East Meet West at Blakes Amsterdam

It's a 15-hour flight from San Francisco to New Zealand, so we were really happy that our first stop was the Heritage Christchurch Hotel in the heart of the city. Reception was cheerful, and it was clear that they were used to pampering people who had experienced a little too much jetting and setting. Our 11th floor penthouse suite was comfortably decorated in tasteful furnishings (à la Danish modern) in shades of light green and purple. How did they know these are my favorites? If you've read any of my previous articles, you know how important an excellent bed is to having a good hotel experience, and Heritage's king was first rate. We had a nice poofy pillow top mattress with super soft sheets. As an added bonus, we had eight sleeping pillows in addition to the six or seven decorative ones. As Bob and I like to sleep with pillows between our knees to alleviate back tension, we loved this. We were too pooped from our travels to go out for food, so we ordered room service. Because Christchurch is a multicultural city with large English, Asian, and Polynesian populations, the menu made for interesting reading. You can get fish-n-chips, bangers-n-mash, Thai green curry, pasta, hamburgers, and omelets. We ordered an interesting and spicy version of Hot-n-Sour soup, and a perfectly presented Caesar salad. All of these wonderful dishes are available at the hotel restaurant, which is located in the OGB - Old Government Building, just across the driveway. The Old Government Building is the work of acclaimed architect Joseph Clarkson Maddison and is believed to be the finest example of monumental Italianate Renaissance Palazzo in New Zealand. Restoration of the century-old building to transform it into hotel suites was achieved without destroying any of the building's innate charm, using Maddison's original drawings. The OGB houses luxurious suites, the restaurant, wine celler, a chic bar, and a wonderful day spa. The bathroom had a nice, large tub for soaking and large shower with a high showerhead, which Bob especially appreciated because of his 6'3" height. Many of the rooms include a complete kitchen, not just a coffeemaker. We enjoyed the flat screen TV, the first we had seen in a hotel room. Heritage offers Sky TV satellite service which includes all the American TV you could want, plus BBC and MTV - in New Zealand that's Maori Television. The Maoris are Polynesian relatives of Hawaiians, and they have managed to maintain their language and their culture; they also control all the jade mining in the country. To get a taste of Maori life, rent the recent movie, "The Whale Rider." Maori TV offers all the same television fare as the English language version - news, events, documentaries, even game shows, all in the local language. The Heritage offers high speed Internet, although you have to pay for it, and a lovely evening turn down service. But what makes the hotel so spectacular is its location - just a few minutes' walk to loads of beautiful and interesting sites in "The Most English City in New Zealand". It's also called "The Garden City" . . . read on to learn why. "When the first settlers from England arrived at Lyttleton in 1850, they brought with them the gardening traditions of that country. It was just 13 years after the arrival that the initial plans were made to form the present Botanic Gardens. The grounds of the Botanic Gardens encompass an area of 30 hectares, the majority of this being within the loop of the Avon River. Contained within this area is undoubtedly the finest collection of exotic and indigeous plants to be found anywhere in New Zealand. There are numerous large majestic trees, many of which are in excess of 100 years, and form an interesting background to the various sections of the Gardens. Spring (October, November and December) is the best time to visit the Rock Garden, where blooms change daily. From Spring through Summer to Autumn, many plants continue to flower, bringing life and colour to this part of the Gardens." I love gardens, and we walked through different parts of this one every day we were in Christchurch. As you botanists may know, Giant Sequoias need quite specific conditions in which to grow, and those conditions are found only in California and China. Or so I thought. We were quite surprised to find 6-7 fine specimens of redwoods, growing happily, and for quite some time, too, judging by their size. One of the redwoods has a branch that makes a wonderful hammock-y seat. From its shiny bark, it was clear my hiney was not the first to grace it. Got Art? On your way to or from the Botanic Gardens, be sure to stop in the Te Puna O Waiwhetu or Christchurch Art Gallery (all government signs are offered in English and Maori; the "wh" is pronounced as an "f.") The Gallery is the city's art museum, and houses a fine collection of New Zealand art in its permanent collection, and a fine show of portraits when we were there. There's also a MOMA-style gift shop and appropriately modern eatery. Admission is free, though a donation is appreciated. There was a considerable controversy over the aesthetics of proposed addition , so you'll have to let us know how it turned out when you get there. www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz

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The Best Pillow Top Laptop StandsLaptop stands are an excellent way to increase your productivity when using a laptop. They keep your laptop at a more comfortable position and prevent it from becoming too warm on your legs. However, most laptop stands are very rigid. They are literally desks for a laptop.What if you want something with more cushioning? If that is the case, you'll need to buy a pillow top laptop stand. These laptop stands are partially made out of rigid materials, but they also include a cushioned layer which makes them more comfortable to use. The four pillow top laptop stands found below are good choices if you need a comfortable but functional laptop stand.Logitech Comfort LapdeskThe Logitech Comfort Lapdesk is one of the most functional pillow top laptop stands which you can purchase. It is made out of a soft air-mesh fabric. This makes sure that it feels comfortable at first touch but also remains comfortable after spending a long time on your lap. The Logitech Comfort Lapdesk also features an ergonomically ideal twelve degree angled riser and a heat-shield design which ensures that your laptop stays cool.The Logitech Comfort Lapdesk isn't the least expensive lapdesk available, but it isn't the most expensive either. It can be found for $34.99 at most retailers, which is a reasonable price considering how enjoyable this light weight cushioned laptop stand is to use.iLapDesigned with Apple's products in mind, the iLap is a cushioned laptop stand which is can be ordered in a variety of sizes depending on what size Macbook you happen to own. While titled the iLap, this laptop stand actually also can serve as a stand for desktop work as well. The velvet cushion which covers the front of the iLap's rigid chassis can be removed. When used on your lap, however, the pillow acts as a wrist-rest for your laptop stand.Since this is meant for use with an Apple product, you'll have to spend Apple money. The iLap is available in sizes between 12 and 17 inches, with prices starting at $49.90 for the 12 inch and 13.3 inch models and rising to $69.90 for the 17 inch model.Belkin CushTop Notebook StandThe simple Belkin Cushtop is one of the most comfortable pillow top laptop stands currently available. Unlike most laptop stands, there are absolutely no rigid surfaces on the outside of the laptop stand. It is cushioned both on the top and on the bottom. Despite this, the CushTop is made of breathable materials which will ensure that your laptop won't overheat, something which is often a problem when placing a laptop on a cushion.Better yet, the Belkin Cushtop is very affordable. It can be found for under $20 at most retailers, making it the most affordable pillow top laptop stand available today. The CushTop comes in 15 inch and 17 inch variants, but the two seem usually be sold for the same price.Levenger LapreaderWhile Levenger specializes in "Tools for Serious Readers" the Levenger Lapreader can serve either as a stand for a hardback book or as a pillow top laptop desk. The lapdesk is made of foam and cotton, making it very comfortable to use. The Lapreader also includes three pockets which will allow you to hold accessories such as USB cords or a small wireless mouse.The only downside to the Levenger Lapreader is that it doesn't breath very well, but the Levenger is also small (recommend for laptops of 12 inches or smaller) so any laptop used with it probably won't be getting too hot anyway. The Levenger Lapreader can be found for $39.99 at the Levenger website.
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