The Secret Life of the Hotel Shopping Bag

luggage, secret, Uncategorized

Attention four-star and five-star hotel hoppers: You know you’ve seen it there, lurking in the closet above the logo-emblazoned single-use slippers and plastic laundry bag. Your first reaction is probably something like, “Hey, that’s a really nice looking shopping bag!” to be swiftly followed by something like, “But hey, why did they stick a shopping bag in the hotel room closet? After all, it’s a hotel room, not a shop.” Followed, after a fumble as you reach out to touch it — thick! sturdy! glossy! — by a third wave of reactions: “What am I supposed to do with it? Am I supposed to use it? Am I allowed to keep it?”

Damn you, hotel shopping bag! You come on so innocently but really the angst that follows, sometimes it really is too much. We’ll think about you later, and about how you sit there in the dark night after night branding yourself in silence after we Instagram that room service menu that faux-tantalizes us with the promise of $28 challah French toast plus 15% room service charge, no gratuity included. . .

After all, when in your hotel room you’re supposed to think of other things like the bed or the bathroom or leaving your hotel room to go out and explore, or about things like airports and train stations and taxis and packing and unpacking and packing again and yes, that’s when your mind turns once again to that quixotic creature in your temporary closet, the monogrammed, or sort of monogrammed hotel shopping bag. Could you–I mean what if you—could you seriously even—why yes, I even have, and more than once!–think of it as a complimentary complementary suitcase? YES! YES! YES!

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I found this fine crisp specimen inside my Pure Room at the Galaxy Hotel in Heraklion, Crete.

 

But like most pairings, what at first seems like a natural match can drift into the domain of delusion, and end up as a downright pain in the derriere.

Allow moi to tripsplain: Let’s say you’re in Paris. You arrive at your hotel with your favorite suitcase. After a day in Paris you buy a couple souvenirs. After two days you’ve acquired a bunch of new stuff in a variety of shopping bags, some nice, some just cheap plastic. After three days you’ve accumulated so much crap because you’re such a that you’re contemplating buying an extra suitcase but–why should you when that sweet hotel shopping bag beckons? Just use it as that extra suitcase! And impress all those losers in the security line (you know, the tightwads who wouldn’t spring for TSA Pre) with the  fancypants paper imprint of the Park Hyatt or Ritz or wherever you just had your (hopefully not too woefully scripted) luxe chain hotel experience.*

*Because the hotel shopping bag phenomenon is not widely seen outside the larger luxury hotels, although there are exceptions. Anyway…

Just do it! DOOO IT! Grab that bag! But hold the 420, it smells bad. Do it like so: think stacking.

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That’s a hotel shopping bag from the lovely Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel, which made it through round one without a hitch: it’s pictured above, on top of my carry-on, in the lobby of the St. George Lycabettus Hotel in Athens. Shopping bags and cross-town taxi rides make for easy bedfellows.

Making it to round two, i.e. getting through airport security, is another matter altogether.

claybags

Shopping Bag Zero: the first known shopping bag was made of hard clay and used by the Minoans for various shopping needs. Prototype for the modern hotel shopping bag today?

 

The problem is this: if like me you have seen the hotel shopping bag as a cost-free substitute for an extra suitcase, you will proceed to pack it up like one. Only it isn’t one, which will became painfully evident as everything falls out of it once you tilt it over to send it through the X-ray machine.

But let’s suppose you didn’t overstuff it and it does make it through the security process intact. It’s surely going to get scuffed between the terminal and the tarmac, so once you finally get home, if you’re going to try to impress your neighbors or fellow grocery shoppers with that hotel brand-emblazoned shopping bag, it’s fine but it will be clear that you are no Kim Kardashian, not even Dubai-dwellin’ LiLo and that you had no limousine or VIP service, that you did all the heavy lifting on this trip yourself, and that despite the glamorous patina momentarily conferred upon you by the ever-flirtatious hotel shopping bag, your dreams are as tattered as it is now, and you are still a loser.

Oh God damn you, hotel shopping bag!

*

Do you have a Hotel Shopping Bag story of your own? Great! Keep it to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is what might happen if you spend 24 Hours at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv

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TEL AVIV, Israel—Do you know what makes a great hotel? I know what doesn’t: high thread count Frette linens, a Jeff Koons knock-off in the lobby or the fact that George Washington once slept there, maybe. In other words yes, the devil is in the details but what you want is character. The more character there is in your hotel, the freer you will be to act like the person you really are, but who the predations of routine and inertia may have obscured.  This is the reason you travel. Every city has but a handful of hotels that can truly be said to exemplify what that place is really about and it’s a quixotic list of ingredients indeed which, in terms of a hotel’s authenticity of character, of sense of place chops if you will, makes it or breaks it.

The Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel

Both sides now: The iconic Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel seen from two directions of the seaside promenade.

From the outside, the Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel looks almost indestructible, a concrete chunk that would appear to be at odds with the blue of the Mediterranean Sea which laps at the shore across the seaside promenade in front of it. Of course, we all know that nothing in life is indestructible except for Cher’s hair, but what I love about this block of concrete, which I’m guessing dates from the 1970s or ’80s, is that it so reflects the Israeli character: hard on the outside, to the point of impenetrable. Certainly unknowable. But what’s inside, ah — this is another matter altogether.  Be careful because you might find something sweeter than you had bargained for and then you’ll have to figure out what to do with it. You might become like a hummingbird to nectar, wanting to take in more, hovering, knowing that ultimately you just can’t stay. But in the meantime, there you are…

Blue is beautiful: the view of Tel Aviv’s sea promenade from Room 1301, a Royal Executive room.

The Carlton has 268 rooms and suites, which kicks it out of the boutique hotel category however, there is a definite small-hotel feel here and this is due in part to structure. In most instances I would be the last person to sing the praises of concrete, but what you have here is essentially a concrete capsule, narrow at the base and pushing up into a voluminous square 15 stories high, and chock full of delicious surprises. Starting with breakfast. By the beach. Do I really have to keep typing? I said BREAKFAST BY THE BEACH, PEOPLE.

Carlton on the Beach for your breakfast. Haaretz optional

Carlton on the Beach for your breakfast. Cappucino and sunglasses essential. Copy of Haaretz, optional.

I loved the service at Carlton on the Beach, which is actually the one part of the hotel that’s not part of aforementioned capsule. (It’s a tiny one-minute walk across the beachfront sidewalk). Friendly, solicitous, not overbearing. You know that yours truly is one happy breakfast camper when he finds himself seated next to small children and doesn’t even care: when you are in a fine setting with professional service, not even a wayward bird dropping its calling card on your copy of Haaretz gets you down (some of the newspaper’s left-wing drift might, but this is Israel, and that’s another story). By the way, did I mention that  this beachside breakfast experience includes a halvah bar? Well, at risk of repeating myself, this beachside breakfast experience includes a halvah bar. We’re talking chocolate and vanilla. We’re talking pistachio. Here’s the proof:

Breakfast at Carlton on the Beach is served until 11AM...nice, nice, nice.

Left: Chocolate halvah. Carlton on the Beach serves breakfast until 11AM…sweet!

But I digress because though in Hebrew you read from right to left, you do not typically start a hotel stay in Israel with breakfast. You start with check-in and here at the Carlton it’s a pretty easy process. The lobby is contemporary/cozy, with a sort of New Israeli hygge going for it: light that’s reflecting off the sea streams in to the front, with blue back-lit reception counters. Ten randomly selected guests a day receive a little welcome snack, which consists of glass of refreshing sweet tea, fresh bread sticks, organic cheese and honey dipping sauce. It looks like this:

Welcomesnack

 

But if don’t get that welcome snack don’t worry, because apart from things like beds and rainbath showers and surprising sea views, the Carlton Tel Aviv is like one big grazing station.

Fancy a fruit platter?

Fancy a fruit platter?

The hotel’s signature restaurant is called Blue Sky and is situated appropriately enough on the roof, with sweeping views of the Tel Aviv skyline (Bauhaus in the foreground, skyscrapers beyond). It’s run by Meir Adoni, an Israeli celebrity chef whose other renowned restaurants in Tel Aviv are called Catit, in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and Mizlala. It’s a kosher gourmet restaurant the menu focuses on fish and vegetarian items.

Fancy fish at Blue Sky

A fancy fish dish at Blue Sky by Meir Adoni, atop the Carlton Tel Aviv hotel

Not cheap but very, very delicious. My dinner started with a chestnut soup made with root vegetables, chestnuts (natch), grouper in butter, roasted macadamia foam milk and vanilla oil, with a mini cinammon butter brioche on the side. My dining companion, Y, was utterly verklempt, although with Adoni behind the menu I was less surprised by the innovation manifested by this particular potage. Moving on to mains, Y opted for  the Spaghetti “Carbonara” with homemade linguini, red tuna “pancetta”, lime aioli and mini parmesan pops. Tempted though I was by the Southern Tortellini, involving as it does seared Arava tomatoes, goat cheese, roasted zucchini, basil and lime zest, I stuck to my piscine priorities and the “Scents from Casablanca” did not disappoint: a well-proportioned grouper fillet in herb butter, pepper marmalade, chard, leek-lemon yogurt, cardamom and saffron crème, fava beans (and mind you, all this was plated on three different areas of the dish), coriander, hummus cream, light tomato sauce and Moroccan-style couscous.

That’s a pretty filling dish, but still I had to leave room for one of Adoni’s signature celestial desserts. Actually, there had to be two: “Winter in Florence”, a coffee-esque concoction of amaretto tiramisu, mascarpone and coffee crème, coffee crumble, candied almonds, biscotti bits, porcini sugar (!), brandy zabaglione and basil. If that seems slightly more complicated than the Middle East peace process that’s because it probably is, but also a lot tastier. Y tucked into it with aplomb whilst my thoughts, and fork, were deep into the Caribbean Sunset, which looked something like this:

Exotic dessert by Meir Adoni

 

Frankly, this is the kind of food you dream about. So thank heavens the guestrooms at the Carlton are perfectly proportioned and comfortable. I can’t tell you how many hotel rooms in Tel Aviv have disappointed me for the same reason they do in New York: they are often just way too petite. I am not saying each and every room here is enormous, but the size is ample and there are frequently sea views that would be the envy of most other hotels. I also like the fact that the balconies with said sea views are small: you’re not meant to lounge there and this, mercifully, is not a party hotel, but maybe to pause and meditate for a moment, perhaps over an espresso (and the rooms have electric kettles with coffee and tea if you need a quick caffeine fix). Room enough to hang a swimsuit out to dry 🙂

A typical Royal Executive category room at the Carlton

A typical Royal Executive category room at the Carlton. Bathrooms are white with rainbath showers.

I recommend booking the Bianco Suite, if you can afford it (Santa can you hear me? I promise to be nice..) A Royal Executive room on floors 11-14 will get you complimentary access to the Royal Executive Lounge on the 14th floor, which is open daily from 9AM to 11PM. It offers a solid buffet with drinks and snacks, computer stations and a selection of international newspapers. It’s very quiet up here, and come sunset you might see something out the windows that looks like this:

Executiveloungsunset

The sunset view over Tel Aviv Marina from the 14th floor Royal Executive Lounge.

Sometimes the sunsets like Day-Glo candy pink over the Mediterranean, Like the pink petit-fours I tried not to monopolize at the lounge buffet, pictured here. Not pictured, a very nice kosher vegetable soup. The offerings change daily…

Executiveloungebuffet

 

…as do the views from the roof top pool, from the front,

9k=-1

 

…and the back (restaurant level)

terracerearview

 

Here’s another:

 

Resaurantrooftop

 

Stellar views, groovy cuisine, a range of really great rooms…I almost forgot to mention the gym! It’s on the fifth floor and features the latest Technogym equipment, sea views and a live beach cam. There’s also a nifty little dry sauna as well as a tiled hammam-style steam room and two rooms for spa treatments or massages.

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More pictures from Carlton on the Beach, for breakfast:

Breakfastbreadarea

 

….the outside deck is elevated, so your view of the blue is unobstructed:

 

BreakfastTCTA

 

btw who slipped me this note? Were they reading my mind?

Inspirationalnote

 

Give yourself 24 hours at the Carlton Tel Aviv…it’s just enough time to

chocolate

 

 

…start getting hungry for a little more

*

 

More Instagram images @tonytelsit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WATCH THE TEL! BEFORE THE GOLDEN GLOBES

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Yes, Tripquake is about travel but this week we’ve set our suitcases down in the heart of earthquake country…Southern California (two tremors this week and counting!) Which also happens to be the home of Hollywood, so check out some of the Tinseltown vibe before awards season starts, watch here

 

How to Score a Free Hotel Room in Manhattan*

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*sort of

 

A view of the disaster from Long island City

A view of the disaster from Long island City

If someone had told me 10 years ago to book a hotel room in Long Island City, which lies just across the East River from Manhattan,  I would have scoffed. Not because I’m any kind of  New York snob (I could take it or leave it) but because frankly there weren’t that many hotel options. In fact, there might not have been any at all.

Fast forward to holiday season 2015 and the situation has changed dramatically: hotels are sprouting up in the industrial-trendy district of Long Island City faster than mushrooms after a downpour, and though the styles widely differ, they all have one thing in common: dramatically lower room rates than at their counterparts across the river in Manhattan.

So what’s the best way to score a hotel room in Manhattan for free? Skip it altogether.

Read a book. Paper Factory Hotel

Read a book. Paper Factory Hotel

My first discovery was a rambling new hotel in an old, reconverted paper factory and called, appropriately enough, the Paper Factory Hotel. Its geared for those who like the industrial chic look and it’s only two stops on the subway to Bloomingdale’s. If one morning, however, you do not feel like making the trek in Manhattan, there is no shortage of diversion in the area. Just a short walk from the hotel takes you into the interesting Astoria area of Queens and the neighborhood that’s home to the Museum of the Moving Image, an homage to all things cinematic that’s housed in a former building of the adjacent Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Long Island City is next to Astoria in Queens, N.Y.

Long Island City is next to Astoria in Queens, N.Y.

But the newest hotel in L.I.C. is also one of the best, though it’s name doesn’t leave much to the imagination: it’s the Hilton Garden Inn New York LongIsland City. This tall hotel doesn’t have the stylistic shenanigans of some other properties in the outer boroughs but it does rise as a pillar of comfort and convenience in what is essentially a very urban environment. Ask for a room on a high floor for a great view and some of that precious New York commodity, actual light. The lobby is an upbeat space and includes a large breakfast area as well as a small business center.

view

M & N’s: plenty of NYC subways heading from L.I.C. into the 212

Not far beyond is the Boro Hotel, with its unspectacular lobby and Scandinavian design pretensions. I can’t recommend this one. The Hilton Garden Inn wins overall for comfort level as well as location, being just one short ride on the dirty and rat-infested but also efficient New York City subway into Manhattan.

For more New York City travel tips, follow me on Twitter at TGi24.