Thursday, 18 December 2014

So long, farewell, goodbye to 2014...

Wow 2014 is almost over and has just flown by .. the new year starts in just under two weeks! Looking back over the past twelve months I am truly grateful how very fortunate I am to be able to do the amount of travel that I do. Some of it was work related but the majority was definitely for pleasure even if only for a weekend or a few days at a time. I believe it's essential for our health and well being to take a break from the daily grind and the routine of every day life. 

If you love your work like I do it's still good to distance yourself, have fun, relax and come back fully recharged and ready to take on the challenges that present themselves in our busy schedules.

I'm taking a short break from writing and want to say that I really appreciate you all reading my blog and supporting me .. I love sharing my photos and experiences with you and look forward to many more opportunities to do so.

Thank you and see you in 2015!

Happy New Year
Buon Anno
Feliz Año Nuevo
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
سنة جديدة سعيدة   
Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος 
 
(the languages of the places I visited this year)





 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Saint Lucia .. tropical island paradise

View of the Pitons from the air
For me, the best thing about a relatively long flight is approaching my destination in daylight and being able to see it from the air. I happened to be sitting on the left hand side of the aircraft in a window seat and watched as we circumnavigated the whole island before landing .. so beautiful and impressive with it's lush green rainforests covering the terra firma right down to the sea!

Arriving there early afternoon meant that even with our 75 minute road transfer from the south of the island to the other end, we still had plenty of time to see the first sunset and enjoy a beach side dinner.

Windjammer Landing
Our resort Windjammer Landing on the north west of the island was well spread out with villas nestled into the hillside from the beach level upwards .. accessed by stairs, walkways and roads. A shuttle service is available 24/7 for people who didn't want to walk (read climb) the hills and of course much needed if your villa was situated at the top. That would be some work out! I enjoyed the daily exertion although I have to confess that the villa was only about a third of the way up .. quite doable even though I was gasping for breath on my first attempt! It got better as the week went on and I looked forward to finding different paths to take. There was always something to notice .. colorful blooms, hummingbirds, large caterpillars, geckos .. and as dusk descended the call of the tree frogs filled the air. A mesmerizing sound to lull you to sleep every night.

The resort has just undergone an expansion .. the beach has been enlarged, new palm trees planted and there is a new spa complex which was still under construction while we were there but nearing completion. There is plenty of room to be in your own space on the beach .. never crowded or noisy .. a simple paradise to wile away the hours. There's also plenty to do if you want it .. sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling and diving .. there are qualified instructors on hand and not expensive.

Quiet end of the beach
Most days were about relaxing .. a complete shut down from London life and work. There's no regimented sunbed layout, instead you pick up a towel from the hut and go where you want.  There are also pools on various levels and we had one a few steps from our villa where we would swim before breakfast - what a great way to start the day!

Mid week we opted for a day out and took the 'Endless Summer' catamaran cruise down the west side of the island to see the Pitons. It was great value for money as the cost of US$110 per person included the boat trip, transfers and entrance fees, all drinks including beer and rum, plus a delicious buffet lunch at the Fond Doux Estate, a working cocoa plantation. 
Part of the plantation

Diamond Falls



I hadn't planned on getting wet before lunch but once I saw Diamond Falls it looked so fresh and inviting! Walking into the gorgeous cool spring water and standing under the waterfall was a first for me and an exhilarating experience. Also opting to see the sulphurous, bubbling pools in the caldera (instead of the mud baths) was an olfactory experience to say the least! 

Bean polishing
We also had a demonstration of cocoa bean polishing in a large caldron - more of an extreme workout for the person concerned - the smell that emanated was gorgeous and chocolaty - and I think his feet were clean going in!

Lunch was served in a gorgeous covered exterior setting surrounded by tropical fruit trees such as mango, pawpaw and cashew nut and the many species of birds flying freely around the rainforest canopy. My new food experience - green banana pie! Savoury not sweet and very moorish!

Marigot Bay
The return trip up the coast was equally entertaining .. we stopped to snorkel and swim off the side of the boat in Anse Cochon and pulled into Marigot Bay (the filming location of Dr. Doolittle) just to have a look. The music was cranked up on the last leg - some people danced until we docked - and an extremely enjoyable day was had by all .. I highly recommend it as a 'must do'!

Although we mostly had all our meals on site - there are 5 restaurants which are all good - we decided to treat ourselves and eat out nearby about 15 minutes drive away in the area of Rodney Bay. We lucked out as we had an amazing meal at The Palms at the luxury resort The Landings which was quiet and beautiful.  I had my favorite .. Cajun style Mahi-mahi .. all the fish and vegetables are fresh and their menu changes to suit what they can get. That seems to be true for the whole island .. a lot of fruit and vegetables grow there and there is an abundance of fish to be had, also goat and beef. Banana trees seem to grow wild .. it was so nice to eat fresh bananas and tropical fruits knowing that they hadn't been transported in huge containers before reaching our shores.

There are of course many other things to do on the island if you have the time or inclination and you can also take day trips by air or sea to Martinique and Antigua for some more Caribbean experience.

So, Saint Lucia is finally ticked off my bucket list although I loved it so much I'm definitely going to have to go back!




 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Work hard, play in the sun!

Windjammer Landing Resort
Saturday cannot come soon enough! I'm not wishing my life away but it's been a busy few months and I am so ready to go somewhere warm and beautiful to enjoy doing whatever I want!

My destination is St. Lucia - somewhere I've always wanted to visit. Four years ago I had actually booked to go and a few days before my departure hurricane Tomas destroyed the infrastructure of many roads and resorts and made the beaches unusable. The hotel and airline were quick to advise and quickly rearranged the trip to Barbados instead which was largely untouched by the devastating storm. Thus began my love of that gem of an island and my frequent visits back!

Look out for my photo du jour on HQ's facebook page and blog post to follow on my return!

https://www.facebook.com/TravelsWithMyFlipFlops?fref=nf

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The hotel experience


I've stayed in a few hotels in my time and I would really love to give some of those interior designers a little kick up the backside. The way some of the rooms are 'designed' tells me that they either have not had much experience of living in the spaces or they just care more about the way it looks than it's practicality. Of course it matters that it looks good and welcoming but we have to 'live' in it for a while!

For me my ultimate expectation is cleanliness and functionality. After that there could be a few things that are available and accessible to make life a bit easier.

Bearing in mind your stay may be one night or a week or two I think all the things listed below should be considered.
  • An easily reachable power point next to the bed for phone/ipad/tablet
  • A power point on the dresser/desk for laptops, ipod dock, hairdryers, hair tools
  • A mirror above the dresser plus a full length mirror near the wardrobe
  • Good lighting over the desk
  • Enough hangers in the closet to hang dresses, jackets, trousers
  • Shelves or drawers for smaller items
  • A shelf in the bathroom to put your toiletries on - quite often there is no space and I often end up putting my bag on the floor
  • Good lighting over the mirror
  • Towel rail!
  • Hooks to hang robes/towels 
  • A window that opens when you don't want to use the air con
  • A sleep button on the remote control for the TV
  • Tea and coffee making facilities
These are just the basic requirements .. not too much to ask .. is it?

As nice as it is to see a little chocolate on the bed at night it is totally unnecessary .. it's the last thing I want before bed.

I also wonder about that message that is always left in the bathroom about reusing your towels. They bang on about the amount of towels that get washed every day being bad for the environment so I hang my towel for reuse and they always replace it .. so irritating! What's the point of the message?

At the last place I stayed at even the hand soaps were replaced daily .. what a waste!  It's only me using it so I really don't mind it being there for the duration of my stay.

A sweet treat at Star Rosa Milano
Another bugbear that I've come across recently is the fluffing up of the tissues in the bathroom! I want to use tissues that have been untouched by another human hand so please don't mess with them!

You get what you pay for but a little bit of consideration for what your customers really need
would go a long way. I guess as long as you have a comfortable bed to sleep in that's really the most important thing!

http://gogreentravelgreen.com/11-tips-and-tricks-for-greening-your-hotel-stay-25-days-to-green-travel-day-16/

The next trip for HQ is coming very soon .. swimsuit and sunglasses at the ready!!





Monday, 3 November 2014

A slice of country life .. Idyllic Cotswolds charm

I'm always happy to get away and having a weekend off when there's nothing pressing that needs to be done at home, there's absolutely no reason not to. Being so close to continental Europe I could have gone anywhere .. Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam .. all fab places to spend a weekend but this time I chose to be closer to home with no trains or planes to catch. I just wanted to hop in the car and drive for a couple of hours and find myself surrounded by fields and gently rolling hills dotted with sheep .. and what better choice than the Cotswolds.

We arrived in the village of Burford on Friday afternoon, checked into The Highway Inn and wandered down the high street to have afternoon tea in the renowned Huffkins bakery and tearooms. They have wonderful produce for sale in the shop next door and I managed to come away with a bag full of goodies for gifts! Apparently their Christmas cake is 'to-die-for' .. a secret recipe made with locally sourced ingredients .. I look forward to a slice or two.

The weather was positively gorgeous for the time of year. Unseasonally warm and sunny at 21C .. it was a lovely surprise. I expected grey misty mornings and possibly rain and I actually wouldn't have minded .. I had already visualised taking walks through the woods all rugged up for the cold. I don't like to let the weather phaze me. For a city girl like me the thing I noticed about being in the Cotswolds is the quietness .. there is no motorway noise coming from the distance as is noticeable in many other parts of the country. 

Saturday morning after breakfast we went to visit the Chedworth Roman Villa which was about a 15 minute drive away from Burford. The roads were empty as we meandered the beautiful partially stonewalled country lanes through undulating hills, past fields of dying sweet corn crops and with brightly coloured pheasants flying overhead.

After spending a couple of hours in Chedworth we drove through more very narrow country roads for about 20 minutes to the village of Northleach. A friend had recommended a great place to eat The Wheatsheaf Inn. There didn't seem to be much going on in this tiny town but the Inn was very busy and we were lucky to get there a little on the early side to secure a table for lunch. We only wanted a light bite but what we had was absolutely delicious .. spicey roasted pumpkin soup and the cheese souffle .. cooked to perfection. Their New Year's Eve party looks like fun too .. rogues, wenches, highwaymen, scoundrels and villains and promising 'thoroughly disgraceful behaviour'. If you're interested I suggest you book now!

Moving on we then drove up to Stow-on-the-Wold, an ancient market town with a town square and a wide variety of shops, antiques and places to eat. It's larger and busier than Burford and we spent an hour or so browsing before heading back to relax before dinner.

The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote was another restaurant which came highly recommended by a friend and I couldn't wait to go. We were told that cabs were few in the area so we booked one in advance through our hotel. As we waited in the bar it got later and later and it became evident that our car was not coming. The manageress at the Highway Inn came to our rescue and offered to drive us and got us there on time .. we were very grateful to her .. thank you Michelle! I didn't really relish the thought of driving myself and not be able to sample a good wine with my meal!

We had drinks at the bar which featured some unusual bar stools, probably not the most comfortable or practical (for ladies anyway) but quirky! We then moved to a lounge area (with the only open fire of the weekend) and ordered our food before being shown to our table. The wine list is extensive with wines ranging from around £30 to around £700 and there is a somellier there to offer his expert advice. The food was most delicious and lived up to all our expectations and more .. between us we had starters of monkfish and crab, to follow grouse and pork .. the dessert was the pièce de résistance .. pistachio souffle with chocolate ice cream .. light, fluffy, delicious, superb!!

However, the service on the night was not what I would call exceptional. I won't go into it but we did tell them and they took it on board so hopefully it was because they were short staffed on the night. It wouldn't prevent us going again. We did also manage to get a cab back too!

Sunday morning brought with it rain so we decided to grab a few goodies from the local produce stores and head back to London before the build up of traffic. A fabulous weekend in the beautiful Cotswolds .. would I go back? In a heartbeat!!

ps .. the food at the Highway Inn was also very good as were the breakfasts!


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Autumn weekend break in the country coming up ..


I've just booked a lovely weekend break in the English countryside for the end of the month!

The autumn colours should be spectacular as the leaf fall is later than this time last year. It's my favourite season.
I'm looking forward to quiet, long walks (even if it rains), antique shop browsing, open fires and scrumptious food. 

I'm keeping the location a secret for now but will fill you in when I get back. It can't come soon enough!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Spectacular scenery and sunsets .. north of the border

I have just come back from another trip to Scotland where it was mostly all work and not very much play. Instead of banging on about the trials and tribulations of my day job, the early starts, long hours, etc I thought it would be good to have a wee look at what else was on offer in this beautiful part of the world.

We flew into Edinburgh airport and were transported to our place of work for the next week, Auchterarder, about an hour's drive away. On the uneventful drive up the M9 motorway we passed The Kelpies, two giant horse head sculptures by the artist Andy Scott. It's a pity we didn't have time to stop and at least take a photo as they looked magnificent. Auchterarder is home to Gleneagles golf club where the 40th Ryder Cup was held this year. Luckily for us the weather was mostly dry and cool, if a little breezy at times. Being Scotland the pessimists amongst us were predicting rain and cold temperatures so we had to come prepared just in case.
 
The first thing I noticed on our journey to our accommodation at the Stirling Court Hotel - situated in the grounds of Stirling University - was the beautiful light of the evening sky. Autumn had arrived but not all the leaves had changed and as the bus drove through the beautiful town of Bridge of Allan I couldn't wait to dump my bags in my room and go for a walk through the grounds and see the sun setting through the woods that surrounded us.  


Ready for 1st tee off at sunrise
Working at the Ryder Cup was an experience in itself .. for us very long hours, up at silly o'clock and being transported around in golf buggies with the dust blowing in our eyes and hair, (all very glamorous of course) but the atmosphere was amazing and the crowds vocal and well behaved. 

On our drive to and from work every day (except our last 3 days we travelled in darkness both ways!) all we could see for miles were rolling hills and fields occupied by sheep and cattle .. for me a welcome variation from my usual traffic jammed streets and high rise buildings!

If I have the opportunity to come to this region again in my own time, I would explore the lochs and villages, go for long walks and wind down for the evening in a lovely little pub with an open fire eating bangers and mash washed down with a fruity glass of red! 

Dream on HQ ...



Sunday, 14 September 2014

HQ's day job on location ..

My set bag
I travel quite a lot .. mostly for pleasure but also in my role as a make-up artist. For a change I thought it might be an idea to give you an insight into my working day on location this time. Of course every job is different .. some are a doddle and others are not, but for me I enjoy them all because there's always an end result and it has to be good.

I have just returned from working at the US Open, a grand slam tennis championship held at Flushing Meadows which is situated in the borough of Queens in the city of New York. The competition lasts for 15 days and is played in the height of the summer where the temperatures can reach well into the 90's. There is also always a chance of rain and for the past three years that I have been there we have endured hurricanes, tornadoes and good old fashioned thunder storms where the rain can drench you in under a minute if you get caught in it! 

We were lucky this year with only a couple of days of rain which didn't last more than half an hour so it all progressed without much delay thankfully.

My typical day started with a 25 minute bus journey from midtown Manhattan to the site. Some days it would take longer (the worst being around an hour) depending on the day and weight of traffic but we would allow enough time so that we could have a bite to eat before starting work. After breakfast I set up my work station and then the talent I would be making up would come in one by one. I received a copy of the day's schedule the night before so I generally had an idea of what my workload would be before hand although it was always subject to change!  Sometimes we would transmit from the studio and at other times from various locations around the site so it was essential to wear shoes that were comfortable and ones I would be able to power walk in as the site is vast! There was more than one occasion where we had to cut lunch short in order to run to the studio for a last minute interview. At every entry point there is a security check and our passes would have to be scanned. My set bag which holds all my essential items from eye drops to dental floss is transparent so I wouldn't have to have it searched every time except by the most 'jobs worth' of people. 

I had to be mindful of the weather conditions and prepare the skin and hair accordingly. Some days when the humidity and heat were high I watched in dismay as the on-air talent started to drip with perspiration and there was nothing I could do in this situation until there was a commercial break or VT. On days like these there are constant touch ups and repair jobs and I now also carry with me little personal air-con units which were very helpful and appreciated this year!

Most days averaged 12 hours where we would be on standby between pre/post match transmission not knowing how long it would last and keeping an eye on the scores and grabbing lunch when we could. We did have an exceptionally long day of 18.5 hours as we were committed to staying till the end of the last match of the day. We wearily got back to our hotel at 2.45 in the morning knowing that we would have to be up again in a few hours to get that bus back to work. There's no place to complain on a job like this .. you just do it!


Fortunately the days got easier after that and we could see the end in sight. By then we were all more than ready for a much needed day off to come down from the grueling schedule of the previous 2 weeks plus. The last day arrived and selfishly for us we were glad the final only lasted 3 sets. Once it was over it was time to pack down, clear out and head back to the city.

I stayed on in New York for 36 hours afterwards to hang with good friends and give myself a very welcoming couple of mornings sleeping on way past my usual wake up time .. another great experience but always great to be home again.. until the next time.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Retail therapy and eating out in Milan

*The Excelsior
HQ's annual pilgrimage to the fashion capital of Italy, Milan has been another enjoyable and almost budget breaking experience! We always go in August as all the new collections are available and we add what we need (read 'want') to our existing winter wardrobe. When my friend and I first started going way back in 2000 we would come home with our suitcases stuffed to the brim with bargains galore and often another suitcase to carry on board with all the extras that wouldn't fit! 
As each year's visit came and went the purchases were less as our tastes became more discerning. Between then and now many of the brands we couldn't get in the UK are now available here and vice versa so the excitement of buying something no one else would be likely to have has been curtailed. 

Retail therapy
There are still a few boutique stores and labels which are either not available or in limited supply in the UK and we now tend to concentrate on those rather than traipse around the cobbled streets of Milan, our feet swollen from the heat and humidity of high summer.
Before we go we check out our favourite brands online and get an idea of the things we would like and the cost. Personally I give myself a budget and try to stick to it. I have to say I did quite well this year and only slipped over the edge a little!

Salute!
The other thing we enjoy in Italy is the food! The downside of going in August is the closure of many establishments for the summer holidays so the choices are limited but we always manage to find something worthwhile that isn't in the crowded touristy centre. The area of Brera has a few good restaurants and our concierge recommended Osteria di Brera.  They bring a complementary glass of prosecco as an aperitif and we dined on a first course of lobster linguini with sea bass to follow. Absolutely delicious and only a ten to fifteen minute walk from the Duomo and the Hotel Straf where we stayed this time.

The hotel is less than 10 years old and right next door to the Rinascente department store. Even though it is on a busy street and practically on the Duomo piazza with all it's street performers and the din of the crowds you cannot hear any noise at all unless you open the windows. The drawback of this hotel is that the rooms are not particularly user friendly. It all looks very hip and cool and I quite liked the decor of dark slate and metal but that's about it. You have to crawl on the floor under the 'desk' to plug in any electrical devices and there are no drawers - only a wardrobe with 4 hangers. (You could ask for more hangers if need be.) Our bathroom was interesting .. very 'arty' and would probably not be suitable for anyone who is tall given that the surface for your toiletries is about 40cm above the floor! In contrast the ceiling is high along with the showerhead over the black bath. I'm not sure the designer had practicality in mind. There is no restaurant except for a small breakfast room (the breakfast was good and included) and there is a small bar that is accessed from the street. When it first opened back in 2005 it was the cool place to go but now it seems to be frequented by young locals sitting on the pavement with their beer and cigarettes .. vespas parked nearby. Other than that it was clean and comfortable, the staff were friendly and helpful and the location couldn't be better if you want to be in the midst of it all. 

Lunch on our final day was in the Maio Restaurant, situated on the 7th floor of the Rinascente. 
If you sit outside on the terrace you get a fabulous view of the Duomo. We kept it simple with a glass of prosecco (of course!) and ginger chicken stylishly (some would say pretentiously) presented on a slate slab. In Italy they often refer to chicken in the masculine or feminine .. distinguishing between the rooster and the hen! Here they did not and interestingly the menu is not only in Italian and English but also Chinese and Russian giving a clue to the changing face of tourism in Europe.

*Excelsior Milano - high end store featuring major brands including many International designers. I go there for the food department in the basement - it has wonderful Italian produce including my favourite Mamma Andrea marmalade.

HQ flew direct to Milano Linate from London City Airport with Alitalia - 1.5 hour flight with no delays and friendly service.

#covet #fashion #winter2015 #food #HotelStraf #Alitalia 





Saturday, 26 July 2014

HQ update ..

Milano Duomo at night
Forgive me for I have sinned (well not really) .. it's been 3 weeks since my last blog post and I did sort of promise to update you on any new plans.  I have been rediculously busy with work and I finally have a full weekend off and the weather is great! We have to make the most of it so it was a late breakfast in the courtyard and a discussion with my travel mate (who popped by to join me) as to where we should stay in Milan this year. We always used to get a deal in August because it was notoriously quiet, but that is no more. We are going to spread our wings and try a new hotel! It's only 3 weeks away so we have to get cracking! I think it's time to try something new .. we have stayed in the same one since 2000!

I also promised to give you an update on my next early winter holiday and I'm pleased to report that it's now all booked and we are heading back to the Caribbean - but it's not Barbados this time. We were finally able to get the place we wanted in St Lucia so I'm looking forward to it and sharing it with you. I have wanted to go there for such a long time and am really excited about it.

My thought for the day ... "A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot. Think BIG. And then think bigger than THAT." Dr Joe Vitale