Archive for the Category »London «

  Hotel of the Week: London Calling! Oh-so Stylish & Relatively Affordable!

ampersand blue and redI get excited by hotel design, but that doesn’t keep me coming back if the establishment is not a good value,  in a bad location, dirty, or has unfriendly staff.

Based on that criteria, the Ampersand in London is fit for a queen.

ext ampersandThe boutique hotel has 111 rooms and suites, and is located in a residential area in Kensington.

I really like staying in hotels in residential areas…. there tends to be good transportation nearby, and is more low-key than the high-traffic zones. Plus, you really get to mingle with the locals more if you choose.

The only thing is -  it is on a sort of loud street with buses, so I don’t want to mislead you into thinking it is down-right Zen. This IS London.

the-ampersand-boutique-hotel-london-2-600x374My favorite part about this hotel may be it’s cheerful personality. The whimsical design is not your mum’s London hotel.

1-The-Ampersand-HotelNot the least bit stodgy or formal, it makes you happy just looking at it.

ampersand musicAnd how creative: The design of the rooms is inspired by the neighborhood,  referencing five central concepts: botany, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy, reflecting the area’s attractions: the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and Royal Albert Hall. (It’s also near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.)

apersand roomThe price: You know London can be pricey, especially with the exchange rate not working in our favor… it is hard to find a hotel for less than 300 pounds. The Ampersand starts at around $190 pounds – or $300 a night.

There are rooms with pull out couch beds for families with children…. and I read a few reviews that say the mini-bar is free!

But if you are hungry for a meal, there are some good restaurants in the hotel as well.

Have a great weekend.



  What Will We Do Now That The Olympics Are Over?

Go to London! You betcha.

If you’ve been timing your laps in the pool, still got Olympic fever, and  you’re looking for a shoulder season vacation, London’s calling – hotel rooms are more available, and airfares have come down. I found round trip from Los Angeles for $1000… not a steal, but definitely cheaper than before the Olympics when it was creeping up to $2000 RT.

No to mention, the mood of the Brits has got to be “jolly good”  – they have much to be proud of the way the Games went down. (One exception: Not to be an ingrate, but no Elton John, Coldplay, or Adele at closing ceremonies???)

I have been to London a number of times – with my family and without… and here are some of my highlights:

St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

1) Hotel:  Seriously GORGEOUS is the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel. An historic hotel that went through a major remodel now boasts both classical and contemporary features. It reopened in 2011, and is a favorite five-star hotel. It looks right out of the Harry Potter movies – oh wait – it was.

Read about it and check it out here

Regents Park Open Air Theatre, London

2) Outdoors: Regents Park Open Air Theatre. London theatre quality out in a beautiful park with a gourmet picnic basket – how can it get any better? But ya better hurry  – the season runs from May-Sept.

Friday Night Late at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

3) Nightlife: Victoria and Albert Museum. No joke. Friday Late  is held on the last Friday in every month. Live performances, cutting-edge fashion, debates, one-off displays and installations, special guests, bar and food, guest DJs, and late-night exhibition openings are all what you can expect from is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. It houses a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects.

Back up: A micro-brew!

Portobello Market, London

4) Shopping: Portobello Market: In West London,  every Sunday, Portobello Road turns into a sea of antiques, hip clothing (and even cooler shoppers), and great people watching. Fun to see unique items at this market.

5) Day Trip: Groombridge Place Gardens and Enchanted Forest – It feels like a hidden world – and very British to me. It is on the boarder of Kent – about one hour outside of  central London.

Kids love the Enchanted Forest – again, feels like a Harry Potter movie. I always love visiting parks in foreign countries because I feel they truly reflect that country’s personality. When I was there, one of the MOST outstanding things we participated in was the Birds of Prey show – that is REALLY a bald eagle on my husband’s arm!

Tate Modern Museum, London

6) Museum: Tate Modern  – Always dynamic, always inspiring. Right now you can see exhibitions from Damien Hirst, to Edward Munch.. as well as the permanent collection which can take you all day. Families – listen up. This is THE best museum I have ever been to for kids that is not a kids museum per say. Wonderful programs – when I went they gave kids a self-guided scavenger hunt so they had to look for things in paintings.

Epic city, inviting people, rich history. Hopefully many of you got to see Tom Brokaw’s documentary that aired during the Olympics about the host country and World War II called “Their Finest Hour.” It was fantastic and I wish I could tell you where you could catch it if you missed it.

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Samuel Johnson.

  Hotels of the Week: Those to Watch in 2012

There are so many hotels opening in 2012 – good news for travelers. More rooms = more destinations to explore, & lower prices if there are more rooms than demand.

What are your new year’s resolutions? If to travel fully and transport yourself so completely is one of them, you’ll want to see these special places. Bon Voyage my friends – wake up your passion.

Here are some intriguing hotels that either just opened … or will open in 2012.


On the “off the radar” Turkish Riviera is the new Amanruya. Part of the exclusive Aman Resorts, this hotel on the Aegean Coast is romantic experience.

Amanruya, Turkish Riviera

It is a collection of five-star cottages – each with a pool, private garden, outdoor shower, and lounging pergola. Let it roll off your tongue “I am retreating to my lounging pergola…”

Inside, the design is smashing and classic.

The hotel is on the Bodrum Peninsula…and has a small beach.


Speaking of beautiful beaches, what also comes to mind is the Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam – a country on my must see list.

This is the first five start resort on these Vietnamese islands – remote, but accessible – just take a 45  minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

There are 50 villas on this property – each with it’s own infinity pool… ranging in size from single level to duplex, and one bedroom to four.

Six Sense Con Dao offers water sports, snorkeling, diving, cooking classes, and trips to remote beaches. This will work for Valentine’s Day.


Heading to the country…. we’ve got Castello di Casole in Tuscany. This dramatic 4200 acre estate will open in 2012.

Castello di Casole entices those who would love to vacation among enchanting vineyards and olive groves. The estate has more than 100 acres of organic vineyards dotting its gorgeous landscape.

In addition to vineyard tours, wine tastings, winemaker dinners and events on property with the winemaking team, the resort offers Italian winery tours at some of Italy’s most prestigious wineries.

One can also expand his or her wine cellar, manage a collection and experience the world’s fine wines through the resort’s partnership with specialty wine retailers.

A little bit of luxury in the Italian countryside… and there are residencies too for those looking to spend even more time there.


The British Virgin Islands are near and dear to me… I shot a few shows there and always want to return. Scrub Island Resort would be a good reason!

Ocean view rooms… secluded, crystal clear beaches with seriously turquoise waters.. Can’t ya just feel the gentle breeze? The resort is right ona marina, so for those of you with yachts, ahem,  you are welcome. Water sports abound here, and the resort also hosts weddings.

Scrub Island

The rooms are tasteful and tropical.It is officially an island resort with one of those beautiful ceiling fans.


If you are craving city life, you will get your fill of London this year since this world class city is host to the 2012 Olympics. One new hotel opening is the BVLGARI – classy, but hopefully not too stuffy.

BVLGARI Hotel, London

It is a joint venture between Italian jeweller BVLGARI and Marriott International, located in the Knightsbridge area. The BVLGARI stamp doesn’t mean bling comes with the room, and by the looks of the brand’s design, it is not too flashy. This photo is of a room at the Bvlgari in Milan, since the London hotel is not open yet.

BVLGARI in Milan

As always, happy travels and have a great weekend.

  Adele, and Music Lovers’ Travel

It should be no surprise to any music aficionado – or anyone on the planet for that matter – that Adele received 6 Grammy nominations last night, including the most prestigious awards. And this young artist is a mere 23…

Who were her influences? Well growing up in London, she had many – but one moment she says inspired her the most is when she saw Pink in concert.

There are so many wonderful music-related venues in England, that Adele’s nominations and success reminded me of a London trip where I visited Abbey Road, the most famous music studio in the world, home to the Beatles.

Nothing special to see… no music to be heard… but I had a fun little glimpse of history, and imagines the Beatles walking up to the door. One of their album covers was shot right outside. It did inspire me to buy the “Let it Be” sheet music for the piano, so I did get something more out of it.

All of this reminded me of a Frommer’s article called “A Music Lovers Guide to Britain.” Here is the link. It mentions everything from spending a day in Liverpool… to visiting a dinosaur of a record store.

In the meantime, I am going to go back to enjoying Adele…and hoping her voice heals after surgery so there will be more from this incredible talent. It is rare that you can download an entire album and like 90% of the songs.

Although “Rolling in the Deep” garnered most of her Grammy nominations, “Someone Like You” is not to be missed. At the tender age of 23 it sounds as if she’s had her share of heartbreaks.

“Nothing compares, no worries or cares… regrets and mistakes they’re memories made…who would have known how bittersweet this would taste? Nevermind I’ll find someone like you. “ 

…… Soulful crooning, deep lyrics, and powerful voice.
Check it out:

  Tours That Brad Pitt Would Love

I figured that title might get your attention.

If you read any tabloids at all, you know that Brad Pitt is an architecture aficionado…he reportedly loves and studies different building designs. I totally get that.

I am back at my Alma Mater taking an architecture class. Right on campus again. Loving it. For one of my assignments I had to visit a significant type of architecture for a region, photograph it, and write about how the social, political, and cultural elements of the time influenced the design.

Eames House, Pacific Palisades CA

I chose Mid-Century Modern as my style to research, and luckily for me, a friend of mine is a real estate agent for architecturally significant properties in Los Angeles.  He let me come and photograph his Mid-Century Modern house for sale. (Call Jonathan Ruiz at Rose and Chang for the coolest houses on the market! (

In studying the modern movement between the 30s and 60s, I learned so much about Los Angeles.   It made me realize, an architectural tour of a destination is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a way to really understand the development and signature style of a place. Architecture as zeitgeist.

There are many fabulous architectural tours available around the world. Here are some ways to get started if you are considering visiting any of the following cities:

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a great place to start for boat tours on the Chicago River, or walking and bus tours through the city. Two significant architects that have works in Chicago are Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe – the foundation has individual tours just for their creations.

Architectural Tours of Savannah, Georgia:  Savannah’s downtown area is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States.

Los Angeles Walking Tours – The LA Conservancy is a good place to start – this city is a cornucopia of styles – form Art Deco, to Renaissance… there is a modern committee that supposedly gives tours of Mid-Century Modern as well.

London- In Front of Big Ben

London Architectural Walks: Choose among a number of tours – including one that focuses on Royal London.

New Orleans Garden District

New Orleans architecture – from the French Quarter to the lovely Garden District… by boat or bike, this website lists other websites that give all kinds of tours:

As Frank Lloyd Wright once said: Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.
Time to go see those interpretations.