by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Mindfulness in 2016
People outside the meetings and events industry often ask me about my favourite destination or the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in or what good restaurants there are in Barcelona or Boston or Beijing. The questions are often posed in a tone that sits somewhere between awe and envy, suggesting that I’m a privileged member of the human race that gets to do things all the time that they only do once a year, on vacation.
These are hard questions for me to answer. Beyond simply not remembering, I suffer the same syndrome as the millions who travel for a living. I take it totally for granted so all the hotels and the restaurants and the places that are not my own backyard meld into one single, generic wish to be home in my own bed, eating a simple home-cooked meal, surrounded by the warm familiarity of my loved ones.
This year I tried mindfulness. In January 2016 I resolved to pay a lot more attention to the privilege of travel, to being in places, not my own. To take notice of my surroundings, the unfamiliar, different, unusual, “disruptive” reality of being in strange places, sleeping in strange beds, eating strange food – all those wonderful, weird and sometimes challenging experiences that travel brings. Having tried that for 12 months now I can confidently reveal my “best of 2016 for #eventprofs”
I stayed in some great properties this year like the Hotel Daniel in Vienna where my room came complete with a hammock or the Merchant Hotel in Belfast where you eat breakfast in the extravagant opulence of a former banking hall . By contrast I also shared a PodPad with Eugene at the Electric Picnic. About half the size of my garden shed and half its height too, it provided solace and shelter when the festival lost its shine in a downpour.
My hotel of the year, however, is the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. Dating from 1912, this centrally located hotel has a beautiful collection of modern art pieces by Chagall, Picasso, Miro and others, a magnificent grand ballroom, uniformed waiters in their 60s and a Golden Retriever called Sally in the lobby. Rooms are small (at least at my pay grade) but perfectly appointed and toiletries come personalised with your name. Class!
My best meal of 2016 was not in a restaurant at all but in a private apartment on the second floor of an ancient dwelling in the Hospital region of Barcelona. Cooked and served by architect Ravi, this was my first experience of Vizeat, a platform that allows curious, hungry travellers to connect over a home cooked meal with gastronomically inclined, hospitable locals.
@Supergreybeard and I were guests of Jean-Michel Petit, co-founder of Vizeat and joined an enthusiastic delight of diners that included Roger Kellerman and Atti Soenarso, Guy Bigwood and Janet Cheung and IMEX’s Dale Hudson. Conversation ranged over the US Presidential Election, the unfolding political situation in France, the Scandinavian welfare system and contemporary life in Barcelona. The food was amazing, all locally sourced and creatively prepared by Ravi. The entire evening was a perfect example of what Philip Larkin calls in his great poem, The Whitsun Weddings “this frail travelling coincidence”. Real people, real time, real places, real food.
Way back in January I participated at the SITE Incentive Summit in Slovenia and deep dived into one of Europe’s most magnificent hidden treasure destinations. Breaking all the rules of transfers and distances, one night we navigated through the rural darkness for what seemed like an age before disembarking, finally, in the pitch black Slovenian countryside.
Slightly distracted and disorientated after an hour in a motorcoach, we tentatively approached what turned out to be Majerija, an agri-tourism farm to fork restaurant in the Vipava valley. There we enjoyed one of the simplest and best meals I’ve ever had with astonishingly good wine, all prepared and served by Matej and Nataša Tomažič. My favourite dish was a creamy bean soup called Fižolovka, the recipe for which was handed down through the generations.
The most amazing breakfast buffet I ever saw was at the Kempinski Çiragan Palace in Istanbul. It was set out over an enormous space and was full of dynamic energy and visual appeal with live chefs, omelette stations, pancake and waffle stations, a full bakery, an asian section etc. On the other side you had the wide expanse of the famed Bosphorus.
This year’s best breakfast, however, was a mere 15 minutes bike ride from my home at Pembroke Townhouse in Dublin. What it lacked in scale by comparison with the stately, plumb Çiragan Palace, it more than made up for in class, curation, provenance and sheer homebaked authenticity.
Fiona Teehan has been General Manager at this 48 roomed gem for a number of years and has created a joyous boutique hospitality experience without the need for a ironic jar of gummy bears or red M&Ms at the check-in desk. The breakfast room is bright and airy with colourful original art pieces on the walls. There’s a sideboard full of labelled goodies including a full range of juices, smoothies and more home baked goods than your gererous Grannie ever had – Brown Soda Bread, Scones, Banana Bread, Yoghurt Loaf, Granny Lily’s Coffee and Walnut Cakes, Marmalade Muffins. There’s also fruit compotes, cereals, muesli, granola, fresh fruit, preserves.
Hot food is prepared to order and includes porridge with bananas and Bailey’s, French Toast, Mushrooms on Toast (Fried Mushroom with Blue Cheese and Thyme on Toasted Granary Bread), Bacon Butty (the “hangover cure”), a veggie option and the piece de resistance, the traditional “fry up”. Bacon, sausages and pudding are from Loughnane’s Craft Butchers in Co. Galway, Irish Salmon is smoked in Hanlon’s Smokehouse in Dublin while eggs are free range and hail from Co. Monaghan. Some people claim that the best culinary experiences in Ireland happen at breakfast time. Here’s your proof!
Meetings and events professionals spend a lot of time in airport and tend to have definite opinions on the good and the bad. My least favourite airport by a country mile is Boston Logan mainly for its appalling WiFi but also for its over claustrophobic feeling and poor retail offering, at least in the JetBlue terminal. The “free” “Logan WiFi” involves clicking through an avalanche of screens, agreeing to watch an ad in exchange for “free WiFi” and then repeating the process ad nauseam as the signal keeps dropping.
By contrast my favourite airport in 2016 – Oslo – has password free WiFi, real wood floors that your cabin bag glides along, bright and breezy retail with a decidedly Scandi feel to it (there’s no soulless globalisation here!) and a seamless, reasonably priced connection to the city centre by fast train. Don’t believe all that you hear or read about prices in Norway! In addition I found the staff there to be extraordinarily helpful with impeccable English. Thanks to a great wayfinding system it took less than 10 minutes to get from the plane to the metro.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events industry.