A visit to The Breakers in Palm Beach

Back when we visited the Flagler Museum, we also visited and stayed at The Breakers in Palm Beach, an historic hotel. I honestly thought I’d published these photos long ago but no, I forgot. I did publish a short video clip I filmed on the beach with a new camera I was reviewing at the time, the PEN E-P2.

So… eight years later, here are the photographs I’ve taken at The Breakers. In case you’re interested in the fleeting red light of the setting sun and how it can be used for portraits, there’s a wonderful spot right outside the hotel, on one of the walkways, where it filters through the palm trees and shines on a spot that’s right at face level. You’ll see it in the photos and yes, that is exactly the kind of red light it is, I did not make it redder in post-processing. If you want to catch it, you’ll have to be there watching, because it only lasts for about 10 minutes each evening. Good luck!

Enjoy the photographs!

A visit to Las Vegas

Situated in the Mojave Desert, its Spanish name means “The Meadows” because of the wild grasses and desert springs originally found there. An oasis in an otherwise dry and unwelcoming place, it became known to Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. It was discovered by the modern world in 1829, when a young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera put it on the map. Settlers were slowly but surely drawn there and in 1905, it became a city. In 1911, it was incorporated.

Its growth back then was limited by the small water supply, but in a couple of decades, things were about to change in a big way. The year when Las Vegas came to be known as the place we know it today was 1931, when it legalized gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This move was “blessed” later that year when construction on the massive Hoover Dam started nearby. This meant the city now had access to an incredible water supply and it began to grow in spite of the Great Depression, helped by the influx of workers who stayed there to work on the Dam. The workers wanted to have fun when they weren’t working and thus Las Vegas began to gain its reputation as Sin City. After WWII, the big real estate developments began and the Strip as we know it today began to take shape. Hotels, casinos and stores, each bigger, more colorful and more lit than the other, dotted the ever-changing cityscape. And let’s not forget the appearance of heavy-duty, commercial air conditioning units in the 1950s, which can be credited with the tremendous growth in human settlements in what were uninhabitable areas. None of the large real estate developments in any of the hot places in the world would function without air conditioning.

Here is a gallery of photographs I took back in 2010 during a visit to Las Vegas. Drab during the day, its colors washed out by the desert sunlight, this place truly comes alive at night and it stays that way till morning. Throngs of people always crowd its sidewalks and the car traffic slows to a near halt on the Strip due to gawkers. If you’re going to visit, I recommend you do it during the cooler seasons (autumn, winter or spring). Visit the shops and museums during the daytime and save your evenings for walking around on the Strip and taking in the lights and the entertainment. It is unlike anything on Earth at night. The place screams abundance and availability of anything and everything. It is the pinnacle of consumerism. While I was there, I got a clear sense that everything you could want was readily available. Ads are everywhere, for every thing. All of the luxury brands have a visible presence there. Every big hotel has its own shopping mall inside, exquisitely decorated, lit to perfection and air conditioned to keep you comfy and happy. Restaurants are everywhere. Bars are everywhere. Should you want to go outside, hustlers on the sidewalk hand you phone numbers for “entertainers” of all sorts. Young women invite you into the casinos. Big LED panels flash ads at you non-stop. The buildings are all lit to perfection, to accentuate their architecture and make them stand out and draw you in. You will get visually and mentally overwhelmed by it all, so be ready for that. As I said above, I took these photos in 2010. The city has changed yet again since then. Some places already look different. Frequent change is the only constant there.

Enjoy the photographs!

The Pullman Hotel in Bucharest

This is probably the first hotel review I’ve ever published on my site, but I feel strongly about this and wanted to share my thoughts with you.

It’s not often I have high praise for a hotel. I do for this one. My wife and I are repeat customers here and we’ve always had positive experiences. We’ve stayed here multiple times during the past few years and we can both say that it’s the one thing we look forward to our trips to Bucharest. We like to travel, but we hate spending long times on the road, dealing with traffic, bad drivers, hot, sweaty weather and being cooped up in a car for long periods of time. So after all that unpleasantness, being able to unwind in a pleasant hotel room with a wonderful view is decompression heaven. To me, there are certain things which are important in a hotel: 

  • Location: how central is it, based on the business we need to conduct in that town, or the sightseeing we want to do, if we’re there for pleasure. For us, a hotel in Sector 1 (the northern part of Bucharest) is exactly what we need, because we conduct most of our business here and it’s easy for us to head to the highway and get back home. 
  • Parking: I want proper, spacious parking, right next to the hotel, free of charge if possible, guarded and well-lit, to minimize the potential for criminal activities and to make it easy for us to load and unload our car (we tend to travel with lots of luggage); 
  • Comfortable rooms and comfortable beds: yes on both counts. I can’t properly express in words how good it feels to step into a hotel room here after a long, hot day in the car, take a shower and unwind. I know I can get a good night’s sleep, wake up refreshed and go about my day with confidence. 
  • Price: it needs to be affordable for our budget, yet not too low, so as to discourage the unpleasant types (rude, loud idiots who think hotels are places where you party and make noise). Here the Pullman tends to be on the high side, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to stay here, but it’s still the first place we check when we plan on staying in Bucharest, because it often offers deals and special pricing for repeat customers. 
  • Friendly, helpful staff that resolves our issues promptly: not that we’ve had many issues while staying here, only minor ones, but it’s nice to know they’re always on it when we ask them. 
  • Great architectural design, both inside and outside: while the outside of this hotel is fairly streamlined and modern, the inside is great; it has lots of classical design cues, the hallways and the rooms are carpeted so as to reduce noise, the floors and walls are soundproofed, and best of all, each room has double doors. Let me explain that last part: there’s the entrance to the room, which leads into a hallway, with access to the closet and the bathroom. Then there’s another door that leads into the room itself. What this means is that there are two doors and two walls between your bed and the hallway (which is the main sound source at night) and this ensures you’re isolated from all the hallway traffic and can actually get a good night’s sleep. 
  • Large windows with great views: it delivers perfectly here. Pretty much every room gets a beautiful, panoramic view of Bucharest (see the featured image posted here). 
  • Good closet space and luggage stands: self-explanatory. It’s surprising how many other hotels have terrible closet space and no luggage stands. These two things are staples in a hotel room. They simply must be there. 
  • Armchairs and a work desk: for unwinding and getting some work done. 
  • Key cards that work: in many other hotels, the cards keep going inactive, requiring guests to go back to the front desk and get them reprogrammed. Not so at the Pullman. You can keep them in your wallet, next to your credit cards, you can keep them next to your cellphone or other RFID cards, and they’ll always work. 
  • A great breakfast: while the menu stays the same here, it’s a good menu and the food is very good. They also serve good pot-brewed coffee, which is my favorite, because I’m fed up with bad espresso. 
  • Good WiFi: the WiFi is free here and it works reliably. It’s not the fastest, but it works and you can actually get stuff done on it. I’m writing this post on the hotel’s WiFi. I’ve been to so many hotels where they charge you for WiFi, or it’s free but it’s crappy and peters out, leaving you frustrated and having to resort to 3G on your cellphone or tablet. 
  • Workout and exercise facilities: while the workout equipment selection is limited, it’s enough for maintenance workouts and as an added bonus, there are two saunas (a traditional sauna and a turkish sauna). They’re a godsend after a long of day of work and standing on our feet. 

Here’s hoping things stay the same here, and we can keep relying on this hotel for our stays in Bucharest! 

I’ll have a regular coffee, please

Coffee… some say when you drink it, it’s like flogging a tired horse. Sometimes you need to do that — you need to push yourself a bit further and get that day’s work done. And sometimes you just want to savor a well-made cup of coffee. It’s a bit like meditation. You focus on one thing while you let the world flow around you.

It’s getting harder to find good coffee on the go in Romania. I used to get an espresso now and then, especially when driving at night. That was till I got tired of espressos that were too bitter, too bland or tasted like motor oil. It used to be you’d rarely find an espresso back in 2008 and 2009. Now everyone, including the random roadside stand, has an espresso machine and most taste terrible. To date, the best espresso I’ve had was at a little hotel on the beach in Ladispoli, Italy, back in 2009, and that says something about the quality of the espressos if in more than three years nothing even came close.

The thing about the espresso is that if you want a good one, you have to have a good espresso machine. And that machine has to be serviced regularly and constantly calibrated. You have to put in quality coffee in the right amount. But most restaurants and hotels forget these other things. They think that if they’ve got an espresso machine, they’re good to go. No, no, no. Not unless you want to sell crappy espressos.

So I’m not drinking espressos anymore. I’ve switched back to regular coffee. To my dismay, I’ve found out that most places don’t have filter coffee anymore. In the short span of three years, they’ve all stocked up on espresso machines and forgotten about regular coffee. Stop at any place in Romania but a five-star hotel and ask for it. You know what they’ll say? “Sorry, we don’t have any. But we can serve espressos. Would you like one?” To which my answer is easily guessed.

Given my experiences, I was pleasantly surprised when I had breakfast at a Swiss hotel next to Hanul lui Manuc in Bucharest, where I had what was quite possibly the best cup of filter coffee ever. Just as I was thinking it, my dad, with whom we were dining, exclaimed: “Wow, this is very good coffee!” I sure wish I could remember the name of the place but you can’t miss it, it’s right next to Hanul lui Manuc, the great historic inn, which by the way, doesn’t serve filter coffee or turkish coffee, only espresso, as if the espresso existed in the 1800s.

To make sure, we went back there just last week to have breakfast and sure enough, the coffee was just as delicious: perfectly flavored, not bitter, not watery, the right aftertaste, went down easy and made you want more. I called the waiter over, complimented them on their coffee and asked how they made it. In case you’d like to follow the same recipe, here it is: ground Lavazza coffee, 6 grams per 50 ml of water. They run it through a regular coffee maker, albeit a big one. That’s it. It’s so simple. Why aren’t others doing it?

Gaylord National Hotel’s Musical Water Fountains

We visited the Gaylord National Hotel back in 2008, after it and the National Harbor had just opened. These are two videos I filmed back then. The first is of the hotel’s musical water fountains and the second is of the National Harbor itself.

It’s been almost four years since this, and I still can’t get over that name… Gaylord…

Espresso at the Ramada Majestic Hotel in Bucharest

While in Bucharest on a day filled with meetings and traffic, we stopped at the Ramada Majestic Hotel to relax and have a couple of drinks at the bar. Ligia had a hot chocolate, and I had an espresso.

The espresso was pretty good. It had the right aroma, though it was a bit on the bitter side, and there wasn’t enough crema. The aftertaste was about right.

The bar was a welcome break from the stress of the day. I loved their large couches. I sunk into one and didn’t move for 15 minutes. When we got up, we were ready to take on the town again.

On the beach at The Breakers

A couple of weeks ago, we spent a beautiful afternoon at The Breakers hotel and resort in Palm Beach, Florida. This is a 720p HD video I filmed on the beach, with the Olympus PEN E-P2, a camera I am currently testing for an upcoming review.

It was windy, a bit chilly, the surf was good, and the afternoon sun added a beautiful golden hue to everything, particularly to the rocks placed on the beach. The texture of the sand at The Breakers is finer and darker than on other beaches in Florida. This complemented the blue waves quite nicely, as you’ll see below.

Watch video at YouTube | blip.tv