Month: January 2016

London Lights Up European Tour

Lately, I have run into a few Americans in European cities who have decided to give London a miss on their tour or I’ve heard my friends and acquaintances tell of their travels abroad sans London, too.

‘What is up with that?’ I have asked often. ‘London is a great city. You will never tire of it, promise!’

‘Not the problem,’ I have been told.

‘Then what is it?’

It’s expensive, really expensive. Fair enough, but you are not coming to live in the place for pete’s sake. You are coming to visit and when it comes to entertainment for free, London has much to choose from. From checking out its many cathedrals to its eclectic neighbourhoods, right in central London, the city promises to light up any European holiday.

Literally, this past weekend, London lit up in a special way. Though you will always find Leicester Square heaving, it was teeming that much more with Londoners and tourists alike this weekend, those keen to see what all the light of the Lumiere Festival was about. There, was the Garden of Light, first stop on Lumiere’s map.

Though a bit crowd shy, Paul and I wrapped up and joined in with the sightseeing on Saturday, the second night of the event, but chose to make Leicester Square, our last stop with a view that we would grab a bit to eat at one of our favourite spots in Covenant Garden. Not a chance. Never mind, we ended up in South Kensington, where we lived when I first arrived in London.

Posh neighbourhood indeed, but even there one can get a bite to eat without breaking the bank. Though we had planned on sitting down to one of the many neighbourhood restaurants, we ended up grabbing a take away from Rotisserie Jules. But I digress.

Back to Lumiere and where we started, (Mayfair), we got off to a slow start, when daunted by the crowds herding into Grosvenor Square to see the two, possibly three light displays—Brothers and Sisters, Spinning Night in Living Colour and the Light Bench. Not sure if we saw the latter or not. Never mind, we headed to Regent Street, where things literally lit up.

With the famous shopping street closed to cars, crowds adored the 1.8 London display on one end of the street, streaming like a ribbon in the wind,  and on the other end was Les Lumineoles, fluorescents of the fish species. Also on Regent’s street was Keyframes light show, beamed from Liberty’s Department store.

On from there we headed to Piccadilly, where perhaps our favourite was 195 Piccadilly, a display of picturesque faces on the building next to Maison Assouline. Eager to escape the crowds, however, we took side streets into St James and into what was perhaps the heart of the festival, Les Voyageurs, The Travellers, featuring amazing characters perched on buildings around the area or seemly flying through the night.

Having had our fill of crowds, ranging from young to old, we decided to give a miss to Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Mall and King’s Cross. Okay, so we missed out on a big part of Lumiere but not because we were tired of it, or of London.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’

And though Lumiere is over, such events as it have a way of lighting up an already happening city, an enlightening stop on any European tour.





Expat Takes An Extended Holiday in January

While the first week of the New Year means back to business for most, it means an extended holiday for me and has done so for the last fifteen years—wedding anniversary time.

Over the years we have celebrated as far away as St Lucia and as close as London and many times in fantastic cities somewhere in between such as Dubrovnik, one of our most memorable commemorations.

This year, we added Florence, Italy, to our list and made memories that we will treasure for years to come. While there was no sunshine to soak up, the food, fashion and culture made up for it.

With so much to see and do, we hardly knew where to start in Florence. Aptly, since Paul had some work that could not be ignored, we began to taste the flavour of the city in our beautiful room, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, perhaps Florence’s most recognised bridge.

From there, we did a reconnoitre of the shops on Via de Torbabouni, akin to New Bond Street and Madison Avenue, and those around it, paving the way for my solo expedition the next day.

Ending the day, I visited the Ferragamo Museum and was reminded of my first brush with luxury brands, some thirty years ago. Not that I could afford anything as such, but my very stylish boss at the time (you know who you are) absolutely loved Ferragamo shoes and rightly so. While I likely had a shoe obsession long before I moved to New York City, it definitely exacerbated in the company of the luxury brands and those who wore them. Still, no Ferragamos for me on this trip, but I did look long and hard at a pair of limited edition wedges, an original design of the master himself.

The next day, I ventured to the Gucci Museum, though I can’t say I am dripping in Gucci designs. My personal favourites are their watches, of which I have bought a few over the years. Still the museum, which charts the history of the brand from a 1920’s meagre leather goods shop to a modern day luxury brand, is fascinating. Running through Gucci’s history are a few everyday items such as the horse bit and bamboo, which have become icons of luxury.

Michelangelo's  David,
Michelangelo’s David,

Nevertheless, Florence isn’t just about fashion, it’s about culture more than anything else. From the Galleria Uffizi to the Galleria Academia, Florence houses a stunning display of original paintings and sculptures. Most notable, of course, is Michelangelo’s David. Even if you have seen pictures, copies of the statue, there ain’t nothing like the real thing, which is a good segue to Italian food.

Most memorable has to be our anniversary dinner at Il Palagio, housed in the Four Seasons. Looking at my beautiful menu, I commented to Paul that we might be in for another Era Ora experience where we had no idea what the dinner would cost. Remember, Copenhagen?

Not so, he said, smiling and then explained the custom of giving the host, the man, the menu with the prices and spare his guest (s). There you go, I ordered away and for the first time had pigeon. I know, I know. But it was excellent, as was the surprise anniversary cake of sorts, made by the restaurant’s chef, presented with a red rose for me.

If that wasn’t enough to confirm Florence as a romantic city, we witnessed a marriage proposal the next day at the Gucci Museum café, lad on bended knee and all.

It’s the perfect place to consider holy matrimony, since Florence is perhaps best known for its holiness. Not only evident in its symbolic art all around the city, Christianity’s mark on Florence is on display in and outside of its many churches, cathedrals. Its most famous, the Duomo, the Santa Maria del Fiore, is a magnificent Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century church of Santa Reparata.

Having vowed not to climb to the top of the Duomo, some 463 steps, Paul and I stopped just short of the cupola, as we were short on time and I must admit, breath, too. Still we saw up close and personal Giorgio Vasarils famous frescoes of the Last Judgement.

Breathtaking, even if we didn’t get the best view of Florence in the end. Still, we felt we experienced the best of the city, racking up another memorable celebration. Here’s is to extended holidays in January, even if is back to work today.


Reflecting and Projecting Because I Can

Off to a slow start this year? Me too. When my alarm sounded at seven this morning, I thought it was a mistake, surely. Only when I realised that Paul had been up for a while yet was I convinced that someone had not played a first Monday in January practical joke on me.

Even so, I kept my space, feeling comatose for another thirty minutes, okay nearly an hour, contemplating what to do next—roll over and go back to sleep, pray and meditate on life in general or get up and go for a run. In the end, I settled for a combination of the latter two and thank goodness I did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting at my desk, beavering away.

For a while now my mantra of sorts, which has kept me moving, is to just do it, whatever it is because I can. Sadly, there are people who want to run, to walk, to write, etc., who can’t.

With that said, already, I have done some serious reflecting on 2015. More went wrong and less went right. Never mind that I didn’t promote my books at all, didn’t even begin the Jana Project, working title for an effort to help girls ages 8 to 12 stay in tip-top shape in their in between years and enjoy doing so, and that I dropped more blogs on my website than I care to admit, I am going to focus on what went right. I delivered more on the Huff Post than I dropped, and also, I introduce the game: What City Is This, even if it did fizzle out after a hyped couple of days.

Not bad, not really. Okay, it wasn’t my best performance. But that’s all behind me now, doors closed. In front of me, however, are alluring doors that mostly have not been opened. Even though some are slightly ajar.

It is up to me to make some projections of sorts, starting today, and then walk or run through those attractive doors, even if I move a bit slowly like I did this morning. Then, a young woman, sauntering took a short cut apparently and came out just before me at the main road/path. So ashamed, I had no choice but to dig deep and shoot past her.

There, though several runners, some of them pros of sorts, others novices, left me behind, I felt better for making an effort because I could. That’s it: off now to make some more projections and get on with delivering them, all because I can.

Such fun anticipating a can do year and wishing you one, too. Happy New Year!