Monday, February 28, 2011

I Love You, Bruges

Everything here is as it should be. Made of chocolate.

Chocolate window displays.

Giant chocolate egg at the Choco-Story museum.

Chocolate lipstick.

And a chocolate President Obama.

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about that last one. It feels a little bit wrong, and yet also kind of awesome.

Bruges = chocolate = perfect vacation destination.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bruges - All About the Hotel


I was given multiple rooms with heavy silk draperies, a marble fauxplace and antique furniture, not to mention a chilled bottle of champagne and box of Belgian chocolates (although here I'm sure they're just "chocolates"). This caused unreasonable swanning from room to room, exclaiming to no one "Welcome to my palatial rooms, won't you sit down?" I had leaped straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and was delusionally anticipating callers for tea.

The bathroom? Gorgeously tiled, and equipped with a large tub. Shhh, it's behind the little wall. You can't see it. It's private.

The canal view from my window. Windows I should say, as there were multiple in my stately rooms.

And after the sun came out, just in time to set.

Resident swans. Also swanning about!

And I must mention that the entire property, from the reception parlor to the hallways and staircases, smelled beautiful, thanks to the hotel's "signature" scent (which can be purchased in home mist or candle form). I love things that smell good.

Martin's Relais Oud Huis Amsterdam. It's in Bruges - don't let the name fool you.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Le Train! Le Train!

I would imagine that is what Tattoo would have said for some of the visitors, had Mr. Rourke not lived on an island.

Railbookers booked me into a First Class compartment on the Thalys train (bless them), and did you know they serve lunch?

Had I known this, I would not have indulged in the enormous breakfast at the Paris cafe an hour prior. No matter, we're in Belgium now, and I still have room for chocolate.

Where: Frederic Blondeel (Brussels Fish Market - 24 Quai aux Briques)

And I just liked the way this building looked.

I have to admit, Brussels was not my favorite city. While the chocolate people were very nice, everyone else seemed grumpy about something. Possibly the political division of the country, according to a very long New Yorker article my dad made me read before the trip. I hate politics. Let's go shopping.

What: Vintage - and not just the "vintage" from 1996 that all those street-fashionistas claim when describing their outfits. Come on - I'm sure the tag is still in the back of your frock, just fess up. There's nothing wrong with shopping at Express.

Where: Gabriele (27 Rue de Chartreux) - SERIOUS vintage. If I did costumes for films that take place in the '20s - '60s, I would come here. Loads of hats, handbags, an impressive leather trenchcoat collection, and fancy, frilly things. Gabriele is also terribly sweet - go shop at her store.

What: Marni - and it combines my three favorite things in clothing: polka-dots, ruffles and pockets. It was a trifecta of happiness.

Where: Les Enfants d'Eduoard (175 avenue Louise) - gorgeous 2-story consignment shop. I was still in story-1 dressing room, dress over head, at 6:25pm when they started turning the lights off. "Wait! I thought you closed at 7!" Sadly, no. 6:30PM on Saturdays. "But...aren't the shoes upstairs?" I wasn't quite wailing, but you get the idea. Heavy sigh.

Oh well, off to Bruges tomorrow...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Paris I - Just Mon Petit Hotel

I honestly didn't have much time for anything other than photographing the hotel (Hotel Gramont Opera). It was zip in, zip over to other hotel to pick up travel documents, zip back. And then, on to Brussels...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Suze, Can I Afford It?

When I don't have an endless stream of disposable income (which is almost always), and I plan to travel, I must force myself to create a budget. GAAAAH, MATH!

I do this not only because it's financially savvy; I also have great hopes of someday impressing Suze Orman. I have to think about hotel costs, transportation costs, day-to-day expenses, VAT taxes, exchange rates and...

sometimes the budget ends up looking like this:

I start with the grand total for the hotels, then add the non-negotiable travel costs (trains, planes & automobiles), and then see where that leaves me. If I'm gasping for breath at the number, that means my daily allowance is going to be smaller. Sad face.

I am a fan of round numbers, so I will choose a big, round number for my trip budget. Say, if I'm going somewhere for one week, and my hotels & transportation cost $2300, I will allow $700 for my daily expenses. That makes the big, round number $3000, which looks nice when you write it down. Then, I divide the daily expenses $700 by the number of days in the week (7, I'm practically a Mathematician), also nice and round, leaving me with
$100 per day.

I keep a wee little notebook for the trips - it's tiny, and has a cute little elastic strap to keep it closed - and I write each date of the trip at the top of a page, with the daily allowance, $100, next to it. Throughout each day I will wr
ite down everything I spend, and subtract along the way. At the end of the day, if there's anything left-over, I carry it to the next page and next day. With the way I shop, this is absolutely necessary. I have to have strict boundaries. Rather than an actual person slapping my hand, I have that little elastic strap snapping over the wee notebook. BAD spender!

With my fancy budgetary constraints I can decide "Do I want to spend most of this $100 on a Michelin-starred meal?" Or, "If I walk the 10 blocks from the train station to
the hotel, rather than taking a cab, that amount can go toward shopping..."

I mean, I love this

and if I'm traveling with, or meeting up with friends, this is usually part of the cultural extravaganza.

But, if I'm by myself, I'm perfectly content making a meal of cheese and bread. Or Mentos. Nine times out of ten, I will gladly substitute Haute Cuisine for Haute Couture.

I mean, once you eat that meal, it's gone.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pack My Trunk & Bring Me A Cocktail

I was really only kind-of joking about the cloche hat & fox-fur stole idea, in preparation for my train trip. I have grown despondently weary of boring functional clothing. Let's make travel theatrical again! I'll start with me.

Elegant rail travel is really all about the hat and the wrap, and while my sister has pointedly informed me that "very few people can pull off hats", I am choosing to ignore her.

Do I want to try Joan Crawford's feathered cap and fur stole?

Minus the cigarette - the smoke clings to the clothes. But it's winter, and I'll need more than just the stole.

What about Gene Tierney's straw hat with leopard-print coat?

Straw hat? What am I, a farmer? And I'm just not a fan of mixing seasons. For me straw = Spring/Summer; leopard coat = Autumn/Winter. The false eyelashes are all-seasonal: Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter and Awards.

Maybe Ava Gardner's large-brim-with-peacock-feather...

Dammit. She's not wearing a coat, and I just don't think that sunburst brooch will emanate enough heat to keep me warm.

Perhaps Greta Garbo's mini-bowler-with feather (I do love me some feathers), and fur-collared coat...

...or Lauren Bacall's French beret with wool coat?

And that is a slightly more glamorous version of the face I will be making if someone is kicking my seat.

Myrna Loy is wearing an exaggerated beret (probably not the proper name), and wool coat with fur collar.

The lace cravat adds an extra dash of sass, texture, and Louis XIV-ness.

However, in the end, I still feel partial to the cloche hat/fur combination, like my favorite girls:

Josephine and Daphne own this look, and make me believe I could own it too. Or possibly just rent it for a day or so.

Then, just when I think I've got my rail travel theatrical elegance all figured out, I see something like this...

...and wonder if it's more about the bag.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Train in Vain

I'm going a-traveling on a train. That's right, ALL ABOARD! The fabulous people at RailBookers have arranged a stellar itinerary for me, in exchange of a few of my bon mots (see, that French class I took is really paying off).

I will be zipping around between Paris (France), Brussels (Belgium), Bruges (also Belgium), Ghent (still Belgium), and Aachen (not Belgium - Germany).

Before things were finalized, and there was a chance our potential partnership wouldn't work out, I thought "Well, I'm going to be over in The Europe anyhoo, so mebbe I'll just plot out my own train extravaganza!" After all, I love plotting, planning and researching, so why not?

I'll tell you why not. Because there are a fajillion different train stations in most of these European cities, and once I began the mere attempt of plotting, planning and researching, I quickly surrendered to the far more achievable act of whimpering. "I can't do it by myself! I so confuse!"

Thankfully, RailBookers confirmed our destined union, and has lavished me with an itinerary full of train stations, train numbers, departure & arrival times, and (my favorite part) hotels.

As is the case with most of my travels, I have over-romanticized the idea of European train travel, and am bemoaning the dearth, in my sartorial repertoire, of cloche hats, pearl-strands, and fox-fur stoles.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dress for Men? Dress for Women? Dress for TSA.

"Do women dress for men, or other women?" When traveling, now, we are really dressing for the TSA. The days of fanciful, deluxe travel, with the layers of furs and endless procession of leather-bound steamer trunks are pretty much over. Heavy sigh. Today's travel ensembles need to be perfunctory, sans the "fun" (so just "per" and "ctory").

Travel now involves standing in endless lines, hauling heavy bags, and trying to fit just one more fashion magazine into your carry-on bag. It also involves some semblance of dressing and undressing in order to clear the TSA security zone.

A good deal of thought has to go into your travel-day ensemble: are these shoes easy to slip on and off?... will I have to remove this sweater - it's not really a jacket...will the under-wire in my bra set off the metal detector?

I suffer through dilemmas as such: I want to wear these flats...

But when I take them off, my bare feet come in contact with the airport floor. No.

I want to wear these boots:

But I am unable to remove them by myself, in under 10 minutes. TSA staff is unlikely to assist. So, no.

I want to wear these shoes.

But I, sadly, do not own those shoes. We have also seen how TSA feels about them. So, again, no.

Solution: I will wear these boots

Success! The little zipper at the ankle allows for ease of removing and re-donning. They are comfortable. And they match everything - including this:

If we were the same size I just KNOW Lady Beckham would want to share clothes with me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Carry On

Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to my Chloe Heloise Navy Oversize Tote. Although I bought this when it moved from Net-A-Porter to TheOutnet, for sale purposes, and was marked down to the always exciting price of Half-Off, it is still the most expensive handbag I've ever owned. Was the half-off-yet-still-outrageously-expensive-price worth it? Yes.

I. Love. This. Bag.

I love the color. I love all the zippered pockets. I love the outer slot pockets. I love the way it sits comfortably on my shoulder - either one, right OR left. I love the sticky-crunchy noise it makes when I squeeze it (sometimes to see if it's empty, sometimes just because). I love how it plops down and opens, wide, so I am able to see all the crap I've crammed into it. And I love how it accommodates my laptop, in either the standing-on-its-end position, or the flat-down position. My laptop is ungainly, so this is no small feat.

I also love how she looks when she sort of turns to the side.

This bag has become my go-to carry-on for traveling. It's lightweight, yet sturdy, and the amount of stuff it holds is unbelievable. I don't even think Chloe realized just how much stuff you can put in the Chloe Heloise Oversize Tote. Several months ago, I apparently overstepped my bounds with the stuff-cramming, and Chloe Heloise Oversize Tote rebelled. She rebelled at a most inopportune time and place: the security line at LAX, where one of the straps just gave up and gave out. SNAP!

You can imagine my horror. "CHLOE! MY BABY!" Also "How the eff am I going to carry this thing for the rest of the trip?"

I grumbled and complained about "Stupid luxury designer goods!" and how they were no better than stupid non-luxury, non-designer goods. When I finally stopped bitching , I emailed Chloe.

Chloe not only responded immediately to my whining, but repaired the bag in less than 4 weeks, and has FedEx'd it back to me. It will arrive safely back in my arms, just in time for my upcoming trip to Europe.

File under: Things That Please Me.

Carry on!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jet Lag

Always. Always when I'm planning a trip that involves crossing time zones.

Mom: What time do you arrive there?

Me: Oh, the plane lands around 8pm.

Mom: Sooooo, what time is it going to be here, when you arrive there?

No. Just no. Because it doesn't matter what time it's going to be where my mom is. This is how you contract the deadly disease of Jet Lag. You focus too much on what time it is where you used to be, rather than what time it is where you are. I'm using a lot of italics in explaining this, for emphasis.

Jet lag is annoying. You're tired, grumpy, and out of sorts. You are unable to fully appreciate the awesomeness of wherever you've gone on your trip, and I find that to be unacceptable.

My number one, most important recommendation for avoiding (or at least lessening the effects of) jet lag is this: When you board the airplane, get settled into your seat, fasten your seat-belt and then set your watch to whatever the time is at your destination. YES, before the plane even takes off! Set your watch, and then try to behave as if it's that time already. You're on an airplane, and aren't doing your normal, daily routine-y things anyway.

Example: It's 8:30PM as you board your flight in Chicago, for London.

You: Pardon me, Nice Flight Attendant, but what time is it right now in London?

Nice Flight Attendant: Why, it's 3:30AM, and aren't you a savvy traveler for asking!

You: Yes. Yes I am. Thanks very much.

And then you set your watch to 3:30AM, turn off that overhead light and go immediately to sleep - if you can sleep on airplanes, I envy you.

There is probably some stuff I should mention about circadian rhythms and that sort of thing, but I have found that the simple act of telling my watch that it is whatever time it is where I'm going, helps the rest of me assimilate.

If my mom really needs to know what time it is, where, I direct her to She's not the one in danger of contracting the Jet Lag.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I See London

And when I see London, I like to stay in the following hotels. I recommend all of them.

The Mandeville Hotel. And yes, I managed to ruin the pristine presentation of the photo with my duffel bag and flip flops. Just ignore them.

While I enjoyed the Mandeville, I am on a personal crusade to experience all six London Firmdale properties. I'm halfway there.

The Knightsbridge Hotel - Room 504.

The Soho Hotel.

And my absolute favorite, the Covent Garden Hotel - Room 117.

Isn't it nice to not have me talking so much? Just enjoy the pretty hotel photos. Thaaaaaat's right.