Hotel Review: The Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a two nights-stay in RiyadhSaudi Arabia in one of The Ritz-Carlton‘s superior rooms.  Additionally, this will be one in a two-part series; the first will be of the hotel and the room, and the second, the food.

Only completed in 2011, the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh is located in the diplomatic quarter of the Saudi Arabian capital.  It’s safe, quiet, and rather detached even if not terribly far distance-wise from the city center.  In addition to its 493 rooms, meeting rooms, ballrooms, a males-only indoor pool and spa, and business center are available.

Oh, and did I mention that the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh was originally built as a palace to welcome dignitaries?  Well, who’s to say it doesn’t serve that purpose anyway?…

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-36the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-38Before you can reach the lobby entrance, there is a security checkpoint.  Though some may consider it a minor nuisance or impractical, I think its best purpose is to build up the excitement as you approach the hotel.

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-15

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-3The lobby and main corridors were immaculately maintained.  Although these photos were taken around 3:30 in the morning, even when the check-in/café areas became busy, it never seemed that way; indeed, the high ceilings and huge amounts of space are two reasons why.  Depending on when you check in, dates and Saudi cardamom-infused coffee, called qahwah, are offered right by the front desk.

Checking-in was easy; the front desk agent said that they were expecting me; no sooner than twenty seconds later, the nice Nepalese porter who took my bag from the taxi was already leading the way to my room.  Though I typically don’t like having to fumble for my room key to push the floor in the elevator, because the key card scanner worked fine, it was no issue.

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-6My room.  I suppose I expected something more elegant, but that’s neither here nor there. More importantly, the room at the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh was clean, comfortable, and had a very welcoming bed.  Perhaps what was most notably (to me, anyhow) absent was a device through which to play one’s smartphone/mp3 player music.

The wi-fi wasn’t working at first (there’s typically a charge for it, unless you have a certain status with Ritz/Marriott International/Starwood Hotels & Resorts), but a fast chat at the front desk resolved it.

However, the following night, I received three calls within fifteen minutes asking about the internet/other possible issues with my stay.  If I had a problem arise during my time at the hotel, I would be proactive about fixing it.

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-10The bathroom was well-kept, the shower had great pressure and amenities were of the British brand Asprey.  Also, in case you didn’t want to your favorite tv program, there’s a another speaker in the bathroom.

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-8Upon reflection – pun unintended – I should have removed the wrapping from the delightful edibles awaiting my arrival.  But, food safety is key, too…

On the left, some quality hotel-made baklava.  On the right, Saudi dates (from top to bottom) with peanuts/peanut butter, coconut, pistachios, and I believe sumac.  Dates will come up again in the next Ritz-Carlton Riyadh post.

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-4The Nepalese assistant then took me on a bit of a tour around the hotel.  The pool was the main stop:

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-5In spite of its warm temperature and extremely inviting ambience, lest you forget that it’s only for men to use.  Two restaurants – welcoming both genders – flank the left and right sides of this photo; they’re only open in the evening – after the pool has closed.  Still, if I had brought a bathing suit, the pool would’ve been a refreshing option.

the-ritz-carlton-riyadh-saudi-arabia-13I’ll finish the first review with the Saudi coat of arms – a palm tree with two swords representing the Najd and Hejaz kingdoms united in 1926 – superimposed over the lobby/Chorisia lounge.

Overall, service was good, if slightly rough around the edges.  I had good conversations with some of the Saudi staff, and Kristian, one of the bellhops, was quite helpful. Save for the somewhat secluded nature of the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, the internet flub and mostly ceremonial security checks, I’m confident in being able to recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a quiet stay in Saudi Arabia’s largest city.  Or, would it be better to endorse just a visit to the hotel and the breakfast buffet more?…we shall see!

Posted in Architecture, Hotels, Turkey, Southwest Asia/Middle East & North Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watch those Airport Scales

It goes without saying – though I’ll say it anyway – that travel during the holiday season somehow becomes even more of a nuisance.  Everything you never liked about planes, trains, automobiles, and bikes is amplified to the nth degree.

Then again, you might be able to swing the “but it’s Christmas” excuse when dealing with a check-in agent or a baggage handler.  However, if you’re dealing with baggage scale – i.e. something that can’t insult you back – you might be outta luck…

After making it to New York’s LaGuardia Airport a wee-bit too early for a Delta flight, I decided to inspect the curbside scales, if only because there were no attendants present.  Delta, your sneaky history encourages no smiles, but we’ll still fly you because screw antitrust laws you’re not really different than any other business.

Folks, safe travels, and good luck with checked luggage.

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Hotel Review: Le Meridien Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

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Marshall Park (though it’s more of a park for cars)

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a night’s-stay in a suite at the Le Meridién Charlotte, North Carolina.  The woman who helped me arrange this was very proactive and accommodating; not only was this a last-minute request, but she also offered another night at the adjoining Sheraton hotel.  Both the Le Meridien and the Sheraton are part of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group.

A friendly young woman checked me in to the room; I had a hunch that she was from Ethiopia, so we started chatting about kolo, buna (coffee), and Washington, D.C…which happens to be the nexus of Ethiopian expats in the US.  Afterwards, she informed me that all charges would be comped, to which I asked if she’d like anything from the room service menu.  hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-6The lobby appeared dark, modern and a bit subdued.  I found it to be quite clean and with ample places to sit, though the immediate front desk area could get crowded easily.

hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-3That’s a lot of space (particularly for one person)!  Though that’s no news for a suite, I couldn’t help but think how many NY – or Hong Kong – apartments could fit into it.  Maybe even a Lower Manhattan city block?  How cliché are these questions?

In any event, the room was immaculate, had plenty of light sources (though I don’t think it was possible to open a window), and was quite comfortable.

A couple of issues– unfortunately, I very clearly heard the neighbors conversing.  Even playing the tv at a louder volume didn’t help.
A more minor complaint is that the Bluetooth function of the iHome alarm clock/speaker wasn’t functioning.  It would’ve been nice to introduce to my temporary neighbors the sweet truly bizarre sounds of Gazebo.

hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-4Nice…some appetizers were awaiting my arrival.  Not literally, and don’t worry, they were covered before I took the photo.  Not sure if that’s standard for suites, but they were much enjoyed.  The brew, NoDa, was a local brand.  Local is good.

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Westward view from my room

The bathroom was clean, and the shower pressure was quite welcoming.  A few different shower products were available, but a toothbrush/toothpaste were absent.

Though I’m not sure if it’s a Le Meridien-only concept, as long as you’re staying two or more nights – no surprises there – you can earn either an f&b (food and beverage) voucher or Starwood Preferred Guest points if you choose not to have housekeeping.  Thumbs up for a rare bit of forward-thinking news, even if it traces its roots to ol’ fashioned bribery.

hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-7I ordered room service the following day, and although there was a bit of confusion with the operator while placing the order, the food came within fifteen minutes.  Quite fast, though the salad was missing the advertised vinaigrette.  That said, I didn’t need it, and the shrimp were delicious.

(hotel-le-meridien-charlotte-north-carolina-usa-5(Apologies for the grainier quality of this photo.)

I was invited to have s’mores and hot chocolate at City Lights, Le Meridien’s rooftop lounge.  Heck, they even cordoned off a whole section for me.  I felt bad, so I had the manager open up the area to the public, and started to share my s’mores with other patrons.  S’mores are always a nice touch.

The views were good, and the sound system did it well, too.  However, I noticed an unpleasant odor either originating from the heat lamps or another source.  Whatever it was, I felt like it was better suited to Greyhound than an otherwise enjoyable hotel lounge.


Throughout my stay, hotel staff were generally helpful, and responsive to my blunt questions: “Where should I go for barbecue?”  “Barbecue?”  “Do you eat barbecue?”

In all, I’d say Le Meridien Charlotte is worth a repeat visit- facilities were well-kept, staff were friendly, and it’s a good spot for those wanting to be quite close to but not in the center of the action.

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Product Review: Primal Kitchen, Part Two

A bit of a nice surprise from the paleo-friendly Primal Kitchen came in the mail yesterday.

I wrote a review about their chipotle mayonnaise, Greek vinaigrette, and dark chocolate almond bar this past May, and then had an unexpected chat with a few Primal Kitchen representatives at the 2016 New York Fancy Food Show.

In addition to another jar of the quality chipotle mayonnaise, what else was in store for me this time?

primalkitchen_ranchdressingAlthough it has been a long spell since ranch dressing made an entrance in one of my meals, Primal Kitchen’s version with avocado oil is fortunately nothing like the flavor I expected.  Sure, it’s a bit creamy, but I mostly tasted citrus and salty notes, as opposed to concentrated lethargy (e.g. try standing up after eating a plate of spaghetti carbonara).  Though, my main concern with most bottle dressings is the fat content, and this one…doesn’t disappoint.

Lately, I’ve just been doing a blend of vinegar, salt, and pepper, but Primal Kitchen’s ranch dressing is not too shabby.

primalkitchen_dark-chocolate_almond primalkitchen_chocolate-hazelnut

Getting into the collagen (which is often considered to be good for one’s skin, nails and joints) bars now, I have two general complaints.  One, there’s a lot of fat in each bar.  Dos, each one is a very chewy snack.

However, I do appreciate that each bar is quite loyal to its name; for instance, a single chocolate hazelnut bar has a generous amount of filberts, err, hazelnuts, there’s a solid amount of protein, ,and they are quite filling.primalkitchen_macadamia_-sea-salt primalkitchen_coconut-cashew_barIn spite of not liking the dark chocolate almond, macadamia sea salt, and chocolate hazelnut bars, I really liked the coconut cashew version, mostly because of the coconut.  Primal Kitchen, if you try a pistachio coconut or Brazil nut coconut bar, count me in as an automatic fan!

Thanks again for giving me some good grub for the holidays, Primal Kitchen.

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(What Was) The Binghamton Ferryboat in Edgewater, New Jersey, USA

It’s not easy, voluntarily going to New Jersey.  But if you’re into history, like me, and strip malls, unlike me, the borough of Edgewater might be a curious day trip from Manhattan.  Move over, bizarre apartment building probably influenced by a random google image search for Kazakhstan, I’m talking about the Binghamton.

the-binghamton-ferryboat-edgewater-new-jersey-usa-2Full disclosure, I vaguely remember walking by the Binghamton – a Hudson River ferryboat constructed in 1905 to transport folks to and fro Barclay St. in Lower Manhattan – back in 2008.  However, I have no photos of it from, possibly because it was hardly in such an inoperable state back then (abandoned stuff rocks).

Ferry service stopped in 1967, and in 1975, after mooring in its current home in Edgewater, the Binghamton was converted into a nightclub and restaurant.  Meanwhile, the boat was added onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, which in fact, does not affect whether or not one can demolish/remove said artifact/property.

Nelson Gross, the owner of Binghamton’s, the name of the aforementioned discotheque, was found mysteriously murdered in 1997; thereafter, a series of misfortune befell the ferryboat.  Binghamton’s closed in 2007, after years of declining profits.  Soon after, lawsuits, arson, and two hurricanes all helped turn the obsolete Binghamton into a paradise for geese, and for shopping center-goers who enjoy skimming rocks.

the-binghamton-ferryboat-edgewater-new-jersey-usa-1For more detailed info, visit this website; simply put, I had to pay tribute to possibly one of the last surviving Hudson River ferryboats…plus, for even more history, check out the location of the Burr-Hamilton duel, in nearby Weehawken.

Posted in New York City, Non-Aviation Transit, North America (non-NYC) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Product Review: Mama’s Malizzano and Ajvar (Macedonian Spreads)

Note: In exchange for a review of Mama’s, I received jars of their malizzano and ajvar spreads.

 

On a recent visit to Sarajevo, I gleefully wandered through the aisles of a local supermarket, nostalgic for various Balkan snacks and condiments.  Really, condiments?  For sure…that region has some under-the-radar specialties, which have led me to take lengthy subway trips to various parts of Queens and Brooklyn specifically for something with tomatoes, eggplant and/or hot peppers.

Although I tend to prefer sampling local products, I couldn’t help being tempted by a jar of Mama’s malizzano, or eggplant spread.  (OK, so the container also had English on it.)

Even better, the ingredients were simple (this jar was one that they sent me; however, the one in Sarajevo also had English): mamas-macedonian-spreads-malizzano-and-ajvar-2It may not look like much, but advertising eggplant and hot peppers (fefferoni), in addition to not having added sugar made this too difficult to pass up.  As it turned out, this was easily one of the best, and somehow one of the freshest tasting spreads I have ever tried.  I can think of some good potential competition – Chinese street-side grilled eggplant with garlic and leeks comes to mind first – but I’m glad to know that it can be found in the US.

mamas-macedonian-spreads-malizzano-and-ajvar-1The concept was started by three Macedonian businessman who, upon trying some local appetizers at a restaurant, were inspired to start producing their own line of Balkan condiments as an homage to their mothers.

In addition to the malizzano and ajvar (ay-var) – or red pepper – spreads, they have other items that include sweetened kiwis, watermelon, and figs, baked beans, and gherkins.  As a self-described breadite – shucks, I thought I just made that word up – I’ll be sticking with their delectable savory spreads. Ви благодарам (vi blagodaram/thanks) Macedonia for giving me another reason to visit!

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Do Not Adjust Your Cyan: The Malaysian Food Edition

Golly, every time I post something, it seems as if I should be adding a new category.  But what could that category be for today’s post?  Rice? Botany?  Printers?

By now, we’ve established that I’ll eat almost anything.  That goes for food, too.  In spite of this culinary agnosticism, I still get tickled by some dishes…

ipoh-malaysia-blue-rice-nasi-kerabuThis somewhat unusual – outside of its homeland – meal was discovered at a roadside stall in Ipoh, Malaysia.  Although Ipoh is a Cantonese stronghold, as mentioned above, I like eating edible things, so I stuck with the Burmese, and in this case, Malaysian food.

It’s called nasi kerabu, which literally translates as “rice with raw vegetables/fruits.”  The topping consisted of dried fried coconut and fish…misleading much?

If you’re lucky – in place of the more likely artificial food colorant – the blue color of the ostentatious rice comes from the butterfly pea flower (in Malay, it’s bunga telang), a plant which is also consumed fried, and as a drink.

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments