Month: November 2015

Precious Memories Safe: More to Come in Paris

Friday’s terrorists attacks in Paris painfully remind us of how vulnerable we all are, how fragile life is. On this note, today with bloggers, journalists, people around the world, I mourn the loss of the 129 people who died there and express grief for the many other lives that have been shattered, too.

Also, we mourn the loss of security, as we have known it as a free society, in this great city, at least for a while.

But as atrocities of the past have shaken us, have robbed us of liberties and caused us great pain, also they have connected and strengthened us in our darkest hours, so that we have overcome. So will this one.

As I watched the end of BBC Breakfast this morning, I was so very touched by the show of unanimity around the world, different world cities flying and displaying the tricolour, the French flag, on buildings, in the air, and so on.

Wistfully, I remembered some of my special moments in Paris, a city where people go to celebrate life, soak up youth, and quite frankly run free. Most recently, I was there on Mother’s Day, unable to be in the US, but outside of the Musée d’Orsay, a favourite hangout, I spoke to my mother, soaking up the Parisian atmosphere. How very special.

Memories are precious, for sure. And though intangible, they are safe and well as long as the human mind is so. To this comforting end, surely Paris will be safe and well again, soon and very soon. Until then, may the spirit of freedom reign, not only there but also in other notable world cities, too.






Capital’s Vibrant Spirit Everywhere

London is a great city full stop, if you ask me. But then I live here and have for nearly 18 years. Admittedly, though I haven’t always counted my home city as a great one. So what is it about London that makes it great?

First, the capital has a vibrant soul, a spirit, which dominates central London but also stretches from east to west, north to south. Sure, different neighbourhoods have different charms, attractions, depending on whom you ask.

And if you ask me, I’ll tell you that most areas share this underpinning of vibrancy, even the areas that are as different as the eye can see, like Camden Town and Knightsbridge, for example. The charm is in the people, the restaurants, and the shops.

Speaking of shops, a plethora of choices contributes to London’s greatness. Jokingly, I am known for saying that if a city doesn’t have a Harvey Nichols or the likes of it, then it can’t be great.

Trendy Shops in London
Trendy Shops in London

Admittedly, swank department stores feature big in London. The complexity of course, with some of them, is the word big. Take Harrods, for example, it’s easy to get lost in there, lost in the crowd or just plain old turned around. And then there is Selfridges, covering blocks of the busy Oxford Street. It’s all too much, one tourist admitted recently.

But that’s before she talked to me about navigation. Though it’s true I prefer Liberty and Harvey Nichols to the bigger stores, I can’t imagine London without the big girls. The trick is negotiating them.

Three rules of thumb:

  • Number 1 – Get there at 10.00 or shortly afterwards to beat the crowds.
  • Number 2 – Have a plan. In other words, do not try to do the entire store in one go. If you want to buy shoes, go the shoe department. In both places, you will find plenty of choice. But if you want to browse only, go to Toy Kingdom at Harrods. You will see things there you’ve never seen before.
  • And number 3 – Get your bearings, using an escalator or elevator as your landmark. Also, ask for a map and use it as you would in a busy city.

As for those who don’t want any part of a department store, check out the boutiques, the smaller shops.

“Where are they,” an acquaintance asked recently while visiting London?

“Everywhere I told her, everywhere.”

The trick here is to go neighbourhood browsing, so to speak, to find either locally owned boutiques or flagship designer boutiques.

Take to South Kensington, where Carven has a beautiful store on Pelham Street, for instance, and if you don’t find anything there, head to Fulham Road and feast your eyes on the range of boutiques from Joseph’s to Chanel. There are some reasonably priced ones, too.

Looking for something different, then head to Marylebone High Street, any high

street, really. But Marylebone is one of my favourite’s to nip in and out of trendy shops.

There, what to do now in this great city – pop into one of its many trendy restaurants. Recently, we had the pleasure of dining at two newer ones—Tredwell’s in Covenant Garden and Sea Containers at the Mondrian Hotel. Delicious on both accounts!

There, it is true, …”when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson.

I agree and would venture further to say that even the rain doesn’t dampen the spirit of London. Catch it anywhere, the spirit that is, not the rain, although there is plenty of that around, too.






London Ready for the ‘American’ Football

London has been ready for the football, American pro football, since 2007 when the NFL launched its International Series, hosting three regular season games at Wembley Stadium, home of major football (soccer) matches, including team England’s games and the Football Association’s (FA) Cup Final.

Yesterday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions was a sell-out even it was more like a blitz, instead of a contest, the Chiefs scoring 45 points to the Lions 10.

The point is the two preceding games—the Jacksonville Jaguars versus the Buffalo Bills, final score 37-31 on October 25, and the New York Jets versus Miami Dolphins, final score 27-14 on October 4—sold out, too.

With all of this NFL mania happening on my doorstep for eight years now, I’ve at last caught the excitement, not that I could have ignored last year’s adverts—the Raiders are coming or the high flying NFL flags on Regent’s street, one of London’s most popular tourist streets. Locals like it, too.

This year, however, I’ve had two up close and personal NFL experiences, one directly and the other indirectly. Directly, Paul and I attended the Dolphins game in style, from going to the tailgate party to watching the game in the owner’s suite. And somewhere in between I managed to get the autograph of NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino on a mini Dolphins helmet. And that’s not all. Not only did I rub shoulders with the former quarterback himself, so to speak in the owner’s box, but also had the pleasure of a short conversation with him the next day in the Atlanta airport, having arrived on the same flight.

Though I am the world’s worst groupie—just ask my friend Pam Oliver, Fox NFL side line reporter, who once had to just about drag me to the front of the room to speak to Alice Walker—I managed to strike up the nerves to acknowledge Mr Marino and chat to him on the tram, having been in the same corporate suite/box with him for a good three hours. What was I to do? Pretend like I didn’t know who he was. 

Surely, he hadn’t a clue who I was, except we had both been a part of a relatively intimate gathering in the owner’s box and no one else in the room looked like me. And very sadly and unlike me, I had on the same outfit. Argh! Thus, I thought I’d better come out of the box, no pun intended.

Sonja and Pam in London restaurant
Sonja and Pam in London restaurant

Rightly so, my friend Pam agreed, which leads me to my next NFL experience. Though I didn’t make the Chiefs/Lions game, as it was on the same day Paul was travelling home from New York, beforehand I got to hang out with Pam, who was in town to cover it.

From Watford, home of the famous Grove Hotel, where the Lions camped out, to Wembley and many places in between, Pam and the Fox team stayed on form, broadcasting the game back to the US. My dad, for one, caught the blow out.

So what’s the future for the NFL in London? Although pro-football is the most popular sport in the US, can it compete with the beautiful game known as football here?

That’s the big question. Still at least one Uber driver, who had chauffeured one of the Jaguars around during his stay, confessed that though he didn’t really understand the game, he had a great time. He’d get to know it and support it. Others agree. Hence, the full house every time.

Thus, according to the NFL’s international website, American football will be played here for the next five years, at least two games during the regular season at Wembley and possibly two more at the new Tottenham Hotspurs stadium to open in 2018.

It’s a long way to go for a football game, Pam and I agreed, at least for those travelling from the States, including the players. But the series does put American football on the international stage.

And this American, though I am not a major football fan, remains ready, for the football, that is, right here in London.