A Whirlwind Work Trip: Summertime in Paris

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The next part of our trip brought us to Paris where we stayed at Le Grand Hotel, run by the InterContinental. It was indeed a nice hotel with typically Parisian and very opulent rooms. There were soft beds (which my head of delegation didn’t like – oops) and plush carpets. There was also peeling wallpaper and the shower flooded the whole bathroom.

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Something weird happened: as I was settling in, room service rang and set up this elaborate set of drinks and cookies in the room. It was well and good until I excitedly rang my boss and asked if he was enjoying the complimentary drinks. (He wasn’t.) Then I realised that the welcome card had the wrong name on it! Horrified, I called our local representative office who booked the rooms for us to check if that was the name of the secretary doing the booking. (It wasn’t.) So I took their advice to “just whack.” and did exactly that. If you didn’t mind the odd service, the InterCon Le Grand is a nice though horribly over-priced place to stay. Thankfully, we had a free upgrade so the rooms were expensive but not quite horribly expensive for the company.

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We had a while to wander about town and enjoy some cakes at Laduree, which was thankfully still open on a Sunday.

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It’s such an institution there and if you haven’t tried their macarons, you haven’t really tasted one before. Their desserts are all very yummy too.

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Laduree
16 rue Royale 75008 Paris (there are also other branches in Paris, CDG and Versailles)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 60 21 79

Thereafter, we went for a bit of a meander through town, passing by the Place de la Concorde and the gardens in the area. There were so many people out in the later afternoon after the shops were closed, simply enjoying the sun. While it was inconvenient for us that we weren’t able to shop in the little time we had in Paris, I liked the idea of life going on in the daytime in spite of the dearth of shopping and commerce.

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I took the requisite touristy photos at what I think is the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk.

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And I grabbed some other pictures of the beautiful buildings sitting pretty in the afternoon sun.

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One of them could be Hotel Crillon, but I can’t be sure. The weather was too beautiful for it to matter.

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On the day with business meetings, it was a rush from stop to stop, with quick photos taken out of the rented car window.

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And this is the only decent shot I got of the Eiffel Tower, taken in the distance.

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When we finally got back from our business meetings, it was only to get a quick round of shopping before the shops closed. One of the incongruous ones I saw was this thoroughly modern Apple shop in an obviously old and well-preserved building.

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We finished off our Paris leg of the trip with a lovely meal at Oscar Restaurant, a favourite of our local representatives. I started with a lovely giblet salad topped with a duck liver terrine. It was typically Parisienne and a much wiser decision than my earlier choices of stodgy food in Milan.

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I was feeling quite heaty from all the travelling and eating (and being stuck in a boardroom for a whole afternoon without getting even a sip of water – poor organisation on the part of the hosts). The beef tartare as a main was very welcome. It was the best one I’ve had, the fresh and tasty raw beef being seasoned just right and not being overwhelmed by the pickle and onion chopped into the mixture. The fresh herbs and side salad helped lots too. By now, my dining companions were looking askance at my rather different choices and wondering what I was going to have for dessert.

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I eschewed the usual chocolate puddings and ice cream and gunned straight for the Faiselle, a type of sweet cheese topped with creme fraiche and accompanied with berry coulis. It was just the right creamy ending to my dinner.

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Oscar Restaurant
6, rue de Chaillot 75116 Paris
Tel: +33 (0) 1 47 20 26 92
Closed for Saturday lunch and on Sunday

A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

Lombok: A Great Stay at Villa Sayang

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DC and I needed a break and we decided to really not do much at all to recuperate from all the craziness of the year. Lombok was a-calling. There wasn’t a huge lot to do there aside from hardcore mountain climbing and casual snorkelling or scuba diving and, more crucially, there were still air tickets available at short notice.

DC booked Villa Sayang at Mataram, the main town on Lombok. We made it our base out of which to explore the island and what a lovely stay it was! It was set among the padi fields at the base of Mount Rinjani and we had this lovely view from the restaurant every morning.

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There was plenty of greenery. Every morning we saw birds, like this sunbird, flitting about the trees. There were also plenty of butterflies flitting about in the trees. It was such a serene setting for breakfast.

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Until the resident cat turned up and tried to order us to give us food with its commanding stare.

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Breakfast was excellent, either a generous buffet spread when there were enough guests at the Villa or a la carte courses starting with fresh fruit…

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… followed by toast and jam, and then yummy mains such as the fantastic fried noodles a la Villa Sayang. They had a fresh vegetable garden and included lots of their fresh in-house produce in their food.

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The room was really lovely too, with plenty of space and a little gazebo-porch lounge area outside. The bathroom was such a highlight: it was divided into two, with a spectacular outdoor shower set in a granite (or was it limestone?) wall.

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Inside, there was a low bathtub and a lovely aquarium full of fish to entertain us in times of, ahem, boredom.

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We went out in the day and came back in the evenings, sometimes eating in. They were very obliging and even served us dinner in the lounge area outside our villa. They had some delightful dishes such as the fish palumera, a soupy stew with plenty of ginger, local herbs and Thai basil.

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One of the evenings, we had a delightful nasi tumpeng, compliments of the Villa. It was a very yummy combination of rice in a cone shape, representing Mount Rinjani, and plenty of dishes to go with the rice. We had fish satay – served on sticks, the fragrant herbal fish mixture was grilled to perfection; curry chicken, begedil – heavenly fried potato croquettes; spicy beef rendang; egg omelette; fried keropok – prawn crackers; dry-fried sweet-sour tempeh – absolutely lovely with sweet kicap manis, sour assam and crispy, unbelievably good tempeh; and stir-fried vegetables.

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On our final night, we had yet another evening of good food, with specialities like urap urap – a salad dish of blanched vegetables accompanied by a spicy coconut dressing, kangkung pelecing – more about that in a later post, more fish palumera, more beef rendang and yummy fried chicken.

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What made our stay extra special was the personal touch of Ibu Rosa, the lady boss of Villa Sayang. She was amazing at making arrangements for us, from getting us a rental car, to sending us to various really yummy restaurants in town (notwithstanding them being competitors to her in-house restaurant), and getting hold of our crazy shopping items. We went home with 10kg of Lombok mangoes and 5 kg of their signature belacan – again, more of that in a later post.

Villa Sayang was a lovely place to stay, a great place to eat and had such lovely people, we’d not hesitate to go back.

Villa Sayang
Jalan Sonokeling
Lingsar, West Lombok
West Nusa Teggara 83371
Indonesia
Tel: +62-370-6609022
Email: info@villasayang-lombok.com

So-so Park Hyatt Seoul: Potential to be Better

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I stayed at the Park Hyatt when I was in Seoul for business a couple months back. The room was lovely and I was very pleased the first night in. The room was big and very comfortable, with good views overlooking the city.

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The bathroom was huge, with separate shower and toilet areas, plus a vanity area. I liked how the wardrobe opened on both sides: one side facing the bed and the other facing the vanity area.

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The shower area came complete with separate rainshower and deep bathtub. Plus, it all came with Aesop toiletries which I like but think are horribly overpriced. They made for a happy me since I essentially got a set of toiletries thrown in with the hotel stay.

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So the room was great, but the service left quite a bit to be desired. I had a sense that while everyone was trying desperately hard to do his or her job, there was invariably something lost in translation. This not just because of the language barrier, but also because the different departments of the hotel didn’t seem to communicate well with each other. Some of our luggage took ages to be sent to the rooms, even though specific instructions and descriptions were given to the hotel rep in charge of our rooms. One of them didn’t get sent to one of our higher-ups because he accepted an upgrade from the hotel and word hadn’t been sent to the bellhops. His luggage sat outside the old pre-assigned room for four hours even though he had been upgraded (by the hotel mind you) to another room. Subsequently, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine were sent to his room, but bearing no sign saying that they were complimentary, both remained untouched.

If you’re on business and anticipate having to rush in and out of the hotel, the Park Hyatt Seoul probably isn’t your best bet. The lifts have the oddest configuration ever. There are 5 lifts in total, but only 3 serve the ground floor entrance. When entering for the first time, my party was taken up to the top floor where the lobby was. Here was where we realised that 2 more lifts served the room floors. In essence, the middle lift shaft served all floors from ground to rooms to lobby, while the pair on the right served only rooms to lobby, and the pair on the left served only ground to 2nd floor restaurant to lobby (and not the rooms). It was a bit mind-boggling and it took ages for us to wait for the one middle lift serving the 4th floor breakfast area and the rooms. Such a difficult system for busy people on work trips.

Other little annoyances? The lack of thought in housekeeping. The first night, I knocked over a bottle of water. Nothing was done to get rid of the huge wet patch on the rug. I’m guessing that by now the rug would have gone mouldy since no one bothered to replace it in my three nights there. (The damp grey spot was still there when I checked out.) Occasionally, housekeeping would stash the complimentary water in a drawer together with the mini-bar snacks. It didn’t help that the bottles weren’t labelled “Complimentary” and only had the hotel label on it. Not friendly. My room package included complimentary in-room internet access, but it didn’t come on automatically. We all had to select the “one day” option which would be charged to the account and then removed on checkout. It was ridiculous because almost all of us dialed 0 to check with the reception. What was worse was that we had to be vigilant on checkout to make sure that we were mistakenly charged for complimentary stuff (I had to get them to reverse one day’s internet fees. Ridiculous.) Last grouse? On the final night, the turn down people didn’t bring down the blinds properly. Somehow the automated function jammed and I had to climb up and pull the blind down myself. Such a simple thing as doing a last all round check that the room was OK wasn’t done.

There was also another major no-no that involved promises made but not met. Let’s just say that insufficient followup and service recovery came from this. They had lovely rooms and a lovely hotel, but as always: the devil is in the details.

Park Hyatt Seoul
Korea Seoul
995-14, Daechi3-Dong
02-2016-1234