Monday, November 28, 2011

London, England - Ice Skating at Somerset House

The Christmas season is in full swing here in London. Not only are there spectacular decorations illuminating the city streets, but there is a Winter Wonderland market and carnival in Hyde Park, Christmas carollers serenading you at teatime at the grand dame hotels such as the Dorchester and Claridges, as well as many outdoor skating rinks set up in beautiful settings. Yesterday I went ice skating at the Skate at Somerset House and had a fabulous time!

As the ice skating rink is sponsored by Tiffany & Co, there is a Tiffany gift shop, Tiffany Christmas Tree and other events, such as the Teatime with Tiffany. The gift shop, housed inside a huge Tiffany blue box, sells limited edition gifts, as well as Tiffany jewellery, gourmet chocolates from Cocomaya, candy canes and lollypops. There is a simply beautiful Tiffany Christmas tree that is adorned with a menagerie of ornaments. This year’s beautiful 40-foot tree takes its inspiration from the iconic carousel in New York City’s Central Park, and its twinkling lights are meant to evoke the evening Manhattan skyline.

Tickets must be booked in advance, and you are assigned a specific skating time, which allows you to skate for one hour. The ice is cleaned every hour between each session and skate rental is included in the ticket price. Friday night skate sessions feature dance club music with well known DJs, on weekday afternoons, join English National Ballet dancers for a 20 minute ballet warm up off the ice to music from Strictly Gershwin, then join fellow skaters and an expert ice dance coach on the ice where you’ll learn to perform a skate routine to Strike up the Band. There is also a skate school and Saturday afternoon figure skating performances.

For those who just want to watch the skaters and partake in the festive atmosphere, you can visit Tom’s Skate Lounge for tasty sweets and mulled wine, winter cocktails like a hot toddy, rich hot chocolate or a glass of champagne. Additionally, Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens' restaurant at Somerset House, Tom’s Kitchen, offers fine dining as a treat before or after your skate session.

I highly suggest a visit to Skate at Somerset House as a great way to both kick off the holiday season and burn some post Thanksgiving calories on the ice!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Prague, Czech Republic - Where to Eat

Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that, besides walking around a new city, all I ever seem to do on holiday is eat and drink. My long weekend in Prague was no exception. Here I have put together my favorite eating spots:

Old Town (shown above): In the center of the historical Old Town, you will find a market with stands selling great local fare. Pork is the most famous meat, cooked in various different ways: pork knuckle, sausages, even prosciutto di Praga. Another key staple is potatoes, usually cooked with onion and, you guessed it, pork. Not to be missed is the delicious sweet bread called Trdelnik, which is rolled into a thin strip and wrapped around a long stainless steel 3 inch thick cylinder. It's covered in a sugar syrup and rotated over the heat source. After it is browned and the sugar syrup is a bit crispy, it is rolled in a sugar, cinnamon, nut mixture and then slipped off to be eaten warm. Yum!

Various potato, pork and goulash dishes at the market

Prosciutto di Praga, the smell of the wood fire is amazing

The largest pan I have ever seen in my life: potatoes, onions and pork cooked over a wood fire

I had to sample some of course

Sausages and chicken skewers

Yes, we tried this too

Become hypnotised as the Trdlnik spin round and round, become an addict once you taste it
Bakeshop: A fabulous and informal cafe, take a break from the tourists and eat amongst the locals who come here for light soups, salads, quiche and other prepared foods along with to-die-for cakes, cookies and sweets, as well as sourdough bread made from their very own yeast, which they have named Bertha. (Yes, they gave their yeast a name!) They use all local and seasonal ingredients. Believe me, your biggest dilemma is going to be what to order. Check out these pictures.

Cafe Savoy:  An all day cafe, perfect for stopping in at any hour. They serve traditional Czech dishes as well as amazing bread, and even have their own in-house patisserie (complete with a glass observation wall so you can watch the baking action) that makes some delicious cakes you can order by the slice. There is a great wine list and they serve my favorite tea: Mariage Freres.  An art nouveau gem and once a decadent coffeehouse dating back to 1893, Café Savoy was a favorite haunt after the Velvet Revolution. The Savoy has since received a face-lift, but has stayed true to its Art Nouveau past. The 7-meter high neo-renaissance ceiling with sparkling chandeliers transports you back to the days when Prague boasted one of the highest standards of living in all of Europe.

How beautiful is the ceiling in the Cafe Savoy?!?

We ordered a "light" afternoon snack around 4pm called the Platter Savoy:

roasted Prague ham, delicate frankfurter and merguezi (lamb sausage), housemade cabbage, buttered potatoes, housemade ginger mustard and bread

Of course followed up by Mariage Freres tea and some homemade sweets!

Tahitian Vanilla Cheesecake

Love the ambience!

V Zatisi:  Our favorite place for dinner, great interior design, lovely dark and romantic dining rooms and some pretty delicious food. While we were there, Michelin Star Master Chef Mahavir Kansval presented a special Indian dinner set menu as well. There is also excellent service here, which is something I thought was lacking in Prague restaurants in general. We had a rich and decadent porcini mushroom, parmesan and truffle oil arborio risotto as well as a lovely fillet of sea bass.

Kampa Park: A perfect perch for a drink smack on the river and overlooking the famous Charles Bridge. In summer they even have an outdoor champagne bar. We were wrapped in warm wool blankets that they provided for us, as it was November, but when in Prague, you just have to have a cold Czech beer or some lovely mulled wine, and this view can't be beat. Though I didn't dine here, the restaurant at Kampa Park always receives high reviews (again dining room with the same view), and even Matt Damon ate here when he was filming the Brothers Grimm.
A Pilsner Urquell and some mulled wine overlooking the Charles Bridge at Kampa Park
**The Michelin starred Allegro at the Four Season Hotel was closed for renovations during our stay, but comes very highly recommended. Pin It

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prague, Czech Republic - Mandarin Oriental Prague

Charles Bridge
I just got back from a long weekend in Prague: one of the many benefits of living in London and being so close to a myriad of great European destinations. I decided to stay at the Mandarin Oriental, which was included in the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List for 2011 this year. The Mandarin Oriental Prague is located in a quiet and secluded section of Mala Strana, literally a two minute walk from the famous Charles Bridge. The hotel occupies the site of a 14th century monastery and many of the original artifacts are on display in glass cases in the hallway.

I have to say, the staff and the service at the Mandarin are exceptional. From the moment you check in, they walk you through the entire hotel and familiarize you with all of the amenities of both the building and your guest room. They are always on hand to make suggestions for dinner and sightseeing and to book reservations. No request we made during our stay went unfulfilled.  

Monastery Lounge

Monastery Lounge
Many of the rooms, including the Monastery Lounge, feature vaulted ceilings, oak wood parquet floors and limestone bathrooms. Bathrooms offer separate bathtubs and showers, televisions, phones, and bathrobes and slippers. In addition to daily maid service, there is a turndown service in the evening with complimentary bottled water and scented sleep spray to be spritzed on your pillow if you like.

View from the room

Limestone bathroom with double sinks, separate shower and bathtub

Full English breakfast was included in our room rate, which essentially meant that we could order anything at all off of the extensive breakfast menu. At no additional charge, you could have your breakfast delivered to you in your room, which is what we did each morning. I just loved eating breakfast in pyjamas in my room without having to get dressed to go down to the dining room: this for me is what it truly means to be on vacation!

The Spa at the Mandarin is the only one in the world located in a former Renaissance chapel, and indeed there is a glass floor through which you can see the remnants of the actual chapel. There are six treatment rooms as well as a tea lounge and relaxation area, and a shop selling all those amazing Aromatherapy products they use on you during treatments. I had a one hour Oriental Essence massage, and it was the perfect way to undo the damage of walking on cobblestone streets for two days. From my guest room, I could wear my bathrobe and descend directly to the spa by an elevator outside my door that connected to an underground passageway, without anyone ever seeing me.

The Spa with glass floor showing the ruins of the former chapel
The hotel offers a few complimentary activities, which are both fun and educational. While we were there, they held an evening Czech beer tasting class in their cocktail bar called Barego, as well as a private tour of the property that highlighted the history of the building and the antique artefacts on display. We tasted different beers that had hints of chocolate, caramel and even banana, and another beer that had champagne in it and was served in a champagne flute! This was an enjoyable class and a great way to kick off the evening before heading out for dinner in the Old Town.

A complimentary Czech beer tasting at the hotel bar, Barego

For location, service and sleep quality, you will not be disappointed at the Mandarin Oriental Prague.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

London, England - And the winner is ...

Thank you to everyone who entered the Aruna Seth evening bag giveaway. As promised, we assigned a number to each entry and using a random number generator, we came up with one lucky winner of the bag below:

The winning comment is:

"So many gorgeous shoes...a girl should not have to choose just one, but if I must,
the Farfalla Tan Snakeskin heel would excite me to no end."

This lucky winner will now be carrying the same Aruna Seth bag as the flame-haired and flamboyant Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, as seen here (her shoes are Aruna Seth too!):

Would the winner please contact me at with your full name and shipping address. Thank you again to everyone who entered!!! Pin It

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hong Kong - The Peninsula Hotel

Thanks again to my dear friend, Cecilia, who has offered to guest blog on another of her fabulous honeymoon destinations. Here is what she had to say about her stay at The Peninsula Hong Kong:

Hong Kong is a classic among Asian destinations and served as the perfect stopover on our long journey to Australia. The city is full of new, modern hotels with all possible international hotel chains present, but really, there is no better place to stay than The Peninsula. Although we arrived on a very early flight from Europe (6.30 AM!) once we got to the hotel a beautiful room with a skyline view was already awaiting us, and we were served complimentary green tea and welcome drinks.

The hotel is truly legendary. Although one of the most historic hotels on the island, as it opened in the late 1920s, the inside has been fully renovated in keeping with that colonial feel we loved so much. Located on the island of Kowloon, the hotel has amazing views over Victoria Harbour and Central Hong Kong. To enjoy the view at its best, lounge by the pool on the 8th floor, have a drink at the Felix Bar, or indulge in a spa treatment.

Another plus of staying at the Peninsula is the afternoon tea. If you like this English tradition, the Peninsula afternoon tea is the best in Hong Kong. Be warned: locals and expats book days in advance, especially on weekends. The hotel hosts a number of famous restaurants as well, from Chinese to French, but my favourite is the Felix bar designed by Philippe Stark where you order from an IPad!

The Symphony of Lights (light show of coloured lights, laser beams and searchlights performing a stunning, unforgettable spectacle synchronised to music) takes place every night at 8PM (weather permitting) and it's worth watching from Felix, or other areas of the hotel with a view of the harbour.

The spa is truly wow! I have seen quite a few spas in my travels all around the world and, I must admit, I love indulging in massages, but this spa is really breathtaking. I would dare to say that, location-wise, this spa is my absolute favorite anywhere. Not only is the ambiance serene and relaxing (and brand new!), but every massage room has the most amazing view of the whole city of Hong Kong. Even the steam room/sauna area (complete with complimentary Evian bottled water and ice to cool down) and relaxation area enjoy the view!  I wanted to buy one of those amazing organic super healthy oils they use on you, but my serious lack of luggage space wouldn’t allow!

The lobby bar holds that colonial flare with pale yellow and baroque ceilings and palms. On the ground floor there is one of the most luxurious fashion arcades in the city with all the top brands you can think of: Chanel, Dior, Hermes, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, etc. I flipped for the Peninsula engraved Goyard luggage!! There is also a Peninsula brand store selling mainly food goods as well. Do not miss a walk on the mezzanine level where all the jewellery stores are located, including the legendary GRAFF. As if you needed an excuse to shop, Hong Kong is the reign of tax free shopping!

While in Kowloon do not miss out on the famous "Jade Market". Though I am not sure all that you can see there is real jade, the affordable prices and fun atmosphere make it worth a stop. Also freshwater pearls are pretty nice and, with a ten-euro-price, will look even nicer once you wear them at home!

And last but not least, although the train ride to and from the airport is very comfortable and convenient (€ 8), indulge in a ride to the airport in one of the 14 famous Long Wheelbase Rolls-Royce Phantoms painted in the hotel's signature green. These beauties are parked outside the hotel for you to admire! Once you get to the airport a valet will meet you to carry your luggage all the way to the check in desk, and for once, you will feel like you are enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous!

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