Dexter and I set a budget for our trip. It wasn’t a big budget, but it wasn’t too beans-and-rice either. We planned to book a hotel online with a bank card and take the rest of the money out in cash. Dexter and I love a bargain, but we also love staying in a hotel that is clean and safe. We decided to use the Priceline Name Your Own Price feature.* It’s risky because you don’t know exactly what you’re getting until you’re already committed. We were very specific about the area we wanted to stay in (Country Club Plaza) because we wanted to walk instead of drive as much as possible. (If you want, you can tell yourself that this is because we’re green hipsters. It’s actually because we wanted to avoid paying for parking and navigating through unfamiliar areas.) We also chose a high star rating. (Budget Travel Tip: On Priceline, I often look at all the hotels in a certain star-rating and location on the regular discount page. If I would be okay with staying at all the hotels on that list, I’ll very likely be okay with whatever hotel I get using the Name Your Own Price feature.)
While poking around on Priceline, I fell in love with a ritzy hotel called The Raphael. It was right on the Plaza, it had free high-speed internet, I was sure it would be clean, and it was oh. so. classy. For a week or so, I lowballed on the Name Your Own Price feature and came up with nothing. Eventually, the Raphael sold out for the weekend before our anniversary. So we tried a different weekend and offered exactly half the price listed for the cheapest room on the Raphael’s real website. I clicked and prayed as the page loaded. And we won! And then I ran across the room to high-five Dexter.
I was expecting to be a little disappointed by the Raphael. You know what I mean…sometimes hotels with “old world charm” just end up being old. I checked in while Dexter waited in the driveway in front of the hotel. The lobby was beautiful and the clerk was friendly, but I still half expected the upholstery to be faded in a stainy looking way or there to be hairs in the towels. We parked, rode the elevator up to our room, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. At first, I was a little confused.
I thought, This is a lot more spacious than I expected! Wait…no bed? There’s more? It turned out that our bargain hotel room was a suite!
I plopped down on the bed, facing the second flat screen TV we’d seen so far. This was a big deal for the people whose Best Buy store-brand tube TV didn’t even get TV reception. I knew it was going to be a relaxing trip. But we still had to explore the bathroom…or, bathrooms, that is.
In the bathroom, we found yet another flat screen TV in front of a gigantic whirlpool tub. Another room had a sink, and another room had the toilet and a shower the size of a walk-in closet.
There were plenty of little amenities and details that made us love the hotel as well. There was the alarm clock with an iPod dock. And there was the coffee machine with inserts for tea and hot chocolate. There were the M&M cookies and hot chocolate packets left on our bed after we returned to our room on Saturday afternoon. There was also a string quartet that played outside the front door each evening. Pretty fabulous for the couple who just wanted safe and clean.
We worked up quite an appetite exploring the room, so we headed to the plaza to find some sustenance.
At Blanc Burgers & Bottles, a restaurant serving local fare, we started out with some fried cheese curds. After that deliciously artery-clogging experience, we decided against fries even though they came to your table in an adorable tiny shopping cart. Sigh. Tiny things are so cute. Dexter had the “classic burger” and a Pepsi that was not from a bottle.
My curried lentil burger was on a Blvd. wheat bun and was topped with spiced yogurt, cucumber and onion salad, avocado, and radish sprouts. It was by far THE best veggie burger I have ever eaten. Usually, the bun and toppings are fine, but the patty is totally flavorless. I thought that using Indian spices would take me too far from the burger experience, but it didn’t. It was AMAZING. I am going to try to recreate this and will post the recipe when I figure it out. (Also, I have no idea why I’m holding my arm like that.)
We walked around the plaza, I met a penguin, and I fell in love with Anthropologie (think Urban Outfitters, but cooler, more French, and more expensive). There were several dresses I fell in love with that were priced starting at $150. We did want to be able to eat during the rest of the trip, so the budget didn’t get spent on a dress.
Later, at Balsano’s Gelato Cafe, we tried out Kansas City’s attempt at gelato. The high school boys who worked there were very polite and friendly although the store was busy when we arrived, and they both got to work cleaning as soon as we sat down. Our gelato palate is, what can I say, refined, so we weren’t blown away by the gelato. But ice cream is ice cream.
Then, back to the Raphael for some Iron Chef and Good Eats. Be still my heart.
*Thanks to Mom & Dad for their savvy hotel shopping advice and for babysitting our angelic puppies. I believe they have earned a round of applause and a really good Christmas gift!