Month: February 2014

Weekend in London for the BFF Books

On the heels of the acclaimed London Fashion Week, came the much awaited London Fashion Weekend (LFW), a style extravaganza for the fashion conscious members of the public. That’s me, and my BFF, of course, who flew over from New York for the weekend.

Paul got the tickets as a Christmas gift.

Anyhow, on Saturday, with our tickets in tow, we headed over to the brilliant Somerset House, where the venue’s winter skating rink had been replaced by an extraordinary marquee, which played host or rather hostess to the catwalk shows.

Crowds of stylish and a few ‘not so’ stylish young women, a few men, too queued to enter.  What was that about? Oh, the designer tote bag in exchange for the entry ticket. We’ll have one of those, we agreed, jumped the queue since we already had tickets, and collected the coveted bag. Hump, one look at it and we both wondered what the fuss was about, and after looking inside, we felt seriously let down—some Lavazza coffee, an energy bar, some lip balm. Enough said.

Still, we hoped for the best, remembering some years ago when the event was held at the Natural History Museum, a stone’s throw away from my (and Paul’s) flat at the time in South Kensington. There, we shopped until we dropped. Favourite buys included a sheepskin coat and a designer handbag for me. For her, a D&G leather skirt and a fabulous pony skin clutch bag.

With these cherished items in mind, we browsed from show room to show room, often being jostled by crowds, finally to conclude that either we had changed or the target market had changed and drastically. A bit of both I suppose but more the latter than the former. Though we were younger, at least 12 years, our good taste for fashion was well ensconced, even then.  Hence, we hoped that LFW had maintained its taste, too.

But sadly, the variety of designers had not only shrunk but also the ones participating held back the greatest and latest. For instance, I noted a Joseph dress from two years ago, marked down to a heart-breaking price. Heart-breaking because I bought it at full price at Harvey Nichols.  Never mind! The good news is that it’s still in style. Or is it?

Meanwhile, we caught a trend catwalk show, sponsored by the – very nice indeed! The young super models in training, we shall call them, seemed to enjoy strutting their stuff, all but one of them, who looked miserable. But at the risk of traumatizing her, I shall say no more.

Anyhow, though we had tickets for the Julian MacDonald show scheduled for later that evening, we decided to call it quits and head back to on Marylebone High Street, where we had dropped by earlier.

This stock more than lived up to our expectations, featuring beautiful dresses, bags, shoes, etc., but we didn’t score there either. So off to Liberty we went, where we hit the jackpot – at least my BFF did.

I, on the other hand, was left thinking about a few items.

Later that night, we caught up with another friend at the popular Arts Club and dined and danced. And the night before had seen The Mistress Contract at the Royal Court with Paul and enjoyed dining at Chez Bruce, a Michelin star local.

In short, even if LFW didn’t meet our expectations, it turned out to be fashionable weekend in London after all – one that will surely go down in the BFF book of memories. In the meantime, I’m still thinking – all very nice thoughts, indeed!

Seeking the Silence of Prague in London

In London, we are bombarded with sounds, as daily construction work progresses and life in general takes it course, horns honking, sirens screaming, people shouting and so on. Even when I am running, I hear the jingling of bicycle bells and the rustling noise the tires make on the boardwalk.

As I write this blog, the jack hammering fills my ears. I can’t escape it unless I leave my home. Where am I to go—to a coffee shop, for a walk along the Thames Path, to the library? Where can I get some respite from this noise?

Lucky for me, so I think, I know just the place. I head out the door and make my way to the boardwalk, which leads to Hotel Verta’s luxury spa and gym, where I will see my trainer for our weekly one-hour session.

But no sooner than I join the footpath, I see her heading my way. So much for a quiet walk but her company is welcome. A pleasant woman, she engages me in interesting chitchat along the way. Still, in the distance I hear the screaming of an ambulance, a police car, the buzzing of a helicopter, even if it is only in my head by association. Verta is where London’s heliport is located.

Never mind, I smile to myself knowing that in minutes I will be inside the sanctuary—peace and quiet at last, so I think. More on that later!

For now, speaking of silence, Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has a quiet quality about it that is unbeknownst to most cities. Last week in honour of Valentines Day, Paul whisked me away to this magically beautiful city, where we had only been once in 2001. Then neither of us noticed its stillness, perhaps so overwhelmed by the tragic hijackings of September that year.

Heaving with tourists, particularly in its hot spots such as the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, we found it quite possible to slip into stillness, admiring the historic buildings and imaginative sculptures positioned around the city.

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Were it not for the worry of pickpockets, as we were constantly reminded, and the consequences of globalisation—McDonalds, Starbucks and the occasional contemporary eyesore such as the Intercontinental, built in the 70s—we could have easily envisaged the city as it was centuries ago.

Also, while standing on a lesser-known bridge and overlooking a neatly manicured park, it was easy to imagine Prague as the perfect place for a clandestine rendezvous. Shush, not that, but rather a place where allies might have exchanged intelligence during the Cold War.

And maybe it was. As it happens we met a Dutchman, who told us of being in Prague as a little boy when the city was on the brink of Russian invasion.  He remembered people ushering his family in the right direction, so to speak, until they were out of the city. They had no idea what they might have come up against, until they returned to Holland.

What a remarkable story, as is Prague’s. For instance, the capital managed to escape any real damage to speak of during World War II.

According to a tour guide, folklore tells it that Prague was Hitler’s dream city, where he planned to live after the war.Whether this is fact or fiction, it’s a great hypothesis.

The city’s beauty is alluring, from the Old Town Square to Petrin Hill. My favourite place is Paris Avenue, where the couture designers are located, and not just for the shops but also for the stunning architecture. The city also boasts a magnificent skyline, viewed from several spots such as Petrin Hill and the top floor of the iconic Dancing Building, where we dined at Celeste, one of the city’s top French restaurants.

Fine dining… ah ha. That could be why I found this morning’s training session hard going and rather noisy. Forget what I said about a pleasant woman? On the contrary.

In the meantime, I did find peace and quiet right at my desk, if only for a spell. The construction workers, however, were up to their ears in rain. It, of course, has a way of putting a damper on things. In this instance, wouldn’t mind hearing it again, and soon.

Latest Huff Post blog: Going with the crowd?

Ever went along with the crowd for the sake of keeping peace? If not, you’re in the minority. The majority, according to psychologists, follow a path that they don’t agree with at one time or another, often for fear of being socially excluded.

This concept, pluralistic ignorance, is at the centre of many historical atrocities and personal ones too. To read more about pluralistic ignorance and how to avoid it, check out my latest Huff Post blog.

Feel free to feedback and/or comment here on on the Huff Post.

London Restaurants: Filling a Tall Order

Over the years, the restaurant scene in London has gone from abysmal to laudable, so I am told. As far as I am concerned, it has always been pretty good. In my 16-year experience here, the capital has been on the upswing with celebrity chefs putting it on the food map.

The trouble with this is that when the chefs cease being celebrated or experience a seriously big hiccup, so might London’s food reputation, needlessly.

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s two Michelin-starred Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge is at the centre of a norovirus outbreak and thus, will be closed for at least 10-days.

This is, of course, a serious matter unto itself but what makes it even more serious is that the chef had to close another of his great restaurants, The Fat Duck in Bray, in 2009, for the same reason.

While judgements and suspicions are flying around—is he experimenting too much—I am quick to defend the restaurant (went there last year for my birthday and loved it!).

The chef, also known for integrating science into his cooking, is wildly imaginative, creating dishes such as snail porridge and nitro glycerine ice cream.

I will have none of that, thank you. But absolutely love what he does with lamb, even beef, often slow cooking to perfection. We have tried it, at least Paul has, at home. Delicious!

To this end, abandoning Heston because he has had two unfortunate major events would be like turning my back on Rafael Nadal because he lost the Australian Open. Never!

Unless, Rafa somehow dishonours his public image in such a way that it is beyond a shadow of doubt that he’s no longer great, I’m standing by him. The same goes for Heston.

Anyhow, if you look at what the experts say, experimenting has nothing to do with norovirus.  According to the NHS, the illness, also known as winter bug, can spread rather quickly if an infected person doesn’t wash their hands before handling food, therefore, tainting it. Individuals can also catch it by touching contaminated objects and surfaces.

Recently, there was an outbreak on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, affecting 600 or so passengers. In the case of The Fat Duck, it had to do with a bad lot of oysters. As for Dinner, the BBC reports that 24 diners and 21 staff fell ill.

Will I go back? Likely. Easy for me to say, you think. I didn’t catch the illness during my time at Dinner and, neither did thousands of others. But I do sympathise and can commiserate with those who were less fortunate. I have had food poisoning from at least two restaurants in my time–one part of a fine, fine hotel chain, and the other has plenty of accolades and willing dinners. Both places are still going strong.

And I have been back and am here to tell the tale. The difference in what is happening with Dinner and the places I had my bad experience is that it’s in the limelight. As such, the spotlight will shine on the restaurant and its celebrity chef in both good and bad times.

Let’s hope the bad times are over because if you ask me Dinner is one of the best restaurants in the capital and that’s filling a tall order nowadays.

Getting there sanely during the Tube Strike

Millions of commuters are seeking different options today to get to work, as RMT and TSSA union members strike over proposed job cuts and ticket office closures. According to Transport for London, the strike reduces London’s underground service by 70 per cent

And though I’m working from my home office with no appointments that require a commute, I have been there and done that and know what it feels like to wait around for minutes that can sometimes lead to laborious hours. It’s horrible, particularly when it’s raining, but that’s another story—the weather that is.

In the meantime, rather thoughtfully, many media outlets are offering advice on how to survive the strike. One such piece in The Guardian online suggests walking as the number one option and taking the bus as number two.

Both are good ideas as far as I am concerned, but the second is perhaps a more viable option for those who live further afield.

According to TFL, London’s 7,500 red buses carry roughly 6 million passengers each day. Already pretty busy, wouldn’t you say, which might explain why they are putting on extra buses. Still, queues are intensifying at bus stops around the capital. To this end, it wouldn’t hurt to remember that buses have etiquette too. Honestly!

1) First and foremost, please honour the queuing system. Or it might not honour you.

2) Next, while you might not hear, please stand behind the yellow lines for your safety. Do stay out of the road. This is paramount to your safety!

3) Remember, let the passengers off the train first before boarding. Yep, please let the passengers off the bus, as and when possible. During overcrowding passengers tend to dismount from the front and back doors.

4) And do move inside of the bus, even if you don’t do so inside of the tube carriage. Bus passengers might not be as forgiving, since there might not be another following.

5) Finally, mind your manners on the bus, restricting mobile phone conversations and silencing your music. If you don’t you might run the risk of traumatising other passengers.

Case in point: Last week I joined a bus as a last minute option due to train delays, not to mention the inclement weather.  On my way to meet Paul for an evening out, I had called it too close apparently.

Anyhow, just outside of the station, I dashed through the pouring rain in time to board a bus, which went directly to my destination, Victoria Station. Pity it wasn’t a taxi but all the same I was whisked away from the chaos. After making my way to the top of the Double Decker and settling in, suddenly I noticed something was awkward.

For starters, the passengers all looked like hostages, except for one young man. He, my friends, sat on the front seat holding a sleek speaker up to his ear, as if his music wasn’t blaring throughout the bus. He bopped and sang, rather loudly, the entire 30 minute journey.

As you can see, I continue to experience deep trauma over this, which is why I warn against it on any day, certainly on days of overcrowding. The tortured passengers might not be the only ones to experience shock.

So much for that! Just remember, it’s all about getting there safely and sanely, even in the midst of chaos.