Friday, 19 December 2014

Pre-Christmas catch-up

Things still a bit crazy here so apologies for the lack of communication from me here on the blog and the lack of visits to other blogs.

I mentioned last time that my aunt had moved to a retirement home near us and the huge amount of work this involved had taken all of my energy (and Dougie's). Last Thursday my aunt fell ill and ended up being transferred to hospital. She is still there and, although slowly recovering, is likely to need more care before she can return to her new flat. So lots of visits to Peterborough over the last week.

In the middle of this, Rory and his girlfriend Juliana needed picking up from Exeter. It was so lovely to see him again last Saturday and to bring them both home with us on Sunday after a quick stopover in the city overnight. He needed a shave and a good haircut but otherwise was just the same and has slotted straight back into his routine of sleeping until lunchtime and hogging the sofa.

I have just about managed to keep up with the weekly column for the Lincolnshire Free Press but have decided to have a break over Christmas and New Year. Can't quite believe I started the column in February and have written 46 of them up to now.

Here are the latest ones if you have the time and inclination for a quick gander:

A little BB magic gives me a glow - having fun being a Clarins model for the evening.

Could Tulipan be our own good luck talisman? - commenting on the habit of rubbing statues for luck

I'm dreaming of a Christmas tan - reminiscing about working for John Lewis at Christmas

It's panto time again! Oh yes it is! - a sneak preview of our local production of Cinderella

Saluting Moulton hero Johnny Douglas - the fascinating story of a local schoolboy who captained England at cricket and became an Olympic boxer.

If I don't get the chance to blog again before Christmas (and it's unlikely as if I have any free time at the moment I seem to spend it sleeping!) then I hope you all have a happy and restful Christmas and feel refreshed for the New Year.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas shopping in London

I thought I would just let you know what's been happening in the Burgess household over recent weeks. It's been a very stressful and hectic time spent helping my aunt move into a retirement home near to me. As her next of kin, I have been worried that she was living alone in Hertfordshire and becoming even more lonely as her old friends have died or moved to be near their relatives too. Dougie and I have been trekking up and down to sort out the house move and now she is here, there has been lots to do physically in terms of paperwork and emotionally in terms of helping her to settle in. It's not been easy and there is still a lot to do with regard to selling her Hertfordshire home but we're getting there.

It was a real treat, therefore, to have two nights in London this week. We had organised it some time ago because we had tickets to the Statoil Masters Tennis tournament at the Royal Albert Hall so we thought we would tie it in with some Christmas shopping.

Thursday afternoon was wonderful. Having checked into our hotel in South Kensington (more on that separately) we had a saunter along the King's Road, Sloane Street and Knightsbridge. I bought some bargains for myself from the Joseph sale shop, we managed a few Christmas presents, had tea and cream cakes in L'Eto and even had some complimentary Prosecco in one shop, which lifted our mood and opened our wallets. As darkness descended the twinkly lights made the experience much more exciting. The windows of Harvey Nichols and Harrods were fabulous, people were generally in a good mood and we found a warm, comforting Italian restaurant. Pappa Roma, just off the Old Brompton Road, to end the evening with full-bodied red wine and some time to sit together and relax.

Contrast that with Friday which in terms of shopping was a complete disaster. Wandering up and down Regent Street and Oxford Street, not sure what we wanted, too many people - it all became too tiring and stressful. Thankfully we escaped back to South Kensington to change for the tennis and, needing a quick bite, managed to find another super eatery, Franco Manca. Yes, Italian again, but this time purely pizza and, my god, were these pizzas divine and amazing value (sourdough pizzas fired in a special 'Tufae' brick oven). They have ten restaurants in the city and are well-worth hunting out. We had seen queues outside this one, on the Old Brompton Road, the previous day, so had a hunch it would be good. It was.

Tennis in the Royal Albert Hall might sound strange but the venue was superb. We had excellent views from our seats in the choir stalls and were treated to an entertaining singles match between John McEnroe and Henri Leconte and a fast and furious doubles match between Tim Henman and Andy Roddick v Jamie Murray and Ross Hutchins. It was televised live on ITV 4 - did you see me?

 Hopefully I can now get cracking on decorating the house for Christmas before going down to Exeter next weekend to bring our boy home. Three months without seeing him. That boy is going to be hugged and hugged and hugged...

In the meantime, here are a few snaps from our little break-away.

cakes in L'Eto
L'Eto Caffé - I chose the raspberry one.

Spot the Paddingtons around the city. We only saw this one,
despite walking past the Peruvian Embassy and thinking there was
bound to be one there...there wasn't (someone missed a trick there, surely).

One of Harvey Nichols cool windows. 

More from Harvey Nicks

One of Harrods' windows. My favourite windows, which I forgot to photograph (too absorbed looking at them),  were the small ones full of miniature mice scenes - The Land of Make Believe - enchanting.

Burlington Arcade - very classy.

Ready to watch the tennis - excellent seats (with no heads in the way!)

The Royal Albert Hall looking beautiful on a crisp winter's night. 


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review: Mövenpick Hotel, Amsterdam

If you want to meet a cosmopolitan, fun bunch of people, may I suggest the elevators in the Mövenpick Hotel in Amsterdam. I don't think I have ever conversed so much with other people in a lift. Usually we Brits stay silent and focus intently on the changing floor numbers. Not so in Amsterdam, where we had a very entertaining conversation with an Irish family on the way up to our room and obtained an insight into how clarinetists transport their instruments from a very obliging Belgian musician on the way down.

It's the location of the hotel that accounts for this eclectic mix. This large, imposing 4 star hotel sits on the river IJ, next to the contemporary classical concert hall Muziekgebouw aan't IJ and the jazz venue, Bimhuis. It is also next door to the river and sea cruise terminals. Although not quite in the centre of the city, it is 10 minutes walk (one tram stop) away from the central station so if you are using the I amsterdam card which gives you free city centre transport, it is easy to walk into the centre at the beginning of the day, and jump on a tram when exhausted at the end.

Our room at the Mövenpick was a Junior Suite on the top floor, providing superb views over the city. Spacious and with ample storage, the living area is separated from the bedroom by double doors. The best bits? Free mini-bar with soft drinks and beer, kingsize comfortable bed and a Nespresso machine. Not so good? Towels could do with updating: clean but a little tired.

Guests in Junior Suites and executive rooms have access to the Executive Lounge next door to the restaurant. Breakfast is therefore a little quieter and, best of all, free drinks and canapes are provided from 5-7pm. As you can imagine, we made sure we availed ourselves of this on both nights of our stay.

I had always wondered what a stay in a Mövenpick hotel would be like, having been familiar with their ice-cream for many years. I have to say it was a very enjoyable experience. Service was friendly and efficient, bedrooms and public areas were spacious and colourful and the vibe was relaxed. This Swiss brand knows exactly what its guests require and ensures it delivers...with sprinkles on top.

My husband and I stayed in Amsterdam courtesy of KLM and their  #KLMFlylocal campaign. They provided our accommodation at the Mövenpick Hotel.

We were provided with the I amsterdam City Card by Amsterdam Marketing.


Saturday, 15 November 2014

48 hours in Amsterdam - Part Two

I left you at lunchtime on the Saturday afternoon in 48 hours in Amsterdam - Part One having had a wet afternoon on a canal cruise, a chilled evening at the Van Gogh Museum and a reflective Saturday morning at the Anne Frank House. Here's how we spent the second 24 hours...

Prada bag and size, I think.
It's too easy as a tourist to visit a city and just focus on the Top Five attractions, as if by ticking them off the list you have officially 'done' the city. I would much rather hand pick a couple of the must-sees then find something a little off the wall. This is why I felt compelled to drop in on the Museum of Bags and Purses during our short stay in Amsterdam. The museum was free for holders of the I amsterdam City Card so this gave me a great reason to have a little accessories fix. 4000 bags, over 500 years of history, housed in a series of elegant rooms in an exquisite canal house. The most gorgeous purses, decorated with beads, feathers and crystals, had me drooling up against the glass cabinets and, for good measure, there was a special Forever Vintage collection (until March 2015) featuring classic designers from 1920 to 1994. Could this have got any better? Yes, we discovered the most mouth-watering pâtisseries in their cafe: a window seat looking out onto the pretty courtyard, a perfect cup of coffee and two freshly made strawberry mousse cream a handbag museum. Heaven.

I suppose visitors should come to Amsterdam to see Dutch things. You might think it odd to immerse yourself in all things Russian for an afternoon? Hermitage, Amsterdam, is a satellite branch of the Hermitage in St Petersburg so, as we weren't planning to visit Russia in the near future, it seemed churlish not to have a quick dose of the country while we had the chance. The current exhibition, Dining with the Tsars, is heavily discounted with the City Card and proved to be a stunning collection of posh porcelain.

Could you pass the salt, please? 'Dining with the Tsars' in the Hermitage

Back outside, we walked at length, taking in the cheese shops, markets, dodging trams and cyclists and generally absorbing the atmosphere of the city. We didn't plan to visit the Red Light District but somehow turned a corner and there it was. It was a very disturbing and unsettling experience as the pavements are narrow and the windows are surprisingly close. I didn't want to be there and yet had to carry on walking in order to find another street to turn off, all the while following groups of men who, bolstered by booze, were checking out the 'shop windows'. An intrinsic part of Amsterdam but not a savoury one.

Yet not far way from the Red Light District is Begijnhof, a calm, beautiful sanctuary of handsome houses, accessed through a large wooden door - a secret garden, just steps away from the bustling city streets. It was founded in 1314 for members of a lay Catholic sisterhood, the Beguines. Yet again I had this sense of Amsterdam being a city of contrasts. Is this because it is liberal, tolerant and accepting of all? Certainly it has a long tradition of caring for the sick and the poor: the number of almshouses (hofjes) funded by wealthy merchants in the 17th century, is testament to this.

On Sunday morning we printed off a themed walking tour I had spotted in the Amsterdam guide on KLM's website. It took us to the Jordaan, one of Amsterdam's most elegant neighbourhoods. Charming canals and streets, pretty bridges, student houses and almshouses. We followed the trail as best we could but did get temporarily lost on occasions and some of the hofjes, which we had been told might be open if we tried the doors, were unfortunately closed. Sunday morning might not have been the best time to peek into the courtyard of an almshouse but it was perfect for seeing the city at its most peaceful, as it was just beginning to stir.

An easy walk back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, a tram to the station, and we were soon being whisked away from the city centre. It felt sad to be going. I wanted another day, another two days. We had only just scratched the surface of this intriguing place and were keen to delve deeper. We hadn't been to the Rijksmuseum or Vondelpark, hadn't tried a pancake or wobbled on a bicycle. So much we hadn't done and yet, in 48 hours, Amsterdam had made its mark. We'll be back.

This is what I call recycling...

My husband and I stayed in Amsterdam courtesy of KLM and their #KLMFlylocal campaign

We were provided with the I amsterdam City Card by Amsterdam Marketing.