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Archive for October, 2013

Just back from my latest trip to New York, it was short and sweet but as ever, it did not disappoint! Here are some highlights:

  • Sleeping

    This time I took a break from my usual hotel on Park and 28th and moved to the 373 hotel on 5th avenue. I had heard that the rooms could be a little small, but I can honestly say this is my new favourite – why? Well the location is incredible. Every day or night when I’m navigating the streets home I just have to point myself at the majestic Empire State building and POW! I’m home 🙂 I got a very cute room on the top floor (9th floor), and it was the perfect size for me – yes, perhaps cosy, but how much room do you need? And I get a killer view. The had welcome packs of biscuits, coffees, teas and a stack of cute bathroom stuff. Reception chaps were SO friendly, I would highly recommended this place.

  • Eating

    Every time I got to NY I am bowled over by the availability of every type of food you can ever imagine. I can’t quite get used to it. This time higlights included a ridiculously amazing salad from Chop’t, mouth-watering perogi, borscht and banana cream pie from Veselka in the East Village. Oh and I also picked up packets of Almond, Raspberry and Prezel M&Ms from Walgreens to bring home with me 🙂

  • Relaxing

    Of course I was there primarily for work, so to kick back one evening a friend took me along to “Yoga to the People” in the east Village. Wow, this was an amazing experience. Stretching, releasing, sweating, all within a few cms of our neighbours in neat yoga-matt rows, and all to music with the frequent noisy exhale of “ahhhhhhh” or “haaaaaa” or “eeeooooowww” or “prrrrrrr”. These people know how to let go. In a city as “on” as New York, now I understand how people let it goooooo… LOVED it.

  • Playing

    Since it’s nearly Halloween, I was excited to be invited to a proper American Halloween party! A friend and I got ready at hers – me in my ipod dress with nurse accessories and a black devil tail (it was what I grabbed when packing), her in her home made cat outfit, then we headed over to a loft space in Brooklyn which had been converted with black partitions, coffin, cobwebs, blood splattered shower curtain and horror films projected onto a giant screen on loop. We drank spooky punch and chatted to Watermelons and Super Boy and Clowns and two boys called Colin, danced into the early hours, escaped to the roof to stand around smoking cigarettes and planned trips across the world with strangers. Just as things started to get fuzzy I clambered into a cab and pointed at the Empire State building – take me home (by 4am)

  • Werid and wonderful

    Being halloween I was lucky to experience the wonderful sight that is the annual Halloween Puppy Parade in Tompkins Park. This is the collision of two of my favourite things – dogs and fancy dress – and it was the most blissful hour of my weekend, walking round cooing and laughing and playing with adorable dogs of all shapes and sizes, dressed up in all imaginable fancy dresses – I saw fire dogs, taco-pups, yoda, iron man, turtles, cats, birds, insects, the pope-dog, ET, super-pooch, corgi and fried… the list is endless. I had to get dragged away.

Aside from the highlights, it was only 3 days but this time I packed a lot in and some of the best moments were spend alone in the city just wandering, exploring, having a cup of tea in a deli watching the characters of the city go about their daily lives. It’s my seventh time here and each and every time I love it even more!

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Continuing my adventures in America, I was lucky this week to have timed my trip to coincide with the North Carolina State Fair. Now that I have moved from the beach back inland to Cary and the experience now is very much office to hotel occasionally punctuated with a visit to a stripmall for lunch or the morning  walk (much to the amusement of the automobilian commuters) to work along the edge of the 4 lane roads that sweep through Cary, it was a welcome relief to get an insight into pure Americana and the State Fair.
My five highlights of the fair:

    • Food

      Everything here is deep fried. It’s scary but also a lot of fun. The previous night I had joked with a waiter that my favourite food was Mac and Cheese and he’d said thty’d probably have it deep fried, ho ho ho. They did. So I had to get some for my dinner. I thought it would be horrendous. It was delicious (in a bad way). I then went on to get Funnel Cake, buzzing from a batter-high, also good. I avoided the deep fried oreos and gummy bears and elephant ears and pig butt on a stick, but someone was eating that stuff!

    • Produce/vegetables

      So this is a State Fair, essentially celebrating the agriculture of the State. Now I have never seen special many prize winning  vegetables before. Lines of huge watermelon, the strangest looking butternut squash, the most even chillis, the most beautiful courgettes and THE most gargantuan pumpkin (something like 800lbs) that we gazed at in awe and then sat alongside having our photo taken, as if this jabba -the-hut-esque vegetable was some kind of celebrity…

    • Animals

      From rabbits to ponies to racing pigs, animals were present and part of the action. However my biggest highlight of the night was fulfilling a lifetime ambition by paying just two dollars to milk a cow. It was just as I expected, squeeze and roll, and a squirt of milk.

    • Crafts

      We encountered a whole area of craft from a bygone era. Here we discovered glassblowing, gourd carving, tin making, pewter jewellery, pottery, broomstick making, and most exciting the lost art of tatting – the forming of beautiful patterns and laces through intricate knitting – who knew?!

    • Fairground rides

      The neon, the screaming, the legs flailing. No fair would be complete without the bright hum of the rides. We rode the sedate yet surprisingly high ferris wheel to get some great views of the fair then headed over to end our night being flung around on swings, suspended over the crowds in seats on chains and getting the best view in the house of the fireworks as they exploded overhead…

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    fireworks and Fairground rides

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    Oh what a difference a day makes! This morning when I stumbled out onto the deck to get a second dose of beach front sunrise, I was met with a heavy blanket of grey and a chill whipped around my legs. A north wind. Or at least a wind of some kind. The cold kind.

    The sea this morning is wild. Great banks of waves roll in, one after the other, pounding the beach in neat diagonal rows. Where yesterday you couldn’t walk the shore for packs of fisherman set up in their deck chair camps, today they are few and far between. Only the hardy came out today. Yesterday they were bare chested and lazily attended their rods between supping their beers, today they are swaddled in fleece, jeans and boots and bracing against the elements.

    Yesterday we did tai chi on the beach, and experienced a magical moment as two pods of dolphins surfaced in front of us, playing in the warm waters. Today it’s only the pelicans who dance above the waves, mustering the courage before throwing themselves into the choppy waters below. The real fisherman of these shores, today with a little less competition.

    The sun has wrestled it’s way through the blanket, and now, from my retreated breakfast spot inside the beachhouse (chewing on peanut buttered toast and slugging coffee) I can feel the intense heat of that October sun. It creates a blinding glare on the steely grey waters and once more this beach is beautiful. Today wild, unapologetic, majestic and powerful.

    My beachhouse companion has emerged, wrapped up against the elements, silk scarf tied around her head. She offers a question – “pirate tai chi?”. Yes, there are strong gusts of wind and a pounding crash of waves against the beach, but it won’t deter our morning frolic on the beach, we’re heading out for another day on the sand…
    Wild morning

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    Sunrise
    This morning I’m waking up to the crashing of waves on a long and wild Atlantic coast. Thanks once more to jet lag, I’m also up early enough to experience a beautiful sunrise that should be shared.

    I’m on Kure beach, in Wilmington, North Carolina, spending a lucky weekend, snatched in front of a business trip, with two good friends. We’re staying in a condo – a beach house, in a long line of perfectly painted houses that stretch along this patch of coast. It is a dream of mine to live in a beach house (ever since falling in love with the house in Sleeping with the Enemy!), and now, for a couple of days, I am living the dream!

    There are small clutches of fishermen strung out along the shore and a few early risers walk in the foam. A flock of bird skims the pink water, reflecting back our beautiful sunrise. And I’m perched on a wicker chair, breathing in the wet, salty sea air, thinking of friends and family out over the ocean, who could also be looking up at this same sun (if it’s not cloaked in clouds!) and already be well into their days.

    Good morning sunshine, good morning world, I hope you have a wonderful day!

    Beach houses on Kure
    sunrise on Kure

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    Over the last couple of days I have become a woman possessed. I don’t know if it’s because the seasons are changing, or whether it’s because I’m transitioning from a busy period of my life (wedding planning) to a more sedate one (!) BUT I am suddenly feeling the need to kick myself into action.

    First of all I bought a Moleskine notebook. I’ve never invested in a classy notebook before, but this one has special features and there are even YouTube videos on how to use it.

    Then I went on a mad rampage (yesterday) and threw out all the paper that was sprawled all over my desk. I think I was inspired by a site I stumbled upon on my “investigation” into new (for me) and youth-oriented Tumlbr – Things Organized Neatly.

    So my desk is clearer.

    I then started reading my daily emails from the Huff Post, more specifically some of the delights from the Third Metric and Healthy Living sections. And these posts are rocking my world right now.

    After being directed to a Stress-Management (re)Boot camp and completing their survey, I’ve scribbled on a post-it note (the only one in my office at the moment!), the following:

    • exercise

    • nutrition

    • charity work

    These things are areas to be improved.

    I’ve then discovered how to supercharge my walk, why the Swiss are the happiest people in the world, and how to boost your mood with just 80 seconds a day (loving the idea of well-wishing!).

    So this is all very distracting, but it’s invigourating my lunch hour, albeit I am still sitting at my desk and staring at a glowing screen. So with that I’m going to prise myself off my seat and use my final 10 minutes of lunch-hour to stop reading and start doing. I’m off for a (supercharged) walk!

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    Last weekend I headed over to Amsterdam to attend a medical conference. It’s been over 15 years since I last came here. I visited a couple of times with my best friends at high school. One New Year’s Eve we ran around the streets of Amsterdam while people threw fireworks at us. When tired of peeking into coffee shops and trying to get into glitzy gay bars we finally slept in one of the tall thin buildings that line the canals near the red light district. The house was being used by my best friend’s parents, who operated a Chinese imports business. We slept amongst boxes of freeze dried fish. We were on top of the world, everything was possible, living life large and loud and without fear. Never mind that we were all waifs of teenage girls, we could have taken on the world with the glint in our eyes.

    Returning all these years later emotions stirred within as we started our descent into Schipol. Only 40 minutes from Heathrow yet years away, I was excited to see if it had changed and if it still made me feel like anything can happen.

    The train from the airport takes you quickly and easily into the centre. I rode with tourists and locals and teenagers from home, taking their first intrepid steps into the world. Then a tram and a short walk led me to my home for the next few days – the self-selected Bicycle Hotel in the funky (or, as it says in my guide book, “dodgy”) De Pijp neighbourhood. I could have chosen a sterile hotel for my work stay, but this hostel had a certain charm. I was handed my key and pointed up the steep narrow staircase. Bunk beds! A sink with shared toilet and shower. This takes me back.

    So by the time I settled it was time to meet my colleagues and head out for dinner. We stayed close by and ate at the Cafe Restaurant De Duvel. A very cosy restaurant with THE most spectacular Tom Ka Gai I have ever tasted. The local beers slipped down and the atmosphere was buzzing.

    After that, not wanting to yet head home, we pushed onto some more bars, sampling the beers in their small glasses. Very civilised! A taxi ride took us back towards Dam Square, I hopped out and saw in front of me the great green glow of the infamous Grasshopper coffee shop. I can’t even remember if this was a place I’d visited in my past, I ran in for nostalgia sake, to have a quick bathroom stop and sniff the rancid smell of teenagers enjoying their coffee shop moment, and then dashed out to find somewhere a little more… age appropriate!

    We walked through the red light district, something I was keen to see again. For some reason I was expecting moth eaten velvet curtains and an old-world charm (again, not sure if that’s a displaced memory or something I once saw on a film), but was surprised by the clinical and contemporary appearance of the “windows” and their inhabitants, looking on with empty eyes and a tepid smile.

    The rest of the night became a little hazy. Punctuated with the small beers, conversations with strangers out the front of gay bars, disco, house, western music… Someone complimented me on my blue jeans and cowboy boots combo, and I was finally pushed into a taxi. 30 euros for a 10 minute drive, tipped out in front of the bicycle hotel. 3am.

    I’ve never slept so well in a bunk bed (lower bunk, no one in the top!).

    The next morning was a little hazy. After a breakfast of cheese, processed meat and Nutella I decided to brave the day by hopping aboard a yellow tourist bike and attempting to navigate the Sunday morning roads.

    This was a little risky, head sieving out the remnants of a hangover, having to ride a foreign bike with dodgy breaks, ride on the wrong side of the road AND contend with fellow traffic in the shape of local cyclists (everyone cycles here), trams, cars, and hoards of tourists on foot. I wobbled and stop-started around the streets, bumping over the tram lines and swerving to avoid criss-crossing cyclists.

    I got lost. It’s OK on a bike as it doesn’t take long to come back. It took a little while to get the nerve to turn left, but once I’d cracked it, all was well in the world. I may dare to imagine I blended in like a local. On my bright yellow tourist bike.

    The sky was bright blue and clear, the sun shining, the water on the canals sparkling and Sunday morning life in Amsterdam in full swing. Local lads hauling boats along the water, couples sitting out on their doorsteps, smoking and watching the world go by. Locals sitting in cafes, blankets on their knees, writing in their journals. I joined them. Heaven.

    I then found the PrisenGracht canal, according to my map I could cycle the length of the canal and take in the Anne Frank museum, the Tulip Museum and the Cheese Museum. Also it ends up in Jordaan, a really funky arty district, stacked with cute boutiques, art galleries, with flowers spilling over the railings at every bridge over the canal.

    I was having a blast, perched on my upright yellow bike, cruising alongside the canal, weaving between cars, people, bikes, taking the time to take in my surrounds. Peeking down alleys, eyes drawn to shop windows, neon, cute flower boxes, people hoisting furniture into their tall thin houses by their external hoists. This, I thought, is Amsterdam. A far cry from my teenage memory, but a high definition experience of bliss that will sit in my mind for the next 15 years.

    And with that, I glanced at my watch. Lunchtime. My night and morning in Amsterdam have passed, time to work. And with that I turned my bike and pointed it towards the convention centre and cycled back to the conference.

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    Cheese factory

    Missing

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