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Friday, May 25, 2012

Flashback Friday


Aug. 2011 - Amsterdam

This was the view from an outdoor cafe at the Amsterdam Flower Market.  Simple breakfast of glazed croissant and fresh squeezed orange juice. Beautiful flowers everywhere, more bulbs than I had ever seen in my life and people-watching perfection.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

London's Second Chance - The Aftermath

London as dusk

            I gave London a second chance and I’m glad I did. In many ways she was everything that I expected.  She was inhospitable – shutting out the sunlight and enveloping those who dare thread her streets with wind and cold. She sent unwelcomed rain, damaging my favorite leather boots and saddling me with a dripping wet umbrella for hours on end.  Perhaps the biggest affront is her complete disregard for protocol; it is not supposed to be this frigid in May. Furthermore, I should not have to borrow a winter jacket in May!  But hey, I firmly believe in making the most of my well-earned vacation, so I clad myself as best as I could and resolved to use the power of my mind to look past her obvious hostilities.  I figured, the millions of people who call this city home must find some pleasure here, and so, I will search for her redeeming qualities.  Actually, my dear friend Sangs already had about 7 months of insights into the London scene, so I mainly followed her lead.  That, and with a bit of research, we reached beyond her bitter rind to juicier interiors. 
            That is where the surprises began.  As we explored, she began to reveal her secrets.  London is a treasure trove of markets.  Markets of all kinds.  Vintage markets, flower markets, food markets, artisan markets. Take Alfie’s Antique Market – officially our first stop.  Unassuming exterior.  Bland actually, and not exactly in the most central of areas.  But you enter the doors and enter another world.  This place can and will keep you fascinated for countless hours with antique bling of all kinds, one of a kind furniture, retro dresses.  You imagine it, and it’s probably here somewhere, in one of the many stores. And when you need to refuel, the rooftop café is a welcomed oasis.  Unfortunately, by the time we pried ourselves from all the eye candy, the café was closing for the day! 

Columbia Street Flower Market
Market hoping continued throughout my almost 2-week stay.  Both Sangs and I, guided by mutual love for shopping (or window shopping), seemed to always end up at a market.  There was Camden Market, the Disney World of all markets, and Brick Lane, a culinary delight for anyone with an appreciation for ethnic foods.  Then, Columbia Road Flower Market, Portobello Market and Spitalfields (Spitalfields is special, because that’s where I got my new red leather oxfords!).  At some point during these market tours, it struck me – I did not feel the sting of the cold while meandering through the crowds.  Maybe it wasn’t just me.  Maybe we, all covered by shared grey skies, were all gathered here with a mutual goal.  The goal of pooling our body heat to combat the elements.  There, you forget what a shitty day it is, as you absorb the sights, the sounds, the smells.  But most importantly, you forget because of the shared body heat.

Tower Bridge (look, blue in the sky!)
            When not at markets, other places to get some high quality collective body heat, are the ancient watering holes.  You actually get more ‘bang for your buck’, since there are crowds, alcohol + poor ventilation.  I say poor ventilation, because some of those places are hundreds of years old.  The older the better. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and Gordon’s Wine Bar were absolute favorites, as they offer both a drink, and a historical experience.  Think about it, a drink is not just a drink when it is being drunk in a place where people have gotten drunk for hundreds of years!
            London surprised me.  Yes, the weather still leaves a lot to be desired.  Winter weather in May? Not my cup of tea.  BUT.  With an umbrella, multiple layers of clothing, and enough courage to venture out, London will charm the heck out of you.  And the fish and chips ain’t too bad either! 

Tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum cafe

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Underground, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Gordon's Wine Bar - As ancient as it looks

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Efficient Vacation Packing for the Fashion Conscious

Here is a challenge: packing light for vacation, but packing enough so that you look great on your trip.  For more than 5 years, I have managed to take trips to various parts of the world, for at least 2 weeks, with nothing more than my trusted carry-on luggage and a handbag.  Why worry about packing light, you ask?  Well, for one, efficient packing is a trademark of any travel aficionado.   People who travel know that there is nothing more elegant than stepping right off the plane and out of the airport (baggage claim is for the birds).  Second, airline travel is unpredictable; sometimes opportunities come up to get more direct flights at the last minute and it's easier on everyone if you have no checked bags.  And finally, it looks ridiculous to log a massive piece of luggage through subways, cobblestoned streets and up flights of stairs.  Now, if you're the type of girl who travels with an entourage and gets picked up by private car services, then this article is not for you.  Otherwise, hopefully you can find my experiences helpful.

I just got back from a 2-week trip to London and Dubrovnik, Croatia.  The main challenge here is to pack for 2 distinct climates - the cold and wet of London and the sunny gorgeousness of Dubrovnik.  Cold weather packing eats up valuable real estate in carry on luggage, but I believe that the solution is layering.  

Here is my packing list:

  • 2 cardigans 
  • 2 dresses 
  • 2 pairs of slacks 
  • 4 pairs of jeans 
  • 12 tops 
  • 3 pairs of leggings 
  • 3 pairs of shoes 
  • 2 pairs of sandals 
  • 1 leather biker jacket 
  • 1 trench coat 
  • 2 handbags
  • tons of accessories (plus as a nice surprise, my girlfriend had tons more waiting for me from her latest trip to India)!   

Most airlines allow 1 carryon and 1 personal item.  As my personal item, I use an oversized leather handbag.  This comes in handy on day trips, but is also great if I do buy anything on my trip that I need to bring back to the US with me.  When it comes to strategic packing, it's important to have a selection of basics that you can wear at least twice.  For example, you can completely change the look of black skinny jeans by using either casual or dressy tops and by changing the shoes. The cardigans came in really handy in London, since I layered them under my jackets. The Chuck Taylors were my London rainy day shoes, while the ballet flats changed up the look on the few days that the sun peeked out.  In Croatia, the tan sandals were all I needed.  And the leather boots were a staple as they're both comfortable and cute.  As for the black wedge sandals, I wore them once, and really could have edited them out of my packing.  They were completely impractical (hey, you live and learn).  I brought tons of tops and accessories, as those are easy to pack and can really spice up an outfit.  In terms of getting everything to fit, I try to roll pieces up as tightly as possible, stuff what I can into shoes and hats, and make sure that I fill up all the little corners of the luggage.

Overall, the best advice for packing efficiently is to remember that there is a limit to how much you can wear on your vacation, so don't try to travel with your entire wardrobe.  Plus, if you do forget something, that may be a great opportunity to experience the local shopping.