Bizcation Madness

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I first heard of the word Bizcation from my friend Doug who loves to mashup words to make new fun ones, like FRAPPS (free apps) and FREFILLS (free refills). It means, when your husband goes on a business trip, you go along for a vacation; hence the mashup. Tom had to be in London for a few nights, and so thanks to Norwegian Air and their very favorable ticket prices, I went along too.

Having friends in London is such a bonus because I hardly had to plan anything. I had a few thoughts floating in my head about how I wanted to spend the time, but really, I was in a fabulous city (at a very interesting time) hanging out with old friends, so what could be bad?

I purchased timed tickets to visit the newly opened Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey as my sister had recently visited and said it was great. I was a little early and so spent some time in the abbey’s gift shop. As church gift shops go, this one is excellent.

The galleries are high above the abbey and provide a lofty view from which to gaze down upon the church (I snuck a picture and got in trouble regardless).

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But it’s not just the view that is spectacular; it’s chock a block with ancient royal artifacts, and a few new ones as well – including William and Kate’s marriage license! On a side note, do you ever use the face smacking emoji when texting? My youngest daughter is quite fond of it, and seeing this in the abbey made me think of its origin.

 

 

I was meeting my friend Efrot for lunch, and when I arrived at the location, I was confused. I was jetlagged, and I’d taken a sleeping pill on the plane, but I was pretty sure she said we were going for Thai, and this pub was the farthest from Thai I could imagine. But Efrot is all about authentic so in I went. Once inside The Churchill Arms, it felt very pubby with lots of Churchill memorabilia scattered here and there. I sat at the bar and ordered a drink and asked if I was in the right place. The barkeep pointed to the back and said that’s where the Thai happened. Sure enough, when Efrot arrived we went to the back, and there were a host of Thai ladies cooking up delicious home cooked Thai food. I’d add it to your London itinerary.

p.s. Churchill’s grandparents used to frequent the pub, and it’s been around since 1750. In the spring I hear it’s covered in gorgeous flowers.

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I refuse to take buses in NYC because they never come and they are slower than a tourist on a crowded theater district street holding a map in one hand, and a camera in the other. But the buses are brilliant in London! It’s the cheapest, and most time efficient way to sightsee – jump on a double-decker, wrangle a front row seat and see the city. I spent Wednesday morning on Bus 11, which took me past Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament, straight into the city of London, passing St. Paul’s Cathedral. Another thing I loved about both the buses and the tube in London was that I could flash my contactless credit card (the one with the little waves on the back), when going through the wicket, and I never needed to purchase a ticket. So easy! After my bus ride, I returned to the neighborhood where I was staying, Sloane Square, and walked around the Saatchi Gallery for an hour. Saatchi is very contemporary and prides itself on showing artists that are unseen or those that are rarely exhibited in the UK.

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The Saatchi also has an excellent gift shop. I particularly liked the very British greeting card section.

 

 

I met my friend Nita for lunch at a London favorite, Colbert. No matter what time of day or night, Colbert is packed, so book ahead. Nita and I met while playing bridge in NYC at Honors Bridge Club, and it was a treat to see her in London. She splits her time between both cities. After lunch, I was reconnecting with Efrot at the Dior Exhibit at the V&A. The V&A is a snazzy way to say the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Dior exhibit was completely sold out, but Efort had a membership, and we were allowed to enter. What I found in London is that all the museums are free, but if you buy a membership you get access to the special exhibits. I think a city that opens it’s museums to the public for free is one that is fully vested in the importance of culture. The Dior show was exquisite. It’s incredible to think that Christian Dior was only at the helm of his fashion house for ten years, and yet created a lasting legacy. He’s known for his “new look” silhouette, which he said was inspired by an upside down flower. One of the rooms in the exhibit shows his dress patterns upside down.

 

 

I know it’s going to seem a bit excessive to mention yet another fabulous gift shop, but the V&A is by far the best museum shop ever. I went crazy buying costume jewelry for mere pounds. I bet no one will be able to tell!

Wednesday night I finally made it to the Chiltern Firehouse for dinner. It’s been on my list since it opened in 2013. It’s an André Balazs hotel and restaurant. André is all about the vibe, and he hits a home run with this very hip spot in Marylebone. From the moment you arrive, you know you are going to have a very cool night. And unlike some of his other locations (Sunset Beach in Shelter Island), the food is very, very good. My phone was charging and I didn’t get it back in time to take any fun dinner pictures, but I did manage a snap of my dessert. It looks like a hot mess, but it was insanely delicious rice pudding.

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Thursday was my last full day in the city, and I started with a walk through Carnaby Street. Carnaby “Street” is actually 14 pedestrianized streets, so it makes for the perfect shopping trip. The stores skew young, my daughters would have had a field day, but I managed to buy one unique piece that I’ll either wear out or never wear once. We’ll see. Thankfully the stores are fun and inexpensive.

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From there I met my friend Stephanie at Nopi Yotam Ottonlenghi’s vegetable-focused restaurant. I’m a big fan – I heard him speak at the 92nd Street Y and I own and use all of his cookbooks. Next time I return, I want to try his new place, Rovi.

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After lunch, we dashed down to the Tate Modern to meet other friends we knew from our Japan days and to see the Bonnard exhibit. We spent the entire time in the rooftop lounge talking and catching up; we never made it to the exhibit. The walk from the museum back to the Westminster station along the South Bank of the river was fantastic. It’s a thriving cultural scene, with so much to see and do – until next time!

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Dinner Thursday was at Berner’s Tavern in Fitzrovia. This was a suggestion from my young friend Hilary, and it didn’t disappoint. It could be the most beautiful dining room in London.

Friday came around so quickly – I wasn’t ready to leave! I had one last stop before the airport, and that was meeting my friend Syd who lives in New York but was on the tail end of her Euro vacation with her husband Rob. They were stopping off for 24 hours to visit her British cousins. I was so happy to join and meet everyone. The lunch spot she chose, Le Petite Maison was delicious and posh – the perfect combination. And then it was a mad dash to the airport on the Gatwick Express.

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Saturday morning, back in NYC we had timed tickets to climb the much talked about Vessel at Hudson Yards. It was a very windy day, and they cut off the climb at level three making the entire experience very anti-climb-atic! We went into the mall to get warm thinking we’d bop around Mercado, but it was closed. It doesn’t open until 5 pm. What???

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I have to agree with the recent New Yorker article. There is no reason to go to Hudson Yards. I felt like I was in a ritzy Dubai mall. Not NYC at all. I’ll reserve final judgment until the Shed opens. There still may be some hope yet.

Sunday was a gorgeous day in NYC, and before attending an aca-awesome event at Carnegie Hall, Tom and I walked around Central Park with our faces up to the sun. We even ate dirty water dogs – something we do on a very rare occasion. It felt so good to be outside with the rest of the urban dwellers who dwell in tiny spaces all winter long. On our walk home, we found a plane parked in the theater district (on it’s way to JFK to become a cocktail bar).

 

 

Have fun. Be bold.

 

 

Paris By Numbers

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Last winter I spent a week in Paris with my husband that I’d planned months in advance. Each meal was chosen with care, and we found ourselves running from one side of Paris to another like the proverbial chickens without heads, and it was cold and rainy. I vowed that the next time I returned, I would do it differently; I would use math. Since I’m a writer and not a STEM girl when I say math, I mean numbers; specifically arrondissement or “districts.” I culled together all of my favorite “eating, drinking, shopping and seeing” lists from over the years and created a Google document to use as a roadmap so that I wouldn’t miss something fabulous just around the corner (a dreaded fear). I have to say, it worked like a charm, and I will continue to build on it and take it with me when I return in May with my daughters for Mother’s Day, and their first trip to Paris.

The trip began with a semi-stalker moment. One of my favorite bloggers, Sara Lieberman, is a NYC expat living her dream in Paris and writing about it. Her newsletter, Overthinking It is fabulous and one I look forward to reading when it arrives in my inbox on a bi-weekly basis. Many of my past Google searches about all things Paris have her name on the by-line, and now I understand why – she is a FONT of knowledge. More on Sara and her many talents in next week’s blog. Sara suggested we meet for wine at La Cave du Paul Bert. I have to thank my friend Syd for the personal introduction!

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Me and Sara only a few hours after arriving in Paris (my justification for how I look in this picture).

This is a picture of the special ladies that shared my week. Kylie (on the left) was in Paris working on the branding of her frozen yogurt shops, California Bliss , which help to fund her non-profit Global Glow an incredible organization that helps young girls in 27 countries around the world (and my school in the Bronx, The Bronx Academy of Letters) to find their voice and tell their stories. And Lisa, Efrot and I were there to eat and shop and TALK. We all accomplished what we set out to do!

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We ate at L’ami Jean Bistrot Belhara Les Philosophes Cafe Charlot Bofinger Ellsworth and La Societe where we were joined by Candice Kumai, a food and wellness influencer with a HUGE following.  We had yummy margaritas at Candelaria the speakeasy in the non-descript taco shop (thank you Tori B for the great rec).

And we sang into the wee Paris hours at Aux Trois Mailletz a past favorite from Maria. We took advantage of the twice-yearly sales, where almost everything was 50% off, (see Google doc mentioned above for names) and spent our last day together combing the stalls of the Vanves Flea Market.

This buyer’s paradise has always been on my Paris To Do list, but I was never able to get there. I’m thrilled with all my purchases, especially my new coupe glassware that I’ll use to make my current cocktail, the French 75 (thank you Jacqueline) and my cool coasters, from 1924 that say Liberte*Egalite*Fraternite.

There is no place like NYC, but Paris is my happy place. Every time I leave, I can’t wait until I can return. A tout de suite!

Amusez-vous soyez audacieux!

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Go Big Or Go Home.

 

26733587_10155142261446905_7471090933571870444_nNot yet Emptynesters, Craig & Maria Bromley decide not to wait to take their adventure of a lifetime, and instead bring their teenage boys (and tutor) around the world for seven months, hitting five continents and twenty-four countries. 

When I first heard Maria’s plans for this trip we were sitting outside in Bryant Park drinking rose at the end of last summer. I thought she was joking. Or, if not joking, then it was something she was thinking of doing when the kids went off to college. I didn’t think about it again until I saw her Facebook picture below saying they were off for seven months. I should know better when it comes to Maria. She embodies Go Big or Go Home. 26168545_10155099346336905_21023201604634721_n

Maria was good about posting from time to time on Facebook, and she also wrote a few very interesting blog posts. But when she returned home this summer, I needed more info so I went to see her in Hingham, Ma. where she lives when not globetrotting. We sat down over several cocktails and I asked her all my questions. I thought my readers might find this story interesting. I know I did.

Me:

Ok, give me the details.

Maria:

We started our journey in South America.  I wanted to see the “Seven Wonders of the World,” so we started in Peru at Machu Picchu. We spent a month in Peru, then traveled to Argentina and Brazil.  We tried to time our travels based on things like the weather and the special events that were happening.  We planned Carnival in Rio, and Cherry Blossom season in Japan, but other events like Holi festival in India and the World Cup in Croatia were fortuitous. We had planned to go to Africa after South America because Craig wanted to see the “great migration” of wildebeests which was not happening until early June, so we changed our route and went to Dubai after Brazil.  After Dubai, we visited Jordan, India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. From there it was straight to Tokyo for Sakura and visits with old friends.  From Tokyo, we stopped in Korea and China.  By that time, it was early May, so we headed to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania. We managed to time the great migration so well that the wildebeests trampled past our tent in the Serengeti the last night we were there…literally thousands of them! From there we went to Zanzibar, which always sounded so exotic to me and appropriately, is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury. We left Africa, with African dust on our feet and in our hearts and headed to Europe.  From there we went to Germany and then headed east. We road-tripped through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia.  By this time it was mid-July, and we had enjoyed plenty of “together time” so, we all chose different ways to spend the last two weeks of our adventure, one son went home, Craig and my other son went to Greece, and I went to have some alone time in Slovakia!  We met up in London to celebrate our last night, and all arrived safely home on July 28!

Me: 

My head is spinning from that itinerary. Did you stay in hotels?

Maria:

We stayed in every kind of accommodation you can imagine!  From a treehouse in the Amazon to AirBnB’s, which were already occupied (that’s another story)…to villas on stilts over the ocean, to hotels, to safari tents and friends’ home….you name it we stayed there.

Me: 

What was your motivation to do this? Most people wouldn’t consider doing something like this with their spouse, let alone two teenage boys.

Maria:

The impetus was my husband’s retirement.  He wanted to do something big –  like move the family to Europe – but our teenage sons were less than thrilled with that. I pitched the idea of an “adventure.” We would travel around the world to places we had never been, and when it was over, we could come back to the same home and school that the boys loved. We also felt the timing was good (not that there is ever a perfect time to pull your kids out of school…) but they were in grade 8 & 9, and we knew it wasn’t going to get easier. We wanted to reconnect with them as teenagers and as a family.  We value experiences and felt travel, adventure and family time were the best things that we could offer them.

Me: 

Where did you go that far exceeded your expectations?

Maria:

The world is a beautiful place! It’s hard to narrow it down as each place was unique and different. We loved Peru.  It felt very spiritual and magical to visit Machu Picchu. We loved Africa.

We had to be up and out of our tent by 6:30am each morning to track the wildlife.  It was the one place no one complained about having to get up early. Seeing the behavior of the animals in the wild was so special. The alpha male is alive and well in the Serengeti. Finally, Croatia was amazing.  It’s like the “new” Greece…unspoiled and not yet developed. It was the World Cup which brought incredible energy to every place we visited, and my daughter got engaged on this portion of the trip…so it was probably the highlight!

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Me: 

Was there a scary moment on the trip where you questioned your decision to go?

Maria:

I never questioned our decision to go.  It was the best decision we ever made.  But yes, there were scary moments for sure.  When we were several miles up the Amazon river in a little boat, at dusk and the engine cut out…or when we visited a little village and my boys went to see a snake in one of the local’s backyards…and when I went back to check on them they were hanging onto a massive anaconda…or in South Africa when there was a great deal of social unrest and violence very close to us…or when my son was flying home unaccompanied, and his connecting flight was cancelled and he was stranded in Heathrow by himself for over 24 hours…lots of adventure and potential danger but thankfully, nothing too serious.

Me: 

What was the biggest challenge being away for so long?

Maria:

I guess it was ensuring the boys kept up with their schoolwork so they could fit back into their classes when we got home. We left in January, so they completed the first half of the year at their school. For the second half of the year, the school recommended BYU online courses.  We hired a tutor who traveled with us and went through the curriculum with them.

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Me: 

Were there any rituals or protocols you followed on the trip?

Maria: 

Sometimes we had routines, but other times we were very spontaneous.  Most of the trip was planned ahead of time, but we left room for changes.  We tried to have several hours of schoolwork a day, but if for example, we were visiting the Taj Mahal, we would make that part of the schoolwork.

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We tried to balance schoolwork, travel, and fun.  After visiting lots of forts and temples in India, we found a fort that had a zipline running over it which the boys loved. In Dubai, we went indoor skiing at a massive entertainment complex.

Me: What did you learn about yourself? Your marriage? Being a mom?

Maria:

Craig & I learned that we have very complementary skills.  I organized our visas and vaccinations.  He is a big picture guy.  He researched things like the great wildebeest migration and realized we needed to change our itinerary.  I researched Brazil Carnival and knew I wanted to dance in it! I am good at organizational details.  I had to ensure that we had all the paperwork necessary, readily accessible.  When we landed in South Africa, we had to have the original birth certificates for the boys to prove we were their parents, in case of child trafficking.  I was able to pull it out of my file.  I think Craig & I should be contestants on the Amazing Race!

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Me: 

What advice would you give to people considering something like this?

Maria: 

Just Do It!  It may seem overwhelming, but there are ways to surmount any obstacles. For example, we needed dog care during the trip for our two golden retrievers.  My son told me his friend’s parents were renovating their home and needed a place to stay during the exact time we were planning to be away. The universe will provide. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.  Travel is the greatest gift you can give yourself and your children.  EXPERIENCES OVER THINGS.

Me:

In what way do you think the boys are different from this experience and do you think it will be challenging to re-enter life in a small town in America?

Maria:

They’ve already re-entered life here and are VERY happy to be back with their friends.  But I think they were exposed to things outside of their bubble of small town America.  When we lived in Japan, we traveled quite a bit, but they were much younger.  They seem much more aware of things like social inequality after this trip.  We visited favelas in Brazil, slums in Delhi and townships in Africa.  We met people from all walks of life.  We helped out with a video project in which we asked people we met, “what do you need for a happy life?”  “What do you feel is a life with dignity?” We learned that most people really want a good education for their children, a place to call home, and personal safety….things we take for granted here. If we opened the boys’ eyes to the different lifestyles of people around the world, from the Maasai warriors to the children singing in Soweto, and taught them empathy, it will have all been worth it.

Oh, and one more thing. They each only took one bag. That might be the most astonishing part of the entire trip.

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Have fun. Be bold. Like Maria!