Philly".

The City of Brotherly Love 
(Offering Expressions in Many Languages)

Saturday Chess Game
In front of the Philadelphia Parkway Central Library, 
Architect: Horace Trumbauer 1927

Trumbauer designed the library based on inspiration from the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Affections dating back to the American Revolution, result in a lot of references to France throughout Philadelphia.

The Swann Fountain at Logan Circle
Alexander Stirling Calder 1924

A interesting little bit of information for art buffs. The Swann Fountain (also know as the Fountain of the Three Rivers) was designed by the son of the sculpture that designed the William Penn Statue residing on top of Philadelphia's iconic City Hall. And his own son (also named Alexander) went on to become internationally famous for his gently swirling mobiles.

Philadelphia's Rodin Museum
Architects Paul Cret and Jacques Greber, 1929

Native American 
Washington Sculpture & Fountain
Rudolf Siemering 1897 

 The Philadelphia Art Museum
Architect's Howell Lewis Shay and Julian Abele 1926

I found it interesting that Julian Abele (who completed the details and perspectives) was the first African-American to graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Architecture in 1902.

Fans Mug at The "Rocky" Sculpture

Once you reach the grand staircase to the entry of the museum you'll see a line of people off to the side of the stairs. When I ventured over to see what they were doing I found that this is where the movie sculpture of Rocky Balboa has been placed. 

I made my way up the stairs and into the museum. The main entry presents another grand staircase featuring the huge golden weather vane "Diana". This sculpture once graced the tallest point in Manhattan atop the original Madison Square Garden.

Diana in The Entry Hall 

With about 3 hours to spend, I had to pick my route carefully. I simply walked through many galleries in order to spend more time in others.

Here are a few of my favorite items from Philadelphia's collection.

First up Winslow Homer's A Temperance Meeting (sometimes referred to as Noon Time).

A Temperance Meeting
Winslow Homer 1874

Facial Detail 

This is one of the few paintings I have seen by Winslow Homer that details a facial expression. In this case the important character is the strong sunburned milkmaid offering a drink to a slouching farmhand from her ladle (who is left without facial detail).

I loved Rousseau's The Merry Jesters. This lush playful piece is one of the artists later works. The bearded monkeys almost seem to be in a childlike embrace.

The Merry Jesters
Henri-Julien-Felix Rousseau 1906

Another interesting painting was an early Picasso painting he created in the summer he returned to Spain from Paris. I really appreciate his earlier works such as this (essentially the works he completed before he began painting the abstract works that eventually made him a global celebrity).

Woman With Loaves
Pablo Picasso 1906 

Perhaps one of the most interesting paintings in the museum is Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase #2. Hard to imagine today, but in 1913 this painting ignited international controversy when submitted in New York's Armory show.

Nude Descending a Staircase #2
Marcel Duchamp 1912

With a daughter that illustrates and authors graphic novels, I found myself smiling at this 1939 lithograph entitled The Art Class.

The Art Class
Caroline Durieux 1939

Perhaps one of Philadelphia's most revered and endlessly controversial artists is Thomas Eakins. A Philadelphia native Eakins traveled the world and studied anatomy and dissection at Jefferson Medical College. He was famous for his portraits, sculptures and huge large, brutally realistic medical paintings. In a nation healing from the horrors of a Civil War, his realistic medical paintings took on a life of their own. 

He is also famous his stormy tenure as an art instructor and for a personal life that left his sexual preferences ambiguous.     

The Agnew Clinic
Thomas Eakins 1889

A small statue of William Penn caught my eye only to realize it was Alexander Milne Calder's study for the huge sculpture on top of Philadelphia's City Hall.

William Penn
Alexander Milne Calder 1889
Rounding out my photos here is the marble bust of Benjamin Franklin by Jean-Antoine Houdon. Houdon was the leading portrait sculpture in France at the time. The bust is even more remarkable since Franklin never sat for it. It was created from Houdon seeing at the Masonic Lodge where they both were members. 

I noticed Houdon's amazing sculpture of Voltaire during a visit to the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art.

Benjamin Franklin
Jean-Antoine Houdon 1779

The last item here was very interesting to me. It was a painting of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici (yes those Medici's) of Florence by Agnolo Bronzino. Why Bronzino painted one of the wealthiest men on earth at the time as an alegorical Orpheus playing a lyre to charm the three-headed Cerberus on the occasion of his wedding poses more questions than I can fathom!

Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici
Agnolo Bronzino (approx. 1537-39)

This trip (like those before) just makes me want to return to Philadelphia again!

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Citizen M Announces Expansion Plans


Coming to a City Near You!

Good news for fellow road warriors.

Over the past few years most major hotel chains have been very busy tweaking their products. So much so that the Marriott chain alone offers a mind boggling 29 different hotels brands. By comparison Hilton offers 14 different hotel brands. 

Clearly, they are committed to serving the unique needs of a very wide spectrum of travelers by developing customized products that cover every market niche possible. But their smaller, more affordable, offerings all seem like variations of each other to me.

There is one little upstart hotel chain however that (in my humble opinion) has developed a totally unique product: Citizen M. 

My first experience with a Citizen M was at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I just needed a room for a quick overnight stay before flying on early the next morning. With its practicality, very affordable price, XL king sized beds and "walk to the terminal" convenience I opted to try it. 

For a single traveler it turned out to be great.

My first experience at Citizen M may be found here: Roadboy's Review Citizen M Hotel - Paris - CDG

Since then, I have hoped to see the chain expand to North American markets I travel to most frequently. 

Today, I received an e-mail announcing that there are locations now under development in:

California: 
• Los Angeles - Hollywood Boulevard
• San Francisco - Union Square

Massachusetts: 
• Boston - North Station

New York: 
• New York City - Bowery (joining their present Times Square location)

Washington: 
• Seattle - South Lake Union

Washington DC: 
• National Mall / L'Enfant Plaza

For quick affordable high tech luxury this is all good news!

There were other global locations announced as well: Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur, Paris Center, and Shanghai.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017


Friday, October 13, 2017

Bicycling The Low Country: Part 2

Days 5-6: Savannah
The Bonaventure Cemetery, Wormsloe Plantation and Ebenezer Creek


After four days exploring the Sea Isles of South Carolina, we began Day 5 with a shuttle from Beaufort to Savannah, Georgia.

Upon arrival in Savannah we took a walking tour of its historic district admiring its many squares and architecture.

After the walk we were free to explore the city on our own before reconvening to check into our new hotel: The Andaz.

Some of us had signed up for an eco-kayak tour of the black waters of Ebenezer Creek just north of Savannah.

The kayak trip quickly became one of the highlights of the trip. After a shuttle to Ebenezer Creek, we met our guides and selected either 1 or 2 person kayaks, paddles and life vests. After a brief lesson on paddling we set off gliding through tea colored water shaded by towering cypress and tupelo trees.

The still, mostly shallow, creek was very quiet and somehow felt otherworldly.

City Hall Savannah

Kayaking on Ebenezer Creek

Gliding Among the Cypress and Tupelo

Water Lines on the Trees Identify Testify to Recent Storm Surges

Complete Bliss

Upon return to the Andaz, it was time to shower and seek dinner. Anticipating fine dining the next day, we opted for the creative menu served up at Savannah's own Treylor Park. We were early enough to avoid their frequent hour plus wait. Drinks were ordered as we reviewed its one-of-a-kind menu.

Our server proudly informed us that the crazier a menu item sounded, the better it would taste.  We began with a mountain of waffle fry nachos and plates of deep fried avocados.

Waffle Fry Nachos at Treylor Park

The last day (Friday) began with a ride through some beautiful neighborhoods including Bluff Drive.

A Stately Bluff Drive Residence

The View from Bluff Drive

From Bluff Drive we made our way to the Wormsloe Plantation with its mile long canopy tree drive.

Wormsloe

Wormsloe's Canopy of Trees

We stopped for a terrific Bar-B-Que lunch at Savannah's Sandfly and then peddaled on to the Bonaventure Cemetery. This is the place where the "Bird Girl" statue from the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" used to reside. Due to some vandalism Bird Girl now resides in a Savannah Museum.

Although I'd visited this cemetery before, I'd never had the chance to really explore it. So this trip I found myself reading epitaphs, admiring the sculpture and marveling at the stories the place holds. This is the final resting place for many of Savannah's most elite residents, including songwriter Johnny Mercer. His family plot includes a bench engraved with his most famous songs (including many Academy Award® winners).

Elaborate Sculptures

 Some Beautiful, Some Creepy

 Johnny Mercer

From Angels to Cats

 Cat Eternally on Guard

After the ride we turned in our bikes for the last time and went off to shower and change for our farewell dinner at The Pink House. I slipped in a visit to the Savannah Bee Shop for some noney tasting (sourwood, sage and tupelo were my favorites). 

Now it was time for dinner. There were toasts, laughs, trading of e-mail addresses and a round of Happy Birthday. And then, officially, the trip was over.

Time sometimes passes so quickly. This week time flew by.


Roadboys Travels © 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bicycling The Low Country: Part 1

Days 1-4: Charleston and Beaufort South Carolina

Maintaining a positive outlook on life in 2017 has required extra focus on healthy activities to enrich my mind and regenerate my soul.

And, combining bicycling with travel is medicinal to me.

Last year I was cycling through Spain's Costa Brava. Last July I cycled through Acadia National Park in Maine. With the return of fall I embarked on 6 days of pedaling through the Sea Isles of South Carolina and Georgia.

Of course, this year it was all dependent on whether Hurricane Maria chose to veer east or west. Luckily, she veered east and stayed off the shore of South Carolina and Georgia.

This trip featured rides in and around Charleston, Beaufort (in SC it is pronounced "Bew-furt") and Savannah.

Getting Started
After all 20 of the riders arrived in Charleston and checked into to the lovely Ansonborough Inn, we met our Vermont Bike Tour hosts to be fitted for our Fuji hybrid or road bikes. After a short briefing we tested out our bikes and the GPS based directional systems during a warm-up ride along Charleston's waterfront and through some of its colorful neighborhoods.    

 The Ansonborough Inn

The Ansonborough is a lovingly re-purposed warehouse building near Charleston's Port. Rooms featured high ceilings and lots of heavy timbers. The Inn is loaded with artwork (many featuring canines).  

    Some of the Hotel Dogs        

The ride through Charleston included views of some of its most cherished waterfront real estate. Most of the City is carefully maintained to cherish its historically rich architecture.

Regal Homes Face Charleston's Waterfront.

A Modern Guest House 
Carefully Blended Among Historic Properties 

Similar to New Orleans and Savannah, Charleston is a bit quirky. Down every street there are pocket gardens,  mansions, narrow "shotgun" homes and lots of stories of ghosts. 

Don't Stick Your Bazooka Joe to a Light Pole in Charleston!
(Must be a story how a fine of $1092 came to be established)

Charleston is a one of those fascinating American City's with a turbulent history as a center of the American slave trade, hotbed of secessionist traitor's during the Civil War and now a fully gentrified center of tourism featuring some of the nation's finest restaurants.

A House Approximately 16' Wide
(Real Estate in Charleston's historic district is measured by the inch)

A Walkers Delight Day or Night

Charleston's in City Lake

After our warm-up ride we changed and enjoyed a welcome dinner in Charleston's French Quarter at 24 Queen.

Dinner for me began with a cup of some lusciously rich she-crab soup. Like many meals in this part of the world, it is advisable to have your cardiologist standing by.   


Day 2 Riding through Mount Pleasant, the Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island
Day 2 began with a ride over the elegant Arthur Ravenel Bridge which led to Mount Pleasant, The Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island. Along the was was a lunch stop and a visit to Fort Moultrie. 

The Bike Lane on the Ravanel Bridge

On the Isle of Palms we witnessed the effects of Hurricane Maria as it was passing just off shore. The ocean was filled with anger delivering waves that were chillingly close to many of the multi-million dollar homes lining the ocean's edge.

A Modern Beach Home
(Many are elevated a full story to anticipate for hurricane surges)

We had a beachfront lunch while surfers were out in abundance to ride Maria's enormous waves.

Our 29.7 mile ride continued to Fort Moultrie National Monument. This fort played roles from the War of Independence all the way through World War II. It keeps an eye on nearby Fort Sumter. 

Unlike the risky (reckless) oceanfront homes found on the Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island avoids beachfront development.

 
Day 3 The Angel Oak and Cycling Wadmalaw Island
After breakfast on day three we said goodbye to Charleston. We made a stop on St. John's Island to visit the enormous "Angel Oak" and then take a 16 mile ride on Wadmalaw Island. We then shuttled to a new hotel in Beaufort.
Off to Beaufort

 A Group Photo at the Angel Oak

The age of the Angel Oak is a source of much discussion but it is generally agreed to be at least 400 years old. The Oak's trunk measures 28 feet in circumference with canopy branches spanning 187 feet from end to end. The tree delivers shade to 17,200 square feet. 

From the Angel Oak we departed for the Charleston Tea Plantation. This is the only remaining tea plantation in production in North America. Initially developed by Lipton Tea (at a time when they feared access to China's tea might be in peril), it is now owned by the Bigelow Tea Company.

The plantation grows the American Classic tea served at the the White House.

North America's Only Tea Plantation

Before the tour I had no idea that Oolong, Black and Green Tea all come from the same plant. The difference is just in how long the tea leaves are dried.  Although I'm not a big tea drinker, I found the sample teas presented here to be pretty wonderful.
 
Butterflies Everywhere

Throughout the week of riding we were surrounding by butterflies of seemingly all colors and sizes. Nowhere were they in more profusion than on Wadmalaw.

We completed the day's ride at the Firefly Distillery / Deep Water Vineyard where samples were available for tasting.

After checking in at the lovely Beaufort Inn we dressed for an elegant dinner at Beaufort's wonderful Saltus restaurant. I loved this dinner. For me it began with steamed mussel's, moved on to a great steak and then finished off with panna cotta topped with peach puree. 

 
A View of Beaufort

Day 4 St. Helena Island and The Penn Center
On day four we left the hotel for a 35 mile ride beginning at the history rich Penn Center on St. Helena Island. This became sort of a home base for the day as we went on to ride a large loop and then return to the Penn Center for a picnic lunch.

At the time of the civil war there were some 1,300 whites and 14,000 enslaved individuals in and around Beaufort.

The region was brought under Union control in 1861. As plantation owners fled the region, abolitionist missionaries from Philadelphia founded the Penn Center as the first school in the Southern states to be specifically devoted to the education of African-Americans. 

Over the years the 47 acre center has played a vital role in education and preservation of the Gullah tradition and culture of the region. In the 1960's it hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for retreats and now offers a museum, conference and cultural center.

After checking in at the Penn Center we began our ride encircling St. Helena Island. First stop for me was the ruins of the 1740 era Anglican Chapel of Ease.
 
 The Chapel of Ease

Like much of the early architecture of the region the chapel is built of mixture of cement and oyster shells locally referred to as "tabby". The chapel itself was burned in a forest fire in 1886.

Tabby Construction

The quiet ride took us past vast marshes, an egret sanctuary and lots of farms.  

Rivers of Grass

The end of the day included a walking tour of Beaufort and dinner in a local pub.

The next post will include the final leg of the trip to Savannah and an afternoon kayaking on Ebenezer Creek.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017