Airport Hotel That Doesn’t Seem Like One

DID YOU THINK “NICE AIRPORT HOTEL” was an oxymoron? I did. But I was determined not to stay in a soulless American chain hotel for my one-night layover in Madrid. That would have been depressing. I wanted to prolong my time in Europe, where the coffee is good, the pop music is bad, and the debt crisis is comfortingly familiar.


Before leaving the States last week, I made a reservation at the Hostal Villa de Paracuellos, above, in a small older building whose owners evidently decided to turn its location in a village a few kms from Barajas Airport to advantage.


I was picked up last night after my flight from Lanazarote by a van that shuttled me there in 10 minutes, and I found the design-y, recently renovated boutique hotel much to my liking.



The WiFi proved unreliable (I’m posting this from Brooklyn, having just arrived home) and there are no English-language channels on the cable TV. Boo! On the plus side: my top floor garret had two skylights from which I could see the village rooftops and a super bathroom with heated towel racks and a rainhead shower. Nice people, and a price reminiscent of the old days: 42 euros including breakfast.

Playing Tourist in Philly


The brand-new LeMeridien in Center City

TODAY BEGAN WITH COFFEE AND A CROISSANT at the Reading Terminal Market, an indoor foodie paradise the likes of which no city should be without (though I know of no other such place anywhere) — scores of stalls, from butchers and bakers to candlestick makers, literally. There are outposts of old-school Italian bakeries, Amish cheese makers, stalls selling Provençal linens and beeswax scented candles, handmade chocolates and unusual flowers — everything varied and fresh and reasonably priced.


We stopped in to the Wood Turning Center in Old City, a unique gallery whose current exhibition, “Magical Realism,” features a major work, above, by Randall Rosenthal, my neighbor in Springs — one of Randy’s extraordinary, carved-from-one-piece sculptures. This one is a creative jumble of pads and notebooks, so realistically carved and handpainted you could well mistake it for the real thing.


Then Nancy and I drove 30 miles south into Delaware’s Brandywine River Valley and spent the afternoon at Winterthur, above, the well-known 200-acre estate belonging to Henry Francis DuPont. His 175-room mansion is crammed with important American furniture and antiques. It’s more museum than historic home (H.F. removed bathrooms and kitchens to make more room for the display of objects). The interior of the house, which was built in the late 1800s and twice added on to before H.F.’s  death in 1969, is intentionally a pastiche of styles, with little architectural integrity of its  own. A fanatic collector, DuPont salvaged moldings and paneling and floorboards, even staircases, from various sources, composing some rooms in Federal style, others in Colonial fashion, and so on.


For me, the highlights of our hour-long intro tour of just two of the seven floors were the rooms with wraparound scenic wallpaper — one with Chinese vernacular scenes of the 1700s, above — and the big blowsy flower arrangements, specifically required by H.F. in his will.

We took a tram tour of the grounds, which are gorgeous — all rolling hills and meadows with grazing sheep and ancient cherry trees and sycamores. As an arboretum, Winterthur is unsurpassed, but overall, the experience paled in comparison to yesterday’s exhilarating visit to Chanticleer.

Returning to Philly in the late afternoon, we drove up to Fishtown for a look around, and had a beer at Standard Tap (I’m not much of a beer drinker, but the beers at this place are all local and on draft). We had dinner, on my son Max’s recommendation, at Southwark in Queen Village, a civilized change from the noise and madness we encountered the night before at El Vez, Steve Starr’s gimmicky, wildly popular Mexican restaurant in Center City.


We’re camped at Le Meridien, a sleek two-week-old hotel in a 10-story Georgian Revival building that has been done up by the Starwood chain in mod Eurostyle, top, above, and below. It’s fun walking into the lively lobby bar and reception area, where the building’s original carved decoration is set off by crisp 21st century furnishings, dramatic lighting, and abstract art. The hotel’s location couldn’t be more central — it’s right behind City Hall and next to the park with Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture.


I’m looking forward to tomorrow: a visit to several small private gardens in the Mt. Airy section, where I’ve never been (participants in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program), and a final stop at Greensgrow Farms in Kensington on the way back up 95, where I hope to find some out-of-the-ordinary annuals.

Getting High in Manhattan


SPENT A COUPLE OF DAYS in the Big Town this week, taking care of business and visiting with my kids (who are grown-ups). On Tuesday, my daughter Zoe and I checked out the High Line, which is open, finally, after 10 years in the planning.

The once-rusting hulk of an abandoned elevated railway that runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 20th Street in Chelsea has been transformed into a public park, gorgeously planted with birch trees and perennials — a natural-looking, gravel-mulched landscape inspired by the wild, weedy landscape left over when the trains stopped running decades ago. (A second section, extending to 30th Street, is slated to open next year.)


It’s a novel and exciting vantage point, a couple of stories up, surrounded by the adventurous architecture and glitzy hotels that have sprung up in the area.


The park is already well-used, full of people strolling, taking pictures, hanging out with friends and neighbors. In the evenings, I hear, the High Line becomes a lively social scene and a romantic spot to watch the lights flicker on all over Midtown.


Nicolai Ourousoff, the New York Times architecture critic, called it “one of the most thoughtful, sensitively designed public spaces built in New York in years.” (Read what else he had to say here.)


It’s sure to be the summer’s biggest tourist attraction. Weekends are likely to be crowded, so try to go during the week if you can — but by all means, get there.