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110 posts categorized "Travel"

03 August 2010

Menton Mon Amour

 

After a few days at the Hotel du Clos, we drove a couple of hours along the Grande Corniche, with fabulous views of Eze and Monaco and out to sea towards Corsica.  Our destination - Menton, the lemon capital of France, situated at the very Eastern end of the French Riviera and within jogging distance (even for me) of Italy.

If ever a place was my spiritual home then this is it – an almost perfect blend of Provence and Liguria in Italy – with a bustling and beautiful old town; a warm, shallow sea perfect for swimming; great food; a superb market; tangly old streets and magnificent people watching.

We all just LOVED it. (Except for the jellyfish, though on the plus side the Minx can now say ‘jellyfish’ in three languages.)

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We stayed at the Hotel Napoleon on the waterfront – wonderfully located with great views of the old town from its balconies.  The hotel itself is very pleasant, comfortable, well-equipped and modern, though no great shakes from a design perspective (hence I forgot to take any pics of the interiors) and had excellent breakfasts. Next door was sweet little chapel marking the pilgrim route from Rome to Santiago.

 

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The best bit though was the luxurious private beach club, fully equipped with comfy loungers, a great restaurant and bar and handsome beach boys.

 

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The Minx particularly appreciated the SELF. SERVICE. GELATERIA (help yourself to icecream, toppings, sauces and flavourings and then pay by weight at the end) next to the beach.

 

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I, on the other hand, hugely appreciated the mesmerising view behind me, while we were at the bar watching England crash out of the football…

20 July 2010

Things I Am Loving - Crochet Car Cosy

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{Image by Flickr user StartTheDay}

Isn’t this just the business? 

It was apparently created by Magda Sayeg for the Il Lusso Essenziale art festival in Rome and I’m very tempted to start making one for my Beetle, except a) I don’t think it’s terribly suitable for the Seattle winter (or indeed the Seattle summer, of which we would rather not speak, thank you very much) and b) I have no idea how you open the doors.

19 July 2010

Fancy Hotel of the Week – Hotel du Clos

 

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On this particular trip we didn’t set out to stay in fancy boutique-y hotels  - our criteria were mostly cost, space for us and the Minx and proximity to beautiful locations, but we really lucked out with the first hotel we stayed in, booked at the very last minute through Splendia, a website specialising in characterful hotels.

The Hotel du Clos is in the little postcard-perfect village of Le Rouret, about 15 minutes from Grasse and 25 minutes from Nice and the bustle of the Riviera, and so a perfect place to relax after our long transatlantic flight to Nice (via Amsterdam).

 

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The hotel – and this is the reason I loved it so – combines the very best in traditional French charm and style with the odd touch of whimsy here and there, which made everything seem lighthearted, modern and fun and added oodles of character. Though frankly the buildings were so beautiful that additional character seemed almost unnecessary.

The rooms are each individually decorated, the staff were absolutely delightful and extremely welcoming to the Minx, and the same people who own the hotel also own a fabulous Michelin-starred restaurant, five minutes away in the village. So, I really can’t recommend this one highly enough.

 

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The bedroom featured the most beautiful fireplace and was  decorated in those overlapping shades of dove grey that the French do so well.

 

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  I loved the wall sticker of ‘books’ stacked up on the bedside table

 

 

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the Roman faces fabric on the cushions and curtains

 

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and the Perspex angel light fitting above our bed (with another angel peeking out in the bathroom).

 

 

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The traditional Provencal garden – fragrant with roses, jasmine and lavender -  was a big hit with a certain someone, who particularly loved the fabulously UNtraditional sculpture lurking among the olive trees.

 

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We ate epic breakfasts every morning on the beautiful terrace

 

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- the fromage blanc with rose syrup was a particularly big hit.

 

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In the mornings when I woke early through jetlag, I would knit on our balcony shaded by an ancient olive tree and listen to the sound of church bells and the kids singing in the school next door. 

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After breakfast we would head to the small but delightful stone pool, made particularly elegant by the use of very dark green tiles, which made it fit much more naturally into the garden landscape.

 

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And we all appreciated little touches such as the antique jelly moulds used as keyrings (and were sad not to get one of the three bears)

 

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and the papier mache cow in the reception area. 

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More photos from the Hotel du Clos, Le Rouret and Grasse, on my Flickr here.

I’m back. Sort of normal service will be resumed, though it’s school vacation and a busy time for ‘mirrormirror’ so other things also need to take priority. I’ve been missing you though.

Postcard from France – Patisserie

 

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Aix en Provence

16 July 2010

Postcard from France - Shutters

 

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Also Cassis. Love these colours. 

15 July 2010

Postcard from France - Cassis

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Day trip to Cassis.

14 July 2010

Postcard from France - Vineyard

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We stayed in a little gite here.

 

We’re back, but I have three weeks of unpacking and laundry to do, over 1000 photos to process, an empty shop and a garden full of parched plants and bindweed to grapple with, so I’ll be back blogging properly again on Monday.  In the meantime I’ll post up some more ‘Postcards’ of the remainder of our trip.

07 July 2010

Postcard from France - Lavender

 

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Near Aix.

06 July 2010

Postcard from France - Graffito

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On the way to Aix.

03 July 2010

Postcard from France – Menton Mon Amour

 

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Au revoir. Definitely.

Will try and catch up with posting when we get to Paris and a better internet connection.

27 June 2010

Postcard from France - Balcony

 

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Menton, my new spiritual home.

26 June 2010

Postcard from France - Bouquet

 

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Courgette flowers. Market. Menton.

24 June 2010

Postcard from France – Soleil

 

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Sitting at the next table eating salted butter caramel icecream. Grasse.

23 June 2010

Postcard from France – One of Greatest Breakfasts Ever

 

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Postcard from France – Room with a View

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Hotel du Clos, Le Rouret, near Grasse

05 May 2010

Jonathan Adler at Le Parker Meridien – Palm Springs

 

The last day of our trip to Palm Springs was also the only day we had grotty weather. It was sunny enough for swimming in the hotel pool until lunchtime, but then we checked out and went for lunch at the Parker, with interior design by Jonathan Adler.

From the moment we walked through the enormous orange front doors it was obvious we were in the presence of decorating GENIUS.

 

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Even the Minx thought so.

 

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To be fair Adler is definitely a decorator, not a designer and he does make it easy for himself. The building is not especially exciting and he hasn’t done anything particularly original with the space. Pretty much everything is painted white with dark wood floors, and the whole would be incredibly boring if it were empty.

But he has created the perfect backdrop for his superb vignettes of furniture and quirky accessories all topped off with his incredible sense of colour.

 

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Everywhere you turned there were little Adler-esque touches.

 

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The restaurant – Norma’s – was quite blandly decorated but the food was good and it’s obviously worth it to come here and have a bit of nose around the hotel.

 

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The outside spaces looked like they might be interesting, but by this time the weather was really closing in and it was time to get the hell out of Palm Springs.

 

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Just a quick word here in praise of Virgin America. We flew down the West Coast with them and it was such a pleasure to travel with an airline that was on time, had superbly pleasant customer service, fabulous seatback entertainment for everyone, and, to the Minx’s utter delight PINK and PURPLE interior lighting. Truly the key to a little girl’s heart.

 

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In other tales from our trip to Palm Springs, check out

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club here.

The Colony Palms Hotel here.

Out and About in Palm Springs here

The Aerial Tramway here.

Joshua Tree National Park here

 

01 May 2010

Palm Springs Afternoon Out – Joshua Tree National Park

 

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We were told by many people that we couldn’t go to Palm Springs and not go to Joshua Tree, so on the Saturday, after checking out of the Ace, and before checking into the Colony Palms, we drove out of Palm Spings, turned right at the wind farm (who would have guessed that so many wind farm fans read this blog?) and continued on the road through the desert and a slice of small-town America.

I only wish I’d been quick enough to photograph the teabaggers with the sign for ‘Less Gov, More God’. My first ever teabaggers! We don’t have teabaggers in Seattle.

It takes about an hour and a half to get to Joshua Tree and we were surprised to find that it was in fact cooler than Palm Springs, being higher up and much more windy. I’m not sure if this is always the case, but it might be worth bearing in mind if you’re sweltering down in the valley.

The park is named after the small stunted tree which dots the landscape as far as the eye can see. Vistas like this are so awesome and alien and strange to British eyes and so different from the cosy, cuddliness of Seattle. This is the America that I don’t even begin to understand, but which, I suspect, is an essential component of the American character.

 

 

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According to the small book of walks we bought at the Visitor Center, we could quite easily have spent several days exploring the park. However, on the recommendation of a family at the hotel we decided to walk through Hidden Valley. This was a well-signposted, 1 mile loop through a rock-enclosed valley which was once apparently and excitingly the lair of cattle-rustlers. 

This was the perfect length of hike for the Minx and I can’t recommend it highly enough for small kids. Lots of tiny lizards and cute chipmunks to observe and loads of ROCKS. TO. CLIMB. 

 

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I liked it too, as the incredible rock formation brought out my inner Ansel Adams

 

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 {To me, and to most other Brits I suspect, the Joshua Tree means U2. Here is my own small tribute to those irritating Irish rocksters. Why an album full of Irish angst is named after this park, goodness only knows, but that didn’t stop me having ‘With or Without You’ going round in my head for most of the day}.

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And here’s another fix for all you wind farm junkies.

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In other tales from our trip to Palm Springs, check out

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club here.

The Colony Palms Hotel here.

Out and About in Palm Springs here

The Aerial Tramway here.

Next week we will be concluding this series with lunch at the Parker, designed by Jonathan Adler.

26 April 2010

Palm Springs Afternoon Trip – Aerial Tramway

 

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We were very pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the landscape around Palm Springs. We most certainly weren’t expecting snow-capped mountains (nor the hugely impressive wind farm just outside the town, I love wind farms ).

 

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We drove about ten minutes out of Palm Springs to a fold in the San Jacinto mountains and then headed UP.

 

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I’ve been in a fair few cable cars in my life, but this was definitely among the most scary as the cliff face is pretty much perpendicular at some points and it was VERY easy to imagine crashing to a spectacular death. Matters were not helped by the base of the car turning slowly round to give everyone a 360 degree view and make it impossible to avoid looking at the terrifying bits. 

And look what we did when we got to the top! So NOT what we expected to be doing in Palm Springs.

 

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Here’s the view of the windfarm down below.  You get a much better idea of just how arid it is.

 

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And there’s Palm Springs itself, looking noticeably greener.

 

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All in all it was good to spend an afternoon among the pine trees in PS.  I would think it would be really fabulous when the temperatures down below get really excruciating.

 

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21 April 2010

Colony Palms Hotel – Palm Springs

The second hotel we stayed in was the newly refurbished Colony Palms Hotel, fabulously located close to the centre of downtown Palm Springs.

Again we’d been a little wary of booking here – a bit concerned that it would be a little too strait-laced and respectable for the Minx.

Again we needn’t have worried, the hotel was utterly different from the Ace, with a more glamorous and intimate vibe, but there were still plenty of other kids there, the Minx loved the pool and the staff could not have been friendlier or more welcoming.

 

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The hotel was built in 1936 by a Palm Springs mobster and used to house both a speakeasy and a brothel. It has recently been extensively and expensively refurbished.  The building is in a more traditional Spanish colonial style focused around a gorgeous swimming pool and restaurant area and surrounded by lovely gardens full of secluded nooks and crannies.

It’s not my favourite style of architecture – where is the reasonably priced funky modernist kid-friendly hotel in Palm Springs? – but it was certainly hugely comfortable and luxurious.

The interior is by Martyn Lawrence-Bullard.  He’s used a lot of Spanish influences – coloured tiles, bright colours, spindly wrought iron  – and mixed in some Turkish, Moroccan and Indian elements – with graphic embroideries, Indian statues and Moroccan tables tucked into the corners.

 

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The hotel also has a pretty swanky poolside restaurant, the Purple Palm, attached, and the food was really good, the best we had in PS and that’s saying something.

 

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Our room featured an incredibly comfortable bed, with padded embroidered headboard; big bottles of spirits in the mini-bar; an enormous bathroom with painted cement floor; embedded Spanish tiles (which I stupidly forgot to photograph) and a roll top bath.  The cheesy photos of airbrushed models cavorting round the hotel were hilarious. I’m not sure if that was intentional.

 

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The location was excellent, within walking distance of lots of great shops and restaurants and with the prettiest view we saw of the neighbouring San Jacinto mountains.

 

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All in all it couldn’t be more different from the Ace and yet I’d recommend it just as much, and combining the two made for a really interesting Palm Springs overview.

See also

Out and About in Palm Springs

Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Palm Springs

15 April 2010

Out and About in Palm Springs

We found Palm Springs to be a surprisingly fun, lively and pedestrian-friendly place to stroll about in, especially early in the morning and in the evenings when it wasn’t too hot.

 

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There’s quirky art to be found and palm trees (of course) and enough blue sky and bougainvilleas to make up for months of grey Seattle skies.

 

 

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Foodwise we can highly recommend Cheeky’s for breakfast, Matchbox for pizza and Las Casuelas for Mexican (with ENORMOUS portions) and Palm Springs Fudge & Chocolates for great ice cream and the most superb date shake (how did live without date shakes in my life? must try and recreate them in Seattle).

 

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I regretted not seeing more of the architecture than we managed. We bought a $5 selfdrive map of Palm Springs Modern architecture at the (gorgeous) Visitor Center and drove about the town for an hour or so one afternoon. It was all faintly frustrating though, as many of the nicest looking properties were on private roads and of course we couldn’t get to see the insides of the houses beyond the bougainvillea hedges. 

Highlights included the former Wamu (now Chase) building, the Del Marcos hotel, City Hall, the Visitor Center, the Bank of America building and the Visitor Center itself, which is a converted mid-century gas station. I’ve also no idea how authentic it is, but the KFC (with the red struts below) was the coolest we’ve ever seen.

 

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{All photos copyright Paola Thomas 2010}

 

When the Minx is a little older we’ll try and plan a trip for Modernism week. In the meantime there’s a fabulous review of Elvis’ honeymoon hideaway (which we didn’t get to this time round) here and a discussion of the whereabouts of the fabulous Palm Springs house shown in Mad Men (with great screen caps), which sadly doesn’t seem to be in Palm Springs at all, here.

(See my review of the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Palm Springs here}

13 April 2010

Ace Hotel and Swim Club – Palm Springs

So we got up very early on Thursday morning, caught a 7.15 flight to LA, drove along the dusty freeway and were in Palm Springs by lunchtime – 88 degrees, brilliant blue skies, slight breeze blowing through the canyon. Bliss.

And this is where we stayed for the first two nights.

 

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We’d been slightly reluctant to book a room at the Ace as we’d heard that the ‘douchebag’ quotient was high, but actually we loved it (though it’s entirely possible that we’re also douchebags – god I love that word, the best ever American addition to the English language).  But we took the plunge due to its reputation for kid-friendliness and were glad we did.

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It has the same tremendously relaxed feeling that I love about Babington House in the UK (still my most favourite hotel in the whole world) – everything is supremely comfortable and luxurious, with great food, powerful showers, free bikes, soft towels, comfortable beds, hammocks and loungers everywhere, night time fireplaces, well-equipped gym, really helpful staff, well stocked bar etc. but it’s not not in the least bit, prissy or intimidating or fussy, which is really important when you’ve got a small child in tow.

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If anything for my taste it was a little bit too unfussy – the building is nothing special, just an old Palm Springs motel with stained concrete floors, metal trim and a ‘diner’ aesthetic, on which they’ve overlaid a bohemian ‘California hippie’ vibe with some quirky art pieces (the Minx loved the stuffed wolf wearing necklaces and the rattan elephant), kaftans instead of bathrobes, photos just pinned up haphazardly in the bedrooms and sturdy canvas or leather furnishings.  To be honest too, our bedroom was a bit of a disappointment – a good size and close to the pool – but very dark and gloomy during the day (thank goodness we weren’t there much).

 

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Palm Springs

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There were some cute design-y touches though – canvas sunshades that looked like satellite dishes, a pergola adorned with misters, coloured perspex on the windows of the gym, an interesting rope ‘curtain’ hanging in the lobby which looked great at night, a cavernous bar and outdoor showerheads painted the exact same shade of yellow as the flowers that surrounded them.

 

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As for kid-friendliness, well, the Minx just spent all of her time in the large shallow area of the incredibly inviting pool, playing with all the other kids who were staying and giving mummy and daddy a chance to swim, drink excellent margaritas and read. It’s not explicitly a kiddie-place (no babysitting or kids clubs) but there are plenty of kids there and the relaxed vibe suits them perfectly (the hotel was also absolutely full of dogs – who even have their own dog park). 

Kids-wise the only thing we would have changed was the food. Someone in the kitchen has a gone a bit crazy adding spicy this and spicy that to things on the menu, to the extent that we found it quite difficult to find things for the Minx to eat, even though she’s not a particularly fussy eater (just not that fond of chili peppers).  And would it harm hotels and restaurants to at least offer vegetables and fruits for kids? My kid can’t be the only one who actually eats such things can she?  It was a shame as the food for grown ups was fabulous, with an incredibly tempting menu, and they did make a mean mac’n’cheese for the Minx.

 

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{All pics copyright Paola Thomas 2010}

Overall we loved our stay here and would definitely return, though we were pleased to leave on the Saturday morning as the hotel suddenly changed into a gay version of Jersey Shore as lots of short muscle-y suntanned men moved in.  The hotel had neglected to tell us that they were hosting a weekend of parties for White Party weekend (a gay event, not a neo-fascist convention). Not a problem per se but the hotel did become markedly less relaxing when the music started pounding at 11am. (The Ace definitely becomes a party hotel at the weekend, so it’s definitely worth double checking to see whether they are hosting an event while you are staying).

That’s part one from Palm Springs.  It’s going to be Palm Springs ad nauseam here this week, I suspect.

24 February 2010

Fancy Hotel of the Week – the Wickanninish Inn

 

aka (by the uber-geeky Husband anyway), the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

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This is where we were lucky enough to stay last week in Tofino. The Wick is a 4* Relais et Chateaux hotel perched on the most glorious and enormous beach way out on the westernmost tip of Vancouver Island. There is something utterly beguiling and sobering about looking out to sea and knowing that the next stop is Japan or something.

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The view from our balcony

We went in February with the intention of hunkering down and ‘storm-watching’, instead, we had the most incredible sunny weather and were truly able to enjoy the beach and the stunning natural surroundings.

Which you can do without ever leaving the bar thanks to the amazing nearly 360 degree views from the restaurant.

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The other thing which sets this place apart is the food, which was insanely good, some of the best I’ve eaten in North America.

Everything we had, from different freshly squeezed juices every morning, to the homemade breads, to the wonderful seafood, to spaghetti and meatballs for the Minx was utterly delicious and clearly made with only the freshest and best ingredients.  And it was so nice to come back from a grubby afternoon at the beach and drink paradisical cocktails/hot chocolate. 

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Breakfast! Just the best smoked salmon bagel I’ve ever had in my life

As for the decor, it’s all pretty standard North American ‘lodge’ stuff  - all hewn timber and earth-toned textiles (which frankly were looking a little tired round the edges, why not replace them and add some colour next time?) – which, as you know, is not exactly my cup of tea.

However, this was really well done for the genre, with lots of local art and thoughtful touches everywhere – art glass, Native American wood carving,  driftwood furniture, a soaring copper fireplace, stone statues of local wildlife and a gorgeous copper screen of swimming salmon.

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As an aside, and for those of you who care about such things,  the hotel was also super child-friendly, but in a very grown up way.  The staff could not have been friendlier and kinder to the Minx, who fell in love with the hotel the minute she found the basket of beach toys they had thoughtfully supplied in the room. Best of all they provide complimentary babysitting, so parents can go and have dinner in the restaurant. Other hotels please take note.

But at the end of the day it was mostly all about this

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and this

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and this

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and this

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19 February 2010

Sunny Days are Here Again

 

Oh, but we had the most fabulous time in Vancouver Island.

The clouds parted as we arrived in Victoria and after that it was sunshine all the way.  We are so lucky to live in this part of the world.

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Yes, this is the Minx.  In her swimmers. In the ocean.  In Canada. In February.

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LOTS more where these came from on my Flickr and on Facebook. It truly was a photographers’ paradise.

14 February 2010

Go Vancouver!

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Watching the Opening Ceremony for the Vancouver Games, I was reminded again what an incredibly stunning corner of the world I’ve accidentally ended up in.  Many of the themes of the ceremony – the Native American imagery, the salmon and whales, the juxtaposition of mountains and sea, would equally apply to Seattle, which is, after all, only 150 miles to the south.

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We’ve been to Vancouver a few times since arriving here and love it to bits. Lots of pictures of Vancouver and Whistler here, here, here and here

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12 February 2010

A New Me – February 2010, BodyBugg Here I Come!

 

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              November 2009                                    February 2010

So, my body is a perfectly calibrated precision MACHINE. Perfectly calibrated, that is, to remain at 172 lbs (12 stone 4lbs) whatever I throw at it.

To be fair to my body, I did lose a couple of pounds in the first half of the month when I was working out a lot and being good, but slacked off a bit on the workouts and ate rather more than was necessary in the middle (which coincided with a certain time of the month, isn’t that always the way?) to get back to precisely where I started.

I definitely think I’m looking more toned though.  My workout regime this month has mostly been a mix of Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred  DVD and continuing with Couch25K where I have now just finished week 4. Is anyone else still C25King along?

The Jillian Michaels DVD came very strongly recommended by Megan Not Martha and it is really good.  It’s a pretty tough workout which seems to cover all the bases (I’ve been alternating workouts 1 and 2 recently, haven’t yet plucked up the courage to try workout 3). The best thing about it though is that each workout is only 20 minutes long – so just when I’m really hating it, it finishes.

I’m REALLY enjoying C25K and can feel myself progressing from run to run.  I still run like a crippled geriatric buffalo but can now actually keep going at a slow but steady pace.  Week 5 is supposed to culminate with a 20 minute run which would have seemed impossible a few short weeks ago.  The really good news is that my plantar fasciitis has not got any worse and the torn ligaments in my right knee are just about keeping together (every run is painful, but not excessively so).  Of course, it would help enormously if I lost some weight. Do you hear that body?

In other fitness regime news, I have bought a Body Bugg!  You know those strange armband thingies that contestants wear on the Biggest Loser? What they do is precisely measure exactly how many calories you are using during the day (though if you still want to measure your daily calorie deficit you still have to upload intricate details of exactly what you’ve eaten).

I initially just bought the armband, which you wear all day and from which you upload your calorie usage and the number of steps you’ve taken to your computer. I was given a target calorie burn of 2250 per day (and 10,000 steps) which, if I ate around 1750 calories per day, a not excessively strict target) would mean losing about a pound a week.

I’ve been using it for a week or two and the results so far have been intriguing. Working from home as I do, and particularly now that the Minx is at school so I’m not running round after her all day, I can be INCREDIBLY sedentary.  On a normal sedentary day I only burn around 1700 calories, and one day burnt as few as 1450.  No wonder my weight has been creeping up slowly over the past few years! Every morsel I ate over 1700 calories was going straight to my humungous boobs (there have been a LOT of sedentary days in the last year or so).

Even 30 minutes of exercise added to my normal sedentary lifestyle only gets me to around a burn of 2000 calories a day, which would mean a very small loss if I exercised every day and maintenance if I exercised 3-4 times a week, which is EXACTLY what was happening. (And there I was wondering why a few hours of desultory exercise a week weren’t having any effect).

In order to get to 2250 calories, I either have to work out for an hour EVERY day, or add a lot more movement to my normal lifestyle (running up and down the stairs a bit more, taking movement breaks when at my desk, doing lunges in commercial breaks, going out for walks etc).

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Here’s yesterday’s chart. I slept until just gone seven.  I spent the morning running errands and tidying up the house, went for a run around noon and then spent the afternoon at my computer and the evening watching TV.  

The only problem with having just the armband is that I wouldn’t usually upload my data until the end of the day, so it was very easy to have a bad day and then think ‘oh sod it’ at midnight. So a couple of days ago I took delivery of the ‘digital display’  - a watch like thingy which you wear on your wrist and which tells you how many calories you’ve burned and how many steps you’ve taken – which has transformed my level of engagement with the device.  I’ve been using it the last couple of days and have hit my ‘burn’ on both days, by exercising and generally running around the house and walking in the neighbourhood a bit more. It’s scary to see how slowly the calories tick by otherwise.

So my aim for this month is to hit 2250 calories ‘burn’ EVERY. SINGLE. DAY and see if that gets things moving. Onwards and upwards! (It better work because it was pretty expensive).

It’s going to be interesting next week as we’re heading off on Sunday for Vancouver Island firstly to visit my friend in Victoria and then off to Tofino to stay at the Wickaninnish Inn. I’m hoping that walks on the beach will be enough as I find it doubtful that I will only be eating 1700 calories a day. Bloggery might be a bit sparse over the next few days as well.

04 January 2010

And…relax…

They’ve gone.  This morning the Minx and the Husband left brandishing brand new light-up shoes, a brand new and utterly hideous Ariel backpack and a brand new Hello Kitty umbrella (and that was just the Husband haha!) and a soft quietness descended over the house.

Apologies for the longer than anticipated blogging hiatus. Our first Christmas in North America has been hectic, sociable and, as the Minx would say, extremically very fun.

I’m currently in the middle of setting up the mirrormirror sale, so here’s a quick peek of what we were doing on Christmas morning instead of going to the pub.  More substantive blogging tomorrow.

Yes, my lovelies, your eyes are not deceiving you, this is me, not Angelina Jolie, whizzing through the trees

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Not nervous in the slightest. Oh no.

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Here’s the Husband showing off
And here are some more images from our amazing morning in the Whistler tree canopy.

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Yes I really did zoom down there

I’m somewhat scared of heights, so my emotions on Christmas morning ran the gamut between extreme terror and extreme thankfulness that I was still alive. And not a drop of alcohol in sight. 

Thanks Ziptrek Ecotours!

24 December 2009

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

 

Whistler could not be more Christmassy.

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With many, MANY thanks for all your support, comments, suggestions and advice over the year. I’d slip a little something in all your stockings if I could.

Here’s to a hugely happy, healthy and properous 2010. From my family to yours – Merry Christmas!

21 December 2009

Whistling While I Play

I’m in Whistler watching the snow fall gently on the already laden fir trees, finishing up on some gentle emails as the mirrormirror Christmas season draws to a close – a Christmas season which was not half as bad as it could have been, so thanks so much for all your support. Clare back in the UK has done an IN-CRED-IBLE job, learning the ropes and keeping everything on an even keel over the Christmas period and we’re both feeling happy and optimistic about the year ahead.

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The current view from the Whistler webcam.  I am not so crazy as to actually be out there.

The Minx is in ski camp, the Husband is off on the slopes and I’m trying to decide whether to knit, read, watch TV or get up off my ass and check out the pool and fitness centre. The horrible cold I’ve been struggling with these last few days seems to be departing. The cupboards are full of proper English food – we stopped off at the English food shop in Vancouver on the way to Whistler and bought pork pies, Scotch eggs, proper English bacon, a Christmas pudding, Mr Kiplings Cherry Bakewells and Jelly Babies for the Minx. This afternoon I’ll pull on my cold weather gear and wander into the village.  Hot chocolate, playing in the pool, building snowmen and buying a baby Christmas tree for our apartment here begins at 3pm when the Minx finishes skiing. Later on this week when the weather improves I’ll go tubing, ziplining, sledding and snowmobiling.

Life is GOOD.

If you want to read something a tiny bit more substantive from me then check out the gift guide I wrote for Shelterrific* published today.

*Only if you’re not my husband or daughter

19 November 2009

Fancy Hotel of the Week

 

I know, another one.

But I made the mistake this morning of flicking through a Maison Cote Sud which was lying around the house, which immediately made me long for the South of France in all its decadent beauty.  And if you could see how grey and wet and utterly MISERABLE the weather in Seattle is today you would understand why that was a mistake.

Parisian architect and designer India Mahdavi has recently completely the renovation of the iconic 80-year old Monte Carlo Beach.

I love how she has tipped her hat to the hotel’s heyday in the Thirties and kept it firmly rooted in  Provence and the Mediterranean, but made it resolutely modern in feel at the same time.  Very, very clever.

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That chair just sums it up really – 30s shape, beachy materials = something new and fresh.  And that boat in the distance is just perfect somehow. As are the icy glasses on the table.

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I want that lamp. Badly.

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I like how the lamp echoes the one above and how the prints – which are graphic and modern, but somehow deeply Provencal - work with the walls and lampshade. And the Matisse-like sketch on the wall and the 1930s B/W prints everywhere are cool touches. 

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All images from Maison Cote Sud and the hotel’s website.

11 November 2009

Fancy Hotel of the Week

Actually it’s the fancy hotel of a couple of weeks ago, but hey, who’s counting…

On our recent trip to Vancouver we were lucky enough to be able to get a corporate rate to stay at the newly-opened Shangri-La via the Husband’s job.

Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver

The hotel was fantastically comfortable and luxurious, though to be honest the decor was not exactly my cup of tea – very luxe, very Eastern-influenced (which makes sense as it’s an Asian hotel chain) and very safe -  with lots of textured brown and beige, wood veneers everywhere and the very occasional pop of red.

The most special details were the utterly spectacular chandeliers sprinkled throughout the hotel with gay abandon.  There was even a chandelier in each cubicle in the bathroom next to the bar.

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The hotel has been opened ahead of the 2010 Olympics and occupies the first 15 floors of the tallest building in Vancouver (seen here on a typical Pacific Northwest autumn day. ie. pissing it down with rain).

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The rooms were large and filled with every technological device you could imagine, which thrilled the Husband no end.

See that slightly grey patch in the bathroom mirror (reflecting the marble shower)?

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Well, it’s actually a telly. So you can watch children’s programmes while brushing your teeth.  

21 October 2009

Fancy Hotel of the Week – Mondrian Miami

I’ve never had much of a desire to go to Miami, but all that changed when I saw this hotel.  I totally adore the whimsy and wit of Marcel Wanders and his masterful use of shape and pattern, though the only thing I have that he’s designed are my gorgeous patterned storage boxes from Habitat.

The Mondrian Miami is still very ‘Miami’ with lots of shiny, lots of heavy columns and lots of huge curly chairs, but it does all look rather fun.

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CfdfdaptureDesign details I love include the faces on the walls, the shiny white floors, the layered monochrome patterns, the indoor and outdoor chandeliers,  the strangely curving staircase and the funky modern chairs (not so keen on the faux French antique chairs, but I can see what he’s trying to do).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 September 2009

Hot Date – Seaplanes and Kayaks

It’s a busy month round here – both the Husband and I have birthdays and it’s also our wedding anniversary - so we decided to both take the day off work and go on ‘hot date’ instead.

Can anyone tell me why we haven’t done this before?  It felt so deliciously naughty and decadent and we didn’t even need a babysitter, just friends who were kind enough to pick the Minx up from school.

Despite the fact that we live close to Seattle’s Lake Union and are constantly buzzed by the seaplanes flying overhead, the Husband had never been on one (I did here, but it’s not quite the same in February), so we decided to book a flight out to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island.

I do keep forgetting what a ridiculously beautiful corner of the world I accidentally ended up in.

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Ready for takeoff 

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Bye bye Seattle and Mt Rainier

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Past Mt Baker

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Lunchtime

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Pretty restaurant

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Kayaking – we saw seals! (but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to photograph them)

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Autumn is on its way

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Iles flottantes

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Into the sunset

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Back towards Rainier

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Approaching Seattle

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Buzzing the Space Needle 

It’s expensive, but on a beautiful day I can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone living in the Pacific Northwest. It truly was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done in my life.

03 August 2009

The Salads of Summer – Greek Salad

When people ask me what I miss most about the UK, I usually say ‘Greece’. 

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The Husband and I spent a lot of time travelling in the Peloponnese, the Pelion and island-hopping -  mostly in the Cyclades - before the Minx came on the scene and we can’t wait to go back there with her.

Anyone who’s spent any time in Greece will know that most restaurant meals will be accompanied by a simple Greek salad, or horiatiki (‘village salad’) which is remarkably similar wherever you travel in Greece. A lot of people are scathing about Greek food but there’s something very comforting about this simple salad and we’ve been eating it a lot here in Seattle this summer as we’ve managed to find a good source of Greek feta.  We usually accompany it with some grilled lamb or chicken.

Here’s my recipe – which serves 2-4 people.  All the quantities are very approximate, just add or subtract different quantities of ingredients, to taste or depending on how many you’re serving and what you’ve got to hand.

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Ingredients

Tomatoes – the redder and juicier the better.  I chop up about a punnet of sweet cherry tomatoes

Cucumber – about half a large one, cut into thickish rounds.

Red onion – about half a small one

Green pepper – we’ve seen salads with and without peppers in different areas of Greece, so these are optional. Here in the US, I like to use the pointy, slightly spicy, green Anaheim peppers. Add one or two chopped and deseeded peppers to taste. If you’re not using peppers, add a bit more cucumber.

Olives – we add a handful of pitted Kalamata olives from a jar, but any sticky, salty black olives will do

Feta cheese – feta just means ‘slice’ and in Greece this salad normally comes served with a thick slice of feta placed on top

Oregano – this salad is always seasoned with a good sprinkling of dried oregano.  When we first had this in Greece I was surprised that they used the dried stuff when fresh oregano grows pretty much wild and it felt strange to use dried herbs on a salad. But it’s traditional, and it works.

Olive oil – the salad is dressed with a good slug of olive oil.  I like to add to add a little red or white wine vinegar, but again that’s not always the case in Greece.

Method

Assemble your ingredients and serve the salad with the slab of feta still intact on the top.  At the table, serve the salad by mooshing up the cheese with a spoon and stirring it into the other ingredients, to create an oily, cheesy dressing. Never add salt to this salad – the olives and cheese are plenty salty enough.

Kali orexi!

21 April 2009

Portland Envy

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The setting isn't remotely as naturally stunning as Seattle's and we spent much of the weekend dodging rain and hail showers, but I came back with serious case of Portland envy.

The architecture is older and therefore more charming to my European eyes, the streets are narrower and more pedestrian-friendly and it just has a cooler and funkier urban vibe, despite being much the smaller city.  Just from the clothes people wear you can tell that Portland is a city of artsy types whereas Seattle is the ultimate city of geeks.

Thanks so much for the recommendations, here and on Facebook. Things we really enjoyed - apart from the hotel - include Habibi for great Lebanese food (we used to live near some great Lebanese restaurants in London and its something I really miss); Hot Lips Pizza in the Pearl District for seriously great tasting pizza; Cool Moon Icecream near Jamison Square (the perfect shelter in a hailstorm); Sushiland, also in the Pearl District, for good cheap conveyor belt sushi; Cargo for funky ethnic stuff; Knit Purl for YARN and of course Powell's for books.  The Japanese Garden in Washington Park is stunning and the rose garden must be amazing when the roses are actually out.  Lots of amazing rhododendrons when we were there though.  I also found the Holocaust Memorial, which we wandered into on the off-chance, very moving.

Mostly though we spent out time wandering the streets, admiring the street art, riding the trolley buses and hoping that Seattle's urban planners will someday turn South Lake Union or Georgetown into the Pearl District with better views.  Keep your fingers crossed.

16 April 2009

Dressed Up To The Nines

Portland April '09

Photos by Paola Thomas

I have SUCH a weakness for gorgeous hotels.  This weekend we managed to get a deal on the recently-opened the Nines in Portland.  Great location and a fabulous boutique-y feel for a largeish hotel.

There were some great decor touches.  I liked the taupe colour scheme with accents of aqua, lilac, purple and amber in the pillows, sheer drapes, and Murano glass light installations; the subtle taupe on taupe patterning in the wallpapers; and the lovely bespoke carpets which reflected the accent colours and the patterns in the papers and drapes.  The Minx adored the sparkly chandeliers and a somewhat strange sculpture of an enormous jewelled necklace in the lobby  (I didn't get a good picture of this though).

The lounge and bar area in the enormous central atrium was fabulous - divided up into a number of different 'rooms' each with their own decor, lighting and seating, but working together harmoniously as a whole.  And we were quite memerised by Matt McCormick's art installation comprising four enormous LCD panels showing silhouettes of cars crossing Portland's Fremont Bridge at sunset in the restaurant. Here's an article with more about the hotel's art collection.

All-in-all highly recommended next time you're staying in Portland.

09 April 2009

Socklets

One thing I did manage to finish last  weekend were the Minx's socks.  I love how cute they make her feet look.  There's something very charming about four-year old cankles (unlike my own).

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Of course temperatures went up to 70 degrees over the weekend and the beginning of the week and I thought she wouldn't actually be able to wear them before she grew out of them, but we're back now to a business-as-usual, grey, overcast, dull, rainy Seattle spring, so she might get a couple of months wear out of them.

Apologies for the lack of bloggery in recent days. I've been doing STUFF - painting a fence, building a flower bed, wrestling with a gigantic inbox and knitting some secrets.  I have no idea how people not only do stuff round the house but also manage to document it.

We're also heading for an impromptu trip to Portland over the weekend, so I'll be back in the middle of next week. Don't miss me too much. And if you have any recommendations for fabulous shops, restaurants and things to do leave them in the comments  and I will love you forever.

13 February 2009

Go Love Your Room - Fatboy Slim's Yacht

Or in this case go love your yacht.  I've realised that I don't post enough pictures of rooms I find inspiring, mostly because I don't come across them all that often. 

Everything about this boat though - which belongs to superstar (in the UK at least) DJ and producer Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim - is utter perfection. It's even moored in Sardinia, of which, as you know, we are very fond.

The only teensy problem is the price tag, as it will cost you £20,000 (approx $30,000) to rent the four spacious cabins for a week.  Oh, and the name Barracuda, which now reminds me of a certain governor of Alaska.

For more details and pics, including what music they have on the fully stocked Ipod, go here. If you want to hire it more details are here.  

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{via the ever fabulous Style Files}

28 October 2008

United Colours of Vancouver

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I really, really, REALLY 'heart' Vancouver.  We last visited about thirteen years ago, and can't quite believe it's taken us this long to go back.  And yes, the weather really was something else.

More piccies here and here. There is something indefinably and wonderfully European about Vancouver which we couldn't quite put our finger on. Something to do with the width of the streets, the number of pedestrians and the lack of a dirty great freeway carving through the centre of the city.  We can also highly recommend the Agro Cafe' on Granville Island and Raincity Grill for one of the best meals I've had in North America.

31 May 2008

Hotel Careyes

The one problem with Mexico is that it's BIG.  And full of mountains.  Which makes getting around pretty difficult.

When we first started researching our holiday, we fondly imagined that we'd be able to see a few different places in very different parts of the country, but we soon realised that we would be racking up many hours and many dollars in plane flights as it's difficult to travel great distances in the car.

But we didn't just want to say in a big impersonal resort and so when we found a really great deal on the boutique-y Hotel Careyes on Luxury Link (how I love this site) we jumped at the chance.

When we told people that we were driving 150 miles south of Puerto Vallarta, people looked at us as if we were crazy, but I think that's because many American travellers are not very adventurous. True, the road through the Sierra Madre was a bit twisty and turny, but in pretty good condition and nothing like some of the truly terrifying roads we've driven on in Greece and Turkey.

We arrived at the hotel at midnight and were unable to ascertain whether it was 'colourful' (the Minx's key criterion for a good hotel).

She really needn't have worried.

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We were also lucky enough (it was late in the season remember) to get an upgrade on the room, which was simply furnished, absolutely enormous and featured a large jacuzzi in the middle.  The decor was a little tired, but the hotel is apparently due for renovation, so catch it while it's still even vaguely affordable.

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305I swear the jacuzzi got more use than ever before, as  the Minx LOVED it and would swim in it every morning while we lounged in bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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El Careyes has an interesting history - an eccentric Italian built the resort and neighbouring villas and casitas in this remote enclave of the Costalegre coast back in the 50s, hoping to create a Mexican version of Portofino.  There's even a polo field nearby.

It's nothing like as developed as Portofino (one of my favourite places in the world - do you have any idea how much I miss Italy?) is now, but apparently Careyes is quite the celeb hangout around Christmas.

In May though it's almost too quiet and sleepy - we had fun escaping to the funky little town of Barra de Navidad which was very Mexican and reminded us a bit of cute Southern European resorts such as Kas in Turkey and Nafplio in Greece - that is, until Heidi Klum turned up.

21 May 2008

United Colors of Mexico

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You may have noticed that I quite like bright colours, so I was always going to like Mexico wasn't I?

More on my Flickr here.

19 May 2008

Viva Mexico!

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I LOVED Mexico.  I can't tell you how much.

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The places in the world I love best are in Southern Europe - the South of France, Italy and Greece - and Mexico is as close as you can get to being there while being on a different continent.

While my relationship with the US is sometimes strange and ambiguous, I felt utterly, completely, at home in Mexico - the colours; the light; the delightful, crazy people; the margaritas; the food, the interiors.

Things I learned in Mexico

- It is possible for a hotel to be too pink

- If you teach a small blonde girl a bit of basic Spanish you get amazing service in restaurants

- Heidi Klum has thread veins on the back of her left knee

- Heidi Klum had a nanny and her mother hanging around all the time and didn't seem to know how to interact with her kids

- Heidi Klum is still far too pretty to meet by the side of a pool, though not as luminously pretty as Kate Moss

- Parasailing is as terrifying as it looks

- It was lovely to see churches with spires and domes and things dotting the landscape. 

- It is not possible for a margarita to be too large

- Guacamole is not entirely devoid of calories

- I hadn't realised how much I miss football.  It was great to walk into a bar and see PROPER football on the telly, and kids playing football in the street and PROPER goalposts in the school playgrounds. It was like rejoining the rest of the world again.

- Air travel into and out of the the US is a total nightmare

- A very large part of me still wants to give everything up and go and live on a beach somewhere

- I urgently need a friend with a large and expensive yacht

Back properly soon.  The house is currently covered in piles of washing, the garden has turned into a jungle (apparently Seattle had summer while we were away) I have a shop which requires rather a lot of TLC and I somehow managed to take 901 photos on our travels.  It is possible you may see more Mexico photos anon.

12 May 2008

An Interlude

Huge apologies for lack of bloggery in recent days.  We're on vacation and I was so busy in the days leading up to our departure that I didn't quite get round to mentioning it. 

Anyway, after a few days here (the Husband was conferencing again), we are now having a fabulous time here in Mexico, having scored another great deal via LuxuryLink.com.

Don't miss me too much. I will be back next week, with loads of holiday pics to bore you with and HOT CELEBRITY GOSSIP (guess which A-list stars had booked out the Mexican hotel for a party for their wedding anniversary?)

26 March 2008

Lisa in India

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Photos of the 'Holi' festival from Lisa's blog

OK. This is completely and utterly off-topic, but my friend Lisa from Victoria BC is now in India and she's started a blog about her travels.

Which I strongly advise you to check out if you've ever wondered what it would be like to leave your job and go wandering for a year.  Fabulous and fascinating photos too.

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04 February 2008

Where to go in Mexico?

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We're thinking of going to Mexico in March and April, but don't know where to go. Any suggestions?

We need a nice beach for the Minx but would also like to find somewhere with a bustling Mexican vibe and traditional Colonial architecture, but not too touristy - which I think rules out Acapulco, Cancun and possibly PV -, and not too remote either as I fancy sitting in little cafes and restaurants and watching the world go by.

And any recommendations for beautiful, smallish (and cheap!) boutique-y hotels would also be much appreciated.   It is possible that the things I desire are not actually available in reality.

Let me know all your ideas - I know next to nothing about Mexico, so the smallest bits of information would be useful. Thank you!

21 January 2008

Shades of Grey and A Farewell

The Minx and I (the Husband went skiing instead) set off for Victoria, BC this weekend to say farewell to my great friend Lisa who is off backpacking in India for a year at the beginning of March.

Living comparatively close to her has been one of the highlights of living in Seattle and the Minx and I will really miss her.  I doubt we'll popping over to Victoria so often either and will miss its reassuring Englishness and its fabulous bookshop full of English authors and childrens' books (I'm finding a lot of American childrens' books unbearably sanctimonious and twee).

This time we flew out on one of tiny six seater seaplanes which we watch all day landing in and taking off from Lake Union (why is it terribly romantic to be in the flight path of floatplanes whereas we'd be complaining like mad if we had the same number of jets flying overhead?)

Flying past the Space Needle in black and white

The Sound was blanketed with cloud as we flew (must do this again in summer) but you can just make out all the islands below the clouds).  This is a colour photo.

A grey day is still good for the beach.

Though we did see some blue sky

 

Girls on tour.  A tremendously unflattering picture of the Minx and I messing about with the camera while waiting to get the boat home. You really wouldn't want to mess with us, would you? 

13 November 2007

Back Home

The 'Mountain' was most assuredly 'out' as we flew into Seattle 

Apologies for lack of bloggery in recent days.

Our flight back was delayed due to the Husband mixing up the plane times and us having to spend Thursday night in an airport hotel at LaGuardia.  His 'you owe me big time' points total has accordingly gone off the scale.

Jet lag has also been surprisingly bad this weekend, with the whole family being utterly exhausted.  It scarcely seems natural or right to have jetlag without even leaving your own country. 

It was interesting to be back in New York. Until this year, most of the time I'd spent in the States was in the Big Apple, but now I can appreciate how different it is from the rest of the US. 

I'm a big city girl at heart, so I loved the hustle and bustle, the noise, the energy and the melting pot cosmpolitan mix - of all the cities I've been to in the world it definitely has the most London-like vibe.  It was great too, after spending a year in Seattle's outdoorsy, fleece 'n jeans culture, to see some seriously cool, kick-ass clothes out on the streets. And to be able to eat top-notch Italian food.

What was interesting though, was how struck I was by the rudeness and dirtiness - things which as a Londoner had never bothered me before - after the pleasantness and helpfulness of Seattleites and the cleanliness of their city.  Maybe Seattle is turning me into a softy?

The downside to the trip, as ever, was having absolutely no time to shop at all, which was frustrating as I was desperate to work my way through Grace's Brookyn Shopping Guide.  The Husband's business commitments meant that I had the Minx in tow pretty much all the time, and although she has become much easier to sightsee with (she can walk further and follows directions somewhat better), in my experience interiors shops and nearly three year olds do not mix.

However, I have come to the momentous decision that now that the Minx is more grown up I can start visiting some trade fairs in New York and on the West Coast, and spend some time enjoying the cities on my own.

The only problem is I have no idea where to start. Can someone tell me which are the best fairs for top quality homewares, interior design and gifts - the equivalent of Top Drawer, Pulse or Decorex in the UK or Maison et Objet in Paris?

08 November 2007

Miss Liberty

06 November 2007

I *heart* New York

a heck of a lot.

 

28 August 2007

Summer Idyll

Pics on my Flickr 

We stayed in a pretty white house overlooking a small beach (the cabins were all booked so we stayed in the chintzy but comfortable main house), surrounded by lovely gardens and towering madrona trees; watched the moon glisten on the water, and the morning mist rise over the bay; splashed in a sparkling (if very cold) sea; learnt how to kayak (which was amazing) on mirror-smooth waters with seals popping up to say hello; swung on the rope swing under the old tree; picked apples in the garden; walked on soft pine needle-covered paths by emerald lakes; drove to the top of the mountain and gazed on the islands spread before us; went whale-watching (again) and saw more seals, porpoise and eagles but no whales (again); lay on the grass amid the dandelions; had a first ever ride on a horse; went to a farm and gathered eggs, plums and peaches for supper; saw a small covered bridge which wouldn't be out of place in Madison County and picture-postcard farmsteads; sailed home through the most glorious sunset and drove back to Seattle by the light of a huge harvest moon.

San Juans, we will be back.

12 May 2007

Triptych

  

On our last day in SF the fog rolled in.